iPhone’s new Portrait Mode…

The iPhone has introduced a fun new setting for photos called Portrait that gives the photo background a blur. It’s not the first phone to add depth of field but for iPhone owners, it’s a brand new feature that can be lots of fun. I have not experimented with humans yet but judging from these quick shots around the house, it is effective.

It uses two cameras on the back of iPhone 7 Plus to give a similar effect delivered by your DSLR camera. The phone snaps two photos: one regular photo in focus and one digitally blurred for the background and it does a pretty darn good job. Behind the spotted laurel (Aucuba japonica) in the blue container sits a yellow 15 lb. bag of birdseed that’s unrecognizable in the photo. In a regular photo, I could read the printing on the bag.

Not too grand when you enlarge these, but it works fine. I can see blurred branches on the crabapple tree that should not be, and the edges of the main subject in photos isn’t always sharp. But it’s just fine for my needs.

I found by experimentation that the camera needs lots of light to take an effective photo and the blur is more dramatic the farther the subject is from the background. Once you are at the correct distance from the subject, a yellow ‘depth effect’ memo pops up and you’re ready to go.

This neat new setting makes it less likely I’d have to pack an additional camera when traveling!

My Ten Favorite Photos of 2014

Les over at A Tidewater Gardener annually posts his ten favorite photos from the year and he challenges readers to do the same. Since we have downsized and no longer maintain our acres of gardens, I’m not as serious about garden photography and rarely carry my heavy 35mm camera around my neck. But I do carry the world’s most popular camera in my pocket at all times. My iPhone! Not sure about these being my favorite photos but they jumped out at me while scrolling through hundreds!

Since we spent most of the winter under a blanket of snow, I thought I should add at least one photo of the beauty it can bring. Taken on February 8, prints in the snow show where animals come to the stream banks.

Click on photos to enlarge.

IMG_8150I love photos that tell a story and there’s one here. Peaceful demonstrators in Keene NH braved the elements for several hours for a cause on February 7. I can almost hear them talking amongst themselves…. maybe seeing whose turn it is to get some coffee.. among other more important things.

Make Love, Not War!Keene NH also provided another photo that I like. A rainy, gray day was brightened only by taillights at a stoplight on April 15. With family in Keene, we visit this area on a regular basis.

IMG_9886We ventured out of the Granite State for this photo. Two lovely ladies in straw hats were admiring a seaside garden on the rocky shores of the Atlantic. We toured several Cape Neddick Maine gardens on this day during Garden Conservancy Days, June 22.IMG_1338Anyone who knows me knows I am interested in insects and have hundreds of photos and IDs The plump fellow below, the jumping spider, claimed the watering hose as his own at Rolling Green Nursery this summer. These are brave and scary looking spiders, but, oh so harmless. Whenever I moved in, he moved closer. They stalk prey and can pounce a few inches but I just give them a puff of air and they fall to the ground and scamper away. I really like these spiders because they have personality plus. July 12.

The second photo below was a two-for-one. I was photographing the tachinid fly and didn’t see the second insect until I downloaded the photograph. The tachinid is a nectar eating fly as an adult, but one that lays eggs in insect hosts. This time the lowly hover fly is the victim seen just below her body. I don’t like these flies very much as butterfly caterpillars are often victims. July 16.

IMG_1635 IMG_0712Rain drops on vegetation after an all night soaker is always interesting to me. The new growth on this spirea is an especially nice color. May 19.

rain dropsThe sunflower below was a volunteer from our bird feeder. Several seeds that the birds overlooked germinated but only this one grew tall and straight and eventually fed the chickadees many ripe sunflower seeds. (Staring at the center long enough may hypnotize!)  August 26.

volunteer sunflowerFinally, the highlight of 2014 was a vacation with the youngins to Bethel, Maine. Below are two photos from that hiking, swimming, boating trip in August.

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Beating the Invasion

colorThere is something about the fall season that lifts my spirits. The air is clean under crisp blue skies and the vibrant foliage can take your breath. You just want to step outside and bask in the beauty of buttery yellows and blazing reds of the maples, elms, birches and the sumacs that front every wood line.

Fall colors are reaching their peak right now on the Kancamagus Highway, the National Scenic Byway from Lincoln to Conway NH, and I’m sure the hoards of leaf peepers have arrived. A year ago we ventured up during the peak of color and found the 35-mile road through the White Mountain National Forest bumper to bumper with cars, campers, and buses. We hardly found places to pull off and park for the perfect views. This year we thought, “Wouldn’t it be a neat idea to beat the leaf-peeper invasion?” Yes! So last weekend we jumped in the car for a pre-peeper drive on the Kancamagus Highway just to see what we could see.

We hoped to arrive just before peak color and see the emerging reds, oranges, and yellows mixed with the cool, green of conifers without the distracting flood of vehicles driving bumper to bumper along the way. The timing was perfect as we had the approaching highways almost to ourselves.

Click on photos to enlarge:

fall colors 2014 The colors were a little cooler in the distance but quite grand. It was a peaceful and enjoyable drive.

A special delight was visiting the same apple orchard farmer as last year whose truck was brimming with juicy just-picked apples and some fresh vegetables. This time we sampled and bought a bag of crisp Mcintosh.

Apples!And when we arrived home, I made this and invited the kids to come and enjoy! Life is good…

Apple Crumb Pie

Apple Crumb Pie

Autumn in New Hampshire

Orange pumpkins, colorful gourds, vibrant mums, and Indian corn at garden centers and roadside stands tell us that fall has officially arrived. Although today, September 23, marks the first day of fall, subtle signs have been all around us for weeks.

Click photos to enlarge.

Rolling Green Nurserygourds at Rolling Green Nursery The change of seasons seems to begin around the time of our Harvest Moon when days begin to shorten, nights become cooler, and frequent morning mists create crystal dew drops on spiderwebs and fading blooms in the garden.

Harvest MoonGrasses become the star of the late summer/fall garden. The inflorescences of various species of grasses, whether fuzzy or lacy, replace the fading flowers of summer.

grasses at Rolling Green NurseryFall seeds, such as this milkweed seedpod, ripen slowly. The milkweed pod opens late in the season and releases hundreds of seeds attached to fluffy white hairs that aid in dispersal by wind.

Milkweed Seed Pods at Rolling Green NurseryIn my garden, a volunteer sunflower from our bird feeder slowly changed from glorious to battered and faded, but it is busy producing small sunflower seeds.

The magical transformation of leaf color comes a bit later to the Seacoast of New Hampshire. But with the cooler nights, mild days, and intense blue skies, colors are beginning to be teased from the maples.

MapleThe biggest sign of fall so far, I spotted while working at Rolling Green Nursery. When is the last time you saw a handsome puppy fully outfitted in a lovely argyle  sweater (It’s a people sweater!) on a cool day? That’s the surest sign that Autumn has officially arrived.

JD in his argyle sweater at Rolling Green Nursery

Garden Drama

Of all places in the garden to attach a chrysalis, one of our black swallowtail caterpillars (Papilio polyxenes asterius) chose the smooth metal drainpipe along the side of the house.  How the caterpillar bridged the collar with an opening to an underground drain, I can’t guess. But here is where I found the emerging butterfly struggling to gain a foothold on the smooth surface… and failing. It was in big trouble and I could tell it had been here too long with wings partly out and beginning to plump.

cocoonI felt a little like a butterfly midwife as I assisted in the birth by offering a twig. It was readily accepted and it climbed aboard. I gently urged the butterfly onto a viburnum shrub and watched as she began to unfurl and pump up those gorgeous wings… that I believe identified her as female.

butterflyIt was exciting to be so close and be able to study the beautiful wings, her huge eyes, and watch her coil and uncoil her proboscis.  Click for closeup.

I left her on a trunk of the viburnum where she continued to dry and pump her wings. An hour later I checked and she had flown…. I hope straight to the summersweet for a nice first meal as a butterfly.

It made me smile to think she got her start in the parsley beds 5 feet away that I planted just for her and her siblings.

Eastern Black Swallowtail

Rhododendron Fireworks

It was 39° in the garden this morning and I could see my breath in the air as I walked around the yard. Yet, cold,wet spring or not, we are on the verge of a HOT explosion of color. Rhododendrons are finally ready to burst into spectacular blooms. We are eager for the pizzazz and punch of color that the rhody brings. It will be glorious!

Here is a timeline of the last 10 days of bloom development in our yard.

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Pause to Remember

Today Exeter paused to remember and honor those who lost their lives while serving in the United States Military in all wars. Hundreds lined the parade route and followed along for several wreath ceremonies.

Click photos to enlarge.

I love a rainy night…

6 a.m. Dear gentle, rejuvenating, cleansing overnight rain. You sure freshened things up and washed away a lot of yellow pollen. Many thanks….

Click to enlarge photos:

Summer Serenades

As we sat on the deck on warm evenings in late summer, we were serenaded loudly by a certain insect I could not quite identify. It was not the chirping field crickets so commonly heard in Virginia and it didn’t quite sound like the call of katydids.This buzzing insect song was loud and long. I searched in the direction of the call with a flashlight but it was well-camouflaged in dense foliage. It took me a few weeks to discover one of these well-hidden insects out in the open during the day.

I don’t think I’d ever seen this insect. It’s a tree cricket… the two-spotted tree cricket (Neoxabea bipunctata), one of many varieties of nocturnal tree crickets around the world. The first one I found, a female (below) with two identifying spots on her back, sat on a begonia leaf.

Two-Spotted Tree CricketThe male, the vocal cricket who serenaded us so sweetly, I only discovered recently. It is interesting how the tiny male can project such a loud song. He chews a hole in the underside of a leaf, raises his wings at a 90 degree angle over the hole, and chirps away. The hole and the wings amplify his song like a megaphone. How cool is that?

Here is a male that must have fallen from above with one of his wings askew. The circular spot between his wings is called the ‘honey spot.’ The female will dine on gland secretions during mating.

male Two-Spotted Tree CricketI believe these must be fairly common crickets around these parts. I do feel lucky to be a part of their habitat. To read more about these crickets and see how the male sings through a leaf, click HERE.

Drive-By Photography

For the last several days, fall colors at their peak have truly wowed us in Exeter. Whenever we are in the car, I grab my smartphone in an attempt to capture the brilliance of yellows and reds. I should just stop doing that because 90% of my photos are either a blur OR the sad trees have been directionally pruned around power lines by NHDOT.

This weekend, a quick errand to the P.O. gave me a view of the most stunning sugar maple I’ve seen thus far… growing in front of the old Congregational Church. We were creeping along with others pointing and gawking at the tree so I was fortunate not to end up with another iPhone photo smudge.

I was not alone in my drive-by photography. I saw two photographers with big cameras capturing images of the tree from the sidewalks. Maybe I’ll see those images later on a postcard or blog post.

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Thoughts on White Pines and other plants…

One of our lovely new neighbor dropped by just before Easter with welcome wishes and housewarming goodies. As we sat at the kitchen table with coffee, I was thrilled to discover she is an avid gardener. We chatted about our horticultural interests, hers leaning toward garden design.  After a while, she volunteered that there were two plants she could not tolerate. One is the common burning bush (Euonymus alata), an Asian immigrant that is now classified as invasive in the Eastern US. It is a dense shrub, loved by birds for winter shelter, that gives a spectacular color show for about two weeks every fall. Birds spread the seeds far and wide where the shrub out competes native plants in the wild. 

BURNING BUSHI concur with her about the invasiveness of the shrub, having removed a large one from our Virginia property.  She suggested we remove the sizable burning bush that grows near our entrance. She is right and we will.

The other plant she did not like is the pine tree. Gee….who knows why but I have a weakness for pine trees, I admitted…. especially these soft needled Eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) that are so prolific in New Hampshire. “But they are everywhere,” she said. “But..,” I added. “I’ve planted several through the years on the coast of Virginia and they did not take well to the heat.”  So, though I might change my mind some day, right now I do love seeing them everywhere here.

white pinesWhite pines surround us in this area. For me, the sound of the wind whispering through the soft pine branches is a soothing melody on a warm summer day.  I think of Thoreau’s writings where he often mentions the white pine trees and forests. “Yet I had the sun penetrating into the deep hollows through the aisles of the wood, and the silvery sheen of its reflection from masses of white pine needles.”

RhododendronThrough the kitchen window, against the backdrop of majestic tall white pines, my view of large rhododendron with swollen buds and tall lilacs (Syringa vulgaris), soon to be heavy with bloom, simply appeals to me. All is well in our new neck of the woods.

It’s Snow Wonder I like New Hampshire…

As long as I have a nice fire in the fireplace, a good book and a hot drink, I love a snowy day. I love it if I don’t have to clear the driveway, take the trash to the street through deep drifts, traipse out the mailbox, trudge out to get the morning newspaper, or drive on slippery streets. mister gardener did a lot of that today.

In an all-day-winter-storm like we had today, my favorite pastime is putting my feet up in front of a roaring fire, glancing up every now and then to check snow accumulation. However, lest I sound a bit too inert, I do journey outside for walks in the yard with the dog, refill the bird feeders, sweep the steps of snow or take a few photos of snow laden branches. And here are some photos of the fluffy stuff today. Click on them if you want to see the snow falling. It was an especially beautiful snowfall.

Snow on White PineSnow on roadSnow on Feedersnow clearingAs evening approached, our driveway was finally cleared as the storm began to wane. Perfect timing. Snug again by the fire, one final glance out the window at dusk gave me the last hazy view of the meadow and the house lights of our neighbors, just minutes before the curtain of darkness fell over the field.

I love a snowy day!

Snow on Meadow

Photos of 2012

Fellow blogger Les over at A Tidewater Gardener posted 10 of his favorite photos from the year to close out 2012. Les is a talented photographer/blogger who can capture the beauty of water and sunsets like no other. I decided to follow suit and throw some 2012 photos on this blog. They may not be my fav photos but my fav memories of the year.

A week spent photographing on Star Island, one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of NH gave me a unique opportunity to play with my camera from sunrise to sunset.

Star IslandStar IslandStar IslandStar IslandEveryone on the island gravitated to the West at sunset and we were usually richly rewarded.

gazebo on Star IslandThe seagulls of Star Island seemed to ham it up for anyone with a camera. They were always ready for an encore, too.

Star IslandYoung gull on Star IslandBack home in Durham, our neighborhood swan entertained us with his antics. He seemed to be aware of his good looks. Was he looking for food or checking out his reflection?

Swan-Mill Pond Rd.We just loved the hazy, lazy days of summer in New Hampshire. Grandchildren put away their tech toys and joined us for old fashioned entertainment and the joys of nature. No TV… it was water and hikes during the day and puzzles that kept their focus in the evenings.

MimiMister gardener and I discovered the benefits of walking again on the multitude of NH trails, something that he and our dog have continued to do throughout fall and winter, despite rain, snow, sleet. Not I. It’s cold outside!

mister gardner and MattieWe were regularly offered the loveliest of Nature’s gifts if we just took the time to look.

monarch butterfly

Fall in New HampshireWe’ve been renting in New Hampshire for one year, exploring, sampling, tasting, touching and photographing. We now know the state well and where we’d like to put down some new roots. More to come…..

Christmas 2012

I can say nothing that has not already been said about the tragedy in a quaint New England town last week. The event has impacted us all. It has changed us. Days that followed grew gray and cold in New Hampshire, matching the somberness in our souls.

fiveEventually, we knew that continuing with traditions of the season and tightening our family bonds would help sustain us.  Gathering together, conversation, music, color, seasonal evergreen decorations, and holiday baking have helped us manage our emotions and deal with the tragedy in our own way. There is a reason for the season and honoring that nourishes us all.

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Christmas Pomanders

caramels

Butter Caramels

Isles of Shoals

I spent the last 7 days on a rocky, wave-swept island 9 -10 miles off the coast of New Hampshire. Star Island was host to a photography course that I signed on to attend with a friend from Virginia.

Arriving on a replica steamship from the Portsmouth dock, our first view of the Oceanic Hotel was impressive. The grand hotel with its expansive porch and boardwalk connected a number of smaller buildings arranged in a row. Once a popular 19th-century vacation resort, the non-profit Star Island Corporation has adapted the facility as a personal or family summer retreat and conference center.

People and groups came and went from the island all week. As newbies, the entire experience was a bit confusing to us. The closest thing that came to mind as I wandered the island was the Chautauqua Institution in New York.  We had to check our group’s chalkboard among several other groups’ chalkboards in the lobby that listed the day’s agenda. Name tags identified our group as photographers and other groups as poets, song writers, the mid-weekers, Plymouth NH 6th graders, watercolor artists, Granite State Marine Biology students, a paranormal group, lighthouse group, Unitarians, a yoga group, the New Hampshire Photography Club, and ISHRA (Isles of Shoals Historical and Research Association). We were still confused near week’s end as we stumbled into ISHRA’s annual group photo. “On three, say Cottage-D,” the photographer shouted. “Cottage-D,” we all chortled together. Just wait till they try to id the two interlopers in the midst of 30 illustrious ISHRA members. Folks, we are really sorry!

Our agenda and shower days

Our photography course was enjoyable under the tutelage of our learned instructor, Arnie. Four hours or more each day was spent in the classroom demystifying the digital camera, exploring the intricate camera settings, lighting, color, and numerous ways to compose photos. We had plenty of time for photographing spectacular sunrises, rainbows, sunsets, sea birds, ocean sprays, rocks, and quaint island cottages.

Watercolor artists at work

Reflection of our photography group

Visited in 1614 by Captain John Smith (he dubbed it ‘Smith’s Isles’ but the name didn’t stick), nine small islands make up the Isles of Shoals, some in Maine and others in New Hampshire. After exploring the dozens of paths and seaside boulders and cottages on Star Island, I saw early on that the islands really belong to the gulls, both Herring and Great Black-backed. They dominated every surface on the island and other islands we could see through our telephoto lenses. But we experienced cedar waxwings, tree swallows, warblers, vireos, sparrows, and more. We also found lots of shorebirds and water birds to identify. On Appledore Island, we were lucky enough to observe bird banders hard at work banding migratory songbirds.

Cedar Waxwing

A young gull stretching

Releasing a banded Philadelphia Vireo

All in all, I’d rate our experience a 10… in spite of the tight quarters we shared and the every-other-day-cistern-fed-slippery-hold the water on-showers. Finally home again and adjusting to cars, computers, telephone, television, and election prattle.

To read three excellent postings on a blog about our photography classes and information about the islands written by a classmate, Ray: click here.

Good Morning Sunshine…

Look who greeted us on our deck this morning!  Who do you think this is?

This lime green visitor is a luna moth (Actias luna), probably one of the most spectacular moths of North America. At almost a 4 1/2″ wing span, it’s hard to miss. We left the deck light on last night and these moths are attracted to light. I consider that light pollution and we won’t do that again.

On the fore wing and hind wings, it has eyspots to fool predators but I find a lot of wings on my walks so not everyone is fooled. The adult moth lives for about a week after emerging from the cocoon when mating and laying of about 200 eggs occurs. The moths have no mouth parts at this stage and eat nothing for this week.

The antennae are clues to the sex of the moth. Our visitor is a female. The male has fuller, feathery antennae to better sense the female pheromones at night.