Things I See

Posted in Under the Sea on November 23rd, 2010 by MadDog
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Today I went to the Fred Hollows Eye Clinic at the hospital here in Madang. You may have read about my paranoia concerning the near certainty of losing or misplacing my eyeglasses. Silly as it seems it was of so much concern to me that I was compulsively checking my one pair of multi-focal glasses to make certain that I knew where they were at all times if I didn’t have them on. The resulting behaviours would have been comical had it not been for the fact that merely thinking about misplacing them and having to call a friend to search my house would set me trembling. I blame it on stress. I have to blame it on something.

I had gotten three pairs of glasses to replace my one varifocal pair. While I’m yakking on about pairs of glasses I want to ask you why is it a pair  of glasses? I know it’s because there are two lenses, but it still doesn’t sound right. It’s a little like a pair of pants or a pair of pliers. Are there objects called a pant or a plier? I don’t think so. I can see a pair of socks. That makes sense; there are two separate socks. Together they make a pair. However if there are not two things called a pant, then how can you have a pair of pants? Same goes for pliers. I couldn’t say, “I had gotten three glasses”, because that might be confusing if the context was not clear. You might think I was talking about drinking glasses. No, I had to say three pairs  of glasses so you would know that I’m talking about  . . . Okay, this is getting silly. I’d better move on. I have to admit, however, that this is something which has bothered me for years. I feel better now that I’ve gotten it off my chest.

Anyway, I got a +4 for distance, a +5 for computer work and a +6 for close-up work like reading in bed. What I discovered is that after a while the distance formula was not working any more. It was too strong. Things a bit close were fine, but when I was driving the distant objects were fuzzy. I went back today and got a pair of +3.5 glasses. That did the trick. Now when I’m driving everything from the gauges to infinity is in perfect focus. I’m happy with that, considering that these eyeglasses cost me only about $8.00.

Okay, that was not very interesting, I admit. Nevertheless, I wish to report to myself here in my journal that I can now see perfectly at any distance. The only problem is that I have to carry around four pairs of eyeglasses. Also, most of the time my eyes feel as if they are about to pop from their sockets. Am I giving myself eye strain? Hey, I’m blessed. Some people can’t see at all.

So, here are some things I have seen lately. By the way, I wasn’t wearing any of my pairs of glasses. I have a prescription dive mask. It is perfect underwater. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out of the water. Otherwise, I would just wear it instead of buying so many pairs  of glasses.

This is a very cute little Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus):

I call them them “puppy fishes”, because they look like . . . mmmm, puppies.

Okay, this is not going so well. I seem to have forgotten how to write tonight.

This is a colony of sea squirts called Lissoclinum patellum:

I could think of several things which I’m reminded of when I see these and none of them are pleasant, so I won’t trouble you with that. I find it amusing that something as lowly as a sea squirt can be placed in the phylum, Chordata, which is the same phylum to which I belong. Or maybe it’s not so surprising when I think hard about it. Sea squirts have something like a spinal column only while they are mobile juveniles. As adults they form colonies and lose all of their backbone. They become blobby and are plastered solidly in place. Come to think of it, that’s not so different from me after all. I’m a giant sea squirt. I’ve become rooted into immobility and have lost my backbone. I’m going to double up on my calcium pills and see what happens. Is that a wild goose I hear calling to me?

Okay, there goes what I so laughably call my brain again. It’s off on a tangent, slipped a gear, got its wires crossed, blew a fuse. Little purple sparks are coming out of my ears. I’m unable to escape the chorus of Frankie Laine’s old hit Cry of the Wild Goose:

My heart knows what the wild goose knows,
I must go where the wild goose goes.
Wild goose, brother goose, which is best?
A wanderin’ fool or a heart at rest?
Let me fly, let me fly, let me fly away.

Where does a moody hankering for change cross over into the realm of escapism? I remember a time not so long ago when I would have hopped a plane to Kathmandu if only that wouldn’t have left such a big mess behind. I could get a job as a dishwasher somewhere. I’d be the best dishwasher in the business. You could eat off my plates. Yeah, I wanted to run. Recent events have made many of us flinch. The flinching continues. Today a friend and I voiced it in the same moment, “How much can we take?” I’m reminded of the line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail  when the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog viscously attacked King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Run away!

Well, I don’t really want to get all sombre tonight. I’ve felt that way all day and now I need to cheer up a bit. A little balance is in order, eh? Sometimes situations are so miserable that you can find nothing resembling humour. However, you can always stand back a bit and laugh at your own reactions.

This bizarre critter is a kind of sea slug or Bêche-de-mer,  a Bohadschia argus:

This one has a single incredibly sticky white filament trailing out of its . . . uh, unpleasant  end. Often there are many filaments. It is a defence mechanism. This individual was angry and defensive because I accidentally disturbed it while I was photographing something else. I know from experience that you do not want to allow these filaments to come into contact with your skin or anything else for that matter. If scientists could develop a glue as efficient and durable as this stuff, they would see big bonuses in their pay-checks.

This strange wormy thing with an all-over beard is a kind of nudibranch called a Pteraeolidia ianthina:

I’m reasonably sure of the identification, but if I’m mistaken I’ll blame Rich Jones. He recently took back his giant nudibranch field guide upon which I had been drooling for the last few months. So many nudibranchs to photograph, so little time.

Here is another nudi, one of my favourites. It’s an Electric Swallowtail (Chelidonura electra):

What an utterly charming name. It dredges up visions of Unicorns, Ashwinders, Mermaids, Mooncalves, Murlaps and Kneazles.  (that should keep you Googling for a while).

This is the only balding Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica)  which I have seen:

I have no idea what has caused it to lose its tentacles in this spot. It is not something which I have observed before. It seemed otherwise healthy. I once fed a Magnificent Anemone  half of a banana. It took it about fifteen minutes for it to transport the banana treat across its tentacles, passing it along the tips like a rock star being carried along on the up-stretched hands of fans. The banana finally ended up in the anemone’s mouth. I didn’t stick around long enough to ask it if it liked it.

This shot is my pick of the day. It’s a very common Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae)  which is most uncommonly beautiful:

It takes things such as this to remind me of the incredible riches of my life. People pay vast sums of money for the privilege of doing the things which I enjoy every week. I’m still able to see these things as privileges which are not to be taken for granted.

I must accept that Madang is not my eternal home. Some day I will have to leave this place. Maybe my body will stay here in the ground and my spirit will depart. Or perhaps while body and spirit are still merged circumstances will arise which require me to leave and I’ll be led to another place. The future is very fuzzy.

I think that even that fuzziness is a blessing. I’m listening. And I’m leaving plenty of room for surprises.

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The Vain Varicosa

Posted in Under the Sea on July 20th, 2010 by MadDog
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Dont’ try to figure out the title of the post yet. It’s so stupid that you will simply waste your time. I’ll get to it.

Busy, busy, busy. When I went out this morning I was wondering how I was going to cram in all the things that I “had to do” before clocking out. One of them was to take this picture of a sunrise, a very peculiar one:

Frustrated with the violet hue (which, by the way, I saw with my own eyes, but can’t explain), I spent far too much time trying to get rid of it and then decided to leave it, because that’s the way it was. It is not a very good idea to fool with Mother Nature, even when she seems to be fooling with you.

But, getting back to “things I have to get done today”, I really need an attitude adjustment. There are categories:

  • That which must be done to maintain life (eat, get a little exercise, don’t offend any mobsters, etc.)
  • That which one must do to keep one’s job or jobs (should be obvious to you unless you are about to be sacked)
  • That which you would like to do just to show that you’re pulling your load (help with the housework, wash the car, mow the lawn, etc.)
  • That which you need to do in order to maintain some level of personal satisfaction (this too, you probably already have figured out)

The problem is putting them all into some kind of balance. I still haven’t gotten a handle on that. I probably never will.

So, since this is something which I do to maintain some level of personal satisfaction, I’m going to blow off some of the more essential tasks and show you the source of the ridiculous title of this post. It is a nudibranch, specifically a Phyllidia varicosa,  of which you have seen many specimens before:

The title is a stupid pun combining the species name, varicosa,  and vain, which we all understand (“You’re so vain – da da da da da da da.”) with varicose veins and don’t ask me why that popped into my mind. So having established what kind of a day it’s going to be, let’s get on with the rest of it.

By the way, I am calling that P. varicosa  image a perfect specimen shot. If anybody wants to argue that, then put up your dukes and show that you did better. I’m laying the matter to rest until I get (or I am challenged with) a better one. That’s another brag down for the day. How many do I have left? I’ve lost count already.

Here’s a nice, symmetrical shot of  a Fan Coral and a Feather star:

No, I’m not going to say a lot about it. It’ speaks for itself. Let it talk for a few seconds. Pop it up and have a look. Hear anything?

Me neither.

A little gaggle of Shadowfin Soldierfish (Myripristis adusta)  were swimming through the notch leading to the catamaran. Having plenty of air and not much else to do, I took a picture of them:

Think of that shot as part of my continuing efforts to demonstrate that not everything under the sea is as exciting and beautiful as you see it on TV.

This is a bit better. These little devils are usually almost impossible to shoot well. The Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)  is a shy, shy fish:

This is probably the best shot which I have ever gotten of the fat little puppy-like swimmers.

Then, a few metres away, I found another one ducking in and out of a hole:

Another good puffer shot. When you’re hot, you’re hot!

Looking back up at that list, I think that I have to get to work now.

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Ants in the Sugar

Posted in Humor, Under the Sea on June 19th, 2010 by MadDog
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Though I love living in a tropical paradise I’d be less than honest to say that it’s all fun and games. There are minor imperfections. Having had malaria seven times is an example. Horrible things called tropical ulcers and a flesh eating bacteria which attempted to remove my left are other trivial complaints. My recent bout with staph and bacillus bacterial gobbling up my olfactory organs, leaving me odorless (at least as far as I can tell) could have happened anywhere, but upper respiratory infections are very common here. You haven’t had a cold until you’ve had a “tropical cold”.

However, the trivial day to day irritations bug me the most. For instance, ants in the sugar:I slipped that pun in so cleverly that you may have missed it. It is also easy to miss the ants in the shot above, because they are the teensy variety. You can’t miss them when you take the lid off, though. They scurry around in a panic and try to hide by burrowing into the sugar. You can see  them better if you click to enlarge.

You may also note that our sugar is rather odd looking. It smells funny too – not funny ha-ha. No, it’s more like funny they forgot to take some of the goop out when they were making it. Some might call it raw sugar. We call it the best we can get.

Here I have enlarged that culprits for you:I honestly don’t know how they get in the sugar. We take it straight from the bag and put it into an air-tight plastic container. The lid goes “suck” when you pull it off. One must assume that there are ant eggs in the sugar. Why these are considered a suitable ingredient I don’t know either.

Well, enough of that.

Here’s an nice fan coral which I shot yesterday on The Henry Leith:

I managed to grab the wrong battery for my Canon G11 on Saturday morning, so I was out of juice half way through the dive.

Here’s Richard Jones poking around the stern of the wreck. Rich forgot to load a battery into his camera. Therefore, Rich was the chief dunce of the day:

It’s Sunday evening here. I’m pretty wasted from riding three hours on the Harley up the north coast road and back, dodging Harley-eating potholes all the way. I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.

So, I’ll cut it short and get some down time. First let me show you the collapsed roof of the pilot house of The Henry Leith:

It’s too bad that it finally fell down. I was cool to get into the pilot house and look out at all of the fish swimming around.

Here’s one of the better shots that I’ve ever gotten of a Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus):

They are very shy, so it’s difficult to catch them out in the open.

This Divericate Tree Coral (Gendronephthya roxasia)  doesn’t move at all, so it’s no fuss to get a nice close-up:

Nice detail in that one. It’s worth a click to see the full-sized version.

I’ll have a Harley story tomorrow and some shots of the Tapira Surfing Club.

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Climbing Up the Chimney

Posted in Under the Sea on June 13th, 2010 by MadDog
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Yesterday we went up to Wonagat Island  to dive a spot on the barrier reef we call The Chimney. I don’t think that we have dived there since I began Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  in September 2007. This is a little odd, since it is an interesting site and easy to get to. The conditions there vary wildly. Saturday wasn’t great, but I did get some amusing shots. We’ll get to that later.

First, have a look at Sunday morning’s sunrise. I deliverately made it darker than it really was. I wanted to bring out the very faint crepuscular rays. I could barely make them out visually. Some tender massaging with Photoshop brought them to life:

Trying to lighten up the rest of the image simply makes it look fake, which is not necessarily a bad thing, if you’re going for an artistic interpretation. The most interesting bit of this image is the dense black smoke erupting from the stack of the large ship as the left. Click to enlarge, so you can see it.

Here is another shot with a completely different colour interpretation which shows the ship’s smoke much more clearly:

Thank goodness that this amount of smoke is not normal. I only see it when the ships are starting up their main propulsion engines. It usually lasts only a minute or two. I would love to get into the engine room of one of these big ships. Maybe somebody out there will arrange this for me. I’m amazed at the things I ask for here which magically appear. Having a journal with thousands upon thousands of readers can come in very handy. Thank you , gentle readers.

If I project the numbers out to the end of June, it seems that I will have had 275,000 visitors in the first half of 2010. This simply stuns me. I sometimes find it difficult to get my fingers going in the morning, because it is absolutely scary how many people are going to read what I write while still waking up, sitting there in my nightwear (I’ll let you guess.) drinking a Fanta Orange soda. Hey, think about it! It’s a frightful responsibility. But, it’s still very small potatoes.

Well, enough of puffing my head up like a toy balloon, let us have a look at the mysterious dive site which we call The chimney for a very obvious reason. I carefully positioned Faded Glory  for the dive, because if you get the anchorage wrong, you will never find the hole. The trick is to anchor in a known position slightly to the North of The Chimney so that you know which way to go when you get down on the reef. Here is what it looks like if you get things right:

In my dive briefing I said the we would descend, go to the edge of the reef, descend again to 28 metres, turn right and look for the hole. And maybe we might find it. I have miscalculated the anchor point several times and failed to find it. This time, after the dive, I marked in on the GPS.

Here is how it looks from the bottom as you see a diver exiting from the top:

I should have mentioned beforehand that one shouldn’t use fins to swim up through it. It’s best if you just let a slow ascent take you up through the narrow passage. If you do it right, no sediment is kicked up to spoil the trip for the next diver.

Our resident French clown, Pascal Michon could not resist hanging upside down for a comical shot:

It’s nice to know that you have friends you can count on for a laugh.

Back up on top we went hunting. This little Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)  kept trying to hide from me. I caught him as he was peeking out to see if I was still there:

They are cute, but not very bright. They remind me of me, except for the cute part.

I’m still experimenting with the deep focus technique, but it takes a lot of light. this shot of Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllusreticulatus)  bobbing up and down into their coral hide-out is not yet what I’m looking for:

It seems a little flat to me. I’m looking for more depth.

I may have to send you a pair of 3D glasses.

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Warm Fish Soup

Posted in Under the Sea on April 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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Divers have an amusing expression to describe the scene when there are far too many fish to count. Indeed, you can’t even count the number of species. We call it fish soup.

I had some warm fish soup in the tepid water of The Eel Garden  near Pig Island  on Saturday. Most of the fish that you see here are some species of Anthea:There are many varieties of Anthea.  Most are very colourful. They gather in small schools around a fixed location.

I snapped this shot as I was passing over these two Soldierfish. The one on the left is a Scarlet Soldierfish (Myripistis pralinia)  and the one on the right is a Brick Soldierfish (Myripistis amaena):A you can tell, if you click to enlarge, they were both looking up at me as I passed overhead.

I nearly missed this Slender Grouper (Anyperodon leucogrammicus)  as it tried to sneak past me:One trick that I’ve learned is that fish will almost always flee to deeper water. Therefore one needs to have a head’s up stance to catch the ones which have spotted you and will soon be trying to take the shortest route to a deeper hiding place. This usually means that when they pass directly to your right or left, they will be a close as they are going to get to your camera.

This is a very young Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sinosa)  only about 4cm in diameter. At this stage they look more like a strange, puffy flower:To the right and below is a colony of very small Sea Squirts which look to me to be Eusynstyela latericius.

This sneaky little Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)  thought that he was hidden behind a bit of coral about a metre away from me. I popped up and caught him with his mouth open:I’m an old stalker. I can usually get a shot if I don’t have to give chase. I’m not as fast on the long pursuit as I used to be. Ah, but crafty I am.

How foolish it is to attempt to hide from me. This is a fairly rare orange variation of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii):I tried to get a shot in the clear, but finally gave up and accepted this one instead. I can pretend that I intended it that way.

PRESENTER: See how the timid anemonefish attempts to hide behind the tentacles of the anemone? It seldom exposes itself to danger by leaving the poisonous, protective arms of its host. This symbiotic relationship is reinforced by the protection that the anemonefish receives from the anemone. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Works for me.

Nudibranchs are a pushover. This Phyllidia varicosa  moves so slowly that the whole idea of evasion is silly:

I love to photgraph nudis. I can just float in the water with my camera about 5cm from the little devil and relax while I snap away.

The nidibranch is none the wiser.

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Underwater Photography – Abort, Retry, Fail

Posted in Under the Sea on January 4th, 2010 by MadDog
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Back in the Bad Old Days of MS-DOS, if you were working with computers you would see, probably once an hour (it seemed so, anyway) the unhelpful message on your screen: Abort, Retry, Fail.  None of these three suggestions were ever of much help. It was Microsoft’s way of saying, “That’s not gonna happen, man.” Yeah, sure, you could usually figure out what was causing the problem, but most of the time there wasn’t much you could do about it.

You’ll be happy to hear that there is a way that you can once again experience these excruciating moments:  through the magic of underwater photography. I’ve collected a little gallery of horrors to illustrate a few of they infinite things that can go terribly wrong. I hope it amuses you, as an observer, more than it does me, as a practitioner.

SUBJECT RUNS AWAY

I wanted, longed, deeply desired, the moment that I saw this fish to capture its soul in digital bits. Sadly, the job is botched. This is a rather rare yellow colour variation of the Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus):

When I say rare, I mean that I have never seen this species with as much yellow on its body. It really is a beauty. This one, as you can see, was at a cleaning station – it’s like a car wash for fish. The underpaid and little appreciated workers in this car wash are the little cleaner-fish, one of which you can see here vainly chasing the Puffer in hopes of gobbling a few more parasites from its skin. You can see the little Bluestriped Cleanerfish trailing along behind. These little puffers run away (probably screaming in fishy terror) as soon as anything big approaches. They don’t swim very fast – just fast enough to spoil the shot.

The observant observer will note that the image is spoilt by motion blur. I was trying to pan the camera to follow the movement of the fish, which should have produced a reasonably sharp image of the fish with a motion blurred background. As it happens, I got it half right; both fish and background are blurred by the camera movement. I’m putting this one in the RETRY category. The big problem is that I may never see such a magnificent specimen again.

SUBJECT LOOKS PRETTY UNDERWATER – TERRIBLE ON THE SCREEN

These little Striped Catfish (Plotosus lineatus)  looked ever so pretty fluttering in the lazy current along the bottom at the Eel Garden close to Pig Island  on Saturday:However, the finished image is sadly lacking any interest whatsoever. You had to be there. As soon as I started working with the image I realised that the magic was in the motion. You can’t truly capture motion in a still image. I’m putting this one in the FAIL category.

SUBJECT IS A CAMERA TEASER

This juvenile Midnight Snapper (Macolor macularis)  is a pretty cool fish. They don’t look anything like the adult, which is a big brown lump of a thing. However, cool or not, this fish is a nightmare to photograph. Like many fish, it has an inbuilt standoff distance or “comfort zone” which you can, under no circumstances, violate. If it could talk, it would be saying, “Back off, Jack!”:

I did manage to get this rather pathetic shot from about four feet away with the flash turned on. It was as close as I could get. Apparently not many photographers have done a lot better. I Googled for images of this species and didn’t find anything much clearer than the shot above, except for images that were obviously shot in aquariums. I’ll let this one pass with a RETRY.

SUBJECT DARTS AROUND FRANTICALLY

This rather uncommon species, the Red And Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus)  swims spasmodically back and forth in its host and never even gives you an adequate opportunity to frame the shot. If fact, you’re lucky if the fish is even in the frame  when you push the shutter release. I only barely managed to catch it in this shot:This is compounded by the confounded shutter lag that is common in point-and-shoot cameras. I’d guess that the Canon G10 I’m currently using waits about a third of a second before capturing the image after I press the shutter release. So now, you have to guess where the fish is going to be during your next eye-blink. It’s like guessing which kernel of popcorn will explode next. This one can only be a RETRY.

SUBJECT DOES SOMETHING INAPPROPRIATE

Sometimes you just get a surprise. I would not ordinarily take a picture of an animal defecating. It’s simply not that interesting unless you’re a kid obsessed with scatological humour. We were at the deep end of the Eel Garden’s sandy slope where I was shooting the Red and Black Anemonefish when my dive buddy Carol Dover directed my attention to this big Sea Cucumber (Thelenota anax):

As you can plainly see, it was enjoying a nice, leisurely, satisfying poop. Without going into the unsavory anatomical details, I’ll simply point out the you can clearly see where the poop came from. There’s quite a bit of it, since the critter eats about 99% sand and digests only the digestible bits. All the rest comes out as tidy little sand sausages.

I’m putting this one in the ABORT category.

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Christmas Presents on a Coral Reef

Posted in Under the Sea on December 25th, 2009 by MadDog
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Well, it’s Christmas Day here. Most of the world will not catch up with us for a few hours. In the spirit of the season, I’ve prepared a modest, hastily constructed Christmas present for you. I honestly had something much more elaborate planned, but we all know how plans go this time of year. Just ask all of the people who are lined up for a plane or train. I’m quite happy to be “Home for Christmas” without moving a muscle.

So, to my readers, who have given me so much joy since I started Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  only a little more than two years ago, here is my humble gift to you:

You can no longer say that nobody has ever given you a Spirobranchus giganteus  for Christmas.

And, since I have exactly one Christmas Tree Worm image left, I am going to give it to you for Boxing Day:Now, let’s get on with the party.

Here is a cute little “puppy dog” Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)  being desperately persued by a Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus)  looking for some fast food:The little cleaner wrasse is in its juvenile phase. It will be much less dramatic as an adult. They swim with a curious curling motion to advertise their services. It always reminds me of a fish dancing to Chubby Checkers singing “Come on Baby. Let’s Do the Twist.”

This Slender Grouper (Anyperodon leucogrammicus)   is a very handsome fish, indeed. They are easily spooked, so you have to sneak up on them while holding your breath:After a minute or so, just as you are dying for good, deep breath, you might get a chance for a shot. I only managed one exposure of this fish. Fortunately, everything worked perfectly. It’s a good specimen shot.

Being right in the middle of nudibranch heaven, it’s not surprising that I run across cute little eye candies such as this on a regular basis.It has the less-than-endearing name of Phyllidiella pustulosa.  Just play with that one for a while. You’ll find it just as revolting as I do.

Finally, as I run out of words and images, I leave you with one of my trusted and favoured themes:Yes, that’s right. Once again I give you Water Drops. I just can’ t stop taking pictures of them.

I am so easily amused. It comes of having a simple mind.

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