Madang – The View from Heaven

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on April 29th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today is my day to try to catch up. I’m behind in some paying work as well as still behind here on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  Today is the first day in a week on which I’ll be posting the same day as the post date. Not that it makes much difference to anyone but me. I hate getting behind in my work, because I am fundamentally extremely lazy. It’s all too easy for me to start thinking that I just don’t have enough time, so there are some things to which I’ll never attend. Then I have to be honest with myself and think of how many hours a week I spend staring at TV. I’ve come to think of this as a complete waste of time. Frankly, if I really want down time, I’d rather read. TV is the lazy person’s amusement. It requires absolutely no effort and little imagination. I simply don’t want to spend my life that way any more.

So, with the sermon out of the way, let’s have a look at this morning’s sunrise:Not bad, but not great, either. Maybe I’m getting a little to demanding. After you’ve seen a few thousand here, it’s easy to get picky.

As the title suggests, we’re having aerial shots today courtesy of Sir Peter Barter with whom I hurled through the atmosphere for almost three hours on Tuesday. His Robertson R-11 is a beautiful little machine. I can only imagine what a dream it is to fly. Here is a lovely shot of my home town, Madang:As you can see, the bulk of the town is on a peninsula. To the left (east) is Astrolabe Bay  and to the right is Madang Harbour.

Here is another shot looking north. You can see part of Madang Town and the North Coast:The chain of islands stretching to the horizon is where we do most of our diving.

This a very nice angle from which to view the entire Madang Coast:Madang is on the left. The large island is Kranket,  followed by Leper Island, Little Pig Island  and Pig Island.  These are all local contemporary names, except for Kranket Island,  which is traditional. The others have different names on the nautical charts.

This image covers pretty much the same area, except that you are looking east out over Astrolabe Bay:The fuzzy blue area under the clouds to the right is the mighty Finisterre Mountains. 

I got some very nice shots of some of our favourite dive sites. This is Magic Passage  in the centre and the southern tip of Leper Island  on the right:Kranket Island  is on the left. This is easily the best aerial view that I’ve seen of Magic Passage.

This shot shows an easy month’s worth of daily dives. At the far left is Little Pig Island  with The Eel Garden  to its right. The large mass is Pig Island  with superb diving all around the ocean side. At the bottom is Barracuda Point:

Up the right side clear to the edge of the image is all wonderful diving. The gap in the barrier reef near the top is Rasch Passage,  an excellent dive.

That’s my back yard from the air.

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The Skunk and the Crystal Goblet

Posted in Under the Sea on April 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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Yesterday was a dirty water day. I had a boat load of people; I think there were ten. With seven divers in the water, I had to actually do my Divemaster thing, keeping an eye on everyone. This was not easy, as there was only about ten metres of visibility. We went to the south end of Leper Island  first. It was uninspiring. After our surface interval to dump the excess nitrogen, we did another dive at The Eel Garden  near Pig Island.  There was no point going any farther, since everything near Madang seemed to be equally nasty.

At The Eel Garden,  directly under Faded Glory,  we found the resident Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  lurking in a similarly rare and beautiful Merten’s Anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii).  Anemones can stay a long time on one place. Most of them, in their final stage, become sessile. This simply means that they don’t move around:This anemone has been in the same spot for several years. I think that its wandering days are over.

I love patterns, as regular readers will know. I use many of them as desktop backgrounds. This shot of coral polyps really pleases me:There is a delicious combination of randomness and order here. The arrangement of the polyp tentacles suggests dynamic action. This is an entirely correct visualisation. The coral was only about five metres down and there was a constant surge. This was keeping the tentacles in constant motion.

I have no idea of the species of this coral. I was struck by the outrageous colour:I note that very few underwater photographers treat coral seriously. Truthfully, I find coral as interesting and as rich with photographic opportunities as fish. However, most people want to see fish. I try to give a bit of both.

Here’s an elegant example of coral beauty, a young fire coral:There will be no doubt concerning the common name of fire coral commencing with the first contact between it and your skin. It burns like billy blue blazes. Immediate treatment with vinegar, making one smell like a salad and suddenly reminding everyone on the boat that they are famished, is the best immediate treatment. This needs to be followed up by 1% hydrocortisone ointment, which we always have on the boat. It causes no permanent damage except possibly to the dignity of a grown man with tears running down his cheeks after scraping his inner arm across a patch of fire coral.

Here are a couple of Nemofish, as the Japanese now call them. It is probably the only species on the planet that has ben permanently renamed by Hollywood. It is, of course, the common Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula):If you watch them for a while, it’s easy to understand why they are called clowns. They bob about in the anemone as if they were bright orange and white striped toy balloons in a tornado.

As for the Crystal Goblet, you will need to exercise your imagination a little. If you can’t do that, then I will bet that you are not a regular visitor here. This is some kind of Sea Squirt, a fairly rare one in these waters:I say that it is rare not because I’ve researched it, but because, in over 2,000 dives here, this is the first one that I have seen. It is large for a Sea Squirt. The larger individual on the right, which I presume is a more fully developed version of the one on the left, is about 4cm in diameter. It is extremely transparent, as you can see.

We had a very good time at Jed’s house last night. The theme of the party was The Letter B.  It reminded me a little of Sesame Street:

It was a no-brainer for me to come as a Beach Bum. I didn’t even need to dress up. My normal casual attire needed only minor accessorisation. Karaoke was an integral part of the entertainment.

In the image above I’m performing my own crusty rendition of Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind.  It was intensely forgetable.

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The Half-Eaten Gumdrop

Posted in Under the Sea on April 13th, 2010 by MadDog
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Once again, I find myself in the middle of the evening trying to catch up with the day. How did I hustle so much and accomplish nothing that I can call progress? It seems to be becoming a way of life. How thought provoking. The harder I work the less I accomplish. I spent half the day putting little tags on wires so that I can tell where they go. I’m drowning in wires! Throw me a life-preserver. No, wait. That’s a mixed metaphor. I’m strangled by wires! Throw me a hatchet.

This Bannerfish exasperated me from the moment I met it. First, I couldn’t get close enough for a shot. I had to chase it, something which I usually avoid, since it usually simply burns up oxygen. Then, when I finally set up a successful ambush, it sped away so fast that all I could manage was a quick panning shot. I’m surprised that it turned out so nice:More consternation arose when I tried to identify it. After a search through my pitiful collection of references I spent a few fruitless minutes with Google Images. No luck. Phooey!

UPDATE: Thanks to my old pal Tris  for jabbing me in the ribs to point out the the fish is not a Bannerfish at all, but a Moorish Idol (Zanclus cornutus).  Thanks for “helping” me, Tris.

The Bigeye Trevally (Carnax sexfasciatus)  at Barracuda Point  on Saturday were splendid. You don’t really have to chase them. You simply swim closer and closer as they whirl around.  This shot was snapped at less than two metres:I soon have to back off to slow my breathing. I let them meander around me for a minute or so and then join the procession again.

The problem with Trevally is that they are so blasted shiny! It’s very difficult, with a small-sensor camera such as my Camon G11, to get enough dynamic range to capture the dark and mid-range tones without blowing out the whites:Still, I’m happy with these shots. Even after chasing them, I still got two dives and over 100 minutes off of an 80 cubic foot tank. My gills are working just fine.

Here is a not too wonderful shot of some Midnight Snappers (Macolor macularis):The interesting bit is that we have adults and a couple of teenagers. The juveniles are black and white with spots and bands. You can still see a trace of the juvenile colouration and pattern on the two teens in the middle.

This is a perfectly normal Pyllidia varicosa  nudibranch:Vaguely amusing, eh? They are easy to photograph, so I tend to show you a lot of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re getting bored.

Okay, how about this one which has had a chunk bitten out by a predator:It’s the Half-Eaten Gumdrop mentioned in the title.

Many nudis remind me of some kind of fancy candy and, strangely enough, take me back to Vienna. The Austrians go for the fancy candy. There are shops which sell nothing else.

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The Beauty and the Beast

Posted in Under the Sea on April 10th, 2010 by MadDog
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Saturday dawned bright and sunny, but I was too late for a sunrise. I slept in until nearly 07:00. By the time I got up, there was no time to do a post, so I’m catching up today. It’s worth the wait, because I got some splendid shots during the day. We had a few adventures.

Jo Noble has mentioned to me a couple of times how she loves to free dive down and swim through the divers’ bubbles. It’s fun, it tickles and it’s a visual treat. The bubbles sometimes form mushroom shapes as big as your hand. If you stick your finger in the “bell” shape at the top, it explodes into a hundred tiny bubbles in a circle.

So, we decided that I’d go down after Monty and Kate got into the water  and shoot Jo swimming through the bubbles. It was a very good idea. Look at this beautiful shot:It might not be the most elegant pose in the history of underwater figure photography, but I like the animal power of it. Jo is going for the bubbles, pure and simple. She’s chasing them with all her might.

This one is a bit more dreamy. It reminds me a a reverse rainstorm:Jo is an aquatic beauty caught in an up-pour of air drops. I struggled to get some good skin tones out of this one, but the data was simply not there.

The next pose is much more sleek and lovely, but still portrays the power of the dive. If you’ve never free dived, you might not realise how much effort and skill it takes to get turned over and kick your way down, especially into salt water. It’s not as easy as it looks. Those of you who free dive will probably remember, as I do, the difficulty of learning to do it gracefully. If it’s done right, you see the swimmers bottom for a moment as she flips heels over head, the legs shoot straight up out of the water to gain weight above the water line and that weight propels the diver downwards and she reaches for a big double armful of water to pull herself downward.

Here Jo shows the technique perfectly:Isn’t that beautiful? How lucky to be there with a camera!

Since I’m now doing two dives on Saturdays we decided to have a little fun on the second one. I’m such a cheapskate that I rent only one tank. If I get an 80 (that’s a big one) I can get nearly two hours of dive time from it. Monty says I have gills. He may be right.

Anyway, on the second dive we decided to play the tropical divers’ equivalent of Russian Roulette, “Tease the Triggerfish”. Regular readers have seen triggerfish here before. Triggerfish are about the size of a football. In fact the Latin name is derived from the word for “ball shape”.

Here are two Yellowmargin Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus)  guarding a nesting cone, the big, funnel shaped area in the sand with the rubbish in the centre:Though they are not currently mating, they come back regularly to these areas to check things out. On Saturday there were about ten of them patrolling the area.

The plan was that Monty would take pictures of me trying to get close-ups without getting bitten. The have teeth. Oh, my do they have teeth, teeth like a Pit Bull and a temperament to match. I had the thickest wet suit and the most experience with a camera, so it was my duty to get up-close and personal with the little devils. Did I mention that they bite? I’ve seen chunks taken out of divers’ fins by these critters.

As it turned out, Monty and Kate were distracted by some anemonefish and weren’t of much use to me:

The did get into the fray pretty quickly, as the triggerfish were getting very agitated and were darting about everywhere. They like to get about five or six metres away from you, square off, lower their head and make a charge, waggling like crazy and visibly accelerating directly at you. At that point you begin to ponder in earnest if they are going to break off the attack or not.

The attack profile is particulary terrifying for a male diver. The demons seem to favour a mid body target which makes it appear as if they are going directly for the, ah . . . how to put this delicately . . . the groin area.

Some of you have seen this before:I got so tired of describing the two most dangerous triggerfish to divers on my boat so that I could tell them to get behind me that I had them tattooed on my back.

Now, I can hear the mumbling out there, so don’t act like you’re not sceptical. Non-divers are naturally suspicious of the tall tales, since hardly ever comes back with so much as a scratch.

I did get one very lucky shot just before I nearly soiled my wetsuit:

Did I mention the headlong charges? Did I mention the teeth? This beast was travelling about thirty KPH when I snapped this shot, just before he flicked aside with an audible SNAP.

We call this fun.

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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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A Once In a Lifetime Shot

Posted in Under the Sea on March 27th, 2010 by MadDog
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The weekend got off to a perfect start this morning when I crossed the terminal wires on my boat battery and blew the voltage regulator on my engine. I had to cancel the day for five divers standing on the dock waiting for me. I hope the remainder of their weekend went better than mine. Fortunately, Richard Jones is in town, so I went out on his boat, Sanguma  along with Jenn, Jo and Ush.

I have lots of other news about the weekend, some good, some not so. I’m sitting at the office on Sunday afternoon writing this because the power to the security camera pole where my wireless connection makes its hop to my house has been out all weekend and, of course, my wonderful TELIKOM phone lines won’t carry data today because there were a few drops of rain last night.

I could keep on complaining for hours, but I don’t have the time. Too bad. It’s my favourite hobby.

One of the bright spots of the weekend is in this image:If you’re not a diver, you might not think that it’s such a big deal. Believe me, it is.  The shot above was taken by available light at about eighteen metres at The Eel Garden  at Pig Island.

What you’re looking at is two giant Notodoris minor  nudibranchs engaged in a super slow motion mating act. (UPDATE: Frank Peeters points out that this is actually one N. Minor.  His explanation is perfect; I can’t argue with it. See our comments below. I’m only slightly deflated.) The reason I’m showing you three nearly identical images of the same scene are partly technical and partly because I’m so dumbfounded by my luck that I can’t stop inserting the images in this post. It’s one thing to see a Notodoris minor.  I’ve found a spot at The Eel Garden  where I can usually find one if I take the time to look. It’s another thing to find two of them together. However, I have never before, and very likely never will again catch two of them in the act of laying and fertilising eggs. The shot above was lit by the flash on my camera.

Needless to say, I grabbed many, many exposures of the pair. I did not want to risk something going wrong. I tried several different camera settings. I made up this image in Photoshop which, though it seems faded compared to the others, shows the fine structures in high detail and really gives a more accurate idea of the shape of the things:The image above is over twice the pixel dimensions that I usually put in the journal. I normally limit resolution to 1600 pixels. This makes them load faster if you want to click to enlarge. It also protects me a little from those who steal images from the web and foist them off as their own. Yes, it has happened to me. My copyright (see the bottom of the page) allows free non-commercial use of any of my images without seeking permission as long as you simply attach my name to the image or (preferably) include a link to Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  That’s fairly small payment for the work that I put into presenting my best work on this site. I’ve found plenty of my images on other web sites with no attribution. I’m not sure why someone would do that, but it doesn’t make me particularly happy. Anyway, if you want to see some amazing details of the egg-laying nudis, click on the image above and be ready to download about a half of a megabyte.

I also thought that you might be interested to see the old wrecked catamaran river barge which is right beside the place where I find the Notodoris minor:That image is a stitch-up of seven separate frames. It covers about 160°.

Since we’re doing a lot of yellow today, I’ll throw in this snap-shot of a Latticed Butterflyfish (Chaetodon rafflesi):I’d rather that the other one had gotten out of the way a little sooner. This image was the result of a ten minute chase. Butterflyfish are very frustrating.

I’ll have more weekend adventures later. They include a very nice party, a car theft by a drunk, a house invasion and possible rape (we don’t know yet) and probably some other things that I’ve already suppressed deep in my memory vault.

I’ll also have some nice shots of my peeps.*

* I’m destined to live the dream for all my peeps who never made it. -Naz

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Saturday Diving – A Row of Boats

Posted in Under the Sea on March 14th, 2010 by MadDog
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Sunday dawned clear and bright. Just what I needed to lift my spirits when I realised that my sinus infection (oh, I’m sure  you want to hear about that) has come back with a vengeance. I may possibly have insulted it during my very pleasant dive yesterday at Magic Passage.  Actually, I’m not telling the truth. The part that is not  true is that this is actually Monday’s sunrise:Could be Egypt, eh?

Conditions at Magic Passage  couldn’t have been much better. There was a manageable current flowing in from Astrolabe Bay,  making the water nice and clear. I usually get into the water first, to get out of everyone’s way and check to make sure that I’ve anchored where I think  I anchored. I got this shot from about seven metres below Faded Glory  and Sanguma,  which we had parked alongside each other:

Funny thing – coincidence strikes. The Beatles song Come Together  is playing with a heavy bass bias here in the IT Dungeon as I write. (In case you’re wondering, I was thinking of the boats coming together over the reef.)

He roller-coaster he got early warning
He got muddy water he one mojo filter
He say “One and one and one is three”
Got to be good-looking ’cause he’s so hard to see
Come together right now over me

I think that it is one song that nearly every person of my age who was brought up in The Western World (whatever that is) can probably sing along with without mumbling too many of the words. It always seemed like nonsense to me – nonsense ambiguous enough to mean anything you like. I give you the examples of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky  or James Taylors’ American Pie.  Still, the pitiless call of reason leads me to conclude that the song must  be about the members of the band. Four musicians, four verses, lots of obscure references – it’s not Rocket Science. If you’ve nothing better to do and you want to enrich your mind with some spaced-out references from the 60’s you might check here and here if you’re feeling clueless. The first link seems plausible. The second feels more like stoner-speak.

Errr . . . drifting away there. Back to the dive. One of the first things that I encountered was this lovely little anemone which I am embarrassed to say that I can’t identify accompanied by two juvenile Clark’s Anemonefish (Apmphiprion clarkii):My finger is for scale, not for food. However, while snorkeling at The Eel Garden  later I was demonstrating how the larger cousins of these youngsters would play with your fingers and occasionally nip at them. One of the larger specimens of A. clarkii  bit viciously three times. Each time it would grab a bit of my skin in its jaws and shake its body furiously before letting go. Since I was out of breath anyway and needed to surface, I decided to end the demonstration.

This morning I felt a distracting itch on my hand and discovered a bite mark left by the little terror:Don’t let anybody tell you that Nemo is not dangerous.

In the clear incoming water, the beautiful Anthea were glowing like neon lights:We were blessed by a bit of sunlight on Saturday, the first we’ve seen in some weeks. The weather here has been dismal, at least by Paradise standards.

Richard Jones led the little expedition, though he was possibly a little miffed when I was uncooperative and lazy at the beginning of the dive. He got even later by mugging me:However, I shall have the last laugh. He complained a few days ago about me getting his “bald head” into the picture – his words, not mine. I would call him “partially bald”. My response is, “How could I miss it?”

Later on, a band of Cassells showed up in Felmara.  This array of fishing lures caught my eye:The Cassell Floating Fishing Party motored off after a while and left us to enjoy the lowering sun.

Just another Saturday in Paradise.

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