Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Totally Turtles 1

This time of year at the museum, all of us start to get pretty excited about one of our most popular annual events:  "Reptiles Bizarre & Beautiful" runs this February 15-17, 2014.  So, I thought I'd focus on some of my favorite reptiles....turtles!  Turtles have been around for over 200 million years, and one of the features that have enabled turtles to be such good survivors is its hard shell--which is actually made up of fused rib bones.  When faced with danger from predators, most turtles can tuck the vulnerable parts of its body--head, feet, and tail--into it's shell.  Guests routinely see a variety of wild pond turtles in and around the pond behind the museum:
Often you can see them sunning themselves as they hang out on a log.  They do this to get warm, but also to expose their skin to the sun's ultraviolet light which helps get rid of skin parasites:
Did you notice the long claws of this turtle?  That's one way I can tell he's a boy.  Male pond turtles use their long "fingernails" to attract a female--they wiggle their long claws in front of a female's face as they swim around.
Did you know that turtles do not have any teeth?  They may be toothless, but don't let that fool you!  They have a beak that can deliver a powerful bite to catch their prey.  Take a look at our loggerhead sea turtle (in the wild they might eat shellfish, shrimp, squid, even jellyfish):
 ....and one of our snapping turtles (in the wild they mostly eat small fish, frogs, crayfish, even small mammals and birds):
...and a slider (a type of pond turtle--they might eat plant material but also small fish, insects, even tadpoles):
For aquatic turtles that do a lot of swimming, it's helpful to have built-in flippers like the loggerhead:
...or webbed feet, like the diamond-backed terrapin:
I hope you enjoyed learning more about turtles--I'll feature them again in the future.  More "off the beaten path" in two weeks....

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Waterfall 1

One of our most popular outdoor features is our waterfall located between the main building and our education center.  It's entirely man-made, based on the actual geology and rock formations found in the Blue Ridge mountains.  The waterfall looks great during all the spring and summer: the autumn:
....and on rare occasions it might get cold enough to freeze during the winter.  I took the next three photos on January 7, 2014.  (It was about 15 degrees--unusually cold for around here!)  Notice that parts of the waterfall are frozen, but water is still circulating and flowing because of the pump system:
This morning, I went back out into the cold (about 19 degrees....brrr!) and took a few more pictures--it was a bit more frozen, but with water still flowing in some places. 
By early afternoon with the temperature rising, the ice started to melt:
I took advantage of the bright day to try out my new neutral density filter (ND 0.6) to get a "smoothed out" look to the flowing water.  The filter allowed me to use a slower shutter speed (1/5th of a second) and a smaller aperture (f 22).  I used ISO 100:
I like to photograph the waterfall not only from the front, but also from behind the waterfall--there's a tunnel behind it.  Here's what it looks like partially frozen:
When the waterfall freezes, I like to look for interesting shapes of ice:
Most of the time, I have to settle for freezing the water by changing my camera settings (I shoot manually most of the time.)  Many thanks to Don Redmond, my photography mentor, for showing me the joys of high-speed photography!
On a bright sunny day looking from behind the waterfall, the water looks especially nice when framed against a blue sky:
Don also taught me how to use very slow shutter speeds for a more flowing, wispy look to the water.  Compare this photo shot at a faster shutter speed and larger aperture:
...with a slower shutter speed and smaller aperture:
Our waterfall provides an ever-changing photographic canvas.  I'll try to share more waterfall pictures in the future.  More off the beaten path in two weeks!