Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Garden wildlife’

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Macro Monday 1st June 2020

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a new species visiting the lambs’ ears in my garden. After work I had gone into the garden to morph into a normal human again. The sun had moved to the point where shade was covering the flowerbeds but still an insect was busy and behaving in an unusual way.

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The insect was bumblebee-like and was visiting the hairy stems of the flower. It was a wool carder bee, a solitary bee that looks quite a bit like the common carder bumblebee (which I featured two weeks ago). My camera was inside and the bee came and went, without ever returning.

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Then, one evening last week I also went out into a shadier garden to try and forget about the existence of email, and this time I had my camera with me. The bee was coming and going again, making return visits. It was gathering up hairs from the stem of the plant and gathering them into small beardy bundles.

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When it flew up to head off with its cuttings, it would hover around and look right at me. It looked like it had a little white beard.

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I think you can see here where the hairs have been removed from the plant.

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I bought this plant last year and have had to wait a year for it to flower. It has the beautiful pink flowers that can easily be confused for an orchid if you don’t know the difference. It’s actually in the dead-nettle family, where plants like spearmint reside. I’ve been looking forward to it flowering throughout this period of staying at home. I think it should flower through the summer and there are plenty of flowerheads to keep it (and this blog) going.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 25th May 2020

Happy Bank Holiday Monday to British readers. Recent weather has been hot, with strong winds coming in on Friday, blowing macro out of the equation. I’ve kept to my routine of garden and local walking.

Last week I said the bumblebee workers were beginning to appear, and this week I’m keeping up to my promise.

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I took lots of photos of bumblebees visiting flowers but they are very difficult to get in focus because of the shallow depth of field that macro lenses have. Therefore, the only decent photos I got were the header image and this here. These open spiked flowers are excellent for bumblebees, similar to foxgloves.

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I had better luck with the solitary bees such as this mason bee visiting a cranesbill flower. I’ve noticed that our bee hotel is now quiet and the early spring activity has ended. But the mason bees are still active. I wonder where they’re spending their time?

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A few weeks ago I mentioned a mason bee that was giving me the right royal runaround. I think this is the same bee. I can see it from the window upstairs as it find the same place to bask on a sleeper that separates our garden from the brick patio.

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Here he or she is again up close. I love the golden sheen of its head, it’s almost like something from an episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

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This is a new bee for my garden list and a species I haven’t seen before. It’s a relative of the hairy-footed flower bee which is a common early spring species. I think it’s a four-banded flower bee, Anthophora quadrimaculata. They nest in buildings. There’s plenty of dodgy mortar around where I live to provide them with a home.

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Moving on from the bees, despite what this hoverfly may have wanted, many species pretend to have the look of a wasp or bee. This is an area of evolutionary biology I’d like to learn more about (if you know a good book, please let me know). This is a bee-mimicking hoverfly. This one is mimicking a carder bumblebee with its ginger thorax (I’ve got one too).

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It’s not just hoverflies that mimic bees and wasps. One afternoon I noticed there was a wasp beetle sitting on my window ledge. In London I’ve seen these beetles on yellow and black things that help them to camouflage. I once saw one on the pedestrian road crossing box which is black and yellow. Urban insectlife at its best.

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In the bug world I found this mirid bug posing on the lamb’s ear (which, by the way, is so close to flowering). It had a lovely orange glow to its body and eye, merging with the green.

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When I was a teenager I can recall insects crash landing behind the TV on summer nights when we had the window open. The culprit was almost always a hawthorn shieldbug smashing into the lamp. This week one tried to join me at my desk while I worked from home. Perhaps this was the same bug that I originally met on the garden fence.

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Having spent time trying to find jumping spiders, they are now coming to me. Eating lunch in the garden, I have found jumping spiders exploring my arms and legs. They’re really very sweet arachnids. I’m not sure if it’s producing this spider silk or just crossing it.

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This was another chance encounter in the lamb’s ear, where all the cool invertebrates hang out. I couldn’t resist keeping the background bokeh in the crop.

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I accept that some spiders are less cute and fluffy. But this yellow crab spider was incredible. It was hanging around the lamb’s ear seeking its prey. It didn’t really mind me getting close with my small mirrorless camera. I know many people are missing hugs right now, but this probably isn’t the hug you’re looking for.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 18th May 2020

This week Boris Johnson gave us peasants the freedom to travel wherever we like. Just not to see the family I haven’t seen for three months. We were also allowed to go out for a dog-run-bike-marathon more than once a day. Better yet, we got 12 hours notice that we should go back to work if we could, by hoverboard. Safe to say, I kept my macro lens on a short lead and took it for a walk in the garden.

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A lot of people will be feeling like this dandelion head at the moment.

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Personally I find black and white photography in a digital format does not get anywhere near genuine 35mm film.

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We’re entering into a time when early summer flowers are appearing as the first spring blooms wither away. The weather this week has been far cooler and I’ve taken the chance to ignore the insects and focus more on flowers. This allium is just beginning to appear.

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These look like some kind of delphinium and are a remnant from the previous owner of our house. So far they have proven very attractive for bees, so they will be staying. Before flowering they look something akin to headgear from a sci-fi movie.

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Depth of field is an important part of macro. Macro lenses have a very shallow depth of field (ZzZzzzz), meaning that most of the image will be out of focus. It can produce incredibly beautiful and dreamy images. This is a creeping buttercup growing wild in the borders.

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Another remnant of the previous owner are chives. Like the allium this is another member of the lily family.

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These bulbous flowers have been threatening to reveal themselves for about two months. All through that time the ants have been patrolling the buds. I think they’re extracting nectar or something. Part of me wonders if they’re re-sealing the buds to keep them in this forever-state.

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I’ll finish this week’s flowery post as it began. This is what you should expect next week: bees+flowers. The bumblebee workers are now out in force, like this common carder bee. This is a potted scabious that we’ve had for two years now. Interestingly only this year have bees been visiting the flowers. Something must have been wrong with them in their store-bought state, perhaps they had chemicals in them at first? I don’t know. They’re one of my favourite plants and we’re entering into their time, when the remnant downlands of southern England will be plastered with them. For now, I’ll be in the garden.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 11th May 2020

Stay alert, for insects that is. We’ve seen some hot weather in the past week and it’s brought the insect life back out after a cool previous week. With the physical distancing measures still in place, it’s not possible to do any meaningful macro work away from home. I have been on my official walk from home with a macro lens but it’s not the time. Despite this, the one thing I am reminded of again and again is, with macro I get my best results in my garden. It’s a small patch in a network of open gardens in an urban location, but it gives me the chance to focus on small areas.

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The winner of this week’s challenge is thyme. If you want to support pollinators, plant this. Scatter seeds amongst brickwork and it can also come through. It’s also a wonderful herb for cooking and other purposes.

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This week it provided forage for a mint moth, a species I snapped a couple of weeks ago on my car. This is a beautiful and quite common day-flying moth. I can only imagine what other moth species might be visiting this under dark.

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They are real charmers and should also help to educate most people in England who have been misinformed that all moths eat your clothes. They don’t, and they need you to give them plenty of thyme.

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The thyme also attracted a new species for me (not necessarily a big deal) in the form of a five-spotted club-horned wasp. I was unsure whether this was a bee or a wasp. I thought it looked fairly close to the Lasioglossum bees due to its long, thing shape and long antennae. On Twitter I got an answer from Lukas Large that it was in fact a wasp. They’re cleptoparasites of mason bees, which we have plenty of in our bee hotel and other parts of the garden.

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On that same sunny lunchbreak I found what I think is probably a yellow-legged mining bee. Here you can see its pollen cache scattering onto the surface of the leaf.

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A sign that the countryside is tantalisingly close is this dungfly. There are over 60 species of dungfly in the UK so one shan’t trouble one’s self with an ID. I’ve only ever seen these as visitors to gardens or in grasslands grazed by cattle. They are quite hilarious on cow pats. Had to be there.

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On a greyer afternoon I took a compulsory visit to the lamb’s ear patch and, as ever, there was something hanging out in its fluffy world of leaves. This is an oil beetle.

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Many thanks must go to this beetle for being so chilled in front of the camera. He/she has the potential to go far as a macro model.

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Condragulations are due to another species this week. Zebra jumping spiders are regular visitors to just about every wooden surface in my garden. I find getting their eyes in focus really very difficult, as I’ve said before. With this beautiful spider I only noticed later that the sun cast a long shadow, making it look far greater than it is. It’s like the old proverb ‘fear makes the wolf bigger than he is‘. Really this spider is so harmless and cute it could help people who have an irrational fear of them. Maybe not.

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The moral of how much ‘better’ my photos seem to be at home played out again. I had just been on my ration of walking and not really managed to get any photos I was happy with. Then I came home and this zebra jumping spider walked over and looked right up at me. Bear in mind this spider is about as big as a couple of grains of rice. The look it gives are either an eye-rolling, here we go again, or a, just take the photo and leave me alone.

Whatever it was thinking, I was happy.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 30th March 2020

Like 25% of all humans, I am now confined to a new way of living. Work from home if you can and exercise in your garden if you have one. It’s not military arrest, yet. So like many others who are promoting our #NaturalHealthService online I’m starting a weekly Macro Monday blog series.

This is one of the best times of year for photography, the days have just grown longer and the warmer weather means more wildlife is making its way out of the woodwork. Much of the stuff I see with a macro lens literally comes out of the woodwork.

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I’m lucky. I have a small garden, something that is a total privilege when many people do not even have a home. If anyone doesn’t have a garden and wants to see some wildlife during the next few weeks and months, here it is.

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I have been photographing wildlife in the garden attached to the place where I’ve lived for a long time now. Above is a personal favourite, a red mason bee living in a garden gate! For me going on safari is not attractive, because of the cost, the trauma of long-distance travel for both me and the environment, and because if you have a macro lens of any kind, you can see so much close to home. You can appreciate the beauty in the everyday. I think there’s a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote for that.

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Let’s see how this goes, an outlet for the frustrations to come but also a view into the world that will continue its natural cycles despite what us humans do. This week I have had to apologise to neighbours on several occasions for hanging around the hedge with a camera. I have several macro lenses and one of them is quite long and could easily be mistaken for a snooper’s telephoto lens. To the person who is a couple of gardens away but too far for me to apologise, I’m sorry.

The hedge I’ve been hanging around was one I actually intended to remove because it’s quite dominant and I’d prefer a mixed hedge which will support a greater range of insect species. But this hedge has been brimming with life, especially droneflies, a species of hoverfly that look much like a honeybee. Hold on tight:

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You may already have lost count of the amount of images of animals close together with the caption ‘ha, they don’t care a damn about social distancing!’ so I’ll leave that one alone.

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The insects I look out for most of all are the bees. We have over 200 species in the UK and the diversity is astonishing. I think this is a yellow-legged mining bee. I’m not sure why but bees and wasps do seem to be more attractive in their side eyes and the three ocelli on top, also providing optical vision.

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This is probably one of the leafcutter bees but I’m not sure. It was happy to be approached while basking on the shrub that all the insects seemed to enjoy.

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Away from the insects, spiders have a predilection for the wooden fence on one side of the garden in the early morning sun. This zebra jumping spider gave me a right run around. Later that day I actually found one in the house, not the first time, but I think it had squeezed its way under the window.

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Early spring is also a time when spiders are basking in sunny spots on leaves. I bought this stachys flower last year and planted it out, only for it not to really do anything. Since moving house I transplanted it and am hoping it will come to life this year. It’s a member of the dead-nettle family and proves very good for bees.

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Perhaps a little more sinister, this spider looked to me to be eating salt from the soil. I have no ecological basis for that argument other than I know butterflies and other invertebrates do the same.

Thanks for reading.

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