26 March, 2015

Last Friday...

A couple of belated images from last Friday, featuring two of the most exciting things that could possibly ever happen: a solar eclipse AND a moth-trapping session.

There was an annoying cloud covering the sun for much of the morning, but luckily it cleared a couple of minutes to spare, giving us enough time to scramble together an old shoebox with a pinhole ready for peak totality. 

Blackhouse Woods - 8 of us set up moth traps along this woodland ride, whilst a fantastic sun set behind the Malvern Hills.

Yellow Horned

Grey Shoulder-knot

The two most common species of Pug in early spring - Double-striped (above) and Brindled (below)

23 March, 2015

Nature along the Severn

A couple of miles to the north of Worcester the River Severn passes through a heavily managed area of alder and birch plantation, and I spent yesterday evening traversing the many public footpaths that criss-cross the area (branching off from the Severn Way) in search of early spring invertebrates.

Much of the woodland is heavily coppiced on rotation, leaving behind large open areas which - on such a warm day - act as fantastic sun traps for any insect emerging in the spring sunshine. The first Bee-fly and Peacock butterfly of the year were flying in the clearing above, doing their best to remind me that it is now actually spring, and nearby a couple of dung beetles were active...

Aphodius prodromus with a tiny mite attached to its leg!

Green Shieldbug

Sheltering within an isolated clump of Daffodils by the Severn was the now famous Norellia spinipes - the so called 'Daffodil fly' that gained popularity early last year thanks to the pan-species listing movement.

Norellia spinipes

Dicranopalpus ramosus on a tree trunk. This formerly rare species was first found in Bournemouth in 1957, but has since spread inland and is now fairly common throughout the country.

A quick search on coppiced hazels revealed the two commonest species of Liverwort that grow on trees...

Dilated Scalewort (Frullania dilatata)

Forked Veilwort (Metzgeria furcata)

Another extremely common bryophyte (and one of the easiest to identify), Silver-moss (Bryum argenteum) growing in a field margin.

21 March, 2015

It's all about the f-number

400 blog posts later, and here I am trying to talk technical about photography. Can you tell I've run out of ideas after 7 years of blogging?

Like most weird people, there's nothing I enjoy seeing more than a macro image with some good 'bokah' - a completely blurred background behind a nicely focused insect or flower. This isolation effect of the foreground against the background is accomplished simply by using a small f-number on your camera's aperture settings (typically around f/2.8), and can really make a subject stand-out nicely. Small f-numbers work perfectly for singling out little bits of detail along one imaginary focal 'line', but when it comes to photographing moths in artificial situations (i.e. on a leaf or rock), bigger is often better.

Most moths aren't totally flat, which means that when you take a photo using a small f-number, the proportion of the insect that will remain in focus is limited to areas of the body along the same imaginary focal line of the original point of focus. This is called having a 'shallow' depth-of-field, and is not a fantastic thing when you want to show the whole moth in all it's sharpened glory.

The larger the f-number (f/8-f/11 is often the sweet spot) the broader the depth-of-field will be, and as such the greater the proportion of the moth that will remain in focus. Voila!

A Twin-spotted Quaker, snapped using an large f-number of 10 (left) and a small f-number of 2.8 (right)

19 March, 2015


Conifers are fantastic trees - in winter at least. Their dense, sheltered leaf structure combined with the fact that they retain leaves all year around makes them ideal refuges for many insects that attempt to live out the winter in the vulnerable adult stage of their life cycle.

A brief search around the base of a Larch tree on campus the other week produced these fantastic micro moths, all three of which commonly overwinter...

Choreutis pariana

Caloptilia semifascia

Lyonetia clerkella

How they manage to survive the snow and freezing temperatures beggars belief.

12 March, 2015

A trio of shieldbugs

A brief search around a Larch tree on campus yesterday turned up all three of the typical overwintering shieldbugs, and naturally I thought it would be a massive laugh to photograph them and put the images together for comparison. How original...

Hawthorn, Birch & Juniper Shieldbug

On the same tree was the aptly named Larch Ladybird, a tiny beetle that I don't think I've seen before...

Larch Ladybird

Dwarfed by an accompanying Harlequin Ladybird

Of moths and badgers

Last night saw our second moth trapping event on the university campus. We ended up with 12 moths of 7 species, a nice early season result that was made even nicer when an inquisitive badger peered out at us from a nearby hedge late in the evening. Tucked away in an overgrown area of the campus, these brilliant urbanised animals somehow manage to maintain a thriving sett - the only evidence of their presence being well used foraging path etched into the grass alongside pavements!

Early Thorn

Common Quaker

Clouded Drab

Emmelina monodactyla

06 March, 2015

Spring in the air

It was another beautiful day - too nice to be spent indoors mulling over coursework - so I headed down to a nearby brook where the sun was shining, the insects were emerging and the plants were flowering. Spring is in the air...

18-spot Ladybird

Blaniulus guttulatus

Lesser Celandine

Swan's-neck Thyme-moss (Mnium hornum)

Dotted Thyme-moss (Rhizomnium punctatum)

The kind of weather that just makes you want to listen to Shuggie Otis.

Oh, what a coincidence...

05 March, 2015

Back alley nature

The alley way that backs out onto our student house at university isn't the first place I'd choose to go for fresh air and wildlife. It's full of your typical urban alley way things: fly-tipping, mud, young people (me included), concrete, bin bags and hormonal foxes, but take a closer look and you uncover a world of fantastically colourful plants all sharing the same ability to thrive on disturbed ground...

Common Whitlow-grass (Erophila verna) growing amongst an array of different mosses 

Compared to the dull asbestos-filled garages under which they were growing, these tiny communities stand out like miniature rainforests, with so many different species intertwined to produce a carpet of colours. Kind of reminded me of those plush Sphagnum bogs you find growing in the Scottish Highlands, just on a slightly smaller scale!

Next time you're walking through the concrete jungle, losing faith in nature's ability to exist in the ever poisonous, land-grabbing world of humans, just take a closer look at the ground (and watch out for dog shit).

Wall Screw-moss (Tortula muralis)

Grey-cushion Grimmia (Grimmia pulvinata)

Bonfire Moss (Funaria hygrometrica)

Thickpoint Grimmia (Schistidium crassipilum)