So far the spring of 2006 has been disappointing for insect photography. After weeks of cold and wet weather, things are finally warming up. However, the insect population has yet to really burst onto the scene. My most recent trips out looking for insect subjects have been disappointing.
Yesterday I went to the Allegan Forest and visited several areas along 46th street. The lupine is out in full force, and crops up in several areas. I first visited some open fields, which in a few weeks will be full of coreopsis and vetch. These have been areas that have been fruitful in the past, and while I caught a few glimpses of Monarchs, Spicebush, and Tiger Swallowtail butterflies, I had no luck getting shots.
After hitting a few wooded areas that are usually (but not now) full of dragonflies, I settled on shooting along Swan Creek. I’ve always viewed this area with high expectations for Odonata. The creek spawls out and fills several acres in this area – with a deep channel and shallow flooded shelves on both sides. There is a levy about 30 to 50 feet across, that runs along the creek, and a small dam that regulates the flow of water both down stream and into a flooded, marshy wildlife refuge. I’ve seen wild otters in the creek here, and Osprey and Eagles nest in the refuge. A path runs along the top of the levy, ultimately rising into a mixed forest.
The mix of wetlands, the open trail, and forest all seem ideal for odonata. Yesterday, at least, there were a fair number of damselflies along the levy path. It was a cool and blustery day, and the insects hung low, usually lighting on grass stalks just a few inches above the ground. As is often the case with insect photography, I spent the time lying or crawling on the ground, trying to keep the camera down low enough to get a clear shot of the damselflies.
Today I again returned to the Allegan Forest, this time to work a large field along 48th street. This is one of the few areas in the preserve that shows traces of its past. There is a small corner of a building foundation visible in the field, but more significantly, the vegetation shows the influence of past cultivation. The open field has large areas of wild strawberries, huge patches of prickly pear cactus, and a few areas of iris, just starting to bloom. The woods are full of European Lily of the Valley, and spiky palms – the type used in potted plant arrangements - stick up out of the grass.
Here I found a few butterflies, a several caterpillars, tiger moths, lots of grasshoppers and lacewings.
And in the “eeeeew gross!’ department -- The high point of the day was the discovery of a few ticks, hanging onto grass blades, waiting for a host to come along (someone like me would do nicely!) Like anyone who spends a lot of time in the out of doors in the spring and early summer, I have had my share of encounters with wood ticks. Though I douse my clothes (and myself) with DEET, the sight of a tick creeping up my pant leg or shirt is all too common. I knew that these creatures waited for hosts on plant stalks, and have wanted to get a shot of them in this situation. So today I was actually happy when I caught sight of first one, and then another, Dog Tick doing exactly that – sitting at the end of a grass stalk, legs outstretched, waiting for a host.
I managed to get passable shots of both – which turned out to be a male and a female. I was interested to see that they waited with their heads down, opposite of what I had imagined. I had switched from the standard 200mm macro, to a 100 mm lens. Photographing the vey small ticks – they are about 1/4th of inch in size – was a challenge, especially given the blustery wind. Ultimately, I got the shots, and was happy to take the photos, and leave the ticks behind!
While the shots form today and yesterday are OK - and the tick shots in particular illustrate an interesting behavior - I'm still waiting for the first top notch shot of the season. Well - the weather is finally getting warm... Technical details: All shots, except the ticks, were taken with the insect photography setup, consistent of a Pentax *ist-D, SMC A * 200mm macro, and flash. Ticks were shot with the *ist-D and Kiron 105mm f2.8 macro, tripod mounted with no flash.
Here are a few more images from yesterday: