Rainy Days and Cicadas

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Its almost burdensome to be confronted with an innately compelling photographic subject that will be gone in a few short days, not to return for another 17 years.  The photographic obligation is even greater when when the dramatic subject is in unfolding in your own backyard. There’s no excuse not to haul tripod and camera out there and start capturing.

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I had big expectations for Sunday’s morning shoot, hoping to get a couple of hours of quality invertebrate time.  Mid-morning is the best time for cicada closeups.  After their overnight emergence, still hardening into newly minted adult cicadas, they spend their first morning clinging to leaves, bushes, and blades of grass, recovering from their underground tunneling and their final metamorphosis.  Newly molted, they are as pristine as a bug is going to get.  Gleaming in the dew, they have little energy.  Although they somehow manage to swivel those black spots on their compound eyes to face the photographer, they otherwise are not moving. Before lunch, they are a perfect subject.  After lunch, they either take their first awkward flight up into a more sheltered tree top, or they clumsily drop onto the ground when threatened by a macro lens.

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Sunday dawned gloomily, with the final overnight shower not letting my camera out until 9:45.  One third of an inch of rain overnight had left the ground saturated. A warm front left the sky gray and the air saturated with humidity in the upper 90s. I immediately broke into a sweat as three deer flies targeted the top of my head. Mosquitoes explored my ear drums. It was uncomfortable, and perfect for photography. And the hillside behind our cabin was covered with clumps of fresh, and slightly damp, cicada.

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The lack of wind meant that I would have to contend with the deer flies and mozzies, but it also meant that my subjects would remain relatively still.  Shooting with a telephoto length macro lens (I used a 100mm for these), within inches of your subject, any slight waving of their perch blurs the photo.  A gentle breeze that makes for a lovely afternoon in a human hammock is a veritable hurricane through the macro lens.  The overcast sky also encouraged the biting bugs, but the positive side of gloominess is that it provides much more even light for capturing the non-biting ones.

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A cicada emergence, and I think this is my 5th (several broods in different states) is not just awe inspiring, but it is magical. I found dozens, if not hundreds, of brightly colored insects, with their distinctive scarlet eyes punctuating their black and gold color scheme.  The rain had washed the pollen and dust from the leaves.

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Every cicada was dotted with water drops, on their thoraxes, abdomens, heads, and especially on those big bulbous compound eyes.

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Their wings were glistening with little tiny drops of water, visible through the transparent cellophane that makes up their fragile flight surfaces.  This morning, Tuesday 7 June 2016, was a beautiful morning, sunny, breezy, cool, and free from biting insects. Such pleasant weather often isn’t great for photography, and the combination of too much wind, and too few new cicadas made for much slimmer pickings than Sunday. 

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Sitting at my desk listening to the combined howl of 1 million screaming cicada, audible even with the windows shut, clearly, the cicada event isn’t over. I timed my vacation week to coincide with them, and I’m looking forward to watching it through.  I did manage to get a few more shots this morning, but maybe Sunday was the last best day for mass emergence.  It looks like most of the periodical cicada that are going to emerge have emerged, and now they move onto a less photo-friendly stage for their remaining several weeks of life.

One Response to “Rainy Days and Cicadas”

  1. Jon Towne Says:

    Hi:
    I’m Steve Towne’s brother. Amazing pictures and blog, I hope to find more time to peruse later. Thanks!