Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Macro’

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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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Planthoppers on a sage leaf

Macro Monday 4th May 2020

This week I’m going to get my excuses in early. The weather in West Sussex has been cool and wet over the past week. The insect life has was shoved back into March, with April ending as many would have expected it to start. This is not good for fairweather macro photographers.

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Working from home for 40 hours a week doesn’t help. Lunch breaks are spent trying to make food, rather than having it ready to eat. This is also the time in the day when the insect life is most active – that is not necessarily a good thing because they’re too quick and the light can be very harsh. Last week it chucked down all kinds of rain during my lunch breaks. Saturday was much better though and the time for the flowering of lambs’ ears gets closer and closer. The image above shows my main studio.

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Up close you can see how attractive the leaves are for planthoppers. They look warm and easy to attach to. This planthopper had its own window through which it could look out onto the world.

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I noticed far fewer bees this week, though the bumblebee colonies are open for business. This fly was resting on a raspberry leaf.

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We have inherited most of the plants in our garden and I am waiting to see what these flowers are. For the past few weeks ants have been feeding on the leaves as they open, no doubt producing nectar or something that is useful to them.

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Zebra jumping spiders are one of the only species I ever see in my garden but for maybe one other. I’ve actually had one in the bathroom sink. At last, I managed to get one with its eyes in focus.

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I am very fortunate to be able to walk to the countryside from where I live. I haven’t driven or travelled to any green space other than on foot or by bike for six weeks. I believe very strongly that people should not be taking the piss at the moment. Also, the guidance from the police is massively confusing and I know it is acceptable to drive a short distance away if you need to for exercise. This is a nature reserve on the edge of the River Arun that I visited at the end of the week. My garden is small and in an urban location with little connectivity with wider green spaces. Here however there was much more going on.

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In 2014 I went to the Czech Republic at this time of year and there was a ‘plague’ of St. Mark’s flies. I have never seen so many insects as I did then in Czechia, they were in the towns and the countryside. I enjoy how chilled this insect is here.

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The hazel hedges are now fully in leaf. I found this species of lacewing with a beautiful jade eye and black and white markings to its body.

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I really have no idea what this fly is, perhaps a dancefly. That is a proboscis you don’t want to meet in a dark alley. It’s obviously used to suck the life out of something.

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This is a lovely time of year. I love when the trees flower. This is possibly the biggest clutch of oak flowers I’ve ever seen on one branch. If you can find joy in new things like this, you’re winning.

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The oak saplings are leafing in the grasslands, where people probably don’t want them to be.

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The first clovers are now coming into flower. Starting this weekly(!) blog in March means that now there’s a chance to look more at flowers. It will be very sad to miss the chalk downlands this year because it’s too far from my home to get to. One thing this time should teach us is how important green space is for our health. If this situation does not lead to greater protection for green space and the drive to provide more of it, then what will?

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 27th April 2020

It’s true that I started last week’s post with a parasitic wasp in my living room. That phrase is enough to make most of the UK faint. This week it happened again. But rest assured, there are other species to enjoy this week.

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When I see an insect trapped indoors, I am the sort of person who needs to try and let them all out before being able to sleep at night. I accept that is probably a compulsive behaviour reflecting an anxiety disorder. In this instance I didn’t get the chance. I went to drink from my camomile tea, dear reader, and there was a small insect floating in the water.

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I plucked the insect out of my tea and it lay perfectly splayed on my fingertip. It was a tiny ichneumon wasp, a group of insects which I went into more detail about last week. As it dried out its beautiful form began to appear. I found a piece of paper and placed it on the white surface. My cameras are now living in the living room so they were close by and I took a few snaps. It was a beautiful specimen. I am not intending to try and identify it because I will probably get told off by the local Hymenopterist via iRecord.

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My time in the garden in the past week has largely been spent chasing this small bee around. It’s probably a male blue mason bee with the Latin name of Osmia caerulescens. Another book is telling me (not literally) that it’s Osmia leaiana. They have large green-blue eyes and zip around for a while before settling down on a hot surface like a cat in a sun patch.

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To say this tiny solitary bee gave me the run around is probably understatement of the lockdown era next to ‘drinking disinfectant will not help you’.

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The bee liked to rest just long enough on a surface for me to get there. I had to approach it with exactly the right camera settings and focus on my lens to be able to get a decent photo. The satisfaction of getting a decent image was massive. Little wins and all that.

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I think this is a female blue mason bee having a bit of a rest on the roof of the logstore. Safe to say the highlights of the past six weeks in many ways have been getting an in-focus photograph of an insect like this.

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The internet is awash with stunning photos of jumping spiders. They are cute and fluffy with massive cartoon eyes. This was the best attempt I made at getting something in focus. I don’t believe in taking them out of the wild for a photography shoot – the ichneumon wasp doesn’t count! – so I am trying to get them in focus in the wilds of my woodstore shelf roof. If there is any type of spider that will help people get over a fear of spiders, it should be this one.

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My car hasn’t moved very much in the past 6 weeks but it’s proving useful for insects basking in the afternoon sun. This mint moth was doing just that on the bonnet.

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The biggest surprise in the garden this week was spotted early one morning before I started work. On the side of a hexagonal flower pot I noticed some unusual wing shapes. I realised it was an insect and nipped inside to get my camera. It was in the shade and temperatures were only just rising. It was a mayfly, one of 51 in the UK. I know very little about this group of insects other than that they appear en-masse over rivers and that they only live for one day. How did it get to my garden? The River Arun is ten minutes walk away but it was a real joy to think it had used my garden to shelter for half its short life.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 20th April 2020

The warm weather in Sussex has fizzled out, replaced by cloud and a quite cool wind. It’s thrown the insect life back under shelter, but for a couple of hot lunchtimes when I nipped out into my garden with the camera and one encounter in my own living room.

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One of the more interesting encounters with the animal kingdom in the past week has been this ichneumon wasp. Like many people who try to photograph these insects, I find it very frustrating. Their diversity reaches several thousand species in the UK (not something we can say often in Britain) but they are so flighty that they’re very difficult to photograph. The best results for me have been when some are distracted on flowers in the carrot family (Umbellifers). Ironically, the inchneumon above was in my living room at midnight! Again, I can see one on the garden window as I type this.

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This is a Nomada bee that is a parasitic species. I had tried earlier that evening to snap some solitary bees and wasps in the garden, but this was the best I could do. In the way that landscape photographers lose their cool over beautiful light entering a valley, I feel the same about species like this and the wasp above. A book that helped me to appreciate that there are people far more passionate about ichneumon wasps is The Snoring Bird by Bernd Heinrich. It’s a biographical account of Heinrich’s life and that of his father who travelled around the world discovering new species. It tells the incredible story of his father’s flight from the Nazis in the Second World War and his attempts to protect his collection.

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Ichneumon wasps are also what made Darwin consider that such is nature’s cruelty, there can be no benevolent God. On a sunnier day I managed to get closer to a very small wasp. That is, I think it’s a wasp. Some solitary wasps are, upon closer inspection, sawflies or other relatives.

This may be news to some people, but we owe our way of life to solitary wasps. Bees, which are crucial to food production, evolved from them about 130million years ago and their heritage is far more ancient. Everyone hates on the common social wasp Vespula vulgaris, but the are many thousands of species that you slander when you say ‘I hate wasps’. As Chris Packham once put it, when asked what is the point of wasps, ‘what is the point of you’!

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Solitary bees are close relatives of wasps. One book I read said that bees evolved when a solitary wasp decided to eat some pollen instead. I’m not sure what species this is. There were a couple flitting around and resting nicely for their close-up.

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It was basking on the yellow leaves of the hedge.

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We have just moved to a new house (it’s quite old) and so I have been watching to see what the unknown plants get up to before removing or replacing anything. This is a geranium that seems quite popular with the local bees. This solitary bee was covered in pollen.

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That hot lunch break (also think I had some hot food) was topped by a seasonal first. I noticed that a hedge in a neighbouring garden had an unusual flight movement around it. It rested to catch some rays and then I could see it was a large red damselfly. Now that is definitely not a wasp.

Thanks for reading.

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