Burrowing Owls – Our Newest Addition

In May we visited Brian Piccolo Sports Park in Cooper City in the early morning with our friend, Brian Rapoza, to get burrowing owl pictures.

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Brian is an old friend who we first introduced in 2012blog and later contributed to Why You Haven’t Seen Any Painted Buntings.


While there, Nancy got a few pictures. This is the one she likes best.

Burrowing owls


For more information, you can go to our Burrowing Owls page. If you hurry, you can have Print #1 either on fine art paper or canvas up to at least 23″ by 35″. Soon we will be making a few prints for our next art festival, which is still scheduled for Odessa in early Decemberannounced.

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.

My Midnight Rainbow Quest – Tougher Than I Thought

I just recently looked a little deeper into some rainbow geometry and discovered that this challenge could be a lot harder than I first imagined. But for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a little history –

The Facebook Quiz

This all started with one of the little quizzes I put on my personal Facebook page from time to time. This one went like this:

No unicorn questions today, but I do have a short quiz on rainbows for you - During what part of the day will you see the biggest rainbows? A) Early morning B) High noon C) Late afternoon D) Midnight E) All of the above F) None of the above
– 11:59 pm on July 11, 2019

A friend, John Gilbert, responded:

Bogus question, Bruce. Answers D, E and F are unicorn answers. I’ll take B, high noon, for 500.

John Gilbert’s 4:56 pm Facebook comment on July 12, 2019 to above post
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Although John was a photographer for the Navy, now he is an artist. You can check out his website www.johngilbertartist.com.


to which I responded,

You started well but still wound up with the fourth-best answer (just behind D)….

My 3:31 am response on July 22, 2019

Then:

A flash photo using a common digital camera of a rainbow is not logical
– 8:50 am on July 22nd
If you are referring to an attempt to capture an existing rainbow, in much the same fashion as all those people who take flash pictures of an event from the nosebleed section of the stadium, I would agree, but at noon (at moderate latitudes) and at midnight, there is no existing rainbow. You would be counting on the flash, placed at the correct angle, to produce a rainbow that your camera could capture. I wouldn't expect it to be easy, but illogical? Are you sure? Even with the ISO cranked way up?
– 10:10 pm on July 22nd
I don't usually photograph rainbows after dark. I've never seen a photograph of a rainbow after dark. If you have one, I would love to see it.
– 6:42 am on July 24th
Put-up-or-shut-up challenges are quite reasonable here. I mentioned that this may not be easy, and I have a lot on my plate right now, but I'll see what I can do. Stay tuned. My first goal will be to make sure it's possible, then we can talk about composition.
– 8:53 am on July 24th
To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
By the way, the correct answer to the quiz could be either A or C. If you can’t handle more than one correct answer on a multiple-choice question, pick C (more large rainbows will be seen then because more people are awake around dusk than dawn). The animation below shows how a rainbow changes with the movement of the sun. (The black face on the ground represents the top of the shadow of the observer.)

animation showing movement of rainbow with sun

The Contest

To speed things up, I then asked our local Kendall Camera Club for help by creating a contest for the best nighttime rainbow picture. I am now extending that contest to all of my readers. Here are the rules:

Contest Rules

  1. I’ll give the equivalent of a six-pack of your favorite brew (within reason) for the best picture of a rainbow at night. I said six-pack equivalent because a corresponding discount for any of the products or services of Bee Happy Graphics (see our Products and/or Services pages) may be substituted at your request.
  2. The contest will run at least another month but may continue until we get a chance to get our own rainbow pictures (which will not be part of this contest), or until I give up all hope of completing this quest. If there are not enough entries at the end of the contest, the prize need not be awarded.
  3. You can enter your image by emailing the file to admin@BeeHappyGraphics.com.
  4. Composition does count. Photos of real rainbows will be given precedence, but just in case I overstated the possibility of that occurring, “Photoshopped” rainbows will be accepted.
  5. I will announce the close of the competition and the beginning of the voting process in a comment to this blog post. I will explain the voting process in that same comment.
  6. At least three weeks after the announcement from Rule 5 above, a winner will be announced. If any entry has three or more votes, the one with the most votes will be the winner. If no entry has that many votes, then I will take an informal survey among my closest family and friends, and pick the winner. The decision of the judges (as defined above) is final. This prize may be combined with other promotions.
  7. Since this is a photo contest, I should mention that the photographer retains all rights to his/her image. We get to use your image only to run and publish the results of this contest.

So far, there have been no entries.

The Physics

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the geometry doesn’t look good.

illustration of angle of refraction/reflection of a single raindrop
Figure 1: The average angle between the light source (usually the sun) and your eye from a single raindrop. Because of refraction, the angle for violet light is a couple of degrees less than the angle for red light.

Figure 1 shows the angle that a light ray bounces off of a single raindrop. In Figure 2 (which is a view looking down, with the blue-hashed region being a rain cloud), one can see that as the sun’s rays all come in as parallel lines from the same direction, the five representative raindrops, and all others from which the blue light rays bounce at the same angle into the observers eye are all along the same line of sight, and therefore all reinforce each other. A single raindrop doesn’t reflect a lot of light and it takes the light of a lot of raindrops to make the rainbow visible. Similarly, the raindrops reflecting red light into the eye from a slightly different angle form along a slightly different line of sight and also reinforce each other.

illustration of the geometry of refraction/reflection that causes rainbows
Figure 2: The geometry of light reflected/refracted from a distant source where the incoming light rays are all parallel

The Problem

illustration of the geometry of refraction/reflection caused by nearby light source
Figure 3: The geometry of light reflected/refracted from a nearby light source

But using flash, the geometry is different; the light source and the eye can now be represented by single points. But unless you were the navigator of a Coast Guard buoy tender or something, you may have forgotten a lesson from high school geometry; that the set of all points for which the angle between those two objects is the same defines a circle, not a line. In Figure 3, the angle between the flash and the eye is the same for Representative Raindrops A and B, and all other dark blue points on the outer circle (there is no rain along the pale blue segments of that circle). Unfortunately, each point on that circle is along a different line of sight from the observer and the light rays do NOT accumulate in the eye. To make matters worse, the red light reflected from Representative Raindrop C (on the circle of red light) IS along the same line of sight as the blue light from Representative Raindrop B (and the other colors of the spectrum from raindrops directly between them), which tend to cancel out into white light. This means you will see no rainbow.

Where Does That Leave Us

The original purpose of this article was to throw in the towel and admit defeat, but as I was getting the materials together, I’ve already come up with a couple of new ideas that need to be explored. But the busiest part of our art festival season is now upon us and the rainy season doesn’t start in South Florida until around June, so this is not the rainbow of promise, but one of hope. Stay tuned. (And if you have a photograph of a nighttime rainbow, please send it.) Thanks.

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.

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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. You can see the original picture 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! (See My Midnight Rainbow Quest – Tougher Than I Thought.)


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!

Our Second Biannual Caption Contest

OK, so it’s actually been almost 27 months since our first caption contestprevious. The photograph this time is not part of our regular collection, nor will it ever be, most likely. Nancy took this picture on our trip with Natural Habitat Adventures to Uganda and Rwanda in 2015 to photograph mountain gorillasdetails. As you can see, we found some. We are just starting to process those pictures now.

Bruce and silverback
Your caption could be here

This shot was taken at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. We were told that we weren’t supposed to get within seven meters (23 feet) of a gorilla on this hike. I’m as far off the trail (which goes off to your left) as I can get, unlike the other three gentlemen, and I’m wishing I had a wider lens. The other three managed to get out of the silverback’s way just after this photo was taken, and we all lived happily ever after.

The winner of this contest will get ten dollars off any print or service of Bee Happy Graphics. Here’s how the contest will work:

  • For at least the next three weeks, you can enter your caption idea into the comments of this article below.
  • I will announce the close of the competition and the beginning of the voting process in another comment to this blog post. I may have a plug-in for that by then and will explain the voting process in that same comment.
  • At least two weeks after that last announcement a winner will be announced. If any entry has three or more votes, the one with the most votes will be the winner. If no entry has that many votes, then I will take an informal survey among my closest family and friends, and pick the winner. The decision of the judges (as defined above) is final. This prize may be combined with other promotions.

Good luck, and let the contest begin!

Giant Swallowtails (Papilio cresphontes)

For the last couple of summers, Nancy has been working hard to ‘branch out’ with a larger selection of (native) butterfly host and nectar plants around the yard to bring a greater variety of butterflies to the neighborhood. It is starting to pay off. Besides our Monarchs, we’ve seen more Zebra Heliconians (our state butterfly, formerly known as the zebra longwing), we’ve seen Polydamas and Giant Swallowtails, we’ve seen one of the Duskywings (the Zarucco, I think), a few Sulphurs, and even some Atalas. We’ve recently seen chrysalises of the Atalas and then the Giant Swallowtails. Earlier this month, I expanded our explanation of the Atala Butterfly life cycle on that page of our website (www.BeeHappyGraphics.com/gallery/atala.html). Now I’m going to tell you a few things about the life cycle of a Giant Swallowtail Butterfly.

The Egg

For this discussion, we will start with a single, 1 to 1.5 millimeter (just under 1/16“) cream to brown colored egg with orange secretions, on the upper surface of a leaf. It is laid on members of the citrus family, the giant swallowtail’s host plants, represented in our case by wild lime. The egg lasts four to ten days before hatching, depending on the temperature and host plant.

The Caterpillar

Small Larva of Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Figure 1: early phase (instar) of giant swallowtail caterpillar. Its head is to the right.

The larva (a.k.a. caterpillar) then goes through five instars (periods between molts) which, unlike the monarch butterfly instars, all look different. The first instar has hairs. The next instars have been compared to bird poop. The younger instars are more realistic-looking as bird droppings with more contrast than the later instars (shown in Figure 2). They rest on top of the leaf and are nocturnal (which makes sense – being seen moving around during the day could blow their disguise). The more mature instars rest on the stems and have been theorized to resemble small snake heads. These caterpillars also have a red, antenna-like osmeterium, which is not usually visible (and which we have not yet seen).

Larger Caterpillar and Chrysalis of Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Figure 2: larger giant swallowtail larva on the left side of the branch (head up) and chrysalis on right side.

The Chrysalis

After three or four weeks, when it reaches a length of about two inches (5 cm), the larva will pupate. It could form the chrysalis (not to be confused with a ‘cacoon’, which is just an outer protective cover spun by a moth larvae for their chrysalis) right on the stem of the host plant (unlike the monarchlife cycle, who because its host plant is an easily devourable species of milkweed, must travel up to twenty feet to find a safe place to pupate, or the Atala, for which all sibling larvae pupate together so they don’t have to worry about their late-developing siblings coming by and eating them onto the ground), or it could travel a short distance to a vertical surface. As seen in the above picture, the chrysalis hangs tail-down at an angle of about 45° to the structure with its top suspended from silken threads. The pupa (a more general name for chrysalis that can be also applied to all metamorphizing insects, not just butterflies and moths) will last from ten to more than twelve days before emerging into an adult. Unlike the monarch, we have not noticed the giant swallowtail chrysalis changing color over time.

The Adult

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Figure 3: adult giant swallowtail butterfly. (Notice chrysalis below it.)

As shown in Figure 3, the adult is black with yellow trim on the top, and could possibly be confused with other black-and-yellow swallowtails like the Black Swallowtaildescribed (and very-rarely-seen species like the Schaus’described and Bahaman Swallowtailsdescribed). The underside of this butterfly (not shown (yet)) is predominantly a light yellow. The adult lives six to fourteen days. This butterfly lives in the near-coastal areas from Florida through the Carolinas (compared to the black swallowtail, which extends north just beyond Massachusetts).

Epilogue

Nancy took all of the pictures shown in this article. As you noticed, we haven’t yet photographically documented the entire life cycle of this butterfly, and I don’t know when Nancy will be satisfied enough with her pictures to add an image of the giant swallowtail to our commercial collection. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Besides our personal experience, we have relied on a number of resources, including University of Florida Entomology and Nematology Department and Butterflies of the East Coast: an observer’s guide by Rick Cech and Guy Tudor, as well as the links highlighted throughout the article.