Category Archives: Biology

Two Stories: Extirpation vs. Restoration

 

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Fossil fish, possibly of the extinct genus Knightia, which is only about seven inches long. This is typical of the fossil fish that are found in shale and limestone strata. Complete fish tend to be rare, and it is far more common to find just parts of fish, like the backbone with ribs and spines attached shown above, which came from sedimentary layers of the Eocene period about 55 million years ago.

 

The National Geographic Channel is currently airing a television series called One Strange Rock. The program talks about the history of life on earth and five mass extinctions on the planet [Earth]. In the series, host Will Smith narrated, “Ninety-nine-point nine percent of all species that ever lived are gone.”

That statement refers to all the dinosaurs and all the animals and plants of the fossil record. That’s in the past, for sure. But you must be certain, this process of loss continues even today. Let’s look:

Extirpation:
Sandbur prickly pear cactus, Opuntia Pusilla

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Long, prostrate chains of elongated pads are typical of Opuntia pusilla. These pads are easily detached, making the plant typically quite short.

 

During the field work and production of our 2009 book, Texas Cacti, I was elated to be able to find a little-known cactus, Sandbur prickly pear. This species is recorded to be found only in a small area on sand dunes and rocky outcrops, behind the beaches along the Gulf Coast only on Bolivar Peninsula in Galveston County, Texas.

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Detail of Opuntia pusilla pads, or stems. These stems are usually low and are seldom more than 4 in.  (10 cm.) tall.

 

Making landfall over Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas at 2:10 a.m. on September 13, 2008, a category 2 hurricane named Ike caused extensive damage, with sustained winds of 110 mph, a 22 ft storm surge, and widespread coastal flooding.

The effects of Hurricane Ike in Texas were crippling and long-lasting. Ike’s effects included deaths, widespread damage, smashing and flooding an estimated 100,000 homes. Galveston was declared uninhabitable, and the Bolivar Peninsula wiped clean of boats, buildings and most vegetation.

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Aerial photograph of the Bolivar Peninsula at Galveston Texas the day after Ike. The 2008 hurricane Ike wiped most all vegetation and structures from this area.

 

After several visits to the Bolivar Peninsula after Ike, we are very disappointed to to be unable to find any remaining indications of this little plant of the species.

Restoration:
Tobusch Fishhook Cactus; Sclerocactus brevihamatus var. tobuschii

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Endangered Sclerocactus brevihamatus var. tobuschii is quite cryptic in its growth among the grasses of its habitat. Often pollinating bees may lead us to the flowers in season.

 

The endangered Tobusch fishhook cactus, named for its unique hooked central spines, is found in only eight counties on the Edwards Plateau in central Texas. This uncommon cactus spends the first five years of its life smaller than the size of a quarter before even producing its first flowers. This cactus is a low, deep-seated and very inconspicuous plant because of its diminutive size, and the fact it is camouflaged within the grass and limestone of its habitat. Therefore, it very difficult to find.

During the production of our same publication, I was thrilled to be shown a small population in Kerr County, Texas by Jackie Pool, a biologist from Texas Parks and Wildlife who monitors this critically endangered species.

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Inconspicuous funnel-form, greenish flowers are about one half of an inch in size and bloom in February and March. The hooked central spines give rise to this plants common name.

 

 

Tobusch fishhook cactus was classified as an endangered species in 1979, when scientists knew of less than 200 plants in the wild. At the time of my photos there were just over 2,000 plants identified. Today, numbers have since improved through the discovery of additional populations, research on threats, conservation efforts at documented sites, and teamwork between a host of partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, private landowners and many more.

Now, approximately 4,500 cacti are known to exist across the species’ range. In big news for a little plant, the Tobusch fishhook cactus’ federal conservation status was this week reclassified from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act as of June 14, 2018.

I have been honored to get to know this little cactus in the wild, to photograph the little plants, and to watch its recovery.

Change continues. Today there are reported to be over 1.7 million species of plants and animals described by science. And new ones are discovered every day. And, of course, we know nothing of the species yet to be discovered. Only time will tell.

Copyright © Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

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Close up lens selection for larger insects

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Roseate Skimmer Dragonfly, Orthemis ferruginea (m)-
Nikkor AF 200 mm F 4.0 Micro Nikkor lens. Fill flash.

 

Last week I was preparing to visit one of my favorite hunting grounds for insects and other critters. The nearby Hill Country Water Gardens is an amazing emporium catering to those who build and maintain ponds. Additionally, they are a very complete nursery with a wide variety of plants. The best thing for me is that they have many tanks and ponds with live water lilies and lotuses. These water features attract many varieties of aquatic insects, including dragonflies and damselflies.

As I was gathering equipment I was selecting the optics appropriate for the day. I knew that I needed more reach than standard macro lenses like my Nikon AF 60mm F 2.8 Macro Nikkor or my Nikon AF 105 mm F2.8 Macro Nikkor. These two lenses are great, but the magnification just is not enough. My longer, Nikon AF 200mm F 4.0 has more reach, but as a fixed lens, there is no angle of view versatility and it will not accept a teleconverter.

So, the tried-and-true solution is a mid-range telephoto lens, with the addition of a teleconverter and for close-focusing ability the addition of a short extension tube. Frequently, a prime lens like a 300 mm lens with a 1.4x or 1.5x teleconverter and a 10 to 25 mm extension tube works well. The arrangement allows a full frame sensor to produce a field of view of about 4 inches and will focus to about 2 feet. That’s perfect, but that arrangement still has no angle of view flexibility.

The answer lies with a zoom telephoto lens, a teleconverter, and if required, an extension tube. With a teleconverter and extension tube robbing the optics of light, a fast lens is most desirable. The solution is a Nikon AF 70-200 mm F 2.8 VR Nikkor lens. To it we add a TC-17EII AF-S teleconverter. This produces a focal length range from 119 to 340 mm and at 200 mm, a field of view of 3.5 inches wide on a full frame sensor. The good thing about this arrangement is that it will focus down to 3.6 feet (measured from the sensor- about 2.5 feet from the front of the lens), plenty close for dragonflies and similar insects.

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Four-spotted Pennant Dragonfly Brachymesia gravida (m)
Nikon AF 200mm F2.8 Nikkor lens with TC- 17 EII 1.7x teleconverter. Fill flash.

 

Canon makes the same arrangement with a 1.4x and a 1.5x teleconverter as well as a 2.0x. Their 70-200 F 2.8 lens will focus to 3.94 feet with a similar set up.

Both Nikon and Canon produce F4.0 versions of these two great lenses at a considerable difference in price.

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Robber Fly, Efferia albibarbis (m)
Nikon AF 200mm F2.8 Nikkor lens with TC- 17 EII 1.7x teleconverter. Fill flash.

 

As these minimum focusing distances are perfectly ideal for butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, and other insects and creatures, there is no need for an extension tube. A 12 mm extension tube will produce a 3.0-inch field of view but will further reduce the effective aperture by an additional stop. In some cases, you need all the light you can get for best auto-focusing and low light situations.

Another benefit of not using the extension tube is the lens combination can focus to infinity. This is a great benefit for that surprise bird or other subject at greater distances.

As in all outdoor photography, a flash used as a fill flash about 1.0 EV below the ambient exposure helps produce images with lower contrast, higher dynamic range and with more motion stopping capability. All the images in this article, except the lilies,  were produced with a Nikon SB-910 Speedlight at minus 1.0 EV.

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White water lilies in water garden-
Nikon AF 200mm F2.8 Nikkor lens with TC- 17 EII 1.7x teleconverter.

Copyright © 2018 Brian Loflin All rights reserved.

New Workshops for 2018

The Favorite DigiNite:
Starry Night Sky Workshop-
September 7-8, 2018
$195.00

The night skies are bigger in Texas! Join us during the dark of the moon for an afternoon and overnight photography experience that will be unforgettable. The workshop will be held at Mason Mountain in a very remote Texas location without light pollution to take advantage of the best night skies. The workshop begins at 1:00 PM the first day and ends after breakfast the second. Emphasis will be placed upon planning, locating dark sky destinations, and how to prepare for a night sky photography shoot. Photography techniques to be demonstrated include selection and use of the appropriate equipment, photographic stills of the stars and the Milky Way, star trails, time lapse star motion techniques and light painting with all the above.
Outdoor hands-on photography will include location set-up and star photos of the Milky Way, star trails and landscape features. Transportation, meals and lodging not included.

Only time scheduled in 2018.

Milky Way, Inks Lake, TX

Back by Popular Demand!
Macro & Close-up Photography Intensive in the
Texas Hill Country-
October 12-14, 2018

$695.00

Learn to photograph our small world around us in the heart of the magical Texas Hill Country for a three-day photography workshop geared to shooting close focusing images. This highly-praised workshop will be packed with hands-on instruction to help you grow your close-up photographic abilities with newfound skills, tools, techniques and proficiency. The workshop will feature one-on-one instruction and demonstrations with abundant native Texas flora and fauna. Techniques will feature creating the perfect exposure, use of flash and lighting modifiers, one-to-one life size magnification, focus stacking, macro panoramas, and also include collecting, management, and photography of small animals.  Photography will be in the field and lab setting. This workshop is held at Mo Ranch, a 500 acre facility located on the North Fork of the Guadalupe River with aquatic, woodlands, and limestone hill habitats. Meals and lodging included.

Few seats now available!

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Most Popular:
Bird Photography in the Texas Rio Grande Valley-

October 25-28, 2018
$1,495.00

Come to the avian rich Rio Grande Valley for a hands-on bird photography workshop in the heart of South Texas. The workshop features hands-on instruction and intensive shooting in some of the best birding habitat available and specifically timed for the best South Texas specialty birds and migrants. The workshop will be held at the 700-acre Laguna Seca Ranch north of Edinburg, Texas, a purpose-designed ranch for bird photography.The ranch is preserved with all-native plants and animals and features constant-level ponds, and permanent photography blinds oriented for the best use of light. Each blind provides outstanding photographic opportunities. A highlight of the workshop is the favorite raptor shoot, featuring Crested Caracara, Harris’ Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, Black Vultures and more! At our workshop we bring the birds to you creating an outstanding South Texas birding and photography adventure! Meals and lodging included.

This one sells out fast! Only five spots remain.

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For more information see our web site HERE.

Copyright © Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

NEW- Photography Workshops for 2018

2018 Workshop Promo

Copyright © 2018 Brian Loflin
All rights reserved

2018 Wildlife Photography Exhibition at Texas A&M University – Kingsville

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Winners in the First Annual Wildlife Photography Exhibition at Texas A&M University- Kingsville include, left to right:  David Campbell, Best Habitat; Kelley Wood, Best in Show; and Alex Meza, Best Wildlife. The Best in Show was awarded a sizeable cash award. The Best Wildlife and Best Habitat winners both received a Rotational 180 Backpack from Mind Shift Gear.

 

The first Wildlife Photography Exhibition represents the finest of the images produced and selected by students of the new Wildlife Photography Program at Texas A&M University- Kingsville. Students created images to best depict Texas wildlife and its habitat. The class members produced these images during the Spring 2018 semester and printed and prepared the mounted images for the May exhibit at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Center in Kingsville, Texas.

AWARDS

Exhibit-ladybird beetle - exhibit

BEST IN SHOW- “It’s a Small World”- Kelley Wood

“This ladybird beetle was on a Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) inflorescence. I was looking at the plant because there were multiple butterflies and other insects that I wanted to take pictures of. It was in the shade, so the lighting was not as harsh.”

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BEST HABITAT- “Bobcat”- David Campbell

“I was on the ranch I work on near Cotulla, TX heading to one of our ponds with a fishing pole and cold beer in hand. As I got near the water I noticed this bobcat sitting on the edge of the brush and realized I didn’t have my camera. I watched him for a second and decided to go back to the truck (a couple hundred yards away) to get my camera. To my surprise he had not moved an inch which allowed me to take this and several other great photos.”

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BEST WILDLIFE- “Burrowing Owl”- Alex Meza

“Photographed in Granjeno, Texas, a small town literally at the edge of the Rio Grande River. This owl nests in crevices created by big boulders that are placed next to the levee to protect citizens from the Rio Grande River flash floods. The Burrowing owl was out in the sunset after a hot day in South Texas.”

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Exhibit juror, Shirley Loflin, critiques an image by student Kelley Wood. Shirley is a published photographer, author and naturalist and is a long time exhibition juror. She resides in Austin.

 

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Student Alex Meza describes cropping suggestions of one of his entries made by the juror to his wife Neyda Gonzales.

 

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY PROGRAM

The new Wildlife Photography program is an unique-in-the-nation curriculum providing classes to biology majors within the Range and Wildlife Sciences department at the university. The program was started through a generous donation by the Frederick J. Bremner Trust. Dr. Bremner was a former faculty member at Trinity University in San Antonio.

The program began this Spring 2018 semester with the first in a series of classes entitled Introduction to Digital Wildlife Photography. Additional classes include: Advanced Digital Wildlife Photography, Wildlife Macro Photography, Wildlife Photographic Technology, and Digital Post Production in Wildlife Photography.

The program was developed by Brian Loflin, a Austin biological photographer, author and educator who has taught similar classes at UT Austin Continuing Education and Informal Classes for the past eleven years and in seminars and workshops throughout the country. Loflin is a adjunct faculty member at Texas A&M University- Kingsville.

ADDITIONAL EXHIBIT ENTRIES:

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“Looking Up”- Kelley Wood

 

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“Rattlesnake”- David Campbell

 

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“Altamira Oriole”- Alex Meza

 

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“Colorful Flower”- Robert Dwyer

 

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“Greater Roadrunner”- Robert Dwyer

 

Exhibit-pedro (2 of 2)

“Sandpiper on Jetties”- Pedro Cesares

 

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“Ocean Current”- Pedro Cesares

 

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“Swallowtail collecting Nectar”- Jeanette Casanova

 

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“Mockingbird Chilling”- Jeanette Casanova

 

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“White-tail”- Crisantos Cesares

 

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“Gulf-Fritillary on Thistle”- Christos Cesares

 

All material Copyright © 2018 by Brian Loflin. Images copyright by their makers. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frederick J. Bremner Charitable Trust paves the path to Professional Wildlife Photography at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

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Principals attending the launch meeting of the CKWRI Wildlife Photography Program include, (from left) Brian Loflin, CKWRI Wildlife Photography Program Founder and Instructor; Sandy Hurwitz, Bremner Trustee; Janell and Tio Kleburg, CKWRI Advisory Board members; Leslee Hurwitz and McKayla Donovan, Del Rio Veterinary Services; April Conkey, Assistant Professor, Department of Animal, Rangeland, and Wildlife Sciences; Clay Hilton, CKWRI Director of Veterinary Technology; David Hewitt, and Executive Director of Caesar Kleburg Wildlife Research Institute. Also attending the meeting were Scott Henke, Chair, Department of Animal, Rangeland, and Wildlife Sciences, and Shad Nelson – Dean, Dick and Mary Lewis Kleberg College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences.

Brackettville, Tex.- October 2, 2017

A new program for Wildlife/Biology majors at Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK) has been implemented by a generous donation from the Frederick J. Bremner Charitable Trust. The program includes a thirty-hour course of study in biological and wildlife photography, classroom and laboratory equipment and professional digital cameras and accessories for student use when enrolled. When fully established, this academic program will be the only one of its kind within a university setting in the United States.

Bremner Trustee Sandy Hurwitz said, “The trust was charged in finding a home for this donation in the center of a robust educational environment that can make a difference in habitat understanding and outdoor utilization. We believe that TAMUK is the perfect home for this program and we want to make TAMUK the unquestioned world leader in Wildlife Photography and Eco Tourism. As an educator, mentor and outdoorsman, Fred Bremner would be exceptionally thrilled with this new program.”

Dr. Fred Bremner, professor emeritus of psychology at San Antonio’s Trinity University, died June 30, 2016 at 80 years of age. A specialist in the relationship between the brain and behavior, Bremner joined the Trinity faculty in 1965 as an associate professor. Promoted to full professor in 1974, he served twice as chair of the Department of Psychology before retiring in 1999.

Dr. Bremner had a great love for horses and the outdoors and enjoyed teaching his students to ride, hunt, train bird dogs, and fish. He established the Frederick J Bremner Charitable Trust to continue his life’s work in promoting these passions.

Housed within the Caesar Kleburg Wildlife Research Institute at TAMUK, the new Wildlife Photography Program will provide students in the Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate programs an additional avenue to enhance their professional career through biological and wildlife photography. The purpose of the grant is to address the need to educate current and future students at the university level to serve the fast-growing needs of the millions of people in Texas and globally who are traveling to enjoy and photograph wildlife and nature.

The students will learn to make our public parks, private ranches, urban greenbelts, wildlife preserves and other wild places accessible and productive for wildlife photographers while preserving and enhancing the environment of the open spaces that the increasing number of ecotourists and photographers are utilizing. Every one of us that goes out into the field to photograph birds and wildlife clearly understands the need for more and better venues to enjoy our passion. The ultimate goal is to promote the Conservation and enjoyment of our Natural Environment through photography and ecotourism.

TAMUK is one of the most active and respected research universities in the world in the discipline of Wildlife Science. As a tool for research in the natural sciences, Digital photography is a tool on the cutting edge in providing new methods and practices in measurement, analysis and integrity in publication. As a tool in ecology and the environment, digital photography is very effective in attracting more people to the outdoors to better understand and appreciate our wild places. Wildlife photography also stimulates eco-business and nature tourism on a large scale beyond the scope of biological science.

These programs in wildlife photography and ecotourism will produce TAMUK graduates that will fill thousands of entirely new, well-compensated, high-quality professional jobs in rural Texas, and rural America that are not exportable to China, India or downtown Dallas.

 

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Sandy Hurwitz, Trustee, or                      Brian K. Loflin,

Phone: 512-751-8128                                     512-743-7009

Email: ausvetdiag@aol.com                          bkloflin@austin.rr.com

 

Multiple Flash Hummingbird Photography

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Capturing the inflight antics of hummingbirds, like this Black-chinned female,  poses a number of challenges. We have to think about getting them where we want them to be, to be in focus, to have a good exposure, and to be sharp with wing feathers rendered in fine detail.

With today’s digital cameras, automatic technology makes some of this possible. But to get truly refined in-flight images of these little jewels, requires a bit more than camera and high shutter speeds alone. So multiple off-camera, electronic flashes is the only way to go.

To get the flying hummer where we want it, requires placing a feeder with one feeding port in the shade. Shade is important because we need the high speed capability of the off-camera flashes to work for us to stop the motion and wing beat of the hummers. If the set is placed in the sun, most flashes don’t have the power at high speed to compete with the sun for proper exposure.

A diagram of my most frequent set-up is below:

Hummingbird Photo Set-up

Specifications include: 

CAMERA:

    Medium Telephoto Lens 70-200 mm

    Manual Shooting Mode

    Manual Focus – Focus on feeder tube-

    ISO 800–    (Adjust to achieve good shade exposure)

    Shutter speed 1/250 sec   (Or maximum flash sync speed for your camera)

    Aperture F11-   (Depending on adequate exposure in the shade)

FLASHES:

    Three:    2 on Bird –about 2 feet in front of bird

                    1 on Background (Optional) — about 3 feet from background

    Set at 45 degrees to bird

    Zoom at 35mm

    Flash Power- Manual 1/64 (Flash duration: 1/35,000 sec)

    Trigger: Wired, Radio or Ettl / iTTl

BACKGROUND:

    Out-of-focus photo of vegetation printed on matte paper about 30×40 inches

    Mounted print on foam core board

    Positioned on easel or stand about 3 feet behind bird (must remain in the shade)

ADJUST EXPOSURE:

    Tweak flash-to-subject distance (preferred) or

    Flash power in Manual Mode. (This changes flash duration)

Here is a photo of the actual set-up:

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The real key to this method is to let the electronic flash do the work for you. They are designed to produce crisp, daylight-white light, and at a very fast flash duration. Today’s Speedlights can produce a flash duration as short as 1/40,000 second.

But that speed is not to be achieved at full power. That full-power flash duration may be as long as 1/900 second, much longer. The short flash duration therefore, comes at a trade-off of output light intensity (or exposure, if you wish). Therefore we must be in the shade to overpower the sun. Two flashes on the bird provides additional exposure for increased apertures and better Depth of Field. Place the flashes on stands and synchronize them with the camera using cables, radios or IR triggers or the flash eTTL / iTTl technology. The flash sync does not need to be TTL as everything is in manual mode. The light intensity at the bird may be controlled by simply changing the flash-to-subject distance.

Once the feeder is set up and hummingbirds are using it frequently, it’s time to bring in the other equipment, including camera, flashes on their stands, and the background. It may take a few minutes for the birds to become settled down with all this around, but my experience has showed it is not very long.

When feeder, camera and background are in place, the camera needs to be focused on the feeder port in manual focus mode. The aperture will provide sufficient Depth of Field to assure the bird is sharply focused. As things are moving around, especially in a breeze, auto-focus tends to continuously hunt for a target. The picture you are trying to achieve, depending on lens focal length is like the one below. As the hummer sips, it will back away and then return to the feeder. When it backs away is the opportune moment to shoot.

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Finally, the last thing to do is process the image. I shoot in RAW, so I can achieve excellent white balance and tone values in blacks, whites, shadows, highlights and mid-tones. Adobe Camera Raw is the perfect solution for the processing. Other software packages are available including, Lightroom, and On1. After processing, a final crop will yield excellent compositions.

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Later, as your success rate increases, the set may be fine-tuned by the addition of a couple of strategically-placed flowers and greenery to hide the feeder and to provide a framing device for the composition. In addition, the hummers may enjoy actually feeding from several species of tubular flowers with a bit of sugar-water mix in the flower throats. Watch the vegetation the hummers actually use and select some blossoms and greenery for a natural set-up. Then get your finger on the trigger and enjoy!

Copyright © 2017 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.