Orchids, Orchids, Orchids

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 24th, 2009 by MadDog
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Here in Paradise, we have so many species of orchids that it’s ridiculous. Orchids are everywhere. You can’t swing a dead cat without damaging a priceless orchid plant. I found some good orchid information on an Australian site, OrchidsOnline.com.  We have our own PNG orchid site at Papua New Guinea Orchid News.

I was waiting yesterday afternoon for Eunie to do some work at Madang Lodge, so I pulled out my trusty Canon G9 and started stalking orchids. Not a bad haul for fifteen minutes of killing time.

Don’t look at me as if you think that I know what I’m talking about. I have no intention of wading through the sites listing orchid species to discover the proper names of these beauties. Let’s just call them orchids and leave it at that:I call that one a purple orchid.

And, this one is a furry orchid:

I don’t know; is that fur or fuzz? It’s hard to tell. It’s not short enough to be fuzz and not long enough to be fur. Maybe it is furz.

Here is the business end of the same orchid:

And, here is your basic ‘going to the prom’ orchid. When I was a teenager, I used to spend exorbitant sums of money buying these things to pin on the modest bosoms of girlfriends when embarking on special dates. They were good investments:Purple seems to be a very popular colour for orchids:However, sometimes you get a weird surprise:
What is that  supposed to be, anyway?

It’s the day before Christmas and you haven’t had your Christmas Tree Worm yet. So, here it is:Yes, that is a particularly spiky looking Spirobranchus giganteus.

Tomorrow is Christmas Day. I don’t have a clue what we are going to be doing yet. We will probably go up to Blueblood for a swim and a BBQ. Eunie and I wish all of you (getting to be quite a crowd now – about 1,500 per day) a very happy holiday season.

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Merry Christmas Tree Worm

Posted in Under the Sea on December 23rd, 2009 by MadDog
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Let me begin today’s mashup of disorganised visual and verbal clutter by wishing myself a happy birthday. This has, indeed, been an interesting year. Having lived through my 66th year, I now embark on my 67th. In the past year, as a result of a New Year’s Resolution,  I have banished foul language from my daily speech (almost  completely), made an unexpected trip to North America without busting the bank and begun to reverse the devastating financial situation at Casa MadDog.

So many blessings . . .  And now, it’s almost Christmas, a time of year that inevitably depresses me. So many reasons . . . No snow or cold weather (which would probably kill me anyway) Don’t get to see my son and his family, my beautiful, smart granddaughters. Never mind. I’m not going to whine on my birthday. Eunie will bake me a pineapple upside-down cake tomorrow, a family tradition. I’ll eat the whole thing. It will take me about two or three weeks, according to how rapidly my spare tire inflates.

And now for your daily Christmas Tree. Here is a cute little mob of them:

If you move your hand over these they will disappear down their hidy-holes in an instant. No, I’m not guaranteeing that it will happen on your computer screen. Hey, I could do that with a mouse-over. I wish I had time to try it. First I’d have to have the exact same shot with the worms retracted. Never mind. I didn’t think of that while I was under the water.

Here is the star Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus)  for today:I like the little magenta stars on top.

Here is another “what I actually saw” shot. The murky water at Barracuda Point  last Saturday lends a spooky effect to this shot of Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)  with Carol Dover in the background checking out some Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello):It’s not pretty, but it’s what I saw.

Here is something that has puzzled me for some time. We often see these Solitary Corals, sometimes called Mushroom Corals, with damaged edges and colourful stains. This one is a deep form, that is it grows in deeper water, of Fungia fungites:If anybody out there knows anything about this, please enlighten me.

The contortionist of starfish is Choriaster granulatus  or, as we sometimes call it, the Dirty Starfish. I’ll let you wonder why:Another common name for this one is the Granulated Starfish. I don’t know how they manage to squeeze themselves into such awkward positions. This one looks as if it is trapped under a coral ledge.

Sticking with water, but on the surface now, here is yet another water drop image:

My fascination with water drops is boundless.

I wonder what that means?

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Hungry? Have a Delicious Sea Cucumber (Bêche-de-mer)

Posted in Under the Sea on December 22nd, 2009 by MadDog
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On Saturday, our regular dive day, we went to Barracuda Point,  on the eastern side of Pig Island.  The water at the surface was filled with particulate matter, but below about twenty metres, it was fairly clear. Just after we entered the water we saw this huge Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas).  This species is also known as the Prickly Redfish or the Pineapple Fish. Of course, it’s not a fish at all, neither is it a pineapple. However, its species name, ananas,  does mean pineapple. Well, okay, a pineapple is actually Ananas comosus.


Believe it or not, people eat them. I guess people eat just about anything, but I have a problem with this one. Of course, there are many different species. None of them look tasty to me:Prickly Red Fish, indeed!

How prickly? Have a look at this. If you scaled this up to human size, we’d all be covered with 10 cm wide spiky star-shaped red warts:It’s pretty in a very bizarre way – definitely one of the more unusual skins that I’ve seen.

Here is the front end:Or is it the back end? Some Bêche-de-mer have easily discernible front and rear ends. I didn’t take time to give this one an anatomical exam. You can usually tell by the trail of sandy poo left behind. There was none here. Maybe it was constipated.

Keeping with my rare Christmasy mood, Here is a bit of green to go with our red. It is a particularly lovely Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica):The outside of the ‘jug’ is the underside of the anemone. They usually lie in the feeding position, which is spread out like a carpet. If the surge gets to be a bit much or it is not a good feeding time, the skin contracts and pulls up, often leaving only a few tentacles sticking out of a hole. Surprisingly, any anemonefish residing in the anemone will be popping in and out of the hole, much as you see here. By the way, the fish here is the Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion).

Keeping in the spirit of “what you see is what I saw” here is an image of some Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)  coming up the side of the reef. Note all of the particulate matter floating in the water:It’s not all clear sailing.

Not forgetting my intent to bring you a Christmas Tree Worm every day until the 25th, here is your Spirobranchus giganteus  for today:Happy holidays!

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Sky and Water – A Camera as a Toy

Posted in At Sea, Photography Tricks on December 21st, 2009 by MadDog
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It’s part of my image of life, going back to childhood when my father taught me photography, that I think of a camera as a toy. Why do kids love the Transformer toys? Well, my theory is that, unlike a toy firetruck or doll, a transformer can be anything that you want it to be. As a child I used to play with Mechano sets. (In the USA they are called Erector Sets) That was a perfect toy. You could make pretty much anything that you could imagine.

A camera forces you to adopt a starting point, much as the instruction manual for a Mechano set, giving illustrations of things that one can build, suggestions, as it were. A camera gives very strong suggestions which are often excellent. In fact, many people are quite happy with the suggestions that their camera makes and fill their albums with snapshots of daily life and special moments (Kodak Moments – what a brilliant ad campaign).

The suggestions that your camera makes depend entirely on the scene in front of the lens and the settings you have chosen for your camera. By learning to use your camera controls you can drastically change the initial image, the suggestion, as it were. In this shot my camera was forced to expose for the brightest spot in the big cumulus cloud. I also held a polarising filter in front of the lens to darken the sky. Simple tricks such as these can dramatically affect the suggestion that your camera makes to you:

However, that is only where the fun starts.

In this image, I wanted to capture the ephemeral aqua colour that appears in the wake of a motorboat in clear tropical seas. It is very pale and showed up in the camera’s suggestion only to my eyes which were looking very hard for it:A few minutes with the Photoshop Replace Colour feature allowed me to pick out only the extremely pale aqua patches of the image and to incease the intensity of the colour until I was satisfied that it illustrated the effect.

And, if a camera is a toy, why not have a little fun with it? Eunie and I were in the cabin of Lyin’ Dog,  Trevor and Karen’s boat, when I noticed Karen sitting on the bow deck. There is a fly-wire screen inside the windscreen of the boat. I wondered about a shot through the fly-wire:

The camera made an excellent suggestion. This shot required no computer processing at all. Good job, Canon G9, my trusty old friend. Whe have an interesting and very colourful shot with just a tiny taste of cheesecake. Perfect for a weekend afternoon.

Up at the Blueblood Hilton, we settled in for a BBQ and a little vino. Sitting back in my chair behind the railing, I asked my camera for a suggestion:

Spot on, once again. I had to adjust the darkest parts to make them a little lighter so that they did not ‘fade to black’. Otherwise my little point and shoot suggested an image that’s fit for the cover of a magazine. Hooray!

Along the way back to Madang, the most distant clouds were showing the typical orange-ish colour caused by sulphur dioxide in the air from the many constantly spewing volcanoes in the inter-tropic zone:

The pollutant is trapped in the relatively calm air of the tropics.

Nearing Madang we are confronted my the horror of the tuna boats:Since RD Tuna came to Madang with its mostly unwanted tuna cannery we have noted a drastic reduction in the number of tuna that we see in Astrolabe Bay.

I did mention that I would get plenty of  Christmas Tree Worm (Spirobranchus giganteus)  shots so that I can show one each day before Christmas:

And, there is today’s specimen.

Hang some popcorn strings on it and put your presents under it. You get two trees for the price of one.

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Finnisterre Mountain Beauty

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 20th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ve written many times about the beautiful Finisterre Mountains  on the Huon Peninsula  which establishes the south side of  Astrolabe Bay.  I never before lived in a place where I could see a range of huge mountains. They seemed almost as mysterious and vast as the sea. Now, if conditions are good, I can come out any morning and see the Finisterres  looming over the top of our security fence:Faded Glory  sits calmly in the purple morning glow.

Over at Coconut Point  along Coronation Drive,  a nine frame panoramic shot gives an exceptionally nice view of the mountains. The image covers about 150°.

On the right of the image is the area called Rai Coast.  on the far left, as the mountains seem to be getting lower, but are really simply further away, is the Saidor region.

The entire area is as shaky as a bowl of jelly (Jello for Yanks). I filched this chart from the web:I added Madang and Lae so that you can get your bearings, as the chart is not designed for easy reading.

Here is a map that will make it clearer:By comparing the chart to the map, you can plainly see that, in Madang at the left of the map, we get plenty of earthquakes.

Here the Finisterres  are putting on a splendid show with Machinegun Point  in the foreground:

It’s one of my favourite hunting spots. You can always get an interesting image there.

I caught these boys wandering up Coronation Drive with the mighty Finisterres  in the background:

Leaving the Finisterres  for today, here is a grey morning shot of the Coastwatcher Monument with Kar Kar Island  Peeking up above the trees in the distance:

And, since we’ve been a little short of colour today, here are some wet, wet orchids in my garden:

I like the smaller orchids more than the large ones. These are only about three or four centimetres wide.

I need to get out and collect a bunch of orchid shots. I’d like to do a few days just on orchids. We got a million of ’em.

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Off to the Bush For a Day

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 19th, 2009 by MadDog
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Yesterday I went out to a village to visit with people with whom I’ve been working for a few months. I took some pictures along the way. It’s a bit of a wild ride out to the mountains between Madang and the Ramu Valley. The road dates back to a trail that went alongside the first power lines. It’s twisty and very rough for much of its length. Maybe you’ll see something interesting.

Here is a shot about twenty clicks out of town just as you are coming up on the mountains:

The road leading to the Ramy Valley from MadangThe road here is pretty flat and stays in relatively good shape.

Here is a ford that is right before you start up into the mountains. You can see the first steep hill on the other side. It’s a 20%+ slope:The only remaining ford between Madang and LaeThat means a long slog in 1st gear, even in  my diesel 4WD truck.

I can remember when we first started driving to the highlands in 1981. There were 21 rivers that had no bridges. If the water was too high to get across, we had to either wait for it to go down or drive back to town. I was driving a Suzuki 4WD jeep across a river similar to this when it fell into a hole and went floating (mostly) downstream. Fortunately I had a long rope laying on the passenger’s seat. I jumped out into the water and hooked the rope around a bumper while the Suzuki tip-toed over the rocks. I swam over to the side and threw the other end of the rope around a tree. Fortunately the rope held. After retrieving the car from the water it took several hours to get everything dried out enough to get it started.

This is a Bailey bridge. You find them all over the world in difficult, out-of-the-way places.A Bailey bridgeA Bailey bridge is a portable pre-fabricated truss bridge, which can carried by a few trucks and erected with simple equipment. The only problem with them is that old ones tend to sag quite a bit in the middle and do not inspire confidence. This one has a steel road bed. I have been on a couple of them which had wood plank beds and most of the wood had been pilfered. We once crossed one by carrying the remaining planks from the other side to our side, laying them down in front of the truck, driving the truck to the end of the last planks and then moving the planks from behind the truck to the front. It made me think of an inchworm creeping along a branch.

Here is a little market along the way:A market on the way to UsinoThis lady has a bag of betel nut on her head:

Woman with a bag of betel nut on her head
I had a little chat with her about the evils of buai  (the Tok Pisin  word for betel nut). She just kept laughing at me. At first I couldn’t figure out why. Then I noticed that she was looking at my hair, which I had braided Indian-style. I don’t think that she had ever seen a man with braided hair. I was happy to give her a few minutes of fun.

Here is a mob of kids that were hanging around the market. When kids see a camera they automatically line up for the photographer. How convenient:A bunch of village kidsI kept trying to get them to look at me, but they were too fascinated by the woman with the bag on her head who was still laughing at me.

I asked one of the fellows to take a photo of me, since that hardly ever happens:

Me trying to stay awake at a meetingI don’t know why those bamboo ‘couches’ are considered high-style. It is extremely uncomfortable. I’d rather sit on the ground. However, if you are (for the moment, at least) a VIP, you can’t sit on the ground; they won’t let you. I have been to several villages in which there was exactly one chair and they would always drag it out for me to sit on. This is a holdover from the days of the Kiap  or Patrol Officer who was like a travelling sheriff, judge, census taker and general overseer of the Australian Administration. I believe that people did not understand that white people were capable of sitting on the ground.

Here’s another shot of us discussing weighty matters:A group of leaders at Somau-GariaI hope to be doing a lot more of this kind of work in the future.

After thirty-five years of wrestling computers, I’m pretty tired of it.

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Tomato Soup and Other Esoterica

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 18th, 2009 by MadDog
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So, if you come to visit us in Madang for Christmas, what can you expect? Well, first you have to land your Fokker F-100 at the airport (hopefully) in Madang. Just because production ended for the F-100 in 1997 doesn’t mean that it’s not a good aeroplane. It’s just a little long in the tooth. I was recently allowed to land an F-100 at Madang. Here is a photo that I took through the windscreen as I guided us in on the final approach (never liked the sound of that, but that’s what they call it):Landing at Madang courtesy of Google EarthOkay, okay, I lie. I wasn’t flying the plane. In fact, there was no plane. It’s an image from Google Earth. Anyway, if you did land in Madang, this is exactly what it would look like. The big blob of land with the lake in the middle is Kranket Island.  At the top, to the left of the runway is an orange patch. This is the wood chipping mill. Our house is just to the right of it.

Sticking with aeroplanes for a bit, here is a shot of 50 calibre machine gun cartridges laying, after sixty-six years, in the salty water of Tab Anchorage  near Wongat Island  in The Green Dragon,  an American B-25 bomber shot down in 1943:Bomber bulletsWhen I first started diving The Green Dragon  many years ago, there were many more cartridges in the ammo boxes. Sadly some divers can’t resist taking a souvenir. Every time somebody takes “just one” it hastens the day when there will be none left to see.

Now I’ll show you (don’t ask me why) a Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria):Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria)Just because I can, that’s why. I find that “because I can” is often sufficient reason for doing something. Much of my life is delivered up to “just because I can” moments. Several of them have nearly killed me. Needless to say my aim is to not  die in bed with my boots off. My bucket list is getting shorter. I’ll cram as much of it in as I possibly can, I assure you. I’m a lemon squeezer and I like walking close to the edge.

Now this is a sweet shot. I could give you a handful of technical reasons why it is pleasing. It’s a geek thing, never mind:Coral (Diploastrea heliopora)It is what it is. And, it is Coral (Diploastrea heliopora).  But that, of course, is not what makes it interesting. My students out there:  State at least three compositional features that make it an “interesting” image. Turn you papers in before the bell.

A few days ago I briefly introduced you to a Tomato Anemonefish [female] (Amphiprion frenatus):Tomato Anemonefish [female] (Amphiprion frenatus)Let’s get up-close and personal. This little tomato is one of my favourites. Only the females are so pretty. They are very frisky. The slight shutter lag on the Canon G10 (maybe a third of a second) makes it very frustrating to shoot little scooters like this baby. You have to try to figure out where the fish is going to be a fraction of a second later and hope that you catch what you want. I took about twenty shots of this fish and got five that are reasonably good. Here are the rest of them in a little gallery:

Unbeknownst to you, I went to the bush yesterday. If I made it back, I’ll see you tomorrow. It’s DIVE DAY!! I’m going to fetch some more Christmas Tree Worms for you.

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