Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Life and Death in the Backyard

On some of these warmer, sultry days it is nice to stick close to home and the A/C. With a backyard full of native and non-native plants, there is often something to photograph if one wants to venture out.

There is always the proverbial American Robin nesting in two or three places, putting up a fuss if any human is found in proximity to its recently fledged young.

Echinacea (Purple Coneflower) is nicely coming into peak flowering condition right now.

It attracts a number of insects, and is always worth checking out. Earlier today I noted a strange looking little critter poking its head out.
I wasn't sure what it was, but kept an eye on it off and on. Eventually it got out a little further. It is only about 8 mm in total length, so I needed the macro lens and most of the extension tubes to get these shots.
 It is an Ambush Bug, and true to its name, ambushed this fly that was searching for nectar.

There has been at least one Monarch hanging around the yard every day for a couple of weeks or more.
 Red Admirals are not very common these days.
 Silver-spotted Skippers seem to be even less common.
 This is a metallic green type of sweat bee of the Halictidae group.
 Flower flies, or syrphids, are some of the most abundant species of fly visiting various flowers. The patterns on their abdomen are helpful in determining what they are. This one appears to be a member of the Allograpta genus.

Milkweeds are fairly aromatic, and attract lots of insects. I had this Hickory Hairstreak stop by briefly.
 Various flies and bees love visiting the milkweeds. However there is a danger to insects of a certain size. If they are just big enough, they can get their foot caught in the flowering parts and are not able to escape.
This next photo shows a deceased bee with its foot caught.

One can almost always find other insects visiting milkweeds.
Large Milkweed Bug

Red Milkweed Beetle

Minettia fly (about 5 mm)

Dill and parsley are favourite places for Black Swallowtails to lay their eggs. I watched this adult alight briefly and move the tip of her abdomen up to the stem.
 Not too many days later, I investigated and found two caterpillars. They are both in this next photo, but the lower one is clearly much larger than the one partially hidden by the petioles of the dill flower head. Unfortunately neither got to the stage of being able to form a pupa. Various parasitic wasps are also fairly common, and I expect one of them found these small caterpillars, paralyzed them and flew off with them to deposit in their nesting burrow. There, they will lay an egg and when it hatches, the larva will feed on the still living, but paralyzed caterpillar.

A couple of very large and impressive critters also hanging around the dill were these Cicada Killers. The first image shows the two large females, each of which was a good 5 cm (2") long. A smaller male was also around, attempting to mate with one of the females. I took these photos with a macro lens at a distance of about 12-15 cm, and used a flash. Fortunately Cicada Killers are only dangerous if you are a cicada. They are fairly docile otherwise, unless roughly handled.

Female Cicada Killer
Other odds and ends included things like this Braconid wasp, which parasitizes other insects.
 A Common Whitetail which pops in every once in awhile.

A probable Digger Wasp, which nests underground.
 Another Flower Fly type.
 An immature grasshopper.
 The non-native Brown Marmoted Stink this case it is a nymph or sub-adult.
 A very tiny (~3 mm dia) Orange-spotted Lady Beetle.
 This large bluish/black wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus)

A lot of these images were taken with a macro lens, of course. I also used a couple of different camera bodies (Canon 5D3 or 7D2) and at times was able to use my Canon 100-400mm telephoto zoom lens which, even without extension tubes, will focus to about 3 feet, so it is especially useful in photographing butterflies. With extension tubes, both the telephoto zoom and the macro lens will enable me to get even closer. Of course I use a flash system a lot of the time as well.

I have two 100mm macro lenses, and I am considering selling my older one. It is a Canon 100 mm 2.8  USM, and includes a tripod collar and UV filter. If you were buying it new, it lists for $880, plus tax, plus the filter. In checking most on line camera outlets that post reviews, this clearly is a fine lens in itself, but I purchased an even better (and more expensive, naturally) Canon lens. A used one via a camera store that sells used equipment has listed them at about $550-600, plus tax. My lens has served me well, but I don't need this one since I upgraded, and therefore am willing to sell it for $450.

If you are interested, let me know by contacting me at


  1. Esome very nice macro shots there Allen.

  2. Thanks, Stew....the macro world is always fun to investigate!