The First Real Signs of Spring

15th April 2013
Winter still didn't want to release its grip here in Warwickshire, with cold, windy and wet weather continuing well into April. The last week or so has improved a bit though, and opportunities for insect photography has increased.
Looking back at my photographs, I realised that I hadn't seen a ladybird since January. Last week I spotted this Seven-spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) in the garden and thought that I'd bring it indoors for some "studio" shots. I wanted a white-background image for my website front page, so positioned it on a sheet of white foam-board. Just as I focussed, it obliged by attempting to fly off. I captured this "action" image.

These have always been one of the most common ladybirds in this area. Last year (2012), they were easily outnumbered by the Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis). It will be interesting to see what 2013 brings.

I've been doing a bit of "focus-stacking" recently and when I found this Common Pill-bug or Pill Woodlouse (Armadillium vulgare), I thought it would make a suitable subject. I had found it when I was turning over some old logs, looking for springtails. It was rolled into a perfect ball or "pill".

Again I thought this would benefit from the indoor "studio" approach, so brought it home. Positioned on a sheet of white foam-board (like the ladybird), I fired off some shots. It then briefly stopped walking about. This is a chance for focus-stacking. It involves taking a succession of shots; moving the camera forward fractionally, between each one. The images are then aligned and merged using special software. I use Zerene Stacker. This is the result of stacking six separate images.

Regular readers of this Blog will know that my real "passion" is for the UK's solitary bees. They've been very late appearing because of the cold weather. The east-facing wall of our house is made from stone and is a popular nesting site for the Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes). These are one of the first bees seen in spring; the males (looking like little orange bumblebees) rapidly buzzing around looking for females. I had found one dead at a nest hole; caught in an old spider's web. I was very pleased the next day, to find this one alive.

This is typical behaviour - coming to the opening of the nest burrow and waiting for the right flying temperature. They then launch themselves out. They are very difficult to photograph generally, because they are so active. Catching them at the nest site is one occasion when they're sitting still! They often return to these holes to roost at night or if it gets cold or wet. Always worth keeping a look out at nesting sites.

I do particularly like Andrena mining bees and so far this year, have only seen Andrena clarkella; one of the earliest to emerge. Yesterday, I had a walk around our local churchyard, looking for bees. I found this one example, resting on a primula flower. The sun had gone in and it felt a bit chilly. The bee obviously wasn't going anywhere and this allowed me the opportunity for quite a few shots. This one is another "stacked" image composite of four shots.

I'm still coming to terms with the identification of solitary bees, but I think this is a female Andrena chrysosceles. It's small (~ 6-7mm), has pale hairs on the face, orange legs, bands of white hairs on the abdomen and a tuft of orangey hair at the abdominal tip. A lovely little bee and one I've only seen a few times before. The weather looks quite promising for the coming week, so hopefully I'll be out bee-hunting once again!


Photo comment By Amelia Bassiti: Love your bees. I was interested in your whiteboard technique. I have been intending to build a whitebox I've seen on YouTube but you talk about just a white foam board. Is this all you need for small insects? (Much easier for me.) Actually I found a sole Osmia rufa, my first, as we have loads of cornuta here, and I put her in the fridge for 20 minutes and then photographed her on a piece of white paper weighted down on the garden table in the sunshine. I got several shots before she flew off. If a board was all I needed it would be good. Thank you again for the recommandation. I'm delighted with my "Bees of Surrey" book. I've already learnt so much and challenged myself to identify my first 20 bees. Amelia

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