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Lincoln Memorial  This is one of the most easily recognizable monuments in Washington, DC. It graces the back of our $5 bill and sits directly across the Reflecting Pool from the Washington Monument. Everybody knows what it looks like.

Lincoln Memorial
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

From the outside, especially from the bottom of the steps, this is another imposing marble edifice. I like that the names of the states carved into the frieze above the colonnade. I first saw these names on the back of a $5 bill when I was in grade school. Kinda cool to see that they're also present in the real thing.

Inside the memorial has a very different feel. There's the famous sculpture of Lincoln sitting on that big chair, of course, with his various writings carved into the walls around him. But even though that statue is so dang big, it doesn't feel cold or distancing. Lincoln looks like he's just a person. Viewed from ground level the statue's hands and feet are enormous compared to the head; I don't know if the sculptor did that deliberately, or if it's just an artifact of perspective because we're looking up at it.

Lincoln Memorial
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

I'm strongly drawn to the hands of this sculpture. Neither of them indicates a relaxed posture; the fingers of the right hand are gripping the armrest of the chair, and the left hand is closed in a fist. I don't know what those hands are intended to convey, but to me they suggest tension.

Lincoln Memorial
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

Isn't that slightly raised right index finger interesting? I wonder if that was an actual mannerism of Lincoln's, or just an artistic decision made by the sculptor.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is, of course, among those writings inscribed on the wall of the memorial. For some reason I'd assumed that the bit we all know was the beginning of a much longer speech. But no, the entire thing is contained in this single panel. Simple and eloquent. Why the heck do politicians talk so dang much today? And why do they so often seem to say so little?

 

Vietnam Veterans Memorial  I knew what the Vietnam Memorial was going to look like, having seen plenty of pictures and followed from afar the design and construction of it. And everyone I knew who had seen it raved at how touching it is. The one thing that pictures and words cannot convey is what it feels like to walk by the wall. Getting to the wall from the Lincoln Memorial you walk past a monument to the U.S. soldiers who fought in Vietnam.

Vietnam soldiers
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

It's slightly larger than life-size and the details are amazing. From the expressions on their faces these men are exhausted and yet resolved. I wish we'd had more time so I could take pictures of this piece from different angles.

The Vietnam Wall is shaped like a long, meandering trapezoid. Like the FDR Memorial, this is one that you don't just approach and leave; the path takes you along the entire length of the Wall. The panels on each end taper up towards the panels in the middle. This is visually pleasing, but the effect results from the fact that each panel bears the names of the soldiers who died in a given year of the war, and so the overall shape of the wall is a long, tapered trapezoid. I didn't have the right equipment to get all or even any significant portion of the Wall in a photograph, so I didn't even try.

A tiny portion of the Vietnam Wall
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

You might not expect a simple list of names to be so moving. I certainly didn't. And while this listing might seem like a way of making the names anonymous, it had the opposite effect. I don't have a relative whose name is on the Wall so none of the names here meant anything to me personally. But when you are confronted with the sheer magnitude of the mortality and the (mostly) young people who were lost to their families, it's very sobering.

Note that there are no ranks among the names. Each name on the wall represents a person who served and died, and military ranks don't matter to the dead. Nobody gets special treatment in this memorial.

Visitors leave gifts and notes for a loved ones whose name is on the Wall
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

Slightly off the beaten path and therefore not heavily visited is the Vietnam Women's Monument. There are only eight women's names on the Wall, but there were ~11,000 women who served in Vietnam, mostly as nurses. The Vietnam Women's Monument recognizes the skills of these women as they tend to a wounded soldier.

Vietnam Women's Monument
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong
Vietnam Women's Monument
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

The blue cards on the base of the monument are thank-you notes written by schoolchildren in Kansas. They said things like "Thank you for serving your country" and "I wish I had your courage." Smart kids.

1

Monday 26 March 2018 -- Memorials

Southwest District of Columbia
© Google Maps

On Monday we ventured south of the Mall to the Tidewater area, where an extension of the Potomac river floods into a basin and forms a tidal pond. This area is where the famous cherry trees of Washington, DC, are concentrated, and we hoped to catch some of the bloom. Alas, it had snowed about a week earlier, there were still patches of snow on the ground, and that day it was cold and windy. The cherry trees were thinking about blooming but hadn't gotten around to making any real effort yet. It was sunny, though, and nice weather for walking around, since we were bundled up.

About a week too early!
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

Jefferson Memorial  Our first stop was the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. We skipped the Washington Monument because it didn't look very interesting and I didn't want to wait in the line to go up to the top, from where the view must be spectacular. I did, however, take the obligatory photo of the monument itself.

Washington Monument
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

The Jefferson Memorial occupies a beautiful spot along the tidewater shore. It must be truly beautiful when the cherry trees are blooming.

Jefferson Memorial
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong
Inscription from interior of the Jefferson Memorial
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

Inside the rotunda the walls are inscribed with some of Jefferson's writings. The walls are curved and tall, making them difficult to photograph. Another difficulty I had with this memorial was reconciling Jefferson's words about freedom with the knowledge that he was a slaveholder. While I do think it's unfair to judge historical personages by the moral standards of today, I can't really wrap my brain around that particular cognitive dissonance. This one particular inscription, though, I thoroughly agree with. It seems pretty clear to me that Jefferson never intended the U.S. Constitution to be a static document that could not be amended as required. Rather the opposite, in fact.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial  My favorite memorial of the day was the one for FDR. I liked it because it didn't have present me with any of the minor squicks that I got at the Jefferson memorial. Not only that, but unlike the other presidential memorials this one isn't a single giant edifice that people walk up to and then away from. The FDR memorial consists of life-sized sculptures mounted at eye level, so passersby can interact with them as they wander along the path. Several of FDR's quotes are inscribed along walls interspersed with fountains. All this gives us a memorial that we can experience at a human level and gives us a feel for who FDR was as a person, not just a president.

FDR Memorial
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong
FDR Memorial
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

I liked how Eleanor Roosevelt was memorialized, too.

Sculpture of Eleanor Roosevelt at the FDR Memorial
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

My favorite part of the FDR Memorial was at the far end. Walking along the path you first encounter a series of columns that appear to be covered in bronze plates. The columns and the frieze behind them commemorated FDR's federal public works projects, a response to the Great Depression.

Bronze frieze and die rolls at the FDR Memorial
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

The really cool thing about this part of the memorial is that the columns are actually the die rolls used to make the panels on the frieze wall. I didn't see any signage explaining what was going on, so the visitors have to figure it out for themselves. This was another of the things that made this particular memorial feel personal.

Here's one part of one die roll:

26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

and here is the panel cast from it:

26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

Isn't that cool?

Martin Luther King Memorial The MLK Memorial consists of a single large sculpture of the man in front of a wall inscribed with bits of his writings and speeches. The sculpture itself is very imposing and grand, very different from the more personal and humble feeling I took from the FDR Memorial.

Sculpture of Martin Luther King, with the Washington Monument in the background
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

From the front of the sculpture he really seems to be looking down on us. He was a preacher, and this expression makes me feel like I'm about to hear a sermon. I don't enjoy being preached to, so this is not a comfortable feeling for me.

MLK Memorial
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

Like the Jefferson Memorial, this one left me feeling cold. It imparts a feeling for who MLK was as a preacher and leader, but nothing about who he was as a person. Most of the inscriptions on the wall were ones that we're all familiar with. The one that struck me most strongly was this one:

MLK Memorial
26 March 2018
© Allison J. Gong

I like this particular quote because I think we often forget how easy it is to be a good person when things are going well, and how bloody difficult it is when things aren't going well. It may not be fair to judge people by how they behave in times of adversity, but it is fair to say that we are generally not at our best in those situations. And yet, there is something to be said about how having to endure hardship often shows us our true selves. It can be a difficult thing to face up to. For me, the power of MLK's message comes from his exhortations to us to be better people, and a society, than we have been. We may have come a long way, baby, but we still have a long way to go.

2

For a long time now I've wanted to document a phenomenon that I've observed many times: the way that some birds change color when they move from the light into the dark. I'm sure you've noticed this before, in the vibrance of a peacock's tail that turns to black when the bird moves into the shade. But have you ever thought about why some feathers change color with changing light, while others don't?

It turns out that there is more than one explanation for feather color. Some feathers are colored because of the pigments they contain. Pigments are molecules that absorb some wavelengths of light and reflect others; the wavelengths that are reflected are detected by our eyes and interpreted by our brain as color. There are three groups of pigments that occur in feathers, each of which contributes certain colors to a bird's plumage: (1) melanins--responsible for pale yellows, dark browns, and blacks; (2) porphyrins--producing reds, pinks, browns, and greens; (3) carotenoids--contributing bright yellows and oranges. Pigments can work in concert, too, as when melanins and carotenoids combine to produce olive-green.

Pigment molecules are independent from the underlying structure of a feather. It turns out that the structure itself can produce color. For example, the blue in the feathers of Steller's jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) is due to scattering of light by tiny air pockets in the feathers. When sunlight strikes the filament of a feather, the blue wavelengths are refracted back into the atmosphere where they can be picked up by our retinas, and the other wavelengths are absorbed by a layer of melanin at the base of the filament (which is why we don't see them).

A second kind of structural color is iridescence. This is due to the microscopic structure of the feather's barbules. These barbules act like prisms, refracting light as it hits the feather. The appearance of the light (brighter or darker) changes as the angle of viewing changes.

My favorite example of iridescence in birds is in the hummingbirds. These ornithological gems flit about so rapidly that it can be hard to get a good look at them, but their brilliant colors are stunning. This afternoon I was finally able to take a series of photographs that show how minute changes in a hummer's posture can change its coloration. This male Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) posed very nicely and allowed me to snap off a series of photos. In this series of photos I have edited them only to crop them to the same size and center the bird in each one. I have made no adjustments to color or saturation.

Male Anna's humming bird (Calypte anna)
26 February 2018
© Allison J. Gong
Male Anna's humming bird (Calypte anna)
26 February 2018
© Allison J. Gong
Male Anna's humming bird (Calypte anna)
26 February 2018
© Allison J. Gong
Male Anna's humming bird (Calypte anna)
26 February 2018
© Allison J. Gong

And to drive home just how brilliant that pink head is, here's a shot of the same bird, this time on the opposite side of the feeder.

Male Anna's humming bird (Calypte anna)
26 February 2018
© Allison J. Gong

Anybody who says pink isn't a masculine color has obviously never seen a male Anna's hummingbird in full sun!

1

It seems that most years, the Memorial Day weekend brings some of the lowest spring tides of the year, and 2017 certainly fits the bill. I've been out for the past two days, heading out just as the sun is starting to rise, and already I've seen enough to whet my appetite for more. And with plans for the next few days, I'm pleased to say that my dance card is completely full for this tide series. There are a lot of stories building out there!

Gathering (orgy?) of dogwhelks (Acanthinucella punctulata) at Davenport Landing
27 May 2017
© Allison J. Gong

At this time of year everything is growing and reproducing. Many of the larvae I've seen in the plankton have parents that live in the intertidal; makes sense that those parents should be having sex now. Barnacles, for example, copulate when the tide is high. I've seen them go at it in the lab, but never in the field, as they don't mate while emersed. This morning I interrupted a pair of isopods locked in a mating embrace, and they swam off, still coupled together, when I disturbed them. Other animals were much less shy. Lifting up a curtain of Mazzaella to see what was underneath, I spotted a small group of dogwhelks (small, predatory snails). I can't be certain, but suspect they were having an orgy.

A short distance away I found the inevitable result of the dogwhelk orgies.

Acanthinucella punctulata with eggs, Davenport Landing
27 May 2017
© Allison J. Gong

Each of those urn-shaped objects is an egg capsule, containing a few dozen developing embryos. After the snails copulate the mating individuals go their separate ways. The females lay these egg capsules in patches in the mid-intertidal, usually on a vertical surface under the cover of algae to minimize the risk of desiccation.

For many years now, some of my favorite animals have been hydroids. I worked in a hydroid lab as an undergraduate, and this is when I fell in love with the magic of a good dissecting microscope. A whole new world became visible, and I found it easier than I ever imagined to fall under the spell of critters so small they can't be seen with the naked eye. I still do.

The ostrich-plume hydroid Aglaophenia struthionides, at Davenport Landing
27 May 2017
© Allison J. Gong

Hydroid colonies come in a variety of forms, shapes, and colors. Most of them are small and cryptic, resembling plants more than any 'typical' animal, and aren't easily seen unless you're looking for them. One intertidal species, however, is pretty conspicuous even to the casual tidepool visitor or beachcomber. It often gets torn off its mooring and washes up on the beach.

A hydroid colony is the benthic polyp stage of the standard cnidarian life cycle. The polyp represents the clonal phase of the life cycle and reproduces by dividing to make several copies of itself. In a colony such as a hydroid, the polyps remain connected to each other and even share a common digestive system. The polyps don't reproduce sexually. That function is reserved for the medusa stage of the life cycle. Some hydroid colonies produce free-swimming medusae, and others hang onto reduced medusa buds or structures so un-medusa-like that they're called gonangia. Aglaophenia is a hydroid that houses its sexual structures in gonangia that are located on the side-branches of the fronds.

Here's a closer view of a single frond of the Aglaophenia colony. I had to bring it back to the lab to look at it under the scope.

Frond of a colony of Aglaophenia struthionides, showing gonangia
27 May 2017
© Allison J. Gong

The gonangia look like leaves, or pages of a book, don't they? After working a low tide I'm always hungry, and when the lows are early in the morning I'm often cold and sleep-deprived as well. That's my excuse for not dissecting open one of the gonangia to see what's inside.

Even the algae are getting into the act of reproducing and recruiting. This spring I've noticed a lot of baby bullwhip kelps (Nereocystis luetkeana). Nereocystis is one of the canopy-forming kelps in subtidal kelp forests along our coast, but every year some recruit to the low intertidal. However I don't remember seeing so many baby Nereocystis thalli in the tidepools. The smallest one I saw this morning had a pneumatocyst (float) the size of a pea! In mature thalli, the float might get as big as a cantaloupe.

A baby Nereocystis thallus, at Davenport Landing
27 May 2017
© Allison J. Gong
Intertidal nursery area for Nereocystis luetkeana, Davenport Landing
27 May 2017
© Allison J. Gong

Nereocystis doesn't usually persist or get very large in the intertidal. It is more common to see detached thalli washed up on the beach than to see a living bullwhip kelp longer than about 2 meters in the intertidal. Whether or not this particular nursery area results in an established population remains to be seen. I'm betting 'No' but could very well be proved wrong. Only time will tell.

Day 2 (24 March 2017): Tehachapi, Antelope Valley, and Wind Wolves

We spent the night in Bakersfield and the next morning (24 March 2017) headed up over Tehachapi Pass and headed into Antelope Valley.

It had been many years since I'd driven over Tehachapi Pass, and I didn't remember ever having seen Joshua trees before. Maybe I was always sleeping on that part of the trip. Once we got past the windmills at the top of the pass--most definitely Not Good for my concussed brain--and started descending into the valley there were Joshua trees all over the place! So cool! And with this year being the 30th anniversary of U2's best (in my opinion) album, how appropriate.

Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) in the Tehachapi Mountains
24 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

To my admittedly inexperienced eye, Joshua trees are the symbols of the Mojave Desert, as the saguaro is the symbol of the Sonoran Desert. None of the Joshua trees that we saw at Tehachapi were blooming, although I heard from a friend that they were in bloom slightly farther south at Lancaster.


Continuing on, we drove through the desert scrubbiness and eventually could see orange splashed onto the distant hills. We stopped to pick up sandwiches at a corner market and then headed towards the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. And bang! all of a sudden we were in the poppy fields.

California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) in Antelope Valley
24 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

California's state flower grows as either a perennial or an annual, depending on how much water it receives. In desert areas in the south it behaves like an annual, whereas in moister areas along the coast and in gardens it can come back as a perennial. There are several subspecies of E. californica, each adapted to a particular habitat within the state. Blossom color varies from a golden yellow (very similar to that of fiddlenecks, actually) to a deep intense orange.

California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) in Antelope Valley
24 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

Our intent was to stop at the visitor center of the park and pick up a trail map, but we never got there. We arrived at early mid-day on a Friday, when everybody from Los Angeles showed up, and the line of cars trying to get into the park was backed up almost to the road. Um, no thanks. Besides, we saw all these poppies from the road, and could find places sort of off the beaten track with fewer people tromping around with selfie sticks than would be inside the actual park. Now I'm not one to discourage people from visiting our state parks, but if you decide to go here, try to arrive earlier in the morning on a midweek day. And time your visit for a sunny day, when the poppies will be open.

Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) and goldfields (Lasthenia californica) near the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
24 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong
Field of poppies (Eschscholzia californica)
24 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

And looking up towards the hills we saw pastel paintings. The orange flowers are poppies, I'm guessing that the yellow is goldfields, and the purple is lupines.

And in terms of lupines, Antelope Valley was the best place we visited. When we made plans to come here I had grandiose ideas of capturing that perfect iconic photograph of purple lupines and orange poppies together. You know the one. Unfortunately I think we arrive a week or two early to catch the peak of the lupine bloom. I never did see nice full lush poppies and blooming lupines in the same spot.

We did, however, see several nice lupine bushes in the various washes around the poppy reserve. Honeybees were glad to see them, too.

A deep purple lupine (Lupinus sp.) in Antelope Valley
24 March 2016
© Allison J. Gong
A foraging honeybee checks out the lupine blossom
24 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

As glorious as the poppies were, we needed to keep moving in order to meet up with friends on the coast. Working our way westward we stopped at the Wind Wolves Preserve, an ecological reserve managed by the Wildlands Conservancy. I had never heard of the place and wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was a lovely surprise.

There are, of course, no wolves in this part of California. So then, why the name? According to a sign at the head of the wildflower trail, the name refers to the Preserve's long grasses, which undulate like running animals when the wind blows through them. I wasn't carrying the tripod with me so I didn't try to take any video. However, on our way from Antelope Valley we stopped at Tejon Pass, where the wind was blowing pretty well. I took this video there.

It does look like one of those aerial views of a herd of galloping ungulates, doesn't it? Perhaps not wind wolves, exactly, but at the Preserve it was easy to imagine how the place got its name. The wildflower walk, a bit less than a mile long, winds through rolling hills covered with grasses and dotted here and there with flowers. There were several small groups of people hiking the trail, and it wasn't uncommon to have them disappear completely from the landscape when they got lost in the grasses as the trail dipped into a small depression.

Wind Wolves Preserve
24 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong
Wind Wolves Preserve
24 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

No doubt the resemblance to running wolves will be stronger when the grasses are a bit taller.

We were perhaps two weeks ahead of the bloom and most of the flowers were just starting to open up. The overall effect was a cool wash of green dotted here and there with bright splashes of color. There were lupines, of a smaller ground-growing type rather than the bush lupines we had seen in Antelope Valley, and a plant that we had first seen a lot of on the Carrizo Plain, another whimsically named flower called purple owl's clover (Castilleja exserta). As its scientific name implies, owl's clover is a member of the paintbrush family of plants.

Purple owl's clover (Castilleja exserta) and a small, dark lupine (Lupinus bicolor, perhaps) among the grasses at Wind Wolves Preserve
24 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

And this might well be my favorite photo of the entire trip:

Purple owl's clover (Castilleja exserta)
24 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong
Horned lark (Eremophila alpestris)
24 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

We had already seen many familiar and not-so-familiar birds on the trip, and it was at Wind Wolves that I saw my first ever horned lark (Eremophila alpestris). This individual wasn't very shy at all; it let us approach within 2 meters on the trail before running off ahead to wait for us again. It had such expressive postures, and a curious look on its face. If there hadn't been a family with small kids behind us on the trail, I could have watched this bird for a long time. But we couldn't block the trail just because there was an interesting (to us) bird standing in it, so we let the family pass and the lark flew off into the grasses. They are social birds so no doubt it had friends and family of its own to join.

We saw lizards, too, most notably the western side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana ssp. elegans). These lizards have very interesting gender expression, depending on color morph: there are three male morphs (orange-throat, yellow-stripe, and blue-throat) and two female morphs (orange-throat and yellow-throat). Sounds crazy, doesn't it? The female morphs differ in egg-laying strategy. Orange-throat females lay many small eggs and defend territories, while yellow-throat females lay fewer larger eggs and are less territorial.

Western side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana ssp.elegans)
24 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

Work by Barry Sinervo's group at UC Santa Cruz showed that the three male color morphs also have different reproductive strategies. They are locked in an evolutionary game of rock-paper-scissors: each color can dominate one (but not both) of the other colors. Note that in this context 'dominate' doesn't necessarily mean that one lizard beats up the other, but rather has greater reproductive success than the other. Orange-throats are the most typically testosterone-driven males; they are more aggressive towards other males and control territories containing several females. Yellow-stripe "sneaker" males hang around the edges of an orange-throated male's territory and sneak copulations with females while the territory holder's attention is elsewhere. Blue-throats have an intermediate level of aggression; they can defend a single female from other blue-throats and yellow-stripes, but not against an orange-throat. In a nutshell:

  • Orange beats Blue but loses (sometimes) to Yellow
  • Blue beats Yellow but loses to Orange
  • Yellow beats Orange (sneakily) but loses to Blue

Pretty dang cool, isn't it?

Next installment: The voyage home

Last week I went up to Davenport to do some collecting in the intertidal. The tide was low enough to allow access to a particular area with two pools where I have had luck in the past finding hydroids and other cool stuff. These pools are great because they are shallow and surrounded by flat-ish rocks, so I can lie down on my stomach and really get close to where the action is. At this time of year the algae and surfgrasses are starting to regrow; the surface of the pools was covered by leaves of Phyllospadix torreyi, the narrow-leafed surfgrass.

Parting the curtain of Phyllospadix leaves to gaze into the first pool I was pleasantly surprised to find this. What does it look like to you?

Aglaophenia latirostris at Davenport Landing
8 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

There are actually two very different organisms acting as main subjects in this photo. The pink stuff is a coralline alga, a type of red alga that secretes CaCO3 in its cell walls. Coralline algae come in two different forms: one is a crust that grows over surfaces and the other, like this, grows upright and branching. Because they sequester CaCO3, corallines are likely to be affected by the projected increase of the ocean's acidity due to the continued burning of fossil fuels. Ocean acidification is one of the sexy issues in science these days, and although it is very interesting and pertinent to today's world it is not the topic for this post. Suffice it to say that changes in ocean chemistry are making it more difficult for any organisms to precipitate CaCO3 out of seawater to build things like shells or calcified cell walls.

It's the tannish featherlike stuff in the photo that I was particularly interested in. At first glance the tan thing looks like a clump of a very fine, fernlike plant. It is, however, an animal. To be more specific, it is a type of colonial cnidarian called a hydroid. I love hydroids for their hidden beauty, not always visible to the naked eye, and the fact that at first glance they so closely resemble plants. In fact, many hydroid colonies grow in ways very similar to those of plants, which has often made me think that in some cases the differences between plants and animals aren't as great as you might assume. But that's a matter for a separate essay.

I collected this piece of hydroid and brought it back to the lab. The next day I took some photos. To give you an idea of how big the colony is, the finger bowl is about 12 cm in diameter and the longest of these fronds is about 3 cm long.

Colony of the hydroid Aglaophenia latirostris
9 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

And here's a closer view through the dissecting scope.

The colonial hydroid Aglaophenia latirorostris
9 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

Each of the fronds has a structure that we describe as pinnate, or featherlike--consisting of a central rachis with smaller branches on each side. This level of complexity can be seen with the naked eye. Zooming in under the scope brings into view more of the intricacy of this body plan:

Close-up view of a single frond of Aglaophenia latirostris, showing feeding polyps and two gonangia
9 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

At this level of magnification you can see the anatomical details that cause us to describe this animal's structure as modular. In this context the term 'modular' refers to a body that is constructed of potentially independent units. A colony like this is built of several different types of modules called zooids, some of which are familiarly referred to as polyps. Each zooid has a specific job and is specialized for that job; for example, gastrozooids are the feeders, while gonozooids take care of the sexual reproduction of the colony. In this colony of Aglaophenia each of these side branches consists of several stacked gastrozooids, which you can see as the very small polyps bearing typical cnidarian feeding tentacles. Aglaophenia is a thecate hydroid; this means that each gastrozooid sits inside a tiny cup, called a theca, into which it can withdraw for protection. Those larger structures with pinkish blobs inside are called gonangia. A gonangium is a modified gonozooid, found in only thecate hydroid colonies, that contains either medusa buds or other reproductive structures called gonophores.

Pretty complicated, isn't it? Who would expect such a small animal to have this much anatomical complexity?


In the second pool I found an entirely different type of hydroid. At first glance this one looks more animal-like than Aglaophenia does, although it is still a strange kind of animal. This is Sarsia, one of the athecate hydroids whose gastrozooids do not have a protective theca. It might be easier to think of these and other athecate hydroids (such as Ectopleura, which I wrote about here and here) as naked, with the polyps not having anywhere to hide.

Colony of the athecate hydroid Sarsia sp.
9 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

Each of these polyps is about 1 cm tall. The mouth is located on the very end of the stalk. The tentacles, not quite conforming to the general rule of cnidarian polyp morphology, do not form a ring around the mouth. Instead, they are scattered over the end of the stalk.

Here's a closer view:

Colony of the athecate hydroid Sarsia sp.
9 March 2017
© Allison J. Gong

In the hydroid version of Sarsia, the reproductive gonozooids are reduced to small buds that contain medusae. You can see a few round pink blobs in the lower right of the colony above; those are the medusa buds.  The medusae are fairly common in the local plankton, indicating that the hydroid stage is likewise abundant. Here's a picture of a Sarsia medusa that I found in a plankton tow in May 2015.

Medusa of the genus Sarsia
1 May 2015
© Allison J. Gong

The medusa of Sarsia is about 1 mm in diameter and has four tentacles, which usually get retracted when the animal is dragged into a plankton net. Sometimes, if the medusa isn't too beat up, it will relax and start swimming. I recorded some swimming behavior in a little medusa that I put into a small drop of water on a depression slide. It refused to let its tentacles down but you might be able to distinguish four tentacle bulbs.

There's a lot more that I could say about hydroids and other cnidarians. They really are among the most intriguing animals I've had the pleasure to observe, both in the field and in the lab. I've always been fascinated by their biphasic life cycle, with its implications for the animals' evolutionary past and ecological present. Perhaps I'll write about that some time, too.

Last week I finished my 30-day personal photography challenge, and I'm finally getting around to putting up a follow-up to this post. These are the photos from the second half of the challenge.

Day 16: Egret on the stack at Younger Lagoon. A high surf warning is in effect through today and the waves are BIG! This rock stack sits at the mouth of Younger Lagoon and gets bashed by waves 24/7/365. Usually on days like today I'll see pelicans and cormorants, true seabirds, hanging out on the stack and getting blasted by salt spray. Today a pair of snowy egrets (Egretta thula) landed on the stack but didn't stick around for more than a few seconds. As birds of wetlands and marshes, they didn't like it out there in these conditions.

Snowy egrets (Egretta thula) at the mouth of Younger Lagoon. 5 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
5 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 17: Sunrise. I know, another sunrise. But this time, instead of the panoramic scale of brilliant colors I wanted to zoom in and capture the chiaroscuro effect of the backlit trees.

6 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
6 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 18: This day showcased one of my favourite marine artefacts. This is the test, or internal skeleton, of the red sea urchin Mesocentrotus (formerly Strongylocentrotus) franciscanus. I took this photo with the 35mm lens.

7 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
7 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 19: Pie makings. This is the first since I started this project that I've not been really happy with any of my photos. Maybe that's because I took a lot of shots of dead stuff at the marine lab this morning. However, this one does have a certain amount of visual interest, I think. As usual, the colors are spot on.

8 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
8 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 20: Jade plant. Day 20 had me playing with depth of field again. I wanted to photograph something green, to remind myself of the resiliency of life. We somehow acquired this jade plant several years ago, and have dragged it with us from house to house. I think it has made three moves with us. I pretty much ignore it, and it had mostly died before last year's El Niño rains brought it back to life. And now it looks lush and green again! And may I just keep singing the praises of this 35mm lens? I feel it is making me a much better photographer.

9 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
9 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 21: Diving grebe. A friend invited me to join her at the harbor for some "therapeutic docking". It took me about 10 minutes to remember that my concussed brain hurts when I lie with my head hanging over the edge of the dock. Oops. So I took pictures above water while my friend hunted for slugs. I really like this particular action shot of a grebe taking a dive from the surface. Bloop!

10 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
10 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 22: Not a sunrise! Looks like another sunrise, doesn't it? But I took this yesterday at 17:00 so it isn't a sunrise even though the view is almost due east. So what is going on here?

11 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
11 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 23: Super moon! I took on the super moon to practice some low light photography. I can see why photographers like those big telephoto lenses! My 18-140mm lens did a good job with details of the moon's surface, which was nice to see. Had to do some digital zooming to get this view.

13 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
13 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 24: Lavender flower. This day saw me experimenting with bokeh. Before I started playing with this camera I didn't really appreciate the aesthetic potential of the non-subject material in a photograph. This study has really changed the way I look at the world. I feel that my artist's eye has developed quite a lot.

14 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
14 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 25: Setting moon. Last night we were fogged in at sea level so we went uphill to get above the marine layer. From that experiment it's clear that I need more practice with night photography and long exposures. None of the pictures I took last night was very good in terms of technique, but one of them is aesthetically interesting and I may share it later. Anyway. This one is the super moon setting behind the trees this morning, at about the same time the sun was rising behind me.

15 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
15 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 26: Gull in flight. I'm learning that photography is about the moment as much as the subject matter. In this case the subject is a western gull, a California Current endemic species, in flight. What do you think of the moment?

16 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
16 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 27: Light through stained glass window. I went down to the church this afternoon to take pictures of the stained glass windows while the organ was getting fixed, then broken, then fixed again. I like the way the late afternoon sun shone through one of the south-facing windows and onto the opposite wall. I find the effect to be kind of spooky and not at all like the pictures I usually take. Maybe I need to play around more with angles as composition. The church dates back to 1864 (old by California standards!) and is the oldest church building still in use in Santa Cruz County. The gas lights, one fixture of which can be seen in the right-hand side of the photo, are part of the original architecture. The hanging electric lamp is not. We still use the gas lamps for evening services, and they are quite lovely when lit.

18 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
18 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 28: San Juan Bautista. We went to San Bautista to meet family and friends for a birthday lunch and spent some time wandering around the mission grounds. This image captures the three elements of every California mission--the Indian supplicant, the cross, and the bell tower--and hints of the tension in these settlements. Like it or not, the missions are an important part of California history despite their record of enslavement of the people who lived here first.

19 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
19 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 29: Chomp! This day was once again all about the moment. Lucie (calico) and Maggie (tortie) were napping together on the couch when Lucie woke up and started grooming Maggie. Usually it goes the other way around. This time Maggie put up with it for a long time before giving Lucie one warning chomp. After this they groomed each other for a while and then continued their nap for another couple of hours.

20 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
20 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 30: Tiny mushrooms. I wanted the last entry to be something special so I waited until we went hiking at Big Basin Redwoods State Park for Green Friday. Hiking through the redwood forest we saw beauty all around us. And mushrooms everywhere! I was messing around with bokeh again and love how these little mushrooms look against the blurred background. My challenge is finished and I've learned a lot about my camera and taking pictures. Mission accomplished!

25 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
25 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

I feel that I've learned a lot during this challenge, both about my new camera and about photography in general. And I've developed a whole new appreciation for composition and especially for bokeh. I've completed the challenge, but intend to keep taking pictures as frequently as I can. I still have so much to learn!

In recent years the day after Thanksgiving has become known as Black Friday, a day when retailers across the nation offer fantastic sales in order to separate Americans from their hard-earned cash. I hate shopping even under the best of circumstances, and you couldn't pay me enough to step foot in a shopping mall on Black Friday. Fortunately, a trio of organizations have put together about the most awesome alternative to Black Friday that I could imagine. They call it Green Friday.

The idea behind Green Friday, as I understand it, is to get people to spend the day after Thanksgiving outdoors enjoying nature instead of fighting over $5 t-shirts at some big department store. The three organizations--Save the Redwoods League; the California State Parks Foundation; and the California State Parks--sponsored some number of free parking passes at the state parks. I have a Golden Poppy pass, which gets me into state parks in northern California and we didn't need one of the free passes, but I've been wanting to go hiking up in Big Basin so I rounded up my husband and a few friends and off we went.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is the oldest state park in California, established in 1902. It has long been my favorite of the state parks I've visited.

Big Basin sign

I have to say, the Green Friday thing seemed to be working. The park was very crowded, with lots of families. We chose to hike the Sequoia Trail, a 4-mile loop that begins at the park headquarters and goes past Sempervirens falls, a monument to the founders of the park, and a treacherous passage called Slippery Rock. The oldest and tallest redwood trees in the park are seen from the Redwood Loop trail, which we didn't hike this time. But it is impossible to see any redwood forest, and not feel awed.

Redwood forest in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. 25 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Redwood forest in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
25 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Looking up at redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. 25 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Looking up at redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
25 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

The oldest of these trees have outlived multiple human civilizations. It's humbling to be surrounded by such ancient beings.

The forest floor is shaded by the canopy of the redwood and other tall trees. At this time of year, and especially after a rain, the understory is spectacular with greenery and life. It's all about the mushrooms. California had four dry winters before last year's El Niño rains, and so far this autumn has been fairly wet. Well, October was wet; we didn't have rain in November until last weekend. The fungi have been biding their time, waiting for enough water to fall from the sky before sending up their fruiting bodies. Now, I freely admit that mushroom identification is a major weak spot of mine, so take these names with a grain of salt. But I'm learning! The duff on the ground in the area we hiked was a mixture of redwood needles and leaves from tan oak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) and California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica). Many mushrooms were growing directly through the duff, while others were growing on living or dead trees.

Ramaria sp. in the redwood forest in Big Basin Redwood State Park. 25 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Ramaria formosa(?) in the redwood forest in Big Basin Redwood State Park.
25 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

This so-called coral mushroom is, I think, Ramaria formosa. We saw a few clumps of it right at the beginning of the hike, in this pale orange color. The branching at the tips appears to be more or less dichotomous, and the overall shape and size of the body reminded me of the intertidal rockweed Pelvetiopsis limitata.

These really pretty bracket fungi may be turkey tails (Trametes versicolor). We found lots of them on both dead and living trees. The ones that are brilliant orange and brown I do recognize as turkey tails, but when they're pale and creamy like these I'm not sure whether or not they're the same thing.

Bracket fungus (Trametes sp.) growing on a dead log.
25 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

And there were spectacular displays like this:

25 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
25 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

and this:

25 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
25 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

and this:

25 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
25 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

and strange things like this:

25 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
25 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Clavaria fragilis, or fairy fingers 25 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Clavaria fragilis, or fairy fingers
25 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

I was able to identify those strange white things as Clavaria fragilis, or fairy fingers. The mycelium of this fungus lives underground in grasslands and wooded areas; it is described as common in this area, especially during the wetter months. The arrangement of these fruiting bodies in a more or less straight line is interesting and makes me wonder if the mycelium is living in a log buried under the duff. I don't know what else would cause the mycelium to grow in such a linear fashion.

My favorite mushroom photo of the day was of these LBMs (little brown mushrooms) that were growing out of a downed redwood. The mushrooms themselves are extremely cute, but what I really like about this picture is the bokeh. I've become intrigued by the practice of composing and exposing photographs so that the the non-subject matter is deliberately blurred and becomes part of the overall aesthetic quality of the image. I think I've noticed it before, but never really thought about how to achieve it. Practicing it is a whole lot of fun, and I think there will be many more photos like this in my future.

LBMs (little brown mushrooms) growing on a redwood log 25 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
LBMs (little brown mushrooms) growing on a redwood log.
25 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Where there are mushrooms there are mushroom predators such as banana slugs. I think we counted about 10 of the bright yellow gastropods on our hike. Alas, none of them were copulating. But one of them was eating a mushroom!

Banana slug (Ariolimax sp.) eating a mushroom. 25 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Banana slug (Ariolimax sp.) eating a mushroom.
25 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

What a great afternoon it was! Given how crowded the park was I'd say that Green Friday was a success. I'd so much rather see people hiking or at least spending time outdoors than shopping for material things. I hope that Green Friday is here to stay!

1

About three weeks ago I received as an early birthday gift a new camera. I had been thinking for a while now that I should get a "real" grown-up camera with interchangeable lenses; you know, a DSLR. My little Olympus point-and-shoot camera is a fantastic field camera--it takes amazing macro shots and I can dunk it in a tidepool or operate it with wet hands, plus it fits into a pocket--but it's not the best tool for photographing birds from far away. In the past couple of months I rented first a Nikon D7200 and then a Canon 80D and took them up to Lake Tahoe to give them a test-drive. After all was said and done I decided that the Nikon both took better pictures and was easier for me to figure out, and that's the camera I decided to get. It came as a kit with an 18-140mm zoom lens and I also got a 35mm fixed focal length lens.

Cameras these days are complicated affairs. And me with a concussion, trying to figure out all of the bells and whistles was a daunting thing. So I decided to set myself a challenge, to take photos every day and post one to my Instagram feed. This 30-day endeavor has proven to be more challenging than I had anticipated: I knew that I wouldn't always feel inspired to take pictures, but hadn't thought that the real difficulty would be in choosing a single photo to share. For this challenge I wanted to see what this camera and I can achieve together, with no post processing other than cropping and straightening.

Day 1: Lucie, taken with the 35mm lens. This was my first day of experimenting with the 35mm lens. A sleepy Lucie was too lazy not to cooperate.

Lucie 21 October 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Lucie
21 October 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 2: Evening lights. When some friends invited us to meet them for dinner at the harbor, I brought the camera along. It has a few settings for nighttime photography. I took this shot with the Night Landscape setting, and the camera was spot-on with the exposure. Unfortunately I took it from a floating dock, and the slight movement was picked up by the long shutter speed.

Evening lights at the Harbor Beach Cafe 22 October 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Evening lights at the Harbor Beach Cafe
22 October 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 3: Fire at night. The same evening that I took the above photo, we were sitting around our friends' fire pit. I learned from this that it isn't easy taking still shots of fire. Fortunately for me, the camera is smarter than I am. I cranked up the ISO to its highest setting and let the camera do the rest.

Fire pit at night 22 October 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Fire pit at night
22 October 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 4: Pelicans in flight. I was experimenting with the sequential exposure setting on the camera and was happily surprised by this squadron of pelicans. This shot was my favorite, as it captures several of the postures of pelicans in the air. When they're not flying in formation, they get unsynchronized and sort of goofy.

Pelicans in flight over Monterey Bay 24 October 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Pelicans in flight over Monterey Bay
24 October 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 5: Sunrise. When I got up this morning and saw the high clouds with interesting texture I grabbed the camera and went outside to wait for the sunrise. Patience rewarded! The camera has a setting for sunsets, and it works for sunrises as well. Once again, I am very pleased at how well the camera captures what I see with the naked eye. These colors are exactly true.

Sunrise in Santa Cruz 25 October 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Sunrise in Santa Cruz
25 October 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 6: Natural Bridges. On a sunny clear day between storms went out to Natural Bridges. I've not had much experience with fixed focal length lenses so making myself practice with the 35mm lens. Using this lens forces me to look at things differently, which I am finding very fulfilling. So far I find this lens to be bright and clear: check out this depth of field! The pelicans and cormorants at Natural Bridges seemed to be enjoying the sun.

View across Natural Bridges towards Terrace Point 26 October 2016 © Allison J. Gong
View across Natural Bridges towards Terrace Point
26 October 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 7: Yarn indoors. What to do when it's raining? Seemed like a good day to find out how well the camera captures colors indoors under artificial light. I just started another lace knitting project and am trying to achieve a gradient effect with these three skeins of yarn. The camera has a "Food" setting but that washed out everything (all three yarns and the aqua blue background). I tried the "Blossom" setting and voila! Perfect color representation of both the cool aqua of the background and the warmer colors of the yarns. Another win!

Three skeins of Malabrigo Silkpaca yarn, all in the colorway Archangel 27 October 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Three skeins of Malabrigo Silkpaca yarn, all in the colorway Archangel
27 October 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 8: Pitcher plant. This day had me experimenting with depth of field again. Finally, I captured what I wanted. The subject is a pitcher from a carnivorous plant. I live how the pitcher is in crisp focus, while the background is blurred.

Pitcher plant 28 October 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Pitcher plant
28 October 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 9: Maggie. Maggie likes to stick her head out between the slats of the deck railing so she can spy on the kitty downstairs. I've been trying for years to catch this moment. The camera has a "Pet portrait" setting. I am not quite sure what it does, but it worked! Take that, iPhone camera!

Maggie 28 October 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Maggie
28 October 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 10: Morning sky. Day 10 brought me another fascinating morning sky. I've decided that it must be the constantly changing textures of clouds that make them such a favorite subject of mine.

Morning sky 28 October 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Morning sky
29 October 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 11: Waves. A big wave day lured me out to West Cliff Drive to see if I could capture an action shot. The exposure was wrong but I was trying to capture a specific moment. Can anyone guess what that moment was?

One of many large waves 31 October 2016 © Allison J. Gong
One of many large waves
31 October 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 12: Protea. Today I took a tour of Gondwanaland without leaving Santa Cruz! How, you ask? By visiting the UCSC Arboretum and walking through their Australian and South African gardens. Got buzzed by lots of Anna's hummingbirds, and took pictures of plants, including this Protea in the South African garden.

Protea blossom in the South African garden of the UCSC Arboretum 1 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Protea blossom in the South African garden of the UCSC Arboretum
1 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 13: Coot on pond. I went to Antonelli Pond to see what birds were there. There were cormorants, mallards, and a great egret, but it was the coots that caught my attention. When I was little we called these birds mud hens; seems to me now that they deserve a more flattering name. So I go with coots. For this photo I was experimenting with f-stop and manual focus, and succeeded in achieving what I hoped for. The blurred vegetation in the foreground makes me feel like I'm spying on a maiden bathing in a pond.

American coot (Fulica americana) at Antonelli Pond 2 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
American coot (Fulica americana) at Antonelli Pond
2 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 14: Lace shawl. Photographing my knitting has always been a challenge because the colors are difficult to capture. What a test for this new camera, right? I took lots of shots with the 35mm lens, draping the shawl in various ways over my dress form, and this is the shot I like best. The colors are true, including the gradient from light to dark.

Knitted lace shawl 3 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Knitted lace shawl
3 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Day 15: Lucie in a box. I had grandiose plans to find some spectacular outdoor scenery to photograph for today's entry, but then Lucie hopped into the apple box and I can never resist a kitty in a box. I caught her in the middle of a meowyawn, which is what I call it when she yawns in the middle of a meow. It's her signature noise. Once again the camera gets an 'A' for the Pet portrait setting.

Lucie in a box 4 November 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Lucie in a box
4 November 2016
© Allison J. Gong

In looking over these photos again, I'm pleased at how many different types of pictures I've taken. The cats have been surprisingly cooperative, too. I'm excited to see what inspires me in the next two weeks!

For the past several years now I've been using various iterations of an Olympus point-and-shoot camera, mostly for field and lab work. My current version, which I've had for over a year now, is the TG-4, in which the 'T' stands for Tough. This camera really stands up to its name. I routinely clamber over slippery rocks in the intertidal with the camera dangling from my wrist, and it is pretty banged up already. Not a problem! It is also completely waterproof so in addition to knowing that it will take fantastic photos underwater, I don't have to dry my hands before using it! Plus, it fits easily into a side pocket of my daypack for hiking, although I usually just leave it looped around my wrist. This little camera also has a microscope setting that takes great macro shots, which I love. The one thing it doesn't do very well is line up with either of my real microscopes, but I have a gadget that aligns the camera on my phone with the microscope objective lenses so even that contingency is covered.

Lately I've been thinking that it's time to graduate up to a real grown-up camera, one that has interchangeable lenses for more versatility. I particularly want a camera that will take photos of the birds and other wildlife that my TG-4 doesn't allow me to get close enough for, as well as one for general use, travel, etc. I asked my Facebook friends for DSLR recommendations and the consensus is that Canon and Nikon have the best selection for photo quality, build quality, and lens options. I started digging through online reviews and quickly became overwhelmed with technical specs and jargon. Given that image quality is comparable for cameras in the same price range I decided that the most useful bits of information are (1) whether or not I can figure out how to make the dang thing do what I want it to do; and (2) will I want to carry it around so I can use it.

In early August I was up at Lake Tahoe for an extended weekend with family. A friend had suggested renting a camera at lensrentals.com, which was a great idea. I rented a Nikon D7200, the new addition to their advanced hobbyist line, and an 18-140mm lens for the weekend. I took a lot of pictures, trying the camera in different outdoor lighting conditions. I gotta say, the images coming out of this camera are really nice. I didn't alter anything about them, except to decrease the overall file size so the photos load more quickly.

First test: Photos of outdoor scenery. The atmosphere was hazy due to smoke from various wildfires in the greater area, so I had to go up to Carson Pass to get some blue sky.

View from area near Carson Pass. 6 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
View from area near Carson Pass.
6 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Red Lake, near Carson Summit. 6 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Red Lake, near Carson Pass.
6 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Tree with scars from chains used to pull wagons up the slope, at Red Lake near Carson Pass. 6 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Tree with scars from chains used to pull wagons up the slope, at Red Lake near Carson Pass.
6 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong
6 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
6 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Pile of rocks near Carson Pass. 6 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Pile of rocks near Carson Pass.
6 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong
6 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
6 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Meadow at Taylor Creek. 7 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Meadow at Taylor Creek.
7 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Aspen trees at Taylor Creek. 7 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Aspen trees at Taylor Creek.
7 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Mt. Tallac 7 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Mt. Tallac
7 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Taylor Creek 7 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Taylor Creek
7 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Taylor Creek 7 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Taylor Creek
7 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Second test: Macro. I borrowed a macro lens from a friend who owns the Nikon D7100, just to fool around and see what happens. I took some macro shots of tree bark. Of course, any time you shoot macro you lose depth of field, which can look sort of cool in itself.

DSC_1057 DSC_1054

Test 3: Wildlife photography. I learned that for wildlife photography, the quality of the camera and lens has a HUGE effect on how the pictures look. I found that this Nikon was pretty responsive, which is important when the subject of the photo is active.

I have no idea if these rodents are squirrels or chipmunks.

DSC_1208 DSC_1202

At Taylor Creek I took pictures of birds!

Steller's jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) at Taylor Creek. 8 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Steller's jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) at Taylor Creek.
8 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong

And using the digital zoom that the image quality allows, I get this:

Steller's jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) at Taylor Creek. 8 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Steller's jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) at Taylor Creek.
8 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong
Black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) at Taylor Creek. 8 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) at Taylor Creek.
8 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong

But the best wildlife photo was taken at nightfall. We had gone out to Taylor Creek one evening to look for birds. It was almost full dark and we were about to leave when we saw a large grayish blob in a tree. Looking through binoculars we could see that it was clearly a creature of some kind, but we couldn't tell what. A large owl, getting ready to go out hunting? A roosting raptor?

Surprise! It was a mother porcupine nursing a baby.

Common porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) nursing her baby in a tree at Taylor Creek. 7 August 2016 © Allison J. Gong
Common porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) nursing her baby in a tree at Taylor Creek.
7 August 2016
© Allison J. Gong

This photo was the most impressive shot I got from this camera. Its performance in low light conditions was phenomenal. It was almost completely dark when I took this shot, but the exposure looks like it was taken during the day. Color me very impressed!

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