|Banded Longhorn Beetle on Purple Coneflower|
I thought I'd start my nature photography with this cornerstone of the avian diet - the insects. Last year my birthday present was a macro lens to help link me to the small sized element of the food chain. This lens has allowed me to get up close and personal with my subjects. Fortunately for me, a lot of these protein-packed, bite-sized critters seemed to enjoy having their pictures taken. They agreed to hold still long enough for me to fumble around with setting up the tripod and focusing. In one of my first experiments with the macro lens, I kept finding a striped, long antennaed, beetle kind of character walking all over the Purple Coneflower blooms. If I started shooting back a little distance from this subject, I found I sometimes got a usable picture. With an image in the bag, I became more confident to sneak up a little closer. Snap, better yet. Inching closer, the wavy antennaed animal didn't care. Snap, still better. Closer yet and this guy (gal?) didn't even bother to turn and look at me. I sure figured it would say "OK - enough is enough" and flit off to a less crowded venue. But not so. I was able to tire myself out seeking better and better compositions.
|Jagged Ambush Bug on Daisy Fleabane|
Guided with identification from the bug folks, I was eager to find out more about these six legged curiosities. A little googling and wow. Many of these are not only tasty morsels for the winged crowd but are themselves predators of other insects. The Jagged Ambush Bug quietly lies strategically in wait on an aromatic flower head. When an unwary pollinator comes along, BANG! This efficient predator can apparently snack on fellow insects much larger than itself.
One particular subject with big eyes looked like what I used to call a fly. Along the way I've found out that many animals are world class mimics of other creatures. They have developed amazing behaviors and colorations to confuse predators. Some flies look like bees, some bees look like wasps, some wasps look like bees. It makes me dizzy. So what was this wondrous insect? Again the bugguide.net crew provided the answer: a Robber Fly, one of over 1,000 species of Robber Flies in North America alone. What? Over 1,000? Seriously? What's a new and puzzled nature lover to do? Seeking guidance from Jim McCormac, an entertaining and tireless naturalist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, author, and blogger extraordinaire, I asked where to start. Jim guided me to "Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America." Now I can refer to this book and perhaps get into the right pew when trying to identify these critters. Maybe I won't look like a complete dunce when bugging the bugguide team. Oh yes, back to the Robber Fly. Kaufman say this group of aerial insects is "to other insects what falcons are to other birds." Thus this big-eyed bug eats other insects (as well as being consumed by others). I never tire learning and witnessing how the web of life keeps things in balance. Each organism is important to all the others, even us of the homo sapiens variety.
|Carpenter Bee headed for Daisy Fleabane flower|
Now that we'd been raising our own bird food, I really wanted to photograph this avian part of the food chain that is flourishing here courtesy of the native plants. Try as I might, I couldn't get close enough to our feathered friends. They certainly didn't sit still for this stumbling photographer to stick a camera in their faces.
Enter Santa Claus with a telephoto lens. Then at one of our local Wild Ones meetings George Sydlowski gave me some quick tips on using it. Several weeks ago a motion at the birdbath caught my attention. Hmm...that bird looks different than I'm used to seeing. Wow - it's a Bluebird, a female Bluebird. Nanoseconds later another landed next to it. Then another, then a more brightly colored male, then a few more. We haven't seen Bluebirds at our house in over 12 years. While the temperatures were well below freezing, the heated birdbath provided a nice hydration source for this flock. In my excitement, it was all I could do to grab the camera and try to hold this heavy lens steady. Fortunately George's tip of cranking up the ISO so I could snap with higher shutter speeds proved fruitful. Eventually the flock moved on. The following day found a large flock of American Robins perched on the birdbath. Closer inspection disclosed a smaller, bluish bird squeezed into the group. Ah hah. A female Bluebird had elbowed its way into the throng of raucous Robins. Sadly I wasn't able to snap a shot before the elegant feathered aviator decided it had better birds to hang with. Nonetheless I now have the first pictures for the bird section of my backyard wildlife album. Thanks George. Thanks Santa.