Saturday, 7 May 2016

Grizzled and Dingy on the Downs

The words 'Grizzled' and 'Dingy' may not conjure up the most cheerful of images but the recent sunshine and warmth have seen an emergence of the Skippers which go by these names - enough, I would suggest, to lift any spirits. I was able to spend some time this week with both species, along with other butterflies and day-flying moths, on Fontmell and Melbury Downs, two of Dorset's finest.
Grizzled Skipper on Fontmell Down
A lot prettier than the name suggests
Dingy Skipper - a little more understated, I grant you, but 'Dingy' still seems a bit harsh
Who doesn't love an Orange Tip?

Commoner than the Skippers but no less welcome was this Green-veined White

The battered wing suggests that this Peacock has had a close shave with a would-be predator
Day-flying moths were also in evidence on the Downs, including some attractive micros. I wasn't carrying the scholarly works of Messrs Sterling, Parsons and Lewington to help with the ID, though I took the precaution of having the first one of them with me in person, which made the task a little easier!
Small Purple-barred - a day-flying macro-moth
Another Small Purple-barred - though much easier to see how it gets its name from this one
A very striking micro - Pyrausta purpuralis
The closely related Pyrausta nigrata
Ancylis unculana
There was too much to look at on the ground to look up much, but when I did this Red Kite was a handsome reward
A fine show of Bluebells in many Dorset woodlands at the moment
While I try to avoid being a camera gear-bore on these pages, a few people have asked me how I am getting on with my newish Canon 100-400mm Mk II zoom lens, so if you don't want to know, look away now. I bought it largely because I figured the closer focus (about 3 feet compared to about 10 for the 400mm f5.6) and zoom range would give me more versatility for a wider range of subjects, particularly smaller subjects, compared to my old 400mm. I like to travel reasonably light so having the flexibility to shoot distant and close subjects, of all sizes, without the need to carry around a second lens or a macro, was an important consideration.

I was already pleased with the results I was getting for bird photography with it over the autumn and winter, but this is its first spring, and after a bit of a poor summer last year which restricted the scope for insect photography, I have now been able to start putting it through its paces on a wider range of subjects than was possible with my old lens. Compared to that, I have to say it's quicker, just as sharp and the Image Stabiliser does seem to give the equivalent of a few extra stops of light, especially in darker conditions.

I have also been quite pleased with how it performs as an alternative to a macro lens, the closer focus compared to the 400mm being the key to this. Being a long zoom lens, good sized images of smaller subjects are possible without getting too close or disturbing them. Clearly, as you can see from some of these images, it was never going to be as good as a proper macro, and it's also a lot heavier (the Canon guarantee could have included neckache!). But if you like to photograph a variety of subjects, and only want to carry one lens around over your shoulder without a tripod, my conclusion is that you could do a lot worse than this. So if anyone is out there with their finger hovering over the 'Buy now' button of a consumer electronics website, I hope this helps!

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