Saturday, May 29, 2010

Monkey's inmonkeyity to monkey


This is Duke. He is a mantled howler monkey living in Costa Rica. He was found abandoned on the forest floor as a baby and brought a local animal sanctuary. He is a perfectly healthy male, so why did the staff at the sanctuary hypothesize he was abandoned? You can't see it in the picture, but he has white patches of fur on this tail. The staff suggested this difference might be enough to make his mother reject him.

Living around three species of monkeys for a week was quite an experience. I had always thought them interesting, but I had not thought much about them beyond that. In observing them, it became clear to me that there are so many traits that I thought to be human that are distributed more greatly in the evolution of primates. Their ability to learn and reason, to predict. Even the expressiveness of their faces surprised me. Sadly we saw evidence of their response to abuse which seemed "human", and happily their ability to recover.

One of the many episodes I remember that demonstrated just how smart they are occurred in our last few moments at the facility. We were paying our bills and had put out some money as a gratuity for the staff. One of the spider monkeys saw the money grabbed it and reveled in the commotion it caused. She only ate a portion of the bills. After it had settled down and the money was recovered, my wife tucked the money away in what she thought to be a safe place, inside the pocket of a folder. Well, the monkey had been playing non-chalant but keenly observing. When we moved from the table, she sprinted across the yard, jumped to the table, opened the folder, and the entire scene replayed itself. Monkeys are, unsurprisingly, human-like.

Returning to Duke, it is interesting that that difference may have such terrible consequences in monkey society, and sadly it something apparently shared with humans. But as my friend Jeff often says, while we are products of evolution, one trait we have is our ability to transcend our evolutionary past, if we try. I have seen our ability to move beyond what once might have been adaptive. I hope we can do it more often. I wonder whether that ability is more broadly distributed in the evolutionary past?

And, Duke? He apparently got over his rough start in life and is leading his own troupe of "misfit" howlers.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Putting Madison in a good light

The Isthmus

I am preparing materials to used when inviting my colleagues to Madison for a conference. I am having a bit of a hard time determining what might be short enough to be effective but not so long that it bores people. Then, I look at this picture. I think in many ways the city sells itself (at least in the right time of the year).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Best viewed large


I like this photo, but I encourage you to view it larger. Look at the eye of the bird in this size and at the larger size.

One frustration I have about looking at my photos in Flickr, and most sites that resize images is that I optimize the brightness on a larger view. As such, they are suboptimal and generally appear darker than I would like at the reduced size. If I optimize for viewing at the "normal" Flickr size, they are washed out at larger sizes.

Just a little whine for the evening, but perhaps a suggestion in there as well. Do others experience this? Could Flickr develop an algorithm that boosts brightness of images just bit the images that they are rendering down to a smaller size.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Even when enjoying the view, keep an eye on the details

Scarlet and yellow columbine with guest

As a parallel discussion to my previous post on being sure to keep a broader view, the converse is just as true. In this case, I was outside Glacier National Park, the columbines were blooming, and the cottonwood trees were shedding their seeds, so everything was coated with a coating of down. It was was a striking scene and I thought this particular variant was stunning.

It is easy to become so enamored by a situation that it can cause you miss important details. Some are only interesting, others may be remarkably important. In the case of this photo, if you were a bee or other pollenating insect, a small detail could be a matter of life and death. Look closely in the flower. If you don't see anything, view the photo larger on the flickr page. So when you are drawn into a situation, be sure to keep an eye out for important details, both for potential threats, but also the opportunities.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Keeping a broader view even when focusing on a subject

seagull and opera house

This is another "almost right" shot that I have from my photostream. There is nothing wrong with the picture. We were in Sydney on the ferry from Circle Quay to the Toronga Zoo. We passed the Opera House and was taking pictures as we went by. This gull was drifting along side almost within touching distance of the side of the boat. So, I took a picture and missed the one I should taken.

I have this thing about photographing animals. If there is animal within camera shot that is what I am thinking about photographing. This is one of those cases where I missed the bigger opportunity because of it. My personal depth-of-field was not set nearly as wide as the camera's. If I had been keeping my eyes wide open, I would have seen it. The classic B-horror/sci-fi shot of an giant animal over a major landmark. If I had dropped down and moved a bit to my left I could have filled the sky with the giant gull as it searched the grounds of the opera house for its next victims. As it is, it is a adequate shot of a gull, and you know where it was taken. If I had kept just a little bit of my thinking on the look out for the possibilities, it could have been so much more.

Friday, May 7, 2010

One perfect moment

Macaws in flight

Photography is living life 1/250 of a second at a time (or whatever your shutter speed is). There is nothing more rewarding than catching the image you are seeing the way you want to remember it. This is one of those cases. We were at staying at an animal sanctuary on the Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica. One of the specialties of the facility is rainbow macaw rehab. They had several mated pairs that had developed their attachment after their rescues. They would at least twice a day, once just after sunrise, and then in the late afternoon, take a paired flight over their territory.

It is a spectacular thing to watch. These rainbows of color flying in synchrony. It is hard to miss. For along with the aerial show, is an incredibly loud set of calls, especially in the dawn flight (there is no sleeping late in Costa Rica).

I tried several times to get this right. I had my zoom out to the max, and it still was not enough. I had to crop it to get the composition I wanted, and play with the pulling detail from the shadows. It is not a perfect photo, but it was taken at the perfect moment.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A favorite snake moment


This is a brown vine snake in Costa Rica. I have seen a fair number of snakes in my days, but this was an interesting encounter. We were hiking through the forest surrounding an animal sanctuary. I had seen something move in creek ahead of us. Beth was following behind me, as I rapidly moved to the creek. She called to me saying, "Did you see this". I turned around and saw saw thin vine moving through the undergrowth. Then, I saw the vine's head. It was the first brown vine snake I had seen in the wild.

Of course, I had the wrong lens on my camera. I took a few shots because I was sure that the snake would rapidly slide off before I could change to my telephoto lens. I, then, went to change lens and a funny thing happened. The snake seemed to wait. It sat there as I changed lens, I took a few photos of its profile, and it then, almost as if on cue, it faced me. After a few more pictures, it was done, so was I, and it slipped off further into the forest.
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