The purple emperor butterfly, Apatura iris, is one of Britain's
biggest and most beautiful butterflies.
As it is rare (although not as rare as you might believe) plus
having a tendency to frequent the treetops, it is much sought
after by butterfly enthusiasts. I would count myself amongst them
and I can recall some crazy years where I have seen males coming
to paths right in front of me or to land on dung on the ground
in search of minerals and have even had them land on my shoe!
Unfortunately I have not been blessed with good sightings for
about ten years. Either I have been at the wrong time or the wrong
place I don't know. But this year has been different. I got to
hear of the emergence at a well known site in Surrey and was able
to visit a couple of days later. Purple Emperor watching has become
quite a social event and I recognised several familiar faces from
The wood has lots of silver-washed fritillaries and white admirals
to amuse you while waiting for the main event.
Male silver-washed fritillary
At around 13:00 on the 11th July we were watching
two males chasing each other around the tree tops when one circled
around us and then landed on the ground amongst a collection of
horse dung. (I'm not sure what the collective term for horse dung
is !). He didn't actually decide to land on the dung but settled
on the path in between. Once he had settled and we could see his
proboscis probing the ground we moved in for our shots. I was
using a 300mm f2.8 L IS plus an extension tube . I chose this
combination as I could work at a distance and blur the background.
The extension tube enables you to get a bit closer which in turn
increases magnification. The IS is also useful as it was not possible
to use a tripod - just my camera bag.
Male purple emperor on the ground
There were about eight people taking pictures but
there was time for everyone to get some shots.You can see why
the butterfly gets its latin name - (both apertura and iris refer
to the large eye on the underside forewing). I didn't realise
it had yellow eyes and a yellow proboscis but these are both clearly
Next challenge was to get some uppersides and ideally some flashes
of the amazing blue/purple sheen that is only visible at certain
As the weather was very hot - around 28c the emperor was reluctant
to open his wings, but having heard a tip that casting a shadow
over it can cause it to open up we tried this. Fortunately this
gave us some opportunities for some hurried shots, but he closed
his wings again after about two seconds so you had to be quick.
So here are two of my best shots - they have bee a long time in
the making.- Ten years to be precise.
Superb male purple emperor on the path
with wings open.
Only a hint of purple showing unfortunately.
Full sun, correct wing angle to see
New tutorial - Posterization
Have you come across the problem of posterization - the
pesky banding in what should be smooth gradations of colour in
the background of your images ? Learn how to prevent it and fix
it in this new tutorial :
Firmware 1.2.0 update for Canon
40mm f2.8 stm (pancake lens)
This is not a new firmware update but I have only
just finally got around to carrying it out myself.
You may remember that in last year's News/Blog
I raved over this tiny lens. My opinions on it have not changed,
I still adore it - it is so sharp and contrasty at a price that
is as tiny as its size. However, I have noticed that on occasions
the autofocus seems to stop working on it which necessitates removing
and refitting the lens again. Apparently squeezing the sides of
the lens too hard when attaching it can cause this, so I thought
I would update the firmware to fix the issue once and for all.
Updating firmware sounds scary, but it is easy if you just follow
the instructions provided with the download precisely.
I think that this is the first Canon lens to have
updatable firmware. It was actually a lot simpler than I expected.
If you have updated camera firmware, this is almost identical.
One caveat, you can unfortunately only carry out the update using
a Canon 1Dx or 5DmkIII or Rebel T4i/650D.Otherwise it is back
to Canon to update as usual.
The update is available here : Update
firmware on Canon 40mm f2.8 stm lens . I run Windows XP64
bit and this is no longer supported but the Vista 64bit file option
worked a treat.
If you are curious as to how the update is carried
out, it is as follows:
You can download the .fir file from the Canon website to your
desktop, unzip it by right clicking on the zipped file and select
extract all. Once extracted you copy the file onto a cf card in
a card reader. The card must be formatted in a compatible camera
such as the 5DIII/1Dx so the file structure is correct.
It is essential that you don't copy the file into a subdirectory
on the card- it must be in the root directory. For those of you
to whom this is sounding like double dutch, if you are using a
Windows PC you should see something like this if you have done
Now remove the card from the card reader and insert it into the
camera with the pancake lens attached. Next you go through the
menus until you come to the spanner symbol and keep going until
you locate the firmware update. Normally when updating camera
firmware you will just see the camera firmware, but when you press
the set button now, you will also see the lens firmware appear.
It is now just a matter of selecting the new firmware from the
card with the set button and it will copy across. It is important
that you don't press any buttons while the transfer is taking
place and the camera must not power down so make sure you fit
a full battery before commencing any of this.
Canon 5DmkIII 1.2.1 firmware update now enables autofocus to f8
Canon has finally released its firmware update to the 5D
mkIII which now brings it in line with the more expensive 1Dx
camera and enables it to autofocus when certain lens and converter
combinations are used that previously had to be focussed manually.
For example this means that a 400mm f5.6 lens now retains autofocus
on a 5DmkIII fitted with a Canon 1.4x converter or a 500mm f4
will retain autofocus when fitted with a 2x converter. This is
great news for bird photographers! 1 series cameras have always
had this ability i.e. to autofocus to f8 with the centre cross
type Af point only but this is a first for anything other than
a 1 series camera. You can't select other autofocus points but
hey - beggars can't be choosers.
Just to clarify this a little, if you fit a lens with a maximum
aperture of f5.6 to any Canon camera it will autofocus for you.
Now fit a 1.4x converter and the maximum aperture will reduce
by one f stop to f8 as the lens is further away from the camera
sensor and the light has a longer distance to travel. The camera
will not autofocus as the maximum aperture has now become f8 unless
the new firmware is fitted. Fit a 2x converter to the same f5.6
lens and it will decrease the light reaching the sensor by 2 f-stops
and the widest maximum aperture becomes f11. This will not autofocus
on any current Canon camera. However fit a 2x converter to an
f4 lens e.g. a 500mm f4 and the maximum aperture will become 2
stops less i.e. f8 and autofocus will be possible with the new
I tried the new firmware on a 400mm f5.6 fitted with a 1.4xIII
converter and it now autofocuses accurately and quite snappily.
This is significant news for bird photographers as they
now can effectively have a compact and light weight 560mm f8 lens
on a pretty lightweight camera body to travel or hike with.
If only this superb budget lens had image stabilisation it would
become a real giant killer (probably why Canon will never fit
For video users (not me) there are other significant improvements
in the new firmware such as output of uncompressed HDMI video.
To download the firmware download it here:
Canon 5DmkIII firmware update 1.2.1
Incidentally, this downloaded just fine onto my old PC which runs
a Windows XP 64 operating system despite the Canon website advising
that there is no firmware available for download with this OS.
I have just discovered that the Canon Press release also makes
the following statement:
If AF point expansion is selected with an f/8 maximum aperture
lens/extender combination, the four AF points surrounding the
center point will act as AF Assist points. This option effectively
expands the size of the AF detection area to enhance autofocus
performance with subjects that appear small in the viewfinder
and difficult to track, such as small animals and birds in flight.
AF points above and below the center will be sensitive to vertical
contrast, while points to the left and right will be sensitive
to horizontal contrast.
Otters in Norfolk
I was kindly invited by my friend Andy Vidler to accompany
him on a trip to Norfolk as he had heard rumours of some obliging
wild otters in a river that are being seen regularly during daylight
hours. This is quite unusual as they are usually nocturnal, although
the coastal otters in Scotland are also often seen in the day.
We had seen otters on the Isle of Mull but had not returned with
any good images as we could not get very close to them, so I was
very interested in a chance of getting something better.
Distant otter on Mull
We just had a rough idea of their location near a Norfolk town
centre but no precise instructions so we were very pleased to
be given some directions from local people walking along the riverbank.
After half an hour we had found a group of photographers with
long lenses so we guessed we had located our quarry. The photographers
were smiling and chimping their images on the backs of their cameras
so we guessed that we had just missed some activity. This proved
to be the case as an otter had just emerged from its holt , caught
a fish, devoured it and had returned to sleep it off. So encouraged,
we settled down to wait for it to emerge again. We waited until
1pm and were getting hungry so we returned briskly to the car
to retrieve our sandwiches and on our return - you guessed it,
the otter had performed again and had once again returned to sleep.
After a further hour wait and much cursing and gnashing of teeth
for not having brought our lunch with us, there was a plop in
the water and - wow, at last a male otter appeared and started
swimming up the river.
It was fascinating to watch the animal's behaviour as it repeatedly
dived after fish but also after anything that it encountered.
A moorhen and a woodpigeon had a very narrow escape as it leapt
after them. Finally the otter caught a roach and started eating
it on the opposite riverbank.
Otter eating roach
It then set off up the river again and we followed it as it caught
more small fish and ate them on the move. We were rewarded with
over an hour of great photo-opportunities and at the end of the
day we agreed that this had probably been our best day's nature
photographer ever in this country ! We feel that we were extremely
privileged to witness a wild otter hunting at close range and
in decent light for photography too.
I returned twice more to photograph the otters and obtained shots
of the male eating a big roach, a pair playing in the water, and
even a tug of war with an eel. Here are some of the highlights...
Another roach is dispatched
The otter frequently came out of the water to see if there was
anything to catch
Wild otters playing - it doesn't get better than this !
Poor old eel !
It's mine !
Otter porpoising through the water
Star of the show
March - Moving House
I have been busy moving house this month. Only about 7 minutes
by car from my last place but with 26 years of gear to shift this
has been quite an upheaval. I was supposed to be downsizing the
two acres of land to reduce the amount of gardening I am doing
but somehow or another I have now ended up with 3 acres ! I have
had to dismantle my bird hide so I cannot run photo tuition for
birds at the moment. However, the new location looks very promising
for wildlife in the future. Already I have seen a pair of migrating
black redstarts and there are resident green woodpeckers, a pair
of mallards, a splendid male pheasant with a harem of 3 females
and a pair of very tame robins are currently raising a brood of
four babies in an old shed. In time I would like to fit an owl
nestbox as the habitat looks ideal for them.
News what news ?
It has been a struggle finding much to write about
this month as the weather has literally put a damper on photography.
Rain, rain and more rain has meant that I haven't got out with
the camera much. I have done a couple of waxwing twitches as there
has been quite an influx into the country this winter. Unfortunately
there are very few berries remaining for them and they tended
to move on too quickly from each site that I discovered. So no
pics this year.
Water rails and egrets
A trip to my favourite spot for photographing water rails came
up trumps though. I hadn't seen a rail there for a couple of years
but one had returned and responded to a burst of song from a recording
on my mobile phone. Also there was a kingfisher present, a grey
wagtail and a pristine white little egret that was fishing very
close to me. This featured in this month's
Image of the Month.
The path by the small stream that the rails frequent is very popular
with walkers and folks with dogs so the birds become used to people
enabling a close approach. The water rail is usually a very shy
bird but it is often quite obliging at this spot without resorting
to a hide. This rail popped out from the reeds, scuttled around
at breakneck speed and then disappeared back into its hiding place.
This required yours truly to be pretty quick on the draw to capture
Want to extend your wireless Broadband
I have recently discovered a great and simple way to extend wireless
broadband around the house by utilising the house electrical ring
main. For years I have been unable to achieve a decent wireless
signal in my lounge as the router is located in my upstairs office.
This is positioned on the other side of a roof filled with foil-backed
insulation which effectively acts as a near total barrier to the
The solution to the problem was refreshingly simple and came in
the form of Devolo
Home plugs. They require absolutely no technical knowledge.
All you have to do is link the smaller Devolo homeplug to the
router (BT Home hub in my case) via the ethernet cable that comes
with the kit and then plug the Homeplug unit directly into a mains
socket. (Use of extension leads - particularly those with mains
spike protection is not recommended).
Then you plug the larger homeplug into a mains socket in the area
where your wireless signal is absent or poor. The incredible thing
is, the second plug doesn't have to even be on the same ring main
- all that is required is that the two units are on ring mains
connected to the same house consumer unit (fusebox). Within a
few seconds of plugging in these babies you will have a full wireless
signal in the problem area. If you have more difficult to reach
areas then you can add more plugs. To make the extended system
secure you just press the buttons on each of the units within
2 minutes and they will communicate with each other and make a
secure WEP2 connection. There is a network key code on the back
of one of the Homeplugs and when you start up your laptop, PC
or other wireless device for the first time you must enter this
code to access the secure network and Bob's your auntie.
The software disk that comes with the kit is not necessary unless
you want to change the names of the networks etc.
I can't get over how easy this all was - literally plug and play.
I usually find that this kind of thing usually entails much pain,
wailing and gnashing of teeth, but this was literally childsplay.
For £86 I now can use the internet in the comfort of my
lounge at last - hoorah.
AS if this wasn't already enough, as an added bonus I bought another
ethernet cable and plugged one end of this into the bottom of
the larger Devolo unit and the other end into my Humax Freesat
HD TV set top box. I can now watch BBC and ITV iplayer on my TV
to watch programmes I may have missed. I wish I had discovered
these things years ago and would recommend them to anybody.