Saturday, November 19, 2011

The hardest part of moving forward is not looking back.....

I don't know just where the quote came from that forms the title of this blog entry. What I do know is that although it may well be true, I'm about to ignore it!

As I write this text it is now a foggy late evening at the back end of November and although today has been just amazing weather for this time of year, we have to face the fact that winter will be here very soon. That in turn means invertebrate life has slowed and even stopped altogether in some cases and until the warm spring sunshine kick-starts another bug-hunting season, pickings will be few and far between.

Meantime, why not take a brief trip back to sunnier days and re-visit some of my past finds. 

This white squirrel was something that I'd been trying to photograph for a while before finally it came down to ground level and posed for me. Last year my good friend Tim Ransom (well worth a visit to check out Tim's flickr photostream by the way) told me about a red squirrel that had been sighted in Seal near to Sevenoaks. There have also been some reports of black ones being seen locally too.

I have found lots of beetle larvae in the past and there can be huge differences in their appearance as the two photos above demonstrate; both are beetle larva but worlds apart. The top one I have been unable to secure an identity for but I've been told it may be a Wireworm or Click-beetle larva. The second one is of a pair of Cereal-leaf beetle larvae.

This last larva is that of a cardinal beetle.

Sometimes, in fact quite often, nature can surprise me and I'm left thinking "What one earth?..." One of those moments arose when one day I was walking local woodlands looking for a particular weevil when I came across the following insect...

Having shown this photograph to 'The experts' the best explanation seems to be that it's a small bug that has picked up a parasite somewhere that's caused this enormous appendage. I hadn't seen anything like this before and I'm happy to report since!

Whilst I didn't find the particular weevil I was seeking that day, I did, a couple of days later have the compensation of finding this one. A really nice find it was too-this is the Birch leaf-roller weevil and is a rare sight that is on the list of notifiable species that are considered to be endangered.

There are in excess of 400 species of weevil in the U.K. and so I guess it's not that surprising that from time to time I will come across some of the lesser known ones. However, a fly, is a fly, is a fly, right? Well actually no! Far from it-there may be 400 or so weevil species but they pale into insignificance when compared to U.K. fly species, of which there are...are you ready for this? O.K. .....close to 6,900 that reside here.

The first of the three photos above is of a Snake-fly-the second a Cleg-fly and the last is Sciomyzidae species; again all very different from each other. 

In size U.K. flies can be anything from just 1mm to an astounding 30mm.

Every now and then something comes along that looks as though it belongs in a science fiction movie. Take this wonderful creature for instance, doesn't it look a bit like an armour plated alien? It's yet another example (as if another were needed) of just why I love nature and photographing/observing these amazing creations we all share our world with.

If I live until I'm a hundred, there still won't be anywhere near enough time to see all the insects and bugs just on our little island, let alone the rest of the world.

As it happens, there is no need to be frightened of this particular being. What is it? Actually it's a harmless Leafhopper nymph and is little more than 5mm in size.

If I haven't impressed you yet with nature's diversity, then how about this one-surely you can't fail to be impressed by this beastie?
 Did you ever consider that something so strange could be living right here in the United Kingdom? After all, isn't this the kind of thing we are used to being shown by Sir David Attenborough on one of his foreign adventures? 

It rejoices under the catchy title of 'Platyrhinus resinosus' and is one of our most impressive weevils in both size and colour.

The last of my reminiscences for now is this uber-rare water gremlin. These are hardly ever seen by humans as they are shy creatures and live in water droplets. They are usually to be found around springtime and especially on April 1st...or so the legend goes!

Only one thing left to do now and that's provide you with an answer to my 'guess the photo' from the last blog entry. It was in fact  a close-up of a Leopard slug. To be precise it is the respiratory pore, or pneumostoma.

Leopard slug

That's it then, until the next time...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Caterpillar poo and the lawyer's wig...

You could conduct a search of online blogs that contain nature related subjects and no doubt find some interesting and informative things to occupy a late autumn evening or two but let's be honest here, how many will contain an animated photograph of a caterpillar having a poo?

Well I wouldn't want you thinking that I'm merely a perfunctory poster of these blogs-I do try and go the extra (country) mile to ensure something different each time. If you think that's not the case, then why not go along with Lizzie, my other half who thinks this could be a metaphor for my blog entries! Huh! Metaphor? An analogy, yes-an analogy would have been fine, at least an analogy only implies!

I'm sure you won't find this offensive? After all it's just nature in the raw; what goes in must come out. I know, I know, that doesn't necessitate some 'divvy' (olde colloquial term) with a camera being there to record it for posterity-after all, how would you like.....

By the way, I know I've stated this before but if you only view these blog entries via e.mail, you probably won't see the animation (and some other bits). You need to click on the name of my blog in large lettering at the top of the e.mail and that'll bring you here, to the blog proper. 

How do you follow a caterpillar taking a dump? It's a question we all need to know the answer to surely? Just in case it ever comes up in conversation.
The way I intend to follow it is by ignoring it-pretend it never happened and let's get on to something much easier on the eye. 

When I tire of walking the fields behind our house as happens from time to time, I jump in the car and head off to an area I know equally well as I once lived right beside it. There are ponds and lakes as well as open fields and rolling Kent countryside that always makes me welcome and reminds me just how lucky we are to be living in such a glorious county.

That's where I found myself during the week, a week that has seen the weather turn from constant grey drizzle, to patchy sunshine with an accompanying rise in temperatures that has even fooled a few butterflies into brief feeding forays on some of the rotting fruits that have been dumped by the local farmer (what a waste).

My first stop? The lakes...

Click on any photo for a larger view

Although the Autumn/Fall colours were great to see and photograph, I couldn't help thinking that this year has been something of an anti-climax after last year's spectacular show. Perhaps it's more that last year was exceptional?

Perhaps, It is still a little early in this topsy-turvy season for the colours to be at their very best, as this next shot shows, some of the trees have still to turn to gold and red.

Having drunk my fill of the lakes (not literally) I was then on my way towards the real purpose of my outing. It is only a short walk (as the crow flies) uphill past the local Primary School, crossing a small road, climbing over a locked five-bar gate then negotiating a public footpath that runs beside stables and a horse paddock before arriving via a grape orchard (is orchard the right term for a field of grapes? Probably not? Vineyard seems more correct but it is hardly that with only a few rows of plants). Anyhow, I digress-in the far right hand corner of this field, tucked away from view is the entrance into one of my favourite places to wander.

You can just see in the picture above, both the rows of grape vines and the dark little entrance to the left of the last tree trunk. It looks pretty uninviting but once through the opening it opens out into a beautiful woodland.

The first section is mainly Beech and Chestnut with a few Hazel but then once it opens out properly it becomes more mixed with some lovely woodland rides.

The gate at the far end of this scene leads to an arable field with a footpath crossing it, leading to more woodland with a stream where last spring there were mayflies and water scorpion.

But my purpose today was to confine my meandering to the woods before reaching that gate and to have a good hunt around for fungi.
I was hoping to find the iconic Fly-agaric (Amanita muscaria) but there were none to be seen.I did manage a few shots though and I've posted some of the results below.

I'm not clear about species with these first shots but I do know that the following are all Shaggy-ink cap (Coprinus comatus)

This is an interesting species, sometimes also called 'Shaggy mane' or 'Lawyer's wig' and it is a good, edible mushroom, providing it is eaten soon after picking; within 4 to 6 hours of harvest seems to be the recommendation.
It must also be harvested and eaten young (before the gills turn black) which they do fairly rapidly, turning from white to pink and finally black when they secrete a black liquid filled with spores-hence the name 'Ink cap'

Why have I included a butterfly photograph that wasn't taken this week but rather back in the early part of the year? Well, because it illustrates nicely the origin of the specific name of this species.
The name derives from 'coma' or 'hair' hence 'comatus' (hairy or shaggy).At the base of the wings on this shot of a Comma Butterfly you can clearly see just how hairy it is.

Now I hope you were all taken in by my logic and the authority with which I delivered the facts and the depth of my knowledge in such matters? Truth is, I have no idea at all as to the validity of my claim/assertion but you have to admit that it is plausible?

That's about it for this entry apart from leaving you with a little picture to puzzle over until I post the answer in my next blog entry. Here's an ultra-close shot of something that I'm hoping you will be able to identify? Good luck!

Until the next time then...

Can you identify?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

What exactly is macro photography?

Macro photography of insects and bugs has always been my real passion but just what does 'macro' mean?

Macrophotography is close-up photography and will by it's very nature, usually be of small subjects. In the past a macrophotograph would be one in which the size of the subject on the negative appears greater than life-size.
Nowadays it does seem to refer more to any finished photograph where the subject is larger than life-size.

The ratio of the subject on the negative (or now in the digital age the image sensor) to the subject's actual size is know as the 'reproduction ratio'.
Most modern macro lenses will typically have a reproduction rate of 1:1 that will reproduce a life-size image. My own macro lens the Canon 100mm does exactly that, however, what if you wish to go beyond life-size photography occasionally?

True macro lenses such as the Canon MP-E65mm can achieve larger than life-size images of high quality but remain very expensive to purchase.
Extending the distance between the lens and the film or sensor, by inserting either extension tubes or bellows is another equipment option. Tubes of various lengths can be stacked, decreasing lens-to-subject distance and hence increasing magnification. Adjustable bellows or extension tubes can be used in conjunction with some other techniques including reverse mounting a lens.

Ordinary lenses can be used for macrophotography by using a 'reversing ring'.
This ring attaches to the filter thread on the front of the lens and thus makes it possible to attach a lens in reverse.

Below are a couple of photographs taken using this technique. These are full-frame, un-cropped images, just as I shot them and feature a bug that has an overall total body length of only 12-14mm.

With a standard 1:1 macro lens attached, this following photo would be about as close as you could expect to get.

My somewhat home-made kit that I took these shots with is featured below. You can see that I don't have a reversing ring to fit this lens and so I just gaffa taped the lens to the tubes. The lens I chose to reverse is not the sharpest that you will find but out of the available ones I own seemed to work the best at this experimental stage.As there is no confirmation of focusing using this method, I saw little point in using anything but cheap extension tubes. The focusing light was needed because of the difficulties of available light that I'll go into in some detail shortly.

1. Home made flash bracket
2. Off camera cord
3. Canon 40d body
4. Extension tubes (cheapest available set from e.bay)
5. Focusing light (actually just a head-torch strapped around the tubes)
6. Carl Zeiss 50mm lens (£5 from a bootsale) Reverse mounted to the tubes (gaffa tape)
7. Flash diffuser (covered with kitchen roll to add more diffusion)
8. Canon 430ex flash unit

This was basically an experiment in reverse mounting a lens to increase magnification and so I didn't worry too much about lighting. Lighting is a whole other issue that is so important to get right and once I'm comfortable with the business of reversing, I'll tackle it in more detail to try and ensure a soft, even light without any hot-spots.

The set of photos below were taken on the same day using the same set-up.

As you can probably tell from the picture of the woodlouse, depth of field is a real issue when working so close to the subject.It shows here because of the angle I shot the photo from. The picture of the newly emerged harlequin ladybird (notice the lack of spots) is better because of the profile view where more is in focus.

To get a reasonable depth of field I needed to set the aperture to around f16; I know of folks who manage great shots at f6 but for myself I found them too soft at that. Luckily this old lens has a manual aperture ring and so it was easy to set it up before shooting began. With such a small aperture though very little light is available for focusing. To give some idea of how it works, here's a picture showing approximately the view through the f16 aperture.

As you can see it's very dark and so some kind of illumination is required to be able to focus properly. I used a small, led head torch something like the one shown below. I just used the strap to hold it to the tubes.

The photograph of the little hopper below was taken in my garden on a dull day and it was actually upside down under a leaf. It was around 5mm in length.

By adding more extension tubes to move the lens even closer to your subject the magnification can be pushed even higher. The next photo is of a tiny hopper nymph that was only about 2mm and barely visible at all until putting the camera on it.

I suspect that the weather may thwart too many more chances to experiment with this set-up but I may be able to resort to indoor pictures whilst I try and improve on these first shots and also work on some lighting adjustments.

Until the next time then...