As I was headed towards the south wall at the Aiken County Historical Museum, I came across the box turtle in my Red Eye piece. He was just sitting there in the grass not moving. I’ve posted before about being an opportunistic wildlife shooter and this was a great opportunity. He appeared to be fine with me being around him and only got a little concerned one time when I pushed down a blade of grass (using a stick) that was leaning on his back. I started creating images from about six to eight feet away and then gradually kept working closer to him. I was using a knee pad and had the tripod as low as it would go (it basically sets on the ground as I don’t use a center post). I felt like I needed to be laying on the ground, but it was wet from rain we had the previous night, and I didn’t have anything to lay on. I seriously considered it, but the thought of wet clothes and being bitten or stung by fire ants caused me to try something else. I got down as far as I could while still being able to see the viewfinder and then used Live Preview to focus the lens. I had tried that on one other occasion and didn’t care for the results, but this time it worked great.
I placed his eye on the left most crossing line, using the rule of thirds, and used it as my focal point. I loved the reds in his eye and the oranges and yellows on his body. Being at eye level really makes a difference in a nature composition. I would have preferred a clean foreground, but this is a natural environment so I can live with the grass.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog posts, you may remember a post where I described the no longer operational fountain in Hopeland Gardens. I discovered the female box turtle in my Private Pond piece in the catch basin portion of the fountain system. When the fountain was functioning, water from the canal would flow into the basin where it would, presumably, be pumped back up to the starting point. With no water streaming down the canal, only surface runoff, rain, etc. can get into the catch basin. I’m not sure how she got into the basin, but, because the cement walls are pretty high, she was essentially trapped until it fills with enough water (or perhaps something else she could utilize) for her to climb out. I didn’t see any other turtles so she has the whole area to herself. I had been checking on her during previous trips, but wasn’t happy with the background or her position. Being completely surrounded by duckweed presented the best opportunity I had been given. While she remained perfectly still, her throat was moving in and out (which I liked because it shows movement and implies breathing).
I felt like I needed to go down by the water near the swamp’s edge in Hopeland Gardens the morning I composed First. That area, just before the wooden bridge closest to Whisky Road, is not some place I usually go, but something told me that I should (even if it was for nothing more than to see if there was anything worthy of pointing a lens at). On my way down the hill I scared a snake, but it didn’t go far and was trying to be still even though most of its body was exposed. Since it was going away from me, I couldn’t see its eyes, and I didn’t feel like there was a composition worth pursuing. It looked like it could be a water moccasin, but I figured it was probably a water snake. After never even seeing a snake the entire time I’ve created there, I couldn’t convince myself that it was a poisonous one. I didn’t even think about it the rest of the time I was exploring other areas, but on my way back from the Rye Patch, coming around from the other side, I wondered if it was still there. When I reached the area I was in earlier in the morning, I looked down and saw the snake once again. It had moved up away from the water and was laying partially in the sun with about half of its body in shade. I decided to see if I could tell what it was so I snuck down the hill a little closer to it and used the lens to magnify its eye. It was a water moccasin! A fat one (obviously it has been eating well).
I continued to carefully get closer and closer to the snake trying not to scare it as well as being VERY cautious. I moved slowly and always kept on eye on it. I was close enough to turn the lens horizontally for my Mug Shot composition.
I have some stock images of it that are within three to four feet from it, but without snake boots I was starting to get a bit nervous. If I could have easily escaped, I might have been a little braver and possibly got even closer. BUT, I had a HUGE disadvantage with the tree knees all over the place and the fact that I would have to go backwards up a fairly steep hill covered in slippery pine needles. I had made up my mind that if it came at me, I was going to abandon the tripod and camera and come back for it later. Trying to pick that up and get away from an angry water moccasin at the same time would have only made matters worse.
So if anyone was curious about the accuracy of the warning posters in the information areas, I can present proof that there are indeed poisonous snakes in Hopeland Gardens. I will now need to be MUCH more aware of what’s on the ground especially while exploring near the swampy areas. Either that, or start wearing my snake boots.
While wandering the grounds in Hopeland Gardens, I was just east of the reflecting pools when I noticed a bunch of things falling out of the bushes. I was too far away from them to tell what they were, but dozens of objects were suddenly falling. At first I thought maybe they were blooms that had served their purpose and were being discarded, but it was strange so I stopped, listened, and watched a bit more intently. It was green tree frogs – hundreds of them! Obviously, they’ve really made a comeback. I haven’t ever seen that many at Hopeland Gardens, and I can’t recall ever seeing a concentration of them like that (even at the swamp where I could count on seeing lots of these little guys). That area was literally crawling with so many of them that they were crowded. I think that the frogs in my Froglets piece haven’t been out of the water that long. Their heads and backs are rounder and softer looking, they were small, and, if you look closely, you can still see a partial tail.
They apparently climb up onto the leaves, vines, and branches, and then when something scares them, they just jump down into the bigger leaves and ground cover below. I lightly walked around and found a few that decided they liked their perch and were going to stay put. I had to move real slow (you could say that I needed to sneak up on them) to get in place. Of course, I estimated where the height of the tripod should be and already had it set so it was a matter of being very careful with both approaching them and positioning the tripod. Making the setup more challenging was the fact that the frogs were in the shade while the rising sun was starting to really light up some of the nearby flora as it began to filter through the trees. In order to avoid taking too much light away from the frogs (or blowing out portions of the background), I had to find a perspective that let me shoot into leaves and bushes not yet too brightly lit. I think that’s one of the things that I love about photography – you constantly have to determine solutions that solve little problems (most of which have aesthetic consequences).
I’ve written about Caladium at the Rye Patch that I used for abstract compositions in an earlier post here. While checking them this particular summer morning, I discovered a little surprise. There was a tiny frog sitting in the trough of one of the leaves. I don’t know what kind of a frog it was, and I’ve never seen one like it prior to or after that. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m an opportunistic wildlife shooter, and since it let me create a couple of compositions before it hid, I felt obliged to do so. This piece also has another one of the serendipitous captures that you don’t know you are getting while composing. You can see the reflection of the Rye Patch in the frog’s eye. How cool is that?
I really liked the background that the subject in Gazebo Anole was on. Primarily because it isn’t too often you find wildlife against a solid colored background – especially one that is white. I found this little Anole on one of the gazebo posts at the Rye Patch Rose Garden. The area where the gazebo sits is between different sections of the Rose Garden and is known as Patsy’s Garden. I love how the warmer tones are reflecting up from the white and providing some additional color to the Anole’s lower side.
On the last full day of my SC AIR trip, I spent the afternoon back in Cuddo East. As I walked along the driving trail through Alligator Alley, I noticed a circular pattern that broke up the normal lines in a tall tree trunk at the top of an embankment above a swampy channel. After getting a closer look, I was excited to learn that it was a rat snake in an unusual position. Perhaps it was simply timing or the right part of the season, but I only saw three snakes the entire week, and every one of them were good sized rat snakes. Rat Ring was the only composition I was able to create that included the snake’s head. Though I was a significant distance away, I may have scared it because it quickly disappeared. I like how the snake is nonchalantly, almost lazily, resting its head on the thickest part of its body. The snake’s pose creates a calm tone and brings a peaceful sense to the piece.
I came upon the subject in Rat Snake while hiking on a trail in the Hickory Top WMA on the next to last full day of my SC AIR trip. I was thrilled to find such a large snake (at least four feet long) just hanging out almost waiting for a photographer to come along and feature it in a composition. While it appears to be staring intently, perhaps measuring every movement being made and assessing risk factors, the arc of its mouth seems to give it a smirk. The high level of detail allows tiny pieces of a decaying tree (similar to saw dust) to be seen on the snake’s head, face, and eye. After allowing several compositions to be created, the snake retreated back into the tree where it presumably came from and likely picked up the aforementioned particles.
I referred to the piece in this post previously when writing about how superb the Cuddo East Unit of Santee NWR is. I returned there after a break for lunch during the third full day of my SC AIR trip, and continued to be elated with both the photographic opportunities and by the experience itself.
The alligators in Gator Alley Family were found just before the sign for Alligator Alley, which I felt was quite appropriate. Before this piece was composed, at least six of the small hatchlings were spotted along with several of their older siblings. Most of the junk and debris on the surface was created when the cow leaped into the water from the bank she had been sunning on while watching over her hatchlings. A polarizing filter was used to cut the glare on the water and make her easier to see. The hatchlings (one older and one quite a bit smaller and younger) appear fairly content to lie on the log and catch some rays while their mother stands ever vigilantly on guard in protection mode.
The grumpy looking little guy in American Toad was near the dock in the pond closest to Whiskey Road in Hopeland Gardens. Unfortunately, the walkway and the entire floating dock have since been removed. I think the caretakers felt that it was no longer safe for public use. I’ve written previously about being an opportunistic wildlife shooter, and this toad was quite cooperative; he allowed me to create several different compositions, of which, this was my favorite. I love how toads seem to have a cantankerous look. Perhaps I was annoying but not enough to make him hop away.
My favorite aspect of Pond Lovers is the long string of eggs that seems to wind its way through most of the composition. I also like that determined look in the male’s eyes, and the fact that even though he has mounted the female, he still appears to be cranky. This piece was created from the same floating dock previously mentioned.