Blog

Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: the fencepost jumping spider

Another week and it’s another spider post. This time, it’s a spider that also likes posts.

One evening a couple of weeks ago I had logged off from work and went out into the garden to look at something other than an email. It was a warm evening and the sun was dipping below the surrounding roofs. I noticed a blemish on the fence, a place of macro dreams.

I identified the blemish immediately as a jumping spider but one bigger than the usual crowd. Even better, it was sitting still!

The grey-brown colouring of the spider helped to camouflage it against the sun-bleached wood of the fence. It was no surprise at all, when looking at my spider book later, that I learned this was a fencepost jumping spider!

Finding a jumping spider as relaxed as this and in an accessible position can raise the adrenaline levels, meaning you can lose composure and not get images that are in focus. That said, probably about 90% of macro photos I take are out of focus because the range is wafer thin. The stars aligned this time, however.

The spider was so still that there were no issues. It seemed quite interested by me and looked straight down the lens, as far as I could tell.

One of these images will certainly go down as portfolio worthy, at least in terms of happy memories. And really there’s no better place to end this post than looking into the eyes of Britain’s largest jumping spider!

I hope you like (my) posts, too.

Thanks for reading.

Equipment used: Nikon D5600, Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro, Nikon SB-700 flash, Raynox-250 macro adaptor. Photos edited in Adobe Lightroom.

More macro

Recent macro posts

Poetry: winter/spring haiku

For those who aren’t aware, I am a self-published poet of very little renown, thank god. You can see more about that here.

I have a third booklet of poems which are not far off being ready but I’ve written very little in the past year. My pandemic mind has not helped me to write anything, or to read any poetry either.

That changed when I started reading the Penguin book of Haiku a few months ago. It definitely inspired me. I found the 5/7/5 syllable structure to be simple enough for my stay at home mind. That said, I don’t keep to strict rhyming systems anyway as I find that too restrictive most of the time.

I first learned about haiku when studying creative writing at university. It was great to get back into it again. Here is a selection:


Coronavirus,
once an ogre in the woods,
now walks among us

who predicted this?
a whole year of hidden life,
of feeding the cat

why has this happened
when we thought we knew it all
but we knew nothing

January days
never much light to be had
but the darkness fades

coffee-coloured mud
still holds panes of brittle ice
that break underfoot

the pond is frozen
wind moves the willow branches
listen: the ice cracks

bullfinch pink, perching,
it travels through the pine trees
the female follows

streaming over stone
the gill flows through the woodland
taking everything

primroses ready
to open flowers again
to mark the season

hairy-footed bees
cruising around the flowers
searching for a mate

peregrine falcon
passing over where I live
(thankful Iโ€™m human)

the headless pigeon:
nobody knows who killed it
or who took its head

a storm came at lunch
sudden whipping back of trees
raindrops splattered glass

face masks in gutters
did people mean to drop them?
one had shit on it

gulls cry from the roof
sparrowhawk sails overhead
followed by a crow

at dusk the wagtails
together on the rooftops
one by one they fly

when will it all end?
will there be a ringing bell
or will it change us

what if we are trapped
if this is our punishment
for taking too much

when will we hug our
mothers, fathers, our children,
when will it be safe?

oak trees black at dusk
clouds build on the horizon
the river flows on

a trespassing drone
seen off by a grey heron
both in silhouette

waiting on the news
you expect the worst of it
but the sun rises

ยฉ Daniel James Greenwood 2021

Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: the zebra in the room

I know that this blog has focused a lot on spiders this year. My spider knowledge is basic and these posts, their photos and required dip into spider ecology (arachnology) helps me to improve that knowledge. I recently purchased a spider ID guide (Britain’s Spiders by Bee, Oxford and Smith) and it’s helped me to gradually open a better understanding of these, well, misunderstood animals. I do wonder how much the tales of antipodean killer spiders has made people in England, where there are no venomous native spiders, needlessly fearful. Of course it’s different for arachnophobes.

My favourite group of spiders are the jumping spiders, the salticids. The first jumper I ever saw or photographed was one of the zebra spiders, of which we have three species in the UK. You can only identify them with microscopic assessment of their genitals, which is beyond this blog. Regardless, I found a zebra spider on the wall of my living room, which I now appreciate is just a giant invertebrate trap. I have actually also had a starling find its way in.

I knew this would be a good chance to try and get some good photos of the spider because there are few places to hide. I helped the spider onto my finger tip which, though the photo isn’t focused properly, does show how small (and harmless) it is.

And here is a reminder to you all of how most macro photos come out – out of focus. I suppose it’s half the fun.

Zebra spiders are beautiful inverts. Their name obviously comes from their black and white patterning.

One part of the spider that I really wanted to share is its fangs. They are seen below the pedipalps, what are effectively reporoductive organs for spiders. I presume the spider was hunting for prey, or perhaps even looking for a mate.

I helped the spider back out onto the windowsill where it wandered along the draught excluding brush. I hope it found what it was looking for (unless you were the thing it was looking for!).

Thanks for reading.

More macro

Unlocking Landscapes podcast: south London’s ancient woodlands

In this episode, I am delighted to welcome Chantelle Lindsay and Sam Bentley-Toon. Chantelle and Sam are environmental professionals who worked together on London Wildlife Trustโ€™s Great North Wood project. You can also listen via these podcast providers:

Apple: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/unlocking-landscapes/id1551547335

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/3fkXaryfdB1g0PVdz6WPMb

Podbean: https://unlockinglandscapes.podbean.com

Chantelle and Sam share their experiences of protecting and managing south Londonโ€™s ancient woodlands. They talk about their passion for volunteering and some of the challenges that woodland conservation in London involves.

We also discuss rewilding in a London context and whether beavers could possibly be returning to London.

Since recording this podcast, Sam has moved on to work on Londonโ€™s rivers and Chantelle has become a minor-celebrity with her brilliant appearances on Blue Peter and a Great North Wood-focused segment on BBCโ€™s Springwatch.

People like Sam and Chantelle are lesser known in the conservation world, but they are having big impacts at a community level. Their contribution to our understanding and enjoyment of landscapes is really special and should not be underestimated. Of course, you can say the same for many people the world over, and just itโ€™s such a pleasure to be able to feature people like Chantelle and Sam on this podcast.

Thanks for tuning in and I hope you enjoy the episode.

Links:

Chantelle on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Chan_Naturelle

London Wildlife Trust’s Great North Wood Project: https://www.wildlondon.org.uk/great-north-wood

London Wildlife Trust’s Keeping It Wild Project: https://www.wildlondon.org.uk/keeping-it-wild

Chris Schuler’s Great North Wood episode: https://unlockinglandscapes.podbean.com/e/the-wood-that-built-london-londons-historic-great-north-wood-with-chris-schuler/

Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: spring spiderlings

Just a note that throughout June I’m posting a macro photo each day for the Wildlife Trusts’ #30DaysWild campaign, which you can keep up with here!

There has been a clear shift in the invertebrate world and it’s resulted in a lot of macro photos for me. So much so that I can’t fit them all in one post and will need to post more than once a week!

After early May’s heavy downpours, warmer weather arrived towards the end of the month and with that the insects, spiders and other arthropods. Summer feels closer now, with June being that tipping point between cooler spring weather and the hot mess of July.

One day last week I noticed a small clutter of, well, things on the garden fence. From a distance they looked like a smudge. At closer viewing they were tiny spiders all bundled together. This will be quite disconcerting to some people perhaps, including a friend of mine who I hide social media posts from because of his arachnophobia. I don’t have that problem luckily and I’m fascinated by spiders.

I had no idea what the spiders were until I submitted the record to iNaturalist and then waited for a suggestion. I leafed through my new spider book and landed on a page with the same image as the one that heads this post. They are garden spider spiderlings! The scientific name is Araneus diadematus.

It is pretty amazing that they will develop to be such large spiders, holding their places in webs over the summer months. Imagine the biomass of flies and other insects this clutch will manage to consume over the months ahead. Then again, many of them will be taken as prey themselves by birds and other insects. Don’t forget there are such things as spider-hunting wasps.

Here is one of those spiderlings (I am guessing) having set up its own web on the other side of the garden (approx. 3-4 metres).

And here was one of the adults garden spiders. I don’t know enough about the ecology of this species to say if this could be the parent or one which appeared earlier in the spring. One thing is assured – they will be getting much bigger and by August you won’t be able to miss them.

Thanks for reading.

More macro

Recent posts:

Unlocking Landscapes podcast: south London’s ancient woodlands

https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/z3ethg/UL_Ep5_SBT_CL_Master10ayke1.mp3 In this episode, I am delighted to welcome Chantelle Lindsay and Sam Bentley-Toon. Chantelle and Sam are environmental professionals who worked together on London Wildlife Trustโ€™s Great North Wood project. You can also listen via these podcast providers: Apple: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/unlocking-landscapes/id1551547335 Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/3fkXaryfdB1g0PVdz6WPMb Podbean: https://unlockinglandscapes.podbean.com Chantelle and Sam share their experiences of protecting and managing… Continue reading Unlocking Landscapes podcast: south London’s ancient woodlands

Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: gearing up for London’s planthoppers

I visited the family home last week and, despite heavy rain most of the time, managed to spend an hour papping the inverts in the garden. The garden has good views of London’s ever-changing (and IMO, degrading) skyline, not that the inverts much care. The view is a bizarre localised battleground, with neighbours trying to annoy their nemeses by blocking the view where they can, usually with trees. My parents also received a letter once passively offering to pay for tree surgeons to cut their trees down so a neighbour could enjoy this view. Otherwise, London’s gardens are quickly become outdoor rooms, if all your indoor rooms contained plastic grass and a Porsche.

Smokebush looking lovely in the low evening light

The garden was quite aggressively rewilded in recent years (๐Ÿ‘€) and has become particularly rich in birdlife. It’s a mixture of small trees, hedges, shady and sunny areas, with ornamental plants like smokebush and the otherwise invasive snowberry, but also lots of self-seeded wildflowers.

Female hairy-footed flower bee having a bask

I find that early evening, on what has been a warm or sunny day is a really good time to look for inverts. Particularly if there’s a shrub or hedge with some of the low evening sun. All the life photographed here was on the combination of elder, bramble, snowberry and hawthorn that made up the garden’s boundary hedge. My first species was this female hairy-footed flower bee, often mistaken for a bumblebee. She is solitary, and she is usually being followed by a male bee. I haven’t seen any males in the past week, so I think their time has been and gone for 2021. It’s the work of the female bees to now finalise the chambers and food caches for next year’s brood.

Common carder bee

One of the most common bees in London is seen here, the common carder bee. This gingery bee was also basking and preening in the low-slung sun. They are fairly easy to identify if you can acquaint yourself with their ‘ginger’ thorax. Don’t quote me on that.

Marmalade hoverfly

The hawthorn was blossoming and a marmalade hoverfly was feeding on the flowers. It was nice to see, as English hawthorns appear to be falling silent, in comparison to those in Europe. This is a really very common hoverfly.

Here it is again, having stocked up on nectar. They get their name from the orange and yellow abdomen.

Gammoptera ruficornis, named after its red antennae

Though I was seeing mainly common species, I found one that I’d never seen before. It’s always nice to see a longhorn beetle and this species, Gammoptera ruficornis, was new to me. It was first feeding on the hawthorn flowers but then moved to bask on this leaf. It gets its name from its red antennae, hence the ‘rufi’ in the scientific name.

A planthopper in the Issus genus

This is a planthopper in a stage of metamorphosis, I think, before it becomes an adult. Having read about this genus, Issus, I’ve learned that this group have biological versions of gears. They are the only animals to use gears, other than those invented by us humans. Amazing! They use the gears to hop or propel themselves to such great distances:

This video gives an insight into the jumping prowess of these insects.

I’ve covered spiders (well, one) a lot in the past couple of weeks. I found a couple of spiders in the London garden with this one in the process of feeding on what appears to be a former caterpillar.

The magic of macro is of course its ability to ‘blow up’ something like an insect to a size far greater than that seen by the naked eye. This is a speckled bush cricket nymph and, I promise you, with that green on green was almost impossible to see. It reminded me again of the power of patience and of looking more closely.

Thanks for reading.

More macro

Fungi ๐Ÿ„: fungus amongus – common mushrooms in England (Zoom talk)

Really pleased to share this 45 minute Zoom talk I did for Bell House, an educational charity based in London, earlier this month. All the photos here are mine (bar one).

The talk includes a general intro to the ecology and culture of fungi in the UK with a spin through some common species to find.

Thanks to Bell House for giving me the opportunity to speak.

Enjoy!

More mushrooms

Letting the cemeteries grow wild for #NoMowMay

On wilder cemeteries and flowering trees

After a year of lockdowns and Covid waves, I managed to visit London again for a couple of days in what could be the wettest May on record in the UK. May can often be unsettled and is still spring after all, so we shouldn’t be too surprised. That said, I’ve never known it this stormy.

Camberwell Old Cemetery

London is renowned for its wild cemeteries with Nunhead being one of the most famous. One of my favourites is Camberwell Old Cemetery, a haven for uncommon local bird species like green woodpecker, stock dove and mistle thrush. These are species which like open, parkland style habitats with rich grasslands alongside older or veteran trees to nest in.

St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Shard as seen from the cemetery

It has some good views of London’s skyline in places, with quite interesting correlations between tombstones and skyscrapers.

A Victorian gravestone resting against the stump of a horse chestnut

This isn’t something that happens by accident. I can’t tell you how many times in the past I lobbied for these grasslands to be allowed to grow where possible or appropriate. Many times in May I would walk through and find the evidence of strimmed grass where flowers had flourished days previously. It’s a matter of communication with grounds staff but also the political will from people in managerial and leadership roles. There’s also the matter of complaints, the sense of things being ‘unkempt’ and ‘wasteland’.

The demand to mow everything is ingrained in English society. It’s a destructive tendency that reduces biodiversity on many levels, however much unintended. The success of initiatives like #NoMowMay are a sign that things are beginning to change and ecological literacy is developing in society. In places like Camberwell Old Cemetery it’s a ‘no-brainer’ because this is old meadowland and it’s been grown and cut once a year, or so, for hundreds of years.

It’s not just in the grasslands that flowers are appearing at this time of year. Many of our trees are angiosperms (flowering plants) and horse chestnut is one of May’s most attractive.

Up close these flowers can look like orchids, sometimes.

In England we have a tree that is also named after the month. One of hawthorn’s folk names is ‘may’. The ‘haw’ refers to the fruit, the ‘thorn’ the tree’s prickly nature. I wonder if the climate crisis may turn hawthorn into ‘april’.

It’s an exceptionally good tree for invertebrates.

In Czechia, my friend Karel recommended checking the flowers of hawthorn if you’re looking for insects. He wasn’t wrong. This tree was covered in large beetles, hornets, wasps, butterflies and bees, all nectaring on it. We lack that biomass and diversity in the UK, perhaps because we stopped allowing our grasslands to flower. At least we now have #NoMowMay to help us on our way.

There’s an old hawthorn growing in my family’s garden. That evening I had a look for invertebrates on the shrubs and flowers. It was a relief, in a way, to find the flowers of the hawthorn were being pollinated by a marmalade fly. Our hawthorn still has something to offer in the wettest of Mays.

Thanks for reading.

Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: the oak jumping spider returns

I came back from a walk the other day and, customarily, went straight to wash my hands. Looking in the mirror, I noticed something small dangling from my hair. Having just been on a walk my nature senses were fine-tuned and I realised it was an invertebrate. Looking more closely and removing it from my hair with care, I realised it was, one – alive, and two – a jumping spider.

I am fortunate enough not to have any fear of these spiders and, unlike a close friend, I’m not arachnophobic. I also have them fresh in my mind, after having a species of a nationally scarce spider confirmed by the county recorder earlier this week.

I looked at this tiny spider as it rested on my hand and thought, ‘it’s the same species’. I had my camera with me but perhaps not the best lens, i.e. not a macro, but one with some close-focusing capabilities. I took the spider outdoors, anxious that it might jump and never get outside again. I took photos with what I had. Without a macro lens I had to crop the images heavily in post-processing.

Looking at the photos, I am confident it is the same species again, Ballus chalybeius, the oak jumping spider. That confidence is boosted even more by this purchase, which arrived in the post the other day:

I have no idea where this particular spider came from – possibly from any of the oak trees I walked under? The book above states that the species is one of the only ones found only in trees and bushes. Its common name is oak jumping spider, which means I may have picked it up during my walk as there are no oaks anywhere near my house or along the street. It could also means it’s more common than is understood. That’s the beauty of community science!

Thanks for reading.

More macro

Fungi ๐Ÿ„: spring inkcaps

Last week I went to visit a woodland that was for sale. I wasn’t buying and the woodland was quickly snapped up anyway. I hope it went to someone who will care for its wonderful ancient woodland wildlife, and that the badger sett within it will go undisturbed. Leaving this beautiful snippet of the Sussex Weald, I found some mushrooms growing in an area of grassland alongside more woodland.

Common inkcap

We have been inundated with rain in the past 10 days, after a very dry April in southern England. Things are leafing and flowering later than last year, and there have been no spring mushrooms from what I have seen. These were mushrooms that were so plain I really wasn’t sure what they were. I took some photos and posted them on iNaturalist.

They are common inkcaps. I’m not sure how I’ve missed this species before, as this was my first known sighting of them. That wasn’t the final grassland inkcap I was to see in that week.

I have a small garden which is ‘managed’ for wildlife and gentle recreation. We’re currently in the midst of #NoMowMay, an initiative in the UK to let any grasslands grow so flowers can thrive, and all the life that comes with that. It’s not just about flowers, though. I was pleased to see (and nearly step on) a tiny inkcap in the lawn.

This is a golden haired inkcap, quite easily confused with pleated inkcap, I would say. The most obvious difference is the size, with the former much smaller.

After all the rain we’ve had, quenching the woods’ thirst, I’m hopeful of some more shrooms appearing in the next week or so. Fingers crossed!

Thanks for reading.

More mushrooms