Saturday, August 29, 2020

Favorite Visitor


I love seeing all the critters--owls, red-shafted flickers, band-tailed pigeons, deer, raccoons, and gray fox. But what always makes my day is when the cams catch a bobcat.

This wiry little guy showed up several times over the last few weeks, all but once during the daylight hours.

These two shots were taken a week apart. The earlier shot is on the bottom. In the top image you can see how the pool of water got smaller despite the storm that passed through and set off the big lightning fires. We got so much rain at my place in San Francisco that I was actually a tiny bit worried the camera in this spot was going to get swamped. When I saw yesterday that the pool had shrunk, I moved the cam to a new spot where the view will continue to include the water.

I strung together three 15-second clips below, two of which show different angles on a pair of foxes playing on a log. The third is the bobcat making a night visit and apparently being put off by the glowing red lights on the trail cam.

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Friday, August 28, 2020

Up In Smoke


The upper part of Mt. Tam was closed for a while due to excessive smoke from the Woodward Fire in Pt. Reyes, but it opened up again this week. Which isn't to say the skies are clear, since it's still quite smoky up there. It's not so bad that you don't want to go for an easy hike, but I wouldn't recommend pushing much beyond easy. 

I mainly wanted to check my trail cams, but I was glad I brought my Nikon along to do a little photography. I didn't expect to shoot anything after the morning fog, but I was lucky to see some wildlife, including a covey of California quail.

Of course the quail on Mt. Tam aren't so accustomed to the presence of human beings that they just ignore you. As I approached a group near Rock Spring they all fluttered up into the bay and oak trees, alarm chirps sounding in the branches. I spotted this look-out and managed to fire off a couple of frames including this last one before he, too, took wing.

I drove out West Ridgecrest to see what the view north toward Point Reyes might look like and got sidetracked when I saw a jackrabbit by the side of the road. I pulled over and got my camera out, and as I was walking back toward the hare, I saw it bound across the street. I figured it was gone for good but kept walking and soon saw its telltale ears. It seemed to be staring pensively back across the road it had just crossed, probably wondering, "Why did I just cross the road?"

I couldn't help trying to get a little closer, and doing so broke his reverie. But it was hot out there, as well as smoky, and he didn't want to overdo the escape routine.

Eventually, though, he ditched me for good.

Back where I'd parked my car I heard dry leaves being crushed in the woods. There was a doe and young buck on one side of the road...

...and another doe and buck, with larger antlers, on the other side. The deer were so intent on feeding that they tolerated my presence without batting an eyelash. In fact, this buck didn't even bother to raise his head and stare at me. He just kept his down and munched.

When I finally did get farther out on Bolinas Ridge I of course saw that Point Reyes was invisible beneath a layer of fog and smoke. On the hill overlooking Stinson Beach (also invisible), I followed a blister beetle making a bee-line across the parched dirt and tried out my phone camera's macro lens on it. I stepped away after getting a picture, not wanting to be a nuisance. But the beetle kept on truckin' nevertheless, only to eventually disappear down a small hole. I was kind of amazed that the little beetle had known exactly where it was going the whole time. 

I also watched a group of wild turkeys pass single-file along the edge of the nearby forest, and as usual was a little surprised that they can get away with being out in the open in a group like that with coyotes and bobcats about.

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Saturday, August 22, 2020

New "48 Megapixel" Smartphone


Stow Lake

I decided to get a new phone since my Moto G5 has been acting up the last few months, requiring me to restart it every now and then to get the camera  working. Its fussiness put me under the mistaken impression that it was quite a bit older than it actually is. I only just now checked my files to realize that the earliest images were from July 2018.

Anyway, I replaced the G5 with another $300 phone, the Moto G Stylus, which is advertised as having 48 megapixels, but which actually delivers a 12-megapixel image. In fact, the Stylus images are just a tad smaller than the G5 images (12 vs 12.2 megapixels). The Stylus does a slightly better job of processing those megapixels into an image, but it's not much to blog about. 

I took a picture with both cameras at Stow Lake, and pixel-peeping shows basically no difference in the image resolution.

Moto G5 Crop

Moto G Stylus Crop

If it isn't false advertising for Motorola to claim the Stylus has 48 megapixels, it probably ought to be. What the company actually delivers is 48 "quad pixels." 

I find this disappointing, but life goes on. It takes nice pictures for a $270 smartphone, and it also has a 2-megapixel "macro" lens, which is more like a wide angle lens that lets you get really close to your subject, which I do appreciate since the G5 was useless for close-ups.

Close-up with Moto G Stylus

The other thing the new smartphone has, as its name implies, is a stylus. I didn't really care about this feature, but I somehow got the false impression that the Stylus made 48-megapixel images! (I also don't understand why several reviews of the Stylus state, incorrectly, that it has a 16MP camera.)

Stylus Action

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Monday, August 17, 2020

Interspecies Envoy


I placed the full bird bath saucer on the ground to see what I might catch (and also because I was afraid raccoons would pull it down), but other than the neighborhood cat (who did not drink), the only visitors have been a couple of late-night raccoons. The camera trap has caught birds bathing in little plant-pot saucers in the past, but I have yet to catch a bird ever using the bird bath, which has been in our yard since 2002! It has sentimental value to my wife, however, so we've kept it around. And like I say, the raccoons seem to like it. Unfortunately I have to empty it periodically to clear out the mosquito larvae. 

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Friday, August 14, 2020

Night & Day


Looking East at Sunset Last Night

A Few Minutes Before Sunrise This Morning

The warm and humid atmosphere this morning reminded me of Hawaii. As I walked past Golden Gate Heights Park I heard a weird crinkling noise in the trees. I couldn't place it, but it kind of reminded me of fog-drip. There wasn't a lick of fog though. It was raindrops. The rain didn't amount to anything, but the novelty was a treat. When my wife felt the first couple of drops she thought a bird had pooped on her, so she was glad it was rain too.

The new Blogger layout is bugging me. None of the typefaces look right.

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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Lifting Fog, Lifting Spirits

This morning was the first in what seemed like a long time that we weren't socked in by dismal fog spiced with chilly winds. My spirits lifted as soon as I walked out the door. In fact, I even went back upstairs to get my phone so I could take a picture. As I walked through the neighborhood it seemed like I hadn't felt the uplift of such a beautiful morning since spring, although that can't be right. 

Back on Aug. 3, I had decided to renew my "picture a day" exercise, but the view held nothing but a wall of fog the next day, and the next, and the next, and so on. Several mornings I couldn't even see the first row of houses at the bottom of the hill, so I gave up on the picture-a-day and even stopped bringing my phone. 

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Sunday, August 9, 2020

Sunday Ramble

Sunday Morning Fog

Some days go so perfectly you feel in tune with the universe. Other days you figure it must be time for a tune-up.

I always get a tune-up when I visit Mt. Tam, even when some things go perfectly south, like yesterday when I locked my ebike to a tree and realized I didn’t have the key to unlock my battery so I could swap in the fresh one. With less than two bars left on the first battery, there was no way I was going to make it home. I’d probably go to zero on the hill out of Sausalito, or maybe in the cold, howling wind and fog part-way across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Luckily I had my phone, and once I was back in cellphone range I was able to call my wife to come get me. We still had some grocery shopping to do, so we met up at The Good Earth down in Tam Junction, which we’ve been curious to check out anyway, and where I was able to get some sprouted wheat bagels and tempeh, neither of which our local Andronico’s carries.

When I got home and downloaded the three trail cams’ memory cards, I knew perfection had been lost again when I saw that one of them had more than 4,000 images on it. This was from the third cam that I set up last week, and I figured I must have missed seeing some errant blade of grass that caused a lot of wind-triggers. I downloaded the images figuring it would still be worth it to weed out hundreds or thousands of “empty” frames in order to get the one classic bobcat shot.

But when I pulled the images into Lightroom I was struck by the fact that almost every frame looked the same, and that nothing in the images indicated what could have caused the false triggers. Also, every one of the 4,000-plus images was shot on the same day I set out the cam, and only covered a couple hours of that day before it shut down.

After mulling over this strange turn of events for some time, it finally dawned on me that I had set that camera to shoot a time lapse while we were camping at Sonora Pass recently.

This morning I drove back up to Mt. Tam, arriving just as the ranger opened the gate at 6:58 a.m., and the trail cam was indeed still set to shoot a frame every few seconds. Now I know, if you set time lapse on the trail cam, you have to unset it to make it stop. I swapped out the drained batteries, reformatted the memory card, set the correct shooting mode, and drove back home so I could get to the farmer’s market before the strawberries sold out.

By the way, I like the idea of using a trail cam to shoot a long time lapse. For one thing, it runs silently since there is no mirror-slap like there is on my Nikon D800E. The unfortunate thing is, the trail camera doesn’t compile all the images into a single time lapse video file like the Nikon does. I had to pull the thousands of images into Adobe Premiere Elements to create the time lapse, and despite following somewhat complicated directions I didn’t get the smooth-running playback that I’d hoped for. I was surprised a dedicated video program couldn’t make it easy to create a decent time lapse, especially since the Nikon does it in-camera.

Inquisitive Fox

Mom & Two Fawns Spot a Fox

Friday Fogbeams

Bolinas Ridge Trail

'41 Pontiac

Sausalito Pit Stop

Looking for Brocken Specter

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Monday, August 3, 2020

Fog Break

I was about to settle down to some reading last night when I made a shocking discovery: when I looked out the back window, I could see! 

For the first time in weeks, the gray wall of fog was gone. I got the crazy notion that I should go over to Grandview Park and see if Comet Neowise was going to be visible. 

Even though it's not that far away, I drove my car and sat awhile to watch a gloriously bright orange sun sink below the horizon. I watched in vain for the green flash. Once the sun was below the horizon, park visitors began to exit. By the time I decided to head up the stairs there were only three other people up there enduring a strong, steady and cold wind.

I craned my neck to look for stars emerging from the night sky, but a nearly full moon was rising and keeping the stars from showing off. I passed the time by shooting a couple of panoramas, one of Mt. Tamalpais and the other looking over the Inner Sunset toward downtown.

A little after 9 p.m. it was actually getting dark, but still there were precious few stars, and no sign of the Big Dipper, which would give me a clue as to where the comet could be found. I'd hoped to have a shot of the comet over Mt. Tam, but no such luck. If the comet's still around in another couple of weeks during the new moon--and we get another fog break--I might try again.

I made the images above 1200 pixels wide, and you can click on an image to see it full-sized (although for some reason it doesn't work with the Mt. Tam pic, maybe something to do with Blogger's redesign).

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Saturday, August 1, 2020

Tam Cam July

In my post earlier in the month I said I thought this trail cam location had potential, and I sorta cursed when I later got this image of a bobcat apparently bolting through so quickly it's head was cut off before the cam could jump into action. I have the cam set to fire off three frames when it's triggered. This was frame number one, and it seemed impossible to me that the bobcat wouldn't have triggered the camera sooner. I didn't figure out how it could have happened, aside from an insanely slow camera trigger, until I returned to the scene yesterday, July 31.

I had two cams set up, with one on the log and the other on this pool. For part of the month I had both photo and video working on this pool, but I ended up with so many useless frames that I turned off the video. It's a lot more time-consuming to review video in Lightroom than to review still images, and video also eats up the trail cam batteries more quickly.

What kind of owl is this? Check out the video below to see what happens next.

Yesterday I brought a third trail camera along, even though I wasn't sure where I wanted to place it. Biking up toward Rock Spring I returned to the scene of my recent fox encounter to look for anything obvious about the location that would be of enough interest to foxes that I could expect to catch them again. Seeing nothing more than a faint animal trail on the very steep slope, I didn't think it was worth setting up a cam there. 

The log cam has been catching foxes fairly often anyway. The video shows a nice little interaction between two foxes who meet in apparent joy.

All the other usual suspects also showed up, including mice and band-tailed pigeons, which are briefly included in the video.

When I swapped out the memory cards and batteries yesterday, I also re-synchronized the timestamp on each of the cams. Unfortunately, each cam gains time at a different speed. This image of the fox heading downstream past the pool and toward the log was stamped at 9:51 p.m.

And this one of the fox crossing the log was stamped at 10:04 p.m. I doubt the fox actually dawdled at the pool for 13 minutes, but who knows. I wish the timestamps were more accurate.

All three bobcat captures (July 9, 23 & 26) occurred in daytime. I suspect the bobcat in this image leaped up to the log from the downstream (left) side. More of this cat appears in the video.

What I also found yesterday is a nearby upstream ledge which probably explains how the bobcat's head was already cut off in the first frame at the top of this post. Unlike the foxes, the bobcat doesn't traverse the log from end to end, but leaps onto it.

The foxes always seem to get on the log from one of the ends, but they sometimes exit by jumping off. This one appears to be checking out something of interest at the pool.

Here it is almost noon when the bobcat comes down for a drink. Unfortunately I had turned off the video on this cam, but the third shot in the series clearly shows the cat dipping its head to drink. 

Having found nowhere better to put the third cam, I decided to set it up to overlook the pool and the log. I set its video to run for six seconds instead of the twelve that runs on the log cam, and already I regret doing that. I'm thinking about going back up tomorrow to set all the videos for 20 seconds. 

Even though it will be a pain to go through them all, and I'll have to swap batteries more often, it's probably worth the trouble to get the one-in-a-hundred (or several hundred) captures that would make the enterprise more fun and interesting.

Mt. Tam was gorgeous yesterday, with warm sunshine (which we haven't experienced in my fog-bound Sunset District neighborhood in recent memory) and best of all, hardly any bugs. On my last trip to swap out memory cards and batteries, I rushed through the task, swatting at various gnats and flies that swarmed around my face and tried to bite my legs. This time I sat rapturously next to the creek with a breeze singing in the trees and numerous birds flying about, in no hurry to leave.

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