Snow Sheep; Colour Perception in a Monochrome World; Otter Show – Snow Tunnel.

As I write the text, all the snow which features in the images below has finally melted, and been washed away in further deluges, preluded by a brief power outage inducing storm on Saturday, with savage thunder and lightning which lasted for over 2 hours. Not what we’d usually expect at the end of January.

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Having climbed through our top meadow for a snowy landscape image in late afternoon light, it wasn’t long before our hardy Tor ddu sheep were homing in on me expecting extra treats. They’re a tough indigenous breed, and will often prefer to be out rootling beneath the snow for grass, rather than staying in the relative warmth and dry of their shelter near the house.

But this close attention did present some lovely photo images which I share below. For those unaware of the current UK farming scene, all sheep now need to have a permanent, electronic, individually numbered tag in their ear. And if they’re registered in a particular breed flock book, as some of ours are, a separate and different breed book tag. Sheep being sheep, they don’t carefully look after these body piercings. Hence the obvious coloured ear adornments in some images.

SDIM7063 (2) SDIM7055 (2) SDIM7043 (2) SDIM7057 (2) SDIM7032 (2) SDIM7054 (2)After Fiona had created a lovely WordPress website and blog for friends about 10 days ago, showcasing their stunning self catering converted water mill at Felinfach, Pumpsaint, (click here for link), I have to say I became envious of this blog’s appearance, and made yet another switch in my own blog’s format. Indeed another blog reader had also expressed their lack of enthusiasm for my original effort at re-branding, and I’m indebted to them both for flagging this up, and for Fiona for sorting out subtle font and colour shifts to create the final result. Needless to say, initially I was affronted by the criticism, in true Grumpy Hobbit fashion, but on reflection valued the comments.

I’ve since become fascinated that, at least to my eye, the images seem altogether sharper and more colourful when placed on a dark background, and I’ve been researching and thinking a bit more about colour perception. This seems strangely appropriate given the dearth of colour in a snow induced mono-chromed garden landscape. I’ll include a few splashes gleaned from the garden last week, to break up the text which follows.

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  • The first information which interested me concerned the human fovea centralis. This is a tiny pit on the rear surface of each of our retina, which contains a very high percentage of cone receptors. These are the type of light sensitive cell responsible for detailed colour vision. The other ‘rod’ form of cell covers the majority of the peripheral retina and performs much better in low light levels, but lacks the colour, or detail capability, of the cones. Moreover, this tiny fovea, which is lacking from all other mammals apart from a few Simian primates, provides 50% of visual data input to our visual cerebral cortex – although it only represents 1% of retinal surface area. Click here for more details.

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  • To give an idea of how much of your visual field will be covered by the fovea, hold your arms straight out in front of your face with the thumbs pointing upwards, and placed side by side. A width of about the 2 thumbnails represents fovea covered vision.

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  • The fovea’s cone cells do not have a direct blood supply. Rather they rely on oxygen and nutrition diffusing from a supporting layer deeper in the retina – the macula, (obviously any blood vessels in front of the cells, would impair visual acuity). But a consequence of this fact is that particularly in bright light, when the cones are having to work harder processing light induced electrical impulses for the brain, they can quickly exhaust oxygen supplies and then have to work, less efficiently, in a hypoxic, or low oxygen, state. By placing the blog’s images on a dark background, does it reduce strain, and oxygen demands on the retinal cells? And does it mean that the visual cortex can ‘concentrate’ on processing data just from the colourful image – and not peripheral distractions, and thus allow greater perceived clarity? In the same way that closing down multiple ‘open windows’ on this dated computer will often aid performance and speed on the remaining, open programme.

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  • I also discovered that there seems to be an optimum distance to be sitting from a screen (certainly a computer one), of about 40 inches to reduce eye strain and maximise appreciation of the image on screen. I was surprised when I checked with a tape measure just how far away this is, but I’ll try to stick to it in future. If you do sit about this distance away, then certainly the brain and eyes have less ‘work to do’ when a viewing a centrally placed blog image. The eyes will be well accommodated and adjusted. Click here for more.

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  • An additional benefit for anyone viewing the blog in its newer, dark background form, is that apparently the energy consumption by the monitor – mine and yours, is reduced compared with having a white or light background. (Thanks to Philip for this observation). Probably not enough to save you a fortune, but nevertheless a pleasing foot note for this particular energy efficiency obsessed author.

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  • But do other readers find a similar benefit from viewing coloured images on the newer dark background? Remember that the pixel size and quality has remained unchanged with the new background, and is astonishingly low – about 100 Kb per image on average – it’s simply an issue of the brain’s perception. I remember a fascinating experiment I conducted years ago which makes me think that most readers will also detect a similarly improved perception. Lying in bed at a Christmas family gathering I picked up a glossy bedside magazine. Reaching the last few pages of classified coloured adverts, I scanned each double spread quickly. About 16 ads. per page. Say 30 ads. per double spread. On about my fourth page turn, I realised that I’d actually been drawn to just one image and read the whole advertisement. I guess this is what all advertisers hope to achieve in the first instance, if they’re ever going to sell anything, from such adverts.
  • But why had my brain stopped here? About three quarters of the way down on the right-hand side page? I passed the open magazine to Fiona and asked her to do a similar quick scan and tell me if any of the 30 ads. on the open double page spread caught her eye. She picked the same one. Repeated later with other house guests, I had to wait until person number 14 for the same advertisement NOT to be picked. By my reckoning that’s odds of about 390 to 1. And what was the advert which grabbed everyone’s attention? Certainly not the largest. But it was a simple image of a colourful hand woven rug, placed on a black background, with limited white text. I rest my case.

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Whilst life continued in slow motion for the last 10 days, with regular fresh snowfalls, logs to be brought in, stock to be fed, no point trying to get the car out; we decided to walk down to the stream to inspect the heavy snow coating which had lingered on every twig thanks to permanently sub-zero temperatures.

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As we wandered along the stream’s banks, only the snaking path of a fox’s tracks indicated any active life form had braved this snowy environment.

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Until, that is, we reached the end of our land where the stream right angle turns beneath the deep roots of a mature native Alder, creating a lovely plunge pool.

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And there I spotted a tarry black dropping on the stream’s edge.

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And then a furrow, ploughed through the 7 inch deep snow, and heading towards our wildlife pond, about 30 yards away. In places the furrow actually went beneath the snow surface, creating a tunnel. One of these tunnels was about 4 yards long.

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The pond itself was frozen, and the footprints were a little hidden by a more recent snowfall, but was this the work of a mink?

Or an otter?

SDIM6977 (2)Click here for more. Fresh snow overnight gave us another chance to look for more signs of activity, and this time there were 2 slides, from bank edge into the stream, more spraints (droppings), and new deeper furrows. By now I’d discovered that mink are about one sixth the size of otters, and so there was no doubt about the furrow maker.

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These are the first confirmed sign of otters we’ve ever made on our land. And this on the upper stretches of Afon Melinddwr, barely a mile form its source. Apparently rural Carmarthenshire was a last unspoiled refuge for UK otters, when numbers declined in the 1970’s following widespread agricultural pesticide use, and hunting. More recently, a research project into reported and recorded otter fatalities, conducted by Cardiff University, confirm their status as reasonably abundant along most of the county’s water courses, although they can have territories that extend for up to 40 miles. Click here for more.

How exciting this was for me, who as a young lad was hooked on ‘Tarka, the Otter’ and the otters’ ecology as described by Henry Williamson, to finally have encountered these large nocturnal mammals personally. Albeit through circumstantial evidence.

Before the 3 inches of rain took the 8 inches of snow with it, over 48 hours of debris filled torrential run off, our spiral washing line base, took on a different and appealing ammonite like form. And chalked up another episode where the snow melted much faster on the quarry tiles, than the crushed slate.

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We feared in October that the winter could be a long one. It seems that it’s matching that expectation.

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Today another red kite sunrise heralded another deluge.

8 thoughts on “Snow Sheep; Colour Perception in a Monochrome World; Otter Show – Snow Tunnel.

  1. The combination of your dark background with the snow and the colour in your photographs is simply stunning! I suppose we are coming to expect these feats from you, but if you keep upping your game at this rate, where will it take you?

    • Hello KTB,
      Glad to see that the ‘follow’ is now working properly, and thanks for the very kind comment.
      Actually as you write, I’m toying with the idea of recording sounds…. running water, bird song, RAIN, RAIN, RAIN, to run as an optional background whilst the blog is viewed….this since uploading video is definitely a no go for our satellite link. I wonder what you’d think of this.? Distraction, or adding to the sense of place?
      Anyway, it would require another upgrade ( it’s designed for songs, but i’m guessing you could format mini disc recordings and get them to run? But no idea how MP3 files compare in size to video, so it may be a non starter….


  2. Julian, I recently saw a fascinating program on otters on the tele. Otter spraint smells a bit like honey (now there’s a dare!) and each foot has 5 pads, each with a well developed claw (check the prints!), webbed for swimming. You might catch them out at dawn or dusk, provided you are downwind of them. They have a place to lay up and rest every 200yds or so along the stream/river, to allow their coarse top coat to dry out. (The deeper, inner, very fine coat has an enormous amount of hairs per sq cm (I think they said about 2,000) compared to the human 14!!) The resting places are recognised by the smooth floor (from the otters rolling to dry themselves), tucked under a fallen tree or amongst roots of a stream-side tree. Keep your eyes peeled when next you walk along the bank of your stream!

    Your sheep are a scream, very funny with their assorted snow-faces!! Loved the pictures in the black background, my favourites were the last 2 of the kite in the sunrise.

    • Hello Rinka,
      Thanks for the comment and extra otter info. We shall definitely keep checking for signs. I wonder if they’re responsible for the annual frog carnage around our ponds which happens every spawning time ( in the next 2 to 3 weeks I guess)?
      Glad you liked the sheep pics … I really love how they turned out. And seeing the kites with camera in hand this morning against that red sky was a real fluke, We just all need to dry out though!
      BW, Julian

  3. I love your new blog look! Your pictures are always great – but I think you are correct that a dark background makes them look even better… I really enjoyed the sweet sheep photos the most. Lovely post!

    Blessings ~ Wendy

    • Hello Wendy,
      Thanks for the comment, and glad you like the sheep pics. They’re some of my favourites…but sad news on this front, which I’ll mention in my next post.
      I love your latest writings and photography, They have a wonderful insightful take on the little details that surround us all, and which if we don’t open our eyes, and take time to stand and look, would simply pass us by. I looked for a ‘Follow’ button, but couldn’t find one….I’m sure it’s there somewhere? Perhaps you can let me know…
      Best wishes

      • Thank you, Julian, for asking me about my “Follow” button. Until you asked the only ways I could be followed was though the wordpress reader or by clicking the e-mail notification box that shows up when a person comments. Now, thanks to your thoughtful observation I have added a follow button at the footer of my blog. I’m a slow learner. 😉

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