Cheapskate Tuesday 31: Cheapskate Diffuser Mark III

Look how battered and sad these diffusers are. This is why I made new ones, and they are definitely more durable

Ok, just a short post on mods to make basically the same diffuser as the Cheapskate Diffuser MK II, but a bit easier, and ending up with a stiffer and more durable product.

These are sized for YongNuo 560 flashes, might be differently sized for a different light. If so, you wanna follow the formulae found on the instructions for the Cheapskate Diffuser Mark II. Where I have indicated patterns there are hyperlinked PDF’s you can download and print. The patterns will make you ones sized for A YongNuo 560 series light, no need for formulae.

Ingredients:

1 clear Creatology plastic poster board 

2 white and 2 black adhesive foam sheets

1 sheet OraCal white adhesive backed vinyl

Some self adhesive velcro (Michael’s charges too much for Velcro, better to get at the dollar store).

First cut out the big badboy out of the “clear” poster board (note that it is not anywhere near clear)

Next, adhere the clear vinyl sheet to the smooth side of the badboy. I am smoothing out air bubbles with a paper towel.

Cut off the excess vinyl

Fold the badboy 4 times so there is a rectangle in the middle, keep the rough side of the badboy facing out. The rectangle in the middle is our light-emitting surface!

See? Now it’s all folded.

Get your 9X12″ adhesive backed foam sheets out, you are gonna need them. Cut them according to these patterns for wide and narrow sides. Gonna need 2 wide blacks, 2 narrow blacks, 2 wide whites, and 2 narrow whites. You should be able to get one wide and 1 narrow from a single sheet of foam, so you will need 2 white, 2 black in total.

Stick the horrifying things on, black outside, white inside.

 

Make sure it is all folded up nicely, add some velcro as needed.

 

That’s it! Now you have a lot of wasted plastic and such, but you can figure out something to do with it I am sure. It really makes a difference to the durability.

 

Matachia!

One of the coolest spiders I saw in NZ was quite small, and fairly inconspicuous. Matachia is NZ endemic genus of desid spiders which have a characteristic web architecture and retreat. There are several species of Matachia in NZ. Bryce McQuillan helped us find these in Christchurch, along the Avon River (just about here), in low branches above the bank.

 

Here you can see a Matachia poking out of her retreat, which is in the emergence hole caused by an insect (often the emergence holes of a twig-boring moth, Morovia subfasciata). The webs have radial lines for movement, and zig-zag calamistrated cribellate capture threads. Calamistrated silk is not gluey, 


The cutest aspect of Matachia behaviour we saw was that upon returning to their retreat, the spiders invariably enter it butt-first!

 

The Matachia we saw in Christchurch emerged onto their capture webs quite readily in response to vibrations from an electric toothbrush. Here arachnologist Erin Powell coaxes out a spider, while Bryce photographs it.

 

Some Matachia webs we saw also had these odd platform-like constructions just near the retreat. I am not sure if the resident spider makes these, or perhaps it is done by a courting male?

 

 

A backlit Matachia

I did manage to see a courting male, and the web did have this platform-like construction on it. An interesting thing to note about these males (and males of other calamistrum-bearing species) is that the calamistrum (which brushes out the lacy capture threads from the cribellum) is lost in the adult stage, meaning these males can no longer hunt as adults…

 

In this image, you can see not only an adult female in her retreat, but also a tiny juvenile, with greenish abdominal markings. In Matachia, the juveniles remain with their mothers until they are 4-5 molts past hatching, which is a remarkably long time!

Dolomedes underwater!

Dolomedes dondalei in a tiny creek at our last night’s campsite in New Zealand.

 

Wow, it has been a long long time since my last post!

Well, too much to catch up on right now, but the news is that Catherine and I just got back from a trip to New Zealand’s South Island. I know Catherine is planning on doing a series of blog posts on our adventures there (we were there for the International Congress of Arachnology), but these pictures have been burning a hole in my hard drive and I just wanted to share them.

OK, after a lovely 8 days touring around the South Island, we came to our last night in NZ. We wanted to be in striking distance of some good katipo habitat, yet be able to get back to Christchurch the next day for our departing flight. We therefore decided to camp on the south side of the Banks Peninsula, so we could visit Birdling’s Flat to see some katipo. We settled down at the Little River Campground, a really lovely property with wooded sections and a cool little stream running through it (there are big eels in the stream!)

After our excursion to find katipo, we decided to look around the campsite. Our headlamps soon revealed glowing eyes adjacent to the stream, which we had learned in NZ signified fishing spiders in the genus Dolomedes (a big Dolomedes is way more likely than a big wolf spider in NZ). Just across the stream on a rock I spotted this big big Dolomedes, which Bryce McQuillan kindly ID’ed as Dolomedes dondalei (named for the Canadian arachnologist Charles D. Dondale).

After taking a single frame of the large spider in hunting position above the water, she got sick of me, and did what Dolomedes often do when they feel threatened: escape under the water!

Her concealment was not nearly good enough though, as she only popped just under the water’s surface, and she was still super easy to see! There she is, hairs covered in a film of air, clinging to a rock.

Here my shot gets photobombed by a fly attracted to my headlamp, just above the surface where the Dolomedes lurks.

 

I was able to coax her back onto the rock briefly for this shot showing her lovely dorsal surface. Note how even just out of the water she does not appear wet at all, as her hairs are hydrophobic.

 

She quickly went back down, in a slightly different position. Here we are looking down on the rear of her abdomen.

A bit of coaxing, and we can see her from the right side in a more open situation. To shoot this, I had half of my diffuser actually under the water, so I was not dealing with reflection from the surface.

So after this session with the big female, we left her alone, and looked along the edge of the stream for more Dolomedes.

For this shot of a juvenile, I tried to use the pop-up flash to see if I could get the eyeshine. You can see it, but it is not the same as in real time moving your headlamp and seeing the surprisingly bright reflected light.

Another juvenile in hunting position in woody debris above the stream.

Finally, a juvenile chilling high above the stream on some vegetation.

By the time I had shot this last frame, it was past midnight, and having driven a long ways from the Otago Peninsula the day before, and hiked all over the beach on our katipo tour, we decided to call it a night…But what a treat, seeing so many wonderful Dolomedes!!!! It was super impressive to encounter so many (we will post more from all around the island). They really seem to be the dominant large cursorial spider in a great many NZ habitats.

Wide (ish) macro continued: The EFS 24 mm STM

So yesterday I covered wide-ish macro with the 18-55 kit lens, so today I will go over a lens that I have found to be much more promising and fun: the EFS 34 mm STM. This is a lens that Gil Wizen turned me on to, and boy was he right. It is a great focal length, fairly fast (F 2.8), is VERY small (a so-called “pancake” lens) and is very inexpensive.

Closeups without tubes

Even without being used on tubes, it focuses quite closely, and is suitable for all manner of closeup photography. Here are a few examples of the lens being used without tubes:

This is a pretty straightforward (not too creative) use of the lens: a closeup of a small garter snake. The close focus allows an intimate look at the reptile and some of the background.

 

Alaus oculatus, shot in Ontario. One thing you will notice is the rainbow-like flare, I am not sure if this is common to all copies, or if it just because my rear element has a small crack in it. Whatever it is, I like it.

In this shot of Prionyx, you can see the flare crop up again.

A damselfly at dawn.

Enoplognatha ovata,with killed Ammophila. In this shot, the foreground details show good focus and contrast, and the sunstar is 7-sided and diffuse, which I find infinitely more attractive than the hexagon of the 18-55.

Closeups with tubes

A ways past dawn, the flare from the sun has less colour, but is still kind of awesome.

This jumping bristletail looks great in the evening light

Catherine with a snakefly (Agulla sp.)

How to make it work

So I hope the above examples have convinced you that the 24 mm is a great lens for some closeups that are relatively wide compared to a standard macro lens. If you do decide to embark on trying this or the 18-55 or similar lenses, you will run in to the problem of lighting your subject…You could try a handheld flash, but I found this a bit difficult to use due to the proximity of the subject and the need for a steady base down low. What I ended up doing is modifying the Monster Macro Rig to mount the camera body to the rail, and using the magic arms on the rig to position the diffused flashes. This is a bit cumbersome, but I found that it works quite well. I have not done a lot of real environmental shots with this rig however, mostly incorporating wider views of the sky and trees rather than the nitty gritty of the vegetation. If I do manage some of these tougher shots, it could be that the Monster Rig is just too cumbersome to maneuver in close quarters.

Cheapskate Tuesday: (wideish) macro part 1, the 18-55 kit lens

When I have not been blogging for a while, I usually start posts off with a bit of self-flagellation, followed by apologies and a promise to do better in the future. But to heck with that, what about a bit of shameless self-promotion instead? Nah, that does not work either.

But something wakens Ibycter from her mighty slumber, and that is as shameful desire to take part in Science Borealis’ People’s Choice Award:

Now, for the self-flagellation: By no means can I hope to be the people’s choice in this, or anything, as my blogging has been abysmal the  past year. But I have been doing regular sci comm activities on Twitter where the majority of our current fieldwork on black widow spiders has been communicated. Of course, I have been throwing in a bunch of photography and the like, and often post images taken during my early morning sojourns to the fieldsite and beyond.

This season, I have been wanting to explore in more depth the possibilities of wide angle macro with an SLR. Last year, I was attempting to do so with the venerable A720IS, but I was getting really tired of having to trigger flashes via slave mode (it does NOT work well in the sunlight!).

So what wide lenses do I have? Well, the widest has got to be the old 18-55 kit lens, and often-derided, but actually quite nice little stabilized zoom lens, sold with many Canon kits (other manufacturers often have one too). My copy is a little on the old side, and the autofocus no longer works, but it should serve well for playing with.

So I slapped together a hideous contraption, added 12 mm extension tubes, and took it out a few times this season. I will show results in the wide, wideish, and definitely not wide focal lengths to give you an idea what I was able to achieve.

Definitely Not Wide

The 18-55 on 12 mm extension tube, zoomed fully to 55 mm. At this focal length, the lens serves well as a moderate focal length macro lens, with decent colour rendition and acceptable sharpness. This is an image of what I believe is Megachile perihirta.

 

Here again at 55 mm, the lens shows good characteristics for macfophotography. The downside is the hexagonal rendition of out of focus highlights (in this case the sun)…Even stopping down to f22 will not round out these edges significantly. My advice is avoid such situations when shooting with this lens.

This image of Scleropogon bradleyi (a big late summer robber fly) is also shot at 55 mm. Pretty decent sharpness, not too bad with colour rendition and contrast.

Wideish

This image of a western red-backed salamander I shot at 25mm. It is wide-ish bringing in a bit of the background.

This image of Prionyx canadensis (a sphecid wasp) was shot at 27 mm. It brings in a decent amount of background, showing that this was shot by the water at dawn. Note the hexagonal highlight below the wasp’s head. This is a harbinger of bad things to come…

Another shot of the Megachile male, showing it in front of Albert Head Lagoon. This was shot at 25 mm, and I was quite impressed with the contrast.

A group of Ammophila resting on Puget Sound Gumweed. This I shot at 28 mm, and I do like it…

Wide

This is a shot at 18 mm, as wide as it goes. Yikes! Look at all that crap! This focal length is very close with a 12 mm tube, and the point of focus is very near the front element. This means that crud in, on, under and around the front element is fairly well in focus. Being a zoom, the interior of the lens is definitely not pristine. This problem is exacerbated by the need to pump light close to the lens, resulting in ugly flaring of the crud as the front element is obliquely illuminated. I ended up removing the front element for a good cleaning, but the problem has not entirely disappeared. It is more manageable though.

 

Here is a shot with less sky, again at 18 mm. This shows nicely how the background is not fully blurred, and the scattered logs and moss of the habitat are visible.

 

What would a post be without a Coelioxys? Here is one on Island View Beach, sleeping on grass. This too was shot at 18 mm, and brings a bunch of the background elements into semi-focus.

I will sum up in a future post, but for now, let me state that the 18-55 is an underrated lens. It is tricky to use at the widest setting, but at moderate and long focal lengths is a decent stand in for a macro lens. The hexagonal highlights are not very attractive, but given care as to the field of view and lighting, it is very usable for both short tele and wide-angle macro. I have not tried it with autofocus, as my lens will not do this anymore (maybe I will get the guts to rip its guts out one day and fix it), but at the distances you will have to light macro subjects at, autofocus would be more of a hindrance.

Tomorrow, I will cover another option for cheap wide (ish) angle macro, which I actually found to be much more enjoyable and higher quality than the 18-55. I will also cover briefly how I used both of these lenses.

Hexura picea feeding videos

 

Catherine and I just got back from a trip to the Walbran Valley, where we met up with an awesome tarantula relative Hexura picea. Read all about it here, and then check out these videos I took today of feeding specimens we brought back alive. They seem to have taken well to their new settings!

The silk lining of the burrow entrance of a captive Hexura picea.

#TeamBlackWidow is back in the field!

This post will be an update on #TeamBlackWidow...As you may have guessed, based on following the #TeamBlackWidow hashtag on Twitter, we have arrived back in BC and are engaged in the early stages of our season’s fieldwork. Catherine and I are set up in a really nice basement suite in a house in the countryside (owned by arachnologists!) and are very much enjoying the new space (compared to our 400 square feet in Toronto).

We have been to our fieldsite several times for reconnaissance and mapping, and have staked out quite a few logs on the southern portion of the beach for observation.

The point prefaced with L2XX are new territory we have mapped out, and are largely not congruent with our 2016 observation sites

So what have we found so far? Well, the spider season this year is much delayed compared to what we saw last year, with no females with egg sacs, and most of the spiders just beginning to fatten up on springtime bees and flies.

Only this past week have we seen any adult males at all, with most males we have found being only penultimate (one molt away from maturity).

The males all have the typical “winter male” form, being larger than summer males, and quite dark, much like an immature female.

By way of comparison, we saw our first mature male and our first egg sac on April 20 of last year. This year, as of today, we have only seen two mature males, and not a single egg sac. The weather has been cool and often rainy, and the widows are off to a slow start.

With these conditions, we have not been focusing on field observations, instead working to prepare a set of experiments to perform before we have to return to Toronto in June.

Catherine loading spiders into field cages, assisted by Darwin, one of the cats who lives here.

 

Weekend Expedition 73: Mississauga woodlands with Gil

Yesterday I went out to the woodlands near University of Toronto Mississauga with Gil for a springtime walk. We were hoping to see some post-breeding Ambystoma salamanders, and whatever else caught our eye…After a long cold and largely photo-free winter, this outing proved to be rather awesome…

The first big spider we saw was this pretty amaurobiid.

Their velvety abdomens are quite lovely in soft light.

On one of the treetrunks we examined, we saw this gorgeous little male jumper.

What a stunning little spider! What could he be? He looks reminiscent of Habronattus

Turns out this is Naphrys pulex, indeed a Habronattus relative, and such a handsome fellow!

Gil found this anyphaenid (ghost spider) and as soon as I saw it, I knew Catherine would be very excited. We don’t have a ton of these in BC, but it seems Ontario has a few more.

What an elegant looking ghost spider!

We did find some Ambystoma, starting with this awesome Jefferson’s salamander

And a spotted salamander was a real treat to see in the wild!

Look at the pretty spots! So cool to see in a burrowing salamander.

I did find a lovely ant in the genus Aphaenogaster…This somewhat large red one should be easy to ID to species, but my book is at the ROM currently…

And the absolutely, most fabulous find of the day (in my opinion) was this absolutely stunning hibernating queen European Hornet…

We do not get these in BC, so I was hugely impressed by the large size and vivid colours of this monster of a queen!

I am sure this is one of the most lovely social wasps I have laid eyes on in North America….

The day was rounded out nicely with the find of a pair of Platycryptus undatus, larger eastern versions of the Platycryptus californicus we are used to from BC

Really impressive jumpers these P. undatus are, with gorgeous fuzzy faces!

Weekend Expedition 72: Leslie Spit with Gil and Catherine

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Fall is swiftly turning into winter here in southern Ontario, with cold nights and disappearing leaves…This weekend looked like the last in while to offer any kind of warmish temperatures, so Catherine, Gil Wizen and I headed to Tommy Thompson Park (Leslie Spit) o see if we could find some cool arthropods. The following is a condensed collection of pictures I managed to get.

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On the way to pick up Gil at the train station, I snapped this shot. It actually has Catherine in the frame.

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You can see that the goldenrod has largely gone to seed.

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A surprisingly colorful Phidippus audax.

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Just look at that abdomen!

 

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There were quite a few syrphids about, some of them just had to bask on exposed perches in order to warm up enough to fly.

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We saw about a jillion cucumber leaf beetles (Diabrotica undecimpunctata), mainly feeding on goldenrod

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A “buffalo treehopper” (a membracid in the genus Ceresa) hides out on a willow stem. Gil took a bunch of shots of this with both wide lens and MPE-65, so look out for them!

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This is an alydid bug (broad-headed bug), one of several we saw basking in the morning sun. This is likely Alydus eurinus, a common species in Ontario.

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These beachside wolf spiders (Pardosa) are plainly ornamented, but just a lovely shade of bluish gray.

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A really really big mite we found under some bark. This is likely a species of Trombidium.

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The subjects of a high-mag MPE-65 shot have got to be really calm creatures. Check out how this pierid is dwarfed by Gil’s diffuser.

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It was the most cooperative pierid ever.

 

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This is my attempt at wide-angle macro of the same insect.

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A squashed Pardosa wolf spider on the road, being fed on by Myrmica rubra.

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Winter is definitely coming. This Culex pipiens has a “hypertrophied fat body” (she is fat) a condition that adapts her to living out the winter in a sheltered location.

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Golden dung flies (Scathophaga stercoraria) having an end-of-summer romance.

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A Myrmica rubra worker investigating a fungus-killed caterpillar. If she feeds on this carcass, and gets infected, her colony will likely kill her, then dispose of her body somewhere far away.

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The alianthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea) is a beautiful species that is not found in BC…Though seems quite common here.

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A gorgeous amaurobiid spider, recently disturbed from her cribellate silk retreat.

 

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A running crab spider in the genus Thanatus. They look much the same wherever you find them.

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OK, I saved one of my fave shots for last, this time it is an Agapostemon bee sitting in a flower. I just love the colour combinations and the textures.

A roundup of recent shots

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The spider fieldwork Catherine and I have been doing at Island View Beach progresses slowly. Natural history observations and experiments take up most of our nights, but I have still been getting the opportunity to do some photography and arthropod outings here and there. Here is a sampling of some recent shots that I think you might enjoy.

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This is Island View Beach, near our fieldwork site. It is a gorgeous beach, and a rare habitat type: dune vegetation is in short supply around here.

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One of the rare plants to be found on Island View Beach is the yellow sand verbena, a gorgeous dune plant with lovely-smelling flowers.

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This moth, the sand verbena moth (Copablepharon fuscum) depends on the yellow sand verbena, and is endangered. Catherine is working on a blog post about the controversy surrounding this species.

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On a recent outing to the beach in the daytime, I was very excited to find this robber fly, which I believe is Laphria franciscana. Wonderful blue eyes!

I have still had my eye out for spiders, and this Misumena vatia with a honeybee was a lovely find in Uplands Park.

I have still had my eye out for spiders, and this Misumena vatia with a honeybee was a lovely find in Uplands Park.

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I have been finding some bee flies lately resting on grasses. Here is one I shot with the A720IS.

This Lorquin's Admiral we saw at Island View Beach, resting on a rose bush

This Lorquin’s Admiral we saw at Island View Beach, resting on a rose bush

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Nighttime fieldwork on Cordova Spit allowed me to shoot this Ammophila against the darkening sky.

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The next morning, I found this purplish copper resting on a dead flower.

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I also found a beautiful potter wasp, an insect I do not often see resting on vegetation.

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During nightwork on the beach, I found this mother woodlouse with a load of babies.

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This sleeping aggregation of Coelioxys and Ammophila was particularly impressive. I wish I had been able to shoot hem at dawn!

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Early this morning at Mt. Tolmie, I found this beautiful little cuckoo wasp sleeping on some grass.

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A stinkbug against the dawn sky.

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This lovely cuckoo bee is either an Epeolus or Triepeolus…I found three of them at Mt. Tolmie this morning.