Sunday, August 5, 2018

Walks Around the House

I've been immensely enjoying the Summer at "Ketelsen East", and often go on excursions in the prairie restorations and the woods near home to see what there is to be seen. Sometimes I bring my camera, and when I don't, usually see something that makes me wish I had! The photos here were all taken with the Canon 6D camera and the 100mm macro - a nice versatile lens that works on distant objects as well as focuses up to life size, allowing close ups of bugs or flower details. As a result, you don't need to carry any alternate gear along...

Case in point is a flash of color I spotted last week - an American Goldfinch. As with many subjects, you can sneak closer while distracted feeding. This fellow was distracted feeding on a cone flower, finally getting a morsel you can spot in the last frame. Meanwhile I had gotten to about 20 feet or less allowing me to get a little detail in the shots here.

Similarly, there have been a lot of Monarch butterflies this year. In recent years, hearing the difficulties of their overwintering grounds and massive die-offs, they have seemed scarce around the Midwest. Perhaps it was the conscientious plantings of milkweed plants, but rare is the time I go out and DON'T see them this year. As above, try sneaking up on them while distracted feeding and I got to within a couple feet of this male, here feeding on a flowering Joe-Pye weed. How do I know it is a boy? I thought everyone knew that! Males have a little dark spot on the tops of their rear wings that are pheromone emitters to help locate females. Shown at right are a couple (admittedly lower quality) images showing this butterfly flitting about, clearly showing its pheromone spots (arrowed).

I continue to be amazed at the
biodiversity of the milkweed plant. I've blogged before about the milkweed bug and milkweed beetle and documented the difference. Normally a careful search of a plant will show one or the other, rarely both. On a walk the other day I spotted a milkweed just covered with yellow aphids - not the plant 8" to the left or right, but that one in the center! And there was only the one infested, not a single aphid spotted on another plant. Here is where the macro comes in handy - you can photograph an entire leaf covered in speckles of yellow, or move closer to focus a few inches away for more details. At left I've pulled the leaf back to reveal the underside where the bulk of them were located. At right is a close up of a flower on the plant, showing the sapsuckers working on the stalks of the flowers. You can spot one near center sporting a pair of little wings that will allow it to be more mobile someday. As with most aphid colonies, there were ants nearby that seemed to be in charge, likely feeding on the concentrated sugar water the aphids excrete... Amazing stuff!

On another walk yesterday, closer to
home in the woods, I used the same setup - the 100mm Canon macro, but with 3cm of extension tubes to allow even closer focusing. I also had a flash that attached to the front of the lens that was useful for the shots taken shortly before sunset. First up was a purple phlox near the house. We don't plant any of these, perhaps a LONG time ago, but they are perennials now that show up annually. Interesting flower clusters, but only individuals shown here. While they look flat from their front, they have a long tubular structure attached, shown better at right looking nearly into the sun in a "different" view of them. Both of these are "focus stacks", where multiple images at different focus settings were combined to extend the zone of sharpness. 14 frames were combined at left, 18 at right! The higher magnification provided by the extension tubes required combining more frames.

Similarly for the thistle flower here, 22 frames were combined into this image. While a noxious weed, the flowers are quite striking. I'm not quite sure the type of thistle this is, or if it is, in face a cockle burr. Some of the images I saw online show similarities to both, so am going to leave it unidentified here...

A little deeper into the woods were a
striking yellow flower I've not noticed before! I've been told it is a "Tansy" (Tanacetum vulgare). They are eye-catching both for their little button flowers, and upon magnification, for the pattern of the microscopic substructures of the flowers... In the fading light, 7 frames were combined at left, 18 at right. Note the flowers start with a thin white cover sheet which bursts open as they mature enough and grow into a bloom.

In the fading light I noticed a few little creatures a couple millimeters across on these plants. I'm always on the lookout for new creatures, and with new plants (to me) was the chance for some new little varmints! These will be unidentified for now as they may be nymphs, which are notoriously difficult to identify, but the one at left looks to be a treehopper, and at right a leafhopper. These have a different "look" to them as they utilized the ring flash on the front of the macro for illumination. Of course, with living creatures, you have to deal with movement - managed 8 frames to combine at left, only 2 at right.

As my trip winds down, I won't have many opportunities to visit these friends, so will have to make a point of getting out a few more times!