Articles By DakotaBirder

Canada Jay? Gray Jay? Make up your mind AOU!!

It’s 3:00 AM. I’m not sleeping, so figured I might as well do something productive and work on my website.  It’s a never-ending task, trying to maintain a massive, out-of-control website as a hobby, when you have a full-time job and a family life.  The American Ornithological Union (AOU) doesn’t make it any easier on me!! Or I guess they’re now the American Ornithological Society, but still call themselves the AOU?  It’s hard keep their name-changes straight. What’s even harder is trying to keep up with all of their changes to common and scientific bird names. Every year the AOU releases an official “supplement” to their official list of North American Birds. On June 27th, they released their 59th supplement.  It’s an annual event I’ve learned to dread, and this year is no different. They have made a number of changes to their official list, and it’s worse than usual, in terms of name changes.

About half of all North American woodpeckers have had their scientific names changed, with all the Picoides woodpeckers (including birds like Hairy, Downy, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker) being changed to Dryobates. Many sparrows have similarly changed, with Ammodramus sparrows (including my favorite, Le Conte’s, as well as Nelson’s, Baird’s, and several others) have changed to Ammospiza. In all, 33 names have changed this year!! The “official” linear sequence in the taxonomy has also changed…a lot…but that’s not something I worry about too much with my website. I DO have to go in and update all the names, however.

So no time like the present, right? What else does one do at 3:00 in the morning? It’s going to take awhile, so for now I just focused on fixing the pages associated with the Canada Jay. This is one name change I can get behind, however. The name had been Canada Jay for decades, up until 1957 when the AOU inexplicably changed the name to Gray Jay. As this piece from Audubon notes, the name Canada Jay was a source of pride for Canadians, and had such a long history, with John James Audubon using that name on his iconic artwork of the species. Canadians took it as an affront when the name change occurred, not only because the “Canada” naming convention was changed, but because the AOU used the Americanized spelling of “Gray” (as opposed to “Grey”).

Dan Strickland, who had been studying Canada Jays for decades, proposed the name change to the AOU, and they accepted on a nearly unanimous vote. As they noted, it was some curious and rather arbitrary decision making back in the 1950s that led to the name change from Canada to Gray Jay, and there really wasn’t any justification for keeping that name.  GIven the history outlined in that Audubon piece, it’s a decision that certainly makes sense…a wrong that has been made right.

But that doesn’t make it any easier on my website maintenance!  It took a little while, but I’ve completed the required changes on my website, changing all web pages, photos, and other files to the new name. One species down.  Over thirty more to go for this year’s AOU update!  But in honor of my one tiny step in accounting for this year’s AOU updates, the Photo of the Day for today is a Canada Jay, from Yellowstone National Park.

Canada Jay - Perisoreus canadensis

Today’s photo of the day, a CANADA Jay, taken in 2012 in Yellowstone National Park. One species name change from the AOU, resulting in over 30 files and web pages on my website where I had to make edits!

South Dakota State Guts Research – Polishes Turd with Statement

Replacement SDSU Staff

There IS a strategy behind the SDSU collapse of support for the GSCE program. World-renown researchers Wimberly, Roy, Hennebry, and Zhang have reportedly been replaced with these “new and improved” alternatives.

Clear not all politicians stick with politics. Some obviously branch out in other lines of work…say…working for South Dakota State University’s Division of Research and Economic Development. A few weeks ago the entire research staff of SDSU’s Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence (GSCE) quit, after being fed up with budget cuts and a seeming disinterest from SDSU in supporting the center. GSCE immediately went from being literally one of the world’s premiere research centers for remote sensing and geospatial sciences, to an empty husk with no staff.

Today, SDSU’s Divison of Research and Economic Development sent out the statement below.

University Community –

 

The purpose of this correspondence is to inform you of some changes within theGeospatial Sciences Center of Excellence (GSCE). Beginning August 22, the GSCE will move from the Division of Research and Economic Development to the Department of Geography in the College of Natural Sciences. The move will provide better alignment with the university’s research strategy, a deeper integration within our university budget process, and provide for integration of the research success strategies of the center and its host college and department.

 

Additionally, Dr. Bob Watrel will serve as the center’s acting co-director.

 

The center will continue to serve as a hub of excellence in geospatial science research and research education. The interdisciplinary research conducted provides quality education for future scientists, educators and decision-makers. We will continue our valuable partnership with the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center.

 

The GSCE move into the College of Natural Sciences will be integral to the college’s strategy for impacting society through research. To date, the university has invested more than $100 million of public and private funds into the university’s research and creative capacity. We are committed to continue to optimize investments in support of our institution’s vision of being a premier land-grant university.

 

Thank you for your commitment to South Dakota State University. We appreciate all that you do and look forward to an exciting academic year of discovery and education.

 

Division of Research and Economic Development

Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Other than the content of the statement, one question that immediately comes to mind…why is the “Division of Research” linked with “Economic Development”? It’s not exactly a surprise to me in today’s political climate, certainly not in South Dakota. But it DOES highlight the emphasis of what SDSU seemingly wants to focus on…research related to economic gain to South Dakota itself. Hence the reported frustration from SDSU president Barry Dunn with all the GSCE work that covered areas outside of South Dakota.

But back to the statement itself…how does one interpret this jumble of alphabet soup? This collection of buzzwords and catch phrases that have an uncanny knack of using as many letters as possible to say absolutely…nothing.  In case you aren’t fluid in this language, here’s an interpretative key:

  • “The move will provide better alignment with the university’s research strategy.” – Interpretation – SDSU HAS no research strategy but we’re polishing this turd the best that we can.
  • “…a deeper integration within our university budget process” – Interpretation – Nobody is safe from our reckless budget cutting, not even world-renown research centers that are self-sustaining and bring a massive reputation boost to SDSU.
  • “…provide for integration of the research success strategies of the center...” – Interpretation – All the research success of the center has walked out the door, and thus it’s quite easy to “integrate” what remains.
  • The interdisciplinary research conducted provides quality education for future scientists.” – Interpretation – We’re encouraging “future scientists” to pursue other careers, as we no longer have any science staff to provide a quality education.
  • The GSCE move into the College of Natural Sciences will be integral to the college’s strategy for impacting society through research” – Interpretation – We were caught with our pants down here. We cut budgets and are now paying the price. We have no strategy moving forward.
  • “To date, the university has invested more than $100 million of public and private funds into the university’s research and creative capacity.” – Interpretation – HEY!  LOOK OVER HERE!  SHINY DISTRACTING OBJECT, BIG DOLLAR NUMBER!! We just lost the most visible research entity at the University but are trying to emphasize what we USED to do to support research.
  • “We are committed to continue to optimize investments in support of our institution’s vision...” – Interpretation – We are committed to continue cutting budgets despite the risk to students and the reputation of the University.
  • Thank you for your commitment to South Dakota State University. We appreciate all that you do and look forward to an exciting academic year of discovery and education.” – Interpretation – Alumni…please continue to send donations to SDSU or we’ll continue hamstringing research at the University.

Perhaps the only sign of any intelligence in this entire word salad…whoever wrote it wasn’t even willing to sign their name to this obvious turd polishing.

 

The Monarch Butterfly vs. South Dakota Politics

Monarch Caterpillar - Danaus plexippus

A Monarch Caterpillar having lunch. This was taken in a roadside ditch in Minnehaha County, South Dakota, but it’s not nearly as common a sight as it could (should) be. Ditches here are mowed, sprayed, and otherwise managed, resulting in ditches (even on rarely used gravel roads) often looking like golf courses or urban lawns.

Yesterday I birded several locations to the northwest of Sioux Falls. I traveled through not only Minnehaha County (where Sioux Falls is), but also nearby McCook, Lake, Kingsbury, and Brookings counties. When I go birding around here, I typically travel on gravel roads, to minimize interaction with other cars and reach places where I can actually stop and watch for a while. While traveling gravel roads through these counties yesterday, I was struck by the incredibly variable management of roadside ditches.

What’s that? You don’t pay much attention to the ditches when you’re driving? I can’t say I normally do either, but I was recently at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology Conference (NACCB), where there were a number of presentations on the plight of the Monarch Butterfly. They’re a species dependent upon milkweed. One of the problems is that SO much of the United States landscape is now being used for agriculture, urban development, energy development, and other uses, and milkweed is crowded out.  Even in areas adjacent or near to agricultural land, herbicides are often used for weed control, further reducing milkweed abundance.

This spring, I was contacted by researchers who were studying landscape change, and how it potentially impacted Monarch Butterflies. Specifically, they were interested in using our landscape modeling to look at future landscapes, and the resultant impacts on both milkweed and Monarch butterflies. In the model they used, they were assuming that roadside ditches in most areas were places where milkweed was likely to be found.

As I quickly learned on my drive yesterday, that characterization is clearly NOT true in many areas, and seems to be strongly driven by local politics, in terms of local land management.  When driving in Minnehaha County, I often come across sprayer trucks, actively spraying herbicide in all the ditches to keep herbaceous weeds in check.  I also often come across tractors with mowers attached, mowing the ditches close to the ground.  Yes…even for the GRAVEL roads that rarely get traffic, the ditches are treated in this manner.  The result? The ditches around here often look like a well-manicured lawn (see photos below).  Hell, they often look BETTER than my yard does!! They often consists of nearly 100% brome grass (an exotic, BTW), while milkweed stems are few and far between, and are typically relegated to small spaces where a sprayer didn’t reach.

When driving through parts of Kingsbury and Brookings counties, I was struck by the incredible difference in the ditches. Many ditches clearly hadn’t been mowed in some time, if they were ever mowed. Grasses were mixed with wildflowers, other herbaceous plants, and yes…MILKWEED (see more photos below).  Milkweed was often present in very high abundance.  The issue clearly isn’t adjacency with actively growing agricultural crops. As the photos below show, the Brookings and Kingsbury County ditches often had an abundance of herbaceous plantlife in areas directly next to corn and soybean fields.

It is possible that I just happened to drive on some gravel roads yesterday in Kingsbury and Brookings counties where no action was taken, but spraying was occurring elsewhere.  On the Brookings County website, for example, I was disappointed to find this page, that notes the county DOES spray right-of-ways with “products such as 2,4-D, Tordon 22K, and possibly mixtures of them“.  They do note on their web page that they spray in May, so clearly they don’t spray all ditches, as the photo below (with the milkweed) is on a gravel road on the very western edge of Brookings County.

During the NACCB conference, one talk I heard focused on recovery efforts for the Monarch, and plans in place to improve Milkweed abundance and improvement. Even a dead-red, conservative state like Oklahoma is taking action, with the Oklahoma highway department specifically managing ditches for Monarch and pollinator habitat. They are specifically planting wildflowers and milkweed along highways in an effort to help not only Mmnarchs, but other species that depend on these plants. The discussion at the conference was a similar “Monarch Highway” stretching from Texas up northward through southern Canada, an area with highway ditches specifically devoted to herbaceous plants, including Milkweed.

Could such a thing happen up here in South Dakota? I’ll see it when I believe it. We have such an focus on agricultural production, that I find it hard to believe they’d accept any land management action that could possibly harm that production in any way.  Not that I BELIEVE an aggressive, pro-Milkweed, pro-Monarch Butterfly agenda would harm agricultural production, but in this VERY red state, environmentalists are usually portrayed as the enemy.  For a large portion of the populous here, I have no doubt they’d view a program like Oklahoma’s as an attempt by environmentalists to meddle in local affairs.

It’s hard to imagine now, but when we moved to South Dakota 25 years ago, our Congressional delegation was completely Democratic. Hell, we had Tom Daschle as a Democratic Senate Majority Leader.  How times have changed. Serendipity may have led to the 3 Democratic Congressional delegates 25 years ago, but in today’s anti-environmentalist concerns for issues like the Monarch Butterfly as far removed from most South Dakotan’s minds.

Minnehaha County Roadside Ditch

I wish my yard looked this green, lush, and free of weeds. Driving home yesterday through northern Minnehaha County, THIS is what roadsides looked like. Even for lightly traveled gravel roads such as this one. Frequent spraying and mowing ensure a monoculture of brome grass, with nary a milkweed stem in sight.

Brookings County Roadside Ditch

In contrast to the Minnehaha County ditch, this is what I saw in many parts of Kingsbury and Brookings Counties. This ditch clearly hadn’t been mowed or sprayed this summer, and was full of herbaceous plants other than brome grass, including many milkweed stems.

 

 

 

Climate Change is for the Birds

This morning was one of the most bizarre birding trips I’ve taken in a while. The forecast was clear skies and low wind, a combination you need to take advantage of when it happens in South Dakota. I headed up to the Lake Thompson area in Kingsbury County, South Dakota, to shoot gulls, terns, shorebirds, herons, egrets…all the wonderful water-loving birds you find up there this time of year.

I wanted to arrive just before dawn, and given it’s a 1 1/2 hour drive, I was up and on the road quite early. I knew right away something was different. Even before the sun arose, the lighting was strange. There were clearly no visible stars in the dark sky, but yet I had no doubt it was indeed cloud-free.  We had a hint of this phenomena yesterday, but this morning it hit full bore…a sky full of smoke from the fires hundreds of miles away in the western US and Canada.

Not was I was expecting when I left this morning, and it certainly changed the types of photos I went after! As usual at this time of year, there were birds everywhere. However, even after sunrise, the light was so poor that it was difficult to grab any decent photos.  It wasn’t until about half an hour after sunrise when it started to get bright enough to shoot. It’s not often you can point your expensive camera right at the sun at that time of day, and not permanently fry your sensor, but the light was so diffuse this morning I certainly could.  I ended up settling down at a wetland area near Lake Thompson, trying to shoot the numerous Black Terns against the odd, but beautiful lighting.  Not a situation I’m used to shooting in, but I was able to get some photos I thought were “cool”.

I’ve been in South Dakota 25 years now, and lived at basically the same latitude down in southern Nebraska before that. Until the last few years, I just don’t remember fire seasons out West being SO bad, that our air here on the eastern side of South Dakota was this affected.  But last year too, on one rock-hunting trip, the air was so bad that my eyes were watering and I started wheezing a bit. Something has changed!  That something most likely is due to, or at least severely exacerbated by, climate change!

Climate change is for the birds. But at least for one morning, it made for some cool photos.

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) - Flying through smoke-filled skies

Black Tern, flying through the reflection of a smoke-diffused sun. This is at LEAST half an hour after sunrise!

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)Highway 81 Lakes and Smoky Sky

 

 

Catching up…A mere 8,391 photos to process, upload, display

Photo processing - the long slog

One of two directories worth of “good” photos that I just need to finish processing, and put somewhere where they’ll see the light of day.

Uh…yeah. I’m running a bit behind in terms of processing photos.  Starting in around, oh…2012…I got lazy. Instead of processing photos from a trip rather quickly to ensure I actually DID it, I let them languish. I’d occasionally go back and revisit old shoots, but the photos kept piling up.  Now I didn’t just completely ignore photos from a trip. For all of these photo shoots since early 2014, I DID go in and thin out all the bad photos. I converted the remaining photos from RAW and did some basic image processing. All these photos are thus “good” shots that I’ve just never done anything with. I haven’t cataloged them.  I haven’t put them on my own website. I haven’t put them on any of the photo sites where I have accounts. No Facebook, no Twitter…these are photos that are almost ready to go, but have never seen the light of day.

I’m now finding that on days I don’t go birding, I can pretty much do some virtual birding in my upstairs office, perusing all these unprocessed photos and getting them out on my website and elsewhere.  I’m finding SO many photos that I didn’t know I had! Species I didn’t remember shooting!  Wonderful scenes and settings that have since slipped my mind! So, I’ve decided to take a break. Take a break from going out quite as often as I’m used, and instead, catching up on the photos that I DO have.

Two directories worth of photos…one with 4,491 photos, one with 3,900 photos, all in need of polishing and uploading to somewhere that people can actually see them!  I’m going through it rather randomly, going back to some trip from 2012, back to 2018, etc. Not only am I “discovering” some nice photos, I’m finding photos that may be some of my favorite photos of all time!

No idea how long this will take, but it’s a nice way to spend days I don’t go out birding. Here’s a more recent photo, from Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado earlier this summer.

Woodhouse's Scrub Jay - Aphelocoma woodhouseii

 

Burrowing Owl? Here?!? POTD – From 10 years ago today

It was 10 years ago when I had one of my better birding moments. There are always those great trips to “new” places that get the birding juices flowing, but one of the best aspects of birding is that you never know what you might see when you go out.

It was 10 years ago that I was coming back from a business trip. I flew into the Sioux Falls airport and was driving back to my little home town of Brandon (about 6 miles west of Sioux Falls). I was driving by an open alfalfa field, when I noticed a bird on a post.  It was a…no…couldn’t be…yes! a Burrowing Owl!  Here in far eastern South Dakota, just a few miles from Minnesota. Historically Burrowing Owls used to be around here, but there hadn’t been a breeding record of Burrowing Owls anywhere close to here in decades.  Our grassland is gone, and we just don’t have the prairie dogs or other creatures that Burrowing Owls are often found with.  Yet here was an adult Burrowing Owl, hanging out on a fence post, in early August.

I quickly drove the last 4 miles home, got my camera and returned. Upon looking around I saw another Burrowing Owl…and another…and another.  There were two adults, and at least four young!! It didn’t take long to find their home. They were using an old badger hole, in the middle of the alfalfa field by the road.  The young were already as big as the parents, although with a different plumage. I had a blast for the next month, watching the little Burrowing Owl family feed on grasshoppers, crickets, and other little critters, primarily using a big CRP (?) grassland that was right next to the alfalfa field. By early September they started disappearing, one by one.

That alfalfa field is now on a corn and soybeans rotation. The CRP field they were using to forage? Also plowed under, used for corn and soybeans. In the 10 years since, I’ve never again seen a Burrowing Owl anywhere close to  my part of the state. But I’ll always remember the little Burrowing Owl family that successfully fledged several young, just 4 miles from my house.  Here’s one photo I took at night, of one of the adults foraging for insects alongside the road.

Burrowing Owl - Athene cunicularia

Who’s to blame for climate change impacts? Environmental activists!!

Senator Mike Rounds (R) - South Dakota

Our beloved former Governor turned Senator, Mike Rounds. Not only did he strongly advocate for the US to leave the Paris Climate Accords, evidently he found the REAL cause of climate change…environmental activists! I wonder if he also blames them for that massive bald spot and his ridiculous comb-over attempt.

The West is burningScandanavia is sweltering. Ocean temperatures off the coast of California are the highest they’ve ever been. Clearly something is happening, right? A normal person would look at the evidence in front of them, believe their own eyes, and declare climate change to be humanity’s number one threat.  Those in the GOP are far from normal. Over the past week I’ve encountered at least two stories where those in the GOP aren’t blaming carbon dioxide levels or humanity for disasters striking the US. No, it turns out the REAL culprits are environmental activists themselves!!

The first story has been widely reported over the last day, when Orange Hitler tweeted California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!” The “logic” behind the tweet? Trump evidently believes California’s environmental and water use laws that actually let rivers, you know…FLOW…are causing a lack of water, resulting in massive fire outbreaks in the state.  I prefer this gentleman’s take on the GOP logic:

California climate and water expert Peter Gleick tweeted that Trump’s explanation was “gobbledygook bullshit” and “unmitigated crap.”

Note I attribute a blanket “GOP logic” rather than just “Trump logic”, as he’s clearly not alone in his level of delusion. When taking my son fishing along the Missouri River this past week, I looked for news about water levels.  There are abnormally high water levels in the northern portions of the Missouri River, and as a result, they are releasing large quantities of water through the turbines at Oahe Dam in Pierre, South Dakota.  The resultant downstream flooding has caused an outcry against the Corps of Engineers for supposedly mismanaging the river’s flow.  There’s only so much the Corps can can do, as the water has to go somewhere, but former-South-Dakota-Governor-turned-Senator-yet-always-clueless Mike Rounds took it one step further. So what’s causing the downstream flooding, according to our resident super-genius?

Rounds thinks climate-change driven policy choices might have caused greater challenges in balancing the mainstem dam system’s electric power and flood control functions. Arguments based on climate change have led increasingly to adoption of wind power, Rounds said, and wind power production is not uniform, because the amount of wind varies.

Yes…it’s those damn climate change activists, insisting on wind turbines as an alternative energy source. Because of them, Rounds claims, it’s much more difficult to manage water flow through the Missouri River dams. And thus…CLIMATE CHANGE ACTIVISTS ARE CAUSING THE FLOODING.

I don’t know what’s sadder…the fact that our Nation’s supposed leaders have the gall to claim environmental activists are causing environmental disaster…or that evidently 40% of Americans are stupid enough to believe them.

 

POTD – Dreaming of our next Arizona vacation

A story of one of my all-time favorite photos, related to an upcoming vacation. We LOVE Arizona. The diversity of landscapes, the scenery, the wildlife…it’s just such a treat, and so different than what we have in our part of South Dakota.  We first went about 20 years ago and have been back many times since.  However, it’s been a few years!  We decided that we’d take a week-long vacation and head down to Tucson this winter.

From a birding perspective, the Tucson area (where we usually go) is birding nirvana for me, particularly when we go down to Madera Canyon and some of the other famed birding spots in the area. Winter is still good for birding, but not nearly as good as the spring and summer (HOT!!!!) months. But despite what birds we may find, there’s always the scenery.

If it weren’t for the oppressive heat in summer, if I had the choice of anywhere to live in the US, it would be in the Sonoran desert habitat of Arizona. My first time there, I was shocked not only by the beauty, but the amount of LIFE that you find there. Given the heat and aridity, I expected a place that was tough for live to thrive, but whenever we go, it seems full of birds, insects, reptiles, and other life.  The backbone of the ecoystem, the “big daddy” from a vegetation standpoint, are the giant saguaro cactus. So many species depend upon them, not only for cover and nesting cavities, but for food.  It’s really cool being there in May when the saguaro are blooming, and seeing how many critters utilize the big blooms.

The place we stayed many times is now sadly closed…”Hacienda del Desierto”, a former B&B that not only had wonderful hosts, but a massive acreage with their own Sonoran desert habitat. Many a morning on vacation I’d wake before dawn and roam their lands, running into critters including coyotes, javelina, birds, snakes, and even bobcat.  Right outside the Hacienda is one of the largest saguaro cactus you’ll ever see, a saguaro full of character, with all the nesting holes from the birds that have used it over the years. Elf Owls will often nest in this cactus, as will Gila Woodpeckers, Gilded Flickers, and other birds.

On one of these mornings at the B&B, I awoke just before dawn to a gorgeous sky full of wonderful, scattered clouds. As I walked out by the big saguaro, I thought I’d try something unique for me…a photo that wasn’t a bird! I wanted something that captured not only the grandeur of that saguaro, but the wonderful early morning sky.  I put on my (rarely used) wide-angle lens, and tried to get a shot that captured both the sky and the saguaro. Not happy with what I was getting, I decided to try something different. I laid down on the ground next to the saguaro, and shot straight up the cactus towards the sky.

I absolutely love the resultant shot.  I love it so much, I made a big 36″ tall print on canvas that adorns my office wall at work.  I paid the price for this photo!  I learned that even if you don’t see them, the Sonoran desert ground is LITTERED with cactus thorns of all shapes and sizes! After taking the photo, I returned to my room, and spent some time with my wife, who graciously removed the thorns from my back, and the back of my legs and arms.  A price, but oh so worth it for one of my favorite photos of all time.

Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)

POTD for August 3rd – Kilauea one year ago

One thing Facebook is very efficient at is telling you what you were up to one…three…five…etc years ago.  It was one year ago we vacationed on the Big Island of Hawai’i.  My son, wife, and I each chose one “big” thing to do while we were there.  My “big” thing was to arrange for participation in a hike with “Epic Lava“.  The eruption of the Pu’u ‘O’o vent had been going on since 1983, and while changes in the eruptive activity had often occurred since then, the eruption was relatively reliable, for those willing to hike to an area of actively flowing lava.  Epic Lava Tours took visitors on hikes, promising to take you right up to active lava flows.

It was safe. It was semi-predictable.  So we met the tour group at some ridiculously early time (4:00 AM?), and drove down to the southeastern coast. The road was closed at one point, and thus it was necessary to hike a few miles to get to the area of actively flowing lava.  Epic Lava tried to time it so you arrived right around dawn, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.  The sun rose just a few minutes before we reached an area where we saw our first actively flowing lava.

It was…incredible.  It was mesmerizing watching the slowly moving lava, with sudden “breakouts” getting folks excited as we moved from location to location in search of the latest, newest flow.  The HEAT was incredible.  I guess we should have expected that, right?  It’s molten rock!  But it certainly amazing to not only see the lava from close range, but FEEL the heat and energy emanating from it.

A trip of a lifetime!  Today…one year later…The Pu’u ‘O’o vent has collapsed, after a 35-year run of continuous eruptions! Today’s activity is certainly much more “exciting”, with occasional lava fountaining and a massive, molten river of lava that dwarfs what we saw.  That activity is obviously devastating to those who have had their lives disrupted. The disruption extends to Epic Lava Tours, as that predictable, “safe” Pu’u ‘O’o flow is no longer available, and the owner is fighting for the right to bring visitors to the newest volcanic sights on the island.  But once you see it, you’re “hooked”, and want to do it again.  We hope to visit the Big Island again some day and see what sights Kilauea has to offer.

For now…today’s photo of the day, an example of the activity from Pu’u ‘O’o from last year.

Kilauea Lava - Pu'u 'O'o vent activity

An anniversary POTD – Saving my sanity with macro photography

In the summer of 2015, I was having a tough time. I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome a few years before, but I was dealing with it and the symptoms weren’t crippling yet.  That changed that summer, when my eyes were getting so dry that not only was I miserable, but it was affecting my vision. Typically it just got worse as the day went on, although the severity of symptoms varied each day.  Some days, I simply couldn’t see well at all by late afternoon (or earlier), to the point I couldn’t really use a computer well.  Ever since that summer, my work hours have been very early (typically 6-3), but it all started that summer as I couldn’t work very well after mid-afternoon..

It wasn’t until later that winter that I started investigating scleral contact lenses (more in a bit).  But that summer, I was struggling. I soon discovered that if I wore goggles, the dryness was still uncomfortable, but the moisture accumulating in the googles was enough to allow me to maintain my vision.  The problem? I HAD TO WEAR GOGGLES!!  And my eyeglass prescription is so off-the-charts weird, that nobody would make custom goggles with a prescriptions.  That thus meant I wore very big motorcycle goggles over my regular prescription glasses.  It’s a WONDERFUL look!  But not one I felt like sharing in public.

My days that summer were as follows…go to work, use eyedrops literally every 15 minutes, go home, and as soon as my vision started to leave me, I’d throw on the goggles and stay home the rest of the day.   It was…depressing. I wasn’t doing any birding, I wasn’t doing many of the things I loved, because I either felt miserable, or my vision was horrible. But just by chance, earlier that summer, I had bought a very nice macro lens for my Canon DSLR.  I hadn’t really played with it much…until my vision started to go and I didn’t want to leave the house much.

I spent quite a bit of time that summer and fall, just walking through the backyard, and learning to appreciate the tiny little world that had been there all along. I knew nothing about insects (ok, I still don’t know a lot), but I did QUICKLY discover the incredible variety, and incredible beauty, of the little critters roaming my backyard. Many nights I’d come home from work, not be feeling well, and I’d go out in the back yard with the camera. It helped me feel normal. It helped me feel connected to my old hobbies.  It gave me a bit of much needed joy.  As my eyes seemingly got drier and my vision deteriorated, I’d even don the goggles and walk around the yard.  If no neighbors were out, that is.  Pride and vanity is a tough thing to overcome, even when you’re miserable…

It was later in the winter that the scleral lenses (a lens that gives your eyes a nice day-long bath in saline) literally saved my sanity.  Heck, they saved my JOB, as when the scleral lenses are in, my eyes feel almost normal, and my vision is awfully damned sharp. I can still only wear them 12 hours a day at most, so my evenings are still often spent at home, with my lovely fashionable goggles on. However, with the scleral lenses and the return of my vision, I resumed more of a normal life, and resumed my bird photography. I haven’t used the macro lens a lot since that summer, but I will always appreciate the distraction macro photography gave me that summer, a period that helped bridge the period to the salvation of the scleral lenses.

With that…today’s POTD is a macro photo of a meadowhawk (dragonfly) in my yard from that summer. The second photo is simply a crop of the first photo, showing the incredible fine detail the macro lens can resolve.

Meadowhawk - SympetrumMeadowhawk - Sympetrum

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