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Calopterygidae: the insect so beautiful it was named so

CALOPTERYGIDAE

The Insect So Beautiful, It Was Named So

After a few days of clouds, rain and cool temperatures, the warmth has begun to return. Today my daughters wanted to go swimming at the “pool” but the air temp wasn’t quite warm enough for me and the sun was occasionally blocked by clouds so I followed them down with my camera.

I noticed there was a lot of activity down at the water’s edge so I found a comfortable lump of grass and sat down as I surveyed the scene.

A number of Brilliant Emerald dragonflies were patrolling the pond but what really caught my eye was my favorite “dragonfly” which isn’t a dragonfly at all but a damselfly called a Beautiful Demoiselle. For someone who is not really into insects, I can’t tell much of the difference between a damselfly and a dragonfly besides speed, agility, size, eye placement and damselflies are cuter (if that’s possible).

CALOPTERYGIDAE Male

Besides being “cute”, this variety is the most beautiful color I’ve ever seen; metallic cobalt with a mix of metallic green highlights. They fly clumsily like a butterfly, but they can kick it into light speed when needed. I counted a total of eight males and could only account for one female but there may have been more.

The females appeared to be sitting on the sidelines watching the dogfights that the males were engaged in over territory and the opportunity to pair with the fine young lady with the world in her hands.

Female Calopterygidae watching the boys battle for her love

The males were spread out around the swim hole in pairs and seemed to only spar with the same male. I didn’t notice any mixing it up with the other six males.

Dogfights

After a while of observing these beautiful damselflies, there was one that would rest near me on a leaf. We became friends and I was really rooting that he’d be the lucky one that the female would choose. I named him Cobalt.

My little buddy, Cobalt

One thing I discovered very quickly was that these things (and dragonflies in general) are so hard to photograph while in motion. The problem is their size and by the time the lens focuses, the subject leaves the focus block. Luckily, I had nowhere to go and all the time in the world to get enough pictures to fill my satisfaction. I have captured a few action shots of them flying. The photos are blurry but they still look nice in my opinion.

Cobalt in action

Cobalt was out on his patrols but after quite a decent flight, he would land near me on two different plant leaves. When he was well rested, he’d repeat. While on his patrols, he appeared to be showing the “ladies” which fine egg laying places were in his territory. Every now and then he would get the same challenger but that challenger wasn’t as aggressive as the other male pairs who seemed to be continuously in a dogfight. Maybe Cobalt was nearing the end of his challenge which may be why the female approached him a few times. He would land on a water plant that was on the surface, and he would lift up his tail with the three prongs stretched out and advertising a pink or beige orifise. I wondered what the lure was with that. I understand the claw at the end of the tail is for attaching the female by the neck but I wondered if he also releases some kind of Old Spice smell or aphrodisiac to set the hook.

Below are just a few more shots. The last shot is Cobalt’s rival. Because of him, I never got the chance to see Cobalt win the lady’s heart. Every time Cobalt offered her his claw, dude would do a flyby and Cobalt would have to chase him away. Typical Charlie Bravo but he was also beautiful so it must be difficult for the female to decide.

I was also lucky enough to get a couple blurry shots of the Brilliant Emerald dragon fly who would give Cobalt a little tease now and then and seemed to patrol the pond breaking up the dogfights. I’m sure he was just trying to keep his territory in check but in my mind, he didn’t like all the bickering.

Because these pictures can be taken by unethical people, I’ve downsized them which of course decreases their quality substantially. The originals are great though. Wish I could post those instead. If you’re on Instagram, be sure to follow my account. I toggle between the blog and Instagram but I do tend to first post on Instagram as I don’t have to think or write so much as I do here.

While I was away

I’ve been away from posting yet again. I just can’t seem to sit down long enough and think about what to write. So today, after many weeks of contemplating on a change of this blog’s layout, I finally found one I liked. I have wanted this to focus on my pictures but I also wanted the option to blog. The last layout I had wasn’t very user friendly and I wanted something a little less problematic. SO, I again changed it. It’s always a hassle to change the layout, at least for me. This one seems to be better.

I’ve been busy taking a lot of pictures. I will be posting new photos as usual and mentioning where they’ve been posted.

Today, I put up a few pictures under the Nature tab. To the few who follow, Thanks and just an update. I will be posting more of what I put up on Instagram and this blog will be the place to read more about the pictures.

Bonfire night

On the last day in April, an old tradition of the bonfire brings together the communities throughout Sweden as well as other countries throughout Europe.

This tradition has been handed down for millennium but it was given it’s name “Valborg” after the English Christian missionary Saint Walburga from the 8th century. I have read that this precedes even this date but I can’t confirm that for certain. Different countries have different histories as to the origin but with the Vikings taking on Christianity as their religion, this is the history for Sweden.

Today, sadly, Swedish people have separated themselves from the faith. But the good news is that the traditional Christian holidays are still observed but less “traditional” with the younger generations.

Valborg is a great tradition because it brings the neighbors together. I live a bit remotely so I cannot report about how they celebrate in the bigger cities, but for villages and towns, they are a great reason to get outside, stay warm by the fire, get rid of a lot of tree branches and cut from the forests. Although I’m always a year behind with my contribution because there is still a lot of snow left in the forest and it’s not until the end of May that I usually begin cutting away the tight growth to free up and open up the forest. It’s time consuming work but highly enjoyable and a great excuse to be among the trees, moss and animals.

Traditionally, when the fire begins, the people will celebrate by singing songs and hymns. The kids tend to throw rocks into the fire (and for my location in the lake). A speech will be given about the beginning of spring and the appreciation for everyone who participated. Then some more songs. During this time, people will break out the beer and adult beverages, stand back and watch the roar of the fire.

Locally and unofficially, we have a contest with the village across the lake from us as to which fire is largest. We always win (whether that’s true or not is subjective and I’m a little biased so just take my word for it ;-D).

Just a funny side note: the weeks that followed including today, snow has fallen. I made the unthoughtful mistake of planting some lettuce sprouts outside on a warm day and they were covered in 2 inches of snow a couple of days later. I’m hoping they weren’t killed as I check on them once a day and they still have some green in them. Hopefully they were able to root enough to have given them a chance. The weather is warming but you can’t count on the jet stream to be stationary long enough to be certain for warm weather.

In the first photo, my youngest and her friend are posing in front of the fire. The second photo is my oldest watching the fire.

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A visitor not often seen

Last year our region was stuck by wildfires. Many acres of forest burned and required a  lot of assistance from neighboring countries to help extinguish it.

This past winter, we saw an increase in Great Gray Owl sightings. I for one witnessed this during one of my aurora expeditions when a Great Gray Owl flew right in front of me. They are not uncommon around these parts, but there has been an increase in the numbers and I can only assume this is due to the fires we had last summer which destroyed a lot of the forests and burned the ground. This of course would mean that the main diet of forest mice and shrews were either killed or displaced due to lack of cover from the forest moss. Whatever the reason, it’s nice to see these majestic birds take residence near to us.

My friend called me up and asked if I wanted to go out and shoot some pictures of an owl that was nearby that he received eyewitness reports as to its location. Of course I was excited to get some photos and we set out in search for it.

We had driven to and past the location is was last seen but to our disappointment, it was gone. So on our way back he decided to take a detour onto a less used road but we didn’t find the bird. As we had given up and were about to turn back onto the main highway, I noticed a man standing in front of a tree holding up his telephone so I notified my friend and we drive to him. As we arrived, we noticed the owl was on a low branch on the tree so we got out of the car and approached it.

The owl didn’t seem to care we were there. He just rotated his head around like R2D2 looking and listening for signs of dinner. This was great because we were able to get pretty close to it and get some pretty nice pictures of it. Because the tree grew on an incline, I was able to get nearly eye level with the owl and and shot a picture or 50 directly at it. The photo of the closeup is one of these shots. In this particular photo, the owl is looking down at my friend which I thought was pretty cool and I imagined the owl swooping down and taking my friend’s hat and flying off. To my subtle disappointment, it never did it but it would have made for some great pictures as I’m sure my friend would have freaked out a bit.

These pictures can be viewed on their own and are archived in the “Nature” catalog.

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#laplandowl #GreatGreyOwl #GreatGrayOwl #StrixNebulosa #PhantomOfTheNorth #CinereousOwl #SpectralOwl #SpruceOwl #BeardedOwl #SootyOwl
LappOwl_reautography
#laplandowl #GreatGreyOwl #GreatGrayOwl #StrixNebulosa #PhantomOfTheNorth #CinereousOwl #SpectralOwl #SpruceOwl #BeardedOwl #SootyOwl
LappOwl_reautography2
#laplandowl #GreatGreyOwl #GreatGrayOwl #StrixNebulosa #PhantomOfTheNorth #CinereousOwl #SpectralOwl #SpruceOwl #BeardedOwl #SootyOwl
LappOwl_reautography1
#laplandowl #GreatGreyOwl #GreatGrayOwl #StrixNebulosa #PhantomOfTheNorth #CinereousOwl #SpectralOwl #SpruceOwl #BeardedOwl #SootyOwl

March 28 Aurora

I had some time to finally write a blog post. I also found it timely since the aurora season is coming to a close as summer approaches and I could summarize the season.

I had been anticipating this night because the weather prognosis was good for clear skies, but I wasn’t going to get my hopes up too high. My daughter had a music recital for a play she participated in and I knew I might be coming home late and potentially miss a chance to shoot the aurora.

Earlier in the week, actually the week prior to, I had gotten my hopes up twice for a really good aurora. Not to poo-poo NASA and NOAA or the aurora app on my phone, but sometimes I have a greater sense of when we will get a decent geomagnetic storm. Earlier, NASA and NOAA had predicted we would receive a geomagnetic storm from two separate CME’s (Coronal Mass Ejections – sunspots where the magnetic polarity in the sunspot mixes to a point where it literally short circuits and causes huge electric explosions which eject plasma away from the sun.) Anyway, they had predicted that we were in the path. The first one I was skeptical about but they should know. The second one was on the sun’s western limb but again, NASA and NOAA suggested it was coming. Both times my aurora app was predicting a geomagnetic storm. I had greater hope for the second outburst but it appeared to be too far over on the western limb. Again, I don’t get a paycheck from these groups so what would I know? Apparently, I know or have a better intuition than they do sometimes. Yes, I’m still a little bitter about it but only because I notified everyone and their brother that the aurora was imminent. So people drove long distances and waited, and waited and nothing ever came. A few of them I was in contact with as I waited inside my nice, warm home looking at the solar wind and density to show a sign of the approaching CME. Well, I set my alarm every hour so I could check the meters and get some sleep during the night. 4am rolled around and I saw the day was approaching so I called it off and the rest of Sunday was spent in a daze from lack of deep sleep. It was then I saw on NASA’s SDO (Solar Dynamic Observatory satellite) that a coronal hole was center disk and approaching. I was hoping it wouldn’t close up when it approached earth trajectory.

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And here it is, a real chance of a date with the green lady facing us and completely open. The only thing to do was to check the weather prognosis which showed potential. As the week went on, the prognosis held but I would be incapacitated watching my daughter’s recital at the play. I figured I’d get a chance but with such a small opening on this coronal hole, I might miss the strongest part of the show. I spent the day watching the meters. I mostly rely on the solar wind and density, the magnetosphere meter, and the BZ which is pretty much the same as the magnetometer but I like the magnetometer better. The solar wind had been pretty flat all day but near the evening’s approach, the density began to rise. This is the first sign that something is coming, but not necessarily. It was when I saw the solar wind speed come in that I knew I’d get the show I was awaiting. Only this time, I learned my lesson to not notify anyone and embarrass myself with shame. In hindsight, I should have sent out the notifications anyway but I didn’t want to lose anymore friends since friends are difficult to come by these days.

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Solar wind speed meter on a 7 day record. I screenshot the peak of solar wind speed from the night but if you’ll notice, the density rose before the windspeed arrived. it quickly fell back down as the density cloud wasn’t very thick and everything behind the density bow-shock is just fast moving solar wind. A thicker cloud would have built much longer as the cloud is bigger and collides with our magnetosphere. 
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Here’s the magnetometer readings from that night. 
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This is the KP index as recorded by the Swedish Institute of Space Physics in Kiruna, Sweden. I use their meters because they are more precise than that of NOAA which I can only assume is a rough average. As you can see, SISP also has an average recording to the left but that misses the spikes of activity which is important to me to see what it was when I was out shooting. 

Returning from the recital, I looked out my window toward the north and sure enough, there she was. I pointed it out to my daughter and she said “Wow!” but that she was too tired to follow me down to the river to take pictures with me. That was a green light that I could go down there without obstruction when we arrived home. While home, I grabbed my gear and walked quickly down to the river bank. Of course, it’s frozen this time of year and that’s nice because the sky was so clear that the stars light lit up the snow and I could see very well.

I set up my camera and took a shot and sent it around to a couple of friends in order to give them some motivation to get outside but they were busy doing other things so I would enjoy this on my own. Here was a shot I took with my phone of my camera’s display after I took a picture of the aurora.

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The camera on my phone is jacked.. I don’t know whats wrong with it. I think it took some friendly fire from having been used in cold weather so the ficus doesn’t work very well. But this is more or less to prove that I don’t manipulate my pictures very much from the real thing. I usually just clean them up a little by removing overexposed portions or over saturated portions. The aurora varies depending on strength at the moment of shooting. Sometimes it can flare up and if you are set to a certain time exposure before the flare up and you take a picture and it flares up, the photo will be over saturated and look like junk, or less nice. So I will try to salvage it by pulling those things out of it. I prefer aurora photography that isn’t molested too far from how it really looks. I’ve seen a lot of WAY over exaggerated photos that are very popular but not my style. Each their own, but I try to keep it as real as it is. After I took about 15 pictures, I knew it wasn’t going to get any better so I packed my stuff and went back into the house.

I loaded my camera disk into my computer and this was the result from the shoot. This was the same photo I sent the display shot to my friends. Notice I pulled down the brightest to remove the overexposed portion of the aurora.

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This picture was shot using a 50mm lens. It’s a cheap lens that costs a lot of money but cheap in relation to lens prices. It’s a more realistic aspect to how you see it with the naked eye. The wide angle lens pushes everything far away to capture more of the sky but it also pushes away the aurora and makes it look smaller than how it’s actually seen.

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And out of all the photos from the night, this was my favorite. The wind was blowing pretty hard so the trees were moving and became blurred. I kind of like when they do that because it gives me the feeling that they are ghosts or spirits.

In this picture, I let the brightness ride but I pulled down the color saturation a little to clean it up. The bluish/dark purple glow above the aurora is really there. You will always see it if the solar wind is ionizes the uppermost gases above the ionosphere but there almost impossible to see with the naked eye. The camera sees it though.

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Overall I was pleased to finally get a shot of the aurora. I spent the whole winter unable to get many pictures both due to low solar activity or the clouds ruining my chances when we got something. On a good note, tomorrow night potentially has another chance for a night like this. I have sent out a few notifications but I added a disclaimer this time. ;-D