June - Moth trapping
I always look forward to running my moth trap in June as this is when the hawkmoths are about. These are really large night flying moths and most are colourful and showy.
I can remember running a home made trap with my dad as a child in our London garden. We caught a lot of Lime hawks as there are lots of lime trees around in London and this sparked my interest in moths and trapping.
The trap consisted of a mercury vapour bulb to attract the moths into a funnel containing vanes which the moth would strike and blunder downwards into a box lined with egg boxes below. In the morning we would open the trap and inspect our catch.
The trap we used was an improvised version of the Robinson trap. This is still commercially available from companies such as Anglian Lepidopterists Supplies and Watkins and Doncaster. There are other smaller and more portable designs but in my experience nothing works as well as the Robinson MV trap.
I have been using a trap which I bought from Hawk Traps very successfully for many years. These are considerably cheaper (half the price of many other traps) but just as effective. The traps have evolved over the years and it occurred to me that the box that the moths fall into could be improved. A quick email to Paul Batty of Hawk traps and he advised me to go to my local DIY store and buy a new plastic storage box and swap the rest of the fitments over.
So off to B&Q and I returned with a great 65litre storage box and set to cutting a circular hole in the top to accept the funnel and drilling a few attachment holes for the lamp holder and
The reason I wanted a bigger box was
1. To make the unit heavier and more stable in windy conditions. When fitted with a rain guard this acts as a sail.
2. To be able to allow the trapped moths more space to fly around in until they calm down and settle in the egg boxes. Also to have space to construct some internal shaded areas to keep the moths away from the light and settled as soon as possible. The shorter the time the moth spends flapping around inside the trap the better as it will stay in better condition for photography. The wing scales are removed very quickly.
While I was about it, I lined the sides of the clear plastic box internally with cardboard to keep the light out.
My modified moth trap (Left) and the original box (Right)
In the image above you can see the finished trap with MV lamp, vanes surrounding the lamp (there are actually four although it only looks like two in the picture as they are edge on.)
The original rain guard broke some years back when my cat decided to try sleeping on it, so I replaced it with a double thickness perspex sheet, edged in gaffa tape courtesy of Wickes.)
There is a flying lead with a waterproof connector on the end and this plugs into a waterproof choke (electrics that run the lamp). This in turn plugs into the mains via a residual circuit breaker (RCD) safety cutout switch (and in my case a long lead on an extension cable.)
I also opted for a light sensor on the choke as this switches off the lamp at dawn and puts it on automatically at night. This should prevent you needing to get up at 4am in summer to turn the trap off, but I still seem to end up having to do this as there are often some good moths just sitting around outside the trap and birds (and my cats) have learned that this is a good source of an early morning snack. So if I wake up with the dawn chorus, I will totter down and bring the trap into the garage and go back to bed.
Opening the trap is always exciting. You have to watch out for the odd wasp or hornet that may have been trapped too. There are also often a load of midges and a few hungry mozzies so proceed with caution. While on safety, the lamp gives off very high levels of UV light so only place it where it will not annoy neighbours and do not linger around the trap unless you wear special UV glasses.
There are usually lots of smaller moths, most little brown jobs (LBJ's) that don't interest me much, but sometimes there are some really beautiful ones and if I am lucky a hawkmoth or two.
This year I have had Lime, Privet, Eyed, Poplar and elephant. Last year I had a couple of Small elephants and at my last house I
even had a pine hawk which is pretty scarce. I still dream that one day I will open the trap and find one of the rare migrants like Deaths head or Oleander but so far these remain dreams!
Elephant hawk on its foodplant (Willowherb)
Once you have trapped your moths and they have calmed right down in the morning, you can very carefully transfer them from their egg boxes onto a more attractive support such as a tree or appropriate flower. Sometimes the moth won't play ball and it will start vibrating its wings rapidly. If this happens you need to put the moth back in a box in a cool shady place as it will fly as soon as it has generated sufficient body temperature to fly.
I hope this will encourage you to get a moth trap and have a go as it is quite fascinating to see what turns up, even if you are not interested in photographing them you may like to keep a diary of what you see, although your first task will be to identify them!
May - Butterflies, orchids and the Isle of Wight
The orchid season starts in April with Early Spider, Early purple and Green-winged. The butterflies are also well under way and I photographed Pearl bordered fritillary, Duke of Burgundy and Dingy and Grizzled skippers in May. The lady orchids at my Kent "Duke" site were also spectacular this year.
We also visited the Isle of Wight to visit friends in the last week of May which by chance coincided with Glanville fritillary time. The IOW also has red squirrels that we hoped to see.
We visited a site for Glanville Frit in Horshoe bay on our first morning although I was not optimistic as I though we could be a week too early.
However, I needn't have worried. Although we saw plenty of sunshine, we were dogged by windy weather
which made photographing them difficult as they never stopped moving when perched on a plant stem. However, this was not an issue when they landed on pebbles.
We tried some of the classic sites for Glanvilles including Compton Bay but the wind was very strong and we saw none. The views across Freshwater bay towards the Needles was still beautiful though.
We also visited a couple of red squirrel sites. One in particular was very productive as volunteers frequently put nuts out for them in an area of forest. The Bluebells were just hanging on, so these could make a good backdrop, However, the best opportunities came when the squirrels clambered up onto a post attached to a boardwalk area. This enabled a very close approach and some nice shots.
Red squirrel in bluebells
Red squirrel eating nuts on the log
It is funny that after hearing on the Isle of Wight that there are no more Glanville Fritillaries left on the mainland apart from a possible reintroduction site in the West Country, I was informed by a friend that there are some in the Croydon area on a chalk downland nature reserve. I was sceptical but the lure of such a possibility plus the certainty of small blue butterfly made me pay a visit. The first butterfly I saw when I arrived was - you guessed it, Glanville fritillary. My flabber had never been so ghasted. So here it is - a picture of one of three I saw on that day just 50 minutes from my home in Kent.
Glanville fritillary - underside
April 2015 Slovakia
I always enjoy photographing bears they are such characters. I have seen them in Alaska and Finland but to see them in the wild in a European mountain region is quite a privilige. They are shy and secretive creatures and although they are genetically identical to the brown bears of America not even a subspecies they look quite different.
They don't have a diet rich in salmon like the bears of Alaska and have to forage for berries and nuts and anything else they can lay their paws on.
I went with Tatra Photography again. They are a great company and I always find them very dedicated and professional but also a very nice bunch. This time there were just two of us as we had just hired the hides so we were fortunate in that we could choose our own hide and position within the hide
Brown bear in the meadow
The area we worked was a forest clearing that was known as the
meadow. When we went the snow had only melted from it a week ago so it was a little scruffy looking. Our guide (Filip Fabian) baited the ground in front of the hide with a mixture of maize and apple and the waiting began.
We had bears to photograph on every visit but it was a shame that they only appeared when the light was poor. Apprently it is not always like this. The week before a group had a mother and four cubs (very rare) that would come out while it was still light in the evenings. We were not so lucky.
The main visitor to the meadow was a a bear nicknamed Goldie as she was very pale. She was the most confident bear and would even tolerate the motordrive from my noisy Canon 1Dx shutter. The other bears that visited included two together but all of these were very shy and spooked at the sound of the camera shutter. To avoid frightening them we resorted to using the 5DmkIII in silent mode for our pictures as it is a much quieter combination. The silent mode of the 1Dx is still noisy in comparison.
The location is in the Tatra mountains and we also visited another site also in the Tatras once to try our luck. Unfortuntately we saw no bears, but this area has huge potential for the future as camera traps show bears do visit regularly. Both areas are in pristine wilderness environments and it is wonderful just to visit such places as they are becoming rarer and rarer unfortuntely.
I would probably say that Finland offers better photo-oportunities and Alaska is far more sensational as the spectacle and adrenalin rush of watching bears catching salmon in front of you (with no hide)
is just on another level. However I would still not discount Slovakia, it is a beautiful place and a bit different. It is an honour to see bears in Europe as there are so few of them and they are very secretive. I feel truly honoured to have visited their home and entered there world for a few precious days.
March 2015, Costa Rica
I have wanted to visit Costa Rica for many years as it is said to have the highest biodiversity of anywhere in the world, that is to say the highest number of species of animals and plants per unit area on the planet!
This year my wish came true and we spent our annual holiday on a two week trip with the company "Naturetrek" who we have used before. Our guides were Dave Smallshire from Naturetrek and Paco Madrigal was our local guide. Both were excellent and really new their stuff. We went from 14th-28th March as this is the time of year when the birds are nesting and you are most likely to get good weather. If you go in the wet season you must expect a lot of rain! Apart from one afternoon in the Talamanca mountains when we experienced a light and short thunderstorm it was sunshine all the way.
The temperature varied enormously with altitude. In the mountains it was pleasant and cool requiring a light jacket but on the coast at sea level it was very hot. In the Selva Verde area it was hot and humid. We traveled around a lot on the trip, staying just one or two nights in most places. We crammed in the maximum number of species in the various habitats that each location provided in this time. The main focus was birds but any mammals, reptiles, insects or interesting plants that we came across were also given time to study and enjoy.
The trip was not a photography tour but I still had plenty of opportunity to take photos and came back with more images than I often do on dedicated photography forays. The best locations for photography were around the various lodges which usually had bird feeders which attracted a lot of forest species. I sacrificed a couple of guided walks and most lunchbreaks to spend more time photographing birds on occasion.
For the photography,
I took a 500mm f4 lens and a tripod which was great for images of birds around the lodges where I didn't have to walk far. In the heat, lugging the big camera, lens and tripod would have been a real chore.
So my main lens of the trip was the new Canon 100-400 IS mkII which I used without a tripod (as the image stabiliser is very effective). It also takes a 1.4x converter very well so I fitted this for much of the time. The only minus was that the light levels in the forest were low and the lens is a slow f5.6 at 400mm and this drops to f8 when the converter is fitted. I often used Iso 3200 to maintain a reasonable shutterspeed and fortunately the the Canon 1Dx and 5DmkIII cameras performed very well at these high isos. The other two lenses I took were a 100mm f2.8L macro that I used with a 580exII flashgun for frogs and nightime stuff and the little 40mm f2.8 pancake lens for images of people and places.
Our first location after the long flight on United Airlines via Newark was near the capital San Jose. We stayed one night and spent the next morning before breakfast birding in the hotel grounds. It was fortunately easy to get up at 5:30am as Costa Rica was 6 hours behind UK time. This set the scene for the rest of the trip - (optional) pre breakfast birding at 5:30am. Who needs to sleep !
Part of our group out looking for birds
I don't intend to give a detailed trip report here as this will be posted on the Naturetrek website by Dave Smallshire. The trip itinerary is described here: Naturetrek Costa Rica
What I will say, is this was a brilliant trip with excellent leaders and a very nice friendly group of 12. We got a very good flavour of the diversity of Costa Rica's incredible wildlife. It is a very beautiful country and I would go back like a shot ! The trip has quite a birding bias and you are active most of the time. This trip will not be for you if you like lots of downtime.
I have been on plenty of trips like this and would say that the experience you get is totally dependant on the quality of the leaders. We were taken to see such things as owls roosting in trees during the daytime, bats hanging under palm leaves and nesting quetzals. This is entirely thanks to local knowledge.
Our local guide Paco Madrigal runs a company called Continga Tours and you could arrange a trip direct with him if you like to do it yourself. I can't recommend Paco too highly. First and foremost he is extremely enthusiastic and a thoroughly nice guy. Nothing was too much trouble for us. His knowledge of all the wildlife we saw was excellent and he was brilliant on finding and identifying birds particularly.
Paco posing with a shed cicada casing hooked onto his nose!
I went to Costa Rica with a short wishlist of species which included the colourful poison arrow dart frogs, the red-eyed tree frog, humming birds, toucans and motmots. I photographed all of these and many more additional species. However, absolute top of my (and everybody else's) list is the incredible trogon called the Resplendent Quetzal. This is a scarce bird that lives in the cool, moist cloud forests in places such as Monteverde and Savegre. I have posted a couple of images of the male bird under Image of the month March 2015.
Here is one more of the male at the nest tree.
Male quetzal in the nest hole. Notice his tail is poking out above his head?
A few more pics.....
Red-eyed tree frog
Arenal volcano from Arenal Lodge
There are plenty more images that I have posted on my Facebook page.
You can find them here: John Devries Facebook page
In summary, this was an excellent trip and one that I would recommend very highly.
Feb 2015, Owls - various ramblings
Turning a negative into a positive
I have returned to the Isle of Sheppy in Kent three times this year in an attempt to photograph short-eared owls. Each time I have drawn a blank at what should be a great location and good timing for them. This doesn't make for very exciting reading, but I thought I would write this as it illustrates the less glamorous side of wildlife photography - namely lots of hard graft and no reward !
The upside is that just being out in the field in nice light in a nice location is very enjoyable in itself. The other thing, is unexpected things sometimes just turn up in front of you as you just happen to be there. My first SEO blank day yielded a nice kestrel that sat on a post for me.
The second time provided some nice lapwings. This is a species I have photographed many times before but again, the great light enabled me to get some slightly different shots.
And the third time enabled me to get some shots of a female marsh harrier that had landed on the ground to feed on something, possibly a rabbit, but I can't be certain. The harriers are numerous on Sheppy but are very shy and usually just drift away from the car that I am using as a hide as soon as they see it. This one brazened it out as it didn't want to pass up its meal. The shot was taken with a 2x extender on a 500mm lens as it was still a fair way off.
I suppose the moral of this story is just get out there and give it a go, you never know what might turn up. As Crosby Stills once sang - "If you can't be with the one you love honey, love the one you're with".
An unexpected visitor prompts a flurry of activity
I was sitting in my lounge one sunny afternoon in February at 4:15pm when I saw what I thought was a seagull flying over my field. The closer it got, I realised that it was not a gull but a barn owl ! I have seen these owls hunting once or twice in the couple of years that I have lived in this house, but never so well in such good light. I dashed for my camera - darn, no memory card. Quick trip upstairs to get one. Dash outside to hide behind the garage, but argh, it instantly reappeared before I could check the camera settings, so rattatattat on the shutter anyway. What did I get ? er, a white screen. The camera was set to a wide aperture and high iso which resulted in total overexposure on the bright day. The machine gun Canon shutter noise blew my cover and the bird flew off with no chance of a second try, still, what can you expect from such opportunistic behavior?
However, what my unexpected visitor did do was give me the hope that it would return again and if it did, I would give it the opportunity of taking up residence by putting up a nest box for it. A quick search on the Internet (what would we do without it ?) yielded a set of plans from the Barn owl Trust website. While I was about it I thought I'd also build a box for little owls and maybe even tawny owls as I have heard thee around at night. A quick call to the local timber yard and the next day I had two8x4 sheets of
exterior plywood delivered and I set to work. These were the fruits of my days labour:
Barn owl hotel
Little owl bungalow
The boxes have now been treated with two coats of brown preservative and will then be fitted with roofing felt to keep them dry.
Many thanks to the barn owl trust website for the plans and advice on siting the boxes. Providing I don't fall off the ladder putting them up, I look forward to hopefully attracting some nesting owls. Ironically, although I provided the accommodation, barn owls are a schedule 1 species in the UK and I would need a licence to photograph any potential residents at or near the nest. This is defined as within 30metres, so it might be simpler to tempt them onto a post well away from the nest in front of my fixed hide. Still, I'm getting ahead of myself, there may be no takers for the free accommodation.
Photographing Little owls
I photographed a little owl at a friend's place a couple of years ago and returned this year to have another go in the dark using two flashguns. This was quite a challenge as it meant setting up everything while it was still light and testing it before the action hopefully commenced. I used an old Canon STE2 flash transmitter and a couple of speedlights on cold shoes mounted on ground spikes. I had numerous issues to overcome as the equipment seemed determined to fight me! What you need for this sort of photography is a camera and flashguns that won't keep going into sleep mode. One flashgun (a 580 exII) had a custom function that permitted this but my other gun - an old 420ex could not be overridden. Next the camera kept going into energy saving mode, but of course the 1Dx could be set to not shut off. Next issue was the infra red transmitter demanded a direct line of sight to the flashguns. This necessitated me positioning the guns where the transmitter could reach them and I had to turn the heads round 180 degrees so the receivers were pointed back towards the camera. Final obstacle was that the scrim over the hide opening prevented the infrared beam from reaching the flashguns! I had to work in full view with the veil raised, but fortunately my friend assured me that the owls had been coming for a long time and were pretty bulletproof (just as well).
We set up a nice perch and put some mealworms on the top to tempt the owls. Some time after dark, our first bird appeared - a female and she soon set to work on the food. A few minutes later she was joined by the male.
These were a couple of shots from the night that I was pretty pleased with:
Many thanks to Phil Winter for his generous hospitality!
As a result of my experiences I have now invested in a new 430exII flashgun to replace the old 420ex and also a set of Yongnuo radio flash triggers which have a 100m range and can shoot through scrim! I hope these will open up some new opportunities for me in the future.
A new computer and monitor
I have been dreading changing computer. My previous
PC has been really great but the WindowsXP64 operating system
is now unsupported, the internal harddrives are nearly full and
the power supply needs replacing. No way around it I need to replace
The thought of reloading all the programmes and
working out how to move emails and address books, Photoshop actions
etc is depressing but has to be done. Also Microsoft has done
its usual dirty of not supporting some software on newer operating
systems. I am typing this in Dreamweaver MX which is a very old
version but not compatible with Windows8.1. I have no need for
a later version, this does me fine to update my website, but I
now am forced to replace it.Windows 7 had an XP mode, but not
I also don't want Word either, but have to replace it as my old
version doesn't open docx files that everyone keeps sending me
I specified the computer myself and it is being
built by PC Specialist Ltd. They seem pretty reasonably priced
for what I have ordered so fingers crossed it will be good.
I have also decided to upgrade my monitor, after
all, unless you print a lot (I only tend to for customers these
days) then this is the only way I see my images. It is therefore
an important component. Working professionally you need a screen
with accurate and consitent colours. I have therefore replaced
my old but good 19" Lacie monitor with a 27" high resolution
Eizo. This is not one of the top models, it is the cheapest ColorEdge
called the CX271. It also has automatic screen calibration but
I still had to buy a new Datacolor Spyder 4 to calibrate it for
the first time. This creates a monitor profile that the screen
then reads and readjusts the screen to at a predetermined frequency.
The screen cost £1023.99 from Wex and the high spec computer
with 2x4TB of storage in raid array plus a 1TB SSD bootup drive
cost £1733, so not a cheap month!
The screen is superb and produces 99% of the Adobe
1998 colour gamut which is 20% bigger than the sRGB colour space.
I have got away with working in sRGB all these years but I have
now been forced to bite the bullet and learn to use aRGB. This
has been far from easy and I have had to give myself a crash course
in colour management as I kept finding that colours were looking
oversaturated on my new monitor when viewing images on the internet.
I am currently preparing an Idiots Guide to Colour Management
with an aRGB monitor tutorial, so watch this space !
Kingfishers, A great bird hide and
Happy New Year !
Well, another year passes, amazing isn't it ? It's true what they
say, they do seem to go quicker every year when you get past a
certain age. Ahm ..
I have been working on a kingfisher photography
setup. A friend who lives just down the road informed me that
they have been observing kingfishers on the pond behind their
house for some time and I was welcome to come and photograph them.
This was great news as I have not had a good kingfisher spot of
my own locally that I can return to whenever I like. For the first
time I could put up a hide which should not be pinched or vandalised.
I ordered a new hide from Mike
Lane as my last one had been eaten in the garage by mice.
It is constructed of sturdy waterproof fabric and I thought that
it is extremely good value at £85.99. It is big enough for
two people but folds away to be very compact. I like the fact
that it goes up very quickly by pulling each panel up with its
own handle and there are no slow and fiddly elasticised poles
to feed through like some other designs.
The hide came with two packs of bent metal rods to secure it but
no guy ropes so I used some stout builders string and secured
it to the supplied rods. Unfortunately these were not sufficient
to prevent the hide from blowing away on a windy night. The hide
was fortunately found by my neighbour at the other side of their
orchard wedged in a hedge. I was lucky to have got it back with
just a minor rip in the fabric. So the next step was to cut some
sturdy 12" wooden pegs which I hammered into the ground with
a mallet and attached the string to those. Last night the wind
tried its best again to wreck the hide but it is still in place
and looking fine so I hope that I have sorted the problem now.
Mike has put a video on Youtube where you can see how the hide
goes up and comes down.Click here to see the video :
The first time I tried to erect the hide I found that you have
to bend over into the fabric and it takes a fair old yank to get
the panel to pop out. However, I think that this will improve
as I gain experience and the hide loosens up. Overall I am over
the moon with the hide and would certainly recommend it. I nearly
forgot to mention that it also comes with a variety of black scrim
netting strips which have hooks fitted to enable fitment inside
the hide. This prevents the birds from seeing you when working.
Everything has been thought of it seems.
As I was putting up the hide and installing a perch for the birds
to hopefully land on I was pleased to see a couple of the little
blue jewels flitting around and even landing in the trees while
I was present.
So far so good. The next step is to get the birds to use my perch
as they prefer the other natural branches around the pond. The
natural ones are far too twiggy and have a tangle for a background
- not good. What is needed is some sticklebacks or minnows in
a bucket beneath the perch to attract them. I am still looking
for a supplier of these at reasonable cost, alternatively I will
have to employ the services of some local kids to go fishing with
nets for some tiddlers !
I would like to be able to improve on shots like the one above
to include the dive and the classic emerging from the water with
a fish shot. So hopefully in the coming months I will achieve
that. Its nice to have a goal.
I have tended to shun the social media such as Facebook
and Twitter - I didn't think they were really my kind of thing.
Unfortunately, I suspect that my Website page ranking has probably
slipped with Google as a result of this oversight so I feel forced
to correct the error of my ways. Twitter will have to wait for
another day, but I have been posting an image a day on Facebook
for a while, so you might like to take a look at my page if you
like to keep up with my images.
Since being on Facebook I have accumulated quite a lot of "Friends"
and it has been fascinating to see how many "Likes"
each image receives. Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder,
and I am intrigued to see how my images are perceived and rated
by others. It is not always what you might expect yourself. This
is why I tend to avoid entering photo competitions. I think that
winning a class in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year would
be a fantastic achievement but it is so dependant on the personal
preferences of the judges that I wouldn't know what to enter.
Would you agree with the judges on the last few overall winners
compared to some of the other entrances for example? No me neither.
Another benefit of Facebook is that you get to see
and comment on many other photographer's images. These span the
spectrum from poor to brilliant. There are many excellent wildlife
photographers out there and it is very valuable to be able to
benchmark yourself and also to gain inspiration from the best
of them. I have certainly got a few ideas that I want to try out
myself next year, so watch this space.
to my facebook page