Sunday, 26 July 2015

Corsica 2015 part 2 - Invertebrates

It has taken a while, but I have finally completed the second instalment of my Corsican trip report. This post will focus on the smaller side of things...the invertebrates. The abundance of insects that was encountered during our various meanderings was one of the big highlights of the trip for, especially as I am used to a fairly limited number back on Bardsey. I found it great fun identifying all the butterfly and new dragonfly species that I came across, using some of the ID sites at the end of this blog as my point of reference. There were some pretty cool and stunning species, and I could not identify (or photograph!) them all, but I have done my best to include as many as I can in the following write-up, which follows a systematic list style. I hope you enjoy.

A selection of insects 

Besides the dragonflies, moths and butterflies encountered (read on for them), there was an abundance of other insect life to be seen on the island- from colourful beetles to the busy little harvester ants cleaning up after our lunches. Here is a bit of a random list of the ones I managed to (sort of ) identify...

Grasshopper sp.
I didn't manage to get any positive IDs on a lot of the grasshoppers we saw, but there were some pretty cool ones with very colourful hindwings, giving a burst of colour when disturbed. Any help with this one appreciated!

Ascalaphid - Libelloides longicornis
These funky-looking insects were nice to see every now and then. I only saw perhaps five individuals in total, ranging from the coast to the mountains above Bonifatu.

Mammoth Wasp - Megascolia maculata flavifrons
These huge wasps are the largest in Europe, and could be seen quite frequently along the coastline near Galeria, coming to feed on the nectar of the scrub plants. 

Rose Chafer - Cetonia aurata
Encountered sporadically throughout the trip, we saw these shiny beetles both on the coast and in the mountainous areas inland. Occasionally they would stop to feed on flowers close by, but usually they would noisily fly past.

Trichodes alvearius
Our walk along the side of the Veru Valley lead us past a rich variety of wild flowers lining the track. These flowers were covered in a fantastic variety of beetles and bugs, a few of which I photographed. This was a smart one which was a little less common than the following species.

Blister Beetle - Hycleus polymorphus
There were perhaps 500 of these interesting Beetles covering the flowers astride the path up the Veru Valley, and there were also a few more at other locations visited in the mountains. 


Dragonflies - Odonata

Dragonflies were a great part of the trip, especially since I encounter very few on the island back in Wales. Since we visited a mix of different habitats during the trip, we managed to find a nice range of dragonfly species, many of which were new to me. Particular hotspots for odonata were the reservoir above Galeria, and the reeds and river just inland of Plage de Ostriconi. I recorded seven species of Dragonfly, and six Damselfly species during the trip, which I have included below with some images where possible.

Anisoptera - Dragonflies

Emperor Dragonfly - Anax imperator
A species encountered sporadically at areas fresh water along the coast.

Broad-bodied Chaser - Libellula depressa 
I only saw a few of this common species, a couple of which were just below Lac de Capitello in the Restonica Valley.

Black-tailed Skimmer - Orthetrum cancellatum
I saw plenty of these along the coast, particularly at the reservoir near Galeria.

Keeled Skimmer - Orthetrum coerulescens
Again, this was quite common along the coast, at Galeria, the river mouth at the River Fango, and at Plage de Ostriconi.

Red-veined Darter - Sympetrum fonscolumbii
Common along the coast, usually away from water in the garrigue scrub.

Scarlet Darter - Cocothemis erythraea
Again, relatively common at the coast, being present at any body of fresh water.

Violet Dropwing - Trithemis annulata
A very smart species which I initially thought was a female Scarlet Darter! There were perhaps four individuals present amongst the reeds at Plage de Ostriconi

Zygoptera - Damselflies

Copper Demoiselle - Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis
A common species in Corsica, which I saw both in coastal areas of fresh water, and in many of the higher altitude river valleys and gorges.

Beautiful Demoiselle - Calopteryx virgo virgo
This seemed a little scarcer than the above species, but was still present in most of the gorges that we visited in the mountainous regions.

Dark Spreadwing - Lestes macrostigma
I saw a couple of these unusual damselflies on the coast near Galeria, at the small reservoir above the village.

Island Bluetail - Ischnura genei
This is one of the rarer species encountered on Corsica, being endemic to the island. I found a handful of individuals amongst the rushes at the coast at Plage de Ostriconi.

Southern Damselfly - Coenagrion mercuriale
One of the most common damselfly species on the coast, but not seen inland.

 Small Red-eyed Damselfly - Erythromma viridulum
I saw plenty of these smart damselflies in the fresh water bodies at the coast - for instance the reservoir above Galeria.

Butterflies - Lepidoptera part I

All in all I recorded 32 species of butterflies, with some being a common sight throughout corsica, and others requiring specialist habitats and thus restricted to areas that are suitable.  Everywhere we went there were great 

Hesperiinae - Skippers

Mallow Skipper - Carcharodus alceae
I saw just one of these during the trip, which was on a relatively exposed hill top on some thistle plants, a little way from Calvi.

Lycaenidae - Blues

Small Copper - Lycaena phlaes

This common species was present in a variety of locations, most often in the higher altitude areas with bare rocky hillsides and flowers lining the paths.

Brown Argus - Aricia agestis

I saw a few of these during the trip, and it seemed to be quite common on the coast near Galeria. 

Geranium Bronze - Cacyreus marshalli

This attractive little hairstreak was present in small numbers around the garrigue scrub on the coast.

Holly Blue - Celastrina argiolus

The only place I saw this species was on the coast at Plage de Ostriconi, where there was some scrubby woodland which held about 10 of these individuals.

Papilionidae - Swallowtails

Scarce Swallowtail - Iphiclides podalirius
I saw a couple of these smart papilios: one near the reservoir above Galeria, and a couple on our drive from Galeria to Ponte Lecchia on some thistles. 

Corsican Swallowtail - Papilio hospiton

This endemic species of Papilio essentially replaces the Swallowtail in Corsica, and is relatively widespread on the island. I cam across perhaps ten individuals during out time there, ranging from the coast to the higher valleys. 

Pieridae - Whites

Clouded Yellow - Colias croceus
I found this species to be relatively abundant, with large numbers particularly in the grassy slopes below Monte Cinto. They were, however, present all over the island and perhaps were the commonest species encountered.

Brimstone - Gonepteryx rhamni

Again, I only saw a few of this species, mainly in wooded valleys and rocky gorges.

Cleopatra - Gonepteryx cleopatra
I only recorded a handful of these smart butterflies, which were in a large Beech woodland at Cascade des Anglais.

Large White - Pieris brassicae

A common species all over the island

Green-veined White - Pieris napi

Another common species seen in a variety of locations.

Mountain Small White - Pieris ergane

I recorded perhaps 10 or 20 of these delicate whites, which were amongst the high alpine meadow and Corsican Pine habitats above 1000m. 

Nymphalidae - Nymphs

Two-tailed Pasha - Charaxes jasius
One of Corsica's specialities, this smart butterfly seemed very widespread on the island, and occurred in a variety of habitats. I saw them on the coast amongst the garrigure scrub, in the corsican pine forests lining the rocky gorges inland, and also on the verges of coastal roads.

Silver-washed Fritillary - Argynnis paphia 
Amongst the most frequent-seen species during the trip, this stunning butterfly was present in particularly high numbers within the pine forests at higher altitudes (i.e. not on the coast)

Corsican Fritillary - Argynnis elisa

I only saw this smart endemic species in the higher altitudes, perhaps above 1000m. It was relatively common on the sparsely vegetated mountain slopes and more open forest habitats on the sides of river valleys.

Mediterranean Fritillary - Argynnis pandora

I saw two of these fritillaries, both on the coast near Galeria feeding on some thistles

Queen of Spain Fritillary - Issoria lathonia

Relatively frequent in the mountainous areas, in a similar habitat to the Corsican Fritillary.

Southern White Admiral - Limenitis reducta

Seen only at the coast, but relatively common here. Best site for me was the walk to Girolata.

Peacock - Aglais io

Seen sporadically during the trip, mostly at higher elevations and in woodland.

Sardinian Small Tortoiseshell - Aglais urticae ichnusa

Seen only on the upper exposed rock faces of Monte Cinto (2500m), perhaps four individuals in total.

Painted Lady - Vanessa cardui

Very common all over, often moving northward in small numbers. Particularly high numbers in the meadows below Monte Cinto.

Corsican Heath - Coenonympha corinna

A common species which I found from the coast to upper mountainous areas over 1500m. One of the most widespread species encountered.

Southern Grayling - Hipparchia aristaeus

Seen occasionally in the rocky gorges near Asco and nearby valleys.

Great Banded Grayling - Brintesia circe

Three or four individuals found above Cascade de Anglais.

Wall Brown - Lasiommata meguera

This was a common species throughout the island, noted mainly in the garrigue scrub, but also in rocky and dry pasture land inland. 

Wall Brown - Lasiommata parameguera 

A slightly smarter species than the preeceding one, this occurred in similar areas, but was perhaps a little more common at higher altitudes.

Meadow Brown - Maniola jurtina

Commonly seen around the open areas outside pine forests in higher mountainous areas.

Speckled Wood - Pararge aegeria

Common in coastal forests and giant heath cover.

Southern Gatekeeper - Pyronia cecilia

A handful recorded in the open scrub and woods at Plage de Ostriconi

Moths - Lepidoptera part II

Moths were not a very prominent feature during our trip, although there were some nice day-flying species that we came across, and it was nice to have some interesting-looking macro moths attracted to our outside lights in the second week. I have included a short list of the ones I managed to identify below. I saw a few other species (particular footmans), but have so far been unable to identify them.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth - Macroglossum stellatarum
A common species all over the island, from the coast up into the more mountainous regions.

Pine Processionary - Thaumetopoea pityocampa

A bit of a pest species in the pine forests in mountainous areas, with the highly irritable caterpillars abundant in the late spring, causing rashes and quite bad reactions with many walkers. The larvae spin silk tents in the branches of the pines, hatching out in early-June. I saw perhaps 10 adult moths during our time there.

Silver Y - Autographa gamma

Common throughout Corsica.

Red Underwing - Catocala nupta

A smart but timid species that I saw on our walk up the Tassineta Valley. Adult moths would erupt from the tree trunks and fly off like the Grasshoppers that have brightly-coloured hindwings. It was very hard to see them once they had landed, though.

Oak Yellow Underwing - Catocala nymphagoga

I saw two of these smart moths, both on our way up through giant heather towards the reservoir near Galeria.

Reference sites:

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Getting the wider picture

At the end of April this year, I came across a technique of macro and wildlife photography that I had never really considered nor appreciated. The technique is that of using a wide-angle or fisheye lens to get close-up images of wildlife, whilst incorporating the wider environment into the image at the same time.

Inspired by Matt Cole, a series of articles in various magazines, and the realisation that my Dad's 15mm fisheye lens was capable of focussing down to app. 20cm, I launched myself at the technique in late April. At first, I could find relatively few subjects that were large and tame enough to produce good results. However, I kept the fisheye lens to hand and was constantly on the look out for subjects to photograph at close range and in suitable circumstances.

A week or two after this realisation, I decided to get a remote shutter release for my camera, with the idea that (certainly for birds), one of the answers would be to fire the camera from a distance, when placed in the right position. Again, coming across the right situation for this technique was also very tricky, but I managed to put it to practice with a tame Oystercatcher which had decided to nest on the island's busiest beach (see caption for details).

Once the seabirds returned onto the cliffs on the East Side, I was able to photograph a few of the auks, which were actually tame enough to walk right up to and ease close enough to use the fisheye. This provided another good opportunity for the wide-angle photography, but my other interest in the insect world would have to wait until the summer...

Skip forward a few months, and I have had some great opportunities to use the technique in a variety of situations: I managed to find a lot of smart subjects to photograph up-close in Corsica, and then returning to the island saw a multitude of butterflies, insects, moths and much more which were all possibilities for this technique. I have spent the last few weeks trying out some close-up images with the macro lens, taking shots of species like Small Tortoise Shells, Soldier Beetles and Scarlet Tiger. I will give a bit of an explanation below each image, and some tips at the end for those wanting to try out this technique...

This shot was taken in Corsica, and pictures an Italian Pool Frog. I noticed that quite a lot of these frogs were gathered around the edge of a reservoir, and so I decided to attempt a wide-angle shot. It look a long time to crawl close enough to get a pleasing result, and I had to play around with the f-stop to produce a pleasing image with some of the background in focus.
Technical details: Canon 7D | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/400th sec | f/5.0 | ISO-100

This image took more preparation than anything else, and also making sure that the bird would not be excessively disturbed. I picked this particularly nesting Oystercatcher because it was already quite used to human presence due to visitors visiting the beach quite frequently. I placed my camera and lens in the sand a little way away from the nest, and covered it with a camouflaged cover. I then used a remote shutter release to fire off an image once the bird returned to the nest- I was present a little way away in a small hide. The result was quite pleasing, and I was pleasantly surprised to see no obvious discomfort shown by the bird to the camera or shutter sound.
Technique details: Canon 7Dmkii | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/320th sec | f/8.0 | ISO-100 | Vello Freewave remote shutter release

I took this shot of a Small Tortoiseshell a few days ago. I noticed that the setting around some coastal flowers at the North End of the island would be great for a wide-angle shot, and so kept an eye out for butterflies every time I passed. When I did see this individual fluttering along, I stalked it and carefully moved close enough to grab a few images as it fed on the flowers. It took a while, but eventually I got the shot I was after.
Technical details: Canon 7D mkII | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/640th | f/5.6 | ISO 100

Perhaps one of my favourite attempts at using the wide angle lenses is this night-time image of a Manx Shearwater. On a clear night, with little wind, no moon and plenty of Manx Shearwaters, I set out to get a long-exposure image of one of these fascinating birds. Finding the right bird was quite a challenge- it had to be one that wasn't constantly moving or crouching in long grass. After a while I managed to find this bird perched on top of a wall, and it seemed quite placid. I set up my tripod not far away, and mounted the camera, easing it closer ever so slowly. Once I had got the focus right, I used a remote shutter release to fire off a 25 second exposure. To light the image, I briefly flashed my dim head torch across the scene to illuminate the bird. The result was quite pleasing, although focussing on the bird clearly compromised the focus of the stars. I hope to try this out again some time!
Technical details: Canon EOS 6D | Canon 15mm fisheye | 25 sec | f/4.0 | ISO 4000

After returning to Bardsey from Corsica, I was lucky to find that someone had come across this Scarlet Tiger that same day. Instead of getting the usual setup macro shot, I went for a slightly different image using the fisheye. I placed the stunning moth on some Red Clover in the wild flower meadows, and took a few images to show the wider setting and stunning flora that was emerging. Out of all the images, this is the only one that was intentionally set up.
Technical details: Canon 7D mkII | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/320th | f/7.1 | ISO 100

On the East Side of the island, I came across a particularly 'colony' of Razorbills which were quite tame. They allowed me to approach within a metre or two without taking off, and so I jumped at this opportunity to get some wide angle shots. With this image, I eased close to the bird very slowly, making no sudden movements, and waited for it to shake its wings, as it duly did. I was only about 30cm away when I took this image, which is the distance that I need with the fisheye. I was pleased with the result, as it showed the wider habitat of this charismatic bird.
Technical details: Canon 7D mkII | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/320th | f/9.0 | ISO 100

This is a stunning moth which we are very lucky to have as a common garden species. It is a Garden Tiger, and the adults can be regularly encountered on bracken during the day. I found this individual on the base of the plant, and encouraged it out into the open, at which point it performed the classic 'threatened' posture: revealing it bright red underwings as a warning to predators. I then positioned myself to try and get the background in a pleasing position, and to have the moth in the bottom left corner of the image- 'looking' into the shot. 
Technical details: Canon 7D mkII | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/60th | f/5.6 | ISO 100

One afternoon I noticed a load of Six-spot Burnets visitng some Spearhead Thistles and Bird's Foot Trefoil flowers in the lowland area of the island. Since the backdrop made for such a lovely image, I decided to get a wide-angle shot of them as they fed. It took a while to find the right individual that was feeding on flowers without too much clutter around them. Eventually I came across this moth, feeding on some trefoil on a little ant hill, which gave a blurry background behind the insect, making it stick out more. 
Technical details: Canon 7D mkII | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/50th | f/6.3 | ISO 100 

On the same day as I took the burnet shot, I attempted to get a similar image of some Soldier Beetles. Although I would have preferred a deeper depth of field, I compromised to gain a shutter speed high enough to capture the insect taking off.  I cropped the image with plenty of space to the right of the beetle to give the feel of it flying into the shot. Smaller insects are harder to gain pleasing results with, especially with the setup I am using
Technical details: Canon 7D mkII | Canon 15mm fisheye | 1/1000th | f/4.0 | ISO 100

A few tips for those wanting to try out wide-angle macro and wildlife photography:
  • Try and find big, colourful or tame subjects to begin with, which stand out clearly from the rest of the shot in wide-angle images
  • Be mindful of the background and foreground as you take the picture, as these components are key to the whole shot- you don't want out-of-focus bits of grass pushed up against the lens distracting from the subject
  • Be patient and persevere - I have found that patience and perseverance have been key for these images. Waiting for the bird/insect to move into the best position, or for butterflies to land on flowers after fluttering all over the place are all part of the fun of getting the shot you're after
  • Experiment with depth of field- sometimes I have found that shallow depths of field work well to make the subject stand out in the image, but other times I want a slightly deeper depth of field to bring the background into focus
  • Try and get the composition right when you take the shot- unlike using telephoto lenses for wildlife photography, the cropping you do after taking wide-angle shots of wildlife is minimal. I have found that carefully composing the images whilst taking them is key, especially placement of the subject within the shot
  • Be mindful of the subject- especially with birds and animals, if they show signs of disturbance to being so close to them, then leave them be. Remember- the birds and animals themselves are far more important than the image you're after
  • Have fun! Experiment, try out different techniques, and enjoy taking the images at close quarters to wildlife.
I hope you enjoyed the post