21 Oct 2015

Bearded Reedlings Up Close at Stodmarsh

It had been quite a while since I was able to visit a Nature Reserve over the summer months. I had visited Stodmarsh one brief Saturday afternoon in August but with hardly any wildlife about proved to be a blank session. Then on Sunday 20th September my friend at my camera Martin invited me along for a bright and early 6am pickup trip to Stodmarsh. We arrived about 6:45am just as the Sun was rising through a beautiful misty morning.

Mistified Cows

We headed to the Turf Fields hide near the Grove Ferry end of the reserve. This can be a prime spot for the Kingfisher. The elusive bird for Martin to yet capture on camera! We hadn't been there long and not only one but two of them flew towards us and split left and right! Doh!. There was mild activity from Mallards and Gadwall I believe. After 30 or so minutes it was evident there was not much going to happen there so we discussed moving on further, as in the distance we could hear and see a few Bearded Reedling. 

From previous trips and conversations with regular visitors I knew where we had a good chance of finally seeing "Beardies" up close. Given that they were always seen very early our chances were increased a lot. After leaving the hide we could hear more of them in front of us. Some further 100yds or so we could see some moving about close to the area I had been told about. A family of 4 people were the other side of this patch of Reeds and the Beardies were moving about undisturbed by their presence. So making our way to the exact location we were confronted by some 8 or so birds down in a Dyke area. 

It was really difficult to get clear unobstructed shots of the Beardies (seen below) then luckily they moved up to become beautifully backlit in the rising Sun. Some even made their way down onto the ground to eat grit for digestion.

We continued to wait around and suddenly there was an influx of about 40 to 50 birds. Having only ever seen two in the very distance at Dungeness Reserve, I was in awe of this magical sight. The next photos are from this showcasing the Bearded Reedlings in their natural behaviour.

The classic shot I was after

As you can see they are magnificent birds and we were so very lucky to experience these so close to us in almost perfect light too. This adds to a year that has provided so many firsts and lucky viewings. On a final note, the Kingfishers never made a close up appearance this day but my friend Martin had chance to return on the Wednesday after this and did finally break his duck with them and also returned another Sunday am to see these in even better light, the lucky sod...lol.

24 Jul 2015

Flies 2

After my last blog on Fly Macro I have been busy doing more of them. The first two images are from 2013 as could not fit on the first blog. The second of these images is full of drama. I knew there were some species that actually would prey on general species of Fly and other insects, but had never witnessed it until this point. I had wondered to a lane some 20 minutes away, where I know has diverse vegetation. From a garden perimeter hedge some 10ft high, through to a small Allotment then public bridleway with natural plants like Nettles and Cow Parsley etc. It was on the gargantuan hedge that this act of violence was captured. 

The cannibalistic nature of the smaller fly is a sight to behold. They are the predatory genus known as "Robber Flies". I spent minutes observing and capturing this event. I believe the first photo here is of a similar species that also hunt on regular flies. It is evident that they are hunters with the shape of the head. There is a sinister, devilish look to them. More angular and focused in design than common fly sub species. Just like that with Birds of Prey.  

Jumping forwards to the last couple of weeks, the next photos in the blog have been taken in the recent weeks. With spring 2015 now in full swing, fauna and flora jumping into life and nectar available to those who duly rely on this natural food source. It has been time to get out with the macro gear again. The Cherry tree in the garden has been in full blossom and a haven of insect activity. Various Bee species going about collecting Nectar and scurrying off to home. With even Mason Bees (Bee blog to come) taking up residence in a box with bamboo cane in just for them. Another Bee species, never seen before by me (due in part to misidentification as Wasps) are Nomad Bees moving about the blossom too, but higher up and inaccessible. They are super active anyway and would make it nigh on impossible to capture.

St Marks Fly

Of the flies on the tree, most were that I have already portrayed in the first blog but there were some newcomers to the party. Above is the St Marks Fly, a fly fairly docile and clumsy commonly spotted in fields where Sheep or Cattle could graze. Large in size (10-14mm) and pure black with big bulbous eyes. Its name comes about from the fact they normally appears around St Marks day at the end of April. They to me, are a more friendly and non intimidating fly that can also live a less grotesque life than other species that feed on animal excrement. 

These next two flies are the same species and constantly seem to love Sunbathing. The first is sat on the edge of planks that from the structure of the raised flower bed. The second on tarpaulin covering garden furniture. A small species, some 7mm in length and 50/50 in tolerance to me. Some 2ft away vanish while others allow some 100mm distance. The second is one of my favourite images as the whole overall tones of the diffused background and that of the fly work so well together, along with the compound eye lenses being in focus too. 

The next set depict the stunning metallic coloured "Bottle" sub species. First up a large Bluebottle residing on he wooden planks again. About 15mm long and very common throughout the UK. Next a smaller but equally colourful Greenbottle. The metallic Green shimmers glorious in the Sun. Found amongst the plants in the raised bed area. Then a smaller Bluebottle again. Although the wings are different on this one so I am not 100% sure of the ID. 

Bluebottle Fly

Greenbottle Fly

Smaller Bluebottle species
 The following is a species I have seen in several locations I have worked at or visited. The eyes are so comical in look with a "Crash Helmet" shape. 7mm or so long also a smaller fly. Found on the raised area plants again. A beautiful dark metallic colour to these, complimented by the metallic Orange compound eyes.

species unknown currently

The following is a very miniature fly of only 4mm in length. Found on the slabs that run along the back of the fish pond, suggests it prefers a damper location. This was the 5th attempt of capturing one as they spooked easily. Being so small it was impossible to see the detail and colour these actually adorn, but with the macro gear it allows this to be visible. This is what I love about macro, to be able to see hidden detail of minute creatures.

After the above fly, I headed out across the field at the bottom of my garden to the boundary fence opposite. Having previously patrolled this fence I know it is rife for insects and Jumping Spiders. It was plentiful of common small brown flies sitting in large groups in the Sun. Then up in a corner that is shady by overhanging trees this Greenfly below was captured. Being quite large for this species and distinctive with its bright red eyes too. How the light was hitting it really makes it stand out against the darker background.


A bit further along my final fly (Anthomyia procellaris), in this series was seen. I have shot these before and is included in my previous fly blog. But on this occasion how the light was hitting, gives atmosphere and highlights all the little details on the fly. The small hairs on its legs, the yellow underneath its rear abdomen and the armour plating look to it too, really is evident. This particular one was much larger than those I have normally seen at various locations, allowing greater opportunity to see those small intrinsic, unique details.

Anthomyia procellaris

24 Jun 2015

Spiders, no flies on them!

Most of my life I have had a fear of Spiders that stems from an incident at Primary School back in the 80's. I had run into the cloak room and not one, but two big typical House Spiders ran out from my left leg. Previous to this I could be seen amongst all types of bugs and beasties in the garden and elsewhere. Then that all changed in 2012 when I discovered someone on flickr who does Jumping Spiders very close up. He was mentioned in my Fly blog too. So my understanding of the Arachnids and Arthropods (Jumping Spiders) changed

Having spent 12 years working within the wooden animal housing industry I would regularly be spooked by all kinds of spiders, most commonly the House Spider. Many very big too. So to have a complete turn around in my perception of them shows how inspiring and thankful I am of this photographers work. I do however still fear any that resemble the Black Widow in shape, they to me look just plain evil!

So having done flies and the odd bug here and there I was on a mission to capture Jumping Spiders for myself. Known also as Zebra Spiders, they are so comical in their movement and full of intrigue when faced with a giant lens in front of them. Some run in fear while others are bemused by what greets them. They track your every move in a way that is very robotic. They normally inhabit walls of houses, garden shed and wooden fencing around fields.  The next four images are the best I have captured of them...

Jumping Spiders done to a degree I wanted to capture other species. One that is very timid despite its name is the Wolf Spider. Readily accessible in the garden and with a lot of perseverance I managed to capture some...

I call this one Cyclops

I am amazed at how opaque the legs are in them and how many eyes they have too. The middle one is a male too with its longer boxing glove arms. Most recently the next two images are from Kings Wood, Challock just 5 minutes drive from me. I am not sure if both are males or both genders as the second image has a sack attached with Spiderlings in I believe?

Late Summer/ early Autumn last year at my girlfriends, her garden was home to the typical Garden Spider. Varied in size and randomly home to the pretty aggressive males their webs would be seen spanning gaps between the shrubs, Holly and other tall plants. Prime areas of unwitting flies to move through. The biggest seen with legs spanned out was the diameter of a 50p coin. 

About life-size in this photo

Feasting on a Fly

This last image is very recent and taken with the new addition of a LED Ring Flash. In reality it is only I would say 10mm long so thus appears here 3 times bigger! The light really helps bring out the detail, given the location was in complete shade from the shed.

The next spider was captured in 2013 and while I was out walking on the outskirts of my village. Well camouflaged in Lime Green colours and in prime ambush position amongst the hedgerow. This also has that distinct large Abdomen akin to those of nightmares, but more friendly luckily.

Known as Araniella Cucurbitina

Another whose colouring (or rather lack of) provides perfect camouflage for its niche way of hunting. Aptly named the White Death Spider it sits in wait on Cow Parsley along country lanes. The unassuming victim caught out by the distraction of feeding on the Pollen. The spider leaps from nowhere and relentlessly immobilises its prey.  As evident below, it really hides itself well amongst the small white flowers of the plant and lives up to its name too.

White Death Spider. Image stacked from two images.

The following ?????? was taken on a public footpaths swing gate post in a nearby field to my home. Common sights for those that look for them, they make spots like this home. Laying flat in general with legs splayed out. They have a very prehistoric look to them. As if fossilised and brought back to life millions of years later. The patterning on the "disc" of its head has a great velvety texture carried over onto the rear abdomen too. The eyes protrude from the disc giving a UFO feel also.

 Finally is a very atmospheric photo of a very small "Money" type spider. It was running along the tables edge and with the effect of the macro set-up provides an evocative and creative image.  The peach background enhances the dark brown exoskeleton of this Arachnid, also complimented by the grey/green tables edging. Even being so small I have been able to enlarge it to a degree that even the minutest of hairs on its legs are visible. So this image concludes my new discovery and bravery of capturing these 8 legged creatures.

16 Jun 2015

All of a Buzz

I have always had a deep affinity with the Bee. It goes about its business from flower to flower collecting valuable Pollen. It has been well documented by the press that they are under threat from parasitic attack and measures have been taken to prevent extinction. If they go then as said elsewhere our food source enters a danger zone too. 

On first appearance they are small bundles of furry insect, barred in yellow orange stripes generally. The big Bumble Queens first appear flying low and entering open doors or windows to any building looking for that perfect hole leading to a cavity, upon which for her to develop her colony. Often the Honey Bee is misidentified as the most irritating of insects: The Wasp. It is assumed that the yellow and black stripes mean Wasp and not the humble Bee to the untrained unassuming eye. 

This blog contains those few Bees that I have managed to photograph so far. Two of these have both utilised a Tit box and Insect box to set up a colony. The first, the Tree Bumblebee used the hexagonal tit box on the side of our shed facing south. It would get the Sun on it from around 10am until 4pm in the summer months. It was small in Bee numbers, with I would say somewhere between 20-30 Bees. The previous 2 years a Bluetit family had used the box but for some reason, were not to return this particular summer of 2013. Still full of Moss and other prime nest materials (as seen below), it was pretty much a ready made home for the Bumblebees. 

In this photo one worker is using his wings to fan cool air inside the box on what was a very hot day in June 2013. At some points 3 would line the hole doing this. They stayed for only 3 months I recall and were gone. They have not returned in 2014 and this year will hopefully see them make a return.

The next and current residents in the garden to utilise a man made home are Mason Bees. I had placed a ready made box with Cane cut to short lengths in the top half and other holes for Lacewing or Butterflies in the lower half. Then two weeks ago while out in the garden I spotted a strange Bee searching around the shed for suitable holes for which to reside. It was metallic green at the top and its abdomen was gold in colour with yellow hairs within it. A few appeared and rested in the Sun on leaves to. Then I spotted they were entering the Bee box. Just below and to the left were two of different size and appeared to me to be two different species. I wanted to capture these and carefully moved them to daylight as they were pre occupied with each other. 

The brown liquid is either just fertilised eggs or the males sperm

The second pair on another day

After the initial pair, two days later a second pair were spotted mating on the leaves of a plant below. This gave me the chance to capture them in a natural location and not the table. The last photo is my personal favourite as it really captures the true colour of the Mason Bee. It was taken further along the garden resting on the planks that form the raised bed. 

The next Bee which is a Honey Bee of some sorts, was actually the first Bee I photographed and was resting in the evening Sun. 

The pale yellow colouring was a first spot for me at the time. It is slightly smaller than the traditional Honey Bee so commonly seen. It looks so delicate and was compliant to me photographing it. 

The latest and final Bee was taken on the same day as the Mason Bees and was up on the Blossom of the Cherry Tree in the garden. Still a strand of Honey Bee I believe and this time was stunning deep orange colouration. What is impressive in this photo is how armour plated it looks on its abdomen. You can really see each plate/layer and how they slide over each other. This was very hard to take as I was looking just above head height and impressed any were sharp or usable. There were other Bee varieties on the Cherry Tree but they were so high up and inaccessible. At first I thought some were of Wasp subspecies or Wasp-fly type but upon research they were in fact Nomad Bees. One in particular had beautiful green compound eyes. I just wish I could have captured them too. Some were skirting the raised bed but were too timid with my presence. One day, just one day, I will get to capture their stunning detail.

Well the above was to be the final Bee in this blog, but as luck would have it after initially writing this, I ventured into the garden today and spotted in a Tit box that Tree Bumblebee's have in fact returned to my delight. I had initially gone into the garden to do 2 Bumblebee flower pot nests as seen on Springwatch's S.O.S article on them. And also to help put up an insect tower my father has just finished making. The following pics are from today's discovery and the nest examples.  

Tree Bumblebee's building up mud around the entrance

First halfway along the right hand side fence in the raised flower bed between the Mason and Tree Bee's

Second placed on the opposite side of the garden at the bottom left corner

Placed 6ft to the right of the Mason Bee nest

The future of the Bumblebee has had a big helping hand today and time will tell if they are to become inhabited.