Readers’ wildlife photos

December 5, 2020 • 8:00 am

Thanks to the several readers who topped up my photo tank. Do keep this site in mind as you accumulate good photos, and remember that “street photography” and landscapes also count as wildlife.

Saturdays are potpourris, when I display the photos sent by readers as singletons or as a small titers. Their captions and IDs are indented.

First up is a photo by Christopher Moss.

The Evening Grosbeaks (Coccothraustes vespertinus) have returned, and flocking with them are some waxwings. I noticed, without paying much attention, that the waxwings had rather reddish caps, and only after staring at one for some time as it recovered slowly from flying into a window, did I realise in my dull brain that I was looking at a Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus), rather than the usual Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum). Here is one:

Three waterbirds from Mary Barbara Vance Wilson:

Here are photos of three waterbirds, seen in W. B. Nelson State Park near Waldport, Oregon, December 2.  My favorite is a “faux goose,” the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus).  It uses its hooked beak to catch fish. The orange, hairless throat, the gular pouch, is homologous to the pouch of the related pelicans.
Female Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). The species is sometimes called the hammerhead because of its crest.  Mergansers are real ducks but unusual because the bill is slender with serrations that help it catch slippery fish.
The male Gadwall (Mareca strepera) looks plain, but if the camera focuses just right, its small-scale patterns are impressive. 


From reader Markus Helenä we have red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris). Photos were taken in Leenankuja, Espoo, Finland by Marukus’s wife Tanya:

And astronomy photos from Terry Platt, Berkshire, UK:

Here’s a couple of shots of Comet NEOWISE that I took last July. The comet first appeared in the twilight on the 12th of July (as seen from Binfield, UK) and passed closest to Earth around July 23rd. Both pictures were taken with a 70mm lens on a Nikon D7200 DSLR and are exposures of about 5 minutes. A small ‘tracking mount’ was used to correct for the rotation of the Earth.

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 21, 2020 • 8:00 am

Today is odds-and-ends day, with photos from readers who sent in only one or a few pictures. Their captions and IDs are indented.

First, an astronomy photo from reader Terry Platt, who lives in Binfield, UK:

Here is an image of the ‘Tulip nebula’ in Cygnus, taken with a hydrogen alpha filter and CCD camera. A special feature of this area is the presence of the X ray source ‘Cygnus X1’ (indicated). This is now known to be a black hole in mutual orbit with a blue giant star. The hole is stealing material from the blue star and this emits X rays as it falls through the intense gravitational field of the hole. The hole has a mass of 14.8 times that of the Sun, and the pair are about 6070 light years from Earth.

Ivy (or Virginia creeper; you tell me) in Hyde Park; photo by Team Duck member Dr. Jean Greenberg:

We have two entries in the “backyard wildlife” category. First, reader Grania Devine saw American black bears (Ursus americanus) at her house:

I live in rural southeastern BC and the pictures were taken with my phone through our living room window.

Late in the afternoon a couple of days ago, I looked out the window to see a black bear mama and subadult cub.  We have an old cedar stump in the yard which has a small mountain ash tree growing through it.  The female hopped onto the stump and then bent the mountain ash down to the ground.  She held it there while the two of them pretty much stripped it of berries.

In the first photo, she’s just finished bending the tree.  Unfortunately, the cub is just a dark shape, hidden by the foliage.  In the second picture, she’s just released the tree and the last one shows the two of them ambling off into the woods.

And reader Christopher Moss saw a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) on November 6:

Today, standing in the kitchen assembling fishcakes, I saw this character sitting the driveway having a scratch. Apologies for wretched iPhone photos through a shamefully dirty kitchen window. Much healthier looking than the last fox I saw in the garden, which looked rather mangy. Maybe the diet of rodents I leave out for them is helping (although I understand you don’t want to hear about where they come from!)

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 10, 2020 • 8:00 am

Don’t forget to send in your photos!

Today we have three contributors, whose words I’ve indented. First, reader Dom in England sent some spiders:

Some nice big hairy spiders for you! These are probably all Eratigena genus, but they were formerly Tegenaria. In addition, in April the view that Eratigena atrica was, in fact, three species, was endorsed by the authority, the World Spider Catalog.

These are the biggest European spiders, and consequently the ones that induce the greatest panic in phobics. I photographed them with the iphone, and the flash made their little eyes light up.

Mars from reader Terry Platt in Berkshire:

Here is a recent image of Mars that I took on the 10th of October, from my observatory in the UK. The telescope used was a 317mm off-axis reflector that I built back in 1986. As you probably know, Mars is at its closest for some years and so it is a good time to take images.

The picture is centred on longitude 230 degrees and shows the region of Mare Cimmerium (the dark region near centre) and Elysium (the pale patch below centre). Mars was about 22.5 arc seconds in diameter at this time.


And some lovely hummingbirds from Ken Howard in Arizona; “Kelly” is his partner, artist Kelly Houle:

For your consideration.  Kelly and I maintain five hummingbird feeders around our home to support the migration given the backdrop of local severe drought, forest fires, and heat of this past summer and fall.  Attached are images from Sunday’s visitors – a juvenile male Calliope hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope) and a broad-billed hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris).

The first two are Calliopes, the second two broad-billeds:

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 25, 2020 • 7:45 am

Today we have photos from several contributors. First, four photos from Patrick May (all readers’ notes and IDs are indented).

In case your tank is running dry, here are two recent subjects.  A late season white-tailed deer fawn (Odocoileus virginianus) waiting for its mother to return and a PCC(e) combo of wildlife and food (sorry, no cats).  I included the Eastern Yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons) with the context of a fork and lemon wedges, the capers are out of frame.

Here’s a whitetail doe resting in my backyard.  There’s an eight point buck who comes by every now and again that I’m trying to get a decent shot of.

For any gearheads, the insect was taken with a 105mm micro-Nikkor on a D610, cropped in Lightroom with no color adjustments.  I’m just getting into macro photography, so I’m working on technique.

From Dom, a bee-wolf wasp:

No, not Beowulf, which of course means bee wolf (but is a kenning for a bear), but Philanthus triangulum, the European bee wolf, aka bee-killer wasp. This species specialises in the western honey bee. However the adults feed on nectar and pollen, and it is the female who hunts bees to stock the burrow for her larvae.

And an astronomy photo from Tim Anderson in Australia:

Messier 8 is a gigantic interstellar gas cloud in the Sagittarius Constellation, and was discovered by Giovanni Hodierna before 1654. It lies between 4000 and 6000 light-years from Earth and has a distinct reddish hue owing to emissions from hydrogen and helium gas in the cloud. The dark patches in the gas field are called Bok Globules.

The prominent star to the right is 4Sgr – in other words, the fourth brightest star in Sagittarius. The star cluster NGC6544 is visible at the left-hand edge of the image.

This image was compiled from fifty 180-second photographs taken in Cowra NSW with a 100mm refracting telescope and a colour astronomical camera.

The big announcement about supposedly biogenic chemicals on Venus: 11 a.m. Eastern time, 4 pm BST (watch here)

September 14, 2020 • 9:00 am

I’ve written a few times since yesterday about the Big Astronomy Reveal today. It’s going to be the subject of a live announcement from the Royal Astronomical Society in about an hour from this posting: at 11 a.m. Eastern time (US) and 4 p.m. BST.

As I suspected, It’s going to report the discovery of phosphine (PH3) in the atmosphere of Venus—presumably from the light spectrum—and since the compound is made on Earth only by organisms, this is said to be “evidence for life”. I am dubious, for, as J.B.S. Haldene said, nature is queerer than we can suppose.  It would be arrogant to claim that we have exhausted all knowledge about how phosphine is produced.

There will of course be tons of speculation about life elsewhere in the Solar System, and that would be cool if it were true. We’ll just have to wait and see. At any rate, tune in here in one hour from this posting.

Big astronomy announcement coming up

September 13, 2020 • 12:15 pm

Something big is brewing in the world of astronomy, and will be published soon, but it’s heavily embargoed, and so every time it’s mentioned it gets taken down, like the video in the second tweet below. One possibility is that they’ve discovered “signs of life” on Venus, in the form of phosphine in the atomosphere, a gas (PH3) that on Earth has only a biogenic origin. But this is Venus, Jake!

Word on the street is that there will be a Big Announcement tomorrow. There’s been recent speculation that microbial life could survive in the atmosphere above Venus, but we would only be able to see the compounds there, and who knows how phosphene could be formed—if it is phosphine. But the news may be something quite different.

Anyway, does anybody know what this is about? I’m very curious.

A three-dimensional map of the Universe

July 28, 2020 • 1:45 pm

Well, I can’t say I fully understand what’s being shown here, except that it depicts the detectable galaxies in the Universe (some not seen because the Milky Way hides them).  Cosmos has an explanation that I put below the video. If you’re an astronomy buff, you’ll probably understand this, and I’m hoping the cosmology mavens in the crowd will explain in the comments what we’re seeing.

Here’s one video, and another is below:

An explanation from Cosmos:

Astrophysicists have created the largest and most complete 3D map of the Universe.

It includes measurements of more than two million galaxies and quasars covering 11 billion years of cosmic time and involved 20 years of watching the skies and subsequent analysis by an international collaboration of more than a hundred researchers.

It is based on the latest observations of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), titled the extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (eBOSS). The results and data have been released in more than 20 scientific papers running to 500+ pages.

Prior to eBOSS, scientists only knew where objects such as galaxies and quasars were as viewed from Earth. The new survey provides the distance to each object, allowing them to build a 3D model.

And that adds significantly to our understanding of the expansion of the Universe.

“We know both the ancient history of the Universe and its recent expansion history fairly well, but there’s a troublesome gap in the middle 11 billion years,” says Kyle Dawson, from the University of Utah, US.

“For five years, we have worked to fill in that gap, and we are using that information to provide some of the most substantial advances in cosmology in the last decade.”

The map has been published as a still image and as a 3D animation (below). A close look at the image reveals the filaments and voids that define the structure in the Universe, the researchers say, starting from when it was only about 300,000 years old.

h/t: Barry

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 24, 2020 • 7:45 am

On this site, astronomy counts as “wildlife”, and readers Leo Glenn and Mark Jones sent some lovely pictures of Comet Neowise, which I haven’t been able to see. Leo and Mark’s words are indented; click photos to enlarge them.

First, photos from Leo:

While these technically aren’t wildlife photos (well, one might qualify), I thought your readers might enjoy these pictures I took of Comet Neowise, on the evening of July 21 from my front yard in western Pennsylvania. I am just a hobbyist photographer, and this was my first attempt at night sky photography. After some failed and frustrating efforts, I was able to get these photos, which turned out better than I expected. The hardest part was focusing the camera when I could see nothing in the viewfinder. I thought I could just set the focus at infinity, but when I did that the photos were blurry. In the end, I pointed the camera at the brightest object, which happened to be Jupiter, and was able to get an acceptable (though not perfect) focus. For those interested, I used a Nikon D7100 DSLR with a 35 mm lens, at f-1.8 and a 30-second exposure. I forgot to set the ISO, so the camera did that automatically, which was a mistake, but I was able to correct for it later in Photoshop. And I used the timer so my finger on the shutter release wouldn’t blur the photo.

The red line is an airplane. I didn’t notice it until after I pressed the shutter release.

Eventually, clouds started to roll in, but that also provided some interesting photo opportunities. This is the only photo that might qualify as a wildlife photo. You can see a couple fireflies (Photinus and/or Photuris sp.), one on the left zooming rather close to the camera, and one at the bottom of the photograph toward the right,  just over the top of a tree.

Finally, I couldn’t resist pointing the camera up to take a picture of the starry sky, and was stunned by how many stars, invisible to the naked eye, appeared in the photo. I couldn’t help hearing Bill Shatner’s voice: “Space. The final frontier.”
Two photos from Mark Jones, who says:

You may want to add these to the pile of Neowise photos; it becomes rather compulsive to try to capture this excellent ‘omen’ for posterity, even though many have already!

One is taken from my kitchen window, and the other shows the comet above the house from the driveway.

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 18, 2020 • 7:45 am

Today we have some odds and ends, individual pictures (or a small set) sent by readers. First up is from Joe McClain (all readers’ captions are indented):

I submit for your consideration for the Readers’ Wildlife Photos category this photograph. It depicts interspecies interaction between a young Sylvilagus floridanus [Eastern cottontail] and a stunning specimen of Granddaughtera cutiepii. Observe how each articulates their limbs in unison.

In regular parlance it’s my granddaughter, Lily B., expressing delight at the baby bunny held by her father. The dad is my son, Jake, who you might remember was featured in a Readers’ Wildlife Photos entry a few years ago with his work with American kestrels (Falco sparverius) on the Eastern Shore. Jake said the cottontails were living quietly in their garden; no one knew they were there. Suddenly, one day, a ruckus! A snake (species unknown by me) was aiming to make a meal of the baby buns. Jake relocated the snake (which his Aunt Tanya maintains was just trying to make an honest living).

The bunny was returned to its mom.

Diana MacPherson, who sent this yesterday. Her caption, as with the other folks’, is indented:

I managed a decent capture of Comet NEOWISE today with my camera on a tripod looking to the SW in the evening around 10:30 PM. I think this turned out quite well as you can see the tail & the star trails are minimal.
Three photos from Joe Routon:

My first picture is a daylily (Hemerocallis) that I photographed on my daily social-distancing, mask-wearing, camera-carrying, walk in my neighborhood. I live in New Jersey, the Garden State, where beautiful flowers are abundant. This is often called a “rough around the edges” daylily.

This is my photo of a Holy Thistle (Echinops Ritro lycia) that I photographed in the Pamphylia region of Turkey. My wife and I had just visited the nearby Roman theatre in Aspendos. The thistle was, to me, almost as impressive as the theatre, which is one of the largest and best preserved theaters of the Roman world.

On my daily social-distancing walk I occasionally encounter a rafter of turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo). I made this photo, early in the morning, of one standing in my front yard. I never would have imagined that there would be so many wild turkeys, foxes, deer, and sometimes a bear in our Philadelphia suburb in South Jersey.

From Jim Cliborn:

I submit this photo recently taken at dawn in Humboldt Bay at the Eureka waterfront. It seems to me that there is s calming influence what with all the ‘activity’ in the lower left corner with the Black-crowned night heron [Nycticorax nycticorax] contrasting with the mirror calm of the orange colors of Humboldt Bay in the rest of the picture. Nothing special biological-wise, just a nice atmospheric photo. Keep up the blog I read it top to bottom every day!!

And an amphibian from Chris Branch:

A green frog (Lithobates clamitans) and a northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens) taken in the Rochester, NY area in the last week or two [sent July 7].  

Photos of readers

June 15, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Again, the penultimate one in the queue (they come in at a rate of one per day). Please submit yours!

The reader is David Harper, who says the following:

This photograph was taken on the morning of 21 August 2017 at a ski chalet in central Idaho.  I was staying there with my wife, her sister and her Mom to watch the total eclipse which crossed the United States that day.  In the photograph, I was staring directly at the Sun during the early stages of the eclipse, but fear not, I was wearing protective glasses, so it was perfectly safe.  The chalet was in the path of totality, and we were fortunate enough to witness the entire event.  It was very memorable.  The quality of the light in the few seconds just before totality was quite eerie.  Even the squirrels fell silent.  I can understand why some people become hooked on seeing total solar eclipses, often traveling to remote locations for the thrill of watch one of Nature’s grand spectacles.

I’m an astronomer by training, but I’ve worked at the Wellcome Sanger Institute near Cambridge since 1999.  It was set up in 1993 as a founding partner in the international Human Genome Project.  I was originally part of a group which applied the HGP’s DNA sequencing and analysis techniques to pathogens, including the malaria parasite P. falciparum and the various bacterial species which cause leprosy, plague and tuberculosis.  These days, I’m in the IT group, where I help to look after the hundreds of databases where the scientific data are stored.

Like most of my colleagues, I’ve been working from home since late March and I expect that will continue for the rest of the year.  The Institute is actively involved in the scientific battle against Covid-19.  We are applying the latest DNA sequencing techniques to analyse clinical strains of the virus from hospitals across the U.K.

My wife and I are cat-lovers, and whilst we don’t currently have any feline companions, there *are* cats in the photograph.  Eagle-eyed readers may recognise that my T-shirt depicts cats from the animated films of Studio Ghibli including (top centre) Catbus, the cat who is also a bus from the movie “My Neighbour Totoro”.