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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Scorpionfish – Fail!

Posted in Under the Sea on June 10th, 2010 by MadDog
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We had a lovely dinner at our house last night with thirteen of us there consuming Eunie’s delicious Midwestern American farm meal. A special guest was there, but I’m not going to keep blasting her name out over the web, because I think that it’s time for her to have a chance to enjoy a bit of privacy. It was a typical Madang dinner party. There was a pile of “happy shoes” at the door, good food, good friends, and good Australian wine. Everybody came to our house by boat, so even the departing was fun. Everybody walks out to the dock, gets into their boats and we all wave bye-bye as if we’ll always see each other tomorrow. And, we usually do.

When I saw the sunrise this morning, the word industrial  popped into my mind:

It seems that I am a compulsive titler – is that a word, someone who titles things? I don’t know. If it isn’t, it should be. Every image has to have a title floating around in my head.

Oh, I can see that I’m boring you. Let’s get to the miserable failure that is the subject of today’s post. This could have been a perfectly good image of a Scorpionfish:

We had just gotten into the water at Planet Rock and I was fussing around making certain that our anchor was not doing any damage and watching divers and counting noses when Richard Jones pointed out this Scorpionfish. It was such a peculiar shape and so well camouflaged that I really wanted to get a good image of it. Sadly, I had time only for a quick snap. Unfortunately,as so often happens, the camera did not focus where I wanted it to. The focus on the rear half of the fish is tolerable, but the head is blurry. Still, it is so odd that it’s worth a look.

I have a lot of trouble figuring out what is a sponge and what is a sea squirt. I was all set to identify this as some kind of sea squirt. Fortunately, I sent the image to my Facebook friend Ana Karinna Carbonini of the Laboratorio de Biología Marina at the Universidad Simón Bolívar. She said that she thinks it is a Sponge, possibly a species of Leuconoide  or Asconoide:

You can take a sip of coffee now while you absorb that. Have a quick glance over your shoulder to see if the boss is lurking about.

At the request of a friend, here are a couple of Anemonefish shots from our dives on Saturday. This is a Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus)  peeking out from the safety of its host anemone:

I particularly like this shot, because it shows a very typical behavior. Anemonefish will often alternate between dashing about frantically around the anemone, coming up close to you to investigate or even take a nip of your finger and then plunging down within the tentacles to peer out and observe the result of the attack. I get more fun from watching anemonefish than anything else under the water, with the possible exception of some of my dive buddies.

For the Disney fans, here are some genuine Nemo wannabes. The Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula)  never fails to live up to its name:

One seems to be shouting at me. By the way, I would call this a failed shot also. Careful examination will reveal that it was a snap shot and I did not take the time to check the focus carefully. Of course, if I had, I would have missed the shout.

Finally, I’ll show you this artsy shot of the beautiful clear view of the reef near Alexishafen late on Sunday afternoon:

We were all peering over the side of Felmara  as we stopped for a swim. The water was crystal clear and the pinkish sunset was alternating with the deep green of the two metres of water under the boat. A little bit of magic.

A little bit of magic is all it takes.

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A Curious Collection

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on June 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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Okay, today I’m just winging it. I have no coherent plan, no petty rage to vent, no earth-shattering news, no malicious gossip (no, wait . . . I hate that stuff), and no gonzo wisdom to dispense. I’m reasonably calm, considering the mountainous pile of work which I fear will soon avalanche down upon me and out of which no St. Bernard will come bearing a little keg of Monk-crafted brandy will come to dig me.* I partook of my placebo this morning, consisting of a tiny nibble off of the edge of a 5mg Valium tablet. I know that it’s not enough to affect my body chemistry, it simply lets me feel as if I have some control. I feel like a mouse nibbling on a teeny-weeny chunk of cheese which must last him for a month. The things you do when the mind starts to go . . .

So, I’ll spare you the chatter and show you some images which have lifted me out of the muck a couple of times already this week. We’ll start with a sunrise for which I can credit only God. Sorry folks. Simple physical processes are not up to the task:

Thanks, God. I needed that one.

This is a picture I got a few weeks ago up at Guntabag with my old buddy Tag Tap. He took me to a tiny little house to see this wonderful old man who they say is eighty-three years old:

It is hard for me to keep tears from my eyes when I look at this image of a man who has lived almost literally from the stone age to the space age. How much the world has changed during his lifetime. He would have been born at a time when nearly the entire population of Papua New Guinea lived in areas which had never been mapped and were presumed to be uninhabited. I do not know his name, and If I did, I would not tell you. Names of venerated persons, especially those who are in the twilight zone are often not spoken aloud. A glance or pointing of the chin in his direction is sufficient to indicate the subject of the conversation. He was alert and could speak, offering to shake my hand. However, he was clearly confused concerning why a foriegner would want to come to meet him and take his photograph. I’m going to get a good framed print made of this one and send it up to him.

I can’t get enough of the Finisterre Mountains.  Despite being surrounded by mountains to the west, the Finisterres,  across Astrolabe Bay,  are the only ones which we can see clearly:

I’ll call that one Too Blue.

I’m calling this one Boards Over Water at Blueblood:

The sand from out feet on the deck and the ripples of sand under the water below the deck connected furiously in my medula oblongata. I stared curiously at my hands as they, of their own accord, set the controls on my trusty Canon G11 and framed the shot. I heard a subtle “click” inside my head when the shutter released. It was surreal.

Here is a happy, happy picture:

It is (Rozlings take note) Roz Savage, Genevieve Tremblay, me and Jo Noble in Faded Glory  on our way out to Planet Rock on Saturday. Thanks to pal Meri Armstrong for the snap. Meri was intensely concerned with getting the iconic Madang Coastwatchers Monument in the background. I enlarged my bicep only slightly – honest! And, by the way, I am not “making a donkey” out of Genevieve. I’m giving the Peace Sign.

Which reminds me. I haven’t shown the Faded Glory  Diving Crew t-shirt logo for a long time:

I’m putting it up here because I’m looking for a t-shirt company who can make some up for me. If anybody out there has any ideas, please leave me a comment or send me an email.

Just a couple of more and then you can get back to work before the boss comes around. I love spirals. When you are in the sea you are surrounded by them. Here is one of my favourite spiral shots:

What I like about them is that none of them are perfect. They are only suggestions of what spirals might be if they tried harder, if they cared more about being true to their good nature. They remind me of humans.

So, now that I’ve gone completely silly, I may as well carry on. I saw this bottle on the otherwise pristine reef at Planet Rock:

As you can see, the reef is desperately trying to incorporate it into itself. It is a hopeless task, because the bottle is of a different nature from the reef. The reef lives. The bottle is dead and always has been. The bottle does not belong to the reef and the reef does not want it there. So, the reef hides its shame and restores its beauty by absorbing the foreign bottle into itself.

I’m calling it Message in a Bottle.

* Please note the incredibly clumsy sentence which I crafted to avoid ending it with the prepostiion “out”.

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Little Fishies

Posted in Under the Sea on June 2nd, 2010 by MadDog
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It looked pretty scary outside this morning at about 06:00. I thought the world had caught fire for a moment. Never mind. It was just a big black cloud. It’s Wednesday here – middle of the week day. Ho-hum day. It’s too early in the week to be tired. It’s too late in the week to start any big projects. It’s not close enough to the weekend to begin to slack off. It’s just a work day. I had it in mind to be very productive today. I had nothing on my schedule to take me away from my office and I was determined to see how many of the little nagging projects that I’ve put off I could pummeled into submission before the day ended. I suppose you can imagine how that is going.

However, I did just finish my lunch while I was working on something else (I must vacuum my keyboard crumbs soon) and I’m going to celebrate the successful commencement of digestion by showing you The Big Black Cloud:

There. Isn’t that scary?

The title of this post is Little Fishies.  Here they are:

You know when I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of creating an underwater image? Well, I’ll tell you when. It’s when you look at one of my images and think to yourself, “He faked that! He took that shot through the glass of somebody’s perfectly maintained aquarium.” Yeah, when you get suspicious, I get all puffed up and start bragging about what a great photographer I am. I’m such a glory hound.

Yeah, well, anyway, here’s a very uneven Linckia multifora  starfish. It’s been leg bitten several times:

You know why I keep taking pictures of these and showing them to you until you want to scream, “Stop, STOP! Enough with the starfish amputees!” Well, I’ll tell you why. It is because they make me think of the amazing powers of regeneration which humans possess. No, we can’t regrow limbs – yet. But we can regenerate our emotional, spiritual and intellectual aspects by simple acts of will accompanied by hard work and behavioural changes. I have regenerated so many parts of me that I hardly recognise myself. Most of these chopping offs and regrowings have been prompted by the “What a jerk!” response of people with whom I interact. It’s like getting a smart slap in the face and then saying, “Oh, thanks. I needed that.”

Well that’s enough of whatever that was. I love shapes. I think that I must be a very visual person. I know that I’m no longer an olfactory person. I still can’t smell anything, but at least the phatosmia is getting less obnoxious since I started snorting Nasonex. Eunie uses it and I thought, “What the . . . ” I’ll give it a shot – really – two up each nose-hole each day. The smell of smoke is fading.

Hmmm . . . I drifted off-point there – back to shapes:

The Sea Squirt (Didemnum molle)  on the left makes me think of a buffalo (American Bison, to be exact) which has rater gruesomely had it head chopped off. The one on the right evokes vaguely uneasy gurglings in my cerebellum, but doesn’t provide any words to go with them. All I’m getting is visual blub-a-lug-a-blug. There may be something obscene there, but it’s not registering.

Come to think of it, It could  be Carl Malden’s nose, but I can’t be sure.

Mystery Stuff – Possibly a Protopalythoa  species anemone? I think so:

There is are so many things down there to see that it makes me wish that I could live to be a hundred. I think of the line of Shakespeare when Hamlet says to Horatio “There are many things in heaven and earth, Horatio, that are not dreamt of in your philosophy”. Hamlet  (Act I Sc V)*

Both of our beautiful Fishtail Palms (Caryota gigas)  are fruiting again:

This concerns me a bit, because these trees usually die when they have given their all to reproduce.

That seems like such a shame to me. I’d have been dead since 1969.

* Quoting Shakespeare is like using semicolons. All it proves is that you’ve been to college. Pffffft! College is the new high-school. I’m left for dead in the dust again!

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Safety Can Kill You!

Posted in Mixed Nuts on May 29th, 2010 by MadDog
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Sunday morning rolls around and I look back on the week as a mixed bag of sadness, adventure and success. We lost a dear nephew. Our thoughts have been largely consumed by grief and family concerns. The first real work day of a (yet another) new job left me exhausted but enriched. We also received the amusing news of Eunie’s selection by the Papua New Guinea Chamber of Commerce and Industry to represent the business and industrial interests of the entire nation at a European Union conference of the Pacific Regional Economic Integration Programme to be held in Nandi, Fiji next month. More and more I hear myself introduced as “Eunice Messersmith’s husband”. It doesn’t bother me a bit. Eunie gets a free trip to Fiji.

Yesterday morning was exceptionally pink:

Pink makes me uneasy. This shot is from the back of my neighbour’s house.

Yep, those are pink clouds:

Hard day coming.

Putting the beef in the middle of the sandwich, right were it belongs, I’ll get the the safety gag. Yesterday I was doing my impersonation of a cat on a hot tin roof along with my workmate Benson while we installed a VSAT on the roof of a local business. Being a major player in a hazardous game, they take their safety precautions very seriously. The boss was not greatly amused to note that I showed up at the work-site in sandals. I offered to go back to the office to put on my Harley-riding boots, but I think that they were all so virtually drooling over the prospect of a speedy Internet connection that they simply told me to “stay out of the workshop.” As I had no intention of going anywhere near a workshop, I gave them a gratuitous “No worries, mate.” and we got on with it.

However, not before they brought out these torture garments:

These “Safety Harnesses”, as they are laughably called, are the most dubious contraptions yet conceived by hard-hearted, profit-seeking men. Not to say that a woman couldn’t conceive a similarly diabolical instrument. Aside from the fact that It made me look as If I were wearing a baby-blue diaper thanks to my Lt. Dangle short-shorts (ref:  Reno 911 in case that is too obscure for you) they are extremely heavy and cumbersome. They are made of webbing of sufficient strength to restrain King Kong and they attend to areas of the body not usually subjected to such rough treatment. Walking was a torture not unlike being repeatedly kicked in the crouch by Chuck Norris in his prime.

As if this is not sufficient to deter a worker from applying for a job here, once you are up the ladder you are attached to a huge hook which is in turn attached to a finger-sized steel cable which is attached to a monstrous spring-loaded thing called an “inertia reel” which is in turn attached to some corner of the roof far away from where you need to work. It goes like this: Two guys on the roof attached from their backs by cables which cannot be crossed or you will both die. To progress toward the work site, you must lean forward and trudge against the pull of the “inertia reel” until you build up sufficient weight against it to move forward. You must keep the momentum up, or you will be dragged back to the reel, where you will fall backward over the side of the building and die as you smash up against it, your body held safely dangling above the ground by the “inertia reel”. Likewise, if you get up too much steam, your momentum will carry over the opposite side where you will once again be saved from plummeting to the ground, but will die and dangle in a manner similar to the above.

It is impossible to stand in a normal position. One must constantly lean forward, struggling against the pull of the accursed “inertia reel”. Furthermore, the slightest inattention will find you falling backward, grabbing futily for a hand-hold while hurtling toward the “inertia reel” to be flipped over the side and die cursing all safety precautions.

There’s more, but I think that you get the idea. As a final caution before we ascended the ladder in an overly-cautious and terrified state, the managers offered us the opportunity to view photographs of “displaced testicles”. We declined the kind offer.

It would have been a two hour job if I had considered having them weld the pole for the dish in the middle of the roof instead of on the edge (Duh!) and we had been allowed to live dangerously and forgo the “safety devices”, but we persevered and had the job done in about five hours.

So, that was my Friday.

A few days ago I was standing at the edge of the water very early, just as the sky was lightening. As I looked down I was struck by the clear reflection of the blue sky in the water. I snapped this shot at about 1/5 of a second and was amazed to see that the image stabilisation gizmo in the camera captured a usable image:

I call it The World At My Feet. Inscrutable.

Down at The Madang Lodge and Restaurant a few days ago, I was killing time waiting for Eunie and got a few nice orchid shots:

I have no idea what kind of orchid this is, nor do I much care. The depth of field in this shot leaves a lot to be desired. I was trying to get the coconut trees in the background very blurred. I was going for that “five Piña Coladas” look. Therefore, I had to open up the lens very wide to blur them. Unfortunately, this also meant that parts of the orchid are outside the depth of focus field.

It is true. There’s no free lunch.

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Great Barracuda!

Posted in Under the Sea on May 28th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today begins a new pursuit for our J & E Enterprises Limited company. I’m going out to install the first VSAT dish which we have sold. I’m familiar with the technology, so the job should be simple and take only a couple of hours. On Monday, after the unit is switched on at the Orion terminal in Australia, our customer will enjoy Internet communications and VOIP (voice over Internet – think Skype) the likes of which have never before been seen in Papua New Guinea at the relatively low cost of these units. It really is an exciting event for us. It’s fun to be involved with what, in this country, is the cutting edge of technology. Never mind that it has been available in most of the rest of the world for at least a decade.

Here is your morning sunrise:

Provided I arise early enough, I should be able to show you a new one nearly every morning now that the dry season is arriving.

The subject of this post is the large, toothy critter in this sadly poor photograph:It is a Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda). It’s not called “great” because it’s particularly famous or gifted or nice, but simply because it is big. I reckon that this one was about a metre and a half long. I tried my best to sneak up on it while it was getting the fishy equivalent of a car wash here at a “cleaning station” where tiny cleaner wrasse swim around and pick off tasty parasites from the barracuda’s skin – even inside its mouth! However, the instant it sensed me as a possible threat (pretty unlikely, I’d say), it shot of so quickly that it was just a blur in my eyes. Its departure was accompanied by a sound like a whip snap and a general panicky scattering of all of the fish in the general area as they hurried to get out of its way. It was quite a spectacle.

The water at Barracuda Point was murky, so the photo is very poor, despite my being only about three metres distant from the fangy bullet. This is only the third or fourth Great Barracuda which I have seen here in over 2,000 dives.

I have selected the rest of my images today not for their excitement, but rather for their calm, restful beauty. Here is one of my favourite creatures, the Mushroom Coral (Fungia fugites or possibly F. scutaria):

This one is resting next to the large colony of beautiful green and white Sea Squirts, Lissoclinum patellum.

This is a very lovely Divericate Tree Coral (Gendronephthya roxasia) which is growing between the hulls of the old wrecked catamaran on the ocean side of the barrier reef at The Eel Garden near Pig Island:

The Tree Corals are some of the few things which I like to use flash to capture. The way that they light up seemingly from the inside out is quite amazing. This one has a wonderful blue and pink colour scheme which I have not seen before. As soon as I began to work with this image my mind drifted to the recent movie Avatar. That film is packed with creatures which any diver would immediately recognise.

Here is another colonial animal which is best seen with flash. It is some species of Semperina, I think:

In ambient light it is a dull brown. When the full spectrum of sunlight hits them, as a camera flash is designed to replicate, it light up bright red.

We may as well finish up with a couple of Disneyesque Nemo impersonators. The Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula) has certainly become the most universally recognised reef inhabitant on the planet:

That’s it for today. Tomorrow is Dive Day. I’ll be back to waste more of your valuable time.

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The Big Hole in My Calendar

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on May 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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Regular readers will note that I have been off the air since Sunday. I was working on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  when suddenly I found myself locked out. I could not even get the login page to load. I got this strange message:

Not Found

The requested URL /wordpress/wp-login.php was not found on this server.

You are receiving this error because there was reason to believe you may have violated the system’s security protocols. If you think this was an error, please submit details about your activity through the form below and you may be unblocked. Providing your email address will speed up this process.

Thoroughly disgusted and believing that I had been hacked, I gave up for the day and laid around feeling sorry for myself. On Monday I got in contact with a WordPress Specialist, Michael VanDeMar, who began to examine my server for any evidence of foul play. By mid-Tuesday he had me back up and running. If you ever get in a jam with your blog, he’s your man. I give him ten out of ten.

As it turned out (GEEKSPEAK ALERT! – Geeky stuff in this paragraph.), it was not a hack, or at least it wasn’t the direct result of a hack. I was using a product called SecurePress to shield me against hackers. It seemed to do a pretty good job and notified me each time a hack occurred (several times a day, usually). I am also using a WordPress plugin called WP Super Cache which makes my pages load much faster on your computer. As a result of a previous attack which was interpreted as coming from my own IP address WP Super Cache began directing users to the message above which is doled out to suspected hackers. I should have picked up on this, but I did not make the connection. That’s what experts are for. So, if you are using SecurePress, pay attention to the part in the instructions which cautions you that you could get locked out of your own site.

But, now I have this big hole in my calendar. It irks me, but it would be obsessive to go back and fill it up. I’ll just have to live with it.

Okay, with all that mess now disposed, let’s have a nice, cheery sunrise:

That is the brightest red one that I’ve seen since the last dry season.

Here is another sky shot which shows an interesting effect which you will probably not want:
I saw the beautiful towering cumulus over the mainland and wanted to get a shot of it. However, my camera was still in its underwater case. I wiped the face-plate as well as I could with my towel, but it left some streaks. The diffraction that you see in the top of the image is caused by the bright sunlight being scattered by the nearly invisible streaks on the faceplate of the housing only an inch or so in front of the lens of the camera. It’s an interesting effect and could be useful. Back in the old days we used to smear a very thin layer of Vaseline on a clear filter and screw it on in front of a lens. Different patterns of smear created different diffusion effects. It was especially nice for that soft-focus look when photographing the ladies.

Since I’ve been off the air for a few days, I have a craving for fish.

Here is a nice Barrel Sponge at Barracuda Point near Pig Island  with some Antheas and a few Dascyllus swimming around it:

The water was not very nice that day. The visibility was only about eight or ten metres.

I did manage this reasonably nice shot of some Midnight Snappers (Macolor macularis):You can see some sub-adults in the shot. They are the ones which still have traces of the juvenile black with white spots pattern. The golden coloured one in the middle is an adult, as are the darker ones to the left. The one on the right with the faint white spots is a sub-adult.

Finally, here is an absolute storm of baby fish:

I’ve put this one up on the server at extra high resolution – 4,000 pixels. It’s worth a click and a wait to see it close up.

The Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be back to regular daily posting from now until the next hiccup.

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