Macro Monday: riding the silver carpet

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Macro Monday 13th April 2020

Happy Easter to both of my readers. Hope you and your loved ones are well and that the social distancing is proving manageable. Apologies if this is appearing twice, I was so prepared that I accidentally scheduled an unfinished version of this three days early.

The temperatures have entered the insect realm now and what was tentative in making an appearance in recent weeks is now flying around on its in-built magic carpet. More of those later.

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I have been trying out a new toy, a diffuser for my flashgun. I bought it on Ebay for less than a fiver and it so far has made a massive difference. All the images seen here have been taken with the combination above. It looks hilarious. I’m generally using my Nikon D5600 and Sigma 105mm macro at the moment when nipping out into my small garden at lunch times. It has a crop-sensor which crunches the megapixels into a smaller image, excellent for macro. Attached to the front is a Raynox macro attachment which gives extra magnification.

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More good news. After three years of trying at three different properties a red mason bee has finally found my bee hotel to be sufficient accommodation. Expect to see more of them as the spring progresses and I develop my lurking technique. The key I’ve found is that the location of the bee hotel recieves almost constant direct sun and faces south. Even if it faces south but the available sun sometimes gets blocked, it probably isn’t good enough.

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This is the single greatest insect hotel I’ve ever seen. It belongs to a forestry academic in the Czech Republic on the farm where he lives in Bohemia. It’s about 6ft high and has logs, bricks and lots of clay which many insects love. I spent about an hour lurking around it one warm August morning and the diversity of insect life on it blew my mind. This is what I would some day like to construct for myself. But in the meantime the typical shop-bought bee hotel will have to do.

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I’ve been spending more time hanging around my stachys plant and it keeps coming up with the goods. God only knows what it will be like when it flowers. I could probably do a whole blogpost about it. It’s da bomb. It has the common name of lamb’s ear which is perfect for this time of year. It’s also known as silver carpet (more like magic carpet). This is a groundbug that was perched on a leaf tip, perhaps it’s a birch catkin bug.

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Deeper within the silver carpet I found a capsid bug climbing vertically up through the plant. It took lots of attempts to get this picture. I love the labyrinthine or cave-like feel.

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I’ve recently re-watched The Little Mermaid and this empty spider skin or casing looks to me like one of the lost souls held by Ursula at the bottom of the sea! Those eyes are haunting.

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I’ve been pushing the extreme close-ups to the limit of my equipment. This insect looks somewhat like a relative of a mosquito or gnat. It was absolutely miniscule, barely visible to the naked eye.

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Most triumphant aphid of the week is this character here, claiming the sliver-carpet for itself. I read once that aphids can be carried across continents by sudden upsurges in windflow that draw them up into the sky and then, who knows.

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I’ve also ventured further into the back of the garden where it’s cooler and there are different plants growing. This leafhopper made a lovely contrast with the velvety leaves that are unfurling in the shade. I enjoy the cartoon eyes.

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A few days later I found what I expect are planthoppers in their metamorphic stage, moving from larvae to adult insect.

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This one was incredible up close, like some kind of armoured beast from a sci-fi programme in the early-1990s. I had toys that looked just like this when I was a child.

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Looking equally angry (and rather punk-like) this picture winged fly was poised to take off. As spring progresses, each week will start to show different species of plants and therefore insects. The first butterflies are on the wing now, so let’s see what happens!

Thanks for reading and stay away from each other.

More macro

Here’s a recommended video from a very accomplished macro photorgapher, Thomas Shahan, which was posted this week:

 

 

 

Macro Monday: spiders made of felt

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Macro Monday 6th April 2020

Phew, I made it to a second Macro Monday post! Also in the past week I’ve put together a macro page on my website showcasing my portfolio of macro work if you’re interested.

The warmer sun of last week gave way to early morning frosts, showers and a very cool breeze. It meant that when the sun did shine, the wildlife came out to play. When the sun went in, most of the insects were too cold to move. Perfect subjects!

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As ever with something like macro, the first steps require ‘getting your eye in’. I found this beautiful snail shell and plopped it on the table. Apparently images of spirals like this can create a feeling of calm.

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On Wednesday I was working from the living room which looks out onto the garden. I lost count of the number of times that queen bees thudded against the glass. This is probably a buff-tailed bumblebee. She was struggling to find the energy to fly away but after a short stint in the sun she took off, with a little help of course.

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One sunny corner of the garden seems to be the best place to look for life. This planthopper was very well camouflaged against this stachys leaf. Up close, you can see how hairy the leaves are, no doubt this is helpful to some smaller insects which can use it to grip. This was probably the most difficult picture to capture because the focus is so shallow in macro and the shape of this insect makes it very difficult.

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This area has some bare soil where the wolf spiders sun themselves. This may not be a wolf spider (planning on buying the spider book soon) but it was using the leaves of winter hellebores as a place of rest. The curves of the leaves can create a lovely effect.

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This spider looks like something from the Muppets Christmas Carol, it is so hairy it’s almost like felt. Obviously its prey wouldn’t see it in the same way.

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Head on, it actually looks rather innocent.ย  I know a lot of people definitely don’t feel that way, let alone its prey!

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This is a good time to see red mason bees. I usually look for bees by their lagging flight, almost like something hasn’t quite loaded or buffered! These bees are often found in bee houses but as their name suggests they also enjoy the masonry of real houses. I totally fluffed a photo of a hairy-footed flower bee because I made the mistake of lazily relying on my lens’s autofocus. This week we’ve ordered a flowering currant for our garden to ensure there is nectar for them next year (it’s coming in October so don’t have any choice) and it should be easy to get them involved.

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The flowers of the unnamed shrub I mentioned last week have again been a big draw for insects. This flower beetle was so tiny but I still managed to snap this pic of it drinking nectar.ย Down it! Down it! Down it! Up close you can really see how sugary sweet the stamens appear. Not far off a sugar-coated jelly sweet.

Thanks for reading.

More macro

Macro Monday: wildlife under lockdown

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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.

More macro

Photography: Big Butterfly Count

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Painted lady, London, August 2015

Fifteen minutes in the garden or a green space (or brown space) is all that’s needed to complete the Big Butterfly Count. My fifteen minutes were sumptuous. Not only did a painted lady remain for far longer than the allotted time, but a common blue appeared for the first time ever in my garden. This was the second new sighting locally in two days. Patrick Barkham has written that a hot August will help them. Do have a go, you’d be amazed at what you might see. You have until the end of August. Hanging around buddleia is advisable if you’re competitive.

Photography: Capsid bug

Capsid bug

The garden, London, June 2015

This is a capsid bug, but I’m not sure whether it’s a common green capsid bug or a potato capsid bug. At first I thought it might be a shield bug but the head is completely different. Whichever one it is, it was on a privet bush in the garden, not doing very much.