Sunday, 10 August 2014

Here Be Dragons

Lots of Dragonflies flying around my garden this week, too fast to photograph unless they're taking a rest. The one below obligingly stopped for a while on the washing line. I was astonished by the detail and colour, serving only to increase my fascination with these creatures. I think this is a Common Darter, but I'm not absolutely sure, the abdomen was red but I neglected to take a picture of the whole thing.

Also unidentified is the bug further down found on garden safari. It's not in my Collins field guide so, until proved otherwise, I shall claim it as a new discovery to science...

Common Darter (?) Dragonfly on clothes peg
Common Darter (?) Dragonfly

Common Darter (?) Dragonfly
Bug awaiting identification
Bug awaiting identification

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Big Small Things

Thanks to ebay and a 40 year old lens I am now equipped for macro photography. My technique thus far is frenzied paparazzi snapping, focus achieved (or not) by swaying backwards and forwards whilst pressing the button a lot... Bigger animals or smaller ones further away were taken with a different lens, but generally a similar technique (or lack thereof).

A home reared froglet on small finger

Poppy and Hoverfly

Anatomical Allium Flower

Badger at dusk with mercifully poor eyesight

Fly on Teasel

Unknown Flower

Horsefly bites Me


Friday, 13 June 2014

Time flies and Dragonflies

On the run from a dark edit suite, I took a moment to take some pictures at the Kitchen Garden pond this morning. I may have missed most of the Dragonflies emerging over the last couple of weeks, but was pleased to find and adult Broad-bodied Chaser patrolling as well as many many Damselflies... and a Frog.

Broad-bodied Chaser with attendant Common Blue Damselfly

Broad-bodied Chaser

Wide Mouthed (Common) Frog - ("you don't see many of those around do you?")

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Perseids Over Tyntesfield

I've wanted to try some night time star time-lapse photography for some time and the arrival of the Perseid meteor shower in the middle of August gave me an extra incentive. The sky here is too bright at night for really amazing stars, with light pollution from Bristol and Nailsea, but this does serve to light up the clouds with pleasing effect. There are several shooting stars in this video clip, but it admittedly takes a forensic eye to see them. There's also a couple of aeroplanes low down and perhaps a couple of satellites, but blink and you'll miss them.

After this initial encouraging result I decided to try again on the following night, which promised to be the final flurry for the meteors and the last clear night for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, on my way to set the camera up, I stumbled across two very relaxed badgers out on a dusk snuffle (below). I managed to film some very poor video and then, in a hurry, forgot to re-adjust the settings on the camera and recorded an entirely black time-lapse. The lesson I learnt was not to rush and don't get distracted from the primary mission, though perhaps I should have already known that.

Still frame from video of distracting Badgers

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Nectar Fest

Just butterflies this week, no gruesome insects and only one slightly gruesome ending. The author Simon Barnes has written on why it is useful to learn the names of things in that it's the key to recognition. Once you can recognise things you can then find a greater connection. Beyond the obvious (big mammals and regular birds), my mind has always been particularly porous with nature's names, including butterflies. I'm hoping that through taking photos and then posting them here, that I can finally plug the names firmly into my memory.

Large White (Cabbage White) female

Comma Butterfly (comma mark on underside cunningly hidden)

Meadow Brown no longer causing cosmic ripples

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Long Legs And Long Days

The long length of the days has increased the chances of seeing at least one wondrous or weird thing whilst wandering. The lavender is a-buzz (as more worryingly is the roof above my back door) and what a pleasure to see a daddy long legs actually outside and not careering around a light bulb.

Six Spot Burnet Moth

Carder Bee
Daddy Long Legs (Crane Fly)

On two nights I've spotted badgers out well before dusk. Both times I've been able to walk within 12 feet of them and barely be noticed (no camo required). The dry weather makes earth worms hard to find, getting a meal becomes more important than avoiding humans.

I'm not here
Off for breakfast

On the macabre front, I attempted a wildlife rescue for a Red Damselfly who had ditched into our paddling pool. I took some pictures whilst I assumed he would recover. Alas, he never did. 

Paddling pool victim
Bejewelled Damsel

More gruesome than taking portraits of the recently dead though, was witnessing an unfortunate spider join the ranks of the living dead. Completely overwhelmed by a solitary Pompilid Spider Wasp (clearly not needing any friends), the spider could do nothing as the wasp injected her egg inside. The future for the spider is not bright, it'll be eaten from the inside out.

Ninja Wasp...
...tackles not so Ninja spider
Dropping the kids off

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Bumbling Bloodsuckers

I'm fairly new to photography and my main motivation is just to document what is around me. I'm vacillating between trying to learn more specialised techniques where greater control is available, or whether to make a point of keeping it snappy and real. I guess it's something that can be done on a project by project basis, but certainly at the moment there's plenty of things around me that I've rarely or  never seen and many are not ill-disposed to my camera - so long as I'm quick enough.

A Zebra Spider

Last week a friend lent me a macro lens for close up photography and I've been making frequent use of it to document some of the residents and visitors, welcome and unwelcome, that can be found here at Tyntesfield at this time of year.

First up are the villains. I've lived here at Tyntesfield for over a decade and until 3 years ago I rarely encountered a tick, but for these recent summers they have been numerous. Deeply unpleasant, in the picture you can see the mouthparts and the empty abdominal sack waiting to be filled with my blood.

A tick crawling uninvited up my wrist

I'm well schooled in correct removal measures if I find a tick attached to me, but every so often I flip and attack the unwanted appendage in a frenzy, desperate to be rid of it. I know so very well that this is the wrong thing to do (don't traumatise the tick), that it makes me wonder if I'm briefly under the control of an alien invader? I've always been fascinated by the ability of numerous parasites to influence the behaviour of their hosts, perhaps some organism is directing me to make a mess of myself and the tick as a means of spreading infection? Best not to lose sleep over these things though...

The next garden rogue is the Horse-fly. These hypodermic biters really like to make a nuisance of themselves. I'm still waiting for a realistic alfresco movie sex scene where proceedings get interrupted by these pesky bloodsuckers. They've given me a real dilemma as I've been maintaining a vigilant wildlife rescue service for any animal that falls into my daughter's paddling pool. Every time I fish a Horse-fly out my inner voice is screaming out indignantly 'why? why? why?'. I guess the spiritual answer is that by saving Horse-flies I'm avoiding coming back as one in a future life.

What's not to love about this Fly?
Happily, not everything in the garden is out to get me. I'm aware there are lots of different bee species buzzing around at the moment. My current expertise goes about as far as telling the difference between a Bumble and a Honey, but I intend to resolve this particular knowledge gap this summer.

White-tailed Bumblebee on Clover flower

These three picture (above and below) are all White-tailed Bumblebees. The white tail alone is not enough to identify them, but the similar Bombus hortorum (I only use the Latin name because my book tells me no other) has three yellow bands. My favourite bit of observed behaviour is when, upon leaving the clover patch, the bees do a short orientation flight in all directions to register exactly where they are. 

White-tailed Bumblebee with very fine wings

White-tailed Bumblebee with not so impressive wings

House Swallow

My bird book tells me that it's easy to tell the difference between Swallows and House Martins. I beg to differ, when they're flying round at high speed I find it very difficult. So, I decided to try and take some pictures of the large number flying around near my house purely so I could identify them. 

An imperfect picture of a House Martin
It turned out that what I thought were Swallows were House Martins, but it still took a while to scrutinise the mostly blurry photos. Swallows are famed for their long forked tails, but juveniles lack them, so I couldn't be sure from this alone. Also, to add to the confusion, looking at a US website I see the American 'Tree Swallow' looks pretty much identical to my own House Martin. The clearest aid to identification I can see from photos is that the Swallow's head is black all over, whereas it's just the top for the House Martin. 

I tell this story as an excuse to post the photo below. It's not exactly an award winner, but I like it.

A more arty imperfect picture of a House Martin

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Hummingbird Hawk

Hummingbird hawk-moth

A very special visitor this week. A Hummingbird hawk-moth. A summer visitor to the UK and only the second one I've ever seen in my life (and last time I was slightly drunk so could never be sure). This time, despite much over excited fumbling with my camera, I did manage to get a picture. This was taken in the 'Lady Garden' at Tyntesfield. Really.

Also sighted over Tyntesfield this week was a Red Kite, not by myself, but I've seen a picture and hope it's a sign of things to come.

Damsel In Distress

Cockchafer Beetle

This is a bit of a retro post as most of these pictures are from a couple of weeks ago (early June), but there are still stories to be told. First, above, is a splendid Cockchafer beetle I found legs up in the air outside my back door one morning. The evening air had been busy with the sound of their flight, the sound of disappointment, zzzzzd thud, zzzzzzzd thud. Apparently not masters of aerobatics, they are nonetheless one of my favourite summer sights and sounds.

Froglet in adult human hand (for scale)


It was also time to release some of our tank reared froglets into the wild. You may have to zoom in to the pictures to see them, but to see them go was a proud moment.
Froglet released (centre frame on grass)

Froglet goes wild

Common Blue Damselfly

Female Common Blue Damselfly with damaged wings
Damselflies have been busy at the Kitchen Garden pond as shown in last weeks's post. The blue ones are males. These pictures show a female with a crooked body and damaged wings, below being 'buzzed' by an amorous male.

Female Common Blue Damselfly buzzed by blue male

Remarkably, over a week later I saw apparently the same animal on the same leaf stem still getting buzzed by males. I have some pictures I need to check to see if it is the same flightless individual, but tragically I saw her finally grabbed by a male and carried off. With the male unable to power them both in flight, they crash landed into the water. The male was able to fly off, the female was not so fortunate.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Frog The Dragon Slayer

Common Blue Damselflies courting
Two pairs of Damselflies gripped in courtship

It's all been happening at the kitchen garden pond this week. Damselflies are already busy courting, in the pictures you can see the tip of the blue male's abdomen attached to the neck of the female, this is the prelude to mating.

In the video clip below you can see the two males having a brief chat whilst the females below do the same.

After watching the damsels for a while I became aware of something else in distress. A mature dragonfly nymph had crawled up the wall of the pond with a grotesque appendage...

Dragonfly nymph climbs out of the pond to escape attacker

Another dragonfly nymph had firmly attached himself to the escapee, his jaws clamped to where the wings should one day soon burst forth. I initially thought the 'victim' had been attacked as he or she prepared to leave the pond and moult, but eventually the attacker released his grip and both animals returned to the water. This said to me that, in this case, leaving the water was purely an act of avoiding predation.

Emperor Dragonfly nymph leaving the water

The same could not be said for this individual. As it hauled itself up the Iris stem, looking very likely to begin final metamorphosis at any moment, it came under attack from a completely unexpected source...

This frog is the first frog reportedly seen in this pond for over 25 years, vertical walls making it an unlikely home for anything without the power of flight. The frog took several leaps at the dragonfly nymph, proving ultimately unsuccessful as the pond's previous contender as resident top predator managed to climb out of reach.

Dragonfly nymph ready to emerge from its larval case
Initially I thought the exertion had been too much for the dragonfly. Several hours later the nymph still hung unchanged. I feared it had  missed the moment and would die slowly in the tomb of its underwater skin, but the next morning I found an empty larval case and no dragonfly, so it must have made it to adulthood after all. No sign of the frog since, but I'm sure there's more than enough food to keep one solitary amphibian happy.

Detail of emerging adult
On my evening visit I did manage to catch one dragonfly mid moult, the video clip shows it pulling clear of the larval case and inflating the wings (sped up).

I had to go home before the wings were dry and skeleton hardened ready for adult life, but returning the next morning I was privileged to see and film another take off into the sky for the first time.