Saturday, April 07, 2012

Looking nature in the eye (and grouching a bit about Picasa)

Bits and pieces, all with something of an eye-balling theme.
Just as Tom was about to go out and check the post today, (we have external mailboxes here, of course, though ours is only a step from the house, and our regular posties tend to wait for us to come out and hand the mail over), there was an enormous thump on the window which made us nearly jump out of our skins.  It was not one but two squabbling cock chaffinches, so absorbed in their quarrel they forgot to look where they were going.  One of them landed, punch drunk, on the fence post outside the window.  At first, he was very wonky, his sides heaving, so knowing that having time to recover from shocks like this can make the difference between life and death for small birds, we waited for him to fly off at his leisure, before going out for the post.  

After a bit he straightened up, and started to look around him, including at us through the window, and at the rival, presumably, he had been scrapping with, who was taunting him from the house guttering above.  He must have stayed there a good ten minutes, then I remembered that the surest way to make any creature move off is to try to photograph it.  I took half a dozen or so pictures of him, then sure enough he flew away.

One of the nice things about creatures, like chaffinches, which have clearly differences between genders is one can refer to them as he or she without feeling sentimentally or childishly anthropomorphic. The wall brown butterfly, above, on a dandelion (which seem especially early and prolific this year, but don't they always...) I couldn't have been so sure about; the butterfly book (companion volume to the seashore one a couple of posts back), told me

the male and female are quite distinct, the former having an oblique band of scent scales on the fore-wing, which are said to smell like chocolate cream...

Mm, scratch-and-sniff butterfly.  Even so, the pictures in the book weren't really clear enough to be sure, but the internet came to my aid.  This one's a girl.

If I could have got close enough to smell the chocolatey scent scales (which she doesn't have), I'd have moved that grass blade across the top of the wing.  There was a bit of an exchange somewhere recently about how we tend to feel slightly guilty about rearranging nature to suit our photographic purposes, even in small ways, and how that's really a bit silly.  I don't know how it compares with retouching the photo.

This Normandy cow is also a girl, of course, or she would be a Normandy bull.  I'm very taken with Normandy cattle, which are more and more unusual hereabouts, being superseded by the ubiquitous Holstein-Frisian black and white standard Common Agricultural Policy issue.  There is an old rare breed of native black and white Brittany cow, apparently, but I don't know any.  They are small with rather delicate, dished faces, and beautiful upswept horns, but though their numbers are healthier than they were, there are only somewhat over a thousand in existence, and they mostly live south and west of here.  (I could become something of a livestock anorak, I fear, I love rare breeds...)

I find it is often a problem photographing animals like cows and horses, as they tend to dip their heads down to look at us, and then there is a strand of electric wire across their faces.  In the above picture I touched it out, with Picasa's increasingly easy to use retouch button.  I did it very carefully with a small brush size, but I can still where it was.


Talking of Picasa, they've messed about with it again, so it's now Picasa 3.9.  It's no longer so evident how to make collages. The big collage button on the bottom menu bar is no longer there; you can collage every picture in a folder, by clicking on the small icon at the top of each folder, but it won't just collage selected, pinned pictures in the tray like it used to, which I liked because I could just flick through selecting the pictures I wanted then make them into a collage straight off. I feared I would have to export selected pictures into new folders especially, which would have been a pain.  Eventually I found you could do it as before by pinning them in the tray then going to the 'create' tab along the top, and then to 'Picture collage'.  It's only one extra click, so I shouldn't grumble, and doubtless I could have found it out quicker if I'd read the help forums or the blog or whatever, but I was slightly distressed to find the familiar button gone, it seems like not an improvement to a popular thing.  As to all the new effects - comic book, invert colour, Orton-ish, Holga-ish, posterize, heat map etc etc - they're quite fun, but mostly novelty and gimmick, so far I've only felt incline to use the 'HDR-ish' one and then only a little bit (in the photo of violet syrup last post).  I always rather liked Picasa because it was intuitive, I didn't have to be techie and clever, it wasn't Photoshop and the choices were limited.  Now it still isn't PS, because it can't do the really clever things that can, which actually take skill and know-how and aren't intuitive, like layers and levels and tools and so on, it's just trying to stick on some of the frilly bits.  Still, I suppose there's no harm in it.


And then the other morning there was one of those strange and rather magical low-lying mists, which made us feel as though we were a ship afloat, or dwelling in Avalon, or something (my charming sailing niece really does dwell in Avalon, it's a suburb of Sydney, a very nice one, mind, and she lives on a boat).  And the great eye of the sun gazed at us across it, and though one shouldn't, we gazed back.   

This from the bedroom window.


*jean* said...

hi there - i'm a follower of your pretty blog and a bit of a can still create collages in picasa 3.9...the collage feature is now up in the tool bar in the create drop down you photos!!!


Anonymous said...

That last photo is incredible!

Lucy said...

Hi Jean, thanks for de-lurking. Yes I know, that's what I said!

Chloe - thanks, it was incredible weather and light, and of course didn't last very long.

Unknown said...

I used to blog straight from Picassa with the help of the icon which has now dissappeared. More circuitous now. They have done themselves no favours with the new gimmicks as far as I can see.

That Normandy cow is something to think about. The breed is attractive, but I am particularly drawn to the expression on this girl's face. A hint of resentment I think.

marja-leena said...

Great 'wildlife' shots, and the last one is most magical!

Roderick Robinson said...

To screw up the tension Google's been warning of a Blogger upgrade. Oh joy!

I've had Word 2010 for a year now and you wouldn't believe the wilful re-distribution of its constituents. I'd like to take a positive view (as I did with Blogger's new word verification) and welcome the changes on the grounds that they prove I'm still sentient. But with Word sentiency is in doubt.

Zhoen said...

That's ok, the sun was below the horizon when you took that photo, so you weren't really looking at it.

HLiza said...

I'm no longer a Picase user since the server administrator (I use company laptop!) removed it! It's quite brave of you to take close picture of big animals like that cow..I swear I would be trembling when she stares at me like that! But isn't she a beauty? We don't have cows like that here..the coat is so pretty!

Rouchswalwe said...

Fighting birds. Friskiness comes with spring. The shadows of the grass stalks on the butterfly's wing add something ... a whiff of poetry ... something special ...

Fire Bird said...

that last one is beautiful in a rather other-worldy sort of, sleeve of a Yes album kind of way!!

christopher said...

I do find the scent scales highly amusing. One wonders how even a scientist learns of such things. I would think it an amazing experience to notice that a butterfly smells of chocolate cream. That must be a male pheromone or something.

But how does one manipulate the butterfly without harming it? Boo!

Anonymous said...

If it is a pheromone, I wonder if the other butterflies can smell it as well as have their behavior changed by it. Anyway, lovely pictures and reports. Your account of the chaffinch's mishap is delightful.

Anne said...

I love the picture of the cow, and was pleased that you revealed that you had retouched it. When I looked back at it I could just see the line. If you hadn't mentioned it I would never have noticed.

marly youmans said...

Loved the chaffinch--what a flurry, and then that sweet photograph. (Do you know Rick Lieder's bird photographs? I thought of him.)

Thanks for the note about A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage--so glad you loved it and have talked about it! Word of mouth is so important these days. I ended up writing you three notes in response because you mentioned so many things.

Please note that I have taken your advice about comments as well, and shifted to the box--also thought to shorten the number of posts that can come up at once.

HKatz said...

Stunning photos of bird and butterfly. I like all the photos, but those I scrolled up to look at a second time.

He must have stayed there a good ten minutes, then I remembered that the surest way to make any creature move off is to try to photograph it.

Yes, that's happened to me a lot with squirrels. The little whir of the camera turning on is enough to make them tense and look around, then disappear up into the tree.

zephyr said...

i'm always so relieved when the birds shake off the shock and fly away. And, i love your Normandy cow! Great photos

Sheila said...

Oh, Lucy, I just love the pictures you take and the things you have to say about them!

I especially love this cow! I miss cows greatly, having considered them a normal part of the landscape all my growing up years, and now living in a city.

So glad the birds survived their crash.

The sunset is beautiful indeed. I find it hard to resist looking into the sun from time to time; hope I don't pay too dearly for it someday. And hope the same for you!