Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Sigma 105mm Macro’

Macro Monday 31st August 2020

Wishing you a happy Bank Holiday Monday if you’re actually able to have one because you’re either English, Welsh, Northern Irish or not having to work through it.

Back in the garden, after last week’s infidelity, it’s quietening down big time. I feel that autumn has come early in my garden. However, I was delighted to be visited by what we all at first thought was a hornet (come on, admit it) but turned out to be a hoverfly.

This is a hornet-mimic hoverfly with the scientific name Volucella zonaria. There’s a helpful guide to them here. These flies lay their eggs in the nests of social wasps, with their patterning probably helping them to fool wasps into thinking they’re also related.

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This kind of mimicry is fairly common across the insect world, with all kinds of flies and beetles that mimic the yellow and black patterning of stinging insects like wasps and hornets. There’s even a hornet-mimic robberfly which is quite rare and found on heathlands like Thursley Common.

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My parents once again have the ability to lure interesting insects into my garden when they visit, which end up headlining the Macro Monday stage on this blog. The main thing here is that this is a stunning insect with a fascinating ecology which I can only tell you a little bit about.

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One arthropod that I spend more time with is my zebra jumping spider neighbour. This spider popped up during a garden lunchbreak. I’ve featured what could be the same spider several times this year. They are fiendishly difficult to get in focus and are much smaller than you might realise. I took about 100 out of focus pics of this spider before I got an injury time winner.

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The spider was basking on the rim of a seed tray. It was only later that I saw the reflection in the plastic. It wasn’t a wet day, in fact it was quite sunny and warm. I was relieved to get at least one photo of this beautiful animal in focus to share here.

I’m away next week so may miss out on a post, but hopefully I will have something to share. I always have a macro lens with me wherever I go! Only a little one, mind you.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 24th August 2020

Since the end of the heatwave my garden has been hammered by rain and wind. That is not what you need to write a weekly blog about taking macro photos. So I went to my local woodland and put the hard graft in to see what I could find.

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The place I visited is an area of oak woodland in the Sussex Weald. It was very windy, not the safest place to be in those conditions. I sought out a spot where I usually find fungi – of which there was nothing – and spent some time looking on the bark of trees and under leaves.

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I carefully turned over oak leaves and my first find was this quite unusual flying insect. I’ve looked through my book and can’t find it in there. My instinct says it’s a lacewing relative. If you know, please comment below.

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This capsule-shaped fly was hoovering up something tasty from the surface of an oak leaf. Soon I was to be haunted by similar mouthparts, on a very different kind of fly.

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I don’t wear shorts in the woods I wear TROUSERS. This is why. In shady areas of woodland which are protected from wind and sun, biting insects lurk. With horseflies, sometimes you don’t know they’re there. I spotted this beautiful insect on my trouser leg by chance. This weird, nervous adrenaline begins to pump when I encounter one of these insects.

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Horseflies have a nasty bite and there is something unsettling about their predatory focus on you. I was desperate to get a photo because of how beautiful and mesmeric their eyes are. I managed to lure the horsefly but keep the trousers away from my skin far enough to stop the bite. Above you can see how intelligent it is. It’s trying to bite through the seam in the trouser lining.

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Unlucky for the horsefly, it didn’t manage to break through. After a while, it became so ‘annoyed’ that it started aiming for my face so I just left! The thing I always forget is that horseflies follow you and don’t give up easily. I did have the images I was hoping for, though.

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I haven’t mentioned wasps this week. But there are just so many species out there that it’s almost inevitable one will turn up. This is probably one of over 2000 species of ichneumon wasp that we have in the UK, which you can read more about here. Those long antennae are an indicator, for my untrained eye.

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That wasn’t the last wasp I saw. I was checking out the trunk of an oak tree, having just watched Thomas Shahan’s latest video where he did the same (I’ll embed it at the bottom of the post, it’s worth watching). I saw a black fly-like insect about the size of a moss frond running up the trunk. It was really hard to photograph but I got some pics in focus.

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I could see that it was a gall wasp, the first one I have ever managed to photograph. We should be thankful to these wasps because without them we would never have produced the major written works our own species has managed to produce so beautifully.

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What am I on about? These are galls, a growth which forms on oak leaves. Within the protective casing you see above is the egg or developing larva of a gall wasp. In the autumn the casings will fall away and the insect will hatch out in the spring. Galls come in many shapes and sizes. Some oak galls are used to create ink, and have been used across the world in producing texts and other works for thousands of years.

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Oak apple galls are the most famous (not pictured here). The galls are used to produce the inks that penned the American Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta, among so many other important texts. Another thing to thank wasps for!

Thanks for reading.

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Photos taken with Nikon D5600, Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens, Nikon SB-700 flash with diffuser

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Macro Monday 17th August 2020

*Warning*: as you may have guessed, this post contains spiders. Some people may find some of these photos unpleasant, but it may help you to learn to overcome your fear. I am not a spider-psychologist so this is not professional advice, as ever.

Here are frequently asked questions about spiders if you want to dispel any myths!

Well, what a week that was. Very high nightime temperatures and unbearable heat through the day. I barely spent any time outdoors, let alone in the garden. I really struggle in temperatures over 30 degrees. Most of the images this week come from the post-heatwave days towards the end of the week.

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One evening, after the heat had largely dipped, I noticed some odd behaviour from a zebra jumping spider.

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It was hanging from the leaf of a climbing rose we have growing from a terracotta pot on the front of our house.

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I noticed there was another, smaller, zebra jumping spider (ZJS) lower down on the pot. I think this was some kind of territorial or even courting behaviour. Eventually the ZJS made it down to the terracotta.

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It was running around on the edge of the pot, looking for the smaller ZJS. It was a total nightmare to get in focus.

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There was also some time to clean its legs while it tried to find out what the other ZJS was up to.

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I’ve seen these lovely spiders all throughout the spring, but much less so in the summer. It was nice to see them again.

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I also noticed this crab spider floating in midair on its silk. There is something quite weird about this image I think. The limbs look a bit like human or robot arms. This was a pure fluke of hoping it got into focus, even then you can’t really see the spider properly.

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I’ve noticed far fewer insects in my garden, probably because the plants we have are largely over. I need to get some late-summer to autumn flowering species like stonecrop to keep things rocking and rolling. I had a look through the hedge while having an afternoon break after the storm took the heat away. I noticed this spider tucked away down in a bunch of leaves in the hedge. The silk is there to help catch prey but also it will react to movement, triggering the spider to attack.

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I visited my family home for the first time in 6 months last weekend, a really special experience after such a long time away. My parents are avid readers of this (perhaps that should say, the readers) blog and my mum pointed out to me that there was a big spider in the bath that I might want to include here! YES MUM!

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Now there have been several times this week when I’ve noticed out of the corner of my eye a shadow moving across the floor. This is something a lot of people are very unhappy about! But it’s the time of year when giant house spiders are becoming more evident. They are fiersome looking things yet they are harmless. They are more afraid of you than you are of it. They have every right to be afraid, because people will likely try and kill them when they see them, out of misplaced fear.

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That said, they are a bit scary to look at and those mandibles are massive. I had my small mirrorless camera with me and a macro lens. The images are quite harsh and grainy because the light was so dank and the flash is a pop-up one without a diffuser.

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The spider didn’t actually mind me at all. It was trying to remove some spider silk from its legs by running them through its mandibles.

Far from wanting to harm this animal, I am pleased that we can have such close encounters with big insects like these. If you let them go about their business, there’s no problem. No spider in Britain is venomous. This is not Australia!

Thanks for reading.

Photos taken with Nikon D5600 with Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens and SB-700 flash. Giant house spider photos taken with Olympus EM-10 MIII with 60mm f2.8 macro lens.

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Macro Monday 10th August 2020

Welcome to the weekly wasp.

A couple of years ago my friend recommended a book called The Snoring Bird by Bernd Heinrich. The book is a memoir about Heinrich’s relationship with his father, Gerd, an entomologist who collected ichneumon wasps but who was never fully accepted by the scientific or academic community. Bernd tells the story of his father’s escape from the Red Army in 1945 and how he buries his collection of ichenumonids so they aren’t destroyed. Gerd travelled around the world collecting specimens.

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In Britain we have poorer biodiversity than even our closest continental neighbours because of physical separation from the European landmass, intensifying land management practices, the impact of successive ice ages and, furthermore, the fact our climate is not tropical. But even then, we still have over 2000 species, which you can’t say for other fauna like birds or butterflies.

Reading The Snoring Bird consolidated a personal fascination with wasps, one which has not really travelled beyond blogposts, photos and seeking them out where I can. I’m not a collector of anything other than images.

Ichneumons have what we perceive as an unpleasant ecology. Females use their needle-like ovipositor to ‘inject’ their eggs into the burrows of insects, into crevices in wood or, most appallingly to our species, caterpillars or the larvae of bees. The eggs hatch inside the live caterpillar and eat it. It’s probably where the inspiration for the Alien films came from. To balance things out, insects inspired the creation of Pokemon.

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Last week I was sitting in my garden catching up with visiting family. I looked to my right at a pot of ornamental yarrow flowers (Achillea). I had noticed a bit of activity and glanced over to see a slender insect flying around the flowers. It was the equivalent of a video buffering over a poor quality internet connection. When it landed on one of the flowers I recognised it instantly as an ichneumon wasp. I ran inside to get my camera and managed to get some good photos: in focus, well lit and sharp enough.

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I have always wanted to see this species. Its scientific name is Gasteruption jaculator. To find it in my garden was a real surprise and one of the highlights of my time seeking wildlife.

Why might it have visited? We actively garden for wildlife, insects particularly, and there is a log store that this kind of species will seek out. A couple of months ago I saw a similar species hovering around the logs, but I couldn’t get my camera quick enough and it moved on.

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There are people whose first reaction to seeing this insect may be to kill it because of its ecology. That, to me, says everything about our misunderstanding of nature. A natural history lesson will tell us that without solitary wasps such as these we would have no social bees, a community of insects which prop up our dependencies on pollination of both crops and other flowering plants (including trees). Social bees evolved from solitaries wasps. The ichneumon’s ecological relationship with bees is one millions of years old, one small part of a web of life that has given human societies licence to develop through an abundance of food.

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However, this is an insect which has affected the way some of the science’s key thinkers have framed their own mortality. Darwin doubted that any benevolent God could have created animals which behaved in this way. Not sure about you, but I often think that about Donald Trump or Boris Johnson.

A few years ago I encountered a cousin of the ichneumon that visited me in my garden. It has a far shorter ovipositor and its scientific name is Gasteruption assectator. I was walking on the North Downs when I found the insect nectaring on hogweed flowers. A woman passed me and asked what I had found. I said I’d found the insect that made Darwin doubt God. She looked away with a knowing smile:

‘I remember reading about them,’ she said.

Thanks for reading.

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Recent photos taken with Nikon D5600, Sigma 105mm F2.8 macro lens, Nikon SB700 flash and Raynox 250 adaptor.

 

 

 

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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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Macro Monday 7th May 2020

I was on lockdown leave last week (the holiday you booked last year but aren’t able to go on, not that I’m complaining). One morning I was reading a book on the sofa – Horizons by Barry Lopez, which I haved really enjoyed – and I heard what sounded like very a noisy daddy longlegs entering the room. I looked up and a damselfly was resting on the wall. I ran to get my little camera and took some photos.

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It was a female azure damselfly, the second damselfly I’ve recorded in my garden this year. I helped it onto the tip of my finger and took it over to the window. It flew away and landed on the curtains. The light was beautiful and soft, helped by the curtains. In the end it slipped off into the sunny garden.

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Out there some hyper-goth-punk has taken residence in the raspberry patch. Really I think it’s a vapourer moth. This one will be worth watching. I’ll keep you posted. It’s a nightmare to photograph.

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The cranesbills are flowering now in my garden and they’re a good place to find spiders. They’re a bad place to find spiders if you’re an aphid.

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I’m not sure what kind of spider this is (there is a new book coming out in September that I’m waiting for) but I would guess it was a crab spider. Please let me know if you do.

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Spiders do make you realise how much of a nightmare they would be to sit next to on the bus.

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Ok, I know what you’re thinking: you have a nice garden. You’re too kind, but it’s not mine. This is the South Downs National Park. I visited the South Downs for the first time in three months with one aim in mind: macro.

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At one point this year I didn’t think I’d have the chance to visit the chalk downs. I was prepared for that, because I think the health of the wider populace is more important than getting to look at some flowers in a field, or a wood, whether or not they’re on my dad’s farm in Northumberland. Needless to say I drove the 30 minutes to the South Downs to check my eyesight. I believe I acted reasonably.

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Turns out my eyesight is good but not this good. To really get close to this chalk milkwort I need a macro lens. Lucky for me, I had one! The flowers of this very small plant look to me a bit like spiders, too.

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This rock rose was growing in amongst some of the drier grasslands, starved of decent rain for a long while. May was the sunniest on record. We need rain, so bad.

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It was a windy day up on the Downs and butterflies were having a tricky time of it. To be honest, I can’t remember it not being windy on the Downs…

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I’m fairly certain this is a brown argus, which I hit the deck to get closer to. It was having a wild thyme. I also saw brimstone, common blue and small heath.

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On the lane I picked up this cinnabar moth, a species which is lives on ragwort. They develop from the iconic orange and black caterpillars that you can find on a-plant-so-hated-someone-made-a-website-to-defend-it. In macro terms of keeping beautiful insects distracted long enough to have their picture taken, ragwort has been good to me. I’m a fan.

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You may know that chalk formed about 65 million years ago from the shells of molloscs in an ocean. That ocean is gone but I found a tiny piece of chalk in one of the dusty, dry exposed areas of the grasslands. I think the black spots may be the early development of a lichen. I thought it was so beautiful as an object, like a piece of cave art, its canvas so many millions of years in the making.

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This photo was taken with my macro lens. It was lovely to see a skylark again.

Thanks for reading.

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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:

 

 

 

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Nomada rufipes

Nomada rufipes, a cleptoparasitic bee that I spotted on Farthing Downs on the edge of London. It steals from an Andrena bee to survive, but I only saw it drinking nectar from the heads of these ragwort flowers.

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