8/16 I Take Pictures To See


There is nothing ordinary about the predatory Robber fly (this one is in the genus Diogmites). But I did not realize they had such amazing feet – spiny with claws and fleshy pads called pusilli.

But of course, everyone takes pictures to see something. Kids, cars, dogs, houses, birds, landscapes, cats, babies, sunsets, ourselves – we are endlessly saturated with images of what we like (and what we don’t). Our first response to most anything is to point a phone at it, but could it be this habit is actually lessening our powers of observation?

When I got a better camera for nature photography, my behavior changed. Rather than taking the time to study what interested me, my goal was now to get a high quality image. When that was accomplished the camera went back in the bag. But one day a chance conversation with a fellow birder set me on a new path. “I don’t use binoculars anymore” he said, “just a camera. I take my picture first, then I enjoy watching the bird, and if it doesn’t fly off maybe get a better picture.”

No big discovery here, this image simply captures spring. For a couple of weeks in May, Acadian flycatchers seemed to be on every low limb. This one is perched on a Black walnut limb with dangling male catkins.

Using a camera simply to study the natural world? For my increasingly hazy eyesight this was a revelation. Taking time to just view life through the lens has increased the odds of serendipity, thereby leading to more interesting pictures.

Many of the images in this post were chosen for the unexpected gift of discovery they afforded. Others I look at with affection, again and again, to enjoy something as simple as the way feathers lay across a bird’s back.

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I never knew a wild turkey’s back was so beautiful. The smooth metallic sheen reminds me of reptile scales – a reminder of bird’s dinosaurian origins.


Female Emerald jewelwing damselflies are less colorful than males and have a white spot on top of their wings. Studying this image closely, I noticed fine hairs all along its legs. Looking for a reason, I learned that females descend into the water to lay eggs on dead wood and reeds, breathing via a protective coating of air that gets trapped in the fine hairs on their bodies.

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Eastern red bats often roost low in dense vegetation. This little bat was in a thicket of dense Bush honeysuckle when we went in to cut it down (we left the patch alone). I was fascinated by the claws on the end of its “thumb” bones, for clinging onto limbs and climbing up tree bark.


Not only are these caterpillars spiny, they have spines on their spines. It took a long time to ID this species, which was very abundant in June on some tall native sunflowers at the edge of the Louisville Nature Center parking lot. I finally settled on Painted lady as the species, and the plant these caterpillars were feeding on was the deciding factor. The Painted lady has a broad range of host plants including composites (and all of the other look-alike larvae have very specific host plants, and do not feed on sunflowers).


The Great crested flycatcher is one of those common but very secretive birds, heard way more often than seen. One of the largest and most colorful of eastern flycatchers, its loud “weeep” call rings out from the treetops in spring. Last week I was lucky enough to spend ten minutes observing this juvenile preening itself on a low branch.


I go back to this image often, ever amazed at the way this Black rat snake has wrapped itself around a low branch with such calm equilibrium. Though it looks quite knotted up, if the snake needs to make a quick exit it can slither out with great speed.


The clouds of Pearl crescent butterflies nectaring on Mountain mint were the original subject of this image. But as I watched a more unexpected pollinator showed up, the lovely blue and black Thread-waisted wasp. While nectaring, the females are watching for insects to capture, paralyze, carry to their nest and lay an egg on.




It was a very hot afternoon, and I suspected this Northern flicker’s open beak was helping it cool off. Looking it up, I learned about “gular fluttering”. When at risk of overheating, many species of birds will open their beaks and “flutter” their neck muscles, thereby promoting heat loss (think of it as the avian version of panting).

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Another springtime pic, this migrating Gray catbird was briefly perched out in the open – an almost unheard of behavior for a catbird! The gentle morning light showed off the beautiful smooth blue-gray of its feathers; I had not realized till then how attractive these thicket-skulking mimic thrushes really are.





















18 thoughts on “8/16 I Take Pictures To See

  1. shoreacres

    I may express it a little differently than you have here, but we’re in full accord about the benefits of using a real camera, and taking some time, to see the world around us.

    From my first days with my camera, I’ve thought of it more as a tool of exploration than anything else. Of course I enjoy creating pleasing images, but I take the most pleasure from learning about whatever I’ve caught in my lens. Sometimes, I haven’t a clue what I’ve seen, and it takes time to reach an identification. But in the process I learn, and then I get to experience the further pleasure of passing on what I’ve learned.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. tonytomeo

    You put some serous time into capturing these. As much as I dislike modern technology, I to appreciate how it is so much easier to take many pictures and select the best from a batch. It was not like that when we needed to use film and get it developed. It was expensive too. I am not good with photography, so this modern simplicity helps. Some believe that it compromises the art of photography.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oneforestfragment

      I also was into photography back when the # of pictures on a roll of film was an important consideration! Now I delete most of my images because there are so many. What is most enjoyable, is using the camera’s zoom lens to study birds, like having binoculars that take pictures. This only became possible because my new camera can pinpoint focus on small things some distance away, like up in a tree.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. tanjabrittonwriter

    Thank you for sharing your amazing images. It’s so rewarding to get ever-increasing insights into the little or large wonders that surround us, and photography can definitely enhance that process. I also think it’s a wonderful way to relive some very happy moments. Seeing those pictures again later, my brain seems to release the same feel-good hormones that flooded me during the moment of capture.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jim Sky

    Those are great pictures, telephoto and macro. I really enjoy hearing about your camera experience (and seeing the results). This is something new for me as of this year, though I did experience B&W photography and developing your pictures early on. I am struggling. Missing many shots because I don’t know what I am doing or cannot focus properly. But, looking through the digital camera with it’s ability to zoom-in is like having a new way of seeing. I haven’t been using my binoculars very much lately.

    I don’t know where else to ask this semi-off topic question. But is there any interest in starting a iNaturalist project documenting with photographs the plants and animals of the little LNC forest? I joined iNaturalist last year and have found it to be a good way to learn about local plants and animals. It also can be a place to work with others who have a common interest in a taxon or regional biota. Joining a project just means you will see the observations of others and they will see yours. It provides a common repository for information about the place. It is free. Should I start the project and see if anyone is interested? Is this something that LNC staff should discuss?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oneforestfragment

      I love your idea Jim, and yes you should start the project. I will definitely be a regular contributor. It is actually Beargrass Creek State Nature Preserve, but let the LNC know about it, they could help put out the word. If you want to provide your contact info to LNC, I’d be happy to talk photography.


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