Monday, October 3, 2016

2016 Connecting with Animals Calendar – October Story

Cassie looking heart-breakingly cute

As I've posited more than once on here: sometimes my shots are a result of waiting for hours in expectation of something great, and sometimes they are just a matter of dumb luck. Well, sometimes they require both in equal measures.

Cassie on the prowl earlier in the fall
The red panda exhibit is one of my favourite places to shoot photos at the Toronto Zoo. There are no obstructions (screens, glass, etc.) and the exhibit itself is quite lovely. It can be quite frustrating at times, though, as it's often hit-or-miss as to whether these adorable fur bundles will actually be out and about, and not sleeping somewhere inside their fenced-in paddock. Anything other than relatively moderate temperatures will ordinarily find them seeking shade or warmth inside; the rest of the time, when they aren't asleep outside they are flitting about rather rapidly, which can pose problems of its own as their habitat is not particularly well-lit. Still, when you do get "that shot" it's supremely rewarding because their colours – and those of the background – usually make for a striking picture.

Cassie trying to snooze in her sling-bed
On this particular day, in early December a couple of years ago, the temperature was hovering around freezing and it had just started to snow. The newly renovated Eurasia Wilds had just reopened and I found myself heading there first on most visits to the Zoo, this day being no exception. I wasn't holding out much hope of seeing either Cassie or Ralphie, though, as the cold seemed to suggest they'd be seeking out warmer quarters. I was pleasantly surprised to see them both wandering around when I arrived, but as I got my camera out of my bag Cassie headed up a ramp made out of a tree bough and began to curl into a ball in her "hammock". I turned my attention to Ralphie for a little while, then considered moving on to the camels because Cassie didn't appear to be in any hurry to leave her comfortable perch. But she just looked so adorable curled up there that I decided to stay for a while. There were hardly any other visitors around so it was a pretty good place to just relax and find some Zen. After a little while, Cassie began to rouse herself and suddenly raised her head up to look down at Ralphie, still moving about on the ground beneath her. Having thankfully not put my camera away I brought it up to my eye, focused on Cassie's face in a tight zoom, and began to shoot. I'm not sure if it was the sound of the camera or just the realization that somebody was there watching (remember, they had been out of the public's eye for a couple of years), but Cassie sleepily looked directly at me and held her gaze for several seconds. That's when I was able to get some ridiculously cute shots, including the one I used for October in this year's calendar. I think what really makes this particular shot stand out for me is the way Cassie has her ears kind of pinned back; this was the case solely because she had been sleeping in a tight ball only moments earlier. Patience + timing = huge reward.

The t-shirt crop and colour-bleed
After I created the calendar I went back to the original image of Cassie. Because I was unrestricted by the demands of an 8 1/2 x 11 inch page, I re-cropped it in a way that I found quite pleasing (Rule of Thirds and all that). Then I began to play around with the colours in PhotoShop, It's not perfect – note the splash of colours over her right paw – but it wasn't bad for a first attempt (I've since been able to perfect it). This image made me so happy that when Vistaprint prompted me to consider buying a t-shirt with one of my photos on it – for a huge discount – I jumped at the chance and uploaded this shot. I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out; on the shirt, the left-over colour patch is virtually unnoticeable. I'm seriously considering playing around with this "colour subject on black & white background" effect quite a bit more and using the best ones as images for our hallway at home.

For anyone trying to work out how to tell them apart, here are a couple of photos of the two of them in the same frame. In the first one, Ralphie is on the left. He is much darker and redder than Cassie, the rings on his tail are far less pronounced, and he is smaller (the weight difference is actually much greater today than two years ago). In the second photo...well, let's see if you can work it out for yourself. There's a very big hint in the slightly blurry background!

Quick historical note about the two types of panda: red pandas were actually discovered first. The best theory on the etymology of the name "panda" is it is derived from the Nepalese "nigalya ponya", which translates as "eater of bamboo". When the larger, more famous, black & white animal was discovered 50 years later, scientists took note of the similar diet and habitat, but also the astounding evolutionary adaptation of a "pseudo-thumb" (sort of an "extra digit" formed from an extension of the wrist bone) with which these two species were able to grip bamboo in order to eat it. To differentiate, the names "giant panda" and "lesser panda" were used – although, to anyone who has seen them, the larger creatures are anything but "giant". It wasn't until quite recently that zoologists worked out that giant pandas are actually related to bears, whereas the lesser – or "red" – pandas are a species unto themselves, their closest cousins being raccoons. One last cool note: in Mandarin, a panda is known as "Xióngmāo", which translates best as "bear cat". This really makes sense when you look at the original panda (the lesser panda); the name now is taken to mean the giant pandas, though, which makes a little less sense. I'm oversimplifying quite a bit, but those are the basics.

I've another red panda photo from this past year that is so sweet I might not be able to keep it out of 2017's calendar. The competition, however, is very stiff indeed; only time will tell. I hope to have it finalized and an order placed before this week is out. I'll keep you all posted!

Next month: an animal I finally found a month other than December to put it in, featuring a shot taken with the use of a borrowed lens. Tune in then!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

2016 Connecting with Animals Calendar – September Story

Play time for this silly, enormous bear!

For the second month this year my calendar features a photo of a huge animal named "Samson." (Remember the hippo photo back in June?) I'm not sure either beast is more aptly named than the other but if I were pressed to choose I'd have to say "Samson" better suits this guy – but only because he has far more hair! In my July post I spoke of my "method" of photography (I call it "Brute Force Photography") and how my biggest advantages are patience and time to exercise that patience. This month's shot is another supreme example of exactly that.

Samson on the prowl (look at those claws!!!)
The photo at left is one I took in the summer of 2014 and I absolutely love it. I was unable to use it in last year's calendar because it was unavailable to me at the time I created it (due to my devastating hard drive crash) but I managed to recover it and was 100% sure it would appear in this year's edition. That all changed last July (almost exactly one year to the day after I took this prowling picture) when I again found myself at the bottom of the Canadian Domain, watching two sleepy grizzlies dozing in the sun. While I was there I noticed a lot of people coming and going without staying long at the exhibit; I imagine that was because the bears weren't being active. But, you see, I have no problem with the animals not being active: I find simply sitting there and watching them snooze to be an extremely relaxing, Zen-like experience and I usually hang around for quite some time when I encounter a sleeping animal – if it's in full view. On many of those occasions (I would guess the vast majority of them) I end up watching them so long that I am rewarded with the sight of them rousing themselves and beginning to move about. This particular afternoon would prove to follow that pattern right to the letter.

Shintay playing with the water stream
After I had been there for a few minutes, I noticed that the bears' pool had been drained and was being refilled via a spout built into the side of it. The sight of this cool, clear water filling a basin on such a hot summer day added to the pleasure of the quiet time I was spending there. As I idly watched it filling up, Shintay – who had also noticed the water entering the pool – suddenly came into my field of vision, knocking me out of my reverie. She approached the far side of the empty rock pond and looked at the spout for a moment or two, then circled the perimeter to the near edge, climbed down into the pool, and began to play with the jet of water, directing it with her paw at first and eventually lowering her face and other body parts into the stream, I was wondering if she was trying to get a drink from it but it was too powerful, but I was disabused of that notion very quickly by the obvious and unbridled joy she was displaying as she ran into and out of the path of the water. Once the pool had filled enough for her to submerge herself in it she changed her tactics and started to roll around on her back in the shallow water, allowing the replenishing stream to bounce off of her belly. I could go on for hours with this story, but I think a few bonus photos here will tell the tale in a manner that is not only far more illuminating, but exponentially more entertaining. So here is a brief interlude from my writing. :)

Samson starting to take an interest in the pool; Shintay not having it.
Shintay happily played by herself for a while, until finally Samson awakened and noticed that the pool was filling up. He ambled over to get a closer look, but when he showed signs that he might perhaps want to join Shintay for a refreshing dip, she went straight over to that end of the pond. Now, ordinarily Samson pretty much gets his way between the two of them because he's much bigger (and male, obviously) so I was a little worried by Shintay's apparent aggression. Unnecessarily worried, as it turned out. When Samson made his first attempted foray into the water, Shintay reared up and chased him back out this caused a bit of an argument, which I took in with a mixture of fascination and dread as they circled around each other for a short time. Samson puffed himself up to his fullest size but Shintay never once backed down from him, instead glaring right back at him and making sure she was just out of his reach. Eventually, Samson either realized that he wasn't getting anywhere with this tactic or simply grew bored with the proceedings; in any event, he shuffled off to inspect the remains of an earlier herbivorous snack they had each been given while Shintay returned to the far end of the pool and the spout that was still actively spewing out water, and all was again calm for a while. But soon Samson decided it was worth another attempt and approached the ol' swimmin' hole once again, albeit with a little less swagger this time. Shintay, perhaps emboldened by her recent victory, rose to the new challenge in a far more aggressive manner, again worrying me to the point of checking to make sure I had the Emergency Switchboard number punched into my phone.

First she stood up and whacked Samson on the muzzle, hanging on for a few seconds for good measure:

Shintay/David and Samson/Goliath

This was met with something other than enthusiasm by Samson, who started towards her in a menacing manner:

Samson trying to intimidate Shintay

But even with their vast difference in size, Shintay once again won the day by refusing to back down and, in fact, letting Samson know exactly who rules the pool:

Shintay lecturing Samson on his manners

Shintay enjoying her "alone time" once again

Samson walked away in a bit of a huff, licking his wounded pride. Shintay returned to her aquatic antics for several more minutes until she eventually had seemingly had enough – or maybe she lost interest after it became apparent that Samson had no intention of going for the hat trick? – and voluntarily left the pool, which was rapidly approaching its limit of water volume. From a safe distance, Samson watched her sashay over to a few pieces of carrot and squash, lie down in the sun, and proceed to have herself a quiet, well-earned bite to eat. The big boy got up from his spot in the shade and warily made his way once more to the water, being sure to keep the pool between him and Shintay, even though she was pointedly showing absolutely no interest in his activities by this point. When he was satisfied that he was finally going to be allowed into the water, he climbed in near the spout and began to test it with his paws – not to the same extent as Shintay did, not by a long shot – before he sighed audibly and rolled over onto his back, his entire body relaxing all at once. He lay like that for a while, occasionally making little ripples in the water with one of his front paws but otherwise moving as little as possible, clearly in total bliss for the moment. I began to wonder if it might be time to finally move on to see other animals...and then Samson noticed that there were toys in the water.

Well. You'd think he'd never set eyes on a ball, or a log, or anything else in that pool before in his life.

I could very likely still be there if the Zoo didn't close at some point each day! Incidentally (and coincidentally) I saw these two again on this very date (September 1) last year – with considerably less drama and considerably more fur (especially Shintay)!

Samson eats very roughly...
...while Shintay prefers a more "dainty" approach!

When I release next year's calendar (details will come out very soon!) there's an excellent chance it will include another photo from this collection. Please note: I specifically did not include it in this blog post. I want it to be previously unpublished!

Extra-special thanks this month to my not-so-Grumpy Partner, Sarah, for creating the photo table layouts when I began banging my head against the wall trying to make them work.

Next month: Wow, do I have a treat for you! The story behind a photo so adorable I turned it into the very first t-shirt with my "Grumpy Penguin" logo on the back. I think you're going to love it!

Monday, August 1, 2016

2016 Connecting with Animals Calendar – August Story

Zohari trying to enjoy a mud bath, but...

As I've discussed previously on this blog, I love penguins. Since I've been Volunteering and working at the Toronto Zoo, I've come to be quite fond of the polar bears, too. And then, of course, there's my "Spirit Animal": the glorious Ashakiran, Indian rhino. I do not recall feeling particularly strongly either way about these mammoth, docile creatures just a few years ago; however, things have certainly changed. For instance, some of the proceeds from the 2016 Calendar went to the International Rhino Foundation; $511 CD was raised all told for this worthy cause. So obviously one of the months of this calendar was going to feature one or more of the rhinos at the Toronto Zoo. The question then became: which subspecies to choose this year. After much agonizing, I settled on the photo of Zohari (seen above), one of the four African white rhinos that call the Zoo's Savanna exhibit their home. She won out mainly on the strength of the expression on her face as she seems to be looking directly at me while enjoying a leisurely mud wallow in the heat of a July day.

But, as usual, that's not the whole story here. 

Big sister Sabi checking on her sibling
Zohari came to the Zoo a few years ago along with her older half-sister, Sabi. They have remained fiercely protective of each other ever since arriving: I vividly recall taking an "observation" shift when they first went on exhibit and spending the better part of three hours "observing" them stand bum-to-bum in a "circle the wagons" sort of pose, ready to fend off all peril – real or imagined. Most of us find this tendency of theirs rather adorable; sadly, however, the perpetually befuddled and [*ahem*]-blocked Tom probably does not share this view. The girls cycle at different times but the sister who is not in oestrus spends most of her time "protecting" her sibling by warding off the attempted advances of the bull – often challenging him nose-to-nose. As you can see by the photo here (above left), Sabi is extremely interested in Zohari's, um....back end. She is trying to uncover whether her younger half-sister needs her to run interference and Zohari is seemingly looking to keep this secret to herself by heading to a mud-hole and submerged her nethers in it. But as this scene plays out – and I zoom in tightly on Zohari – Sabi grows frustrated ("Frustrated!" I can hear Tom exclaim. "Boy, let me tell you a little something about being frustrated..."), lowers her head, and begins to goose poor Zoey in the tender hindquarters. What you are in fact witnessing in the photo I used in the calendar is not a moment of blissful relaxation in the cool of a muddy wallow, but rather a startled rhino in the act of scrambling to her feet to avoid further indignities being inflicted on her by a persistent older sib. The shot is wonderful, I think, just not for the reasons you might expect.

As this brief slice of savanna life continued to play itself out, Zohari got out of the wallow and sashayed alluringly toward her would-be suitor, while Sabi now had the moment she had been waiting for to fully and unashamedly inspect Zohari's rear end for the tell-tale scents of oestrus, Once Sabi had the information she needed she went into action....

....aggressively and threateningly advancing on the hapless, outnumbered young bull, chasing him off the trail for the moment....

..and making good and sure he fled the scene completely, and didn't try an "end run", as it were. All of which goes a long way to explain why Nandu is the only rhino calf at the Zoo right now and the first one born in Toronto in 16 years.

As for the tragic hero of our story?

Oh, come on, He's a guy. Don't pretend you're surprised.

By the way, the African "white" rhinoceros is not actually white; the most popular theory on how it received its name is that it's a mistranslation of a Dutch or Afrikaans word "wyd" (spellings vary) referring to the animal's "wide", square mouth. This has not been proven, though. But it does seem that the "black" rhino – which is smaller but does not differ in colour – was named as such purely to differentiate it from the "white" rhino. Both African rhino species have two horns while the three that dwell in Asia – the Javan, the Sumatran, and the Indian (or greater one-horn) – possess only one. It is likely for this reason that the African rhinos are more frequently poached for their horns than the Asians: more "bang for your buck" with two horns versus one. Either way, they are all disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate because of the mistaken belief that their horns contain some magical medicinal properties. In point of fact their horns are made of keratin – a protein that makes up hair and fingernails in humans – and you would receive at least as much "magic" from simply biting your own nails. A tragedy for the ages. And as I write this post – on July 31st – it just happens to be World Ranger Day, celebrating the very brave and dedicated men and women currently on the front lines of a very real war against the ruthless and greedy poachers of the world. They are big, big heroes of mine.

Well, that escalated quickly. My apologies, but this is a subject quite near and dear to my heart. Let me raise the mood as I finish up by telling you that next month will feature the hilarious antics of one of my two favourite "Samsons" at the Toronto Zoo.

♫See yoooouuuu in Septeeeeemmmmbeeerrrrr....♫

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Be an Advocate for Your Own Health!

So, a quick Mental Health update. Ok, maybe not that "quick", but that's how it goes. :)

I've been having a lot of anxiety-related issues the past several months. No doubt they come across in the tone of some of my online postings, if you haven't witnessed them first-hand "in real life". I've felt quite irritable and out of control for much of the day since at least late January and I've tried very hard to isolate the issue. The tension in my body makes me tired, which makes me irritable, which makes me tense, which makes me anxious, which makes me worry about being anxious, which...well, you get the picture. No? Ok, here you go:

The only difference between the time this started and back when I was on the upswing is the fact that I am now being treated for ADHD (which I've had forever, but we're treating it as if it's adult onset). This has effected a couple of changes to my routine; notably, I now get up with Sarah every weekday morning and have coffee or tea and a chat before she gets ready for work. So I was worried that my sleep patterns had been disrupted, or my circadian rhythm thrown off, but those fears have been dispelled. Next, I looked at the possibility that my Cymbalta might have unmasked even more ADHD symptoms that might have been latent until then. That seemed to not be true. So then I looked at the only other thing that was new: I am taking Vyvanse (an amphetamine) for the ADHD, to help me focus.


First I didn't take it for a week or so, because my psychiatrist told me it had a very short half-life and I figured (with his blessing after the fact) that it would be obvious quite quickly if that were the problem. Since my tics and fidgeting and irritability and all the rest did not improve, I figured that wasn't the issue. Which he seemed to agree with. But still these problems persisted and I was becoming more and more frustrated with my inability to overcome them, even with the "Mindfulness" path that he suggested to me. So yesterday I saw my amazing GP again and let her know that something had to give. It was then she looked up interactions between Cymbalta (duloxetine, an SNRI) and Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine) and showed me the result. Here are the "possible" side effects from combining these two drugs:

- jitteriness
- nervousness
- anxiety
- restlessness
- racing thoughts

And last, but certainly not least:

- serotonin syndrome (including symptoms such as confusion, hallucination, seizure, extreme changes in blood pressure, increased heart rate, fever, excessive sweating, shivering or shaking, blurred vision, muscle spasm or stiffness, tremor, incoordination, stomach cramp, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which could lead to a coma or even death)

WUT?? Yeah. Well, I definitely have a whole bunch of those symptoms. I have all of the ones listed above "serotonin syndrome" and a few (excessive sweating, blurred vision, muscle spasm, incoordination, some stomach issues) from that area, too.

So to sum up: even though I presented all of those symptoms to my psychiatrist in at least three separate visits, and even though I myself had openly wondered if it had anything whatsoever to do with the Vyvanse, and even though he had my medical history in front of him for every damn visit, not once did this come up even as a possibility. Not. One. Damn. Time.

So, obviously (I hope), I will be discontinuing the Vyvanse post-haste. And discontinuing my visits to him even poster-haster. Or something. In the meantime, my GP is going to try me on a different ADHD drug (Concerta) which has no known bad interactions with Cymbalta.

If there's anything to be taken away from the struggle I've outlined here, it's this: You are the best advocate for your own health. Never forget that.

And good luck to all of you. I'm here if you ever need me.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...