An unreliable memoir

Archive for August, 2015


Speckled Wood
At a time when so many butterflies are looking tatty and tired, it’s good to see spanking fresh Speckled Woods, which can have up to three generations per year, emerging. This is a butterfly that I tend to associate with the arrival of spring, but they are even more welcome at this dog-eared end of the season.

Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria. Nikon D5200 Tamron 17-50mm f8 50mm 1/250 ISO 200



This image from a few months ago slipped through the net somehow, allowing me the luxury of reflecting on it from a distance. It remains one of my favorite images of the year, representing a fabled golden period before the quality of my photography entered what feels like a long steady decline. Sigh.

Sony DSC-HX20V f3.2 4.5mm 1/320 ISO 100

Nymphs (no shepherds)

Green Shieldbug nymph
Green Shieldbug nymph, Palomena prasina. Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f16 1/45 ISO 200

Tortoise Shieldbug nymph
Tortoise Shieldbug nymph, Eurygaster testudinaria.

This Is Not A Hornet

Volucella zonaria
This is not a hornet. But it wants you to think it is. Which is exactly what I did when I saw it. Round 1 to the fly.

Hoverfly, Volucella zonaria. Sony DSC-HX20V f3.5 7.5 mm 1/640 ISO 100

Evil Weevil Wednesday

Vine Weevil
Evil? Well they’ve certainly made a mess of my dahlias this year.

Vine Weevil, Otiorhynchus sulcatus. Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f22 1/250 ISO 100

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker
Migrant Hawker, Aeshna mixta. Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f16 1/45 ISO 200

My 2015 list (as of 25.08.15):
Azure Damselfly
Banded Demoiselle
Black-tailed Skimmer
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Broad-bodied Chaser
Brown Hawker
Common Blue Damselfly
Common Darter
Emerald Damselfly
Emperor Dragonfly
Four-spotted Chaser
Large Red Damselfly
Migrant Hawker
Ruddy Darter
Southern Hawker
Variable Damselfly

Two For Joy

Magpie feather
Magpie feather. Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f16 1/90 ISO 200

Thistledown Dawn


Well, maybe “dawn” is a bit strong.

Sony DSC-HX20V f3.2 4.5mm 1/320 ISO 100

My lasting shame and embarrassment

Silver-Washed Fritillary
Silver-Washed Fritillary, Argynnis paphia. Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f16 1/125 ISO 200

It is to my lasting shame and embarrassment that it has taken me so long to get to Bedford Purlieus. Fabulous.

Silver-Washed Fritillary

Banded Graveyard

Banded Graveyard
Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f16 1/60 ISO 200

A song thrush had a fine old time with the banded snails. Result, the most colourful graveyard you’ll see this side of Mexico.

Emerald Damselfly

Emerald Damselfly
Emerald Damselfly, Lestes sponsa. Seven image focus stack. Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f22 1/180 ISO 400

It’s not often damselflies will stay still long enough for a close range focus stack but this male Emerald Damselfly was very obliging, giving a nice depth of focus. He looks like a happy chappie but I think the smile is deceptive.

Heron Song

Nikon D5200 Tamron 150-600mm f8 550mm 1/2000 ISO 500

Seed of Gold

Chrysotoxum festivum. Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f16 1/45 ISO 200

Not another bloody hoverfly.

Sorry yes, but they’re so beautiful.

Can’t you mix it up a bit?

Well it is the peak of the season, they’ll soon be gone.

Even so, give us a break will you.

OK. Sorry.


chryso” = gold, “toxum” = seed. The “seed of gold” was a crucial element in alchemy for creating gold, a mysterious substance which aided the transformation of minerals into gold. The “seed” was always present in alchemists’ concoctions. “festivum” = festivity, merriment, joy. You’re looking at the seed of gold. Be happy.


An unmistakable landscape.

Staple Tor. Nikon D5200 Nikkor 18-55mm f16 21mm 1/250 ISO 100

The swansong for the kit lens. So long and thanks for all the snaps.


I’ve spent most of the weekend photographing insects in my garden, but how simultaneously frustrating and fascinating that it’s not possible to identify half of them beyond genus and gender, such as this female Sphaerophoria species, or this male Lasioglossum:


(Bonus fact: Lasioglossum is the largest genus of bees with over 1,700 species worldwide, including the sweat bees in the tropics and many mining bees in the UK).

The Parasite and the Fly

Ivy Broomrape
Ivy Broomrape, Orobanche hederae. Nikon D5200 Nikkor 18-55mm f4.8 36mm 1/60 ISO 180

A Change

Dartmoor Landscape
Nikon D5200 Nikkor 18-55mm f22 18mm 1/250 ISO 100

A change is as good as a rest, they say, so on a recent short break I tried to change my style of photography. Short focal length, landscapes. Looking for patterns, shapes, stories. And the story here is … a lovely evening on Dartmoor (even if I did fall off Staple Tor and remove most of the skin from my shin).

The Emperor Returns

Emperor Dragonfly
Emperor Dragonfly, Anax imperator. Nikon D5200 Tamron 150-600mm f8 320mm 1/750 ISO 800

A somewhat more co-operative specimen, much better light = a slight improvement on my previous effort.

500 and counting

Large Yellow Underwing
Large Yellow Underwing, Noctua pronuba. Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f22 1/250 ISO 100

A man should have a hobby. That was supposed to be the title of yesterday’s post – until the Hobby turned into a Kestrel, so I though I’d recycle it today in the spirit of environmental sensitivity.

Since 1852 in the UK there has been a network of wildlife recording schemes. Traditionally these were county based but increasingly they are now moving online. Six months ago I started using the NatureSpot website to record my observations of wildlife in VC55 – Leicestershire and Rutland. I’ve just had my 500th species verified*, this Large Yellow Underwing moth in my garden, not rare but still important – probably a significant part of the diet of the bats I see from my window.

Wildlife recording has given my photography more purpose, and I’m basking in the warm glow of citizen science derived from something I love doing. I’ve learned so much in just a few months and it has deepened my enjoyment of the countryside, and even suburban environments. But it’s not all sunshine and light – there is a tension between high quality/arty photography and recording as much as possible. I frequently snap away with I.D. shots so that I can identify things later, and then am disappointed at the quality of the photos when I get home. I need to find the correct balance on this, which is probably going to mean separating photography trips from recording trips (which will still involve photography). And I need to make the whole process sustainable so I can carry on without burning out – or more likely spluttering out in the dark depths of February.

Wildlife recording is a game that anyone can play wherever you may be in the UK, though the iRecord website, or even internationally through iSpot. But be warned – it’s addictive.

Here’s to the next 500.


*Which raises the question, how many species are there in VC55? There are several answers to that, most of which are not very good. The biologist’s answer is “It all depends what you mean by a species”. Certainly with things like bacteria it’s not clear what species means, so lets restrict ourselves to macroscopic organisms. The next answer is “No-one knows”, which is also true, especially since species are becoming locally extinct and new species arriving at an ever increasing rate. The best answer is a broad guesstimate: probably somewhere between 5-10,000, most likely nearer the upper end of that range. Which means that my paltry 500 species represents around 5% of what’s out there. Work still to do!

A Bit of a Barney

Kestrel versus Magpie
Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus. Nikon D5200 Tamron 150-600mm f8 550mm 1/750 ISO 400

Two juvenile kestrels were having an ongoing scrap with the young magpies. I suspect these are the offspring of the pair a couple of miles up the valley. We watched them for an hour while we recorded the site. No clear winner. This is going to take a while to resolve.



Old Lady Mothsterchef

Old Lady
You’ve seen Celebrity Masterchef? Well this is the Old Lady version – Mothsterchef.
Old Lady, Mormo maura. Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f22 1/250 ISO 100

At some point in their career, all aspiring Lepidopterists have to try sugaring – preparing a sweet aromatic syrup to attract moths. Some moths are attracted to light, but not all of them. Some are much more into the sweet stuff. Each moth manic has their own secret recipe that they would not divulge even on pain of death, so here’s mine:

6 ripe loganberries
1 strawberry
50mL red wine
50g Demerera sugar
1 tsp Scottish heather honey
Mash the berries and stew everything together in a saucepan over a low heat (don’t let the sugar burn) until it becomes thick and sticky. Then add the secret ingredient and cook for a few more minutes. Clearly I’m not going to tell you what the secret ingredient is. It’s a secret. Allow to cool slightly, place in a glass jar and keep in the fridge. To use, smear a goodly portion in a good moth spot.

Within half an hour, I was surrounded by Old Ladies (Mormo maura), impressive moths with a wingspan over 50mm. I was half expecting Wayne Rooney to turn up as well. They do not come to light but are notorious for their addiction to sugar, as you can see. More tea vicar?

Old Ladys

Green Lines

Emerald Damselfly
Emerald Damselfly, Lestes sponsa. Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f16 1/60 ISO 400

We hear so much about red lines these days. I’ve decided to lay down a few green lines. They Shall Not Pass.

Purple & Gold

Purple and Gold moth
Common Purple & Gold, Pyrausta purpuralis. Sony DSC-HX20V f4 10mm 1/60 ISO 250

An attractive day flying moth. It’s nice to see insects taking advantage of all that Marjoram I planted – a very good plant for a wide range of insects. And in this case, nicely colour co-ordinated too.

I don’t like crickets

Roesels Bush-cricket

I love it. 10cc

Roesel’s Bush-cricket, Metrioptera roeselii. Nikon D5200 Tokina 100mm f22 1/125 ISO 400