I’m delighted to present a guest blog from butterfly expert Matthew Oates. You can read about Matthew’s new book, “In Pursuit of butterflies: a 50 year affair” in the current issue of Nature’s Home (pg 87) and I cannot recommend it enough! Here’s Matthew with a blog that I hope will have you heading out next time the sun shines...
Midsummer sees the butterfly season at its zenith. The pinnacle is reached in the southern forests, where the big three take to the high summer skies – white admiral, silver-washed fritillary and purple emperor. These have to be seen to be believed: the white admiral is grace personified, the giant silver-washed fritillary epitomises the joy of being alive, and the elusive purple emperor is simply the ultimate butterfly – possessing unrivalled power and majesty. There used to be a fourth cousin, but the high brown fritillary is now restricted to a few hillsides in the West Country, South Wales and along the Cumbria – Lancashire border. I am desperately found of all four, though unravelling the mysteries of the purple emperor is really my life’s work.
"His Majesty" feasting from an unsavoury deposit (photo by Mark Ward)
The heaths also come alive with butterflies during July. The tiny silver-studded blue bejewels many southern heaths then, basking communally on heathers in the evening sun, whilst cryptic graylings bemuse us by disappearing whilst settling on sandy paths.
In midsummer, the dark mountain ringlet rules the Lakeland high fells and the Grampian mountains, necessitating long and tiring journeys up north, weather permitting. The large heath, a grey denizen of northern bogs can be seen on this exhausting trip.
The downs then come into their own, hosting often huge populations of various blues. Theirs is the month of August, in heady marjoram-scented air. The chalkhill blue and, later, the tropical-looing adonis blue can occur in profusion, making the turf shimmer with electric blue hues as the males patrol the breeding grounds during the morning, seeking to have their will with newly emerged females. The shortest turf, where sheep’s fescue grass abounds, put on a different show, for the swift silver-spotted skipper dashes about there - the hotter the weather, the faster it flies. In hot summers, clouded yellow males patrol south-facing slopes, at pace, having colonised from the Mediterranean.
July is a great month for butterflies. Be quick and you'll catch the last of the purple emperors (photo by Mark Ward)
The brown hairstreak is the herald of autumn, living diffusely around blackthorn entanglements. It is active early in the morning, then lazes through late summer days, comatose in Ash trees. It winds the season down, which ends in our gardens, where familiar species like the small tortoiseshell and red admiral feed up communally prior to hibernation.
No two summers are truly alike, each revealing its own peculiar mix of butterfly winners and losers, highs and lows, and giving the patient observer new lessons and experiences. One learns so much, in terms of butterfly ecology and field craft skills that it is impossible to feel remotely bored when out in pursuit of butterflies.
2015 hints at being a painted lady summer... (photo by Chris Gomersall)
Do the Big Butterfly Count We’re also promoting our friends at Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count. I did my first count over the weekend in my local wood where I was pleased . It couldn’t be easier and I recommend the App as an easy and fun way to record your sightings and submit them to Butterfly Conservation.
Buy Mathew's bookAnd do buy Matthew's fantastic book and read all about his amazing life with the UK's butterflies.
Sometimes, convincing less wildlife inclined friends to spend hours investigating various habitats for obscure species of flora and fauna can be difficult. This certainly was the case last weekend when me and three friends went camping in the New Forest. And it wasn't just my buddies causing the weekend to not go quite to plan.
Beautiful demoiselle, one of the species I was looking for - image courtesy of Flickr creative commons, Konstantinos Papakonstantinou
It wasn't my suggestion – late Thursday evening – to go camping, but having just this summer got manically into damselflies and dragonflies, I wasn't going to pass up on the opportunity to visit arguably the place to see these stunning creatures.
My two friends Adam and Florence are notoriously late. I’m fairly sure Adam inherited it from his mum, who has never been less than half an hour late for anything, ever, but Florence must have developed it after they got married last year. Originally we had planned to go on Friday evening, but after finding out Adam hadn't packed at 7pm on Friday, we decided to go half way to Florence’s parents’ house.
Golden-ringed dragonfly, another one of the species I was looking for - image courtesy of Flickr creative commons, gailhampshire
My girlfriend Sophie had beaten me and Adam to Florence’s house, and they had already cracked out the vino. In fairness it was a lovely evening, and we decided to leave early the next morning.
Upon waking I found out that Florence hadn't packed either. After the inevitable lie-in she began to pack. We planned to leave by 8.30 – which was ambitious with Adam involved – but ended up leaving at 11.30. Only 3 hours late. Not bad.
The journey involved the usual hordes of red-faced, sweating men in cars full of screaming children. The roads were either clogged up to a standstill or dodgy carnival dodgems of terrifying lane-changing maniacs. With a traffic jam here, and wrong turning there, eventually we arrived at the campsite of Roundhill in the lovely New Forest.
Friendly (looking at least) New Forest ponies - image courtesy of Flickr creative commons, davidgsteadman
Now the fun started, I thought. Dragonflies. Hordes of them. Golden-ringed, downy emerald and chasers galore waited for me just beyond that clearing near the river. But before I could demand a walk and lead my friends to the nearest body of water, along came a pony.
We’d opened the boot of the car just after arriving – mistake. “Planning to take stuff out of your car to quickly set up your tent and get immersed in nature are we?” thought the pony, as it sinisterly crept up behind us.
Biting and gnawing, tearing and chewing ensued as the pony gorged on the bounty of Adam’s boot. Adam cried out, “The coffee! It just ate an entire bag of coffee!” and that – as far as I was concerned – was the last straw.
I slowly approached the pony from the front. Nervously, I tried to shoo it away. But the pony was having none of it. It turned, backed up a bit, and kicked.
CRACK! Right in the ... leg, thankfully, else I wouldn't be writing this. It made the kind of sound that would usually mean a trip to the hospital, a sound reminiscent of playing the coconuts at my primary school nativity. After a bit of sit, a lot of swearing and a much needed Sophie hug, we calmly watched the remainder of our camping supplies slip down into the pony’s tum.
I say calmly, but I think we all know that’s a lie. Perhaps an hour later it left, and we got the tent up. My leg had begun to recover (as if that would stop me), and we headed out for a walk along the small river near the camp.
Me, momentarily distracted from scanning the river's edge - image courtesy of Jack Plumb
Finally, I was rewarded. Immediately upon reaching the bank, four beautiful demoiselles appeared and danced around in front of us. Then a golden-ringed dragonfly whizzed past a few times showing off. We had a delicious pub lunch, lots of beer, and the worst night’s sleep in the history of New Forest camping, then got up the next day to go to Hatchet Pond near Beaulieu.
As though gifted by the Odonata lords themselves as an apology for yesterday’s pony assault, two more new species for the year appeared in front of me at the edge of a shallow part of the pond. Keeled skimmer, and broad-bodied chaser made my Sunday, and a total of four species for the weekend. Was it worth the stress, and the (possibly permanent) leg injury?
Your Autumn 2015 Nature's Home magazine is on its way to you. I've already had lots of great feedback on the images in this issue (wait until you see our stone-curlew feature opener!), so I hope the latest guest blog from wildlife photographer, Tom Mason, combined with your latest magazine will inspire you to get out with your camera - and send us your results! Here's Tom with a selection of his amazing images from a recent trip to Peru.
The bizarre hoatzin provides a clear reminder that birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs!
With summer here and the holiday season well underway, you might be thinking about heading abroad. As a wildlife photographer, travel is always exciting, a chance to see new species and work in new environments, but it can also cause a headache with all that gear to pack!
I’ve put together a small wildlife photography travelling guide with some hints and tips for making your wildlife watching holiday photographically fruitful and a little less stressful!
Think about your subject
Before you head to your camera bag and start throwing everything inside, it always pays to take a moment to think about what you will actually be photographing. For example if you are going on safari, you may need everything from a long lens to a wide angle, but if you are going on a short family break where you are only likely to find some top quality insects to photograph, you may want to reconsider.
Being a photographer isn’t just about toting everything in your kit with you all the time, it’s about selecting the necessary items to get the job done. Look at space saving alternatives. Teleconverters can be an excellent way of achieving more reach without the need for huge lenses and choosing a compact camera as a back up, rather than a second DSLR.
The next thing to consider is how you are planning to get to your destination. If you are flying, you will be restricted to a carry on sized bag, where as if you are travelling by train or car, taking extra equipment is less of a hassle.
Take the right lens for the right situation - Tom has captured the action of macaws at a salt lick.
If you are flying, you need to make sure EVERYTHING essential in your photographic kit is within your carry on bag. This will certainly include all of your cameras and lenses that you are planning to take. Get hold of a carry on compatible bag to ensure that the kit you are carrying makes it onto the plane with you. Never let it go in the hold. If you are worried about weight restrictions and travelling with friends or family, share out your lenses into other peoples bag and then re pack after check in!
So what are the essential items when you are travelling?
Depending on the trip the lenses and gear alters due to assignment, but in most cases I will always have the below in my bag.
- Two Cameras (Two DSLRs or one and a compact/ smaller camera when on family trips)
- Wide angle (24-70)
- Telephoto (300mm)
- Teleconverter (1.4)
- Laptop and twin set of hard drives for copying and filing images.
My bare essentials, along with the necessary chargers, batteries and memory cards.
This kit will cover 90% of situations at a push, allowing me to get a full range of images from landscapes to close up portraits. In addition on many trips I will also add a super wide angle or mid telephoto along with a macro lens for close up or insect photography. These are of course assignment specific.
It's not easy to capture the atmosphere of tropical rainforests on camera.
A couple of important accessories that can often make a huge difference when travelling abroad are also found in my bag, including…
- An extension cable with surge protector - With batteries to charge as well as a laptop, instead of having to take multiple travel plug adaptors a single extension cord provides extra sockets making life far easier!
- Cleaning kit for lenses and cameras. To get the best images you need to keep your sensor and optics clean, I always have a rocket blower, sensor swabs and cleaning tissues in the bag.
- Leatherman multitool and Gaffers tape. Things break, tripods get loose, things come unstuck, this ultra small tool kit gets you out of a pinch. Just remember not to leave it in your hand luggage!
- Dry bags (Something I found very hand in the jungle). Perfect for keeping kit organised as well as protecting electronics from the wet. I always keep one of my hard drives in one of these just for added safety.
Travelling abroad is wonderful fun as a photographer. New subjects and landscapes, places and people. The key to making it enjoyable is reducing kit size to the minimum, making sure to keep your precious images backed up and protected from the trip (maybe even think about cloud storage) and keeping everything protected in transit.
With those things in mind, relax, enjoy and take some excellent images!
I would love to see how you get on during your travels, why not share some of your wildlife images from abroad with my on Twitter @TomMasonPhoto. If you would like to see more of my work, be sure to check out my website www.tommasonphoto.com