Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘sigma 105mm f28 ex dg macro’

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Macro Monday 3rd August 2020

Summer came back last week. The annual breach of 30 degrees celsius took place, with more forecast for the month ahead. The warm weather meant there was a lot of activity in my garden, with opportunities to find wildlife lasting until dark.

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The hedge has seemed less active in recent weeks, whereas in early June I could sit in front of it and find too many insects to photograph. But this week I found this tiny sawfly, or at least I think that’s what it is.

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It’s a relative of the bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera). I know this because of its eyes, both the compound side set and the ocelli on the top of the head. The antennae are long and wavy like an ichneumon wasp’s. I didn’t quite manage to get it perfectly in focus but I think the composition came out quite nicely.

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I’ve noticed a number of amber-coloured beetles around the outside of my house and the garden. I also found one in the raspberry patch. I think it’s a hawthorn leaf beetle. It was nowhere near a hawthorn.

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The other week I disturbed something in my garden that flew up from the grass and away into a small tree a few gardens away. It looked a bit like a flying fish. Picking raspberries one evening, under the only trees we have – small sycamore, rowan and a larger magnolia all crammed in – I noticed that this cricket was trying to remain hidden among the long grass. It’s a dark bush cricket.

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One of the most important parts of managing my small garden for wildlife has been to allow the grass to grow long for a time. I’ve also found frogs at the back in a cooler, shadier area where the grass has grown. If you can leave some of your lawn to grow between May and mid-July, I would really recommend it. I only mowed mine this week, mainly because the rye grass is setting seed and my old sleepy cat seems to be allergic. Also, it’s the right time of year in the world of meadow management.

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I’m starting to see more nymphs appearing, and I don’t mean the fairies. That’s another story. This is probably the nymph of a dock bug. Again, it’s in the raspberry patch, which is where this blog ends with a flourish.

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As I mentioned earlier, the warmer days have meant that insects have been active longer. When we were out picking the day’s raspberries, I noticed an insect pollinating the raspberries at speed. I couldn’t get a proper look or get a decent pic.

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Given some time, I saw that the insect, a type of wasp, was going to the same flowers in a cycle around the patch of raspberries. It didn’t mind me getting closer as time went on and the night drew in.

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My first thought was actually quite extreme – Asian hornet! But this wasn’t an invasive non-native, “killer hornet”. It was a species of wasp. With more time to observe it I could see its red eyes and red striping to its body. It’s a red wasp. I love those eyes! Let’s also not forget that these wasps here are pollinating raspberries that my family and friends will later eat. Wasps are pollinators more than they are pests, the tide needs to turn on that damaging myth before our insect populations are harmed any further.

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I know this blog is pretty much a wasp fanzine week after week, but these animals are so amazing. I had never expected to see this species in my garden. But it highlights the joy of this entire project. Each species seen here this week, bar the dock bug, is a new species for the garden list. Many of the species I’ve seen I will never be able to identify, but that feeling of newness and discovery is precious to me.

Next week: more wasps.

Thanks for reading.

Photos taken with a Nikon D5600, Sigma 105mm f2.8, Raynox 250 adaptor and Nikon SB-700 flashgun with diffuser.

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Macro Monday 20th July 2020

Happy 4th month to this blog. I started it as a way to find some focus in the impending lockdown back in March. Since then I’ve taken probably some of my best macro photos, but not necessarily from an aesthetic point of view. I’ve been getting to know my small garden, this being the first year of living with it. I’ve had some amazing encounters with tiny wild animals, and this week was no exception.

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On Saturday morning we were sitting in our living room watching the latest episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race All Stars (#TeamShea). The pause button was hit when I noticed a wasp-like creature trying to get out of the window.

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This image gives a sense of how active the insect was. It was running non-stop, which gave me a hint at what type of insect it was – a spider-hunting wasp! Also note the very curly antennae. This was a great moment because it’s only the first of its kind I’ve seen in the UK. The only other time I’ve seen one is in Czechia. There are over 40 species of spider-hunting wasp in the UK and I’m not about to try and identify it! They get their name from their hunting of – you guessed it – woodlice. Kidding, spiders. I’ve never seen one with spider prey but I know they need to move fast. They paralyse spiders with a sting and then drag it to their burrow. It’s a tough life out there in macro world.

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Earlier in the week it was a real pleasure to listen to a podcast featuring macro photographer Joseph Saunders. Joseph takes photos of amphibians and invertebrates. In the podcast he talks about the challenges of being a black man with a disability in America, but also his desire to work in conservation. Anyone who doesn’t think systemic racism is real needs to listen to what he has to say.

He’s an accomplished photographer who knows his stuff and has had a passion for amphibians in particular since a young age. It would be wonderful to see people like Joseph being given greater prominence in the photography and conservation world, as movements such as black birders and black botanists weeks have done in the United States.

Have a listen to the podcast, it’s excellent.

▶️ Aperiology (MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY) with Joseph Saunders 

Apparently macro photography now has its own ology – Aperiology, ‘to describe the tiny aperture used to keep these creatures in focus, and the huge world it opens up to us.’

Amen to that!

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Now back to my garden, where I am failing to grow courgettes at every turn. However, the yellow flowers have proven attractive for small bees like this yellow-face bee. Not that I’ve seen them taking nectar or pollen from the flowers.

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There is a patch of cranesbill which has been the main lure for both pollinator and macro photographer in recent weeks (sounds like I’m talking about someone else – I mean me). The garden is drying out and many flowers have gone to seed, including the lamb’s ears, which has been such a feature this summer.

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I didn’t get a chance to ID this bee, but I wonder if it might be a blood bee taking a break after pretty much decimating the populations of mining bees that had been in the lawn. That area has now grown silent. I expect it is also the end of their flight season.

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This tiny pollen beetle was trying to work out how to make its way down from the flower. I enjoy the little pollen grain attached to its back, as in previous weeks.

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Greenbottles are one of the most common larger insects in my garden. I think they’re beautiful. Though their faces do have the look of a corset to them. I remember coming home from family holidays to Ireland after two weeks and finding loads of dead flies in our kitchen. We don’t get insect numbers like that anymore, likely due to the insect armageddon (‘insectageddon‘) we are working so hard on right now.

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They also can be very willing subjects. This greenbottle is perched on the seed-head of wood avens, which anyone with a cat will know well.

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Most of the time spent in the garden was under grey skies and low light. This small white butterfly was roosting in the hedge. I totally over-exposed it and had to under-expose it again in post-processing, which you may be able to tell from the harsh tones to the left-hand side. It’s nice and sharp on the butterfly’s eye though.

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Not far away a hoverfly was perched on the broken tip of a branch. Ther weather was cool enough to keep the hoverfly at bay, so I managed to get a couple of photos.

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Again, finding one place that is easy to get to is going to be where you will probably find most ‘success’ with macro photography. If you’re travelling a long way to a place you don’t know there are so many things to stop you from getting on with the fun stuff of actually finding things and photographing them. Macro should slow us down and cut out a lot of the messing around. You need to chill out.

 

Thanks for reading.

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Explore my North Downs Diary

Farthing Downs & Happy Valley, March 2016

A motorbike oozes across the road that runs through Farthing Downs, its deep, unsettling groan scatters woodpigeons and magpies from the branches of trees. When it’s over another sound breaks through: a male yellowhammer. Its song is never quite the ‘little bit of bread and no cheese’ it’s accepted as, but the mnemonic is so memorable that those of us who might not have known it ever existed can remark upon it, can seek it out. The bird is a silhouette, a blackhammer in a hawthorn bush against the bold march sun.

Winter’s decorations still remain, it is a time of flux. The cropped green grasslands and anthills look like a sheet, the racket of chalky wildflowers hidden below. If you didn’t know this was chalk grassland now you wouldn’t expect much else to come. Redwings dot the tree lines, their calls which were in October nocturnal now add to a soundscape that includes the spring skylark, high up above my head, marking out a territory that signals an intent to force new life. I see two of these birds. The skylark is one I hear or see only every few months. Its song has no hint of monotony. But one that I have missed this winter and can hear day after day in spring is the blackbird. From trees that separate Farthing Downs and New Hill it lights the valley with its gentle verses. The shadows grow long, reaching into the blackbird’s dreamy hedgeland.

In Happy Valley the hazel trees’ tails mass like wigs. Looking closely, the buds are cocked ready to leaf, some with the purple tongues of flowers poking out. The yellow grains of pollen that have come from the dangling tails can be seen. I flick the tails to help. The twigs of hawthorns are coloured yellow and blue by Xanthoria parietina. Trying to get a close up photo of the fruiting cups, the apothecia, I find the ‘roosting’ buttons of ladybirds. Who would ever see them here? Dogs, voles, mice, flowers, lichens. Surely only the most inquisitive birds would ever find them.

In the shelter of scrub the primroses bloom in old dogwood leaves. I love this time, the birds singing from the woods and trees, the first flowers breaking the rule of death and decay. No doubt, spring and summer have plenty of that to offer, but at least now the pendulum has swung the other way.

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Autumn 2015 in southern England began with a prolonged dry period reminiscent of 2011. This meant that a lot of fungus was late to fruit. Other than a September burst of honey fungus, there was little to see until the rain came and enriched the thirsty mycelia of British woods and meadows. Here is my year in mushrooms:

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Oyster mushrooms, Pleurotus ostreatus

One of my favourite things to photograph is mushrooms, yet the act of closing the shutter is often only a small part of the experience. I can go looking for mushrooms and sometimes come away with very few photos. I have to walk until I find something, heading to the right place at the right time of year to find it. I know plenty of fungi enthusiasts who pick and cut mushrooms to identify them, a key process in understanding a species. As a photographer I see no reason for me to pick them. I’m much happier leaving the specimen where it is so someone else can come along and enjoy it, as short-lived as many fruiting bodies are. If it’s a fungal foray to raise awareness and celebrate mushrooms, picking them is great.

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Bonnet mushrooms, Mycena on a dead oak tree

September to November is the right time to head out looking for the larger spreads of mushrooms, though they can be found all year round. I find enormous pleasure in that early autumn period when the moisture levels are right (fungal fruiting bodies are 90% water) and fungus abounds from every fallen tree, even the most barren of parkland funked out by funnels, inkcaps and fairy-rings.

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One of the most sought-after edible mushrooms is the cep, Boletus edulis

I found a cep, Boletus edulis under a rhododendron bush in the New Forest in October. It didn’t quite match the images of bountiful porcinis (the Italian name for the cep, also known as the penny bun) but I still had no desire to take it home with me. Fungi engages people like very few wild plants or animals can, mainly because they are renowned for their edibility and their poison. From my understanding, mushroom picking is not as popular in England as it is in Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic, France or Italy. Indeed, perhaps it is the Mediterranean influence over British culinary culture that has seen mushrooms become such a hot topic in debates about sustainable foraging. In Britain we lack the vast wooded landscapes of Transylvania, of the Tatras, Dolomites or Pyrenees. Perhaps our landscape is mycologically impoverished.

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An inkcap, Coprinus or brittlestem, Psathyrella, I wasn’t quite sure

One thing that always interests me is a land manager’s attitude to foraging mushrooms. The City of London own many excellent nature reserves on the outskirts of the city and they have a no picking policy. Likewise many urban nature reserves discourage visitors from picking mushrooms. The Forestry Commission have a mushroom code, allowing only a certain weight of mushrooms to be picked and the clear message that only mature fruiting bodies should be plucked. It depends what your interest is, but as an observer I err on the side that fungi has an important role to play in an ecosystem and should largely be left alone, especially in urban nature reserves. At the same time I appreciate that it’s unproven that collecting mushrooms has any meaningful impact on the mycelium itself. As a conservationist, I tend to support the land manager’s picking only with permission, as difficult to enforce as it may be.

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A fly you’ll often find on the cap of a mushroom

Fungi has a massive role in the health of woods. Species like beech, birch and oak have a strong dependency on fungi to provide them with nutrients and minerals that are otherwise impossible to retrieve from the soil. The mycelium of a fungus which fruits from the soil lives underground. The mycelium is made up of hyphae which extend through the soil, feeding on decomposing matter. The hyphae sheath the root hairs of a tree and a trade takes place between tree and fungus, a symbiotic relationship. The tree can delegate where the hyphae should extend in search of nutrients. The hyphae can then pass the nutrients into the tree via the root hairs. Water is often passed in return to the hyphae to nourish the mycelium and make the production of fruiting bodies (mushrooms) all the more possible. Experiments have been done to show that these mychorrizal relationships boost the growth of trees greatly. This is why the idea to dig up trees and replant them elsewhere to protect ancient woods is impossible. The soil is crucial. Trees are not everything.

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A cup fungus

Fungi has made me think very carefully about the camera equipment I use. The diversity of species means that there are an array of lenses and cameras you can use. There is no perfect set up. I use a Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens to capture the smallest of mushrooms. Lying on my stomach in the New Forest revealed many incredible things hidden away that I would otherwise not have noticed. A macro lens, though often a costly investment, can open up a new appreciation for nature.

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A tiny species of bonnet, Mycena

Some of my favourite species to photograph are bonnets (Mycena) and parachutes (Mirasmius). They are so incredibly tiny but so common, simply searching for them is an adventure. Again, the best place for these is woods with a thick layer of leaf litter, but they can also be found on mossy logs, and even on the end of sticks.

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Twig parachute, Mirasmiellus ramealis

At the RSPB’s Blean Woods in Kent I crouched for many minutes, fearful of dogs weeing on me, to photograph this twig parachute. It measured barely a few millimetres across. I found it because I knew where to look. My knees ache still.

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Orange peel fungus, Aleuria aurantia

Not all fungi is especially beautiful or in beautiful places. Many mushrooms are in poor condition because their time in the limelight is very short and they are affected directly by weather and other environmental factors. Slugs eat them, flies mate on them, people step on them. I found this orange peel fungus (Aleuria aurantia) on an embankment near Oxted, Kent outside a haulage company depot. The bank had been denuded of trees, their stumps poisoned. But the thing about nature is that it doesn’t care about how crap a place looks if the opportunity for propagation exists. This fungus looked more like some plastic debris half submerged in the ground.

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Lycogola terrestre

Also not all of the beautiful fungus you find is actually fungus. One spot I return to each year, a dank log pile next to a path in some dark beech woodland, is lit up by Lycogola terrestre. This is no fungus but instead a slime mould. This is an extreme close up of one of the fruiting bodies which appears on a bed of moss in a very small area.

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Shaggy inkcaps, Coprinus comatus growing next to new burial plots

Another of fungi’s pleasures is an ability to surprise. Millions of spores are released by a single mushroom (30,000 million an hour by a mature bracket fungus) and so it is unsurprising to find mushrooms growing in the streets. At Camberwell Old Cemetery in south-London, four-year-old burial space has been a successful breeding ground for shaggy inkcap (Coprinus comatus). I used a 300mm telephoto lens to photograph the scene above. Seeing as the graves were newly-laid I didn’t want to intrude.

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Honey waxcap, Hygrocybe reidii

The best grasslands to find fungi are either ancient grasslands like Farthing Downs where I photographed this honey waxcap, or church yards. Waxcaps (Hygrocybe) are a strong indicator of the age of grassland. There are over 1000 species in the UK, their burst of colour in the winter doldrums add life to otherwise dormant meadows. The mild winter this year meant that waxcaps were fruiting alongside field scabious, knapweed and even yellow rattle on Farthing Downs.

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Coral fungus growing in the lawn of a Dorset church yard

In church yards the lack of grazing pressure and the ‘respectful’ management of the turf means that there are likely to be well established mycelia under the graveyard lawns. These are excellent hunting grounds for corals, Ramaria. The problem is they’re often so small it can be difficult to get a good image from a cumbersome DSLR. Instead I use my camera phone to try and get a closer look. It has a fancy in-built lens and can manual focus as if turning the focus ring of a DSLR lens by using the screen. The results were very pleasing.

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An ancient pollard oak on Ashtead Common

The best places to find fungi are woods and meadows, generally those that are either ancient or relatively well established nature reserves which are sensitively managed. One of the new places I visited was Ashtead Common in Surrey. Ashtead Common is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and National Nature Reserve (NNR), mainly designated for its ancient pollard oaks. This collection of old trees means the diversity of fungal and invertebrate life is very high. The City of London manage their reserves very well indeed and Ashtead Common proved to be one of the best early sites to visit.

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The rich leaf litter in Blean Woods

RSPB’s Blean Woods NNR is a wonderful place for wildlife in general, not merely fungi. It is a vast network of woods that flank the city of Canterbury adding a level of sylvan mystery. Blean Woods is broken up into different habitats, with spots of heathland, birch and sweet chestnut coppice which provide vital nesting opportunities for nightingales and enough light when cut to support common cow wheat, the food plant of the endangered heath fritillary butterfly. In October the woodland floor was covered by a sea of black mushrooms that, I discovered later, were horn of plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides).

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Roydon Woods

It’s hard to say there is a best place to find mushrooms due to the transient way the fruiting bodies appear. My favourite place has to be the New Forest in Hampshire. The above image is of the Wildlife Trusts’ Roydon Woods NNR, an ancient broadleaved wood very close to Brockenhurst. The New Forest was probably like Ashtead Common in centuries past, with a structure more reminiscent of wood pasture (or savannah) where the trees were less close together and the grasslands were sunnier and luxurious. Roydon Woods has the feel of a landscape that is untouched by people, though such a thing does not exist today. It is possible to spend a day there and meet very few visitors but all manner of mushrooms.

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