Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Pond blog : 6

I managed to get the pond dried out a bit more this morning in the hot sun. Pity the days are getting shorter and the sun isn't on the pond for so long now. After my evening meal I hope I managed to get the edge level. It doesn't look much different in the photo below to how it did last time. Now I have to decide if I line the hole with sand or carpet. Another day of drying won't go amiss.

Vimto is a great wasp attractant. The dregs in a glass gave me the opportunity to trap a couple of the stripy insects and cool them down for another macro attempt. I need more practice with the manual focusing with all three extension tubes attached. The bounce card worked well on the flash though.

Monday, 30 August 2010

The Lair of the Slug

Summer is drawing to its inevitable close. Cool nights and sunny days that don't warm until late morning. I took the chance to visit the dragonfly pond where common darters were copulating and ovipositing in profusion. Brown hawkers were in evidence, one also egg laying, and another brighter hawker came to inspect me. I tried for some flight shots but it was too close at times. I did manage to identify it as a southern hawker from one of the blurry photos.

Although I failed to manage any pics of mating darters I did get one of two in tandem laying eggs in the margins. Taken with natural light I was quite please with this effort.

I snuck up on a resting darter too. I thought I'd try some super macro with my new extension tubes, but by the time I'd got everything set up it had flown away. So I left the flash attached after removing the tubes and wandered off, snapping a first attempt at a crane fly on my way to the hidden pond.

I was too clumsy in my approach to the hidden pond and disturbed three ovipositing brown hawkers, which was a shame. There wasn't much else in evidence, the clouds had put the dragonflies down at the dragonfly pond too. Off to the duck pond next. On arrival I saw the unmistakeable azure streak of a kingfisher. The bird didn't reappear, but this might be a place worth an early morning visit to try and catch it with the camera before too many dog walkers get out and about.

I took a last fruitless look at the dragonfly pond before heading for the litter pit and surrounding ponds. The sun was still in hiding and not much was seen, and nothing photographed, at the litter pit. The newt ponds had to be worth a look.

As I locked the car up I heard the mew of a buzzard, eventually catching a glimpse of it as it wheeled awy to the south. The sun had come out again and two dragonflies hawked over a clearing in some scrubby trees. Too far off for a photograph, they wouldn't come any closer.

The flowers there are all but gone by the ponds, and only a few white butterflies were around, although a hawker (southern or migrant, it was hard to tell) buzzed me. Something barked hoarsely in the thicket. I knew it was a deer and turned my flashgun off. There was a rustle and at least three deer ran slowly through the thicket. I still had the camera set to back button focus (but forgot I had) and fluffed any chance I might have had of a photo. Knowing where the deer would have headed I removed the flash bracket and reset the shutter release. It was no surprise to fail to find the deer. They'd melted away. Aside from the hawker the only other odonates were a couple of emerald damsels.

The wood was the next place to check out. Walking down the side of the wood I noticed something black on the track. It could have been some dung but it looked to have legs. I guess it was a newt that had got squashed. There is a pond by the side of the path, it may well have come from there.

I photographed some insects on the last of the umbellifers, tried for some autumnal shots of sloes and failed, then went into the wood. Deer tracks were evident, but it was cool and quiet, save for some briefly raucous jackdaws. Time for tea. Passing a thistle head I made an effort and something arty-farty. I'm not too sure I pulled it off.

During this outing I mused on how I could photograph slugs and snails. Nocturnally active molluscs that are difficult to focus on with no light. It struck me that as they aren't likely to run away I could take them indoors. In to the garage at least. By the time I had finished my evening meal I'd forgotten all about this. When I was thinking of bed I had a wander round the garden and saw a big brown slug. I got the camera ready, setting it up to use the in-camera flash to trigger the flashgun remotely. I attached the flashgun to a table-tripod I have and added my bounce card to soften the light. The next job was to build the set and add the cast of one.

The stage was easy. One of the turfs cut from the pond would do, which I placed on a plastic lid to keep the soil off my workbench. The slug was plucked from the lawn with a gloved hand and deposited on the sod. All I had to do was wait for it to unfurl and I'd be in business.

Lights. Camera. Action!

What I should have done was clip the grass. The star was reluctant and managed to hide behind the short green blades. A pair of scissors did the trick.

Next time I'll make a better job of things, but it was a fun start. One thing I will do is get a cake-maker's turntable to put the turf on. Ol' Sluggy had a habit of turning away from the lens. Playing around with the lighting will also be done. Either with another flash gun, different diffusion, or some small studio lights.

Speedy the Slug

There's more scope for this table-top studio work. Snails and woodlice come to mind as potential subjects that can be photographed inside on easily made convincing sets.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Pond blog : 5

daft as it seems today's job was putting soil back in the hole! I'd overdone the digging and wanted to re-profile to provide a greater shallow area. Once things dry out a bit the contours will be smoothed and then the task of levelling the edge will begin.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

New toys

Having got the hang of my new macro lens I've added a set of extension tubes which have put me back to stage one again! The increased magnification makes keeping the camera steady even more critical to ensure the correct plane is in focus.

I caught a wasp and put it in the fridge to slow it down. Unfortunately it warmed up and flew away before I could get enough practice in. Still, it was a start.

Pond blog : 4

Sunshine got me out making tweaks yesterday. The trough for the edge of the liner to sit in is cut, so it' now ready for the final contouring and levelling before getting some sand to line it.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Pond blog : 3

Things were slow drying out but I jumped in with the spade nonetheless. Deepened the deep bit and spread more spoil. More drying time required before the final shaping I think.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Pond blog : 2

Another layer dug out yesterday.

It rained today so I shifted the spoil.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Pond blog : 1

Ever since I was small I've wanted a pond. I've always been too lazy to dig one and too mean to buy a liner. When my mate Martin offered me a liner for free I snatched his hand off!I did some research and found a helpful leaflet/download on the British Dragonfly Society website.

Working from that leaflet the size of pond I could expect to get from the liner was about 8ft by 9ft so I staked out a rectangle of those dimensions and outlined it with string. Then, following roughly a plan I had sketched out, I laid some rope out to get an idea of how the pond would be sited.

Happy with that I sprayed the grass with paint to create a better outline and began removing turf.

By the time I had the shape of the pond-to-be cleared I was ready for my evening meal.

The two 'bays' will be shallow and gently sloping, and there'll be deeper water opposite the 'point'. Some of the spoil might be used to make a mound, most will be spread over the dip in the garden by the fence. Meanwhile I shall quietly contemplate the next move.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Sunny Sunday

The dragonfly pond was the first stop today, a hot and sunny Sunday. The grass by the path to the pond had been cut since my last visit and I walked along it following the edge of the plantation of shrubs. All the way to the pond were common darters over the mown grass, over a larger open space by the pond were hawkers.

My intention was to see how close the new lens will get in order to compare it to the 70-300 with the Raynox attached. With it being so warm I didn't hold out much hope of a darter sitting still while I tried to rub it's nose with the lens! But I was wrong. In less than half an hour I'd done it. I tried a few shots with available light but the depth of field was pitiful. The darter stayed put while I attached the flash and tried again.

Not quite as close as the old system

As I was leaving I did manage some decent shots with available light of another friendly darter perched on a branch. I was pleased with that. Then it was off to hill country and the black darters. The heather is now in bloom, and a decent landscape photographer could really make something of the play of colours on the hills.

A poor effort

The small pool is more boggy than the larger and seems to harbour more darters and emerald damsels. Even so I spent some time watching a common hawker ovipositing. There didn't seem to be as many darters around as last week, but it had been sunny all day, whereas last week the sun had only shone after lunch - so maybe they'd done enough by the time I arrived.

Sheltered, boggy and sunny. Ideal upland dragonfly habitat.

Looking round the larger pool there wasn't much to see except a multitude of common blue damsels on bare patches of earth and flying low over the water. Then I heard the beating of larger wings against sedge, a sign of a common hawker ovipositing in the margin. I found the dragonfly easily, but with the juncus overhanging the water it was impossible to get a clear shot without falling headlong into the pool! I considered a paddling session so I could shoot towards the bank. The dragonfly moved a few feet along the bank and here I was able to get above it and carefully hold some grass clear with my left hand without disturbing the hawker and take a few photos. Not great, but interesting.

Full frame cropped for composition

Leaving the big pool I headed back down the hill and drove over to a mill lodge. This proved uninspiring so I made my way down the dam embankment into an overgrown field filled with head-high thistles. I seem to find dragonflies everywhere I go these days, and a brown hawker was working over the thistle heads in the lowering sun.

Again I wished I was more of a landsacapeist. The backlight on the vegetation was delightful. I made a stab at using it to get some atmosphere into a butterfly shot. It kinda works. Given more time, and thistle proof trousers, I could have sought out a better subject, pose and composition. I considered looking elsewhere for some backlit plants, but the body was weaker than the spirit.

Back-lit peacock

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Sunny afternoon clichés

Two for the price of one

Making hay while the sun shines

Right on track

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Staying home

The good thing with macro lenses is that you can find subjects in the garden. Handy when it's a day of showers.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

A quicky

Keen to play with my new toy again I popped out at tea time to chase flutterbies. Unfortunately the bank wasn't sheltering the prime butterfly spots from the strong wind so I had to go off piste. When I did find a common blue, a faded and slightly tatty specimen, I was lucky that it was one which allowed me to get close and faff about removing blades of grass that were in the way. Most unusual for these flighty little creatures.

A slight crop

Full frame

Accidental self-portrait

I've always had a thing about photos taken when not looking through the viewfinder - they can have an 'edge' to them. It's probably why quickly grabbed shots often work well. The chopping off of subjects by a camera's frame also adds life and has been used by painters going back to Dégas and probably beyond.

The camera went off by mistake after returning a barbel in the rain last night, and I liked the resultant abstract chevron thing that's going on, the flash/available light thing and the muted colours.

Pretentious, moi? :D

Monday, 9 August 2010

More dragon interactions

For some reason I got it into my head that I wanted to photograph black darters. Having found a mention of a site in Cumbria on a blog I was hoping to get a sunny day to go look for them. Then I read on a forum of a place much closer to home. When summer made another of it's brief visits I mowed the lawn then headed off to play with my new toy.

It was a steep climb up the steps through the wood, levelling off as I neared the summit. As soon as I climbed the final stile a dragonfly flew past along the track. Not a darter, but possibly an omen. Not knowing where I was going it took a while to find the area that should be home to the darters. As soon as I entered the part of the quarry which was most boggy I saw a couple of black darters. It turned out there were lots of them in the sheltered dip, females and immature males were lurking in the sedge, the mature males lurking round the edges on rocks and bilberry leaves. There were also plenty of emerald damsels to be seen and a few common blue damsels and  two or three hawkers over the pool itself.

I spent my time chasing the darters around, the males proving more elusive than the females. For the second time in less than a week I saw a darter fly into a spider's web, but this one managed to break free.

A lucky black darter that escaped the the web

At one point I counted fifteen black darters basking on a rock, with a few more on surrounding rocks. As I was wandering round one even landed on my shoulder!

Male black darter (background cleaned up)

There's another, larger, pool on site and that was where I went next. There wasn't much to be seen at first save a few damsels. Then I noticed hawkers prowling the marginal sedges. Working my way round the edge a disturbance on the water's surface caught my eye and there was a male common hawker struggling to break the grip of the water's meniscus. After taking a couple of photos I broke off a piece of sedge and poked it into the water and let the dragonfly take a hold. There had been a water boatman eyeing the hawker up when I first saw it, and another fell from it's body as I lifted it from the water. It doesn't take long for scavengers to find a potential meal. On close inspection I noticed the hawker was lacking most of one rear wing. I wonder if it was the loser in an inter-dragonfly fight?

Struggling common hawker


Venturing across a wet overflow I looked around the other side of the pool where two hawkers were hunting over the heater and bilberries covering the high steep banks of the quarry. Another was searching the margins and turned out to be a female looking for egg laying sites. Easy enough to approach when actually ovipositing, but rarely in good view. The photo below being the best effort I managed.

Ovipositing common hawker

I looked at my watch and realised I'd stopped longer than I'd intended. The sun was still shining brightly as I made my way back down the hill. A proper August evening.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The right gear for the job

After nipping in to town on Wednesday to chase up a lens I had on order I got an e-mail yesterday to say it had arrived. First thing this morning I went to collect it, then raced home to try it out. Right on cue the rain stopped and I got down and dirty shooting some ants. Too mobile for me! Looking round the back of the garage I found a damp and cold butterfly which proved to be a patient model for me to practice on. It was low to the ground which made life difficult and the results weren't perfect.

First effort with the new lens

After lunch I had an errand to run, taking the camera along as I planned to wander round a local nature reserve looking for small things to photograph on my way home. Before that I tried the lens out as a simple telephoto and found it pretty darned good.

Headlight reflections

At the reserve I kept my eyes on the ground at the side of the path on the lookout for fungi, of which there were plenty, but most either chewed or past their best. It was good practice which made me think that a simple reflector to use opposite an off-camera flash might be useful for fungi shots under the tree canopy.

Some toadstools

Always thinking of images I tried to capture some of cricketers practising before a village match. Some almost worked.

Bales and bails

As I was chasing a ladybird round a plant the rain came back and having no jacket and nothing to keep the camera dry I raced back to the car and home having started to get the hang of the lens. On the PC the results are quality of the images is pretty impressive, even if the pictures aren't yet. It certainly looks to do a better job of the close-up stuff than my 70-300 - it focuses faster and with less noise too.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Wet bum, wet knees, wet feet...

On Tuesday evening the weather pattern followed the recent trend of dull and wet in the morning with fitful sunshine in the afternoon and evening. After tea I found myself drawn to the saltmarsh in search of meadow pipits. Sure enough they were still there. A group flew up and hung on the wind coming off the sea and a couple perched on the fence posts. I grabbed a shot or two to kick off then tried stalking them. I got reasonably close before deciding to sit and wait for them. The marsh lived up to its name and was wet. I soon found my backside getting damp. I shuffled around wishing I'd put my waterproofs on. But one of the pipits came close so I wasn't bothered and knew I'd soon dry out.

Posing pipit

An hour was enough with the pipits and I battled my way back through the sedge and drove to look for barn owls. For the second time the owl was  no-show.

Wednesday lunchtime saw me dashing out, camera in hand, to photograph a young hedgehog that was on a mission. Once more the angle viewfinder came in handy. If I'd had the lawnmower out recently I might have got some better shots! As it was I'd forgotten there'd been rain and my knees got damp in the long wet grass.


Thursday afternoon was free, the sun was shining, and I thought I'd go look for the darters I had been told about. Not yer average darters you understand. True to form the sun went into hiding when I got there. I did see a male common darter, which always seem to be well outnumbered by females when I'm out and about, but could get close enough for a good shot. Circling the pond for the third time a female common darter flew ahead of me into the reeds in the pond margin where it came to a sticky stop in a spider's web.


Seeing the darter's peril I snapped a shot and was about to lean out and free it when the web's spinner arrived on the scene so I let nature take its course. Watching the spider deal with the much larger dragonfly was fascinating. At first the dragonfly struggled, but within a very short time it's wings were bound and maybe it was paralysed by venom.

The web snapped at one extreme and the dragonfly swung down, where the spider made some kind of winch mechanism and hoisted it higher to a point where it appeared to bind it to the stem it was strung from. Then it looked to start dining. In order to get some real close ups with the Raynox on the lens I took a step or two too far and ended up with soaked feet. I think it was worth it.

Dinner for one

Butterflies are still around, but the dragonflies need more sunshine to get them on the wing. There were some fungi around now that autumn is approaching. A few leaves already falling from the trees and blackberries ripening on the brambles.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Yet more dragons

With the test match wrapped up early and the sun shining fitfully I thought a dragon hint was in order, planning a circular route. The first stop-off point was the old pond. Again there were brown hawkers hawking and common darters aplenty. The hawkers wouldn't settle and the darters all kept too low to make for pleasing photos - the background being too cluttered. I made an effort then left for the dragonfly pond.

There wasn't much to be seen at first, just a few damsels and some darters disturbed as I walked round the pond. When the sun shone warmly the darters were more evident, two or three being seen in places where the grass was flattened by the feet of dragonfly enthusiasts. Hawkers appeared around the shrubs bordering the grass surrounding the pond and emperors over the water. I almost stalked a hawker that I saw land on a tree. But I lost sight of it, made a false move and spooked it.

The darters were more approachable and I managed to get close to one perching on the top of the seedhead of a plant.

Another photographer had arrived and dropped lucky to have an emperor settle on some sedges at the pond's edge. Just out of range for me though. I decided on a move but was stopped by the sight of a hawker ovipositing at the opposite end of the pond. I was making my way towards it when one of the emperors spotted it too and harassed it. The hawker moved further round the pond to an inaccessible spot. I decided to try some flight shots of the patrolling emperor.

As usual I switched to manual focus and tried firing off quick bursts as it passed by me. This proved as unsuccessful as usual. I swapped my 70-300 Sigma to the 18-200 Nikkor which has proved good, if a little short, for photographing flying birds. This worked slightly better, although the results needed more cropping than with the 70-300.

While taking the flight shots I heard a clash of dragonfly wings and saw two emperors battling on the surface of the pond. I was too slow to get a shot of the two together, but managed some blurred shots of the beaten male struggling to free itself from the water.



After this I spent some time watching a brown hawker hoping it would land somewhere, but it didn't. Then the other guy called me over to look at a broad-bodied chaser he'd found basking on a wall.

Spot the dragonfly

There was a ditch between the wall and the path which I was told was a steep drop through the undergrowth. So we both made the best we could of leaning over the nettles. The chap told me of another pond on the site that was home to a couple of species that the dragonfly pond itself doesn't harbour. One to look at another day. He had to make tracks, so when he'd gone I took a chance. Sure enough the ditch was less precipitous than I'd been told. And I was able to get close enough to fill the frame.

Broad-bodied chaser

I chanced a circuit of the new pond, without seeing the species I' been told about, but there was a hawker about and some damsels. Certainly worth another look. The last port of call was the litter pit, but by the time I got there the day had gone off and my stay was short.