Friday, May 30, 2014

Blue and white

It was Wednesday morning.  I'd taken the dogs for their first walk of the day and noticed some small tortoiseshell caterpillars feeding on nettles.  A good subject to add to the portfolio so, dogs well exercised, fed and happy to sleep the morning away, I went out again.  The small tortoiseshell butterfly caterpillars were one objective but I also wanted to photograph the southern marsh orchids that have gradually been colonising a local field that is being managed as a flowering meadow by Plymouth City Council.

Of course you get sidetracked.  I'd got my shots of the caterpillars and was walking down to the orchids when I saw a white bluebell in the hedgerow.  Alongside was the normal blue version.  An opportunity not to be missed.  Here's the landscape view.

Blue and white forms of the English bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta

I'm talking about the English bluebell.  Hyacinthoides non-scriptus.  Honey scented, endemic to North West Europe, with 60% of the population in England and Wales, white sports occur occasionally in nature.  They've been collected and brought into cultivation (not a good idea unless you have a large garden - sheets of bluebells gives a good indication of their invasive tendencies) but it's still nice to see a wild white flower.  Especially when contrasted with the typical blue.  Here's the portrait view.

Blue and white forms of the English bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta

I remember as a child in the 50's going to a local wood in Grimsby and picking bluebells with my parents.  They weren't as common in the drier East as they are in the wetter South West of England.  Here they're everywhere.  In woods, hedgerows, fields, clifftops - anywhere the black seed can germinate and produce the white bulbs that store energy for their late spring flowering.

Did I get the shots I wanted of the small tortoiseshell caterpillars and the orchids?  Yes.  Here's a sample.

Clustered caterpillars of the small tortoiseshell butterfly, Aglais urticae, feeding on nettle
The young caterpillars are communal, clustering together after emerging from the web at the base of the shot as a protection against predators.  For some reason the adults have been in decline in recent years - I rarely saw any - but the last couple of years have shown a local expansion.  May it continue.

As for the orchids it's been a pleasure to watch them multiply over the last 4-5 years as a patch of a field has been left unmown till late summer.  There are hundreds in there now.

Southern marsh orchid, Dactylorhizza praetermissa

Southern marsh orchid, Dactylorhizza praetermissa

Close up of the flowers of the Southern marsh orchid, Dactylorhizza praetermissa
 As always, click to embiggen the photos.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Sometimes a shot jumps out and demands to be taken.

I was enjoying a walk round a local garden (not, alas, my own) this afternoon.  They have a stream fed pond, part of which is planted up with water hawthorn, Aponogeton distachyos.  The water was glass clear, conditions were almost windless and the bright May sunlight was at a perfect angle to evenly illuminate the shallow water right down to the bottom without inducing surface glare.

Which enabled me to get the following shot:

Aponogeton distachyos showing floating flowers and foliage and the stems rooted in the bottom mud
The leaves are floating flat on the water surface.  The white flowers are just protruding above  the surface.  At first glance there is no difference between the air and the water.  The picture looks as though it is portrait of a ground dwelling plant.  Only after examination do you notice there is a barely perceptible ripple, just enough to provide the subtlest dimpling around the emergent leaves and flowers and gently distorting the underwater anchoring stems.

Normally a polarising filter is needed to cut reflections and glare and enable a limited view through the air-water interface.  I didn't need one today.  Conditions were perfect to capture an almost textbook illustration showing the whole of an aquatic plant.

Technical details are embedded in the EXIF data.  Click to embiggen the shot.