Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images: Blog https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog en-us (C) Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) Tue, 14 Aug 2018 20:02:00 GMT Tue, 14 Aug 2018 20:02:00 GMT https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/img/s/v-5/u90854052-o512919903-50.jpg Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images: Blog https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog 120 90 Brief camera thoughts - a new direction? https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/8/brief-camera-thoughts---a-new-direction As I blogged HERE and HERE, I believe that the DSLR has probably had its day (as soon as they (they being Canon and Nikon) start making "full frame mirrorless cameras", which they have JUST started to do this year) but.... my main camera of choice at present is (still) my full frame (original) Canon 6D.

I love my 6D - it can gather SO much more light (and detail) than my APS_C Canon 40D, which in turn can gather so much more light and detail than my SUPERB old tiny-sensored bridge camera, my Panasonic Lumix FZ50 - which I used a lot on our holiday to the Isle of Wight this year.

I don't think I'll ever sell my 6D - as only it can get shots like the below (taken today as I took my boy to a local wildlife park). And these, I might add, were just snap shots - with a pretty bog standard lens.

 

Cropped (and rotated slightly) from above:

And another shot:

I expect this website has compressed the photos of my boy above - so just in case it has (I'm sure it has!) let me tell you the detail in these shots is SUPERB.  And full size (which again, I'm sure (on this website) they're not), - MINDBLOWING. OK... OK... it helps that I nailed the focus perfectly.

Yes...  my Full frame Canon 6D is wonderful for detailed, poppy, shots like the above - or even milky way shots like the below.

Mars, Saturn, Milky Way, Jupiter from the Isle of Wight.Mars, Saturn, Milky Way, Jupiter from the Isle of Wight.

And I ADORE being able to take detailed shots on a full frame (35mm) sensor which gathers light like a vacuum cleaner. I love it.

But.

(And here's the but).

Ever since I re-took up photography about 10 years ago now, with (firstly) a wee Sony Ericsson mobile (non smart) phone, I've really wanted to capture fast action - as well as detailed, static shots.

I've lost track of the amount of shots of flying birds or running cats/hens etc that I've missed, either because I could never afford a big DSLR sports camera (like the Canon 1DX) or because my bridge cameras (FZ20,30,50) have WOEFUL contrast detect autofocus, rather than the MILES BETTER phase detect.

Even the shot of the flying barn owl I took on the Isle of Wight last week was the only shot in focus from a burst of about 6 on my Canon 6D - a wonderful camera for sure... but in no way built to take photos of moving subjects. (Here's where I blow my own trumpet - I used to be quite well reknowned in photography circles for PUSHING my cameras (plural) to beyond what they should be capable of. Give most people my 6D and they couldn't get one shot out of twenty of a flying bird in focus, let alone one in five).

Likewise.

Give someone my 40D with an APS-C sensor and they just wouldn't be able to produce a shot like I did below, in near NO light. It shouldn't really be possible. Not this clean.

Anyway.

Sony have just changed that game.

And have probably made all my (and others) dreams come true.

Sony, last year, put the first phase detect autofocus system (from their full frame sports A9 camera) into a bridge (or fixed lens superzoom) camera.

Yes... the Sony RX10 mk iv is at present the first and ONLY bridge camera with anything other than contrast detect autofocus in it.

I'm sure Canon and Nikon (and others fo-sho) will HAVE to respond by, for example, Canon putting their truly excellent dual pixel autofocus system into their next range of compact or bridge camera. Just like Canon and Nikon HAD to react (as they are jussst doing now) after Sony started making absolutely superb mirrorless pro cameras - which is spelling, I think, the end of DSLRs.

But for now, as I've just written - like a moth to a UV lamp - I am being sucked into the world of Sony right now - I don't see how I can buy a pocket (or bridge) camera with contrast detect autofocus, knowing as I do that that system just WILL NOT focus on anything moving  - but knowing that the Sony RX10 iv does - and does so , so unbelievably well.

At present I think I'm going to have to keep my Canon 6D for low light shots, or detailed shots, or specific shots like landscapes or sea scapes or night sky shots - but for anything else - ANYTHING ELSE - I'm just going to HAVE to save up and buy the Sony RX10 mk iv.

JUST GONNAE HAVE TO....

 

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) camera contrast detect full frame one inch sensor phase detect https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/8/brief-camera-thoughts---a-new-direction Tue, 14 Aug 2018 19:58:39 GMT
What's brown, steaming and comes out of cow(e)s? https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/8/whats-brown-steaming-and-comes-out-of-cow-e-s …. The Isle of Wight Ferry of course.

Doesn't really work as a written joke that... as when written, one needs to add an "e" to "Cows".

That said, it reminds me of another joke.

What if Isla St.Clair married Barry White, then divorced him and married Brian Ferry.

Would she then be known as Isla White Ferry?

 

I digress.

Last August, me, my wife and boy took our summer holiday on the Isle of Wight - at "The Little Barn", on the only sunny and hot week of the entire summer it seemed (the rest of the summer was a washout if you remember?).

Last week, we did so again. And once again had a heatwave during our stay (although this summer, that's nothing special it seems). The only wet day was when we left the island this year!

I'm not going to do what I did last year on this post and detail the Little Barn in particular, or the ferry crossing or our thoughts in general about the Isle of Wight - if you're interested in any of that then please read last year's post here.

What I will quickly mention in this blog post though, is that we've had a WONDERFUL week again and seen EVEN MORE wildlife and taken even better photos of the milky way (above) if not the wildlife (below).

In note form then....

 

  • I hired a 20mm f1.8 lens from a local lens hire firm to take the photo above from "Whale Chine" on the south west coast of the Isle of Wight at 2240hrs on Sunday 5th August. You'll see Mars left and Jupiter right and those in the know will be able to make out Saturn too and the "C" of the core of the milky way.

 

  • We finally saw a red squirrel (got GREAT views in fact) at Alverstone mead Nature Reserve near Sandown. Apologies for the terrible photo below (I didn't take a decent camera and spent most of the time just watching the squirrel at pretty close quarters, and holding my boy up so he could see it too).

 

  • I took my moth trap this year and caught some wonderful moths (a few of which can be seen below) including four poplar hawk moths and two garden tiger moths in one night! Also ruby tiger moths, swallow prominents, pebble prominents, silver ys, sallow kittens, a drinker, an oak eggar and others...

 

  • There were a few more dragonflies over and around The Little Barn's pond this year, including this rather lovely golden ringed dragonfly (below).

 

  • We managed to get to Yarmouth again and spotted two Whimbrel feeding at low tide in the harbour (One of which you can see below), in amongst the dozens of black tailed godwit, curlew and redshank etc.

 

  • We had the pleasure of seeing and hearing two young buzzards mewing in the little wood next to the Little Barn all week.

 

  • I spotted a weasel run across the road in front of the car on the way to Shanklin beach and then as we left to get our ferry home, a stoat running across the country lane outside the Little Barn as a wildlife treat to end our week! (Anna managed to see this mustelid too!)

 

  • I managed to locate and photograph one of the many common blue butterflies roosting in the meadow outside the Little Barn at night (below).

 

  • We visited Robin Hill Country Park and loved the owl show (photo of our favourite owl which the falconer kindly got to fly at me) and the falconry show.

 

  • We visited Shanklin beach a couple of times again. Perfect for Ben to get confident in the water and perfect for a nice, de-stressing swim for me (Ben in first photo) (Ben on beach in second and me swimming "total immersion style" behind him).

 

  • I even managed a round of golf at the stunning Freshwater Bay Golf Club and got to play amongst wheatears, kestrels and rabbits! You'll be able to appreciate the weather we had all week (well... until the day we left) looking at my phone photo below!

  • Other wildlife(y) highlights might be the hobby (falcon) over the house once, the rabbits in the garden at breakfast (Ben loves rabbits) and of course the great green bush crickets singing to us each night, like last year. A covey of red legged partridge in the cabbage field next door was a bit of a treat too. Then of course there were the swallows at the Little Barn, and the house martins and finally two (of the last I'll see this year) swifts flying south over the Little Barn during our first sunset on the island last Friday.

 

Another wonderful week in the sun, on the Isle of Wight, during Cowes week (as it 'appens - although away from Cowes, as we were, you'd not have noticed any extra people really).

Packing and then leaving your holiday home for the week is always miserable - and made doubly so this year by the quite atrocious weather on the Ferry back to the mainland and then the drive up the M3. (see below).

Never mind - our holiday itself was taken under relentless blue skies - and those are once again the memories we'll take with us from the island.  We've now spent 14 days on the Isle of Wight over two years and only seen rain on two of them - with the other twelve days being very hot and very sunny indeed! How lucky are we!

Anyhoo…. you didn't read any of this. It ALWAYS rains on the Isle of Wight. And there are no red squirrels. Or any other type of wildlife.

Nothing to see here.

Move along please....

 

 

 

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) black tailed godwit buzzard common blue curlew drinker garden tiger golden ringed dragonfly great green bush cricket hobby house martin kestrel oak eggar pebble prominent poplar hawk-moth rabbit red legged partridge red squirrel redshank ruby tiger sallow kitten stoat swallow swallow prominent swift weasel wheatear whimbrel https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/8/whats-brown-steaming-and-comes-out-of-cow-e-s Sat, 11 Aug 2018 16:26:16 GMT
Just two photos of garden plants... from today. https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/8/just-two-photos-of-garden-plants-from-today Both taken this morning, as the "heatwave" returns.

 

The first is a photo of our rambling dog rose, which the leaf cutter bees love as much as me.

Leaf cutter bee activity on dog roseLeaf cutter bee activity on dog rose

 

The second is a photo of our... urrrmmm….  back "lawn".  We need more rain BADLY here.

 

Enjoy the heat whilst you can, grapple fans. As it'll soon be Christmas you know what...

 

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) activity detail dog rose grass heatwave lawn leaf cutter bee plant practice golf ball https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/8/just-two-photos-of-garden-plants-from-today Thu, 02 Aug 2018 15:53:09 GMT
The many-eyed Icarus. https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/the-many-eyed-icarus Today - and another lovely result of NOT mowing our lawn(s), presented itself to me.

Look... I generally don't tend to mow vast areas of both our large back and smaller front lawns but this year, I've not even needed to leave a lot of lawn uncut. With only a dozen or so millimetres of rain since mid May - the grass has stopped growing (I've not mowed anything at all since May) but then again so have the little flowers that dot our "lawns" in their hundreds - flowers like birds foot trefoil and white clover - both of which are KEY food plants for the larval stage of the butterfly that I noticed (again) in the garden today.

I'm rambling - but look at the photo below and see whether (or not) YOU can spot the superb visitor to our scorched garden this morning.

 

Let me help....

OK?

No?

A little closer then... (Not the best photo I know... but I wasn't carrying the right kit at the time!)

 

This is a 2nd generation, female, Common Blue butterfly, Polyommatus Icarus, coming into our scorched garden to lay her eggs in amongst the pretty burned (this year) trefoil and clover.

For the record, the literal meaning of this beautiful butterfly's scientific name is "adorned or furnished with many eyes" (Polyommatus), Icarus son of Daedalus of Greek myth (Icarus). The "many-eyed" part of the scientific name of this butterfly refers of course to the many marks or spots or eyes on the underside of the wings of many of the blue or Argus butterflies. Incidentally - the Argus (or Argos!) butterflies are similarly named after their many eyes - Argus was the "all-seeing, 100-eyed giant" in Greek mythology.

Many of our butterflies (and moths) as briefly described here, will be suffering because of this summer's dry, hot weather - and the Common Blue will be no different I fear. I watched this 2nd generation female flutter daintily through our scorched grass for a few minutes today, stopping on suitable burnt-up trefoil fronts to lay her eggs (see photo below of her ovipositing in our garden this morning).

If I couldn't see her egg-laying this morning, I could've told she was female as she had brown/blue wings with orange marks along the back edges. Males are far bluer and brighter.

I could also tell she was a Common Blue (rather than a similar brown argus for example),

by the fact that she exhibited the characteristic extra spot on the ventral side of her forewings. (See my photo above again below, with this extra spot (or "eye") pointed out) and a webpage photo demonstrating this too.

 

Anyway - it was a delight to see this Common Blue butterfly in our scorched garden again this morning. Common they are not any more - especially in gardens, which are invariably mown (and sometimes even rolled!) to within an inch of their lives in Britain.

Both our lawns are normally awash in June with yellow birds foot trefoil and white clover flowers - and I leave them quite deliberately  - for animals such as this to exploit.

A reminder to me too.... even if we do get a wet August (highly doubtful) and/or September (more likely) - to leave the "lawns" unmown - for there'll be hidden wee common blue caterpillars that I need to look after!

 

Finally - if you, like me, leave big patches of grass unmown -or mown like a sheep would graze (mow once or twice a season) - and you have meadow flowers like me, growing in your "lawn" - now's the time to look out for the 2nd generation Common Blues - especially if you live in the south of the UK (further north and there tends to only be one generation).

Invariably people will see a blue butterfly in their garden and immediately call it a Common Blue (as the name implies that butterfly is most-often seen) or a Small Blue (as ALL blue butterflies are small), but 90% of the time, the blue butterfly that they'll have seen is the VERY common HOLLY BLUE butterfly.

The Common blue is almost always FAR harder to spot in gardens (or anywhere!) than the holly blue - and dare I say it... is a far more superior butterfly all round!

Keep 'em peeled grapple fans.

Use your eyes!

 

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) butterfly common blue https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/the-many-eyed-icarus Tue, 31 Jul 2018 13:46:22 GMT
The wee bee detective. https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/the-wee-bee-detective Our little garden detective today (below) found a tall climbing rose frond, COVERED in holey leaves.

Holes produced of course by our garden leaf cutter bees. (Photos below were taken a few weeks ago).

They've had a wonderful summer so far, but sensibly, took today off.

 

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) leaf cutter bee https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/the-wee-bee-detective Sun, 29 Jul 2018 17:00:23 GMT
ES REGNET! ES REGNET! https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/es-regnet-es-regnet I've almost certainly mentioned (on this website) before, the fact that I am bored rigid by bloggers giving us a daily account of what the weather was like yesterday. 

A heads-up for those bloggers - WE KNOW. We experienced it too! 

That said, today's weather IS notable here - because for the first time since May 18th (I think), it's RAINING. And I mean PROPERLY RAINING.

I mention this today as even on Friday evening and yesterday, when a great swathes of the country had rather a lot of rain in the form of thundery downpours - here we had nada. Nuffink. Zilch.

Yessss.… we all know we've been enjoying an extended heatwave in Blighty, for much of May, ALL of June and all but a day or two of July - the "best" (early) summer since 1976, without doubt.

I've loved it - I ADORE the heat - but we have had plenty of animalian losers over the past 10 weeks or so.

My wildlife pond, full of frogs, newts and all manner of insects has probably lost half or two-thirds of its volume over the past couple of months. Unlike some fellow "wildlife ponders", I NEVER top up my pond with tap water. EVER.  All the life in the pond has been under severe stress over the last four or so weeks - with less water, less oxygen and FAR more toxins in the water. I expect we've lost a fair bit of our "pond life" this summer.

Other animals which have suffered this summer will be butterflies and moths in particular (and anything that eats them, like bats for example). 

Many people might assume our lepidoptera woule "enjoy" dry, sunny weather - and to an extent, the adult moths and butterflies do - until the plants giving them nectar dry in the constant heat. But the real problem for our leps in extended dry weather is that the caterpillars struggle to eat. Their host plants dry out or die - and along with that, many millions of caterpillars will do too.

Ragwort is pretty-well drought resistant normally, but even our ragwort (we have lots in the garden) struggled this year and as a result, so did our cinnabar moth caterpillars.

Some experts believe that the summer of 1976 hit many of our lepidopteran species so hard, that they are STILL recovering. I'm afraid 2018 may be almost as bad - not quite as bad because of our wet spring this year (very unlike 1976), but almost as bad, nonetheless.

Three weeks ago we were promised thundery showers, which like yesterday and two days ago, all conspired to hit everyone around us, but not us.  Not knowing that of course, I constructed a temporary 70 foot aquaduct (of sorts -  see below)

to take any rainwater directly from our roof, straight into our pond, 70 foot up the garden. We do have water butts normally, but I am trying to save my back at present and not HAVE to lug bucket after bucket of rain water from the butts up the garden - I thought I'd try and get gravity to do that job for me this time.

Three weeks ago we were promised thundery downpours. My aquaduct remained dry.

Two weeks ago we were again promised thundery downpours. My aquaduct remained dry again.

On Friday gone and yesterday (Saturday), we were promised yet more thundery downpours. Again it all JUST missed us.

But this morning.

This morning....

We have ORGANISED heavy rain!

My aquaduct doth floweth -

and the frogth and newtth and inthecth in the pond doth rejoith.

I hear we're due a return to settled, sunny and even hot weather again by the end of the week.

Well... whatever will be will be.

But for now..

After a basically dry May (apart from a couple of days) and a virtually BONE DRY and HOT June and July  - we finally have a little rain. Actually - more than a little.

I'm off out now, to a rain dance around the pond! (Actually - as I type... I'm watching quite possibly DOZENS of frogs take this (wet) opportunity to hop out of the pond - to our borders - something they've been waiting to do for weeks - a wonderful sight - rather like the migration of wildebeest across the plains of Africa, only in reverse and in a much, MUCH smaller manner. And my frogs are hopping of course, not sweeping majestically across the garden on thundering hooves - but you get the picture!).

 

 

 

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) butterflies frogs heatwave moths rain weather https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/es-regnet-es-regnet Sun, 29 Jul 2018 06:57:09 GMT
The 147th Open at Carnoustie. MY highlight from round 1. https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/the-147th-open-at-carnoustie-my-highlight-from-round-1 Regular readers of this wildlife blog may remember that I've been playing golf for nearly 35 years now.

I love it.

And this short video clip (below) shot by Sky Sports, of a brief moment in time during Rory McIlroy's 1st round at the sun-baked Carnoustie Championship golf course, reminded me (if I needed that?!) just why.

So.

Can YOU identify Rory's six-legged "friend" in the very short video clip below, shot at Carnoustie yesterday? 

Answer at the bottom of this blog post. (No cheating now!)

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Six spot burnet moth. (And a BELTER too!)

 

TBR.

 

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) golf not-so mystery insect https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/the-147th-open-at-carnoustie-my-highlight-from-round-1 Fri, 20 Jul 2018 09:30:27 GMT
A short-lived chance for YOU to see the "nascent west wind of the oaks". https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/a-short-lived-chance-for-you-to-see-the-nascent-west-wind-of-the-oaks A quick blog post today on a wee butterfly that RIGHT NOW is much more visible than it usually is. If you've not seen one before - THIS is your time.

 

I'm writing about the Purple Hairstreak butterfly - Neozephyrus quercus - a very small butterfly with grey/silver underwings and a dark copper top side to its wings - which spends almost all of its time, usually, dancing around the tops of oak canopies, feeding on honeydew.

I took the photo above last night, on a golf green. The Purple Hairstreak is (of course) on the right of the shot - and on the left is a flesh fly - this should demonstrate to you the small size of these wee butterflies - they are small!

This butterfly is named after the Greek God of the (gentle, fructifying) West wind (Zephyr), Zephyrus - and the oak tree (Quercus) where it spends pretty well all of its time. Neo (of course) means young, new or nascent.

Sure, if you look up to the tops of oaks on warm, sunny, summer evenings in July and August, you may see these very small butterflies engaged in their courtship dances around the tiny developing acorns - but you'll be seeing them from a (vertical) distance of course - and they ARE small!

Your best chance to get a really good look at these delightful wee things is to go to an oak woodland (or area of countryside with a lot of oaks) during a prolonged dry spell, like we are going through (at least in the SE of England) right now.

Then (and generally, ONLY then) these tiny butterflies are forced down to ground level, to any green patch of ground, in a desperate search for nectar or water.

Yesterday evening I played 9 holes of golf at a local golf course, (Billingbear Park, near Binfield in Berkshire) in a fair amount of heat still - and was surrounded by these butterflies on every green. I must have seen dozens and dozens.

Billingbear Park Golf Club is a little golf course parked right next to the M4 in East Berkshire, but has plenty of woodland (including oak woodland) around and on it. Right now, as in many golf courses, 2 months of pretty-well bone-dry, hot, sunny weather has turned the fairways and rough into parched, yellow areas of ground - but as the greens are watered (automatically with sprinklers) each night - the greens have remained … well.... green.

Your average Purple hairstreak butterfly then will come down from the oak canopies, desperately seeking moisture (in the form of water or nectar or similar) and be very attracted to these islands of green in a sea of dry yellow.

Yesterday evening (around 6pm) on each of the 9 greens I putted on, I was probably joined by half a dozen purple hairstreaks (and maybe the same number of flesh flies weirdly enough). 

I've seen a purple hairstreak before. Once. I was trimming our privet hedge in the sun once, a few years ago and as my hedge trimmers ran along the hedge, up jumped a purple hairstreak from a privet flower. But... I've never seen dozens before, like I did last night!

I would think that 2018 will go down as a good year for these sort of sightings of this butterfly - almost entirely due to the fact that we've basically had no appreciable rain since the first fortnight in May.

I would also assume that since 1975, there have only been five summers bringing about sights like I witnessed last night, in terms of sheer numbers of purple hairstreaks forced down from the oak canopies in July or August days - these being this year (2018), 2003, 1995, 1992 and 1976 (the most obvious "heatwavey" summers that I can certainly remember).

So, grapple fans.

This week (if you can) head to your nearest patch of oak trees (preferably with a body of water right by them) at around 6pm - and I'd put money on the fact that you'll see these wonderful small butterflies dance around your feet. Perhaps for the first... and perhaps for the last … time.

TBR.

 

 

 

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) flesh fly neozephyrus quercus purple hairstreak https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/a-short-lived-chance-for-you-to-see-the-nascent-west-wind-of-the-oaks Mon, 16 Jul 2018 07:56:38 GMT
Hot water https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/hot-water The early summer heat continues... with its scarcity of water.

We've barely had any rain at all since mid May (1.2mm I think) and our pond has never had less water in it.

I've taken to put out a low tray of water for the wildlife... which seems appreciated.

Below are four videos taken at night (with a trail camera) in the last 10 nights or so... showing a few of the nightly visitors to this little tray of water left out for the wildlife (you'll do well to spot the visitor in the last clip though....)

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) fox froglet garden heatwave hedgehog tray water wildlife woodmouse https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/hot-water Sat, 14 Jul 2018 07:15:48 GMT
A heavenly start to summer. https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/a-heavenly-start-to-summer Wowzer.

They (whoever "they" are) say "There's no such thing as good (or bad) weather. Just the wrong type of clothes".

They'd be wrong then. 

(Photo below is of part of our back garden this afternoon).

This current weather is GREAT weather. For me at least.

I am in my element in this sort of stuff  - the heat seems to breathe life into me.

That said, I have the fortune of NOT having to commute into or around a big city such as London to work. I did that for about a year, about a decade ago now - and have only just recovered!

Yep.

For me... I simply can't get enough of the heat, the sun and the dust underfoot. The big, lazy, tropical-looking dragonflies and stag beetles that seem to love the south east of England. The shimmering lowland heaths, the nightjars and huge, noisy bush crickets. And of course the flocks of swifts, both non-breeders and newly-fledged, hoovering up as much insect life from the air as they can, before their depressing (for me) journey back to the Congo until next May.

Today was a perfect example of heaven for me.

I thought I'd not swim at the indoor pool (the big building in the background of this shot - but LOOK at the state of the field in the athletics track!) in my lunch hour (I often do) but had worked out the route of the RAF 100 flypast after the Mall at around 1pm - and so I thought I'd head up to Maidenhead golf club (a 15 minute drive from us) to intercept the planes and maybe take a photo. (I do love my planes, me!).

It was slightly weird having to work the flypast route out though. I thought that would have been published, but all any website said was that some of the planes (not the WWII planes unfortunately) would be flying over Windsor Castle and then Maidenhead.  I knew that their final landing spot would be at RAF Benson, so took to drawing lines all over Google maps to work out (as best I could) where would be the best spot nearby (to our house) to go and try and see the planes.

 

The best spot seemed to be Maidenhead Golf Club, very near the car park. And that ALSO gave me the excuse to go and see the course (which my father played at for a while, decades ago) and see if it would be worth me playing a round on, as I hear it's being turned into a housing estate before too long.

So... up to Maidenhead I drove, and apart from the unfortunate fact that I know Maidenhead Golf Club is a snooty old mens' club, I was in heaven at lunch time today.

Blazing hot sun.

A burned golf course (it looked absolutely LOVELY!)

Emperor dragonflies lazily flying about the tinder dry rough.

Roe deer suckling their young in the shade of the trees.

(In the shot below there is a roe deer AND an emperor dragonfly... spot them if you can!)

And WONDERFUL fighter planes to gawp at overhead.

(The photos below, in order are of Lightnings (F35s), Tornadoes, Hawks and finally, Typhoons (spelling out '100' for 100 years of the RAF, but by the time all those Typhoons came over in formation, I was too excited to look through a viewfinder to see my planes - so I put the camera down - hence why I got no good photo of the '100' formation!)).

We were lucky to (STILL... after 6 weeks or so!) have blue skies over Berkshire, for the fly by - as I gather it was quite cloudy in London, for the bigger fly-by up the Mall.

Anyway... yes I ADORE days like this.

Poddling about in the great outdoors, under never-ending blue skies and hot dust beneath my feet. Watching dragonflies and planes.

People do seem to be comparing the summer of 2018 to our old favourite, 1976.

Well... we're a little premature with that comparison of course, but I certainly think this is the "BEST" late spring (May and June) and early summer (last week of June and first two of July) that I can remember since, well... since 1992 I'd say. (My graduation year).

I've even had to provide water for our garden hog, something I rarely do.

Unfortunately, this water has attracted another visitor... this time unwanted though. (I'm afraid I don't share the British wildlife "lover" fondness for foxes (and nor would you if you kept poultry or had foxes dig up your stag beetle colonies!))

 

I do hear that this long, seemingly-never-ending heatwave may end (temporarily at least) next week. If that is true, well, so be it. What a wonderful few weeks we've had eh... and let's hope the kids (and teachers!) get a half decent summer holiday too, with a return to the weather we've had over the last six weeks or so.

Right.

A few photos to end this post - of bits of our garden(s).

We had little rain in May.

Only 1.2mm in June (and all in two days, in the first two weeks).

And NONE since!

I haven't even mown the grass in a month - the grass is just being burned away!

Three weeks ago (EXACTLY) our front "lawn" (of cat's ears) looked like this...

Now it looks like this.

And here are a few more photos of our gardens today taken with my phone. The first photo shows our pond area - the only "lush" part of our gardens at present - but truth be told - I've never seen the water level lower in the pond. The developing froglets and newts (and all other pond life) DESPERATELY needs some rain soon...

 

Not just me that loves this weather then, eh? The leaf cutter bees are working hard whilst they can in this dry, sunny early summer.

I just hope you too get to make hay whilst the sun still shines.

Catch you soon.

TBR.

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) emperor dragonfly heatwave raf fly-past roe deer summer https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/a-heavenly-start-to-summer Tue, 10 Jul 2018 16:22:26 GMT
Spinning class. https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/spinning-class You may have noticed that I found a Puss moth caterpillar in the garden this afternoon - and it was clearly looking for somewhere suitable to form its cocoon.

I've had a little experience in raising moths from larvae (and cocoons) over the years, some recent examples being a couple of elephant hawk moths, a poplar hawk moth and a sallow kitten (see my photos below taken 8 years ago now, at our old house, the first "Swift Half").

 

Different moth larvae need different conditions and substrates on (in) which they spin their cocoons but I do know (from raising my sallow kitten above) that puss moths need a nice bit of wood and bark to spin their cocoon on (or in). Puss moths are quite like large sallow kittens, in that they form very hard  (rock hard!) cocoons on wood, in which they overwinter - in all conditions.

Anyway - I gave this afternoon's puss moth caterpillar a nice bit of 'barky' wood and wondered if it would start spinning.

It did.

Within a couple of minutes.

I shot the first video on my phone below at around 16:30 and the seventh at around 18:30.  Each clip is about 15 seconds long.

 

1:

 

 

2:

 

3:

 

4:

 

5:

 

6:

 

7:

OK... all those clips were taken over a period of about 2 hours this afternoon/evening ... I'll not take any more now... but I will edit this post tomorrow morning (or tomorrow sometime anyway) to pop up a photo here of the finished and hardened cocoon.

 

PHOTOS of finished cocoon (taken at 08:00 the following morning)

The plan is to let the cocoon harden over the weekend and then nail the bit of wood (on which the caterpillar has formed its cocoon) under the shelter of our chicken run tomorrow (out of the worst of the winter weather and the summer sun).

I know. I know. I'm good to our moths aren't I?
Truth be told... I'm still a big kid at heart and find all this metamorphosis stuff absolutely fascinating!

Plus it also gives me a great excuse to actually SHOW our boy the process which he first read about as a toddler, in "The Very Hungry caterpillar".

As soon as he came home from school yesterday, I asked him "What do caterpillars do before they become butterflies?"

He immediately said: "Eat loads, form a cocoon then turn into a beeeeauuuutiful butterfly!" (A succinct distillation of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar").

I said: "Yep. That's right. Now... do you want to SEE a caterpillar forming a cocoon right now - in our shed?!"

He got very excited and said: "YEEEEEAAAAAAH".

So I showed him (had to lift him up to see... as the caterpillar was on a shelf in the shed) and he actually FARTED with excitement!

I'll leave you with that mental picture, I think!

TBR.

 

 

 

 

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) cocoon puss moth https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/spinning-class Thu, 05 Jul 2018 18:30:38 GMT
Another superb caterpillar. 'The horned wine'. https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/another-superb-caterpillar-the-horned-wine  

Last August, I blogged about our longest UK caterpillar, which Anna and I found on one of our favourite walks.

Roll on 11 months and I've only gone and found another ipsolute byoody. But this time in our garden.

This is the final instar larval stage of the Puss moth (Cerura vinula), so distinctive because of its:

1 - Size.

2 - Saddle mark on its back.

3 - Wine (or rather... port or porter!) colour.

Regarding point number 3 - this colour in fact gives the Puss moth its specific scientific name of vinula. (i.e. from the vine, black grape). Incidentally, while we're on the subject of the Puss moth's scientific name, its generic name of Cerura, means "horned". Look at its elongated anal claspers (in the video above, shot by me with one hand this afternoon - excuse the quality!) and you'll see why "horned" is an apt name indeed.

The Puss moth is so-called because it's... well... furry.

Some say the adult moth looks like a cat - but those people are clearly talking nonsense. 

Cats are furry. This adult moth is furry. So we'll call it a cat (or puss) moth. That's the entirety of the logic there. Not this moth looks like a cat. We'll call it a puss moth then.

Could've called it a fortnight-old-dog-turd moth, to be honest. Looks more like a furry dog turd than it does a cat. At least to me.

 

Aaannnnnyyyywwwaaaaaaay...

 

As I've shown today - this is about the right time of year (and weather) for these big, fleshy, wine-coloured (vinula, remember) larvae to start dropping off poplar and willow trees and start to weave their incredibly strong cocoon  on a piece of wood, bark or post - in which they'll stay for the next 9 months or so -  before emerging as an adult furry dog turd puss moth next spring.

We have a large number of (quite large) poplars in our back garden, so I hope to see more of these lovely caterpillars over the next few days, if I'm lucky.

And again, this afternoon, I think I've realised I am very lucky!

Make the most of this amazing weather eh, grapple fans.

And keep using your eyes!

TBR.

 

Footnote.

I'm quite used to raising caterpillars into moths. Been doing so for a few years now.

I also know what the larval puss moth needs, in order to begin spinning its cocoon. Bark (or wood basically).

So this afternoon I provided it what it needed.

And within minutes... the caterpillar began spinning.

(I've literally just recorded the video below).

More soon.

TBR.

 

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) caterpillar Cerura vinula puss moth UK https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/another-superb-caterpillar-the-horned-wine Thu, 05 Jul 2018 15:32:38 GMT
Crab spiders? PAH! Crap spiders, more like! https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/crab-spiders-pah-crap-spiders-more-like Crab spiders.

You know 'em, right?

Those wee spiders which have the ability to change colour to match the (generally) yellow, white or green flowers and buds they lurk on.

You know. Those little, bald, pale, cream, yellow or white spiders, sitting their on the end of pale flowers, with their front legs outstretched, ready to quickly embrace any insect that fails to spot their camouflage.

Camouflage honed over millions of years of evolution, that is.

Well.

Our crab spiders are crap at all that.

Yep.

Crap spiders, here.

See?

 

 

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) crab spider https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/crab-spiders-pah-crap-spiders-more-like Thu, 05 Jul 2018 13:48:25 GMT
Rather like... https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/rather-like … this jackdaw (they're always present like the kites), flying over our garden a few minutes ago...

I'm a bit of a sun seeker too.

What wonderful weather eh?

Sun seekerSun seekerA Jackdaw. In case you're interested?

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) clouds jackdaw sky sun https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/7/rather-like Sun, 01 Jul 2018 15:25:47 GMT
Speaking words of wisdom... https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/6/speaking-words-of-wisdom  

...Little bee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(I'm here all week. Try the fish).

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) bee leaf-cutter bee https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/6/speaking-words-of-wisdom Sat, 30 Jun 2018 07:33:12 GMT
Pontiac... https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/6/pontiac One of six of our omnipresent red kites - and the sun.

Pontiac (Firebird) 2.Pontiac (Firebird) 2.

Taken from the back garden about 30 minutes ago.

Pontiac (Firebird).Pontiac (Firebird).

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) firebird red kite sky sun https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/6/pontiac Sun, 24 Jun 2018 12:04:52 GMT
This IS the shortest blog post I've ever written - a record that I'll not beat. https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/6/this-is-the-shortest-blog-post-ive-ever-written---a-record-that-i-ll-not-beat  

 

 

 

BULL.

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) attack bullshit clapham england fox london https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/6/this-is-the-shortest-blog-post-ive-ever-written---a-record-that-i-ll-not-beat Fri, 22 Jun 2018 16:24:22 GMT
Two recent bits of gorilla news. https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/6/two-recent-bits-of-gorilla-news Which may (should) interest you...

1  - I was confused like this once (but in the opposite way) at a notorious bar on Boat Quay, Singapore, once.

2  - Koko was my age - but to be honest, far more intelligent.  And better-looking. Sleep well, old chap.

 

 

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) gorilla news https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/6/two-recent-bits-of-gorilla-news Fri, 22 Jun 2018 16:19:36 GMT
The first "Swift awareness week" in the UK. https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/6/the-first-swift-awaress-week-in-the-uk Most people that know me, know all-too-well that I am besotted by swifts.

This is (now) the shortest blog post I've ever made.

But please, in this, the first "UK Swift awareness week",

Read THIS.

And then THIS.

Then THIS.

Then click on THIS.

You know it makes sense.

TBR.

SwiftSwift

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) 2018 apus apus swift swift awareness week swifts https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/6/the-first-swift-awaress-week-in-the-uk Tue, 19 Jun 2018 17:21:14 GMT
Two days before summer officially starts.... I give you our front "lawn"... https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/6/two-days-before-summer-officially-starts-i-give-you-our-front-lawn This is very likely to be my shortest blog post ever.

Two days before summer officially starts (I'm talking astronomical, i.e. ACTUAL summer, not meteorological, i.e. the met office's idea of summer - which started 19 days ago) - I give you  a quick snap shot of our front "lawn".

Thick with bees and other insects.

And I'm not going to mow it for a few weeks yet....

Have a lovely summer, grapple fans.

Catch you soon.

TBR.

 

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dmackd@dmackdimages.co.uk (Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images) flowers front lawn lawn summer https://www.dmackdimages.co.uk/blog/2018/6/two-days-before-summer-officially-starts-i-give-you-our-front-lawn Tue, 19 Jun 2018 09:30:13 GMT