Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

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Macro Monday 24th August 2020

Since the end of the heatwave my garden has been hammered by rain and wind. That is not what you need to write a weekly blog about taking macro photos. So I went to my local woodland and put the hard graft in to see what I could find.

A bracken and birch gladeBracken and birch glade

The place I visited is an area of oak woodland in the Sussex Weald. It was very windy, not the safest place to be in those conditions. I sought out a spot where I usually find fungi – of which there was nothing – and spent some time looking on the bark of trees and under leaves.

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I carefully turned over oak leaves and my first find was this quite unusual flying insect. I’ve looked through my book and can’t find it in there. My instinct says it’s a lacewing relative. If you know, please comment below.

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This capsule-shaped fly was hoovering up something tasty from the surface of an oak leaf. Soon I was to be haunted by similar mouthparts, on a very different kind of fly.

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I don’t wear shorts in the woods I wear TROUSERS. This is why. In shady areas of woodland which are protected from wind and sun, biting insects lurk. With horseflies, sometimes you don’t know they’re there. I spotted this beautiful insect on my trouser leg by chance. This weird, nervous adrenaline begins to pump when I encounter one of these insects.

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Horseflies have a nasty bite and there is something unsettling about their predatory focus on you. I was desperate to get a photo because of how beautiful and mesmeric their eyes are. I managed to lure the horsefly but keep the trousers away from my skin far enough to stop the bite. Above you can see how intelligent it is. It’s trying to bite through the seam in the trouser lining.

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Unlucky for the horsefly, it didn’t manage to break through. After a while, it became so ‘annoyed’ that it started aiming for my face so I just left! The thing I always forget is that horseflies follow you and don’t give up easily. I did have the images I was hoping for, though.

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I haven’t mentioned wasps this week. But there are just so many species out there that it’s almost inevitable one will turn up. This is probably one of over 2000 species of ichneumon wasp that we have in the UK, which you can read more about here. Those long antennae are an indicator, for my untrained eye.

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That wasn’t the last wasp I saw. I was checking out the trunk of an oak tree, having just watched Thomas Shahan’s latest video where he did the same (I’ll embed it at the bottom of the post, it’s worth watching). I saw a black fly-like insect about the size of a moss frond running up the trunk. It was really hard to photograph but I got some pics in focus.

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I could see that it was a gall wasp, the first one I have ever managed to photograph. We should be thankful to these wasps because without them we would never have produced the major written works our own species has managed to produce so beautifully.

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What am I on about? These are galls, a growth which forms on oak leaves. Within the protective casing you see above is the egg or developing larva of a gall wasp. In the autumn the casings will fall away and the insect will hatch out in the spring. Galls come in many shapes and sizes. Some oak galls are used to create ink, and have been used across the world in producing texts and other works for thousands of years.

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Oak apple galls are the most famous (not pictured here). The galls are used to produce the inks that penned the American Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta, among so many other important texts. Another thing to thank wasps for!

Thanks for reading.

More macro

Photos taken with Nikon D5600, Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens, Nikon SB-700 flash with diffuser

11 Responses to “Macro Monday: another thing to thank wasps for”

  1. Anne Hercock

    Another really good blog. Amazing close up of horse fly. I have used oak gall ink and know someone who collected galls and made it. Messy business it was! Looking forward to next week. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Daniel James Greenwood

      Hi Anne! Thanks for your kind words. I was worried I’d messed up the horsefly pics but then it came back for more, thankfully…

      A colleague in a previous job made some and was selling it for charity. Messy work!

      See you next time.

      Daniel

      Reply
  2. oneletterup

    Oh my, you are one brave macro photographer. Patient too. Really amazing detail. I hope to someday have this kind of success with my macro lens. Still learning!

    Reply
    • Daniel James Greenwood

      Ha, thank you! I went into this experience very impatient but the trees dialled me down. Macro is all about practice, location, weather conditions! It’s only ever I work in progress I think. The most important thing for me is the meditative effect it can have, and seeing things that are otherwise impossible to see.

      Have fun!

      Daniel

      Reply
      • oneletterup

        You’re welcome. I also find it to be meditative. Focusing attention like that helps clear everything else out (so to speak). Each new macro is a discovery and possible mystery to be solved!
        ๐Ÿ™‚ Andrea

      • Daniel James Greenwood

        Yes definitely. It does confuse me how people are desperate to take the same landscape photo as everyone else, when each macro is a tiny landscape that may never have been witnessed! Have learned so much from seeing the world through a macro lens.

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