24 Jun 2015

Spiders, no flies on them!

Most of my life I have had a fear of Spiders that stems from an incident at Primary School back in the 80's. I had run into the cloak room and not one, but two big typical House Spiders ran out from my left leg. Previous to this I could be seen amongst all types of bugs and beasties in the garden and elsewhere. Then that all changed in 2012 when I discovered someone on flickr who does Jumping Spiders very close up. He was mentioned in my Fly blog too. So my understanding of the Arachnids and Arthropods (Jumping Spiders) changed

Having spent 12 years working within the wooden animal housing industry I would regularly be spooked by all kinds of spiders, most commonly the House Spider. Many very big too. So to have a complete turn around in my perception of them shows how inspiring and thankful I am of this photographers work. I do however still fear any that resemble the Black Widow in shape, they to me look just plain evil!

So having done flies and the odd bug here and there I was on a mission to capture Jumping Spiders for myself. Known also as Zebra Spiders, they are so comical in their movement and full of intrigue when faced with a giant lens in front of them. Some run in fear while others are bemused by what greets them. They track your every move in a way that is very robotic. They normally inhabit walls of houses, garden shed and wooden fencing around fields.  The next four images are the best I have captured of them...

Jumping Spiders done to a degree I wanted to capture other species. One that is very timid despite its name is the Wolf Spider. Readily accessible in the garden and with a lot of perseverance I managed to capture some...

I call this one Cyclops

I am amazed at how opaque the legs are in them and how many eyes they have too. The middle one is a male too with its longer boxing glove arms. Most recently the next two images are from Kings Wood, Challock just 5 minutes drive from me. I am not sure if both are males or both genders as the second image has a sack attached with Spiderlings in I believe?

Late Summer/ early Autumn last year at my girlfriends, her garden was home to the typical Garden Spider. Varied in size and randomly home to the pretty aggressive males their webs would be seen spanning gaps between the shrubs, Holly and other tall plants. Prime areas of unwitting flies to move through. The biggest seen with legs spanned out was the diameter of a 50p coin. 

About life-size in this photo

Feasting on a Fly

This last image is very recent and taken with the new addition of a LED Ring Flash. In reality it is only I would say 10mm long so thus appears here 3 times bigger! The light really helps bring out the detail, given the location was in complete shade from the shed.

The next spider was captured in 2013 and while I was out walking on the outskirts of my village. Well camouflaged in Lime Green colours and in prime ambush position amongst the hedgerow. This also has that distinct large Abdomen akin to those of nightmares, but more friendly luckily.

Known as Araniella Cucurbitina

Another whose colouring (or rather lack of) provides perfect camouflage for its niche way of hunting. Aptly named the White Death Spider it sits in wait on Cow Parsley along country lanes. The unassuming victim caught out by the distraction of feeding on the Pollen. The spider leaps from nowhere and relentlessly immobilises its prey.  As evident below, it really hides itself well amongst the small white flowers of the plant and lives up to its name too.

White Death Spider. Image stacked from two images.

The following ?????? was taken on a public footpaths swing gate post in a nearby field to my home. Common sights for those that look for them, they make spots like this home. Laying flat in general with legs splayed out. They have a very prehistoric look to them. As if fossilised and brought back to life millions of years later. The patterning on the "disc" of its head has a great velvety texture carried over onto the rear abdomen too. The eyes protrude from the disc giving a UFO feel also.

 Finally is a very atmospheric photo of a very small "Money" type spider. It was running along the tables edge and with the effect of the macro set-up provides an evocative and creative image.  The peach background enhances the dark brown exoskeleton of this Arachnid, also complimented by the grey/green tables edging. Even being so small I have been able to enlarge it to a degree that even the minutest of hairs on its legs are visible. So this image concludes my new discovery and bravery of capturing these 8 legged creatures.

16 Jun 2015

All of a Buzz

I have always had a deep affinity with the Bee. It goes about its business from flower to flower collecting valuable Pollen. It has been well documented by the press that they are under threat from parasitic attack and measures have been taken to prevent extinction. If they go then as said elsewhere our food source enters a danger zone too. 

On first appearance they are small bundles of furry insect, barred in yellow orange stripes generally. The big Bumble Queens first appear flying low and entering open doors or windows to any building looking for that perfect hole leading to a cavity, upon which for her to develop her colony. Often the Honey Bee is misidentified as the most irritating of insects: The Wasp. It is assumed that the yellow and black stripes mean Wasp and not the humble Bee to the untrained unassuming eye. 

This blog contains those few Bees that I have managed to photograph so far. Two of these have both utilised a Tit box and Insect box to set up a colony. The first, the Tree Bumblebee used the hexagonal tit box on the side of our shed facing south. It would get the Sun on it from around 10am until 4pm in the summer months. It was small in Bee numbers, with I would say somewhere between 20-30 Bees. The previous 2 years a Bluetit family had used the box but for some reason, were not to return this particular summer of 2013. Still full of Moss and other prime nest materials (as seen below), it was pretty much a ready made home for the Bumblebees. 

In this photo one worker is using his wings to fan cool air inside the box on what was a very hot day in June 2013. At some points 3 would line the hole doing this. They stayed for only 3 months I recall and were gone. They have not returned in 2014 and this year will hopefully see them make a return.

The next and current residents in the garden to utilise a man made home are Mason Bees. I had placed a ready made box with Cane cut to short lengths in the top half and other holes for Lacewing or Butterflies in the lower half. Then two weeks ago while out in the garden I spotted a strange Bee searching around the shed for suitable holes for which to reside. It was metallic green at the top and its abdomen was gold in colour with yellow hairs within it. A few appeared and rested in the Sun on leaves to. Then I spotted they were entering the Bee box. Just below and to the left were two of different size and appeared to me to be two different species. I wanted to capture these and carefully moved them to daylight as they were pre occupied with each other. 

The brown liquid is either just fertilised eggs or the males sperm

The second pair on another day

After the initial pair, two days later a second pair were spotted mating on the leaves of a plant below. This gave me the chance to capture them in a natural location and not the table. The last photo is my personal favourite as it really captures the true colour of the Mason Bee. It was taken further along the garden resting on the planks that form the raised bed. 

The next Bee which is a Honey Bee of some sorts, was actually the first Bee I photographed and was resting in the evening Sun. 

The pale yellow colouring was a first spot for me at the time. It is slightly smaller than the traditional Honey Bee so commonly seen. It looks so delicate and was compliant to me photographing it. 

The latest and final Bee was taken on the same day as the Mason Bees and was up on the Blossom of the Cherry Tree in the garden. Still a strand of Honey Bee I believe and this time was stunning deep orange colouration. What is impressive in this photo is how armour plated it looks on its abdomen. You can really see each plate/layer and how they slide over each other. This was very hard to take as I was looking just above head height and impressed any were sharp or usable. There were other Bee varieties on the Cherry Tree but they were so high up and inaccessible. At first I thought some were of Wasp subspecies or Wasp-fly type but upon research they were in fact Nomad Bees. One in particular had beautiful green compound eyes. I just wish I could have captured them too. Some were skirting the raised bed but were too timid with my presence. One day, just one day, I will get to capture their stunning detail.

Well the above was to be the final Bee in this blog, but as luck would have it after initially writing this, I ventured into the garden today and spotted in a Tit box that Tree Bumblebee's have in fact returned to my delight. I had initially gone into the garden to do 2 Bumblebee flower pot nests as seen on Springwatch's S.O.S article on them. And also to help put up an insect tower my father has just finished making. The following pics are from today's discovery and the nest examples.  

Tree Bumblebee's building up mud around the entrance

First halfway along the right hand side fence in the raised flower bed between the Mason and Tree Bee's

Second placed on the opposite side of the garden at the bottom left corner

Placed 6ft to the right of the Mason Bee nest

The future of the Bumblebee has had a big helping hand today and time will tell if they are to become inhabited.

1 Jun 2015

Hatch Park Deer

A little known gem of a private estate with limited public access local to me, is home to a large herd of Fallow Deer. Known as Hatch Park and belonging to Lady Brabourne and part of the large estate.  One summer evening my camera club organised a trip to this park. The light was fantastic and warm too, with Dragonflies and other insects very active. The park has open grazing areas surrounded by dense Bracken with pathways through. Very old Oaks, Horse Chesnut etc bring height and added protection to wildlife. Their rustic, weathered and creepy low branches spread out low adding to the imagination of mystical creatures moving around and following you throughout the park. Out in the open Rabbits pop up and then hide again watching your every move.

The main herd normally keep well away from the public area, but those that are braver (but not anywhere near tame) venture to the outer edges of the Bracken. The closest they tolerate you is about 300ft as the photo below demonstrates.

First sighting

The following two are of a larger female that may be a Red Deer due to the size and colouring. Again these show how timid they are with it holding close to the undergrowth and showing the low lying branches of an old Oak tree mentioned above. 

After these I headed with the others onto a pathway leading into the bracken. After several hundred yards it opens out with the land falling down away from you. This provides the first sighting of the Stately home in the mid distance. In the opening area adjacent to the Bracken which flows down from the house are a large herd with several young stags in prime condition with weapons of choice in full development.

A public footpath heads up along the perimeter of the fields. Small trees and odd pockets of Bracken line this path allowing me with some careful stalking technique to set up my tripod and camera.

A lone Stag stands on his own, somehow sensing my location too. The Sun is very low now and entering the "Golden Hour", to which brings a warm glow to the red/brown fur coat. Just to the right of him are two more pairs of young Stags that also spot me somehow. This shows how very alert they are and how careful you have to be to get anywhere near them. The second of the two pairs brings some fun element with them being so close as to appear to be a two headed Stag!

Then further along again some females hold together with a young Stag for security. 

A solo Stag with early development of Antlers showing, moves closer to me by some distance to the others. I guess being more inquisitive.

Then in the final photo, the three decide they are not brave enough and make a run further away from what they perceive to be danger. With this one I wanted to experiment again and have processed it in monochrome. As done in a previous blog on Elmley with a Redshank, I could see the benefit of showing how to predators, the Deer's colouring enables them to blend into the surrounding area.