Monday, 9 March 2015

Desperately seeking spring...

Earlier in the week I was starting to wonder if spring was ever going to arrive... On Saturday, some 10 degrees warmer than it had been only a few days previously at a positively tropical 15/16C, I decided it was time to dust off the macro lens and go in search of early spring insects. Really it was still a little too windy for macro photography (the slightest puff of wind making it nearly impossible to achieve a focused image), but since the sun was shining (which sometimes I feel it only does when I'm inside working!), it was a good opportunity to go out and see if many insects had started to emerge.

Local canal (taken in the summertime)
One of my favourite spots for finding insects has been the local towpath. We live close to the Macclesfield canal network and wandering along the towpath offers a good opportunity to observe lots of bird and insect life. It's also a good place to find varied wildflowers as they come into flower through the seasons. The towpaths do suffer however from the pathways and right up the verges being mown back hard, and the hedges flailed equally severely, with little apparent regard to timing.

Despite the warm weather and sunshine, my initial impression was that insects unfortunately were still very thin on the ground, with only a small number of flies and gnats whizzing around. I was happy to instead enjoy the sounds of birdsong and to check what wildflowers were coming into bloom - not that long ago I was content to admire but be happily ignorant to what many (read most!) of our wildflower species were, however a few years ago, much as with birdsong, I decided I was unhappily ignorant, and have since made far more effort to try and learn to correctly identify more of our wildflowers. This has had the added bonus of in turn learning a lot more about which insects are attracted to which types of plants.
Gorse flowers

Lesser Celandine

Early spring wildflowers such as Lesser Celandine and Coltsfoot were coming into bloom. The few gorse plants along the walk looked straggly but were in flower. Ivy plants were still bearing some fruits, though coming to the end of their season now - their attractive berries are poisonous to humans, but enjoyed by many birds including Blackbirds and other thrushes. Tucked away amongst moss-covered fallen and cut wood were vibrantly coloured and aptly named Scarlet Elf Cups.

Scarlet Elf cup

A pair of Canada Geese kept a watchful eye as I walked past. Birdsong was wonderfully apparent with Robins, Wrens, Dunnocks and Chaffinches all in full song. Another song which I couldn't place initially turned out to be that of a Treecreeper, I watched as the tiny mouse-like bird circled a tree truck high up on the opposite side of the canal. Other birds heard included Magpies with their distinct 'machine-gun rattle' calls, and Jays with their fantastically indiscreet squawks and the wild 'mewing' of a Buzzard hunting overhead.

Ivy berries (poisonous to us but enjoyed by many birds)
It didn't seem that I was going to have much luck photographing insects after a couple of hours of wanderings along the towpath. Undeterred, and with the weather still warm and bright I headed over to Quinta arboretum in the village of Swettenham, thinking I may have more luck in a place where I knew there would be lots of early spring flowers in bloom. 

Butterfly chrysalis (Large White?)
By chance I noticed a speck of green which stood out on the beige/brown trunk of a Birch tree and not very well camouflaged against the bark. This object turned out to be a chrysalis of one of the white butterflies - possibly a Large White because of the Black and Yellow spots, but also its location several feet up on the trunk of a birch tree - as always though please let me know if I've got the ID wrong. Closely viewed you can clearly see the impression of the butterfly's wings in the chrysalis. 

All of our common white butterflies (such as Small, Large, Green-veined and Orange-tip) hibernate through the winter in their chrysalis stage. In this state they are particularly vulnerable to being predated - hopefully this one will avoid the attentions of predators for a few more weeks despite not being particularly well hidden or camouflaged!

Close by on one of the arboretum's many azaleas, I could hear the loud buzzing that could only mean one thing - a bumble bee! Sadly she was not one to hang about and I didn't manage to take her photo, or even have  chance to identify what type. Pleased to have at least seen a bumble bee, I started making my way back towards the car park. Just as I was approaching the exit I heard another loud buzzing near the ground amongst some Russian Snowdrops (Puschkinia) and I spotted my first honey bee of the year, and fortunately did manage to take a handful of photos of her. A lovely way to finish off the afternoon, and a good sign of all the great things soon to come in the long-awaited spring months... 

European Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera)


  1. Wonderful read and beautiful images, Jan! Ahhhh, yes, spring is certainly on its way and we welcome it with cheer. :-) I found the Scarlet Elf Cup very interesting, and your photo of the canal in summertime gives a lovely promise of things to come. I have to say that your macro work has always been an inspiration for me, and I thank you for that. I have now purchased my own first true macro lens, and am anxiously awaiting spring myself. :-)

    1. Spring has to be my favourite time of year and its arrival is so welcome after the cold dark winter months!!! I hope the chill is finally starting to melt away over there for you. Thanks too for your lovely comments about my macro images - you're too kind!!! It's great to hear that you now have a macro lens - I've no doubt you'll have a load of fun with it and I can't wait to see your macro images of Ozarkian flora and fauna! :)