The secret world of the smallest things

fly on santolina

Misty morning

As Autumn sets in and the larger, more showy insects start to disappear, my macro lens turns to the smallest creatures, so small that I can only see the details by photographing them and cropping.  Each of these critters is much smaller than they appear here, hardly noticeable as they go about their secret lives.

fly and prey on grass

Tightrope

Carrying your prey across a tightrope of the thinnest grass stem is just showing off.

fly in golden grass

Golden grasses hide a wealth of miniature life

I like to show these critters with plenty of space around them, to show how very small they are.  And their landscape can sometimes be as intriguing as the insects themselves.

spider and prey

Small but deadly

Incredible flying bees

Carder bee on geranium
Despite the drop in temperatures over the last couple of days, the hardy carder bees have still been out and about, seemingly tougher than the honey bees who have almost disappeared. Believe it or not, this geranium is called ‘Jolly Bee’!
Agastache 'Blackadder'
They are still happily visiting carder bee heaven. I can now be more specific than my earlier identification of it as a member of the mint family; it is Agastache ‘Blackadder’.
bee on purple flowers
This one isn’t flying, but I liked the light so included it anyway.
bumble bee in flight
There were a few bumble bees about this morning. This is the first time I have seen them feeding on the solanum jasminoides flowers. Perhaps they are less fussy at this time of year when other flowers are fading. Look at that pollen sac! Amazing that it can fly at all.

The first day of Autumn

phalangium opilioThis week there has been a nip in the air. There are suddenly fewer winged insects about and a first-day-of-the season safari round the garden this morning yielded some distinctly Autumnal sights. This harvestman was crouching on a fading rudbeckia flower.
 lychnis coronariaThe lychnis coronaria have gone to seed. I took a quick photograph before shaking the seeds liberally over the border. They are very reliable self-seeders in my garden, even colonising the lawn given half a chance.
sepia macroThe hollyhock seed heads are opening. I do love the way the seeds are wedged in – they remind me of oysters.
Despite the chill, the speckled bush crickets are still about. This male stared at me rather belligerently, I thought.
speckled bush cricket
All these shots were taken at 3,200 ISO. Not too shabby. The new camera passes the ISO test.

It was all yellow

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Look at the stars
Look how they shine for you
And everything you do
Yeah, they were all yellow

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I came along
I wrote a song for you
And all the things you do
And it was called ‘Yellow’

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So then I took my time
Oh what a thing to’ve done
And it was all yellow

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Your skin, oh yeah, your skin and bones
Turn into something beautiful
D’you know? You know I love you so
You know I love you so

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I swam across
I jumped across for you
Oh what a thing to do
‘Cause you were all yellow

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I drew a line
I drew a line for you
Oh what a thing to do
And it was all yellow

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Your skin, oh yeah, your skin and bones
Turn into something beautiful
D’you know? For you I bleed myself dry
For you I bleed myself dry

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It’s true
Look how they shine for you
Look how they shine…

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Look at the stars
Look how they shine for you
And all the things that you do.
(Coldplay, ‘Yellow’)

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The infinite sphere

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote: “Nature is an infinite sphere of which the centre is everywhere and the circumference nowhere”. We encounter nature daily; we can hardly avoid it, even if it is only in the form of a humble fly who crawls through our open window or the scent of distant park flowers on the breeze.

flying bee
Taking time to notice nature enriches my day beyond measure. The more I look, the more I see. Have you ever taken the time to watch a honey bee? I mean for several minutes or more. Watch how the light glistens in its wings as it hovers before its chosen blossom, forelegs outstretched for a gentle landing.

bee flying towards fennel flowers

Notice how the evening light catches the soft hairs on its back, and its eager tongue, already prepared as if it cannot wait to savour the sweet nectar.

bumble bee approaching dahlia flower

Or how about the bustling bumble bee? It announces its approach with an bombastic buzz before blundering onto its pollen-heavy landing pad.

bumble bee and dahlia


A smaller bumble comes careening in; too busy to linger, it is gone almost before the shutter can click, a momentary sway of the flowerhead the only sign of its passing.

bumble bee and dahlia

It has become a cliche to speak of mindfulness, or living in the moment. I don’t know if our lives are busier now than they were a generation ago, or a century ago but, for me, a full life must still contain moments when all its demands are put to one side. Photography has opened my eyes to daily treasures. And the digital age has added the joy of sharing them.

Sometimes, however, it is also good to put the camera down and simply look, listen, smell, taste, touch. That’s all; I am going outside now.

“If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.” Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849)

The best tree

flowersThese lovely flowers belong to the best thing in my garden, a thirty foot eucryphia tree. It is columnar, with a semi-weeping habit, and evergreen. So already it earns its place as a good garden tree. But, as if that weren’t enough, every July/August, it bursts forth in a froth of large white blooms, with pretty pink anthers, and a sweet scent.

And, best of all, the honey bees love it. In fact, the children call it ‘bee tower’. The garden thrums with the sound of happy bees.



Eucryphia pollen is very fine indeed, little more than dust. The bees look as if they have been sugar frosted as they go about their business.


At times, they are almost frenetic, as if frantic to collect and preserve this bounty while it lasts.


I can claim no gardening credit for this tree – it was here when we moved in ten years ago. I am told they are difficult to establish and fussy in their needs but this one seems to be happy with benign neglect. Long may it last.
Do you have a favourite insect-friendly garden plant/tree?

By evening’s light

insect in flight

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.

William Wordsworth, ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality’ (1807)

All of these images were taken in my garden yesterday evening.

bee taking off

bumble bee

The weekend summer arrived

butterfly on verbena
This weekend, summer finally arrived in our little corner of the British Isles. And with it came the butterflies. This Comma (polygonia c-album) just loved the verbena bonariensis in my garden.

butterfly on verbena
I played around with the image in Photoshop. Well, why not?

butterfly on verbena
It was a tatty fellow, even for a Comma, with a notch out of its rear right wing, but that didn’t seem too much of a handicap.


The honey bees were enjoying the verbena too. Nice to see some more about today. They have not enjoyed our very wet and cold weather.

How did you enjoy the weekend? I hope yours was as good as mine. 🙂

Candy-striped leafhopper

graphocephala fennahi

This curious little critter is a rhododendron leafhopper (graphocephala fennahi) nymph. I snapped several shots of it in my garden today. It has excellent eyesight and flipped to the underside of its leaf every time I approached. I liked the softness of this shallow depth of field capture.

Graphocephala fennahi

This is what it will look like later in the summer, when it is full-grown. The adults can fly short distances and make tricky subjects for the camera as they are very flighty and see me coming far too quickly. Although they do little damage to the rhododendron host themselves, outbreaks of a type of rhododendron mould have been connected with infestations of these pretty little critters. But I have to say, they have happily co-existed with my rhododendrons for the ten years we have been here and I consider them a colourful and welcome addition to my garden.

Them!

Ant appearing to wave

Ants are some of the trickiest subjects for my trusty lens. Apart from being very small, they are rarely still. They do however strike some appealing poses, however fleetingly.

an ant peering below

What’s down there?

In an earlier post, I mentioned my discovery that the study of ants is called myrmecology and that, according to Greek myth, Achilles’s Myrmidon warriors were said to have been created by Zeus out of an ants’ nest. The Myrmidons were known for their ferocity and loyalty. In this passage from Thoreau, a war between rival ants is described in appropriately epic terms:

One day when I went out to my wood-pile, or rather my pile of stumps, I observed two large ants, the one red, the other much larger, nearly half an inch long, and black, fiercely contending with one another. Having once got hold they never let go, but struggled and wrestled and rolled on the chips incessantly. Looking farther, I was surprised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants, that it was not a duellum, but a bellum, a war between two races of ants, the red always pitted against the black, and frequently two red ones to one black. The legions of these Myrmidons covered all the hills and vales in my wood-yard, and the ground was already strewn with the dead and dying, both red and black. It was the only battle which I have ever witnessed, the only battle-field I ever trod while the battle was raging…. On every side they were engaged in deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could hear, and human soldiers never fought so resolutely.

Henry David Thoreau

This is steep!

Perhaps it is not surprising that humans have tended to anthropomorphise ants, and also to view their apparent relentlessness, and hive mind, with some apprehension. Does anyone remember the 1954 sci-fi classic movie, Them! in which nuclear testing causes ants to mutate into giants? 1954 was a bad year for ant-PR: in The Naked Jungle, Charlton Heston has to defend a cocoa plantation against a 2-mile-wide, 20-mile-long column of army ants. Perhaps you may have seen Phase IV, the, now cult, 1974 movie in which ants evolve into the dominant life form on Earth? Other sci-fi villains, like Star Trek’s Borg, appear modelled, at least partly, on ants.

Ying yang ants

The more I photograph ants, the more fascinating I find them. But I am glad they are small.

The shadows now so long do grow,
The brambles like tall cedars show,
Molehills seem mountains, and the ant
Appears a monstrous elephant.

Charles Cotton, ‘Evening Quatrains’ (1689)