#30DaysMacro 2022: the final week ๐Ÿ“ท

And so to the final week of the 30 days of macro photography challenge. You can see week one, week two, and week three, by clicking their names.

Day 22/30: a seed of unknown origin resting on a fennel stem. I think it looks like Einstein!
Day 23/30: I didn’t manage to get this photo of a green nettle weevil in focus but the colours on its body are incredible. Perhaps it was a bit older and so had lost some scales.

Day 24/30: the very next day I found another green nettle weevil on my green wheelie bin! I don’t think it’s the same one, but it was posing perfectly and in focus this time. I always want to eye in focus with invertebrate photos.

Day 25/30: something that needs its own post here. It’s a fly that’s succumbed to entomophthora fungus, a parasitic species. I was astonished to find this having read about this kind of thing before, but never expecting to see it.

Day 26/30: in my garden as the light began to fade, I spotted these shieldbug nymphs on a grass head. They’re probably green shieldbugs, even though they’re black at this stage.

Day 27/30: another evening photo, this time of a green mirid bug in some rather posh mallow flowers.

Day 28/30: nettles are great for invertebrates. This is a nursery web spider garden her nest web, which will contain her eggs before they hatch into spiderlings. Hence the name ‘nursery web.’

Day 29/30: I took some photos of a large slug eating the remains of some pigeon feathers but I opted for this one instead. I took a similar image towards the beginning of this challenge, so it felt fitting that the hedgerow-snail-shell-portal-to-another-world would be opening once more as it neared the end.

Day 30/30: I spent the morning in a very nice woodland in Hampshire for the final day of the challenge. I witnessed many inverts at a period when I couldn’t photograph them, but when I had five minutes I found this leaf beetle exploring the edge of its world.

Thanks for reading!

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#30DaysMacro: week three ๐Ÿ“ท

See week one and week two via these links.

Day 15/30: looking around my Mum’s garden in London, I was harnessing the softer evening light and hoping some insects would come and bask. Lo and behold, this large red damselfly flew over my shoulder and landed on a leaf half an arm’s length away!

Day 16/30: I’m not convinced 2022 is a particularly good insect year in the SE of England, but small tortoiseshells have been out in force this year. This one was on a salvia at Polesdon Lacey in the North Downs.

Day 17/30: at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve in East Sussex, I notice peacock butterfly caterpillars racing across the concrete causeway. Somehow, this caterpillar had been hugely unlucky, with its head being trampled on by a foot or a bike. There was a bloke zipping around on an ebike that looked like a motorcycle, which may have been what squashed it. Other caterpillars did make it across, where they were headed I have no idea.

Day 18/30: the difficulty of a photo challenge each day is managing your expectations and trying to keep things simple. I took this photo of a micro-moth in my house at about 9pm or later. At first it looked like a little smudge but with the benefit of flash and a bit of editing, it has red hair like me!

Day 19/30: speaking of red hair, I was taking some macro photos in my garden when a fox that visits us most evenings came as close as she ever has. She always comes to sniff my camera but her boldness suprised me. I recorded this video quickly on my phone. It got quite a lot of traction on Twitter which was quite exhausting but nice that people are interested in foxes.

Day 20/30: at lunchtime I went to a nature reserve within walking distance and found lots of damselflies gallivanting in a nettle patch. This blue damselflies were focused enough for me to get quite close and take a photo.

Day 21/30: I like this photo because the fennel leaves and stems make it look quite abstract. This is probably a meadow spittlebug, a common leafhopper. I took this one after sundown.

Thanks for reading.

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#30DaysMacro 2022: week two ๐Ÿ“ท

I’ve been slow to post week two of my June 2022 macro challenge, mainly due to offline and online duties. But don’t worry, the photos are still being taken and I’m on track to get it all done!

Day 8/30: some heavy rain in West Sussex brought some of the more ephemeral mushrooms out into the open air. These mower’s mushrooms (also known also brown mottlegill) appeared for a day or so after a downpour on my unmown lawn. It has been so hot and dry that the lawn has barely even grown anyway to be honest!

Day 9/30: I spent a good few hours walking around a local woodland expecting miracles (“assumption is a curse” as an old school friend used to say). Instead I just remembered how difficult woodland invertebrate macro can be. It was only until I got out onto the heathland, where the sun hit the woodland edge, that I saw more interesting things. This pic above isn’t perfect, it’s a bit shaky I think, but I do love the story. Ants and aphids have mutualistic relationships which allow the ants to harvest honeydew and the aphids to be protected from predators and also disease. The ants can remove diseased aphids to stop outbreaks. Amazing!

Day 10/30: This was one of those days when I was out and about doing other things but had a camera with a lens with me that did macro. This is a lesser stag beetle clinging to the corner of a brick wall.

Day 11/30: I only managed to venture out into my garden as night was falling. I found an absolutely miniscule wasp of some kind, as well as a typical yellowjacket harvesting wood shavings from the fence. The bug is probably a mirid or plant bug growing into an adult.

Day 12/30: in my garden again and I found this quite beautiful mirid bug.

Day 13/30: venturing out for a long-distance walk in the Surrey Hills, I was amazed to find bird’s nest orchids growing under some yew trees on chalk. I have never seen this orchid before and wasn’t ever expecting to see it. The delights of hiking or rambling over longer distances, especially in June.

Day 14/30: back in the garden with the mirid bugs. This was a very small, perhaps juvenile of some kind, pottering about on a very hairy hazel leaf in my garden.

Thanks for reading. Next up: week 3!

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#30DaysMacro 2022: week one ๐Ÿ“ท

Every June the Wildlife Trusts run a campaign called 30 Days Wild. The aim is to encourage people to notice nature at this special time of year and do one thing each day that connects you with the wild world around you. Last year I did #30DaysMacro, taking and posting one macro wildlife photo each day in June on Twitter. This year, I thought I’d have another go.

I’m threading it daily on Twitter:

I’m going to break the posts up into one each week. It’s actually a lot of work so blogs will be confined to this for now. Here goes!

Day 1/30: zebra jumping spider

My first encounter was with this zebra jumping spider in my garden. I got a bit lucky as it held this position and faced the camera for a good few seconds. They’re usually quite, er, jumpy! I also found some other nice subjects, though, including a mint moth (which seems very common in my garden) and a beautiful greenbottle fly.

Day 2/30: wasp beetle

In the garden again. Really pleased to find a wasp beetle in the hedge just resting on a leaf. They’re another one of those wasp-faking insects, using those terrifying colour patterns to warn any predators. I also found this ichneumon wasp (I think). That is a fairly lethal looking ovipositor protruding at the rear.

Day 3/30: snail vortex

June has been quite wet and grey so far, which is helpful for macro in some ways but not all. The snails get a lot of motivation from the wet hedges and shrubs. This caterpillar was hiding away in the aromatic chambers of a rose flower.

Day 4/30: bumblebee-mimicry

In the garden I spotted this bumblebee-mimic hoverfly on the fence. I’d seen them a couple of days ago duelling over territory, but they were too energised then to get a photo. This one was nice and chilled. It’s nice seeing all those yellow pollen grains, though I’m not sure which flower produced them. The caterpillar here may be the one that was taking shelter the previous day.

Day 5/30: wasp cleaning antennae

Guess where? Garden again! Another cloudy day but quite warm so the insects were out and about. I got quite close to this wasp which was giving its antennae a good clean.

Day 6/30: bee phone pic

Due to work commitments/time constraints I couldn’t spend any time in my garden with dedicated macro equipment. I was walking down a main road in town and saw a nice siding of thistles in front of a housing development. Lo and behold, there was my macro photo. A white or buff-tailed bumblebee was nectaring on that lovely pink bloom.

Day 7/30: the slug ate my salvia!

A day of rain, as evidenced by the raindrops around the hoverfly. Also more motivation for the slugs and snails (who have my backing) to teach me not to plant certain things in the flower bed. The slug here was doing a rather acrobatic job of eating the salvia I planted out recently. There’s also a very soggy bumblebee, and some kind of lacewing or hoverfly larva.

Thanks for reading. See you next week!

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Wasp-faking at Bedelands ๐Ÿ

Last August I recorded a podcast with Dr. Beth Nicholls about bees. The podcast was recorded at Bedelands Local Nature Reserve in the West Sussex Weald. You can listen to that entertaining jaunt (your thoughts and mine) through bees here.

I only had a couple of hours to record with Beth and spent the time afterwards seeing what was living there. There was a lot of wasp-faking going on, that’s for sure. It’s taken me nearly a year to actually find the time to look through the images and process some of them.

Bedelands is a Local Nature Reserve (a local authority designation for green spaces of ecological and public significance on land which is in public ownership or similar) in Burgess Hill. It’s a mixture of Wealden woods of oak and hornbean, some wetlands, and Wealden grasslands. The grasslands seemed to be quite rich to me in both invertebrates and flora. A lovely space.

This is a very cool hoverfly that can be found over quite a large international range. It’s one of the more obvious wasp-mimic hoverflies. Its scientific name is Chrysotoxum bicinctum. Absolute wasp-faker.

A more common hoverfly is one with a great common name (among others) – the footballer! It’s another wasp-mimic species. The football name comes from the stripes along the thorax (below the eyes above) which look like Newcastle, Grimsby or Juventus style kit colours.

In the moth world, I found this small grey-brown species that appeared much like a grass head. It was reaching over an oak leaf and wasn’t bothered about my lens getting super close. This appears to be one of the grass veneer moths. Moth knowledge is not strong in this one.

The scales of moths are quite incredible up close, like little roof tiles or pieces of paper.

Here’s a closer look.

Moving into the non-insect, invert world, August is a month of arachnids. This is a European harvestman, a harmless thing. They use their legs to do their ‘seeing’.

The desiccated seed cases of a flowering rush was the hiding place of one of the ground crab spiders.

I have been seeing this in my garden, but they seem to be quite common elsewhere and in places like grasslands.

Perhaps the most exciting and dramatic sighting was this wasp spider, of which there were a couple around. They’re recent arrivals in the British wildlife community, and another addition to the wasp-mimic gang.

The underbelly of the wasp spider doesn’t do justice to its name. From this angle you can see just where it gets its name from.

Thanks for reading.

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The homefires burn in the mountains of Mayo ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ช

Here are some landscape images from a March visit to Mayo which I’ve been posting a bit of recently. This landscape fascinates me in many ways: the cultural history (of which my family has links), the ecology and geology. My family’s cottage is located near a mountain range that would probably be classified as hills… Continue reading The homefires burn in the mountains of Mayo ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ช

The lackey in the Cuckmere valley ๐Ÿ›

I was out and about in the Cuckmere Valley in May and had the chance to learn a little bit about some of the species found there. Here’s a small selection of images, a blend of phone pics and some from my camera.

Once again I was treated to the sight of early spider orchids, a plant I blogged about only recently. This was a big surprise, having spent a lot of time looking for them elsewhere. This is a nationally rare plant and I won’t be giving away its location. I did get the chance to learn that the flower mimics the scent of the buffish mining bee. The male bee is lured in and attempts to mate with the flower, thereby pollinating it. In the photo above you can see the pollen grains that have been helpfully, accidentally, applied by the visiting bee.

The mining bees live in the nearest exposed areas of chalk where they drill their burrows. It’s a short commute to their deceptive orchid neighbours.

The blackthorn hedges were holding populations of moth caterpillars that cover the branches in webs of silk. This is the kind of thing that pops up in local newspapers as some kind of wild clickbait. The moth is known as the lackey in English. What the significance of that name (or any of the number of weird moth names) is unclear to me.

We found this proto-Mesolithic (Stone Age) scene, with a discarded King Alfred’s cakes fungus. The fungus had probably been used to maintain the fire of one or more disposable barbecues. The stones were littered across the scorched earth like the throwaways of some prehistoric stone mason.

On the banks of the Cuckmere’s static meanders are ranks of hoary cress. At first I thought they looked like a type of sedum but in fact they’re in the cabbage family. This is an introduced species.

A view back up the Cuckmere meanders, at very low levels for the time of year. Two little egrets can be seen here.

Thanks for reading.

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The South Downs

April flowers at Nymans ๐ŸŒน

My partner and I made a couple of visits to Nyman’s in West Sussex recently to drown our sorrows after the death of our lovely rescue cat. We drowned those sorrows in flowers. Nymans is one of the jewels in the Sussex Weald, with amazing views across woodlands towards the South Downs.

I usually photograph less formal landscapes than National Trust gardens, but perhaps I am too particular sometimes. The stark colours against the grey backdrop of the day (literally) make for really pleasing images. All the pics here are ‘straight out the camera’ and I haven’t edited them. Olympus cameras produce beautiful jpeg files which my experience with Nikon equipment has never matched.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: the glowing bracken

One morning recently, I spent a couple of hours wandering around my local tract of the Sussex Weald. The bracken and beech were glowing as the sun edged its way up through trees. The sun had blown the world wide open. After a personal self-imposed Omicron lockdown to protect a significant event, it felt like the sun had ripped up that anxious feeling of being locked away. Life was in full flow:

Sun rising, melting the frost and ice in the woods. Winter bird flocks – blue tit, nuthatch, siskin, lesser redpoll. Great spotted woodpecker hammering to mark out its territory. The chirp of a skylark passing over the canopy, perhaps on migration, maybe heading to the South Downs. The hollow sound of the M23 and aeroplanes connected to nearby Gatwick. The strategic calls of crows. A jay screeching. Gunshots pop beyond the woods.

The light in January and February appears at a fairly sociable hour, and after frost the landscape glistens even more. At this time I seek out beech leaves, with their patchworks of fading cells and arrowing veins.

I was using my 12-100mm f4 zoom lens, with more a mind for landscapes, when I spotted this bracken frond dangling down with a droplet of water at its tip. The sun was creeping up through the pines in the distance. The melting frost in its path upon reaching the bracken providing the lush bokeh circles that bed the image down.

I read recently that the photons of sunlight that touch our skin take 200,000 years to travel from the sun itself. That’s around the time that our ancient Homo sapiens ancestors were evolving. So often we can barely see weeks or months ahead when the world we live in is so ancient in its making, it can feel impossible to comprehend. Taking the time to stop and think about it makes life so much richer.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: the smallest wasps on Earth

This blog often complains about the poor understanding in England regarding wasps. I began drafting this post in the midst of whatโ€™s known as โ€˜the silly seasonโ€™, when Britainโ€™s tabloid newspapers turn their guns on gulls, wasps and spiders, with a seasonal vacuum in news. However, in a global pandemic there is no real vacuum in news, and there is no way Iโ€™m going to go looking through those rags for stories I know are rubbish. Perhaps it’s my Scouse heritage.

What I didn’t expect was for YouGov to run a poll on the most hated invertebrates in the UK. I don’t understand how this helps in a time when invert populations – which we depend on for survival – are crashing. You know what they say, don’t trust the polls. Unless it’s the most recent ones in which case please God let it be true.

Moving on.

Yes, you guessed it, this is another post about wasps. This time, itโ€™s some of the smallest wasps in the world. The group I encountered, and which are shown here, could amount to a total of 500,000 species, with about 470,000 of those species unknown to science. Do you need help picking your jaw off the floor?

Reminder: we are just the one species, Homo sapiens.

You have to think sometimes โ€“ imagine all the ecological networks and relationships between species which we actually have no idea about. In places of the highest biodiversity, theyโ€™re being made extinct by the loss of habitat, before we even know they exist. Jair Bolsonaro has more to answer for than we may yet realise.

The wasp photographed here is now a species I know thanks to iNaturalist โ€“ a chalcid wasp in the genus Ormyrus. โ€˜Chalcidโ€™ comes from the Greek word for โ€˜copperโ€™ because they have a metallic appearance.

Back in August I visited a nature reserve local to me. The meadows had far more seed heads than flowers and I wasnโ€™t intending to see a huge amount of invertebrate life. I give up on birds around July when they go on their holidays, usually low in a bush somewhere.

In actual fact I found a lot of species, many of them quite happy to be photographed, though of course not yet understanding of what a photograph is. I was drawn to a large area of dead nettle, a family so big there are many plants I just donโ€™t know the names of yet.

Looking at some of the leaves of the plant, I noticed something about 3-5mm in length, resting on the leaf. When I looked through the macro lens and additional extension tube, which magnifies the view further, I could see it was a type of wasp.

This wasp is obviously a great deal bigger than that. That said, I couldnโ€™t see that it had red eyes without some magnification.

Chalcid wasps are parasitic species, as outlined by their Wikipedia entry:

Most of the species are parasitoids of other insects, attacking the egg or larval stage of their host, though many other life cycles are known. These hosts are to be found in at least 12 different insect orders including Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Diptera (true flies), Coleoptera (beetles), Hemiptera (true bugs), and other Hymenoptera, as well as two orders of Arachnida, and even one family of nematodes.

Wikipedia via iNaturalist

I’ve written about parasitic wasps before.

Now I donโ€™t know much about the very small wasps, and one thing I really didnโ€™t know was just how small they get. Some species of wasps are smaller than the width of a human hair, or even smaller than a single-celled organism!

Perhaps they’ll be the ones to get pilloried during 2022’s tabloid silly season. In truth, I doubt it.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: a photo each day in June for 30 Days Wild

In June 2021 I undertook a variant (not that kind of variant) of the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild campaign. I decided to try a month-long project of taking a macro photo every day: #30DaysMacro.

It was a lot of work, mainly in processing and tweeting the photos to keep up with the community aspect. But it reminded me of the importance of making time for yourself each day, even if only for 5-10 minutes, to go outside and look at things other than a computer or phone.

In the past 18 months my salaried work has become screen-based, when once I used to spend several days outdoors each week talking to people and monitoring wildlife. It’s not healthy, but it’s a byproduct of UK lockdowns.

I feel a bit as if this was such an intensive assignment that it has burned me out a bit photography-wise, among everything else happening in Brexitland (it didn’t come home in the end ๐Ÿฆ๐Ÿฆ๐Ÿฆ). I definitely hurt my back from some poorly considered leaning over waist-high hedges (bending with my lower back, not knees, etc.).

Almost all the photos were taken in my small urban garden, with a handful taken away from home. All were in Sussex. I am adamant that travelling for macro is often unwise, depending on your focus. Macro takes a lot of time and if photographing wildlife, you need to know your patch. Otherwise you spend ages trying to understand the landscape when you could be taking photos.

Below I go through the photo captured each day. Hopefully this post unclogs my macro blogs, which have been waiting on this monster post for a while now.

Thanks for taking a look and I hope it inspires you to consider the wilder things in life.

1st June 2021: aphids protecting their young (I think) on the underside of a sycamore leaf.

2nd June 2021: a noble false widow spider in my porch. There is a whole lot of hysteria about this species, which has actually been in the UK since the 1800s. It has caused me no trouble.

3rd June 2021: a moth resting on a leaf at dusk. I was working quite hard to get this pic and as the temperature fell it calmed a bit and let me get close.

4th June 2021: a noble false widow spider on my kitchen surface ledge. The weather wasn’t great on this day, so I had to find something in my house!

5th June 2021: a red and black froghopper in the South Downs near Alfriston. I walked 20 miles on this day for Macmillan Cancer Support and found this lovely hopper snoozing in the field edge.

6th June 2021: a mint moth selecting its preferred thyme flower. This is one of the more common or visible day-flying moths I encounter.

7th June 2021: a green shieldbug, the most common of its kind in my garden.

8th June 2021: one of the highlights – a fencepost jumping spider in my garden (on the fence!). I wrote a post (lol) about this encounter which you can read here.

9th June 2021: a bumblebee worker drinking aphid honeydew from the curled leaves of an apple tree in my garden. This was fascinating behaviour, with many bees of different species visiting this tree to nectar. I posted it on Twitter and a lot of people got in touch to say they were seeing the same thing. Glad I shared.

10th June 2021: a wonderful caterpillar in my green alkanet patch. I’ve not attempted an ID yet.

11th June 2021: this is a fly I see often in the garden. It is so cool. Its wings often whirr around its body as it walks around a leaf.

12th June 2021: a weekend away in East Sussex, met this well-travelled painted lady butterfly along a country lane.

13th June 2021: the carapace of a European green crab at Rye Bay.

14th June 2021: a beautiful gingery moth that spent the weekend looking after my house for me. Not sure of the species.

15th July 2021: the halfway point and an exciting find. I spotted a bee in the garden which looked unusual. Having got a photo I saw that it was a sharp-tailed bee. Delighted to have this in my garden as I’ve never seen one before and it was a new species for the garden list.

16th June 2021: green nettle weevils are funny. They play hide and seek sometimes. This weevil was happy enough to have its photo taken for a little while.

17th June 2021: a wet and rainy day when I thought a photo might not be possible. The hedge in my garden was alive with these beautiful snails. I opened the aperture to allow blur to occur and highlight the swirling shell.

18th June 2021: common jelly spot grows on the bird table in my garden. After enough rain has fallen it bursts back to life and probably chucks out some spores.

19th June 2021: a plume moth on another wet one in the garden. I love the pattern on this species, which I think may be a beautiful plume.

20th June 2021: a trip to the Adur Valley which I blogged about here. A ruby-tailed wasp, one of the most beautiful insects in the UK.

21st June 2021: another rainy day. I have learned how to find meadow spittlebugs in grass heads in recent years after finding one just outside my back door.

22nd June: a hairy masked bee (perhaps the American name), one of the yellow-faced bees, Hylaeus. These are tiny bees and not easy to photograph.

23rd June: one of my favourite partners in macro, a zebra jumping spider. They’re devilishly tricky to get in focus sometimes. I think this is just out, but I like its posture.

24th June: a running crab spider waiting for its lunch delivery. The fly behind probably didn’t know it was there.

25th June: another highlight which caused quite a lot of back strain! Here you can see an ant harvesting (and I think consuming) the honey dew from aphids they have farmed. This needs a blog all to itself to go through the amazing ecology of these two species.

26th June: I went to my local nature reserve, a farm managed by the council, to look for some different types of arthropod (insects and spiders, basically). It was hard work but I got some decent images. I like this one because it looks like this beetle is attempting to get better signal! This visit needs its own blog post as well.

27th June: I was tired after my macro outing the day before but managed to find this small green fly in my garden. I like its 1980s robot-like compound eyes.

28th June: I had been observing a large, dangly spider that lives in the corner of my kitchen for several weeks. I decided to get a closer look and was amazed by what I found. This is a cellar or daddy longlegs spider. They are from the tropics and are well established in the UK, having been here for hundreds of years. This also needs its own post!

29th June: I planted stachys (lamb’s ears) especially for this species, the wool carder bee. I haven’t seen much of them this year but they did show up towards the end of June. I love them, they’re also easy to photograph in cooler weather as they just clamp on to the flowers and chill. I blogged about them in 2020.

30th June 2021: and so the final day. I dropped by a favourite Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve on the way home, which I posted about here. This tiny slug was having a good look at me as I searched for mushrooms and slime moulds. It felt like a good reminder that as much as I was watching the wildlife, it was also watching me.

Thanks for making it this far and I hope you will spend some time out there looking out for insects, spiders, slugs and snails. They need us.

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