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BC Day Long Weekend part 2: Bees in the garden


A second feature of this past weekend was getting out to various gardens and plantings to see some flower visitors. I first stopped off at the Strathcona community garden, then some gardens near Commercial drive.


Early morning on Echinacea: often bumblebees don’t make it home in the evening, and I find them dew-wettened, clinging to the flowers they were visiting the previous evening. They are in no mood to fly in this state, and I get the opportunity to experiment with lighting.


With a diffused flash to the left, and a reflector card on the right, this bee gets the beauty treatment, despite her bad hair day!


For some reason, this bumblebee looks to me like she is enjoying a belly laugh.


The advantage of working with immobilized insects cannot be overstated. This shot mixes in the dawn light, hence the sunbeam!


I found a few other creatures in the garden, such as this awesome sac spider.


This flower longhorn was one of the few non-bee insects I ended up shooting at Strathcona.


Here is a dew-wettened honeybee on some kind of mint.


And a dry honeybee foraging on Echinacea.


Later, during the heat of the day, I went to Grandview Park near Commercial Drive. This is our native paper wasp, Polistes aurifer.


There were a whole lot of the introduced wool carder bees (Anthidium manicatum) foraging and stalking on catmint. Here is a male on his lookout perch, where he watches for rivals and females to chase.


One of the few times they are still is during copulation, wherein the male violently grabs the female while she feeds. I believe the white tuft on the male tibia has something to do with shading part of the female’s eye.


They seem to be having a good time.



I do not normally chill insects, but this male I chilled for a short time to see what would happen. they are normally out on such hot days, it stood to reason they would be sensitive to chilling. This procedure allowed about a minute of shooting, and in not such terrible positions either.


Here he is, looking fierce and about to fly off.


Booty duty: this natural light shot shows a megachilid with a scopa full of pollen.


Pretty boy: finding the male of Agapostemon texanus is a wonderful thing. The combination of the striped abdomen and brilliant green is hard to resist. They would steal my heart from Coelioxys if they weren’t so damn fast!

Weekend Expedition 27: SFU and the Pandora Community Garden


This weekend I have been working on revisions on a paper, so have not had time for a full-fledged expedition, but I spent a couple hours outside the lab at school (Simon Fraser University) on Saturday and Sunday, and some time in the Community Garden at Pandora Park in the evenings. For the time invested, it was not a bad haul of shots!


Dis you know that National Moth Week is upon us? This Pale Beauty did! Check back here Thursday for moth shots, as I am organizing a nighttime light trapping at school Wednesday night.


Mounting a second flash in a tree up the trail, I mimicked what a foraging bird might cue in on when examining sun-struck foliage.


Once he landed, this fly was very cooperative for photography! I didn’t notice his Nematoceran buddy til later though.


Here I am trying to make millipedes look good.


A Coquillettidia perturbans feeds on my arm. This species has larvae with a blade-like siphon that they pierce plant tissue with in order to breathe. They never have to come to the surface.


Found this firebrat (Thermobia domestica) in a basement hallway at SFU. They must have been on my mind, as my friend Nathan Woodbury just defended his PhD last week describing how these guys use symbiotic bacteria and fungi as site cues for resting spots.


A male Polistes dominula found at the community garden. I should revise my post about in situ on white, because I find when I push the whites using levels in Photoshop, I get a cleaner result than in  ACR…


Polistes dominula and thrips. What a size difference!


Bombus vosnesenskii on lavender. They really are an elegant bee.




I put the Polistes on an Echinacea. I think he liked it.


At the SFU comminity gardens, a honeybee learns the perils of pollination.


This is one of the major perils, and so pretty! The Goldenrod Crab Spider lies in wait, and seems to blend in with its surroundings.


A Snipe Fly (Rhagionidae likely in the genus Rhagio) in the clutches of death.


Will this hoverfly learn? No one can say. This pullback shot was possible thanks to the Monster Macro Rig; see the next picture for details.


This is a configuration you can use for pullback shots using the Monster Macro Rig. Notice that the camera body is pulled way back on the Arca rail, and the magic arms are somewhat extended forward. It can go even further than that, but mostly I use it close in. Photo by Mike Hrabar, who captured a wicked shot of the Crab Spider and Snipe Fly encounter.


Speaking of hoverflies, what I love about this shot is how the vortices from the landing fly kick up the pollen.


Honeybee, looking elegant on Echinacea.


The Weekend Expedition ended with this lovely Brown Lacewing on a daisy neat the Pandora Park Community Garden.

Weekend Expedition 67: the mythical white squirrels of Trinity Bellwoods

IMG_9607Catherine and I undertook a short expedition out to Trinity Bellwoods Park to see if we could spot the famous white squirrels which live in the area. These are not a different species, but rather a colour morph of the native Eastern Gray Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis. We did see a white squirrel on the coffee shop outside, along with some white squirrel bling on the inside. Unfortunately, I found the coffee was sour in that particularly obnoxious way that clueless hipsters are so fond of. “Yeah man, I liked coffee before it was good. You wouldn’t understand.”

(BTW, this type of crappy coffee is not limited to Toronto. We found more than our fair share in Vancouver as well. )


We did of course see some black squirrels, another morph that folks further south find quite interesting. These are actually quite common all over Toronto.


The park itself is a bit of an overrun mudpit in the winter, which the dogs seem to enjoy, but makes for treacherous walking.


The squirrels did squirrely things, such as hand face first down treetrunks, and sit in high branches making clucking sounds. These are scatter-hoarding rodents, caching food through the summer in order to survive the winter, but in urban areas make a good living on handouts and raiding gardens.


We saw several wasp nests, free of waspy occupants in the frigid air. Luckily there are lots of tree cavities around for the new queens to overwinter.


The more typically-coloured gray variant of the gray squirrel was in evidence as well, doing some major clucking from perches, as well as seeing of we had any nuts to fork over.


They are quite handsome animals, and one can’t help but marvel at their strength and speed as they navigate the trees. A squirrel must also have a tough heart to endure all the rapid climbs and descents.


The black morph probably gains some thermal advantages that offset the increased predation risk of having such an obvious coat colour.


The most exciting part of this trip was watching the squirrels chase each other, something that will probably happen more frequently in springtime. It did however, lead to my best shot of the day:


Voilà! The flying squirrel! A bit out of focus on the head, but still pretty good for a speeding squirrel!



“Too many bugs! Have to put down cement!”

IMG_9326I was delighted to discover that right across our street is a thriving metropolis of solitary bees (my guess is Halictus   EDIT: my guess was wrong! Thanks Erin! These are likely from the family Andrenidae). I was out taking some shots of these insects, when an elderly woman (from Italy I think) paused to look at what I was doing. I often get looks when photographing in public, so I explained how happy I was to see these bees right next to a community garden, and how cool it was to watch them work. She replied: “Too many bugs! Have to put down cement!”, and walked off.







I am sure the owners of this apple tree do not mind the bees!



Weekend Expedition 58: fun in Stanley Park


This weekend was quite busy, with the Entomological Society of British Columbia conference taking place Friday and Saturday, taking up most of my time. The conference was quite good, and Catherine and I gave some well-received presentations. This Sunday, I celebrated by heading out to see what I could see in Stanley Park.


The fall colours really make for some gorgeous backgrounds, especially thrown out of focus with wide apertures.


The omnipresent diurnal raccoon crew near Lost Lagoon.


I added some more to my body of crow portraits. I especially like this one’s mouth!


Such gorgeous birds!


Not much was happening on the insect front, perhaps because of the recent heavy rains. I found this Meconema in the rhododendron garden.


Herons are always fun to shoot, even in relatively boring light.


Amanita muscaria, looking good enough to eat (probably shouldn’t though!)


Weekend Expedition 51: Wild Research Butterfly ID workshop


This weekend, I went to the UBC Botanical Garden to cover another Butterfly ID workshop for Wild Research. This was very similar to last year’s event, basically a crash course in family and species-level ID of BC butterflies and a pitch to take part in the BC Butterfly Atlas project. This project is a citizen science initiative aimed at documenting diversity and trends among butterfly species across the province.  The classroom learning in the morning was followed by a walk around the grounds to catch and ID butterflies found amid the large botanical collection, which represents several BC habitat types.


Getting the ID sheet squared away with the field guides.


This kid was the focus of much of my attention! Super cute and periodically voicing her opinion on the proceedings.



ID quiz!


Seriously, the kid was pretty adorable.


We learned about diversity and ecology of butterflies, as well as planting a garden with butterflies in mind.


Butterflies can get to be about this big! (Taisha Mitchell was actually talking about planting for butterflies, and did a great job!)


I think I can see the speaker and the screen in her glasses. Enhance!


Well I guess that only works in the movies…




A Western Tiger Swallowtail in the garden.



Captive-reared Painted Ladies were on hand in case no wild ones showed up!


I am not sure what she is planning to do with this Painted Lady, but my guess is eat it!


A beautiful Halictid on the way to the Alpine section.


Getting familiar with the sweep net is an important component of the indoctrination training.



The pond in the Alpine section is actually a good place to find Pacific Treefrogs!


Ibycter 2013: a year of photos and blogging


2013 has been a great year for shooting as well as for getting my images out to people who are interested, via this blog! There are so many decent images to choose from, and I am a bit pressed for time right now, so I  will organize the pictures that stood out for me phylogenetically.



One of the beautiful Ammophila featured in Ibycter Illustrated. Photographing sleeping Hymenoptera at sunrise gave me a new appreciation for mixing ambient and flash.


I love the way the dew sparkles on this Lycaenid.


In 2013, I got to indulge myself with many opportunities to shoot Coelioxys, my favourite Megachilid.


Using flowers as colourful backdrops was something I explored in the gardens this year.


Not the best technically, but it was great to come upon this scene of predation between Laphria and Apis. Productive slacking indeed!


Another Laphria found on a window provided a good long photo session so I could explore lighting against the sky.


The end result of a syrphid rearing experiment! Feed your syrphid well!


Some time spent in Victoria in the spring was a good time to revise papers and look for beautiful snakeflies!

This was my favourite of the bunch, with the water droplets adding to the interest.

After this shot, I resolved to shoot more ants, but unfortunately I did not follow through. This was the best ant I shot all year.


I explored a bit of underwater photography with micro-aquaria, but could use some more practice.


I got to use the Monster Macro Rig to good effect in lush grasses, where it excels.


And more Coelioxys!



This was a great year for spider photography, and I shot many species, such as this uloborid, Hyptiotes gertschi.


Although I worked out a hypothetical method for better jumping spider photos, I never put it to use. I got some decent jumper pics nonetheless,


While exiled in Port Moody, we managed to witness some dramatic spider action.


Fieldwork at Island View Beach provided a good excuse to shoot black widows and other great animals.


I managed more than my fair share of crab spider shots, like this one during some time in the community garden.


This dramatic shot of a Woodlouse Hunter was a big hit.


Some of the studio shots I took of jumpers at Iona were also pretty dramatic. This Habronattus ophrys male was pretty on black.


Jumpers also stand out on white.


I found several long philodromids this year, which look elegant stretched out in their concealed mode.


Following a gravid Cellar Spider was a great lesson in spider reproduction.

Starting to harden up and recover movement.

This molting clack widow was a great treat to see.

(non-human) Vertebrates


Shooting seals underwater was a highlight late in the year, thanks to aquiring a GoPro.


Getting out to YVR with the Wildlife Control people was a really fun experience. This molting Peregrine tiercel was one of the better shots I ever got of a peregrine.


I indulged my crow photography habit more than a little in 2013


A family of raccoons provided entertainment and photo ops all through the year

duck for blog1

This snapshot of an injured duck led me into some community activism, and was ultimately used in newspapers and at council meetings.


I git some decent shots during feeding time for some barn swallows.


This eagle in a cottonwood highlights the gentle light you can get on a bright summer day under the shade of a tree.


Probably my favourite bird shot this year, this male Annas hummingbird was spectacular in the evening light.


A studio session with Jasmine the cat provided some ammunition in the war for equality.


These trumpeter swans emerging out of the clouds were also a favourite.


Sandhill Cranes up close are kinda crazy looking!


I lost my good friend and adventuring partner this year. Maggie was an awesome dog and I will miss her greatly.



I got out several times with Wild Research on birding trips. This shot of Paul Levsque channeling Steve Zissou was fun.


The most fun I had with people was some of the outreach we did bringing insects and spiders to kids.


Antonia with maggot art at the Halloween Spooktacular


Meeting Alex Wild and others at the ESC in Guelph was an unexpected boost.


Attending Alex Wild’s insect photography workshop with Mike Hrabar was a great way to start the conference.


Sometimes going out mushroom hunting with friends is the best cure for the fall blues.


Catherine Scott, my scientific collaborator and fellow member of Team Caracara has a great smile and killer stats insight.


Getting out and speaking up for what matters is important. This was shot at the “Stand Up For Science” rally in Vancouver.


OK, here are several more shots of kids with bugs. What could be more awesome?




People gathered together for Moth Night. A great way to spend a summer evening!



Doing Barn Owl work with Sofi was pretty fun. We managed to capture several owls.


A butterfly outing!

Tavi and Viorel

Tavi and Viorel


Antonia with a great stonefly!

Post-lunch break!


The sun was shining, the MS revisions were nearly done, I went out to take a break after lunch.


A Stropharia something like Stropharia aeruginosa, near the Community Garden.


These are some of the most common flies around now!


There were caterpillars under the dying rhubarb leaves.


The Acanthosomatid stinkers are still hanging around.


All kinds of crazy Amanita muscaria coming up all over campus.

Ruminations on the rain


It’s raining in Vancouver. I know, big surprise, right? Well, we have had a crazy unusual summer, with all of July hot and sunny. Life cycles of plants and animals accelerated, and the time has just flown by. The grasses in unwatered areas are dead or dormant, grasshoppers and craneflies are nowhere to be found, and I am sure the vole population has taken a hit.

But now it is raining.

Tonight, I had been sitting in front of a big ol’ spreadsheet, pondering an analysis that has not yet come to pass on a paper that I thought was finished (no worries though, Catherine and her mad R-skillz will help out).

Damn, the variables were half-renamed, and I didn’t wanna do it any more.


Before the light totally failed, I headed out to the community garden to take some pictures, raging out at a driver who almost ran me down in the crosswalk outside my house. Damn fools think it’s a freeway or something. I was angry and seething inside while I got to the park.

Time for some macro therapy.

The insects were dealing with the rain with various levels of success.


Some of the honeybees were totally soaked through and depressing, others seemed to soldier on.


I examined a bumblebee working a sunflower for a while; she did not seem to mind the rain, perhaps because of the generous overhang of the plant.


Then I looked down at the leaves of the plant and the yellowing and crispy husks reminded of the sad fact that the summer is slipping away.


In fact, we all know it, summer is short, even on the west coast of Canada. the Turkey Vultures are flying south, the Rufous Hummingbirds are gone, the vine maples up at school are starting to turn strange colours, and the termites are beginning to fly. My thesis is almost done, I need to defend in the fall, I have no job lined up, and a very tenuous plan for the future.  


On the plus side, I have a really cool paper which I hope will be published soon (wait for it! It is my biggie!), Catherine and I will do spider fieldwork next week, and I have plans to visit the caracaras in Honduras in the fall. Things are looking up, if I put it in that context. I still have a lot of work to do, but I am getting better at what I do, and I think the publication of my next paper will be well-received (because it is cool!).

In the meantime, the passing of the summer is just another turn of the season, and I actually love the fall. I should remember to try to get out more and enjoy it all while I can.