Birds in Art

On the road again, we stopped off in Wausau, Wisconsin to visit the Leigh Yawkey Woodson art museum and see their amazing exhibition of birds in art.  This place is definitely worth a weekend field trip, and in addition to all of the paintings, carvings, and sculptures to marvel at, there are classrooms and materials for creating your own bird art (primarily for kids).  A small sample of the pieces…

Outdoors, pieces are scattered around the extensive gardens.

Bird art at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson art museum, Wausau, WI

15 foot tall Sandhill Cranes greet you by the parking lot.

Bird art at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson art museum, Wausau, WI

A life-size sculpture of an ostrich

Bird art at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson art museum, Wausau, WI

Turkeys in bronze.  I like the way the bronze yields the same iridescence that turkey feathers do.

Indoors, smaller sculptures and paintings draw you over for a closer look.

Bird art at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson art museum, Wausau, WI

One of several rooms in the Leigh Yawkey Woodson art museum, Wausau, WI

Bird art at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson art museum, Wausau, WI

Metal sculpture of a Kestrel. It’s minimalist in construction, but captures the most important characteristics of the bird that make it instantly recognizable.

Bird art at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson art museum, Wausau, WI

A Bittern carving in tupelo wood and painted with acrylic, and amazingly life-like.

Bird art at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson art museum, Wausau, WI

The photo doesn’t do justice to this amazing wood sculpture of two skuas chasing a tern. There are no external supports for the free-flying forms, and the wings only touch in one small area. Instead the support is internal within the sculpture somehow.

City of contrasts — old and new

Russia!! More specifically, St. Petersburg, what a gorgeous and hospitable city.  A two-day, whirlwind tour of palaces, gardens, city sights, museums, etc., but no biology, unfortunately.  What contrasts from new, modern skyscrapers and malls to old Soviet style offices and huge apartment complexes to 18th century or earlier palace constructions.  It’s definitely spring here, and we hit two of the 9 sunny days they average here each summer.

Apartment buildings, St. Petersburg, Russia

Apartment buildings, St. Petersburg, Russia

Church of spilt blood, St. Petersburg

Church of spilt blood, St. Petersburg , what a contrast after looking at city dwellers residences.  The interior is covered with thousands of square feet of mosaics depicting the life of Christ.

Canals in St Petersburg

Canals in St Petersburg connect the dozens of islands that make up the city.

The Winter Palace, St. Petersburg

The Winter Palace, St. Petersburg is one of four museums of art and antiquities that make up the Hermitage. Only 20% of the more than 3million acquisitions are displayed at any one time.

Gardens at Peterhof, St. Petersburg

Gardens at Peterhof, St. Petersburg. Summer residence of Peter the Great, on the Gulf of Finland

Catherine's Palace, St. Petersburg

Catherine’s Palace, St. Petersburg, ornate and lavish with its own set of art treasures

T-shirts for sale, St. Petersburg

T-shirts for sale, St. Petersburg

Some like it hot…

Yellowstone national park has the highest concentration of thermal features anywhere in the world, but it is far from a sterile place as far as living organisms are concerned — even in the hottest of the hot springs, “life has found a way”.

Yellowstone hot spring

Bands of color in the hot pools reflect the types of microorganisms that live there. Clear blue or bluish green water in the center of the pool bubbles up just below boiling temperature, but cools rapidly toward the periphery, allowing various bacteria to colonize.

Two groups of microorganisms (Archaea and Bacteria) are the foundation of Yellowstone’s thermal ecosystems.  By utilizing the chemical elements liberated by steam and boiling water from the rocky matrix, they build vast and deep mats of bacteria that encircle the hot pools, different species existing in different thermal gradients from just below boiling temperature to simply “hot” water.

Gradient of hydrothermal life in Yellowstone hot springs

Types of organisms found in the thermal strata around a hot pool can often be identified by the colors they produce.

Yellowstone hot spring

Clear blue water with steam and bubbles arising from the surface indicates this pool is probably too hot to support life.

Yellowstone hot spring

Blue-green (cyano)bacteria are some of the most heat tolerant organisms. The color of the water in the pool is actually a blend of blue reflected light that normally occurs in clear water and the yellow light reflected by the carotenoids pigments of the blue-green bacteria.  Higher concentrations of the bacteria are growing next to the pool, giving it a more yellow color.

Yellowstone hot spring

This is a much cooler pool, indicated by an orange ring of thermophilic bacteria surrounding organisms that reflect dark green to brown colored light. According to the chart above, we might expect organisms like algae, Protozoa, and fungi, rather than just bacteria here.

Ephydrid flies specialize on eating the bacterial and algal mats in the hot pools, although they too (especially their eggs) must be heat tolerant.  These consumers in turn attract a variety of predators, like spiders and dragonflies, who must be mobile to escape sudden spurts of boiling water.

Dragonfly in Yellowstone hot spring

Half a dozen dragonflies met their demise at the edge of one hot pool. Perhaps wind blew them into the hot water.  The substrate here is not sand or rock, but clumps of bacteria that have formed small columnar structures.

Yellowstone hot spring

Sometimes the patterns formed by bacterial growth take on the form of familiar (to me at least) structures. This looks just like a huge capillary network, branching off an arteriole on the left.

Or how about this one — what do you see in this accumulation of bacterial growth at the edge of the hot water?

Yellowstone hot spring

What am I?

Picturesque

I’ve been trying out a new, quick photo editing program on the iPad, Snapseed.   It’s a real time saver, compared to my usual method of editing images in Lightroom.  It’s easy to get carried away with special effects, though, with these landscapes from the geyser basin at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park.

Old Faithful geyser basin

Olf Faithful geyser basin

Kayakers on Yellowstone Lake

Kayakers move through the steam from a shoreline fumarole on Yellowstone Lake

Old Faithful

Crowds turn out for Old Faithful’s eruption about every 90 minutes.

Old Faithful

At peak eruption, Old Faithful shoots steam and water about 100 feet into the air.

Buffalo at old Faithful geyser basin

I don’t know how often bison fall through the thin crust of the geyser basin, but they must enjoy the warm steam baths.

Hot pools in Old Faithful geyser basin

Mirror reflections of the landscape show on the surface of the hot pools in Old Faithful geyser basin.

Channeling Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams introduced us to the grandeur of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountains in his early photography in the 1920s and 30s, but his famous capture of the light on the Grand Tetons and Snake River was made about the time he invented the 10-point zone system of tonal contrast (varying from pure white to pure black) in the early 1940s.

anseladams_snakeriver_framed_1024x1024

The winding path of the Snake River draws one’s eyes right to the dramatic peaks that stand out so starkly and definitively in black and white.  Adams added some additional contrast to the sky to bring out the drama of the clouds and weather in this location.

It’s hard to reproduce that scene today, because the vegetation has changed quite a bit — in fact, the trees have grown so much they obscure part of the view of the river.

Grand Tetons-in-fall

Our view was marred by smoke from the Yellowstone fire, as well as low fog and haze.  The hill on the left lined with evergreens still dips toward the river, and the river’s path is about the same, although not obvious through the trees.

On another day (with better air clarity), we got a good sense of the rugged texture of those famous peaks, punctuated with a little fall color from the yellow aspens.

Grand Tetons-in-fall

The clouds constantly drifted by the peaks, uncovering various new aspects of them over time.

Landscape photography with Rick Sammon

This was going to be a 5 minute photo stop for the group of photographers in this Rick Sammon workshop, but turned into an hour long session, as the clouds drifted over the peaks presenting amazing new views.

This location provided an opportunity to try to “channel Ansel Adams”, for some dramatic Black and White photography.  So, here’s my rendition of the Grand Tetons a la Ansel Adams.

Grand Tetons

Voila!

What a location for landscape photography, to say nothing of the wildlife we saw as well.

Flora and fauna in Hyde Park

We had a lovely day of sun, rain, sleet, mini-hail pellets, strong wind, and more sun as we walked about 9 miles around and through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London.  Spring is well on its way here, with an assortment of wildflowers blooming and a flush of new green leaves on the trees.

A kind of Harebell was blooming under the sycamores along with some daffodils.

A kind of Harebell was blooming under the sycamores along with some daffodils.

There are dozens of Harebell (Campanula) species worldwide.  The most common ones have a circumpolar distribution, from North America through Europe to Asia.

There are dozens of Harebell (Campanula) species worldwide. The most common ones have a circumpolar distribution, from North America through Europe to Asia.

Tulips and other spring cultivars brightened up the landscape as well.

Tulips and other spring cultivars brightened up the landscape as well.

Expansive lawns of precisely groomed grass were remarkably free of birds, dogs, and people.  Who wouldn't want to walk, run, or roll on this lush carpet?  It's possible I wasn't supposed to be walking on it...

Expansive lawns of precisely groomed grass were remarkably free of birds, dogs, and people. Who wouldn’t want to walk, run, or roll on this lush carpet? It’s possible I wasn’t supposed to be walking on it…

A stray Wood Pigeon wasn't finding much to nibble on among the dense carpet of grass stems.

A stray Wood Pigeon wasn’t finding much to nibble on among the dense carpet of grass stems.  This is the largest pigeon in the UK, about 1.5 times the size of the common pigeon that we see in the US.   It’s rather attractive…for a pigeon.

Mute Swans are the native swan species of Europe.  They

Mute Swans are the native swan species of Europe. They were introduced to the US where they enjoyed great success in depleting submergent vegetation.  Their populations increased so rapidly (10% per year) that they are now treated as an invasive species in the US.

Male swans get quite aggressive toward each other at this time of year.

Male swans get quite aggressive toward each other at this time of year.

The Brits have great affection for their swans.  Killing or eating one is punishable by death (a law still on the books, but it hasn’t been enforced lately), and injuring a bird or collecting its eggs is liable to get you a £5000 fine and some jail time.

some other notable images from today…

The amazingly expansive chocolaterie in Harrod's department store.  Food is biological, right?

The amazingly expansive chocolaterie in Harrod’s department store. This is just one of more than a dozen such counters.  Food is biological, right?

An intriguing glass sculpture that resembles masses of polyps and marine worms hanging in the entrance of the Victoria and Albert museum.  I forgot to ask them what it was supposed to represent.

An intriguing glass sculpture that resembles masses of polyps and marine worms hanging in the entrance of the Victoria and Albert museum. I forgot to ask them what it was supposed to represent.

Kaleidoscope

On a dreary, rainy day devoid of color here in Minnesota, I’ll share a photo of a scene that is so rich in color, it can only be called a kaleidoscope.  This is a multi-image, blended composite of several frames and several exposures of the innards of the Haleakala volcano on Maui.  When I was editing the composite to blend the different frames and exposures, I was struck by how the mineral composition in the crater has colored the scene: yellow sulfur deposits, rich red-purple to red-brown iron deposits, gray to black weathered lava and ash, blue and white of the cloud layer that hangs over the mid-altitude of the volcano, and a little hint of yellow-green from the plants that have struggled to establish themselves in this rocky, almost lunar-looking landscape.

For best viewing, click on the image to enlarge it to the max — it’s a complex scene worth exploring.  On a PC or an iPad, click once to single out the image on just one web page, and click on it again to enlarge.  Scroll with your finger or the bottom/side scroll bars.

haleakala panorama-

I’m calling this the Haleakala “grandorama” rather than panorama.

Multiple small cinder cones dot the mid-landscape in front of the peak, and a recent (within the last 300 years or so) lava flow crosses in front of the peak.  Strangely enough, the crater is actually not of volcanic origin, but was formed by the erosion of the walls of two valleys during a particularly wet part of the island’s history.  The volcano is dormant, not extinct, with frequent small earthquakes that indicate it is still capable of island-building action.

Fall color redux

Growing up in California, I don’t ever remember spectacular color in the fall.  But the trees imported from southeastern Asia that are now used as boulevard trees in San Jose (Northern California) are exceptionally colorful in what is now the fall season here.  I am delighted to have a second fall season before going back to a colder MN winter season.

Chinese Pistache

Chinese Pistache are relatively small trees with slender leaves that turn a red to gold color.

Chinese Pistache

These trees are a favorite not only for their color but their ability to tolerate extreme heat and cold, as well as drought — conditions they are likely to experience in this challenging climate.

Sycamore fall color

Sycamores turn a bright yellow in fall, and drop lots of large, star-shaped leaves.

Sycamore leaf fall - oil canvas look

I discovered the photo editing software on my iPad has special effects. This is the oil painting version of the sycamore leaf fall…almost looks pastoral instead of urban.

Liquidambar fall color

I call the Liquidamber a tree of many colors because each branch seems to take on a different brilliant hue, from yellows to deep purples.

Fall color -Chinese Pistache and palm trees

The contrast of red Chinese Pistache and green Palm trees seems quite Christmasy.

Fall color, San Jose CA

What a treat to see such vivid color twice in one year.

 

More playing around

We humans with our superb color vision seem inordinately fond of bright, colorful images.  Nothing wrong with that, but sometimes the color tones in a multi-hued bright image almost distract from the message, and other times the colors are so monochromatic, the scene is almost monotonous instead of dramatic.  In these instances, sometimes conversion to black and white format is useful to keep the viewer’s eye focused on image content.

I thought the New Mexican landscapes were stunning and spectacular, but I didn’t feel the color version of my photos did justice to the drama of those scenes, so I played around with some of the images to see whether B&W conveyed the message any better.  What do you think?

chimney rock-Ghost Ranch-

This is the famous and frequently photographed Chimney Rock, viewed from the trail at Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu, NM.  With scenes like this shot at mid-day, the landscape gets flat and even highly sculpted rocks lack detail.

chimney rock-Ghost Ranch-

The same scene converted first to B&W using a red filter, and then with a sepia tone added.

red rocks-Ghost Ranch-

There are a lot of objects drawing viewer attention here — perhaps away from the cleaved rock in the foreground.  The purpose of the photo was to showcase this dramatic split rock standing alone among the shrubs in this grassy plain.

red rock-Ghost Ranch-

Does this version work better?

Mt. Pedernal-Ghost Ranch

Often photographed from this and other angles, Mt. Perdernal, a flat-topped mesa of chert in the background, was one of Georgia O’Keefe’s favorite landscape subjects.  Lake Abiquiu is remarkably high, due to recent monsooon rainstorms here.  In this case, I really like the contrast of the purple mountains in the background and the red rocks in the foreground in the color version.

georgia-okeeffe-lake abiquiu and pedernal peak

One of many landscapes of Pedernal Mountain painted by Georgia O’Keefe — this one from roughly the same vantage point as my photograph.

Mt. Pedernal-Ghost Ranch

I’m not sure the B&W conversion adds to this scene. What do you think?

Note added:  This is the 900th post on Backyard Biology!

Spring flowers — and another photography experiment

Among the many new techniques in photography I’ve tried recently is a cool way to get wonderful depth of field in a complex or large subject using multiple images.  The process is called “focus stacking”, which means that you take several photos (usually on a tripod), as you focus on different areas of the subject.  Then you have to blend them all together in Photoshop.

I decided to experiment with this technique after an overnight rainstorm had left a collection of dew drops on the newly opening Columbine flowers in my front yard.  For this shot, I positioned the camera directly over the flower, pointed down at it, put it on manual focus, and then turned the focus ring very slightly as I clicked the shutter.  Here’s the result of blending 5 images together — I probably needed more images in the stack because there are some holes in my focus, but you’ll get the idea.

raindrops on Columbine

Click on the image for higher resolution and a larger picture to see the finer detail of raindrops on the Columbine.  The top-most flower is pink before it develops fully into what the middle, red flower looks like.  The bottom flower is also in sharp focus in this stacked image.

raindrops on Columbine-

Here’s a sideview of the Columbine flowers to illustrate how much depth of field you would need when shooting straight down on the flower. Even in this view, only part of the plant is in focus with the macro lens.

raindrops on Columbine leaves

The surface of Columbine leaves must be pretty waxy, making the spherical droplets stay coalesced. On other plants in my garden, the drops had already dispersed, making the leaf surfaces slick with water.