Red admiral butterflies – God’s gift to amateur photographers, including myself. Colourful, prolific, simple to identify, usually within easy camera reach. All very well, but sometimes they are so busy feeding that the colourful topside is kept hidden. These images from Dorset attempt to show that closed-wing images of feeding red admirals have the interest if not the good cheer factor of the popular view. See what you think…
It took a year before there were many settlers in the new bee house. To begin with, there were just some transients; tiny bees that stationed themselves at the mouth of a hole, retreating from time to time to the depths. I’ve no idea what type of bee they were, but they didn’t leave any building works. And then there were a few wax caps to wonder about.
The box began to weather a bit during that first winter, and to fall apart slightly. That summer, we had mason bees in many of the holes, with around 60% occupancy – plus some waxed caps. The timber homes were clearly preferred to the bamboo sticks, and the first to fill up. Later, we noticed the first leaf cutters moving in, their green plugs slowly turning brown as the leaves withered.
This year, by the end of May, business was thriving. The house was weathered and had no doubt completely lost the heady scent of Garden Centre. The upper storey was more popular than the lower; maybe the horizontal stem of a cox apple tree growing against the old wall was a disincentive for potential downstairs dwellers.
Two months later, as July fades into August, there are a few changes, but overall the house is much the same. So far, there have been no leaf cutters. And no little ‘peeping’ bees either. I’m disgracefully uninformed about the types of bee to which we offer a home. We’ve replanted much of the garden to benefit honeys and bumbles – with a consequent increase in butterflies and hitherto unknown types of moth. The solitaries are still a bit of a mystery. Time I got a grip, I think. Still, the apples are looking very promising…
All photos: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour
Until last weekend I’d never heard of, let alone seen, a ROSY FOOTMAN. I’m beginning to discover and enjoy the ornate to downright bizarre names that moths tend to be given. They have this in common with fly-fishing flies – the previous day I had caught a plump wild brown trout on the River Frome with a ‘Tups Indispensable’*.
High on an inside wall above a mirror, I saw a small pink item. On closer inspection, I could tell it was a moth, and one I had never seen before. I had to fetch a small stepladder to inspect it and (with some difficulty) to photograph it, . Meet a Rosy Footman.
The Rosy Footman is apparently a moth of southern England, in particular the southern-most counties from Kent to Cornwall. They fly in July and August. With such very particular markings, they are unmistakeable, but clearly I’d failed to notice one ever before… I’m glad I have now.
* For those concerned about these things, I use barbless hooks. I netted the fish, unhooked it still in the water and released it in about 30 seconds to fight another day. Or preferably to produce more wild stock.
A flash of sunlight across the lake, and suddenly assorted wildfowl emerged from the half-gloom and showed their true colours. This pochard was closest so I seized the moment…
MEA MAXIMA CULPA
My attention levels to this blog have dropped from the insouciant to the negligent, and right down to the culpably neglectful. A prosecution for recklessly wasting precious space in the diminishing capacity of world’s supply of ether must surely be close. I have considered closing it down, but somewhere in the mix there are a few things that people obviously find interesting or useful; things I have researched and photographed in detail. Followers may be comparatively few, but the daily hit tally remain surprisingly high – whether I post anything or not. So for now, I’ll keep this running… But there’s only so much time in the day, and this blog is one project that takes a hit.
Jersey Tiger Moths Euplagia quadripunctaria, are widely distributed throughout Europe. Once rare in Britain, they are now increasingly found in the South of England. Recently we spotted one in the eastern Pyrenees one evening. It wasn’t very close and I had only a small camera with me so the results aren’t startling. However, the photos give a fair idea of this very pretty moth.
I knew at once what sort of moth this was, because we had found one – the only one I’ve ever seen before – in our garden in Dorset last year, and I to go through the usual online process to ID it.
This is the first year that leaf-cutter bees have discovered the bee box placed invitingly on a south-facing wall – and only in the last month. Or maybe they had and didn’t like the box. Or the other occupants. Anyway, quite soon they had tenanted the remaining holes in the prestige penthouse log.
Last week, the LCBs were quite active, so from time to time I watched them. The first one was completing its work in the top-right log on the lower storey. Having packed in the leaves, it spent quite some time perfecting the job, leaving a smooth end to the bright green plug.
Later on I saw a bee engaged in an earlier stage of construction. It chose the same log, and initially went for the middle hole, disappearing with a strip of leaf. It then revised its accommodation plans, reversed out with the leaf and took it to the adjacent hole.
I found the bees surprisingly difficult to photograph. I had to change cameras to a ‘faster’ one, because a bee would zoom back to the hole with its leaf and dive straight in, dragging the leaf behind it; and emerge suddenly and fly off at speed. Sometimes there was a struggle to get the leaf into the hole, which helped take a shot; or I could see the bee pause in the dark but quite close to the entrance before flying off. But mostly, the comings and goings took me by surprise every time, even though I was ready for them…
I checked the plants in the vicinity for the tell-tale semi-circles cut out of the leaves. They seem to have liked a nearby rose and another plant whose name I forget (if I ever knew). They use saliva to glue the cuttings together to build the cells for their larvae. The larvae have a safe place to hatch and develop. They pupate in the autumn and hibernate during the winter. Now that the leaf-cutters have found the box, we are hoping that next year the new generation will go through the whole process again. And that I will be more handy with the camera.
NOTE: I see that these bees are often called Leafcutter bees, or Leaf Cutter bees, whereas I have plumped for a hyphen. I’m going (having retrospectively checked) with the Natural History Museum’s version…
While photographing bees last week I encountered a smartly marked hoverfly. I was particularly impressed by its striped head. I have to admit that until I looked into it, I has assumed that there were maybe half a dozen different species in the UK. I’ve never really examined them closely until this one flew into my lens range.
How wrong I was. Fortunately by googling ‘hoverfly ID’ my first hit was a wonderful site about the natural history of Rutland and Leicestershire called NATURESPOT. The link will take you to their hoverfly page, from which you will learn that “There are over 280 species of hoverflies in Britain and around 140 of these have been recorded in Leicestershire and Rutland”.
Additional useful information includes this lightly edited précis:
- Many have black and yellow markings and are often confused with bees and wasps
- Hoverflies are totally harmless and are definitely a gardener’s friend
- The larvae of several common species have a voracious appetite for aphids
- Very few hoverflies have common names
- Those that exist (e.g. “The Footballer”) are not always widely known or agreed
- However the Latin names of all the species are accepted
I had to scroll quite far down the hoverfly page to reach the striped-headed ones. Here’s a clip of the part that I used for a clear ID as Helophilus trivittatus. I highly recommend Naturespot not just for hoverflies, but for many different species. It may be local to a specific area, but it is a mine of information for the UK generally, and very well organised.
Hoverfly weblink: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/taxonomy/term/19415
Our house provides nesting opportunities for sparrows on all sides. Somewhat ramshackle, with plenty of holes in the thick walls and under the eaves, it is perfect for the communal sparrow lifestyle. Every year we think of filling the holes, and then to decide not to. The sparrows do no harm. We’d miss them. Here are some chicks in the most easily accessible hole for photography. It is used every year, usually twice. An iPhone is best for the purpose because the flash is right next to the lens.
There’s a time and place for resorting to an iPhone for close shots. The time is when your camera is not handy – possibly 3 or 4 counties away; the place is where you are right now, when an orange tip – so often a skittish species – decides to choose a plant to land on and to stay there for a while.
The technique for getting reasonably sharp pictures with an iPhone is this: take 20 – 30 rapid shots of the subject, holding the phone at varying distances from it until you get too close and the creature flies away. This specialist process is necessary because it is impossible to be sure what the camera has actually focused on and what the optimum distance for the shot actually is. This may be a question of distance, angle or lighting – or any combination. These were the best of them – but I also got some great detailed shots of the flowers and their stems, with the butterfly a smear of orange and white.
These images are never going to make the grade in the aggressively contested photograph section of the village art and craft show (unless there’s a special iPhone group, perhaps). But they are better than I was expecting, with reasonably sharp ‘buds’, as I think the blobs on the end of the feelers are called. That’s the first thing I look at when deleting butterfly photos…