Sunday, April 29, 2012

Part two....

As I mentioned in my last post, I had too much for one entry and so here goes with part 2...

I'm at last starting to see a good variety of hoverflies here in Kent. 

Helophilus pendulas-female
This one was a nice, clean example and my guess is that it had not long emerged.I've read that it's scientific name means 'dangling sun lover' 

A close-up shot shows the facial strip nicely that can be used to help identify the species.As this fly seemed oblivious to my presence, I decided to try a natural light shot as well...

It didn't occur to me at the time, but later wondered if there was something wrong with this one because when I walked the same route early the next morning, it was still in the same place.

It even allowed me to lift it on to my finger for a photo...

It sat there quite happily whilst I wondered what I should do when it suddenly lifted-off and was gone:possibly it was as simple as it being late in the day when I first saw it (hence, coldish) and by the time it had recovered from emerging and its wings were ready for flight, it was too late and so rested there overnight.

As you'd expect in springtime, there are  things emerging all the time and so I have another freshly emerged fly photo to show you next. This one was very fresh, as witnessed by it's teneral colouration...

Tachina fera
I'm fairly sure the identity is right.It belongs to the Tachinidae family of flies and is quite a large thing at 12-15mm. They are all parasitoids, with larvae that grow up inside other insects. This particular one is know to parasitise caterpillars.

Here's another shot of it from a little later one when it has coloured up.....

And another view, a dorsal shot ...

Enough with the flies already! 

Rhopalus subrufus
The rhopalid bugs are back in the garden at last. There are four species of these in the U.K. and all are rather hairy with wings that are reddish in colour.

This profile view (above) shows just how hairy they are. I've only found two species in the garden thus far, this one and the striking, red and black Corizus  hyoscyami.

What next? Oh yes-I wanted to show you a photo I'd forgotten about until now. It's of Goldfinches on a bird-feeder in a friends garden from a few weeks ago. It's taken with a point and shoot and through the window but still shows just what beauties these little birds are...

From something of beauty that can be appreciated with the naked eye, to something that would be impossible to see with the naked eye but is just as wonderful when viewed through a microscope...

Orange-Tip Butterfly Wing
This is an ultra close shot of an orange-tip butterfly wings seen through a microscope lens that I managed to attach to the camera. I have to say that I've been wanting to try shots like this for a while but wasn't expecting too much from this first attempt. It's a really tricky process and the lens that I used could hardly be described as top quality: in fact, it came from e.bay and cost me just £1.04 plus postage!
 Even so, the result made me smile, it's something unseen without the aid of a microscope and once revealed is stunning-alright, the quality of my photo could be better (and probably will be as I progress) but who would have imagined that a butterfly wing would look like this?

Here's another photograph showing a different area...

The thing that struck me about this is, when we see orange-tips in the wild they appear to have shades of green on their wings for camouflage. What it actually is though is yellow and black and that makes me wonder why mother nature didn't just use green if that's the effect she was looking for?

Sightings of butterflies have been pretty sparse through April but I did manage a shot of a comma a few days ago...

A Comma Butterfly
Well this blog entry is starting to reach epic proportions itself now and so I think it may be time to add a final image and then high-tail it outta here!

A Wood Ant
That's it-quite a variety bag for this edition and I already have some nice and hopefully interesting items for the next one.

Until the next time then...

Friday, April 27, 2012

How to write a good blog...

I just wanted to begin a bog entry with that word! I've been reading about the 'correct' way of writing a blog and apparently, you should always get right to the point of the blog and always be decisive, never hesitant.
I've always fought against people telling me the right way to do things, after all it's all subjective? It's my blog? One person's right way might not suit the next?
Oh bugger! Now I've broken the other rule about not getting to the point!
Best crack on then, whilst you're still there..

You'll now be rolling around laughing at my pre-amble no doubt (if not then humour me) and so whilst I'm tickling your funny-bone, I couldn't resist a quick photo when I passed this sheep when out walking t'other day...

What I've always wondered about sheep is:why is there only one word to describe singular and plural? I'm trying to think of another British animal that has the same for both? 

Eriocrana subpurpurella
The weather is still unfavourable in the main but we've been lucky enough to get a few hours of sunshine here and there, and that has been the time when I've been out with the camera and I've been able to find a few interesting things. The early moths are a welcome sight and this golden winged beauty was a nice find. Good numbers of these are appearing around oak trees now-it's a species that I usually see around the first week of April. But as with the cuckoo, that was also later this year and the damselflies which I've yet to find, it seems we may be a little behind here.

An even better find at the same location was the moth pictured below;this moth is the same species but the more uncommon form 'fastuosella' that has these wonderful dark blue, metallic blotches on its wings.

Eriocrana subpurpurella f.fastuosella

My ladybird sightings have consisted of almost exclusively 7-spots but I did see this 24-spot recently. These are one of our smaller ladybirds at around 3-4mm and are vegetarians. I've also read that it's unusual because it seldom has wings. It has a fine covering of hairs that makes it appear duller than most too.

A 24-spot Ladybird

Last year I photographed one of these that had just emerged and had yet to gain its spots: all ladybirds emerge without spots and then acquire them in the first few hours.

A freshly emerged 24-spot Ladybird

Whilst checking Jack-by-the-hedge for brassica bugs, I found this little sawfly-I'm not sure of species on this one but possibly Dolerus species? This one is a natural light shot.


Here's another of those 'can you identify' type pictures to ponder...

Any ideas?

Here's another big clue-does this help at all?

If you're still unsure as to what the top photograph is, then take a look at these profile shots...

Yes, these are Alderfly eggs. I visited local lakes a couple of days ago to look for early damselflies (non to be seen) and spotted these eggs in huge numbers. They were on most of the reeds beside the lakes and each batch contained, I guess close to one thousand ova. They must be expecting a high rate of predation once the larvae emerge and drop into the water. I know that they can take up to two years to mature and so I guess numbers will deplete during that time, otherwise we'd be overrun with these insects.

 Amazing how regimented they are

A side-on view 

A close-up

Like many aquatic insects, the adult life of alderflies is short – just a week or two from the time they emerge in late April to the end of June. By contrast the larvae live underwater for around 2 years, or occasionally three.
 The dark brown adult alderflies, which carry their wings folded in the shape of a tent over their backs, emerge from ponds, rivers and lakes in spring and early summer to mate and lay their eggs.

This last photo shows the alderfly actually in the process of egg-laying.

Even though my bug-hunting days have been few and far between through April, there is so much to see on the good days now that for once I have quite a bit more that I could share with you. However, nobody wants to spend too long reading a blog and so what I think I'll do is call it a day and then perhaps add another entry in the next few days. Call it a second instalment-it consists of photographs that were all taken over the same period and so will supplement this entry nicely. 

Until the next time then...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I'm a meanderthal man...

If you look up 'Meanderthal' in the urban dictionary, you'll see that it's a word that suits me well-not only that but it might be applied to this blog entry with equal merit.


Meandethal: An old person who walks about at an extremely slow pace. This word is a combination of 'meander' which means to walk slowly with no apparent destination, and 'neanderthal' which refers to something old, ancient or prehistoric.

Definition 2 : Conversationalist who wanders from one subject to another with no apparent point, never reaching the end of the story.

Well, definition one certainly describes how I appear at least to wander about aimlessly whilst out bug-hunting:and slow would also be apt for fear of missing anything. As for the old,ancient or prehistoric part? Well I'm no Justin Bieber that's for sure!(Thankfully.)

Definition 2 Could be useful to quantify this particular blog entry because unless my writing skills are more deft than I myself feel they are,I may well be struggling to keep on the straight and narrow.

Shall I explain?... Easy! Easy!...just "yes please" would have been sufficient.

O.K. What I'll do to placate you after suffering this much text at the start of a blog-entry is add a pretty little picture here and then go on to 'add filling to the sandwich' thereafter...

I was pleased that my photograph (above) of an Orange-Tip Butterfly was published recently in the newspaper 'Kent On Sunday' in their section 'Images Of Kent' I apologise for the quality of the photo reproduced here but it was the best I could manage from a pdf download of the newspaper page.

Why am I sharing this with you? Firstly I've taken the liberty of assuming that you'll be interested and secondly, it demonstrates nicely just how the weather has impacted on my bug-hunting of late-even the butterflies have all but disappeared for the time being.

And all this brings us back to my opening gambit of trying to pre-warn you that consequently, this entry may wander a little with no real theme other than that of a total lack of bugs and insects due to our great British climate.

What to do when the weather is against you?

Having been experimenting with image stacking and knowing that this is for the most part an indoor sport, I have spent a few afternoons with all manner of tubes, bellows, lenses and frankly, ridiculous, Heath Robinson looking contraptions trying to produce some quality images this way but mainly managing to try my patience!

This bee pictured above was one of my first efforts and is a full-frame shot that although shows promise, was not exactly what I was hoping for with either lighting or detail. My problem to some extent is that the better these stacked shots get, the more critical I become of them. I suppose though that it's better than getting complacent and thinking that it's all just a bit too easy?

Having fiddled with the lighting and changed to a different lens, I progressed to this shot of a common earwig. Once again I was reasonably pleased with the outcome but was still looking to improve my technique.

The other major consideration with photographing tiny critters in this manner is the prerequisite of a non-moving subject: by that I mean that they be deceased! Now bug-hunting is one thing, but to then add in searching out dead creatures is even by my own twisted values, verging on 'weird'. Of course there are those who are willing to kill their subject to obtain the best possible image but that rankles with me and kind of goes against the grain.

Dead creatures are as much a part of nature as are those in the land of the living of course and once you begin to look for them, are not too difficult to locate but I'm not sure it's something that'll become 'de rigueur' for this particular nature lover.


On this final image I had started to get to grips with the whole process a little more and had also realised that the lack of image sharpness was probably due to vibration and not lens quality. I resolved to improve again on my set-up by making a new rail/stage and at the same time, add some extra lighting before attempting any-more focus stacked images.

I'm pleased to be able to report that I've now carried out the improvements but have yet to find the time to road-test them.


Following on from a very warm March, April has been a real let-down and spring seems to have been put on hold for now. It has just been too cold and wet for most invertebrates.There has emerged something of a pattern lately though, in that the day seems to start well with early sunshine following on from even earlier, or indeed, overnight frost-that then degenerates into a grey gloom for the rest of the day.

Perhaps in the absence of anything else an early morning meander would be an idea?
"Yes, that's what I'll do" I thought as my head hit the pillow at the end of yet another wet and bug-less day, and so it was that the very next morning at 6.30am I was out and about 'meanderthal-ling' all over the place.

Early morning Hoverfly
On some long grass beside a local pond I spotted this little hoverfly that had obviously spent the night perched here and as it was still too cold for it, it made an easy subject to photograph without fear of it flying off.

At more-or-less the same location I saw another beefly perched in the same position as the one I photographed a while ago. Perhaps I'm getting better at finding these because until this year I've not seen this behaviour at all and now I've witnessed it twice in as many weeks.
It's interesting too that once again it's one of the paler specimens.

I decided to opt for natural light only for these early morning shots:it means that there's a little less detail but set against that is the gain of a more naturalistic light and hence, hopefully, photo.

Since I ventured out to get these few shots the weather has worsened again and now even dawn photography sessions are impossible. Until things improve, there's always the image stacking to return to I suppose but what we really need is the return of spring and so if anyone has influence in such matters?

Until the next time then...

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The eyes have it...

Can I start this post with a thank-you to all those that have shown an interest in my blog, I can't believe that the viewings have just passed 6,000....thank-you so much.

The weather continues to fluctuate between summer and winter here in Kent, with a few spring-like days thrown into the mix for good measure.
Probably the reason then, that bug-hunting is sporadic, or at least, bug-finding is to be more correct.

Butterfly sightings have been good over the last week or so with temperatures peaking at around 20deg. I've already spotted Comma, Peacock, Red Admiral, Orange-Tip, Small White, Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone and Speckled Wood. This week we are down to around +4 with early morning frosts again, and so numbers now appear to be down.

There are however a fair number of bee species to be seen locally. As for just how many species, well, it would help if I could differentiate between most of them but alas, that skill alludes me for the most part. That said, there are certain bees that are quite helpful in this respect:at least to species level. By that I mean they have a fairly obvious distinguishing feature.

 A Cuckoo Bee

Cuckoo bees (Nomada) look more like wasps than bees with their yellow and black markings. Called cuckoo bees because they live in the nests of mining bees, mainly Andrena species. These little bees do seem to have brown antennae most times, which is a help with identifying them but what fascinates me about them is their eyes. It's worth taking a closer look at the compound eyes as they are quite striking....

Compound eyes
 The image above is a close-up of the nomada species eyes: it may not be the sharpest image that I've ever produced but it's the result of an on-going experiment with image-stacking and until I either improve my technique or manage to source some better quality equipment (or possibly both) it'll have to do. It does show nicely the compound eye and its fantastic colouring though.

A Pea Weevil
Sitona lineatus- the pea weevil, is omni-present now, with large numbers to be found either sitting atop of fence posts, or as in the case of this one, just  motionless on long grass. At around 4-5mm though, they may not be obvious.
They get their name from the habit of nibbling semicircular holes in the edges of peas and clover.

Both sexes doing what both sexes do!

Of the early butterflies, surely the arrival of the orange-tips is one of the delights of spring-proper. Stunning butterflies at any-time, these delicate insects can be fully appreciated when they are freshly emerged with their strong colours and as yet, undamaged wings. Easily separated into male/female by even an amateur such as myself:the males having bearing the tell-tale 'orange-tip' to their wings.

An Orange-Tip Butterfly

7-spot ladybirds seem to be around in huge numbers this spring-perhaps the mild March has encouraged them out of hibernation. I have also seen a few harlequin ladybirds locally now but only a handful. The photograph of a 7-spot below is a natural light photo and although it looks as though I have photo-shopped the background out and added a plain cream one, the truth is that it's natural, and is just dry, long grass.

A 7-Spot Ladybird

We are just into April now and what has been a real treat to see is the amount of wild flowers that are now showing. There are primroses, wild violets, wood anemone and lots of bluebells (see photo below for an illustration of some of the paler variety we have growing locally). The roadside verges are also turning green with wild parsley and jack-by-the-hedge and numerous other plants and shrubs.


I think that about updates you on what's happening in the world of nature here, well that's what I've seen anyway, as always there's far more going on than I'll ever witness and long may it be so.

To complete this blog entry I'd just like to add here that I was pleased that one of my photographs was chosen recently as the 'Photo Of The Month by UK SAFARI and will appear on their website for the month of April.

Until the next time then...