Common and Blue-banded Eggfly butterflies

close-up of brown and white butterfly
A female Common Eggfly feeding on pentas
dark butterfly with white and orange markings
The same butterfly with wings spread

This is a good season for butterflies – still warm, and all their food plants still growing well with the last of the Wet season – and several species besides the Cairns Birdwing and Ulysses are still around in good numbers. The lady above is a Common Eggfly, Hypolimnas Bolina, also known as the Varied Eggfly. The males are consistently dark with blue-white eye-spots but the species earns its alternate common name through the wide variation in the females’ upper wing coloration. The one pictured is one of the darker forms; visit this set of my photos on flickr to see the males and other female colour schemes. We also have another closely related species, the Blue-banded Eggfly, Hypolimnas alimena. They are much the same size and their undersides are much the same colours – standard dead-leaf camouflage colours with some white markings – but the males’ upper wing surfaces are quite different.

dark butterfly with blue bands around the wings
Blue-banded Eggfly on Maiden’s Blush

The apparent colour of all these butterflies changes with the viewing angle, as seen in the photo above, in which the two wings are seen from different angles and almost look as though they belong to two different butterflies. The effect is due to the physical structure, not the pigments, of the scales on the wings and Wikipedia’s Structural Coloration page is a good starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about it. Males of both these species are aggressively territorial so I was quite surprised by these two seen amicably sharing the same creeper:

Two male Blue-banded Eggfly
Two male Blue-banded Eggfly

New telephoto lens

Brown butterfly on poinsettia
Common Eggfly on poinsettia, courtesy of my new telephoto zoom lens

Most of my insect photography so far has been done with my Canon 100mm macro lens, and I love it: it lets me get big, clear images of anything I can get close enough to.

But that last bit can be problematic, of course. Dragonflies and many other insects don’t take kindly to having a person or a camera lens too close to them, and they take off. Sure, I have taken some good shots of skittish subjects – but I have missed many more. The solution, of course, is a telephoto lens which lets the photographer fill the frame with a smaller or more distant subject. After a fair bit of research online and some advice from more experienced photographers I settled on an image-stabilised Canon 70-300mm zoom lens. I got it two days ago and took it for a walk beside Ross River yesterday afternoon.

First impressions are that its image quality, so long as I do everything right, is very nearly as good as my macro lens – great! – and that it does make flighty subjects much easier to capture – terrific! The butterfly above (click on it for a larger image, as usual) exemplifies both points. Dragonflies were far easier, too, and I got some little crabs which would normally have vanished into their holes in the mud before I got close enough.

I also had birds in mind when I went shopping, and you can expect more birds on my blog from now on. I watched a Great Egret fly in and land in the shallows of Ross River far enough away not to be bothered by me but close enough to for some good shots. (25.2.12: they are now here.) Distant landscape subjects are also good: I can’t read a numberplate a kilometre away but I can get perspectives which would otherwise be impossible.

Downsides? None that are too significant. I need to remember to keep shutter speed up – even with the stabilisation, 1/160 sec is often blurred at 300mm, hand-held (on the other hand, the rule of thumb for an unstabilised lens would recommend going down to at least 1/300 sec). I also have to get used to the idea that I may need to step away from the subject to be able to focus on it, since the minimum focus distance is about 1.5 metres. That’s about all, really. My macro lens will still be best for very small, close subjects but the telephoto zoom lens will see a lot of use.