Saturday, May 22, 2010

Life and Death in the Garden Pond

Larvae of the water beetle (Agabus bipustulatus) eating a tadpole (Rana temporaria)

Following the demise of my pond goldfish during the cold winter the garden pond has become a hive of activity. The fish would normally eat anything that moved including tadpoles and beetles. In their absence the pond has reverted to a more natural habitat and is full of tadpoles, dragonfly and damselfly larvae, and water beetles and their larvae. The water beetle larvae are vicious predators and can easily overpower the tadpoles which are often bigger than them. The tadpoles feed mainly on algae but they will eat any dead animals including their own siblings. They also quite like ham!

In these pictures the larvae of a water beetle (Agabus bipustulatus) is feeding on a tadpole (Rana temporaria). The larvae basically sucks the juices out of its prey.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Macro Photography Tutorial

Here is a macro photography tutorial that I occasionally give at my local camera club:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Large Red Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)

A few Large Red Damselflies have emerged from my pond and are tentatively exploring my garden. From a distance they don't look too impressive but up close they are very delicately marked and are surprisingly colourful.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Skellig Islands

Gannets over Little Skellig

I added another one of Ireland’s islands to my list this week. The Skellig Islands are two precipitous sea stacks composed of old red sandstone, lying 14km off the Kerry coast. They stand out on the horizon like two massive pyramids rising out of the Atlantic ocean. These remote islands are not only physically steep, with Great Skellig rising to 218m and the Little Skellig reaching 134m, they are also steeped in mystery.

Little Skellig with Great Skellig in the distance

On the Great Skellig are the remains of a 6th Century monastic settlement. Of course 6th Century monastic remains are as common as I don’t know what around these parts, but this one is different. I think the pictures describe the scene better than words but really you have to see it to believe it. Why monks would want to live on top of such a tortuously steep remote island is mystifying. I suppose it shows the extreme devotion these men had for their beliefs.

Monastic Settlement

I had hoped to get some pictures of the puffins (1,000 breeding pairs) but as luck would have it they were either out at sea or in their burrows hatching. Hundreds of burrows but only an odd glimpse of a puffin. The puffins return in the evening but the boat trips only give you three hours on the island from 11am to 2pm. In a few weeks time, when the young are bigger, the parents return more frequently, so I might make a return visit in June. The island is also home to over 2,000 pairs of manx shearwater and possibly 10,000 storm petrels. These birds are rarely seen on the island during daylight hours. The remains of quite a few storm petrels were scattered about the enclosures. Interestingly, the petrels nest in the monastic walls and beehive huts. Kittiwake, common guillemot, razorbill and fulmar also nest in significant numbers. However, due to the awkward terrain, getting close enough to get good pictures is near impossible. Islands such as the Great Saltee are much more hospitable for the photographer. Thrift, sea campion and sea spurrey were in full bloom. I also saw quite a few rabbits – I assume the monks brought them with them for food and they have managed to survive ever since.


Little Skellig is no less impressive – it is a massive gannet city, with an estimated 26,000 breeding pairs. You have to see (and hear) it to believe it, thousands of these huge, elegant birds wheeling around the sky. Landing on the island is almost impossible, only in flat calm conditions. The whole vista is just awesome, like something out of a David Attenborough documentary. The mystery of nature!


Sea Campion

Little Skellig in the distance

Little Skellig

Little Skellig

Cut Stone Stairway

Beehive Huts

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Aliens in my garden

Looking like an alien from outer space as it emerges from its nest burrow, this solitary bee takes in the view from its new home in my garden. I am not sure of the species or even the genus, bees are difficult animals to identify. Its a solitary mining bee in flight in May so possibly the early mining bee Andrena scotica or is it a leafcutter bee of the genus Megachile? Whatever it is, it did seem to be enjoying itself excavating its new nest.