The Angry Little Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on February 14th, 2010 by MadDog
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I still have a stinking cold and I’m still trying to catch up on my posts. I’m now only two days behind. Fortunately, I got a small treasure trove of shots from last Saturday at Barracuda Point and the Eel Garden, both at Pig Island.  I’ll show you a few today and more tomorrow. Then I need to think about something else to write about, because I can only eat so much fish each week.

I’m just listening to some songs by a group called Gare Du Nord  which, presumably means “north station”. I think it refers to a railroad station in Paris. It’s got a nice eclectic jazz/rock/electronica thing going for it. I found in on my network drive for shared music.  I don’t know who put it there, but it’s got a solid groove and nice thumpy base. My sub-woofer is under my desk. I can feel the base hits tickling the hair on my legs. Funky!

Well, you’ve seen these here before, so there’s nothing new here, folks. Might as well move on. It’s a Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia): 
I hit the flash on this one, since they light up nicely. The inside is like jelly and it conducts light very well.

We had a fresh diver with us on Saturday, name of Scott. I grabbed this shot of him chasing around after a mob of Bigeye Trevally:Barracuda point was crawling with big Pickhandle Barracuda and Trevally. I’ll have some barracuda shots tomorrow, if this cold doesn’t kill me.

You’ve seen this here before also, a Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  [young stage] which is improbably bright:They’re like the traffic lights of the reef. Too bad that I’m a little late for Valentine’s Day. This one has a nice little heart shape in the middle.

I found some nice Palm Coral (Clavularia sp)  which is a different colour than most of what I’ve seen before. This has much more yellow in the polyps:I love to watch the stuff waving around in the current.

Here’s another familiar client of mine, the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):This character was all dolled up for a party, I think. Don’t ask my why the first name that popped into my head when I was working on this image was Rodney Dangerfield. If you don’t get it, then there’s no use explaining. I have a Harley Davidson t-shirt which is a bit obnoxious. It brazenly states, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.” If you asked this fish, that’s probably what it would say.

There goes that bass tickling my legs again. It’s “Boogie All Night Long”. Reminds me of my Flickr nickname, BoogiesWithFish.

Here’s another familiar sight for regular readers. Lizardfish Love:Again, if I have to explain it . . .

I’ll finish up with the star of the show, this very perturbed little Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata):As I mention in my excerpt, I’ve had fish hide from me, chase me, harass me, bite me, defecate on me, pose for me, run from me, well, the list goes on and on. After 2,000 dives, you begin to think that nothing is going to surprise you.

However, this is the first time that I’ve seen a fish simply glare at me with naked hatred.

Hey, what did I do?

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Lightning Down! – The Nob Nob P-38

Posted in Dangerous, Mixed Nuts on February 13th, 2010 by MadDog
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A combination of TELIKOM’s totally worthless copper wire phone network, a full day of diving on Saturday and a fairly grueling bush walk on Sunday has put me three days behind. I won’t bother to mention that I’ve also got a bad cold. Yes, I’m feeling pretty sorry for myslef. I intended to do a post on Saturday morning but could not, of course, get any connection. We had a full day of diving, so I was too knackered to go into the office where resides my only connection to the world from here on Planet X. Early Sunday morning we headed for Nob Nob to visit the site of a downed P-28 Lightning aircraft. It’s now Monday afternoon and I’m just getting started writing Saturday’s post. I will  catch up. I must  catch up. It’s becoming compulsive, but in a good way.

Anyway, here is Monty Armstrong leading part of the pack of rag-tag hikers up the trail to the crash site:

The highest elevation that we reached was about 400 metres. The crash site is in deep jungle on the side if a precipitous slope at 125 metres. That means that we walked mostly downhill from the highest point, near the spot in the photo above, to the wreckage. The footpath, if that’s what you could call it, was ankle-deep in mud much of the way. I started out the walk barefoot, because I know that I would do better that way. The five hikers were myself, Monty, Greg, Jo, and Tag Tap. I fell a half-dozen times, Monty nearly went down a couple of times, Greg crashed one time spectacularly, but Jo never fell once.

Need I mention that the walk back was about 275 metres uphill, very uphill,  on the same muddy path? I never really got badly winded, but I walk very  slowly.

At the site the jungle is so dense that you can hardly see the sky:

That was the biggest hole that I could find. It can be a spooky place. If you get lost, you could walk right across a trail and not even notice it. Local folk, of course, know every square metre.

So, what’s the big fuss about? Well, it’s about this beautiful but deadly machine:

The image above is from Mark Karvon’s web site where he offers a stunning array of fine art prints.

Here’s Monty surveying the site with his expert Mark I Eyeballs. Monty has torn apart and reassembled more that a few old war birds, including P-38s:

We had a cheap metal detector with us which allowed us to find many more bits and pieces that I have managed to uncover on previous visits to the site.

Here’s Jo providing a bit of eye candy to an otherwise grungy shot of one of the Allison engines:

The far left side of the engine is missing, as is the whole crankcase. You can see the crankshaft, connecting rods, a few of the pistons and the intake flanges.

Here is a shot of the turbocharger:

We searched in vain for anything that had a number on it. Our hope was to find the area where the cockpit smashed in. Without a more sophisticated metal detector and a digging crew, there is not much point in visiting the site again.

There are slightly varying stories of the fate of the pilot. All versions have him bailing out and landing safely, so we’ve never worried about disturbing human remains. Sadly, we can find no evidence that would indicate the serial number of the aircraft. This means that the people of the area will never know the name of the man who they tried to protect from the Japanese soldiers.

A crashed war plane is not the only unsettling thing we found. This millipede was at least 10cm long. They exude a highly toxic fluid which burns skin like acid:

Jo saw a snake cross the path directly in front of her. She didn’t even scream. Light on her feet, doesn’t scream when startled, single – hey guys, are you listening? Oh, did I mention that she’s a yachtie?

Here’s a shot of my GPS resting on the engine:

You’ll probably note that I’ve blurred out the coordinates. Serious investigators are welcome to contact me for more information.

My old buddy, Tag Tap has been with me to this site several times on our bush walks. I doubt if we’ll go back. We’ve shown it to probably every person who has an interest in working so hard to get to a place where all you can see is twisted metal:

However, every time I go here, I think a little bit about my dad. He had nothing to do with airplanes, but he did fight the war here in the place where I now enjoy the fine life. I think about the man who flew this plane. How, with an engine on fire, he popped the canopy and jumped out, hoping that his chute would save him, not daring to think of what faced him if he survived the fall.

And then, he died at the hands of the enemy.

It is a sad place.

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Tired of Fish – So-Called Art Today

Posted in Photography Tricks on February 12th, 2010 by MadDog
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I woke up this morning at 04:00 and within thirty seconds realised that I was not going back to sleep without a Valium. Too late for a Valium. 03:00 is okay, but if I take one any later than that then I’ll feel even sillier than usual for the first couple of hours in the morning at the office. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but I’m going to be a little too busy for day-tripping, as it is Friday. Mondays and Fridays . . . what can I say.

Since it was that time of the day when work seems intolerable, I decided to play. One of my favourite games is Turn Something Into Something Else. You’ve seen this mama Canada Goose here before. I know,  I know, some of you think of them as vermin, but I don’t have to live with them crapping all over the place, so I can think of them as cute:

They nest in the most peculiar places.

This image was a good candidate for art because it’s pretty simple. All I had to do was get rid of the cement block wall and punch up the colours with a few clicks and pretso-changeo, I’ve got art:If I had some more time, I’d find a nice woodland scene and paste it in the background. Maybe another day.

Here’s a canoe that you’ve also seen here before:Again, a good subject because it’s simple. The waves rolling in from a passing boat also give the image depth and a vanishing point at the horizon – a perfect starting point for art.

I first tried the Photoshop Poster Edges filter:You’ll have to click all of these images to enlarge them to see the full effects. This one is interesting, but it is not what I’m looking for. The waves have taken over the image now and the canoe detail is lost in the filter effect.

The Watercolour filter is more of what I’m looking for:The waves are still there, doing their compositional job, but now the canoe is much more interesting, as is the water. The Watercolour filter is one of my favourites, but it’s tricky and doesn’t work at all for some images.

Here’s another image you’ve seen here before and it too is simple:Cute little varmint, eh?

On the little Chipmunk, the Watercolour filter worked a treat:The only problem is that his teensy feet were lost in his shadow, so I had to fake them. They don’t look like Chipmunk feet to me either, so don’t bother to tell me.

Here is a nice, pensive shot of Carol Dover which you have also seen here before:Simple and poignant.

I first tried a weird filter called Smudge Stick. I don’t like the sound of it, but it does sometimes yield interesting results:However, in this case, Smudge Stick is not my weapon of choice.

Call me Crazy (please), but I’ve always imagined writing comic books – not the kid’s stuff. I have a sort of comic book brain; you wouldn’t believe what goes on in there. Walter Mitty was brain dead compared to me. The problem is producing the art; the stories will take care of themselves. I’ve been working on some techniques for turning photos into comic strip illustrations. There are tons of products and lessons on the web for doing this and I’ve tried a lot of them, but never been satisfied with the results. They simply don’t look comic book enough for me. So, I’ve developed my own ultra-secret technique which someday is going to make me a lot of money (yeah, sure):Remember, you saw it here first, folks. The MadDog Comic Book Generator. Just set up your story board, take your shots in the studio or wherever you like, pay me a lot of money for my secrets and do what I tell you and voilà – you’re a comic book baron.

Look out, DC Comics. Here I come!

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Underwater Guest Shooter – KP Perkins

Posted in Under the Sea on February 11th, 2010 by MadDog
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As it’s already after 15:00 today and I’ve not written a word yet, I’ll be mercifully brief. I did break free from the office yesterday afternoon to take KP Perkins for her last dive in Papua New Guinea, at least for the foreseeable future. You may remember this shot of her from another recent post:KP had asked me to give her some basic photography lessons, since her previous experiences had not been very satisfying for her. I took her out to Pig Island  and we dived The Eel Garden. The surface water was horrible. We could barely see our hands in front of our faces. Underneath, is was not so bad.

KP took most of the shots. One of the most difficult things about underwater photography is staying in position for the shot. Most divers are not used to moving their bodies to achieve precision; you just sort of swim through the water like a fish. KP got her introduction to motion blur. Shooting without flash as in this image of a Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata),  will quickly show you how shakey your hands are:Macro shots, such as the one above are the most difficult.

Wider field shots such as this river of tiny catfish (Plotosus lineatus) are more forgiving:The common Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)  is good practice, because, as long as you move in slowly, you can get pretty close before it gets fed up and scurries to another location:Still life shots such as these Palm Tree Coral (Calvularia species)  polyps also make easy shots:I took this one. I wanted to show KP how, with good bracing and a two-hand hold, I could get a crisp shot at 1/6 second:The image stabilization in the camera is not supposed to be much good at such slow shutter speeds. However, if you can get braced firmly enough, it yields perfectly good images. The little critter is a Phyllidiella pustulosa  nudibranch sliding downhill as fast as he can.

We switched to flash for a while to give KP a little practice. Here is a terrific shot of a Phyllidia varicosa  nudibranch:I can’t remember looking as bad as this in any photograph. But it’s not KP’s fault:I wish I could think of something funny to say about it.

Here’s a tidy little reef scene with the Palm Tree coral, a Seriatopora hystrix  (the golden one) coral and a couple of little yellow fish which I can’t seem to identify at the moment:KP is a very quick study, as you can see. A couple of hours of Photoshop work after the dive and she already has the beginnings of a respectable portfolio.

This only feeds my desire to to underwater photography courses in the best diving spots on the planet.

Any takers?

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Planet Rock – Nudibranch Metropolis

Posted in Under the Sea on February 10th, 2010 by MadDog
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Last Saturday, with my buddy Rich Jones spotting for me, we had a nudibranch-fest at Planet Rock.  Because of the river water covering the top of the sea mount, there wasn’t enough light to avoid using the flash on my Canon G11. However, this worked to my advantage when shooting nudibranchs.

There are so many kinds of nudibranchs that I sometimes have difficulty identifying them. I have a book on marine invertebrates, but it includes only about a hundred nudibranch species. There are far more than that within twenty minutes of my house. Sometimes it’s difficult to get it down to even the genus level, because species within a given genus can appear wildly different.

Ah, I can hear some yawning out there, so let’s get down to the pretty pictures.

This one is fairly easy. I can tell that it’s a Pteraeolidia  of some kind, probably P. ianthina:I have a very difficult time finding these. They are usually only about 1.5 to 2 cm long. Richard is a master at spotting them, being a total freak about nudibranchs. We spotted two in a row. This is the second one:I know that it’s very illogical, but I sometimes wonder how something like this can even be alive. It is so utterly alien to anything that we are used to seeing. If you think about it, they are no less bizarre than the deep-sea monstrosities that we sometimes see in the news. It’s often said that we know more about the surface of Mars and our Moon than we know about the abyssal habitats of the oceans. I don’t know if that is true, but I can take it in.

The next ones that I have to show you are among my favourite nudis, the Electric Swallowtails.

This Electric Swallowtail (Chelidonura electra)  is relatively common around here. You can see it elsewhere in Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  Just put swallowtail in the search box and you’ll see all of the posts which contain images.

Here is another individual of the same species. As you can see they are amazingly plastic. I’m reminded of Rubber Man from my comic book days. For example, have a look at this one moving from one bit of coral to another:I estimate that between the two shots above the critter increased its body length by a factor of four. I measure about 164cm (that’s 5’ 4” and a half for metric-challenged Americans) in my bare feet, not exactly a giant. If I could stretch out that far, I’d be 6.5 metres tall. I’d have to bend over to look in 1st floor windows (that’s second floor windows for Americans).

Perhaps I should explain, briefly. In America, the numbering of floors, in common parlance, begins with the floor that is more or less even with the ground, in other words, it is just above what would be the first basement floor. This, in America, is called the first floor. The floor above it is the second and so forth. In much of the rest of the world, the said floor even with the ground is called . . . well, it’s called the ground floor. Hard to argue with, eh? Then, of course, you have to call the next floor the first floor and so forth. Forget mezzanines and such which just add additional confusion. I’ll not get into which is correct or more logical. I’m just explaining the way it is.

Oh, my, I’ve drifted off point again. That’s happening more and more lately. Let’s get back to the nudibranchs.

Here is a final shot of Electric Swallowtails enjoying an intimate moment:I shal not describe their activity. This is a family-friendly site (mostly). Use your immagination.

This is an entirely different nudibranch which is soometimes referred to as the Black Electric Swallowtail, the Chelidonura inornata:As you can see, there are physical similarities, but the pigmentation is radically different.

We saw quite a few of these. In one small area, less than a quarter metre square, there were five enjoying an impromptu love-fest. Here are a couple of frolicking nudis for you:Richard spotted some eggs and attempted to point them out to me. I was busy snapping, so I missed them. I could see him gesturing and attempting to say, “Eggs” through his regulator, It came out something like, “Eblublublelbgshblubelbule”. I couldn’t translate, so I never did see the eggs. I didn’t know about them until I was back on Faded Glory.  I’d never have found the spot again on my own and Rich is limited to one dive because of his insurance limitations. So we said forget the eggs.

However, while snapping away, I peeped on further evidence of a sort of nudibranch Woodstock:Naked nudis doing the boogaloo right out in the open. Shocking!

I wonder what they were smoking.

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A Good Spotter Makes All the Difference

Posted in Under the Sea on February 9th, 2010 by MadDog
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Since my good dive buddy Richard Jones got bent a while back he has not been able to dive, until recently. He finally got an insurance company to cover him down to 18 metres. So, when we go diving, we stay shallow and enjoy the best that the reefs have to offer. This is good news all around. Rich is back in the water, we are more or less confined to the best part of the reef for photography and Rich has eyes like an eagle.

Rich and I have had some great diving adventures together and I’m so glad to have him back on Faded Glory.  He also has just purchased a Canon G11 and housing, so I’m expecting that a competition will soon begin. He is a nudibranch freak. Get ready for a steady diet of rare nudis. Yum, yum.

Here’s a shot of Rich on our first cooperative, “I spot, you shoot.” dive:

Notice him giving me the “come hither” signal.

The first thing that we saw when we got off of the boat in pretty miserable conditions, with dirty fresh water from the Gol Gol River  over us was this lumbering Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas):Pretty is not a word that I would use to describe these alien critters.

I think that this must be some kind of algae, although the colour looks highly improbable:It really is as purple as it looks. It waves around in the current like silky hair. I thought that there was a slim possibility that it was a clutch of nudibranch eggs, but nothing that I can find matches it. After Googling for a few minutes, I gave up. Anybody have a better idea? I also tried “purple marine algae”, but no luck.

We see giant Barrel Sponges all the time. However, we seldom see small ones. It’s the old, “Where are the baby pigeons?” question. Here is a shot of a very young Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria):It is only about the size of your fist. The big ones can be the size and weight of a Volkswagen. There is a Squirrelfish or Soldierfish of some kind peeking at me from below the ledge. I can’t see enough of the body to identify it.

This poor crab was somebody’s dinner. All that’s left of him is one claw:It’s amazing that we see so little evidence of the nightly carnage on the reef.

I snapped this quick shot as a school of Narrow-Stripe Fusiliers (Pterocaesio tessellata)  with one Blue and Yellow Fusilier (Caesio teres)  flashed past me. It’s a credit to the G11, not to me, that the image came out looking as good as it does:Not a wall hanger, but you can identify the fish.

Finally, here is a nasty-tempered Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus):This grumpy customer kept sticking his toothy face right out at me. If he looked as if he were going to bite, I’d just bump his nose with my camera, not hard, just enough to make his teensy-weensy brain reboot. He’d pull back in his hole and sulk for a few seconds and then peek out again. No harm – no foul.

I know that I’m going to get bit some day. Ah, well, a few more scars. It just adds to the legend (in my head).

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All the Colours of the Sea

Posted in Under the Sea on February 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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This last Saturday was a banner day for photography. My new Canon G11, which you are undoubtedly getting tired of hearing about, was perking along nicely, grabbing shots with much increased dynamic and no noise whatsoever at ISO 80. The ten megapixels that it offers are more than sufficient for the magazine-size shots that I need to do my work. Don’t sniff at ten megapixels. If another camera offers more, but the resulting image is poorer in quality, what good do those extra megapixels do?

Yesterday’s post contained images from this Saturday’s dive also, as will tomorrow’s and the day after. In total, out of about one-hundred exposures, I got thirty-six which I deemed good quality. I’ve never had a two dive day that was more productive. Part of the reason for that was that my old buddy, Richard Jones, was “spotting” for me. He has amazing eyes and can find the smallest critters. Sometimes these are the most interesting. Tomorrow I’ll feature some nudibranchs which Richard found. Your mind will be blown.

But, that’s for tomorrow. Today, we’re doing colours. The dive at Planet Rock  was dark. There was a layer of muddy fresh water from the Gol Gol River  floating over the surface down nearly to the top of the sea mount at about 15 metres. I had to take many shots with flash. Though it is my preference to forgo flash when possible, sometimes it is unavoidable – there’s simply not enough light. In the first two shots, the effects of the flash are not noticeable. It simply acted as a fill light. In the others, the effect is dramatic, though the colours are, to me, artificially bright. They are, however, very pretty.

Green has been my favourite colour since I don’t know when. When I was a small child, it was red. I don’t know when I changed to green. I don’t even know if guys are supposed to have a favourite colour. I don’t talk about it much over the pool table with my mates, though I’m always soothed and mellowed by the green playing field. Maybe that’s why I’m such a lousy shot. Anyway, have a look at this lovely green Coral (Acropora tenuis):Click it to magnify and see the lovely details of the polyps waving in the current. Each little ledge on each tower is an individual animal. It is truly a thing of beauty.

Here’s another Acropora  species with a dramatically different colour:I’m always faintly startled when I run across one of these outlandishly purple corals. They seem somehow out of place. I wonder if a nearby toy store exploded and scattered misshapen shards of bright plastic on the sea bottom.

This shows why we have a pretentious name for the Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica).  You can see a scattering of  Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  chilling out and having a few beers:What a lovely playground they have.  There are few sights in the sea which are as calming and wondrous as this symphony of colour displaying a commensal relationship between vastly different organisms. Neither can flourish without the other.

Starfish fans will enjoy this lazy looking Linckia laevigata.This is the same species which often appears as a bright blue variation.

This Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  contains the brightest red pigment of any creature that I have seen in the sea:This is a very young colony. They tend to become less colourful as they grow. Young ones, such as this, can often be seen as tiny crimson torches thirty metres away on a day with good visibility.

I’m a great fan of Feather Stars. This is a particularly nice image of some species of Lamprometra.  They are difficult for me to tell apart. I’ve been watching old episodes of Fawlty Towers  during the fifteen minutes that I can stop working each day. I can’t get out of my mind what Manuel (he’s from Barcelona, you see) says when he misunderstands a command from Basil Fawlty: “Eet ees deefeecult.”You can clearly see the “feet” of the feather star in this shot. If you gently tickle a foot with your fingertip, the creature will wildly thrash its arms around, waving madly. It’s a most comical sight. I’m going to have to shoot a video clip of it some day.

Here is a close up shot of another individual of a Lamprometra  species Feather Star:I didn’t think that the shot would turn out to be much. Now I’m simply blown away by it. Beware. If you stare at it long enough you may feel yourself getting slightly high, that is if you recognise “high”. Click on it to make it bigger and have a look. It’s mesmerising. This is a living thing. How can that be?

I don’t recommend it as a desktop background.

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