Sunday, April 10, 2011

Grebe Expectations - Part 2 - Duck out of Water

So last Thursday I went out to check on the little rescued Grebe.  She (and I'm assigning a gender totally arbitrarily since grebes aren't gender dimorphic, and as the woman I interviewed explained, there was no medical reason to try and determine a gender to treat her) ended up at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center.

I called up to see if I could do a follow up on her and I was able to interview one of the rehabers named LuAnn.  Because they're a wildlife rescue and rehab first and foremost I wasn't able to see the grebe.  She's being treated, but they want her to have as little interaction with humans as possible to facilitate her re-release into the wild.

The vets did take a couple pictures which they were gracious enough to send to me.

I look at those back legs now and I completely understand why she couldn't get off the ground.  Those are not walking, let alone running, feet.  Those are clearly paddling feet.

(These two photos belong to the Center and are used with their gracious permission).

As I mentioned in the first post, she had a bit of a chunk taken out of her neck and required medical intervention, antibiotics and painkillers.

When I got out to DuPage County, LuAnn and I sat down to discuss the care this animal received and what people should do if they find an injured wild animal and a little bit about the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in general.

What did you do for the grebe?

The vet cleaned up his wounds, she gave him a check up this morning.  He's on pain meds and she put him on antibiotics.  A lot of what happens over the next few days is watching him, getting him to eat... we give him a variety of food in his water.  He has shallow water right now because of his wounds, so he can't go totally in water.

Can you tell what attacked him?

No.  We can't tell if he was attacked or if he got caught on something.  We don't usually know unless somebody sees what happened.

We found this bird flopping down the street and she obviously needed help, so we picked her up.  What ideally should people do when they find something like this?

She needed to get picked up, because she obviously had wounds and couldn't fly away.  I wouldn't have suggested anything different.  But the people need to be safe first.  She was in the road, so people need to be careful when trying to help.  A lot of times the first car can see what's going on, but then someone tries to get around the stopped car and doesn't realize what's happening.

Someone at the scene suggested we use a plastic bag, but I said that plastic wasn't a good idea because some animals may eat it, is that right?

We use paper bags a lot.  You could have a problem with suffocation with plastic.  The migration group uses paper bags.  They're inexpensive and if they put tissue on the bottom they can get some traction, if it stays clean then you can reuse it.

How common are grebes to this area?

Not all that common.  We might get two or three or four a year.  It's not like a mallard or something.

How many animals does your center treat?

It varies a lot.  We can get a couple hundred in one day during migration. Last year we had over 8000 for the year come in.

What percentage can be rehabbed?

Most centers will say about half - between 45 and 50 percent.  Though it depends on how they do their numbers. Some count the ones that are dead on arrival, others don't.  Most animals have so many strikes against them by the time someone can catch them...

Of that 50%, how many can you re-release into the wild?

Almost all of them.  We have about 90 or 95 permanent animals that stay here for education.  There are some that live on the grounds that people learn about them by seeing them, and some that go out for school programs - like a red-tailed hawk that has a wing injury and can't hunt.  We also have a relationship with Brookfield Zoo, the Shedd Aquarium and Lincoln Park Zoo and they have one with us as well.  Sometimes we can place animals in different places.  We have a reintroductory program for some animals where we collect and hatch the eggs to make sure raccoons and other animals don't get to them and then release the young animals when they can protect themselves.

What's the most exotic animal you've ever received?

We get in mink occasionally.  A couple years ago we had three young mink that we raised and released. There's a few animals where we only get a few in a year, and then we may not see them again for a couple of years. We rehab anything that's native to the area.  We don't do non-native species, we have referrals for those.  Sometimes we get a call that an animal has been confiscated at the airport and they need someone to take it.

Do you ever get maxed out?  Do you ever have to say, "I'm sorry, but we just don't have any more room?"

We have a limit on raccoons.  Our cage will only hold so many because they're territorial.  And there's a second breeding season later in the summer, so we'll start taking more then.  It's hard to say no, but if we take too many we risk introducing a lot of disease.

So after we talked, I walked through the permanent collection and then did a walk through the attached wild forest preserve.  I'll post about both of those under separate covers in the next day or two.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Grebe Expectations - Part 1 - Get the Duck Out of Here!

I was down in Lakeview last night.  Lakeview is a trendy, very busy, northside neighborhood that's busy with both pedestrian and auto traffic, pretty much 24/7.  There are a lot of dogs - to the point where many of the businesses on the main drag - Broadway - have doggy water bowls out in the summer and leash stations near the door.  Not a good place for wildlife to take a detour.

I got off the bus and was heading up the block when I see what I think is a small duck floundering right in the middle of very busy Broadway. A guy runs up and uses his dog to flush it on to the sidewalk, but by the way it was flying/floundering/waddling, I could tell it was either very young or pretty hurt. So I ran up to help. Or at least see if I could help.

By the time I got there it was across the sidewalk and flopping down a 6-step stairwell. Once it was down there a local guy got it cornered. Someone suggested getting a plastic bag to contain it in, but I said that might not be a good idea because some animals tend to eat plastic when it's 'offered.' I said a towel would be better.  All of a sudden I'm the wildlife expert on the block.

So another bystander, who I later learned was named Maggie got a small blanket from her car while I called 311 (non-emergency city help line). As I was waiting another bystander, named Meg, said she was also on hold with them. I got through first and asked for an animal control call. They took my details and said they'd dispatch someone. In the mean time it was becoming apparent that this bird was less than thrilled with the blanket being over its face, so I took it from the guy who had it and uncovered its face and held on to it.

We'd thought it was a duck. As I was talking to 311 I told them it wasn't a Mallard or a Wood and I didn't recognize it. Then it stuck its neck up and I was all, "Oh hi there. You are not a duck!" My initial thought with its neck shape and beak shape was that it was a very juvenile heron. The webbed feet weren't quite right for a heron, but I'm not exactly the heron-master, so, you know two out of three heron features...

So we had a crowd for a while, but after about 15 minutes of waiting for animal control most people moved on, which left me, Meg, her boyfriend Justin and Maggie. Eventually Maggie got her car so we could sit and wait, but our little avian friend wasn't entirely thrilled with the OMG!INSIDE! of it all. After half an hour Meg called 311 back and the person she got said, "Oh, we don't do bird calls," but she gave us the number for bird rescue. Bird rescue told us to put the bird in a box and drive it over to the Peggy Notebaert Museum, which was all of about 5 minutes away. Then they called over because it just so happened that one of their bird rescuers was teaching a class at the closed museum last night and let her know we were coming with a rescue. So Meg's on the phone with Bird Rescue and we're trying to give an update. "We think it's a young heron. She's been injured, but she's alert and calm, but not lethargic." I was waiting for them to ask us if we could take her pulse or something.

So, since I'd taken the bus, and was apparently in charge of bird control, Maggie drove us over to the museum where we delivered her to Annette of the bird rescue group here in Chicago. On the way over we named her. Gracie Barry.

Why? Because we found her on Barry Street and Broadway. And Gracie the Grebe (once we found out she wasn't a heron) sounded good.

So we brought her in, and gave the box to Annette. Since being put in the box she had buried herself in the blanket and was being very still. We were a little worried there for a while. But she looked in and went "OH you found a grebe!" at which time Gracie perked up like someone had called her name.

We showed Annette where Gracie had been injured by another animal - she had a chunk of feathers missing out of her neck and a patch on her back, but she didn't seem to be bleeding profusely or anything. Annette said she'd take care of her and bring her to the Willowbrook Wildlife Center for care and rehab.

We were so excited. We saved a grebe! It's not like they're uncommon animals or anything, but it was kind of exciting to do a hands on rescue of an injured animal.

While we were waiting for animal control, Justin took some shots with my phone camera.  I have to say, that for a phone camera, it does take some decent shots.



Today I went out to Willowbrook to do some follow up.  I'll have the whole write up tomorrow, but the short version is, she (we think 'she', but the truth is grebes don't have different color patterns or significant size differences between the genders, so we're mostly guessing) has been seen by a vet.  She did require a little surgery on the one wound and she's on pain killers and antibiotics.  She isn't eating yet, but that's to be expected.  They're hopeful she'll recover fully and be able to be released into the wild again.

But that's for tomorrow's post.

Something 's a little fishy in here. (post 2/2)

[Okay, I'm going to fuss with this later, but I do know the formatting of this seems to be way off.  I can't seem to get the paragraphs to line up with the appropriate pictures.  When I'm in the WYSIWYG editor it looks *fine*, but it doesn't preview or post right.  Argh.  Sorry.]

Okay, here's the rest of the shots from the fist trip. Following this, I have something way cooler to talk about. ;)

Seriously, Who Puts Eyeshadow on a Fish?
There was an indoor Koi pond.  These koi were being fish-sat for a corporation that has a fishpond for them when it's warmer out, but it isn't deep enough for them to winter in and they don't have the facilities to keep them indoors.  Makes me think of the 9-billion gallon tanks my dad used to keep in the family room as a kid for his koi in the winter.

This Isn't a School, This is a Mob!

They're hand fed.  We got to hand-feed them, which is a bizarre feeling.  It's sort of like sticking your hand against the end of a slimy vacuum cleaner hose.  Because they're used to being fed by humans they mob up against the pool whenever anyone stands against the wall to see them.
The challenge to shooting these guys is that the water is highly reflective and they're half-in and half-out of the water most of the time.  I tried not to use the flash and make the reflection any worse than it was.

Not helping the matter was that some of the fish were really, really bright white and were basically swimming hot spots.
Self-Expression: He haz it.

But once in a while someone would calm down enough to let me get a good shot.  I find the blue 'eyeshadow' on this fish really, really hysterical.  He has both eyeshadow and a moustache.   Well, to each his own. :)

This lionfish is amazing, but hard to shoot.  This was probably the best shot I got - and it was through the glass with the flash, so it's not, you know brilliant, but it could be worse.  He's tough because there's a very solid fish, but some very ephemeral, transparent fins.  Getting the light to catch both properly is not the easiest thing ever.
Copper Wires

This one shows the very cool metallic stripes and the transparency of his lips.

Mini Ray
This little ray was only about the size of my hand.  He was a little high strung, zipping around his enclosure.  I had no idea you could keep a ray as a pet.
Under Ray

Here he was showing off his belly. I can't decide if it looks like he's frowning or smiling.  We fed the larger rays in the tide pool.  They don't have teeth, but they have some power behind their jaw.  If you don't let go of their lunch, you'll get nipped!

Okay, so that's the end of the fish story.  Next: I saved a diving duck from the mean streets of Chicago!  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Something 's a little fishy in here. (post 1/2)

Okay, so yesterday I talked about shooting through the glass.  I got the chance to take shots of fish at a large fish/aquarium store.  Today I'm just going to post the pics that I got that I liked.  No big discussion today. :)

The Aliens Have Landed
 Isn't this guy a trip?  I have to say that I love that this aquarium uses a lot of flat black backdrops.  Especially here.  If anyone wanted to know if there was proof of aliens visiting Earth, I could show them this shot and probably have a few believers!   It's actually a form of boxfish called a "Longhorn Cowfish."
Anemones Do Not Eat Chocolate Chips

 This was shot in a re-created tide pool, so there was no glass.  The starfish here is about half the size of my hand - maybe three or four inches tip to tip - and is called a chocolate chip seastar (It is not a starfish it is not a starfish it is not a starfish!  I know, I know, most of us grew up calling them starfish, but since they aren't actually fish at all there's a movement to get people to call them seastars and be more accurate) .  Something tells me chocolate chip cookies taste better.  On the tour we were allowed to touch the anemone out of water.  It's very odd to feel an animal that has absolutely no structural support to it's tentacles.  It was like handling mobile jelly!

Yeah, come on.  Check out my blue teeth...with your finger.
 This is a Harlequin Tusk.  It's actually a form of wrasse, which strikes me as odd.  I always think of wrasses as being much smaller and more torpedo shaped, but there it is.  What's really awesome about this guy is that he has blue teeth.
More Moray

I adore eels.  I'm not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with going to the Shedd with my grandparents as a kid and looking around the huge coral reef in the center for the big moray there and refusing to leave until I found it.  I got to feed this guy - using a grabber stick and some fair amount of contortion to get the squid into the tank.  He's a vicious little eater!

Psst... Is the coast clear?
Here's the anemone I showed before.  The starfish was being passed around to the tour, so this little red shrimp started poking his head out from under this little flat cave he was hiding out in.

A Shrimp Pairing

I'm not a huge fan of seafood, personally, but even if I was, these shrimp are far too small to be worth eating.  And besides, they're way too pretty.
Peekaboo, I see you too!

Everything I'm finding online says this should be some kind of jawfish, both in shape and behavior, but I can't seem to find a species that matches in color and has the little horn.  Any aquarists out there who can help me out?

Okay, that's half the shots from this trip.  It figures I had just a few more than I was comfortable putting up in one post, but not really enough to have two full posts.  Oh well, I'd rather err on the side of caution and not break anyone's internet with ridiculous load times. :)

I'll put up the rest tonight or tomorrow.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Flash On the Glass

So as a nature photographer I can encounter birds and mammals and even amphibians in their natural habitats without having to account for their environment any more or less than I would any other subject, like a plant or a person.  But marine life if a whole different issue.  Unless you're a certified SCUBA diver and you have an underwater set up for your camera, your opportunities for shooting animals that spend 100% of their life underwater will involve shooting through glass.

As a child one of the first pieces of advice I got regarding shooting through glass was "You absolutely cannot use a flash to shoot through glass."  That was probably oversimplified for my six or seven year old self at the time, but the fact does remain, it's hard to get a good shot through glass.

So of course it figures that some of the most colorful animals in the world are fish and various invertebrates that live underwater.

Who said plaid went out in the '70s?
Like this guy.  Seriously, a plaid fish.  It's a plaid fish!
If Key West could design its own fish

Or this guy.  Who looks like the result of letting an eight-year-old little girl color in the fish. Dotted lines?  In aqua and bright yellow?  (And I have to love that the ring around the eye is also aqua and yellow - though you may have to enlarge the shot to see that.  It makes the false eye on the tail even more awesome.)

Now, if you look at these shots, you can see that it is possible to get good shots through glass.  I wasn't jumping in their aquariums with my Canon or anything!

The first thing you have to establish is whether or not flash photography is allowed.  Most public aquariums are no flash zones.  This is for the health and safety of the animals, not to mention the people you're going to blind if you keep firing that thing.  Many aquatic life-forms prefer dark environments to help them avoid predators and in order to keep from stressing the animals, the aquariums will set up a dark viewing area and dim light in the tank so that you can see what's in there.  If you keep firing your flash and then it bounces off the glass, you're going to really annoy the other guests.  And the staff, who will probably have a few things to say to you.  I know that I always cringe when I forget to change my settings after moving from a flash-allowed area into a no-flash area and the thing goes off.

So, basically, if it's not allowed, don't be dumb and do it anyway.

But when it is allowed - it's your fish tank, or it's an area where they aren't worried that the animals are going to be harassed all day, every day by flashes - you can get some good shots.

I was at this absolutely massive tropical fish store called The Living Seas Aquarium last weekend for a tour and they allowed me to take photographs, flash and all.  Most people heading in there are there to actually buy fish and fish paraphinalia, not just stand around and stare the fish like they would be at, say the Shedd Aquarium, so they didn't mind a few flash shots.

So, what happens when you do shoot against glass and do it wrong?

First of all you can see the flash reflected in the glass.  You can even tell that my on-camera flash is rectangular.

You can also see any fingerprints and smudges on the glass.  If you're the one in control of the environment, a quick swipe with some Windex will solve that problem.  But most of the time we're not in charge of the glass and we'd look a bit silly whipping out a spray bottle and paper towel at the local zoo.  Though, they'd probably thank you for it. :)

If your subject is right in front of you when you fire directly at the glass you get the above two problems as well as obscuring your subject.
Additionally, as you can see well in this last shot, when the light is bouncing back at you, it's not going into the tank and the shot remains dark anyway.

So what can you do?

First, shift to a 45 degree angle or less to the glass.  Shooting at a 90 degree angle to the glass (straight at it), is what gives you the bounce-back.  So try something like this:

I've found that this can create a few different problems, but it solves the biggest problem of flash-bounce.  However, most aquariums are set up to be seen from right in front of it and if there are pumps or hoses or things that have to be visible they're often put on the sides or in the corners and many times these are now in your shot.

The pipe behind this fish drives me buggy, but it was the best angle I could get to see the fish clearly.  This isn't a shot I'd enter into an art show or anything, but if someone said to me, "What does an Emperor Angelfish look like" this picture would work just fine.

The other thing you can do is try to avoid using the flash.  Try turning up your ISO or widening your iris and see if you can get away with out it.  If you're shooting a crustacean like a lobster or shrimp or something else that sits still, pop your camera on a tripod (again, if it's allowed where you're shooting) and just go with a long exposure.

The one place I absolutely cannot shoot is the shark tank at the Shedd.  It's dark in the tank and since they're open water animals there's not even coral or rocks to give contrast.  And since they're sharks, they never. stop. moving.  So it's impossible to shoot down there since flashes aren't allowed.  So if you have a moving target, you may just be out of luck if they didn't give you enough light in the habitat to get good, quick shots.

If you've got good equipment, a flash diffuser would obviously help.  I've made a poor-person's diffuser out folding up a piece of wax paper and holding it in front of my on-camera flash.  It helps when shooting shiny things like some of my ceramic work, but it's not a huge help when trying to shoot into an aquarium full of water.

So, while not the most advisable thing ever, you can shoot through glass using your flash if you're careful with how you do it.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Quick "Thank you" to my readers, and I'd love to know who you are.

So I keep track of what posts draw readers in, where my blog is being read, all that good stuff.  Not for any great research paper or anything, but it's just *cool* to know that my blog has been read as far away from Chicago as places like Zambia, New Zealand and Jordan.

Here's a quick map of where my blog has been seen in the past nine months:

Every once in a while I'll notice a big spike in my 'number of readers over time' and a corresponding number in the 'number of readers by country'. For example, this past week I had ten hits at once, and ten hits from Latvia. I've also had ten hits from Iran in the past twenty-four hours (all in one spike). A few months back I got thirty hits from The Philippines all at once.aid,

I'd love to hear from those of you who seem to be hitting me in batches (actually I'd love to hear from ALL of you, but I'm very curious about these batches). Are you using something I've posted in a class? Tweeting about me and having your friends follow the link? Like I said, I'm just very, very curious.  And also if you could let me know what brought you here, I can help tailor what I posts to the things my readers are interested in.  Thanks!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Please excuse the load time...

These shots are for a critique session I'm attending tomorrow, so I'm uploading them full size.
A Break in the Clouds

Snowy Night

The Very Hungry Caterpillar


Mr. Fokker Poppy

Ripples in the Lily Pond

Bottle Gentians in Beautiful Blues

If anyone checking out my blog tonight has any critiques, I'd love to hear what you think too!