The benefits of taking photographs to identify insects

They say that the largest group of insects- indeed of all animals- is beetles. Sometimes wandering down the Blackwater Valley one wonders if in fact the largest group are large, irritatingly conspicuous, and unrecognizable ones.  What are they? Luckily we live in a golden age of insect identification. Never before have we been able to take such good pictures in the field and identify them with the tools of the internet. Even the cameras and reproduction of 10 years ago look poor by the standards of what an amateur with moderate equipment can achieve now.

2018 May 27 Large Red Damselfly copulation Millpond

Large Red Damselflies are one of the first Damselflies to appear in spring and can be found in many places in the Blackwater Valley.

It is best to use as good a camera as you have available, but even a mobile phone can capture identifiable pictures. I have a bottom of the range DSLR with a lens with a zoom up to 300mm. My only secret weapon is a 12 mm extension ring, which enables focussing down to less than a metre. In the end, there is no secret: the closer the better.

I find it best to use manual focus: automatic focus is too slow and often focuses on the wrong thing: you can end up with excellent pictures of leaves!

2018 May16 Moor Green Common carder bee2

The Carder Bumblebee is one of our common Bumblebees, here visiting a Dead Nettle at Moor Green Lakes. 

Experience has shown that a quick picture before getting things absolutely right at least captures the image in case the insect flies away. For this reason I keep my camera on automatic setting and medium magnification. But then if I decide the picture is more
interesting, I have time to increase the magnification, check the focus, take another shot and quietly creep closer.

Depth of view can be a issue, for example with Bumblebees at a large flower or long insects like Damselflies: ideally one switches to aperture priority and increases the F stop. (Photo geeks would now talk about macro lenses with built-in flash and photo stacking software, but we are just trying to take an interesting picture while walking the dog.)

2018 May 19Red-tipped flower beetle Malachius bipustulatus moor green_edited-1

Two Red-Tipped Flower Beetles enjoying quiet lives at Moor Green Lakes. So quiet in fact that they were on the same plant a week later.

Now with the best possible picture the challenge is to know what it is.

Finally, always let a young person take the critical shot: you might get a wonderful picture and a young naturalist in the making, which is part of what it is all about.

Volunteer Alan (Dragonfly and Damselfly Recorder for Moor Green Lakes)

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About blackwatervalleycountryside

The Blackwater Valley is located on the borders of Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire and runs for approximately 30km from the source near Aldershot, northwards to Swallowfield. At its confluence it joins the rivers Whitewater and Loddon. The Loddon eventually flows into the River Thames near Reading. Work in the Blackwater Valley is co-ordinated by the Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership on behalf of the local authorities that border the Valley. Despite being surrounded by urban development the Valley provides an important green corridor for local residents As well as the Blackwater Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a small part of the Basingstoke Canal SSSI, three nature reserves within the Valley catchment and many other areas have been recognised for their ecological importance. The local planning authorities covering the Valley have designated 31 other areas as ‘Wildlife Sites’.
This entry was posted in Conservation, Education, General Information, Moor Green Lakes, Sites, Volunteers, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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