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Add your biodiversity sightings to “iNaturalist” – Big Sioux Rec Area, Beaver Creek Nature Area

Banner page for a new iNaturalist “project” page, “Biodiversity of Beaver Creek Nature Area”. You can enter sightings of any form of life you find in the park boundaries, and iNaturalist will summarize those observations and provide an accounting of all life observed there.

Twitter is a dangerous thing for me. I’m relatively new to it, starting 2 years ago. But it’s rather addictive, and if I don’t curb myself I can spend far too much time on it. The good news…this weekend I spent very little time on Twitter, even going (gasp!) almost 36 hours without even looking at it. The bad news…it’s because Twitter itself got me hooked on another online activity.

When visiting the Black Hills a week ago, I took a number of flower and butterfly photos. I don’t really “do” butterflies and flowers, so didn’t know the ID of most, so I posted some blocks of photos on Twitter. People did help with ID, but I also got multiple suggestions to join iNaturalist. Now, I have done eBird for years, and greatly enjoy recording all of my bird sightings. iNaturalist is similar but expanded to…everything…all life that you wish to record, be it a bird, a reptile, a tree, a shrub, a bug, a fungi…anything. But unlike eBird, where you’re expected to know the species you’re entering, iNaturalist is also a platform for helping you to identify your finds. You upload a photo, identify as best you can, and other people confirm your identification, or offer a corrected identification. There’s a system in place where the “grade” for your entry depends upon matching IDs, with “Research Grade” ranking given to entries that have confirmed IDs from multiple users.

I have many, many thousands of photos over the years, mostly birds, but also other critters. I also have occasionally taken photos of flowers, fungi, and other life, but haven’t really given an ID to most. So instead of wasting time on Twitter this weekend, I spent FAR too much time entering old photos onto iNaturalist.

One feature I think is really cool about iNaturalist is that you can set up your own “project”. Your project can define an area where you can summarize observations. You can also select what taxa are part of your project. So for example, you could set up a project for your favorite birding spot, and do something like “The Birds of Newton Hills”. iNaturalist would then record ANY sighting of a bird, be it by yourself, or someone else, and summarize all the sightings of birds for that area. It’s all automated in that once the project is set up, it automatically records the sightings any one makes within your defined parameters (area, type of life, time of observation, etc.).

A cool concept! And since I admittedly get a little fatigued with bird photography, from the standpoint of taking photos of the “same old birds” (how many American Goldfinch photos do you need?), and since we live right across the street from the Big Sioux Recreation Area, I thought why not start an iNaturalist project that records ALL life in the park? And so that’s what I’ve done, with a new iNaturalist project “Biodiversity of the Big Sioux Recreation Area“. My other most visited birding location is Beaver Creek Nature Area, just 4 miles east of where I live. I started another project for Beaver Creek, “Biodiversity of Beaver Creek Nature Area“.

Join in if you’d like! If you ever visit either the Big Sioux Recreation Area or Beaver Creek Nature Area, just start taking photos of the plants, animals, fungi…whatever life you run across in those two parks. Join iNaturalist and record your sightings. You do need a photo, and you do need to include the location of the sighting. That’s easy if you use your cell phone for the photo (or if your camera has GPS), as the location will be automatically recorded when you take the photo, and uploaded automatically when you add the photo to iNaturalist. And…that’s it! If the sighting is recorded within the boundaries of those two parks, it will automatically be added to these “projects”.

And don’t worry if you don’t know the identification of the plant or animal! That’s the point of iNaturalist. It will offer an initial suggestion based on your photo (most of the time the suggestions are very good!), and others will chime in and offer their 2 cents on ID.

I don’t need another online hobby, but…this one is a bit different! Not only did I end up starting these two iNaturalist “projects” this weekend, but each day I ended up taking long walks through the Big Sioux Recreation Area, going very slowly, and taking photos of a lot of the plants and insects I came across. It’s an online time sucker, but…it’s also an exercise routine in a way! So it all balances out. ūüôā

Give it a try and start entering your sightings! But beware, it’s fun, but a bit addictive. Here are the links again to the two iNaturalist projects I set up:

Biodiversity of the Big Sioux Recreation Area

Biodiversity of Beaver Creek Nature Area

Unusual cold weather has birds struggling in South Dakota

Five very different birds, but five species with something very much in common. The cool, wet spring continues, with rain and wind in the eastern part of South Dakota, and a late May snowstorm in the western part of the state. It had already been an odd migration given the cool temps that don’t want to give way to spring. Until last Friday (May 17th, songbird migration was noticeably slow, with very few warblers around other than Yellow-rumped. But that seemed to have changed last weekend. On Saturday (May 18th) we had a major fall-out of migrants, with warblers of every kind (I had 20 species on Saturday), vireos, flycatchers, and other songbirds appearing seemingly out of thin air. The birding this weekend was positively SPECTACULAR, and there’s no doubt for me it was the best warbler spotting in the 20 years I’ve been birding.

That spectacular birding has come with a price, however. With cool and wet conditions continuing, you can tell birds are struggling. The problem? I just think there aren’t the usual insects out yet for this time of year. Because of that, you’re seeing species with behaviors you normally don’t see. From a bird photography perspective I guess it’s been great, as the birds have been 1) concentrated, with many birds often foraging in select locations out of the wind and rain, and in areas where a few insects might be, and 2) many species have been down lower to the ground than normal.

Here’s a pictorial of five species I’ve encountered in recent days, five species that all appear to be impacted by the cool wet weather.

In the account of the Great Crested Flycatcher on my main webpage, for “behavior” it states that Great Crested Flycatchers are “usually found high in the tree canopy, more often heard than seen”. Normally that’s true. They’re a quite vocal species, and I do hear them more than I actually see them. However, in the last week, I’ve seen a number of them, down low, foraging in areas that seem rather odd for the species. At both Newton Hills State Park and Good Earth State Park, I’ve seen multiple Great-crested Flycatchers foraging on the ground or in low grasslands. Again, my take is that insects are hard to find in the cool wet weather, leading birds like Great Crested Flycatchers to forage in areas they normally would not. Photo is from May 19th at Good Earth State Park.
While birding Newton Hills State Park Sunday, I saw three Scarlet Tanagers, all foraging within a few feet of each other. Seeing Scarlet Tanagers at Newton Hills isn’t news, as it’s one of the best places in the state to find them. To see three foraging together is unusual, however. Seeing all three ON THE GROUND, foraging as if they were Robins, is definitely unusual. It was a cornucopia of color, with a Red-headed Woodpecker low in the nearby sumac, an Indigo bunting down low, and American Robins and Scarlet Tanagers feeding together as if they were the same species. I’ve seen more Scarlet Tanagers this spring than I remember seeing before, but frankly it’s because they’re using habitats and behaviors they normally would not. Photo is from May 19th at Newton Hills State Park.
On Sunday, I spent quite a bit of time at Lake Lakota, a reservoir right next to Newton Hills State Park. Sunday morning was a nasty day…temps in the 30s, foggy, and cloudy with occasional drizzle. Again, from a photographer’s perspective it certainly played to my advantage, as birds were heavily concentrated along the lake shores of Lake Lakota. That’s been a common theme in the last week, with insect eating birds often found very near water sources. Given their behavior and concentration, presumably it’s because these insect-eating birds are going where the food is, and with the cold weather, it seems insects associated with water bodies are some of the few that are around. There have been a few times over the last 20 years where on a cold May day, I’ve found heavy concentrations of all kinds of swallow species on the ground, and Sunday was one of those days. Sitting on the beach at Lake Lakota were Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and Bank Swallows. At any one time, it appeared that about two-thirds of the birds were perched on the beach, with a few low in nearby shrubs and trees. The other third were swooping over the lake itself, extremely close to the water’s surface as they searched for food. Those on the beach would occasionally move, but not in typical swallow fashion. Several appeared to sometimes be almost walking around looking for food, VERY strange for species that collect their insect prey in flight. It wasn’t just swallows, as other species were also concentrated on the beach, including more Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles than I’ve ever seen in one location before. Given that they were seemingly struggling, I didn’t want to get too close for photos, so the photo above is of a Tree Swallow from a similar situation several years ago, on a very cold morning at Lake Thompson in South Dakota.
Speaking of shorelines along water bodies…while most warbler species were pretty much absent in the area until Saturday, that definitely wasn’t the case with Yellow-rumped Warblers. They have been THICK, but often in areas you don’t associate with warblers. While driving north of Wall Lake in western Minnehaha County last week, I saw many birds perched along a barbed wire fence, occasionally flying out to “flycatch”, capturing insects in mid-air. It was an area with a couple of shallow wetlands, areas that must have hatched some mosquitos or other flying insects despite the cool wet weather. It was an area with nary a tree in sight, yet as I got closer I saw what they were…ALL Yellow-rumped Warblers, in big numbers, hanging out here in a completely open landscape and making do with what bugs they could find. The situation was similar one day when I was looking for shorebirds at Weisensee Slough in western Minnehaha County. Weisensee is the last place I’d think of going to look for warblers, given as it’s a very large wetland/water body, with just no woodland patches on the accessible part along the road. That was a very windy day, shorebirds were almost completely absent (another blog post about shorebird migration perhaps), and with the chop on the water, it was difficult to see many birds out on the lake. Yet as I approached the ONE location along the road with a few very small willow trees, I saw a heavy concentration of Yellow-rumped Warblers, perched on the shoreline itself or low in the trees on the lee side of the wind, trying to capture insects. The photo above is one of those Yellow-rumped Warblers from Weisensee.
On Facebook I’ve been seeing many photos people have posted of their orange and jelly feeders, with big concentrations of Orioles. On the east side of the state, that means Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, while Bullock’s Orioles are also thrown into the mix in western South Dakota. that’s certainly been the case at my feeders as well, as I typically have to fill my two jelly cups every morning. The same thing happened during a cold snap last May, where very hungry, insect-starved Orioles showed up at my feeders in force…also the first time Orchard Orioles joined the Baltimore Orioles in our suburban neighborhood.

It’s been a buzzy summer! South Dakota Cicada

For the past couple of weeks it’s been quite loud in the evenings.¬† On occasion we get cicada noises here in the summer, but I don’t remember it being as “buzzy” outside as it has been lately. Despite hearing them, I don’t recall ever actually seeing a live cicada here.¬† That changed this morning when I was outside doing yard work. Something flew past and when I turned, I saw it land on a big rock in our landscaping. When I went to check it out, I saw the cicada, and quickly ran inside to grab my camera gear. Given I’m always set up for birds, not littler critters, it took a second to get my macro lens and macro flash setup on my camera, but when I returned the cicada was thankfully still there.

From what I’ve found online I believe this to possibly be a “Scissors Grinder Cicada” (Neotibicen pruinosus).¬† If that is indeed the species, we’re at the far northwestern edge of their range, here in southeastern South Dakota. They are one of the “annual” cicadas, not the more famed 13- or 17-year cycle cicadas that periodically come out in the eastern United States. The name common name “Scissors Grinder” comes from the characteristic sound they make.

Cool find, and very glad to get a ton of photos of this guy! After about 10 minutes on the rock, he disappeared.

Scissors Grinder Cicada - Neotibicen pruinosus

Scissors Grinder Cicada - Neotibicen pruinosusScissors Grinder Cicada - Neotibicen pruinosusScissors Grinder Cicada - Neotibicen pruinosusScissors Grinder Cicada - Neotibicen pruinosus

 

In the News – Week of January 1st, 2017

A new year, a new set of nature and science news pieces for the week…

Black-tailed Prairie Dog - Cynomys ludovicianus

A “varmint”, a Black-tailed Prairie Dog. I have on several occasions run into “sportsmen” in South Dakota who are lined up at the edge of a prairie dog town, picking them off one by one with rifles. Killing for the sake of killing…and doing twice the intended harm, given the lead that’s ingested by predators when they eat the carcasses.

Ammunition choice in shooting “varmints” — There have been many occasions on my birding trips to the central part of the state where I come across a sight that makes me sick to my stomach. ¬†I’ll drive past a prairie dog town, and see multiple hunters lined up along a fence line, crouched and in a shooting position, picking off prairie dogs for “fun”. ¬†That’s it…there’s no other purpose to it, other than killing for the sake of killing. ¬†The prairie dogs that are killed aren’t used for anything, they’re simply left to rot. ¬†Unfortunately, “sportsmen” who feel this sick need to kill for the sake of killing end up doing even more harm to animal communities. ¬†By leaving the dead bodies, it provides an avenue for predators to consume the dead prairie dogs, and ingest the lead in the ammunition that was used to kill them. ¬†Lead poisoning is a major cause of mortality for many raptor species, and is THE leading cause of California Condor mortality. A simple solution, as this article points out, would be to use ammunition that’s free of lead. ¬†Even that common-sense approach though, one that still allows redneck hunters to kill prairie dogs and other “varmints”, is hated by hunting groups, as they claim that lead alternatives in ammunition don’t perform as well as lead shot and bullets. ¬†Given what I have come across over the years on all my birding excursions, I’ve had a major downturn overall in my attitudes towards hunting…and particularly…hunters. ¬†Stories like this don’t help my perceptions of hunters.

Cheetah numbers down to 7,100 worldwide — Over the last century, cheetah numbers worldwide have dropped from 100,000, to only 7,100 today. ¬†Think about that…in a world with nearly 7 billion human beings, for an iconic, well-known predator such as the cheetah, there are only several thousand left. As with most species’ declines, habitat loss is behind the cheetah’s loss in population. ¬†They range over huge territories, and there simply aren’t “huge territories” available in most parts of their range any more. ¬†Throw in targeted persecution, such as the shooting of cheetahs by poachers and farmers, and this story estimates cheetahs could be extinct in the wild in 20-40 years.

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle

Is this the face of Earth’s largest animal migrations? This is a Goldenrod Soldier Beetle from here in South Dakota, and I admit I have no idea if these “migrate” as with some beetles mentioned in this story. By sheer mass, however, this story points out that insect migration likely dwarfs any other migration on the planet.

Biggest migration of land animals on the planet — When you think of what creature may make up the largest migration of any land animal on the planet, in terms of sheer mass, what species do you think of? Or group of species? ¬†When you say “migration”, most people probably think of birds first, and there certainly are mass migrations of birds that are so heavy that weather radar is being increasingly used as a tool to study those migrations. In terms of sheer mass, perhaps some people think of large caribou migrations. ¬†However, as this study notes, one overlooked migration likely has all of these beat…insect migration. ¬†This study notes that around 3.5 trillion arthropods migrate over southern Great Britain each year, accounting approximately 8 times the mass of bird migrations in the same area. ¬†Some winged insects are well-known for their migratory talents, such as the Monarch Butterfly in North America. ¬†But as this study notes, there all sorts of winged and even non-winged creatures that migrate through the atmosphere.

What the heck is a “species” anyway? — People are funny. ¬†We have this intrinsic need to categorize things, put them in neat little bins that help our minds process realty. ¬†Birders sometimes take that to an extreme, with “life lists” that are often incredibly detailed, with “big day” lists (how many species you see in one day), “big years”, “state lists that detail bird species seen within the confines of state boundaries, and more. ¬†What gets bird listers in a tizzy? ¬†Just what IS a species! ¬†The American Ornithological Union and American Birding Association are always making tweaks to their “official” lists of species that have been found in North America. ¬†Just watch birders heads collectively explode if the AOU or ABA does decide to split Red Crossbills into up to six distinct species…life lists will be substantially increased!! ¬†Even with the science of DNA-based splits, it’s still not a precise science in determining what’s a unique species. ¬†As with many things, we’re categorizing things into unique thematic categories, when the phenomena you’re measuring is actually a continuous variable with no definite boundaries.

One, maybe two new comets moving through — Speaking of birders and their lists, I have a friend at work who is a birder, and someone who has a life list. ¬†He also has another, more unusual life list posted on his bulletin board in his office…his “comet life list”! ¬†He’s about to get one, and maybe two new ones for his list. ¬†Comet C/2106 U1 was recently discovered by the “NEOWISE” project, and¬†is potentially visible with binoculars right now, through about January 14th. It would appear in the southeastern sky just before sunrise. ¬†An object called 2016 WF9 was also discovered by NEOWISE, and it will come close to Earth’s orbit in late February. ¬†It’s estimated to be 0.5 to 1.0 km in diameter. ¬†Note the designation “object”, because it’s not clear whether this object is an asteroid or comet (related to the previous story, in that the categorization of what’s a “comet” and what’s an “asteroid” can be fuzzy).

Bird Dropping Moth - Caterpillar - Ponometia

A caterpillar of Ponometia…the “Bird Dropping Moth”. Should a new species of “shit moth” be discovered, I would suggest it be named after Trump, in the same manner that several creatures have been named after Obama in recent years.

Nine creatures named for President Obama — Over the last few years, no less than 9 different creatures have had scientific names that honor Barack Obama. ¬†Multiple fish, a lizard, bird, etc…all have scientific names such as “Nystalus obamai” (A Western Striated Puffbird, in this case). Once Trump leaves office in 4 years (or in a perfect world, once he’s impeached after a year or so), I wonder what creatures will be named after him? ¬†I have many, many classes of creatures where new discoveries should consider his name. There are the Onychophora phylum of worms known for excreting slime. There are the Annelidas…leaches…which would be a wonder creature to name after him. ¬†There’s a moth called Ponometia, and it’s associated caterpillar, that would be good. ¬†Their common name is the “Bug-dropping Moth”. ¬†Naming him after shit would be a perfect way to “honor” him once he leaves office.

Where you’re most likely to get struck by lightning — We had a very unusual Christmas day in South Dakota. ¬†I believe it was 4 years ago when we were absolutely smothered in snow, getting close to 2 feet on Christmas. ¬†We’ve had Christmas’s where the temperature never got above zero. ¬†And then there was this Christmas where we had…a thunderstorm? ¬†In late December? In South Dakota? ¬†We set a record for most rainfall on Christmas Day, getting over an inch in most areas, and the lightning and thunder was the first time that’s ever occurred here on Christmas (or late December for that matter). ¬†I could go into global warming here, but no, the point is the story in the above link. ¬†Standing outside on Christmas Day in South Dakota normally isn’t a high-risk endeavor, in terms of being struck by lightning. ¬†So where are the most active areas on earth for lightning? ¬†Thanks to a satellite called the Tropical Rainfall Monitoring Mission, we now know. ¬†The winner…a¬†Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. ¬†Over each one square kilometer in the area, one could expect over 230 lightning strikes per year. ¬†The lake is surrounded by mountains, and nearly every night, cool airflow from the mountains hits the warm waters and air above the lake and produces thunderstorms.

Western Meadowlark - Sturna neglecta

A Western Meadowlark, taken with a temp of -10¬į near Presho, South Dakota, in the winter of 2003-2004. I have a billion Meadowlark photos, but specifically remember this one because it was so rare to SEE one in the heart of winter. Now? They’re everywhere.

Bird migration changing with climate — As I noted in a previous post, I went birding to the central part of the state last week, and was amazed at how many Western Meadowlarks were around. ¬†15 years ago, it was rare to spot one in winter in that part of the state. ¬†Now…I saw hundreds, all across the region. ¬†Global warming? It’s hard to ignore signs like that. ¬†As this story describes, many birds are changing their migration patterns as the climate changes. Many are arriving on the summer breeding grounds much earlier than they used to. ¬†There are also some species where migrations have become shorter, or perhaps such as the case of the Western Meadowlarks, where they’ve simply stopped moving south for the winter.

China bans ivory trade and purchase — A rare bit of good conservation news. ¬†This last week, China announced that they will ban the sale and trade of ivory by the end of 2017. China was by far the largest market for legally sold ivory, with ivory selling for over $1,000 a kilogram. ¬†The Great Elephant Census recently published noted that elephant populations world-wide plummeted by 30% in just the last 7 years (!!!!!), and incredible population decline for such a short time period. ¬†With the shutting of the largest legal ivory market, it’s hoped that poaching pressures will decline. ¬†However, it’s hard to guess what will happen with ivory trade, and if much of this will simply move to the black market.

Just some yard critters

Burrowing Wasp

A large wasp, busy digging a hole in the mulch and dirt by my flowers. He would disappear into the hole every few seconds and come out carrying a bit of mulch, such as that in his jaws in this photo.

There are unconfirmed reports that I DO have new bird photos. ¬†That’s right…actually photographs of feathered creatures, ala the old days when such a thing was commonplace. ¬†I haven’t processed those photos yet though, so here’s a few photos from yesterday, just poking around the yard.

I have yet to ever be stung by a wasp or a bee. Not in my entire life. ¬†I think I’m pushing my luck. ¬†The wasp was a very large one, at least an inch and a half long, who was busy digging a hole in the mulch and dirt by the honeysuckle by our front door. ¬†He wasn’t exactly thrilled that I was trying to shoot photos of him. ¬†I sat on the front step and at first he would buzz up from the hole and fly around me a bit. ¬†But as I sat there he seemed to get used to me. ¬†He would disappear into the hole for a second or two and come out with a piece of dirt or mulch, so my strategy was to move ever so slightly closer to him every time he went in the hole. ¬†It seemed to work! ¬†Before I knew it I was within about a foot of him (the distance you have to be with the macro lens to get a shot like this). ¬†I have no idea how aggressive this wasp species actually is, and how likely it is that it would (or could) sting you, but I figure it’s only a matter of time before I come across one that’s not so camera friendly.

The dragonfly was another nice one to get. ¬†I haven’t gotten many photos of dragonflies yet with my macro lens. ¬†They seem just a bit too skittish to get close enough to. ¬†Just like with birds though there always seems to be an exception to the rule. ¬†With some bird species, they all just seem too skittish to photograph, but then you run across the one cooperative individual who seems to break the rules. ¬†This dragonfly was certainly as cooperative as could be, letting me snap away at close range as much as I wanted.

Some day soon, some actual new bird photos will be posted here!  I promise!  For now, click on any photo for a larger view.

DragonflyDragonfly

 

More Macro Madness

Someone told me there are still creatures out there. ¬†Beautiful creatures, flying around. ¬†With feathers. ¬†I believe these creatures are called “birds”. When I’ve gone out to take photos lately, every once in a while as I’m staring intently at a tiny patch of ground or scouring an individual leaf for a buggy critter to photograph, I hear one, or even see one. Maybe someday I’ll try taking a photograph of one.

In short…I’m still having fun with my new macro lens! One of the things that attracted me to birds when I first started in photography 15 years ago was the sheer variety.. Particularly as a “new” birder and photographer, you just never knew what you might come across on a given trip. ¬†That’s obviously the case with macro photography. ¬†I’m finding I never go more than a few miles from our house, and indeed, many times I never leave our yard. ¬†There’s just so much to explore and photograph when you “think small”.

Some more recent macro photos below:

Non-biting Midge, Genus Axarus, Species Group festivusHarvestman speciesSpotted Cucumber Beetle - PhotoLeaf Beetle - Paria Species - PhotoMonarch Butterfly Caterpillar - PhotoPhoto of Ambush BugLeafcutter Bee - MegachileCarpenter Ant, tending aphidsPhoto of Garden SpiderPhoto of Clouded Plant Bug - NeurocolpusClouded Sulphur - Butterfly - PhotoCoenagrionidae DamselflyTiger Crane Fly - Nephrotoma

 

The “eyes” have it!

Insect eyes

The “money shot”, getting critical focus and attention on an insect’s head and eyes. This is a crop, showing a small part of the entire image, yet you can still see incredible detail in a feature on an insect’s head that can’t be more than a millimeter or two in size.

Eye contact. ¬†There’s just something about photography, and eyes. ¬†Many times you can have the most technically perfect photo possible, but it still may fail in the eyes of a viewer if the main subject isn’t making eye contact with the camera.

It’s awfully hard to tell whether an insect is making eye contact with you!! ¬†However, the success or failure of a macro shot of an insect is also heavily influenced by how well you captured the eye. I have a friend at work who is also heavily into photography. ¬†He doesn’t shoot birds or macro, yet when I started showing him photos of what I’ve been doing with the new lens, he immediately said “zoom up, let’s see the detail in that eye!!”. ¬†When shooting macro, you have such a tiny, tiny depth-of-field (the portion of the image that’s in focus). ¬†In most cases, the photographer needs to decide what part of the photo is going to have critical focus, and what parts are going to be blurred. ¬†And in most cases, the choice of the photographer is easy…put the critical focus on the eyes and head.

Thus, the choice to show a variety of buggy eyes for this morning’s post! ¬†Many of these insects are tiny little critters, half an inch long or less, so these photos don’t represent the full-frame shot from my Canon 70D and Canon 100mm 2.8L IS lens. ¬†These are all “cropped” shots, yet it gives you some indication of the detail you can extract with this set up, when a zoomed-up, cropped photo of an insects eye shows such good detail.

As always, click on any photograph for a larger view.

Insect eyes Insect eyes Insect eyes Insect eyes Insect eyes

A macro kind-o-day

A hover fly on a thistle bloom.  These guys aren't very big, but it gives you a good idea of the kind of image you can get with just the "base" Canon 100mm 2.8L IS lens, with no additional extension tubes, teleconverters, or close-up filters.  A real joy of a lens to use!

A hover fly on a thistle bloom. These guys aren’t very big, but it gives you a good idea of the kind of image you can get with just the “base” Canon 100mm 2.8L IS lens, with no additional extension tubes, teleconverters, or close-up filters. A real joy of a lens to use!

Alright this is too fun. ¬†As I often do, I slipped out of the house very early Sunday morning to get a little birding in. ¬†The plan was just to stay in the local area, hoping to find some migrating shorebirds. ¬†I headed west of Sioux Falls, and while there were shorebirds scattered around in various locations, I wasn’t having a speck of luck in terms of photographing them.

Macro to the rescue! ¬†Not wanting to come home empty handed of photos, I spent an hour or so photographing little critters. ¬†While birds may or may not be cooperative, depending upon the day, I’m quickly finding that it’s pretty easy to find a willing subject shooting insects with my macro lens. ¬†About 5 minutes after I decided to try to shoot macro, I came across a patch of purple flowers (aster(?), along with some scattered thistle and clover) growing along the side of the road. ¬†I pulled over and ended up spending most of the next hour sitting along the side of the road by one small patch of flowers.

Consperse Stink Bug

A (Consperse?) Stink bug on a thistle bloom. A week ago, before getting the new macro lens, I never would have imagined I’d be out on the internet, trying to identify the exact species of stink bug I was seeing!

Given that I’m still new to shooting buggies, I’m sure I’ll adapt in terms of the kinds of areas I choose to shoot, but for now as I’m learning, it’s hard to beat a nice patch of flowers. ¬†There are of course all the different pollinators, and I’m also quickly learning just what a variety of pollinators there are! I’m having a hard time putting a name to a lot of them at this stage, other than “honeybee”, “bumblebee”, or…”buggy-like thing”. ¬†The diversity, color, and beauty of these little critters is certainly blowing me away though.

It’s not just pollinators I’m trying to shoot. ¬†I’ll gladly take any willing subject that crosses my path. ¬†This same flower patch also was chock-full of very young grasshoppers, of at least 2 or 3 different species. ¬†Milkweed bugs were around, as were a few other beetles, stinkbugs, ants, and others. ¬†A cornucopia of photography subjects! ¬†And for the most part, such willing subjects compared to birds!

What started out as a birding and bird photo day, saved by macro buggies!  Click on the images for larger views.

BeetleGrasshopperDifferential GrasshopperHoneybeeMilkweed BugEastern Forktail

New Toy! And a new brand of my hobby?

Blowfly and flower

Literally one of the first few photos I took with the new lens. WHAT A LENS. The sharpness is wonderful, and I was thrilled beyond belief to be able to get such a “close” photo my first time out with it.

I have a Canon 70-200mm 4.0L lens that I’ve had for probably 10 years. ¬†It’s an awesome lens, extremely sharp, particularly given that zooms typically aren’t as sharp as prime lenses. ¬†The problem is that I never use it! ¬†Well, rarely ever. ¬†Given that I mostly shoot birds, I nearly always have my 400mm lens on the camera. ¬†On the rare occasion I shoot landscapes (or people!), the 70-200 is too long, so I typically have on my wide angle. ¬†The 70-200 thus only really gets used on rare occasions that I should large animals other than birds, like when we go to Yellowstone.

Well, we live 14 hours away from Yellowstone, and while we have been there a few times in recent years, it’s not exactly an every day occasion! ¬†The lens may be 3 years between being used! ¬†I had always wanted to try macro shooting, so finally wised up, put the 70-200mm out on eBay, and bought a Canon 100mm 2.8L IS macro lens. ¬†I had dreams of getting some wonderful insect photos like I’ve seen other people shoot with macro! ¬†Given what my first bird photos looked like when I started 15 years ago though, I expected there to be a very steep learning curve. ¬†I expected my initial images to look, well…pretty bad, until I got used to the new lens and learned how to use it.

Bumblebee on bloom

A bumblebee on a flower. This isn’t even close to as close as I could have been, but I didn’t want to get too close shooting this guy. To give you some idea of the capabilities of this lens, later I tried a little sweat bee, and was able to use the lens to get close enough to have a sweat bee fill a big chunk of the frame. I didn’t expect to be able to get such small bugs in such detail.

The lens came today, and I went out in the back yard in search of insects to try it on. ¬†All I have to say about this lens is…HOLY CRAP! ¬†For someone that has never shot macro, the capabilities of this lens have blown me away on day one! ¬†It has a reputation of being one of the sharpest lenses Canon offers, and I certainly have no complaints after my first photos with it. ¬†I knew the lens was a “true” macro lens, capable of 1:1 photos (capturing a real-life object at the same size on the image sensor), but WOW, I didn’t expect to be able to get such great, close, detailed photos of small insects, without the use of extension tubes, close-up lenses, or other attachments people often use for macro.

I’m not a “buggy” person, in that I do NOT like insects or spiders in my house! ¬†But tonight I was in hot pursuit of whatever I could find. ¬†I ended up just sitting in the grass next to a flower bed, and trying to shoot what came by. ¬†I’m pretty sure the species of fly shown here is some kind of blowfly? ¬†Shooting like this sure opens up a new world. ¬†Bugs may be “icky” to many (including me most of the time!), but I was kind of blown away by the subtle beauty and detail that I was able to get with this lens.

I already have WAY too many hobbies. ¬†I fear that after today, macro photography may join bird photography as a hobby. ¬†The nice thing about it…at least outside of winter, you’re ALWAYS going to have some creepy-crawlies right in your own yard that you can shoot! ¬†I’m really looking forward to more use of this lens, and seeing what it can do.

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