Tag Archive | Ammophila

Coelioxys cluster


Last night, Catherine and I were out again all night, performing what was ultimately a futile spider experiment on Cordova Spit (TIXEN in the SENĆOŦEN language). The one thing that did go right was that the dawn had some decent light, so I set out early to try to get some photos of sleeping hymenopterans.

I did not end up shooting very many, as I found this absolutely lovely cluster of Coelioxys which were just begging to be shot. These parasitic megachilids are wonderful subjects, and seem to sleep in small aggregations, sometimes with Ammophila wasps.  Their preferred perches are the dried seedheads of the Puget Sound Gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia), a fragrant seaside plant that is a good place to find halictids in the daytime.

Anyway, here are some of the pictures I took this morning!


Shot with the 100 mm macro, this shot shows the mixed cloud of dawn, and the dew collected on the bees

The same bees shot with the A720IS, in the wideangle macro style.

The same bees shot with the A720IS, in the wideangle macro style. This gives the bees more of a bugeyed look!


A lone Ammophila shot with the 100 mm. These wasps are so elegant!


A similar view of the Ammophila with the A720IS. With this wide a shot you can really see the extent of the sky


I turned around with the A720 to show the vegetation of the spit to the north


As usual, when I find a great subject, I try to frame some up in portrait orientation, just in case I get the call for a National Geographic cover!


A wider view of Ammophila


A “normal” focal length of 27 mm (about equivalent to 43 mm on full frame, so a tiny bit on the wide side).


A focal length of 39 mm (about equivalent to 62.4 mm on full frame, so still actually a telephoto shot). Much wider than the 100 mm lens though!

One of the tasks I have set for myself this season is to start experimenting with wider closeups, a style best demonstrated by great photographers such as Piotr Naskrecki, Clay Bolt and Paul Harcourt. Shooting close and wide has the advantage of showing the subject in the context of its surroundings, and can be surprisingly effective. In fact, a vast proportion of wildlife photography contest winners are shot on wide lenses, as seeing animals in these perspectives can really make for some stunning compositions.

I have been in my 100 mm comfort zone for too long, and I feel the need to get a bit more creative with my composition. In addition, I feel like the context is missing from many of my macro shots, and going wide will help me to centre my subjects in their habitat.

While I can get wide and close with a couple compacts I have, the only SLR lens my kit capable of wide shots is the EFS 18-55 “kit lens”. It is not a bad lens at all, stabilized and light, it is easy to pack around. Last night I made good on my resolution and tried it out on some sleeping Ammophila at McDonald Beach in Richmond.


Here is the same Ammophila cluster at 18 mm, bringing in yet more of the surroundings.


Again at 18 mm, stepping back about 3 cm further from the subject. Small differences in subject distance make a dramatic effect on the picture. Also, here you can see another Ammophila cluster down below and to the right! One of the disadvantages to working with a kit lens is the hexagonal highlights in the out-of focus areas of the background. Pricier zooms have rounded aperture blades that yield a more pleasing “bokeh“.


For all of these shots, I shot handheld in aperture priority, with the subject lit with a diffused manual flash held just overhead. Mostly I dropped the exposure compensation down 2/3-1 stop to emphasize the darkening evening. This shot is at 21 mm.



And here is one shot back in my comfort zone with the 100 mm and the flash held using the Monster Macro Rig at full extension of the rail and friction arm. Be sure to check out the larger versions of all this in this flickr set.



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 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.

Weekend Expedition 31: Sleeping Hymenoptera!


What is the perfect arthropod photographic subject? Cute jumping spiders, powerful robberflies, shiny tiger beetles? I would argue that all these are great, but they are not very easy to do full photographic justice to. No, what you need is something that stays still for long periods of time, at a handy angle for posing against the light, and is pretty to boot! Sleeping bees and wasps fit this bill perfectly! Many solitary bees and wasps perch with their mandibles locked into a plant substrate. making for some fine shooting opportunities. I was lucky enough to come upon two sleeping aggregations with Coelioxys bees and Ammophila wasps at Island View Beach on Friday morning. Because they were so still, I was able to try many kinds of shots with them, I hope you will enjoy seeing them as much as I loved taking them!


The colours of the dawn sky show from the east , while a diffused flash and a fill card light the subject. This is Coelioxys rufitarsus, one of the parasitic Megachilids. These beauties lay their eggs in other Megachilid nests, and their larvae consume their host’s provisions.




This Ammophila was shot using my standard lighting using the Monster Macro Rig.





I love the elegant pointed abdomens of these awesome bees!


This shot of the two sleeping insects was shot from the tripod with all natural light, 1/8 sec, f13.


Tripod shot of the aggregation, silhouetting them against the dawn sky.


This shot shows the Coelioxys waking up.


When I have the time and a great subject, I like to compose some “cover shots”.


Of course I also shot them on white!




This is the second aggregation, a bit further up the beach.