Townsville winters are lovely. The weather has been so beautifully clear recently that I figured it would be worth getting up early just to take photos from the top of Mt Stuart of the sun rising over the ocean. Then, I thought, if I take food and coffee with me, I can wander round the mountain-top taking pictures of insects and trees and so on.
We have a lot of birds in our garden, attracted by the constant supply of flowering plants and the tangles of shrubby plants to hide in. Hibiscuses provide both, year round, but the bottlebrush is also a great refuge for shy little birds like this Brown Honeyeater, Lichmera indistincta (Meliphagidae), and we have a resident population.
I find the birds harder to photograph than the insects, because they are warier. A longer lens would help, and I have just borrowed a 55 – 250 mm zoom to see how much better it is. Expert bird photographers like Ian Montgomery would rarely use anything as short as 250 mm, of course (‘Start with a 400,’ he told me when I raised the question once, if I remember correctly), but I’ll work my way up gradually.
I was looking for an excuse to post the larger photo below and realised that I had just posted another ‘Common’ butterfly – Bingo!
Seriously, this is quite a common and widespread species. Its alternate name refers to its females, which occur in a wide range of colour forms (I have a whole lot of them here).
The males are consistently brown underneath with white markings, and black above with white eye-spots which flare blue-purple from some angles.
Males are territorial and will perch on some convenient vantage point ready to pursue any females and drive off any rivals, but they interpret ‘rivals’ very broadly indeed – not only males of their own species, but medium to large butterflies of any species (I’ve seen them harassing Cairns Birdwings, which are at least twice as big) and even dogs and people.
Most of my photography is done with strictly documentary purposes in mind but it is nice to relax a bit and play with images. I desaturated the one below and then played a bit longer until it pleased me.
It must be about time for another butterfly … here’s a species that I had never seen in my garden until a few days ago.
We do occasionally get butterflies that have been blown out of their usual territory and they are often rather tired and battered. This one turned up late one afternoon and all it wanted to do was sleep in the shadows under our native wisteria vine.
That posed a problem for the photographer, of course. Flash was essential. The solid black background is the consequence, as it usually is in such a situation; it’s not unattractive but I wouldn’t like to do it all the time because it shows nothing of the insect’s habitat.
I do have one shot of the Caper Gull on its home ground, on top of Mt Stuart, but its background happens to be nearly as uninformative – see?
Digital technology has made good science accessible to amateurs again, as both learners and contributors, 150 years after a gap opened up between scientists and the lay population in the nineteenth century. In entomology, for instance, authoritative online sources of information are plentiful. Amateurs can learn from them and – almost immediately – contribute to them. Encyclopedia of Life is a good example.
I took up insect photography when I bought my first DSLR camera, late in 2008, and opened a Flickr account – http://www.flickr.com/photos/malcolm_nq/ – as a way of sharing the results. Flickr ‘Groups’ bring together people fascinated by any topic you can think of – as broad as ‘Animals’ and as narrow as ‘Naked Mole Rats’ (okay, I made that one up – but you can start one yourself if you’re interested and there isn’t one already). That is the source of the moth above, and clicking on the image takes you to its original location.
I can also put my content on my own website – here, for instance – and search engines will find it for anyone who needs it.
My photos in Bugblog will normally be linked to a larger version of the image, either on Flickr or on this site.
Afterword, 25.4.11: Another benefit of this way of doing science – people will help out with expert advice when they see a gap. In this case, Graeme Cocks saw that I hadn’t identified the moth at the top of this post and emailed me to say it is “Noctuidae, Catocalinae,” (that’s family and sub-family, for those still finding their way around classifications) and tell me they are, “just about to become abundant.”