I was so pleased with my bee photos (previous post) that I shared them on social media, which led to this exchange:
Friend: Excellent pictures. I have the blue banded bee but, try as I might, I never get a good shot!
Malcolm: Most camera-lens combinations won’t get a big enough image of an insect to get this sort of detail. I use a DSLR with a 100mm macro lens (both Canon) and add a +4 close-up “filter” (really another lens but it screws on like a filter) for the really small stuff. And then I take lots of shots and throw most of them away.
Friend: And I use my phone
Malcolm: Some phone cameras are pretty good, but you have to get so close to the insect that you usually scare it away. Practice on small flowers – see what yours will do.
Friend: That’s a good idea. I do a fair bit of flower stuff for my Instagram but practicing on insects would be fun.
Malcolm: Slow insects would be next, then. Caterpillars patiently munching leaves, assassin bugs and spiders lurking in ambush, etc. Then work your way up to to ants and bees. Butterflies and dragonflies? Only while sleeping, I think.
Friend: Oh dear. I am really not in need of another obsession…
Malcolm: But this is one that can fill in your free time while you’re waiting for a bus or a friend to turn up. All you need is your phone, some sunshine, and any scrap of garden…
My phone is nothing special – mid-range Chinese and three years old – but after that conversation I had to take it for a walk around the garden to see what it could do.
A mature St Andrew’s Cross spider (Argiope keyserlingi) has set up her web between two maidenhair ferns on our back patio and I noticed yesterday morning that she had caught and wrapped a substantial meal, perhaps a fly or a small moth.
Looking more closely after lunch (my lunch, that is, not hers), I saw a much smaller spider hanging around in the edge of her web.
The macro lens with a close-up filter was able to show that it was a Dewdrop Spider, Argyrodes antipodianus, and even that it was a male (those “boxing gloves”, really enlarged palps, are the giveaway).
Sitting at my computer a few days ago, I was distracted by a tiny bug moving around on the screen. My first impulse was to identify it, and the way it moved, its body shape and what I could guess of its leg-count all said, “spider, not insect.”
My next impulse was to remove it without harming it, and this is the point at which things got really interesting: I discovered that it wasn’t on the screen at all, but inside it. That, naturally (for me, at least) called for a photograph. Out came the camera and the macro lens …
But that was a problem, too, because photographing anything small, moving, poorly lit, obscured by its surroundings, or under glass is a challenge, and this was all five.
A “Nature Photography Challenge” has been circulating on facebook recently. The idea is that each new person challenged has to publish one nature photo every day for a week and invite one new person each day to taken up the same task. When I was challenged I saw it as a good reason to sift through my older photos for attractive images which, for one reason or another, hadn’t already been published here on Green Path. Now, of course they are being published here, partly so that I can expand on the information about them but partly to give them a public life longer than facebook affords.
I began with the Rainbow Lorikeet, above, a photo taken in the garden of a friend on Magnetic Island earlier this year and offered to facebook friends in Southern states as an example of the stereotypically gaudy tropical wildlife. There’s not much more to say about it except that this very common species has recently been split into seven, “three of which occur in Australia: Rainbow Lorikeet (now Trichoglossus moluccanus) in the east; the Red-collared Lorikeet (T. rubritorquis) in the north and the Coconut Lorikeet (T. haematodus) in Boigu and Saibai Is. in Torres Strait,” according to Ian Montgomery of Birdway. That makes our local birds Trichoglossus moluccanus, notTrichoglossus haematodus as they used to be.
I will continue here with the other birds I posted, rather than following my “Challenge” sequence. The Peaceful Dove, Geopelia placida (aka Geopelia striata) is as ubiquitous here as the Rainbow Lorikeet but very much quieter in coloration, demeanour and voice.
The Striated Heron, Butorides striata (another not-gaudy, not-noisy local bird), often squats like this while fishing, unlike Egrets which stand tall and spear down from their maximum height. Aplin’s Weir is on Ross River not far from my home and has therefore oftenfeatured on Green Path.
The last of my bird photos was an exercise in defamiliarisation:
Birds in flight, obviously, but which birds?
Pelicans. Those enormous beaks are hardly noticeable from straight ahead, especially when we are not cued by the contrast between the pink beak and the black-and-white plumage. I took the shot on a Ross Dam walk with the Townsville Bird Observers Club a few months ago.
I was surprised to find myself posting so many bird photos and only one insect, since a few years ago, the ratio would have been reversed. The butterfly, for what it’s worth, is a Common Eggfly, Hypolimnas bolina, one of the half-dozen species most often seen around my garden. If you want to see what the whole butterfly looks like, there are photos here.
I submitted two landscape photos. This one was taken on a trip ‘out West’ four years ago; this post has a couple more and links to yet more.
Bottle trees (Brachychiton rupestris) are fairly common in the dry tropics. The Kurrajong and Illawarra Flame Tree are closely related, but the Boab (baobab) is not related at all, despite the obvious similarity of form.
My other landscape broke my own rule (of finding pictures which hadn’t already appeared here) for the sake of the greatest possible contrast with the Rainbow Lorikeet photo. It shows cattle country near Mount Fox, just over the crest of the Dividing Range a little North of Townsville.
When we are photographing small insects, the available light is crucial: we need a small aperture for the depth of field, which means a long exposure time (in which the bug might move) or a lot of light. We therefore use flash quite often.
The effect is frequently unnatural, since the flash illuminates the subject without reaching the background, but can be attractive. This shot is typical: the little sap-sucker was hanging around in a shady part of the Palmetum late in the afternoon – not the middle of the night as one might think – and the vegetation behind it has vanished into stygian gloom.