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75G – Week 5 Update

November 29th, 2007

It’s been a tad longer than 5 weeks since I first setup my 75G. The moss on the wood is really bushing out right now, the Utricularia in the foreground is starting to establish itself, and nearly all of the other plants are coming into their own.

75G - 5 Weeks

I the P. stellata ‘broad-leaf’ on the left side still is a few trimmings away from fully filling in, as is the P. yatabeanus, but everything is well on its way. The Blyxa japonica is looking fantastic, despite a lot of upheaval of the substrate surrounding it thanks to my Nannachromis nudiceps. They still haven’t spawned to the best of my knowledge, so perhaps they’re not going to, but that doesn’t stop them from digging. I still haven’t decided on any other tankmates, but I have some Amano shrimp coming in a GWAPA group order, and I’m eyeing the Nigerian Red Kribs.

I’d love to hear all comments and critique so far. Here’s a question: Do you think I ought to put moss on more of the wood, particularly the center-most piece, or do you like it bare?




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Alabama Rocks & Forest

November 26th, 2007

Last week, one of my cousins was kind enough to take me hiking through the woods around Borden Creek in Bankhead National Forest. Despite torrential downpours while we were hiking (thankfully no lightning) we had a heck of a good time exploring around.

Sipsey Wilderness Area

The obvious feature of the landscape that’s impossible to miss are huge rock outcroppings lining both sides of the creek. Due to the heavy rain, we tried to stay close to these rocks to gain some refuge from the weather.

Sipsey Wilderness Area

There are some massive boulders throughout the forest, dwarfing many trees, and creating large tunnels between them. The shade of these rocks appears to prevent most undergrowth, besides some mosses and ferns, from really taking over the forest floor.

Sipsey Wilderness Area

Below is one of the more extended pathways between rocks. This pathway arches around to the left, and goes for another 50-75 feet. I imagine that these large pieces of rock broke off of one another, and shifted apart over time.
Limestone Pathway

As I mentioned, many mosses line the rocks and tress along Borden Creek. They really add a nice character to the rocks, and with the freshly fallen autumn leaves lining the ground, there were some really beautiful landscapes.

Sipsey Wilderness Area

We weren’t just enjoying the landscape; we found a few other creatures out in the rain that day. A box turtle was slowly creeping along the rocks, but refused to pose for a picture despite several attempts waiting for him to come out of his shell. We saw plenty of these silver-dollar-sized snails grazing on the moss of the rocks.

Snail

Did I mention that there were some pretty scenes in the forest?

Sipsey Wilderness Area

Did I also not mention how huge these rocks were? This rock wall below extended at least 4-5 stories tall. The rock itself is full of many indentations and crevices that I presume are weather worn, even though they look slightly volcanic in some areas.

Sipsey Wilderness Area

I was amazed how many plants managed to find life by burrowing deep into the rock and it’s cracks. This tree below somehow managed to root itself in the rock, along with plenty of ferns, holly, moss, and countless other plants.

Tree Rooted in Rock

Next time I’m down in the area, I intend to find a dryer day to explore this area more significantly. Supposedly, there is a waterfall along this creek, however, I doubt that it would have been anything fantastic on this trip, as drought left the creek many feet below normal levels. As an example, my cousin claims to have kayaked down this waterway, but when we were there, it was barely 6 inches in some places.

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Alabama Creek

November 24th, 2007

We spent Thanksgiving week down in Alabama with family, spending most of the time at a cabin within Bankhead National Forest. This is a beautiful area with plenty of creeks, forest, and limestone outcroppings all around. Even despite a record summer drought, the creeks, while low, still had some water in them.

Creek

Along one area of the creek, there was a patch of these really interesting looking reeds. They’re hollow reeds, that somewhat resemble bamboo, except for the fact that they don’t have any leaves.

Reed

Each node has a white section, encompassed by black. I have no idea whether they’re native or introduced.

Reed Node

Some of the stalks had flower heads on them, but I didn’t actually see any in bloom, so I’m unsure whether these are truly flowers, or whether they’re just seed pods. If anyone can identify this plant for me, I’d really appreciate it! (edit: Thanks to commenter Kelley for identifying this as Equisetum sp., or more commonly known as “horsetail.”)

Reed Flower Head

Most of the leaves had already fallen from this area of the forest, with the exception of some late beech trees. There are many pine and spruce trees throughout the forest, but they’re not shown here.

Creek and Forest

The creek contained many rocks completely covered in moss. Creek banks, and even some tree trunks were also quite covered in moss. I didn’t bring any home with me to try out in the aquarium, however.

Mossy Rock

Walking along one of the trails, I nearly stepped on this Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis). I think he was just as startled as I was because he went into his brown coloration, and stood perfectly still hoping not to be seen.

Anolis carolinensis

I took advantage of his stoic pose to take quite a few pictures of him. Our family tells us that these lizards are seen all over the place, and are quite common to their hollow.

Anolis carolinensis

Not in the creek, but in a puddle near the cabin, this little salamander was staying moist. He was only about 3-4 inches long, and quite active.

Salamander

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54G – Fish pictures!

November 23rd, 2007

I haven’t paid much attention to my 54G corner tank in awhile, so I decided that it was time to do a small photo shoot give these fish the appreciation they deserve. Unfortunately for most of the rest of them, the Red Irian Rainbow (Glossolepis incisis) decided to steal the show, posing and darting right in front of the camera. (And more importantly, directly under the flash sitting on top of the tank!)

Red Rainbowfish

This rainbowfish is definitely the centerpiece of the tank. He’s always out and about, and is hard to miss, both because of his size, and his swagger.

Red Rainbowfish

I really wish I had followed my own advice and cleaned the glass before this shoot, as there’s a lot of particular matter on the glass and in the water.

Red Rainbowfish

And then, one of the oldest fish in my aquariums, the Chinese Algae Eater. I bought this fish long before I read that they can be aggressive toward other fish by sucking holes in the sides of their tankmates. Fortunately, this guy hasn’t caused any problems during his long 5-6 year tenure. I love when he props himself up on his fins like this.

Chinese Algae Eater

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Photography: Fixing Dirty Glass

November 20th, 2007

Cherry Orig with Dirty GlassPreviously, I posted this picture of a cherry shrimp in my 75G tank. I’m sure many of you noticed that the picture itself wasn’t necessarily the top-quality image. In particular, there are quite a few very distracting spots or blemishes throughout the picture, especially noticeable in the darker areas.

Well, these spots are often caused by dirty glass, either watermarks on the outside of the tank, or algae on the inside. If you really want to take some nice pictures of your tank, always be sure to clean the glass a few hours before shooting. If you do it right before shooting, you’re likely to stir of particles in the water column, which can also result in similar blemishes throughout your picture.

Finally, after you’ve thoroughly cleaned your glass, don’t forget to make sure the most expensive glass, the lens on your camera is also free of dust particles and finger prints.

Now, we all know that even if you clean everything, you may still end up with a spot here or there that you missed. So, how do you get rid of these spots? Photoshop!

Photoshop has a fantastic tool called the “Clone Stamp Tool” that makes this task easy. Simply select the tool from the sidebar, adjust the brush size so that it is just barely larger than the spot itself, and zoom in so you can more easily target the spot. Now, fully encompass the spot with the tool’s circle, and left click. The spot should now be gone. If what it automatically replaced the spot with looks good, you’re done. If not, you can undo it. Then, locate an area near the spot that looks good, and ALT-click on that clean area. Now, left-click back on the spot. It should hopefully look perfect this time.

If you repeat this process over and over again until all the spots are missing, you’ll end up with a much nicer looking picture.

Cherry Shrimp

A few more tips. While you’re looking for more spots to exterminate, it’s sometimes helpful to scroll the picture up/down/left/right to more easily see the spots moving around. Also, be sure to try looking over your photo at various zoom levels so you don’t miss any really big or really small spots.

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Ancistrus sp. L279

November 18th, 2007

At both the Catfish Convention and the Aquafest auction, I picked up a bag of Ancistrus sp. L279 dwarf bushy-nosed plecos. After keeping them for other a year, I think this species is a fantastic match for a planted aquarium. They max out in length around 4 inches so they’re not going to inadvertently uproot plants from their size. Mine are not shy, so I see them on wood or lounging on open substrate, and they’re fairly active algae eaters. Plus, they’re very attractive fish with white markings on the tips of their tail, and many have very nice spots on their body. I’m guessing that the spots are a gender distinction because some of mine have very pronounced ones, and others not so much.

Ancistrus sp. L279

I don’t have any with huge sections of tentacles/growths on their snout, but they do have some small barbels. I’m hoping that as my latest batch grows up, they’ll develop these further. I’ve seen this species posted on Aquabid, sometimes called Ancistrus sp. ‘Huaca Mayo,’ so if you come across this listing, give them a try — they’re a great little ancistrus!

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75G – Mossy Wood

November 16th, 2007

I generally haven’t done many aquascapes using moss as a key feature. There’s not any reason in particular, besides the fact that it’s sometimes more work to keep it looking nice and algae-free, but basically, I’ve just done differently styled scapes. (The same is true for the classic Amano riccia scape — note to self, do a riccia scape.) So, for this reason, I’m pretty happy to see the moss in my 75G tank starting to attach itself and cover the manzanita wood I tied it to.

Taiwan Moss on Manzanita

You can see new growth by the brighter green fronds on the tips of the moss. Now, I’ve got to make the decision whether to go for a bushy effect, or to trim it tight and close to the wood to achieve more of an astroturf’d wood look. I think I’m leaning toward the bushy look for now, but I suspect that may change if piece start disattaching and infiltrating my anubias. In any case, trimming moss is a bit of a chore, as you don’t want the pieces you cut off going everywhere in your tank.

Taiwan Moss

A common technique to avoid this is to trim while siphoning during a water change. Hold the siphon right above where you’re trimming, and those pieces should get sucked right out of the tank. I’m definitely not an expert at grooming these mosses, so if anyone has some other tips/suggestions, please comment.

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75G – Meet the Inhabitants

November 13th, 2007

I decided to take a few snapshots of the fauna in my 75G. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, all of fish in this tanks were obtained in the auction from Aquafest. I haven’t had any losses, and all seem to be quite happy settling into their new surroundings.

Corydoras Paleatus

There are 18 Corydoras paleatus in the tank that are constantly scurrying around the tan. They’re very social creatures zigging and zagging throughout the plants with at least one other companion in tow. Some lucky (or unlucky) plump females draw a crowd of male suitors up and down the glass. No eggs that I’ve seen yet.

Corydoras Paleatus

The pair of Nannochromis nudiceps have taken up residence underneath two rocks on the right side of the tank. I’m a little bothered by their persistent efforts to dig up powersand from the bottle of the tank, and litter the large ugly white pumice stone across the top of the prettier aquasoil, but if they end up spawning I’ll forgive them.

Nannochromis nudiceps

Lately, they’ve decided to start covering the top of the rocks with aquasoil too. I hope their little “underground lair” doesn’t collapse on top of them!

Nannochromis nudiceps

And of course, there’s a huge population of cherry shrimp in the tank. I dumped in about 200 from the pond before the weather turned cold. I’m sure a few made a nice snack for the cichlids, but there’s still a ton. I did a quick trim of some plants, and I had to chuckle as 5-6 shrimp abandoned ship after I trimmed a single stem that they were occupying, and it began floating upward.

Cherry Shrimp

Hopefully, the shrimp will clear up the bit of algae that still remains on the rocks and wood. The only other inhabitants are some nerite snails, and 5-6 dwarf Ancistrus sp. L279 “Huaco Mayo.” I’ll try to profile those on their own at a later time.

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75G – 3 Weeks In

November 11th, 2007

It’s been 3 weeks since I rescaped my 75G tank, and things are finally starting to grow in a little bit. After getting home from my recent trip to Williamsburg, VA, this tank looked pretty terrible. The water was yellow in color, and algae had gotten more than a small grip on the hardscape. Over the last week, with water changes, Seachem Excel, and one use of flocculate to help the filter clear the water, it’s finally starting to look halfway decent.

75G - 3 Weeks

The Utricularia graminfolia is growing well, even though it’s getting much taller than I usually see it. Hopefully that’s just a temporary thing. I still have some algae on the manzanita and rocks, but it’s coming under control. And, if you haven’t noticed already, my attempt to do a stem-free tank isn’t going very well, as I’ve got plenty of stems in there. I think that I may end up keeping them in after all. Or at least until the next time I get tired of trimming.

75G - Angled View

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AGA 2007 Contest – My Favorites

November 8th, 2007

It’s been a few days since the 2007 AGA results were announced, and I’ve had a chance to go through all of the entries. I thought it might be fun to display my own “best of” list for this years tanks. Not surprisingly, my tastes differ from the judges, as their Best In Show doesn’t even make my list. No offense to anyone if I didn’t pick your tank, as this is as much personal taste as anything.

So, here’s my top seven in reverse order.

#7
The first tank I really liked isn’t a true aquascape as much as it is more of an art piece. The wood is really nicely organized, and I could just imagine having this on a coffee table. The rock work in the sand is appealing, and the plants themselves, while somewhat minimalistic, all go together.

Entry #86: 63L (17 gallon) Aquatic Garden: “Permeate worlds”
Piotr Suty, Warszawa mazowieckie Poland

#6
This is one of those tanks that I feel I shouldn’t technically like, but I kept coming back to. On paper, you’d say that the left side is too cluttered, and the symmetry is a bit off. That said, I really like the colors, the wood, and just the feat of maintaining all of these stems and making them look this good requires a lot of work.

Entry #149: 250L (66 gallon) Aquatic Garden: “Passage Across The Wood”
Fabio Lorusso, Bologna Italy Italy

#5
As a rule, I tend to really like hillscapes. I love the negative space, and the colors are great. Some of the plants could be a little bit better groomed, but in a way, the wild look of some of the stems gives the hill a bit more character.

Entry #159: 217L (57 gallon) Aquatic Garden: “”Puntius in harmony””
André Luiz Longarço, São Paulo SP Brazil

#4
Another hillscape! This one is a little bit more refined. It also incorporates more rocks nicely into the hill itself, and is quite serene.

Entry #112: 243L (64 gallon) Aquatic Garden: “Sonata”
Guillermin Nicolas, Poissy France

#3
I’ve seen this tank before, as Jason is a GWAPA member, but really isn’t clouding my judgement. I’m not exactly sure how to categorize this aquascape. It’s not exactly a nature aquarium style, but it isn’t quite dutch either. I love the use of color in this tank, and the moss work on the rocks is fantastic. It looks more like an illustration than a real tank, and I love its uniqueness.

Entry #146: 284L (75 gallon) Aquatic Garden: “Valley to the East”
Jason Baliban, Phoenixville PA USA

#2
A fantastic scape that was ranked highly in this years’ ADA contest, and one that deserves any accolade that it receives. I love the use of the petrified wood-looking rocks, as you don’t often see these used effectively in many aquascapes. The moss is trimmed masterfully, and overall everything is almost perfect.

Entry #190: 160L (42 gallon) Aquatic Garden: “Field of Dreams”
Hui Kam Man, Hong Kong Hong Kong

#1
What may be my favorite scape of all time, all you have to do is mention “the tree scape” at your local club meeting, and everyone knows that this is the tank you’re referring to. The surrounding ground cover around the tree could be fuller, but the tree itself provides such a focal point that none of that matters. The moss is groomed perfectly to look like a tree. The fish resemble birds in the sky, and the use of negative space and depth through sloping is fantastic. What else can I say, this is my Best In Show!

Entry #20: 57L (15 gallon) Aquatic Garden: “Syrah”
Filipe Alves Oliveira, Porto Matosinhos Portugal

Do you agree with my favorites? Are there tanks that I’ve forgotten. Please sound off in the comments.

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