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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Sunset Dreaming

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 17th, 2009 by MadDog
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Morning is my second favourite time of day. I’m usually up by about 05:30. The first thing that I do is look out of the front windows of our house to see what’s going on in the sky. The sunrise a few mornings ago displayed itself as a beautifully muted array of pastels. Here’s the wide-angle shot from our front yard:Sunrise in MadangIf you’re wondering about my favourite time of the day, it’s when I sit down in my favourite chair, with my favourite beer, my favourite brand of cheap cigars, a bit of favourite reading material and pet my favourite (only) dog, Sheba. I can feel the stresses of the day evaporating like a cool misty haze around me.

A minute or so later, I got this image with a mid-telephoto setting:Sunrise in Madang

Man, I love those colours. It’s too bad that, here in the tropics, sunrises and sunsets fly past so quickly. In general, they last about ten or fifteen minutes at the most. That’s because the sun (and moon) are rising and falling straight up or down, not at an angle as in temperate zones. You have to get your camera out and be ready. I have missed fantastic sunset shots by being only one minute too late.

Yesterday, I showed you an image of this same Notodoris Minor  Nudibranch. This image was taken at Planet Rock  with flash:Nudibranch (Notodoris minor) at Planet Rock

The one from yesterday was captured by available light at about 30 metres. You can compare the difference.

Here’s our old favourite the Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculatus)  also at Planet Rock:

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus) at Planet Rock

I’ve been concentrating very much on getting good specimen shots. I’m trying to get a publisher for a coffee table book called The Fishy Families of Madang.  Anything for a buck.

On the way back from Blueblood last Sunday on Felmara,  Mike Cassell’s boat, I caught our friend Frauke Meeuw dreaming in the sunset light:
Frauke Meeuw dreaming in the sunset

It is redundant to say that happiness is a state of mind.

So, I won’t say it.

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He Got Hair Down To His Knee

Posted in Humor, Under the Sea on October 16th, 2009 by MadDog
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The Beatles song, Come Together  has been wafting around in my head this morning. I’ll tell you why in a little while. First I’ll show you an amusing sunrise at our house this morning:Sunrise at our house in Madang, Papua New GuineaI massaged this image rather brutally, because I was trying for something a little surreal. As you can see, the lighting effect on the fore shore is improbable. I’m calling it Ghost Harbour.  I’m pretending it’s sunset, because that makes it creepier.

And now I’ll explain the teaser. Have a look at this critter:

Hermit Crab (Dardanus sp.) at Planet RockIt’s a Hermit Crab, some species of Dardanus;  I can’t tell which. It was as I was working on this image that the spooky Beatles lyrics and tune began to insinuate themselves on my stream of consciousness.

Here come old flattop, he come groov’n up slowly
He got joo-joo eyeball, he one holy roller
He got hair – down – to his knee
Got to be a joker he just do what he please

Is it any wonder that I’m barely in control? I can still sing this song from memory, beginning to end. I haven’t a clue what it means. To us, at the time, it was just another fab from the Fab Four. Whenever I hear it, even today, I cannot help closing my eyes, tilting my head back, and getting into that pleasantly numb groove. And, of course, singing along in a gravelly nasal baritone.

Okay, enough of that frivolity.

Here is something that you don’t see every day. It’s a nudibranch with the fetchingly obnoxious name of Notodoris Minor.  I don’t know why it’s called minor,  because, by nudibranch standards, it’s huge  – about 7cm for this one:

Nudibranch (Notodoris minor) at Planet Rock

You can see these things from an incredible distance, because they are so bright.

While we’re on yellow, here is a Feather Star (Comantheria schlegeli):

Feather Star (Comantheria schlegeli) at Planet RockThese shots all came from the dive last Saturday at Planet Rock.  I had shots from that dive yesterday and I’ll have more tomorrow.

This is a close up shot of the same Anthea  species that you saw yesterday with Pascal Michon in the background. It’s devilishly difficult to tell which species of Anthea  that you are looking at unless you can get a close-up shot of an individual, a very difficult task. So many of them look very similar that I usually just lump them all together:

Anthea (species ?) at Planet RockSome things I never tire of seeing.

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A Bearded Fish and Some New Features

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 15th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ll start with the geeky, boring stuff. I’ve added two new features and made one other change to Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  The new features are not obvious until you look for them.

First, I’ve added what’s called Related Posts.  You won’t see them when you come in the “front door” by using our main address, for instance, if you have us bookmarked. However, if you come in on a “single post” link, such as you might do from a search engine result or from a Facebook link or a dozen other ways, you will see HOME at the top of the sidebar and, if you go down to the bottom of the post, you will see a selection of posts that directly relate to the content of the post you are currently reading. This is handy for me and for you. I don’t have to constantly think of posts related to the current subject that might also interest you and you can easily find other posts that have similar content.

If you arrived from a bookmark to Madang – Ples Bilong Mi,  you are on the “front door” (all recent posts) page. You will see no HOME in yellow at the top of the sidebar. If  you want to see posts related to the one you are reading, all you have to do is click on the title of the post  and you will be taken to the “single page” version of that post. At the bottom, you’ll find the related posts. I did it this way because the “front door” page would become impossibly long if each post also included related posts.

The other thing that I’ve added is a gizmo that allows you to be notified by email whenever a comment is left on a post on which you have commented. This is a great way to keep discussions going. You don’t have to go back to a post to see if anyone has replied to your comment.

When you leave a comment by clicking on the “Comments” link at the bottom of a post (and I encourage you whole-heartedly to do so), you will see a new little checkbox just below the “Submit Comment” click target. It says, “Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.” That’s exactly what will happen, supposing that you have given your real email address. (It’s surprising how many nasty comments that I get which have bogus email addresses. I don’t approve them for display. I just delete them.) You will know when I or someone else replies to your comment and if anybody else chimes in. Thanks, Robert of Trupela Tok  for suggesting this feature.

Finally, in response to regular readers with slow connections, I’ve reduced the number of posts shown on the “front door” page to seven down from fifteen. This should make the loading time less irksome. If you think that you’ve missed something (tragic, I know), you can always use the “Previous Entries” link at the bottom of the page.

Okay, let’s get to some images.

Here is a rather poor shot that I got at Planet Rock  last Saturday. As long as you keep it small, it doesn’t look too bad. There was a lot of particulate matter in the water, so the blue is lumpy and speckled. It would have taken hours to clean it up and it still wouldn’t have been publishable. Still, here in the journal, it’s pretty and interesting:

Swarming Anthea with a diver in the distance

The diver is Dr. Pascal Michon of Divine Word University. The fish are some species of Anthea. 

Here is a fish that I have been trying to capture for a long time. It is a kind of Grouper and has the unusual name of the Spotted Soapfish (Pogonoperca punctata).  Aside from it’s unusual name, note that it has a beard:

Spotted Soapfish (Pogonoperca punctata) at Planet Rock

No, I don’t know what the beard is for. They are quite shy and usually hide under coral ledges where it is hard to see them. My dive buddy Albert Serra Pou spotted this one.

I was curious about the common name – soapfish ??  I found this on SaltCorner.com:  “As with all soapfish, if stressed, it may release a toxic substance (grammistin) from the skin that could kill itself and all tankmates. Prevent any stressful conditions in the tank!” I gues that explains it.

Here is a dramatic image of the incridible flourescent Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  at about 23 metres on the east side of Planet Rock:

Incredibly red Bulb Anemone at Planet Rock

You have seen it before here. I admit to dramaticising the colours . . . mmmm, slightly. For art’s sake, you understand.

This prickly looking thingie is a Feather Star or, more properly a Crinoid. I think that it’s a Comantheria briareus,  but it’s pretty hard to tell. The colours of Feather Stars are somewhat variable and sometimes you have to count the “arms” and look at the “feet” to tell which species you are looking at. Since touching them causes a lot of damage (the arms stick to you and pull away from the animal), it’s not worth hurting them to determine which species it is:

Feather Star (Comantheria briareus)

Last, but my trophy kill of the day, is a Checkerboard Wrasse (Halichoeres hortulanus):

Checkerboard Wrasse [intermediate phase] (Halichoeres hortulanus)

As with many fish, many Wrasses go through two or more phases of life during which they display dramatically different colours and body details. This individual in in the Intermediate Phase, between baby and adult. Like most teenagers, this fish believes that being seen in fashionable clothes is the key issue.

By the way, this is one of the best specimin shots that I’ve ever been lucky enough to snap. What you see is what you get.

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Swimming with Baracuda

Posted in Dangerous, Under the Sea on May 27th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’m getting homesick, so I’ll take a break from the On the Road category today.

Back in June of 2008 I had the golden opportunity to swim at Planet Rock near my home in Madang, Papua New Guinea among hundreds of Pickhandle Barracuda (or Blackfin Barracuda, as you please). Local names are useless for identifying fish. The taxonomic name is Sphyraena qenie.

Here is what I saw as I approached from below the circling school:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie) - coming up below the shcoolAs I approach I move around to the side so that they can see me. You don’t want to surprise them. If they can see you and get used to your presence for a minute or two, they will let you swim with them:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie) - coming around to the sideI move around just under them to get inside the circle and the slowly approach them:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie) - getting in closeNow I try to nudge my way into the stream of toothy, metre long underwater missiles. As long as I don’t spook them, I’m okay. This looks dangerous and it is  a genuine adrenaline rush, but I’ve never heard of anybody around here being harmed by these barracuda:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie) - trying to be a barracudaAnd now, my friends, I’m experiencing a joy that few have shared. I’m swimming with the barracuda! In fact, I feel very much like a barracuda:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie) - I'm a barracuda! Whoopie!I hope that you enjoyed seeing this one ten thousandth as much as I enjoyed doing it.

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An Experiment With Lightbox

Posted in Photography Tricks on April 22nd, 2009 by MadDog
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UPDATE: I’ve killed Lightbox for the time being. I can’t figure out a way to do both the nice pop-ups for images AND allow the reader access to full-resolution images for printing, screen savers, or use in their own projects. If I figure out a way to provide both, Lightbox may come back.

I’ve never been very happy with the way my images display when you click to enlarge. Today, I’ll use you as guinea pigs to test a different way to do it. I’m trying a WordPress plugin called Lightbox2. Instead of opening a clicked image in a new browser window, it dims the background and shows the image in the same window. Try it on this image of waves breaking on the rocks at Pig Island to see how it works:
Waves breaking on the rocks at Pig Island

You can use your left and right arrows on your keyboard to move back and forth between the images of a post. At least it works for me.

Here is a shot of bright red coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii) at Planet Rock:

Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)
And here is an image of Little Pig Island:

Little Pig Island

And now, some pretty clouds over the North end of Kranket Island:

North end of Kranket IslandIt works for me. The only problem is that I have to make my uploaded images a bit smaller. I have been using 1200 pixels as my maximum dimension. That doesn’t work very well with Lightbox, because they are too big on the screen (try clicking images in previous posts to see what I mean.) I’m going to try 800 pixels maximum dimension for a while to see how well it works.

I haven’t decided whether to keep it turned on or not. I like posting the larger images because they have more detail and readers can print them out in larger formats if they like. But, the problem with the image being too big with in Lightbox doesn’t seem to have a solution. Is anybody out there an expert on Lightbox?

I’ll give it a few days to see if anybody comments.

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