Friday, July 24, 2009

Joyas Volardores!

Hummingbirds are our tiniest and the most fascinating birds that will visit your backyard. Early Spanish explorers to the new world called them Joyas Volardores or flying jewels. Unique to South, Central and North America, they are found no where else in the world. If you need visual evidence of almighty God as creator of the universe and all things therein you need look no further!

Hummers are one of the most difficult nature subject to photograph. Their tiny size coupled with incredible speed and unpredictable movements are a real challenge. There are four types of hummer photos: 1) wings a blur which is how we generally see them, 2) wings "frozen" in place (high speed flash is usually necessary to accomplish this) 3) a combination of the two which is actually two images with one produced by flash and another produced by existing daylight and 4) the bird at rest on a perch or nest. I've had a life long fascination with them and have tried photographing them off and on but got more serious about it about five years ago when I began reading about the technique of using high speed flash to illuminate them. They're also easy to work with from a wheelchair. I'm a slow learner but now occasionally get a good shot or two. I've outlined the techniques of lighting these animated ping pong balls and some general information about them in an earlier post so won't repeat all of it here.

This tiny guy has been driving me crazy trying to get on film. Of about 30 shots this was the best.

"Where is the person who, on seeing this lovely little creature moving on humming winglets through the air, suspended as if by magic; flitting from one flower to another, with motions as graceful as they are light and airy, pursuing its course over our extensive continent, and yielding new delights wherever it is seen;--who, on observing this glittering fragment of the rainbow, would not pause, admire, and instantly turn his mind with reverence toward the Almighty Creator, the wonders of whose hand we at every step discover, and of whose sublime conceptions we everywhere observe the manifestations in His admirable system of creation?--There breathes not such a person; so kindly have we all been blessed with that intuitive and noble feeling--admiration!"

~ John James Audubon

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ditch Patrol 09 con't

As Va's COOL summer moves on (HOORAY!!) I don't have many excuses for not patrollin them ditches. I can't recall a summer when its actually been nice (by my standards :o) in decades.

Couple of fines the last couple days. One really cute and one not (but it smells real good!)

Bull Thistle or maybe Pasture Thistle, one of about 9 species in the east. Most grow in dry, waste places, ditches (is there anywhere else! :o) pastures, roadsides. etc. Most have formidable, razor sharp spines that will sure 'nuff ruin your day if you're careless with them. I generally handle and position them with spring clamps to avoid touching them. Most are fragrant and a magnet to insects and especially Butterflies.

This tiny little guy is Spiked Lobelia or Palespike Lobelia (Lobelia spicata to you science buffs). Could key it to family but about gave up trying to key it out further when I hit upon it by accident.
Another in our inexhaustible supply of roadside weeds. A real challenge to even find in my viewfinder, this was all the magnification I could get with what I had with me.

Ditch Patrol 09

The ditch Patrol has been off line for a while this summer. Had to have an implanted spinal infusion therapy pump replaced earlier this month at UVA. That went well and with the cool summer I don't have much excuse for not going out.

We also have a new power chair/scooter lift for the van that simplifies things a lot. I'll stick on a few pics below. Engineering marvel!

Here it is on the ground, scooter loaded and ready to lift...
Thirty seconds later at the push of a button...all loaded inside nice 'n neat!

Can you believe I haul all this junk to photograph weeds?!

I'm going to try to get going on the hummingbirds soon although we have very few this year ??

This AM's find is commonly called "Common Nightshade", "Horse Nettle" or "Bull Nettle" (Solanum carolinense if you care). Found it in a ditch (where else!) over in Wilderness Battlefield. It is in the Nightshade (Potato) family. All members of this family , including potatoes, contain the potent neurotoxin solanine which is why you sometimes hear this plant family called the "Deadly Nightshades". Although toxicity is primarily of veterinary interest as livestock can become poisoned by injecting the plants in quanity, humans can become poisoned from ingesting raw, young green potatoes. Form the brief amount I read, the incidence of poisoning is low in humans although it isn't a good idea to eat young green potatoes and potatoes eaten raw should be peeled.

MS 150 2009

The Central Va chapter of the NMSS sponsors a very demanding two day, 150 mile bike tour every year the weekend after Memorial Day. It is now the "MS 150" although for years it was called the "Va Dare Bike Tour". This year there were 520 cyclists and the event raised ~$325,000. They ride 75 miles on Sat. to Williamsburg and 75 return miles to Richmond Sunday. In 1993 a friend of mine, Jeff Wessel, formed a bike team to ride in the event that he called Team BRUCE (Bikers Ride Until a Cure Exists). The numbers fluctuate year to year but we have about 25 riders give or take. Pam and I always volunteer to work rest stops as it's a fun event and we so appreciate the effort these folks make.

To make a very long story short another friend, Phil Rice, came up with the (at the time) idiotic idea to find a way to pull me the entire 150 miles! With donated parts he fabricated an adult trike in his auto body repair shop that he pulled with his own regular bike. Pulling about 250 lbs with a bike is no small feat but it worked! They generally change "pullers" every 12 miles or so.

Following all good ideas come some setbacks. The head office of NMSS had "safety issues" with our old trike and wanted it retired. I'll see if I can find some pics. Always up to a challange, Phil located a bike shop in northern VA (Vienna) and in it found two recumbant style bikes that were desigined and engineered to be joined via a special hitch arrangment. The new "ride" was a rocket on rails! Hittin' over 30 mph on a few downhills is a real rush especially when you live in a world of slow motion (yes, they made me sign a waver :o). Fitted with two high tech pieces of PVC pipe which provided 4 "handles" that riders could grab to assist on upgrades, we were quite a sight! The owner of the shop donated the two bikes for us to use free of charge and only requested a picture as payment! WOW!

Last year, on day two, we lost two of our primary lead bike "engines" and the 75 mile trek back to Richmond looked out of reach. About 15 miles out of Williamsburg, we met up with a team from W.M. Jordan Co. We didn't realize it at the time but the Lord had provided us with a group of angels! They immediately pitched in to assist us and what a relief it was the guy on the lead bike! As Mark Santschi was speaking about the ride at a fund raiser event at our church in May, he was overcome with emotion as he thought back to the relief he felt as the Jordan cyclists pulled along side and began to push. We thought they would probably go on their way at the next rest stop but no, they wanted to ride with us all way to Richmond! How cool is that!! And even cooler is they rode both ways again this year!!

The pic below is somewhere in the back woods of rural VA. Here, 4 "pushers" have pulled alongside and are assisting "Skip" (the "engine") on a long, brutal upgrade, the worst on the route. Powerful men and these guys rock and roll! The determination on their faces says it all! Phil, the originator of this crazy idea is on the far right of the pic. My job, besides just riding and enjoying the scenery, is to attract as much gravity as I can and make us as un-aerodynamic as possible ;o)

Seriously, to be surrounded by a group of individuals like this is a high beyond description! I feel like the luckiest man on earth!