Subsequent Screech Owl Stories

Since the nesting screech owls left us (see Our Screech Owl Image – The Rest Of The Story, which is about the subject owl family in our image “Mother Screech Owl with Fledgling” (a link to that page is in the article)), we’ve had a few noteworthy encounters with our local screech owls. In the most recent, we may have saved a life, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In Our Neighbor’s Yard

A few years ago, we were outside with our good friend and former wild bird rehabilitator April Kirkendoll (whom we last mentioned in Nancy’s Photos Are In Book About Bees), when we heard the blue jays squawking in a neighbor’s mango tree. That usually means there is a snake or hawk in the vicinity, so we walked across the street to investigate. As we peered through their chain-link fence, we saw a screech owl fall out of a tree onto the ground. April hopped over the 6-ft fence, retrieved the bird, handed it to Nancy, and then hopped back over the fence. As she inspected the owl, April lifted one wing and then pointed out a large dark area of skin. “This bird has been poisoned!” Apparently, the owl had caught a poisoned rat (or mouse), possibly still alive, but weakened. The poison works by thinning the rat’s blood so much that it ultimately dies from internal hemorrhaging. Whatever eats the rat could suffer the same fate. We buried the owl in the garden.

Nancy, The Rehabilitator

This last January, our next-door neighbor brought us a screech owl that he picked up at the corner 7-11 (see post on our Bee Happy Graphics Facebook page – that photograph was taken by another non-photographer good friend, Isabella Baldovino). That owl had knocked itself unconscious by flying into one of the 7-11 windows. After consulting with April, we monitored it all day, but it was ready to release that evening.

Nancy about to release revived screech owl (iPhone photograph by our good neighbor, Kristi Sellars)
Figure 1: Nancy about to release a revived screech owl (iPhone photograph taken by our good neighbor, Kristi Sellars)

An Owl Returns To Our Nest Box

A few weeks ago, we were excited to notice an owl face looking out the opening of our nest box. Nancy noticed a resemblance to the owl she released in January. She saw the owl several days in a row, and then it disappeared briefly, then came back, and so on. After one absence lasted at least a couple of days, Nancy decided to check the nest box. From the side door, she saw the owl was still there. She was able to pick it up and noticed two eggs. The owl was very lethargic. It didn’t squawk, attack, or even defend its nest. In fact, it would barely open its eyes. We could easily feel the ridge of the breast bone.

Screech owl in nestbox with two eggs
Figure 2: Lethargic mother screech owl with two eggs

Nancy put the owl back in the box and consulted our expert. Together, they theorized that the mate, which we had not seen, may have been poisoned, but before disappearing permanently, brought the poisoned meal to the mother. We tried force-feeding the mother a small piece of raw chicken, but she wasn’t having any of that. We later brought a small dish of wax worm larvae and chicken pieces and placed it in the nest. The next morning, the food was gone. the next dish with larger portions met the same fate. At this point, the owl was a little more lively. We gave her another dish of food. The next morning, the food and the owl were both gone. We left another dish of food, hoping she would return, but the next morning the food was still there, and she was still gone. April had warned us that without the male, she might abandon the nest to save herself. We haven’t seen her since.

What About The Eggs

Screech owls lay their first three eggs a day apart, but then begin to slow down a bitRef 1. Although their average clutch size is four eggs, they have been known to have as many as six. April told us that the mother doesn’t start incubating until they are all laid so that they all hatch about the same time.

The second day after the mother disappeared, I estimated that the oldest egg must be four days old. We decided we’d better do something about those eggs soon. We called the rehab centers in our area but had to leave messages. They never got back to us. April sent us one link for building an inexpensive incubator (“The $3, 30-Minute Egg Incubator”), but I’m sure there are others online. After reviewing those instructions, we started scrounging up materials. We started with an old heating pad and eventually wound up with the rig shown info Figure 3 below. I learned a few things in the process:

Homemade ad hoc incubator
Figure 3: The final version of our ad hoc incubator

I set it up in the shop so it wouldn’t affect or be affected by the air conditioner. In hindsight, the air-conditioned environment would have been more stable. I started with just the heating pad, which had three settings: just a little low, too high, and way too high. While it was on the medium setting I tried adding layers of towel as insulation, with marginal success. Then I put it on low and added an incandescent light for fine-tuning. These parts were just lying on our shop table. I would change the distance from the bulb to the egg to change the temperature. I was using a neighbor’s (the one who took the picture in Figure 1) old-fashioned oral thermometer and began checking the temperature every five minutes, increasing the time as the temperature stabilized in the target range (99°Ref 2 ±1°).

Turns out the heating pad was a bad idea. After some initial luck, the temperature would swing from one end of its range to the other (and beyond). I concluded that for consistency, the placement of the thermometer was crucial. The problem was that the temperature gradient created by the heating pad was too great; the surface of the pad might be over 100 degrees, but one millimeter away would be substantially less.

I unplugged the heating pad and got a box to control the hot air from the lightbulb. Using the box, the distance between egg and bulb wasn’t as critical to the temperature as the height of the open edge of the box, which could be adjusted as needed. And the bulb-heated air temperature was much more consistent throughout the chamber and more important, throughout the egg. I got to the point where I was rotating the egg 1/3 of a revolution four times a day, and would only check the temperature twice between rotations (and none at night).

The End Of The Story?

Alas, after three days on the incubator, tragedy struck. I won’t go into details but would like to warn you to make sure your box is well supported. Although it was probably too early to tell, candling the remains of the last egg did not reveal any signs of development.

Nonetheless, we are going to declare this experience a success. Most likely, we saved the mother screech owl from certain death. It is even possible that after a year or so, she will have recovered, found another mate, and could even return to the nest box to raise another family. As for the eggs, the cards were stacked against them from the beginning. According to the Barn Owl Box Company (Ref 1), even under normal conditions, only half of all screech owl eggs hatch (compared to over 80% for some owl species). But these weren’t normal conditions. And what about the father, and this recurring poisoning theme? That is up to all of us. Nancy and I, and many of our friends, are trying to do our part. Are you?

Thanks for listening. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, leave them below.

Red-bellied Woodpecker – Our Newest Image

Nancy just took this photograph last month. We’ve had these woodpeckers in our yard before, but never did one just hang out in the Jatropha tree (where our bird feeders and other birds are) just outside the kitchen window before. There were no screens in those windows at the time, so Nancy carefully rolled up the awning windows and took a few shots while standing in the kitchen. We almost never see the red belly, so this shot was even more special.

male red-bellied woodpecker

At our next festival in Bradentonannounced, we should have a matted print of this picture available. For more information about this image, see our webpage Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Reflections – My Answer To "What's Wrong . . . Ver. 2"

I recently posed the question “What’s Wrong With This Picture”blog about a modified landscape photograph of a foggy sunrise in Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Goodland, Florida. It turns out Deborah Gray Mitchell, one of the commenters, was right; the image was upside down.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
Ms. Mithcell has her own website (www.dgmfoto.com), but several other sites have information about her. Just Google “Deborah Gray Mitchell”.


To be more precise, I flipped the image vertically and took steps to remove ripples in the reflection and such so that the answer wouldn’t be so obvious. The original picture can be seen at “Foggy Sunrise” on our website. Now I’d like to discuss reflections and the clues that should have given the answer away.

Reflections

illustration showing different perspective of reflected image
Figure 1: Perspective showing differences between the direct and reflected image

. . . Of Your Subject

First of all, the reflected image should NOT look like a mirror copy of the unreflected image, because the photographer has a different perspective or viewing angle of the reflection. As your high school physics teacher may have told you, in reflections, the angle of incidence (e.g. α2 in Figure 1) equals the angle of reflection (α1), so the view you have of the reflected image would be the same as if the subject had been flipped below the reflecting surface, as shown in Figure 1 above. I know that may sound like I just contradicted myself, but it is the subject itself I just flipped, not the direct image of the subject. Notice in Figure 1 that in the reflection, the two trees appear the same height, as depicted with red sightline C, while in the direct image the far tree looks higher as shown by green sightlines B1 and B2. The further away the subject is, the less of a difference this makes.

diagram of perspective and angles associated with reflections
Figure 2: Alternate perspective of reflected view that’s better for showing effects on the sun

. . . Of Celestial Bodies

Here’s another way to look at the effects of reflection; it is as if you had been flipped below the reflecting surface, as shown in Figure 2, instead of flipping the subject. Although possibly less intuitive, this interpretation yields the same results, as shown by lines B1, B2, & C, but makes the effects of the reflection of the sun more apparent. In the image under consideration, as in most cases, the sun would have been your biggest clue. The sun is 93 million miles from us, but even our closest celestial body, the moon, at under a quarter of a million miles (say 238,900 miles), is much further than what your lens considers to be infinity. All light rays from the sun are virtually parallel (or come in at the exact same angle), no matter where you are.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
This detail helped Eratosthenes figure out how large the Earth was 2,260 years agoexplained and was crucial to celestial navigation. It is also important in the creation of rainbows. I might be addressing that aspect in an article about my quest for a midnight rainbow. Stay tuned!


This means that the sun will always be higher in the direct view than it appears in the reflection (compare the angle between sun ray A and line B1 to the difference between comparable sightlines D and C).

So There You Have It

I hope that clears things up. This information should make you better at spotting fake reflections, or as a photographer, help you create better forgeries by knowing what mistakes to avoid. Good luck!

Of course, you may share your reflections on this or any related material (or questions) in the comment section below. Thanks for stopping by.

What's Wrong With This Picture (Version 2)?

It has been almost sixteen months since I submitted my last suspicious photographannouced and I just don’t have enough material to make this a regular feature, but here we go. Nancy took this picture here in Florida. I made a simple change (and cleaned it up just a bit).  So what is wrong here?

an altered sunrise photo

All comments and guesses are welcome. You have at least two weeks to figure it out and respond but don’t dilly dally. Good luck!

Introducing “Royal Terns”

A couple of days after an art festival in Cedar Key two-and-a-half years ago, Nancy took this photograph from the bow of our new canoe on the north end of Seahorse Key before making the return trip to Cedar Key. Although the weather had been good all day, that trip did not finish well. You can read about that on our “new” webpage for the image (that webpage is now six months old).

A flock of royal terns landing

Earlier on that canoe trip. we took Gigapan images of downtown Cedar Key from Atsena Otie Key before moving on to Seahorse Key to get a Gigapan of the lighthouse. I upgraded our computerspecs this summer to make our Gigapan work faster, and hope to get to those images next month. Stay tuned.

“Oak Tree Graveyard” – Our First Night Photograph

When we discovered Big Talbot Island State Parkwebsite north of Jacksonville one morning toward the end of April, 2010, Nancy saw Boneyard Beach and decided we needed to come back late in the afternoon for further investigation.  The elevation for most of the tree-clad island is about twenty feet.  Atlantic storms over the millennia have eroded the bluff to the beach and continue to knock trees down to the beach.  We returned while it was still light, worked our way down to the beach and took “Trees In Their Twilight” just a few minutes after sunset.  The camera was on a tripod for the 0.8-second exposure.

Since we expected a near-full moon to rise within the hour, we stayed around and took “Oak Tree Graveyard” less than an hour later, one third of the way through nautical twilightdefinition.  It was so dark we needed a flashlight to change the settings on the camera.  That picture took a 65-second exposure (about 8,000 times as long as your average selfie), which gave the sensor a chance to pick up light you didn’t even know was there.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
This is the one area that the sensor is better than your eye. As I mention in Limitations You Should Know About Your Digital Camera (Or Phone)!, your brain doesn’t benefit from staring at something longer than 15 secondssource.


During that 65 seconds, I took our little LED flashlight (so as not to overpower the almost non-existent ambient light) and shined the light back and forth over those nearest three trees in the foreground.  I recall “painting with light” like this the whole 65 seconds, but Nancy distinctly remembers stopping after fifteen seconds 😕.  If you sweep slowly to cover the target in one pass, you might miss a spot. Or if you linger too long in one area, you will create a “hot” spot.  I recommend sweeping faster and making as many passes as you can to take advantage of the averaging effect.

What amazed me when the image finally appeared on the back of the camera after the shutter closed, was that the orange glow was still there. We’ve since gained more experience with night photography (for example, see Nautical Twilight In The Glades, Seven-mile Bridge At Twilight, Midnight In The Pinelands). Now we know that there are enough photonsdefined bouncing around at even the darkest hour so that if you left your shutter open long enough you could make it look like a bright overcast day (there would be nothing casting a shadow). At midnight, the light level could be about 1/160th that of “Oak Tree Graveyard”, meaning you would have to increase the exposure time, aperture, and/or ISO to gain over seven f-stops to get its sky to that same level of brightness. But the horizon would be blue again by then because the orange glow only lasts an hour or two, depending on atmospheric conditions.

Epilogue

After getting “Oak Tree Graveyard”, we headed back up the bluff and back along the trail to the van. In an open area in the woods along the way, we saw an unbelievable firefly display as we have never seen before (or since), but were too tired to stop for pictures. Nancy has been kicking herself about that decision ever since.

Gray Wolves – The Image

Last month, I promised to introduce you to a few of our newer images that had been overlookedblog. Today’s image is “Gray Wolves”, which was added to our collection at the very end of last December. We photographed these wolves in June 2006 in Golden, British Columbia. You can find more information on our Gray Wolves image webpage.

Gray Wolves