Tag Archive | macro

Weekend Expedition 71: Mississauga salamander hunt


After a week of warmth, Gil Wizen and I set out for the same woods we visited last week, in order to see if we could find any salamanders out to take advantage of the vernal pools. The snow was completely gone, and the pools ice-free, although it was overcast and a nippy 5 C.


There were flies and moths out on the vegetation, indicating at least that the insects have begun to wake up.


Even a male orb weaver was out, although he did not have a capture web.


Near the vernal pools, we started to flip some logs, hoping for a treasure rove of salamanders, but initially we found only millipedes, beetles and some small red-backed salamanders.


There were quite a few firefly larvae in the rotted wood, as well as some rove beetles.


Very close to the vernal pools, Gil found this Jefferson’s Salamander, Ambystoma jeffersonianum. This (to me) was a big beast, dwarfing the longtoed salamanders from BC. This species is endangered in Ontario, although it is common in other parts of its range.


They are a difficukt species to capture well in a photograph, and for this shot I stood off at a distance and used the 300 mm. Luckily it was overcast, and the light in the forest was diffuse. The salamander was quite motionless, and probably was not pleased about being out in daylight.


We replaced the big amphibian, and wished it well. Soon, hopefully, many of its fellows will come down to breed in these little vernal pools.


We also found a few redbacked salamanders, which are a species of plethodontid. These animals have no need of open water to breed, and in fact lay their eggs in moist soil and wood, hatching out into juveniles with legs already formed. They are lungless, and never need gills either!


These Plethodon are a bit easier to photograph, although they might have benefited from a more diffuse flash.


After leaving Gil to pack for his coming trip to Ecuador, I found my way home was blocked by a big St. Patrick’s day parade. It was scheduled to last several hours, so I crawled through the awful Toronto traffic to Tommy Thompson Park to kill some time until my annoying relatives had cleared out of town. I found a couple of nice sac spiders under some bark.


These Clubiona have very impressive chelicerae, but never seem to threaten to use them. Instead, they are very prone to jumping when disturbed.


I found some European fire ants under a rock, and took some photos. They were still rather lethargic, and hence not much of a stinging hazard!


They are quite pretty little ants, and Toronto seems to abound with them now.


Here a worker antennates a queen. You can see her much-enlarged thorax and wing scars.


Despite their wings, the queens do not disperse by flying in North America, a trait they seem to have lost. In addition, the colonies here are often much larger than those in Europe.


First Coelioxys of 2014!


I am so excited to have met up with (on Saturday) my favourite little bees, Coelioxys! Something about these streamlined little wonders is just so appealing to me. Of course, they were sleeping in their usual manner on the rainy morning, so I had good opportunities to play with the lighting.


Here is what a cluster of Coelioxys looks like, on a dead flower stalk.


Because of the rain, this one had quite a bit of water accumulated.


Like with the Ammophila yesterday, the water adds something to the already pretty texture.



For this shot and the one at the top, I used some hard light from the rear and to the right to make these droplets shine. The green streak is a plant stem in the background.


This bee is starting to wake, and grooming begins even before detaching her mandibles.


In the midst of waking up…


Now the bee is detached, and looking for a place to groom all this water off.


After a couple swipes with the feet, the thorax is drier.


This pretty little bee had a bit of a drier perch for the night.




Sand Lovers


In addition to the bundles of sleeping bees I found at Iona Beach on Saturday, I also encountered some Ammophila wasps. Their name means “Sand Lover” and they are major predators of caterpillars in sandy habitats. They sting their prey precisely to paralyze it, then bury them in dungeons under the sand for their larvae to eat. The wasps I was shooting were resting on various vegetation, especially stiffer dead flowerheads. The rain made for some beautiful texture and reflections.


Most sleeping Hymenoptera I find seem to have a preference for dead vegetation. Perhaps this is less attractive to other animals and makes for a disturbance-free night? In addition, the dead twigs and flowers are often stiffer and don’t blow around as much.


In sleeping mode, these wasps grasp tightly with their mandibles. If you disturb them, they quickly re-grasp the substrate rather than waking and moving.



Here is one on a living plant. I like the way the droplets highlight the smooth abdomen.


It can be a wet business sleeping in the rain. I suppose while they are sleeping they must shut down their grooming responses.



Here is another Sphecid, not Ammophila, but perhaps Isodontia?

Tomorrow I will thrill you with some more sleeping hymenopterans…I have saved the best of them for last!


Weekend Expedition 50: Richmond Nature Park


Wow! I can’t believe Weekend Expedition is turning 50! Seems like just yesterday we were at Richmond Nature Park, bringing bugs to kids and speculating how cool it would be to walk around and see the place. Catherine and I saddled up after a long week to see what we could see in this Richmond gem, a bog forest habitat just off Westminster Highway. The day was bright and sunny, but it was cool on the trails.


A male linyphiid (sheetweb weaver) hangs out on Oregon Grape.


These staphylinids seem to be having a sex party on a flowering Labrador Tea.


Catherine and I got our animal feeding jollies at home before setting out: we now have some really fat spiders!


Some prime spotting by Catherine: a female Snakefly!



This (lauxaniid?) is feeding on the corpse of a barklouse.


I really like how this chironomid blends into the lit-up leaf.


This one, in contrast, stands out.


This place is full of blueberries, all along the trails. None ripe yet though!


Here is a male Philodromus dispar in silhouette.


We found a whole bunch of rhaphidophorids (camel crickets) under some bark.


Back out toward the entrance was a newly-fledged Rufous Hummingbird.


Mama would come periodically with food.


The fledgling was already feeding itself as well!


This throat-stabby feeding looks painful, but seems to work well enough.


The whole scene was quite wonderful to see. In only a month and a half, they will be shipping out for a long migration south.



Weekend Expedition 49: you don’t have to go far!


This weekend I spent close to home, working on my final thesis tweaks before it goes out to my committee. Instead of going on a proper expedition, I decided to explore our new neighbourhood of Kerrisdale. Right near our house is a largely-disused railway line that has some good habitat, including tall grasses and saplings, so that is where I rambled. In addition to finding the cuckoo wasps on Friday evening, I also saw a bunch of other cool stuff!


At the top of the grasses where I found the chrysidids, I encountered many large sac spiders (Clubionidae). These fearsome-looking spiders all seemed to be feeding on the same thing: Aphids! With these huge chelicerae and fangs, it seems to be a bit of an overkill!


Check out the chelicerae on this girl!


Also interested in aphids, these Myrmica are milking a thriving colony on a sapling. I figure these are Myrmica incompleta, a fairly robust species.


Myrmica are rather fascinating ants, and a genus I am working with. More on this another day.


These ants have quite the herd of aphids!


On a quick trip to Trout Lake (in East Van), I found some little katydid nymphs. These appear to be meadow katydids, a welcome change from the introduced drumming katydids.


A robust dolichopodid (Long-legged Fly) by the side of Trout Lake. They are quick!


Not quick enough for this tiger fly (Coenosia spp.)!


Here is a Coenosia looking regal and dramatic in the sunset.


This golden dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria) was also looking regal (and probably freshly-eclosed).


Back at the railroad tracks in Kerrisdale, I found these Lasius taking honeydew from a scale insect on an oak sapling.


and some mating Coleophora deauratella (red clover casebearer).

Sleeping Cuckoo Wasps!


Last time I got up close with sleeping Hymenoptera, I was shooting Nomada, also known as cuckoo bees. Friday night, about 100 m from my new apartment, I shot some Chrysididae, also known as cuckoo wasps or jewel wasps, which are also nest parasites of stinging Hymenoptera. These gorgeous little wasps are super tough (if you have ever pinned them) with a highly sculptured cuticle and the ability to roll up in a little ball, presumably for defense while dealing with stinging hosts. Peering at a series of pinned cuckoo wasps in Intro Entomology was a big part in winning me over to study insects!

Unlike other sleeping hymenopterans I have shot (Coelioxys, Megachile, Nomada and Ammophila), these guys seem to use their ball-rolling muscles to cling on to the grasses. Because they were so small, I was wishing for more magnification…I could not even find my extension tubes!


These wasps are some of the most gorgeous insects around.


Here you can see the wasp’s feet clinging on, as well as the concave abdomen which also facilitates the defensive posture.



I tried getting both of them to sleep on the same flower, but they seemed to maintain a sizable personal space. While I was doing this, late-foraging yellowjjacket queens were examining the tops of the grasses as well. There were also many sleeping blowflies on the grasses, which may have been what the yellowjackets were hunting for.


Here the two cuckoo’s are finally settling down again. They both appear to be male, with 13 segments on the antennae.


A bit of stretching before bed.


They seem to be connected by a detached bit of spider silk.



In the morning I went back to the site, and both were still on the same plant. Here one of the wasps cleans his eye.


And appears to be ready to start the day!




Weekend Expedition 48: Iona and McDonald Beach, Pacific Spirit Park


Ochlerotatus dorsalis, a saltmarsh breeding mosquito, is abundant at both McDonald and Iona Beach. This one was particularly persistent and bit readily on my hand.

This weekend, Catherine and I made a few quick trips around the area to hit some of our favourite haunts. The weather was nice, but after a long week including a move back to the Lower Mainland, we were not up for major exertion. Here are some of the cool things we saw.


An dew-covered weevil at McDonald Beach.


Here is another shot of the Ochlerotatus dorsalis. This light-coloured, day-biting mosquito is super-pretty.


The forest of Pacific Spirit Park was full of harvestmen. They could be found on almost every bush along the trail we walked.


This sac spider posed for at least a few frames before dropping to the ground.


A freshly emerged muscoid fly. You can see the ptilinum poking out from the front of its face (just above teh antennae), which it used to pop the cap off its puparium.


A particularly robust springtail on a fallen leaf.


This damsel bug appears to be feeding on some kind of nematoceran fly.


At Iona Beach, there are oodles of non biting midges (Chironomidae) as there are sewage ponds nearby as well as less-polluted man-made ponds.


A male zebra jumper.


This cuckoo wasp was diligently exploring every nook and cranny in this dead log, looking for a host nest for her eggs.


I love the metallic sheen on these. They are also notable for having a very hard exoskeleton, a trait shared with other nest parasites such as velvet ants (Mutillidae).


This shot is pretty cute!



Osprey are always hunting around the ponds at Iona, and this one made several flybys.


The Yellow headed Blackbird can be found at Iona, one of the only places on the coast where it occurs.











Some late fall/early winter insects


Damsel Bugs (Nabidae) can still be found this time of year.

All the leaves were brown, and the sky was kinda gray, but with some blue yesterday. I went for a walk around the campus, and found some bugs!




A tree aphid. These seem to lack cornicles.


A robust little fly. Any ID suggestions? Update! Valérie Lévesque has ID’ed this as a Scuttle Fly, family Phoridae! Thanks Valérie!



The winter moths are here. You can blow on them to get them in this position.

I don’t get out much…


Seriously, I don’t get out much! The recent rainy weather has made photography and pretty well all other outdoor activity really unpleasant. In addition, it seems more and more work is piling up that requires my attention. Because we had a rare sunny break yesterday, I went out on the campus for an hour to see what I could see. And what I could see was soggy! The summer insects are gone, and seemingly the forest is once again the realm of water, fungi, dampness and decay.

Update: I read this line in a novel this morning: “In the distance… Simon Fraser University rose up on Burnaby Mountain, a cluster of grey-slab buildings, miserable and gloomy, saved from utter desolation by the surrounding patches of evergreen trees.”

From “A Thousand Bayonets” by Joel Mark Harris.

Seems appropriate!


Some nice Mycena.


Witches’ Butter! This is a weird basidiomycete that grows on woody debris (and sometimes bark).


This is not predation, but just photographic conjunction of an amaurobiid and a millipede.


The damsel bugs can be found through much of the fall.


Some kind of Coprinus.


Chicken-of-the-Woods! This is an older fruitbody, but I probably would have grabbed it when it was younger (if I got out more).



A hardy orbweaver sits in her tiny web.


I may not get out, but sometimes insects come in! This Western Conifer Seed Bug came into the lab. looking for an overwintering spot.

Weekend Expedition 32: Iona in the morning


A Northern Harrier decides not to pose.

On Saturday I saddled up the bike in the pre-dawn hours to get out to Iona Beach, in the hopes I could find a sleeping insect smorgasbord such I I had previously found on Island View Beach.  Iona has been productive for me in the past, especially for things such as jumping spiders and wintering raptors, and in previous Septembers I have found quite a wide range of Phiddippus. Saturday was not as productive as I had hoped, and  I had trouble turning up many of the creatures I would normally expect this time of year. I did get some cool shots though. I hope you enjoy them.

Noisy high ISO shot of the moon from a moving bike!

UPS, delivering on-time and charging exorbitant brokerage fees. More on this in a future post.


My favourite shot of the day, a long-jawed orbweaver (Tetragnathidae), with the dawn light flaring the lens.


There were still quite a few lady beetles about, which stood out on the dying vegetation.


A freshly-moulted harvestperson.


Grasshoppers appeared to be basking in the morning chill.


I was hoping to find more sleeping wasps and bees, but only found a few Ammophila, later in the morning and way down the beach.



This Polistes dominula nest was fallen due to rain and the chewing of isopods, a common fate for nests in the late season.



The skies were dramatic, foretelling the crazy rain that Sunday brought. The beach was a bit desolate, but soon there will be wintering Short-eared Owls, not to mention migrating Snow Geese.


Just like Island View is the heart of black widow country, Iona has an amazing abundance of hobo spiders (Tegenaria agrestis). For some reason, their close relatives, the giant house spiders (T. duellica) are not as abundant.