Tuesday, 31 August 2010

From hedgerow to plate - a dying trend?

We've just been away in the English Lake District for the Bank Holiday weekend and we were a tad alarmed, despite two days of gorgeous and warm late summer weather (and one of more typical for summer 2010; heavy rain), to see how definitely the season was already ticking over towards autumn.

The Lake District has huge swathes of land covered with trees, both cash crops of fast growing coniferous woodland and native deciduous species. There are very many places where you can look out over acre upon acre of trees and it was quite disappointing, in August, to see so many of them already turning to the golden colours of autumn. A season I love of itself, most definitely, but I like to have some summer after spring before I am ready to embrace it fully.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

Blackberries in late summer sunshine - some just perfect for picking, with more to ripen still.

Summer 2010, rather like that last two or three summers, has been most disappointing weather-wise. We had a lot of warm sunshine in May and June and this lured us into thinking we were about to launch into a pleasant summer - we even had a hosepipe ban, after the driest first 6 months of the year since records began, with reservoirs at record low levels from lack of rain.

Blackberries perched along the walls of Thirlmere reservoir - you can just see in the background that water levels here are still below normal.

But it just wasn't to be, day after day it rained - and very hard too on many of those days - it topped up the reservoirs a treat it did, but prevented me from enjoying my garden and getting to eat or work outside throughout July and August.

So it has never really felt like we've had a proper summer this year - I think we've eaten outside maybe three times all year, with only 2 barbecues - and those were all in June. So seeing the trees weighed down with autumnal fruits like apples, plums and cherries, whilst lovely to see in itself, really serves to remind you that summer is more behind you than ahead of you, a feeling that always leaves me a little sad, especially when you've feel that you've not had chance to enjoy what there was of it more fully.

Spending the time picking the berries gives you the chance to meet some friends you might otherwise miss. A Speckled Wood butterfly that feeds on the nectar of bramble flowers and other woodland flower species.

But the seasonal development does have its own rewards and one of my late summer favourites is to be able to pick blackberries from the hedgerow to bake into puddings. I love the whole idea of picking something in the afternoon sunshine and eating it steaming hot and full of goodness later the same evening.

And it's not just about the idea of free food just sitting there for the taking - it's the mental well-being that accompanies it - the initial enjoyment of being in the fresh air (and hopefully sunshine too), with nothing to occupy your mind other than the rhythm of picking and avoiding the nettles and looking for the juiciest morsels.

The Peacock butterflies were especially partial to the lovely mauve coloured thistles growing amongst the brambles.

When you eat the resulting baked goods, I always have the sensation that they somehow have more nutritional value or heath benefits because of the way they were harvested - you know where they grew, know how environmentally sound they are - no air miles to dent your green credentials and the combined effort of enjoying picking them, making them into something yourself just seems to make them all the more delicious.

I tend to team my blackberries with some chopped apple. My preference is to use eating apples as they don't need sweetening, so I can avoid adding sugar, although I use a spoonful to make the juice into a syrup that doesn't soak quite as readily into the topping. For years I wondered why my sugar-free crumbles were gloopy underneath and one spoonful of sugar in the fruit cured that.

Someone commented today "why on earth would you bother yourself doing that, you can just get them in the supermarket?" so was somehow missing out this combined pleasurable experience. But I have the sneaky feeling that anyone who feels that way in the first place, simply wouldn't get what the benefit really is.

We affectionately refer to this topping as a 'spongle' - a cross somewhere between a crumble and a sponge - it is as easy to make as a crumble . . . no, actually . . . even easier - goes on and looks like a crumble, but is more sponge-like underneath - and lighter than a crumble. Recipe linked below.

But I doubt very much that they're alone in this thinking. When we were younger, you'd have to really know some good and secretive spots to get a reliable source of blackberries in any quantity - and would often get there and find brambles plucked barren by someone beating you there. But in the last few years, I've seen less and less people gathered in the hedgerows, clutching a container in one hand and picking with the other. It's seemingly very much a dying practice.

You need the topping just thin and loose enough for the fruit juice to break through in places.

I suspect it has something to do with the current trends for instant gratification and global year-round food availability, coupled with less practical skills being taught in schools, like what we used to call; domestic science. Why learn how to make a fruit crumble, when you can dive into the freezer section of the supermarket and buy one for a modest price - and save yourself all that work.

Just ready for some cream - I had to wait for the steam from it to clear my lens to take the photographs, so it was piping hot, very light and not too sweet. Just perfect - and eaten only a couple of hours after picking the berries.

But for us, it's an important and enjoyable seasonal treat - and even if I had money to burn, I can't imagine not driving along country lanes scouring the hedgerows for the perfect combination of plentiful and reachable ripe fruit and a suitable place to park.

'Spongle' recipe:

The recipe I use for my favourite fruit topping as shown above is incredibly quick and easy to make and in fact, I make a large batch ready and store it in the fridge in an airtight container, ready to just spoon as much as required over prepared fruit in a heatproof dish and pop in the oven.

As I'm diabetic, I don't habitually bake or make puddings any longer, but I do make an exception for this dessert a few times a year. So consequently, I don't like my puddings too sweet, so prefer to make it with eating apples that don't need additional sugar and have adapted a much reduced sugar version of the recipe for my own use - it took several attempts to get the proportions right. It's the same basic ingredients as a crumble (flour, butter and sugar), but using melted butter instead of rubbing it in and some baking powder and self raising flour to make it rise a little, hence it's lightness - the underneath layer adjacent to the fruit is more sponge-like, with a light crumble-style rubble-textured topping. Having found it so deliciously easy to make and so much nicer to eat, I doubt I'll bother making a classic crumble again - this is vastly superior.

I found the original recipe in this blog which in turn is a re-publication/adaptation of a recipe from Nigella Lawson.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Sunshine after the rain and a trip to the seaside

This weekend we were to make a long overdue quality visit to my mother-in-law's to spend some time with her and help with a couple of DIY tasks and errands. She's recently moved to a small flat at South Shore in Blackpool from the centre of the town and this places her a 2 minute car drive from the coastal promenade which has recently been renovated into a very pleasant and safe place to take the sea air. We came from the Blackpool area originally and moved inland when we married almost 28 years ago, but still return to the coast frequently to see family.

The stretch from South Shore towards town passes the Pleasure Beach and has a series of modern sculptures and public art along the walk, with seating at regular intervals and on a brisk summer evening was a very pleasant place to take some exercise in the salty sea air while we worked up a decent appetite for a Saturday chip supper.

Please click of any of the photographs to see a larger view, they look rather dark here on the page.

The Blackpool Illuminations are due to be switched on in a couple of weeks and this Dr.Who tableau at South Shore featured airborne Daleks and Tardises (Tardii?)

Further to my earlier blog about the value of the camera you have with you, the reason for posting this really was to share the photographs I took.

Before we had set off, there had been some discussion about whether or not we needed jackets, it had ended up a very pleasant evening, after a somewhat mixed day and whilst warm enough inland, we suspected it might be quite breezy adjacent to the sea and as the sun set.

But the consensus was to go in shirt sleeves and I therefore made the decision to leave my handbag at home, just putting my phone in my shirt pocket. I picked my small camera out of my bag, decided that it would be too troublesome to carry in my hand as I walked, so left it behind. It was very rare for me to do so and a decision I later regretted.

One of the modern sculptures and pieces of public art along the Promenade. They're all very different and I like all of them.

By the time we got to the promenade, the evening sun was glorious and after several days of very heavy rain, the sky was clear and a vivid, deep blue and the air was very clean indeed, we could see all the way to Wales and clearly see the turbines turning on the wind farms out at sea. So I was going to have to make do with my phone camera.

The big drop of the Big One roller coaster at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

Whilst the sky was a very intense blue in the golden light of late summer sunshine, the tiny lens in the phone camera has really intensified the colour by underexposing a little. The photographs have not been manipulated - save for compositional cropping and sharpening to counter the reductions in size. The colours, exposure and saturation are as they came off the phone.

One of the trains full of either brave or foolish souls about to drop violently down the roller coaster. It tends to be accompanied by screams and the raising of arms.

I must admit, whilst I would not consider my phone camera as anything more than a social tool for the odd times when a camera isn't available or appropriate, I'm rather surprised at how well it performed with these images. Especially considering that I had very little to do with it, as the screen on my phone is incredibly hard to view in sunlight, so I couldn't even see that well to frame the photos decently. I have often wondered if working with such restrictions is actually more likely to lead to improved creativity.

This is half of a two piece circus inspired bronze sculpture by artist Peter Blake. This half is called 'Equestrian Act' and is accompanied by the sister sculpture 'Four Man Up'.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Piggies and other farm animals - what's not to love

"Pigs are not that dirty. And they're smart, strange little creatures. They just need love." Shelley Duvall.

"The pigs stuck out their little feet and snored." Elizabeth Bishop.

Someone posted an especially adorable photograph of two young pigs asleep today, a day when my frame of mind was not terribly positive, my disposition not terribly agreeable or my prospect of achieving much, all that good. So the pigs were especially appreciated and I set off to look at some of my own favourite pig photographs.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view, they look rather dark here on the page.

I was surprised to see how many people expressed a love of piggies and enjoyed the photographs, I'd always felt I was a little unusual in liking them so much. But, let's face it, what's not to love.

So whilst I work on more technical and worthy articles for future blogs, I thought a wet Friday was a good day to spread some porcine loveliness. And while I've been searching out photographs to post, I found some other favourites of farm animals - which I think make lovely subjects. Because we spend as much time as possible in the English Lake District and on a farm, I do spend time in the company of farm stock and they're as entertaining and enjoyable as any wildlife or domestic pet.

Herdwick sheep are a regular sight in the Lake District and resident on the moors, where they wander about in their individual territories and don't bother with you and just go about their business. I love to see them, they're so photogenic that I've taken a massive amount of photos of them.

We once had a conversation with the farmer, whose property we regularly stay on, about different breeds of sheep and Mr Boo made a comment about how Herdwicks were reputed to be very territorial, each animal sticking to a relatively small area of moorland and subsequent generations do too. He seemed perplexed that the very idea should even be noteworthy, commenting; "well, of course they do, you remember where you live don't you and go home every night?"

This particular photograph has always been informally called 'Reservoir Sheep' when I identify it in my mind as the way they walked down the road reminded me of that scene from the film.

In the area where we stay in the Lakes, quite a few of the local farmers keep Highland Cattle, what we affectionately call 'Muckle Coos' - which must always be said in a Scottish accent.

I spotted this scene one summer evening when we were returning home from a day out - the cows were spilling across this field as the setting sun filtered through the trees. We've driven past this spot many, many times since that day and I have not seen the light as lovely since.

This is Lucy, one of the dairy herd at the farm - they often pop their heads over the wall as we drive past and as the field is higher than the lane, their heads pop over from above you as you pass.

This particular meal held up traffic in both directions for several minutes, but I don't think anyone minded.

Not really a farm animal - but when I spotted it earlier, I thought it worthy of inclusion as it made me laugh again. Each spring, usually just after Easter, there is a local country fair in celebration of the local delicacy of damsons - called Damson Day - and we try and catch it if we're in the area, it's worth a visit to support a community which we consider our second home. One of the attractions a couple of years ago was Ferret Roulette. You paid your 50p stake, someone chose a ferret and you each took a card with a number - which each corresponded to a tube radiating from a central drop point.

The selected ferret, was popped into the central core and if he emerged out of the spoke you had the number of, you won a modest cash prize. I certainly lost more than I won - but it was worth every penny. I was most disappointed that it wasn't there last year, I'd saved some 50p coins specially.

Don't you just love the way lambs go mental in an evening. This is from the window of the caravan we stay in - it's lovely that we have such delightful entertainment laid on - we've wasted many an hour just watching them play. The orchard is long and thin and they just hurl themselves from one end to another en-mass in an evening.

This Easter I saw one of the funniest things I've seen a non-domestic or trained animal do in a long time. One of the ewes was watching the youngsters collectively run back and forth and she stood there intently following them with her eyes, having totally abandoned her eating, from one end of the field to the other. On about the third or fourth pass, she joined them - running full pelt alongside them - she ran to the far end and back again and as they came to a dip in the field where the land has creased into a mini scar down the hillside, she leapt vertically into the air over the gap. When she landed, panting, she shook herself off and carried on with her supper.

She had clearly watched them and remembered how much fun it was and wanted to join in. I've never seen a full grown sheep join in before and I was sorry that it was getting dark and happened very fast and I just didn't have a camera to record it for posterity. To be honest, I was laughing way too hard to have managed a decent photograph.

We followed this farm vehicle on the road one evening and I managed to get one photograph as it slowed to turn. Unfortunately the third dog on the left just dropped down at that point, but up until then, it had been stood up at the front too. I wonder if the planks hadn't been there, if the German Shepherd would have been stood up too?

We once followed a similar convoy down a very narrow single track lane, with the addition of about 40 sheep. The sheep were running along the lane, followed by the farmer on his quad, with his 2 trusty sheepdog in his trailer. It was slow going and we tried not to look like we were pressuring them to hurry - after all, they were working and we were just having a nice day out.

The farmer slowed and gave a complex sounding whistled command and the dogs jumped out of the trailer and ahead of the vehicle - they herded the sheep up a side lane to a farm and held them there, a dog at each end of the flock, just off the road and he pulled into the mouth of the lane to let us pass. He then gave another whistle and the dogs returned the sheep to their path along the main lane and jumped back into the trailer.

I have huge, huge admiration and affection for the farming community, they are interesting and hard working people with the most amazing sets of skills and heads full of incredibly valuable knowledge. I always feel it is an honour to witness such a demonstration and can only stand back and applaud. I always enjoy watching the amazing teamwork between man and sheep dog, where the mearest hint of audible command, can make something fabulous happen.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Summer raindrops - precious jewels

Everywhere water is a thing of beauty gleaming in the dewdrop, singing in the summer rain. - John Ballantine Gough.

We just had a weekend away in the English Lake District, to try and get some fresh air, time under trees and some walking done. The weather forecast didn't look very promising and after several weeks of very poor summer weather, we were resigned to donning waterproofs and just getting out there and making the best of it. As it happens, it didn't turn out that badly and we only got damp.

To quote Billy Connolly, "there's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. So get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little". For many years I was a fair-weather walker - if truth be told, I didn't really like walking that much, in any weather. I just didn't enjoy the process and how it made me felt. I was perpetually struggling to keep up with my significantly fitter husband and unfit enough myself to make it uncomfortable, combined with joint problems that simply made it painful.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

But I've recently had to embrace a more active way of life, in a deal I struck with the medical professionals that manage my diabetes. I was on medication that made me thoroughly miserable, but it was a necessary evil for my well being and future prospects. I finally mutinied at the end of 2009 and said I would have to look at alternative methods to manage my health, I didn't feel there was much point in living longer if I was totally miserable, and largely housebound, in the process.

So I was prescribed some initial gym sessions and told that if I'd get fitter, lose a whole chunk of weight, I might be able to manage it better under my own steam without the medication - they'd give me 6 months to achieve that - but it would need work. I was going to trade pharmacological control for personal effort.

The sky above Thirlmere looked incredibly ominous and it was very dark, but thankfully the rain was light and gentle and nowhere near as bad as we anticipated.

So as 2010 has progressed, I've stuck religiously with the regular gym sessions, taking out membership once my initial prescribed sessions expired. I've recently been given a revised regime, as I'd simply progressed beyond the original plans. I'm just about on target for my weight loss plan for the year and am significantly fitter than I was as the New Year started.

So now walking isn't a chore and I really don't care about the weather any more. What's the worst that will happen - I'll get soaked, need to wash my hair and require a change of clothes? I feel significantly better than I did on the medication and know that my health has simply improved for the efforts I've so far made and my improved fitness. It was a win-win trade I made. They thought so too, they've allowed me to stick with this plan.

One of the factors that significantly helped me, was deciding to try walking with a pole - my joint problems and a recent back injury meant I was always a little nervous and tended to guard myself as I walked, meaning that I never truly relaxed when walking on uneven ground, or got up a decent pace and was reluctant to try more challenging paths. I had the idea that being a tad clumsy already, adding a pole into the mix, along with the camera I always carry was just going to be asking for trouble, I would either end up covered in bruises, or more likely, my walking partner would. Or else I'd trip one or both of us up with it and end up with it confiscated on the grounds of safety.

But it simply didn't prove to be the case. I took to using it much more easily than I expected and now wouldn't set off without it. I've taken on steep paths that would have felt insurmountable a year ago and I can now walk faster and with much greater confidence than I ever have before. Such a simple change has been responsible for a massive improvement in both what I've actually achieved, but my willingness to even try. And yes, husband of mine, I can hear you crowing "I told you so".

I love gawping into woodland - I cannot conceive of life without being surrounded by trees. Much of the woodland around Thirlmere is managed forest as a timber crop - and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly the land is re-colonised by young trees after an area has been cleared and you see new trees living alongside established ones. There's a little waterfall running through this scene that I'd not noticed before.

Thirlmere is a reservoir owned by United Utilities and the public are granted permission to access the land. The large lake was originally created from two smaller ones adjacent to two villages, Armboth and Wythburn, which were flooded late in the 19th century to provide water to Manchester. Consequently, there is still evidence of rural life in the area and you can see stretches of dry stone wall and sometimes a lone gatepost amongst the dense woodland.

So come Saturday morning, we were determined to walk along Thirlmere, one of our very favourite spots and donned waterproofs and set off under the trees. The rain was light and gentle and the air very still, so whilst it felt very damp and humid, it was pleasant enough to walk in. The light texture of the rain seemed to cling on everything and all the small plants seemed to be bejewelled with the tiny raindrops. Heavier rain simply bounces off, but these tiny fine droplets clung to the hairs of fine grass seeds and mosses like diamonds. It was very certainly worth damp hair to see them. Unfortunately, due to very low light, they're not as sharp as I'd hoped, but you get the idea.

Friday, 6 August 2010

The camera you don't leave at home is the best one

The camera makes you forget you're there. It's not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much. Annie Leibovitz

One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you'd be stricken blind. Dorothea Lange

I've had several conversations recently about the various attributes of camera models and the individual criteria for choosing a new one etc. and where the concept that the camera with you is worth a thousand times more than the one you've left at home, has cropped up.

There's little point in buying some mutts' nuts camera model if it's so large that you're reluctant to carry it or find it tedious to use, or needs too much thought to be spontaneous. Much better to have something you'll enjoy keeping with you and will use readily and enjoy doing so.

Over the years I've accumulated several cameras which fulfill different functions - and the trick is to use the right tool for the job. There are some occasions where only my DSLR, appropriately set up and with the right lens, can secure a shot - where only a DSLR has the right functionality - perhaps needing the speed of reaction time to capture something fleeting, or it's low light abilities. Both of the photographs below would have been difficult with something less.

Please click any of the photographs for a larger view.

I blogged last month about these swallows feeding their young and how incredibly fast the whole process was.

The Annie Leibovitz quote above especially resonated with me in respect of live music photography - when I'm working in the pit, the world around me vanishes and I'm totally in the zone. There are few things I get the same buzz from. I worked as an official photographer at the Isle of Wight festival in 2005 when REM headlined - one of the very best days of my life.

But the camera that I perhaps take most photographs on is what I think of as my middle camera - it has some of the reach and functionality of my DSLR in regard of focal length options, from its 380mm equivalent maximum focal length at 10x zoom to the 25mm (1") minimum focus distance of its super-macro mode - a focal range now becoming more commonplace in many inexpensive compact cameras. So as a camera to stick in my rucksack, it's the lightest option giving the widest range of features.

It's also the one I use for my jewellery photographs as the small sensor gives me a greater depth of field for the available light I have and the minimum focus distances in macro and super-macro mode allow me to work close to the subject in the confined space I have available.

During a walk one spring evening, we came out of an area of deep shadow under trees and saw these lovely shafts of evening sunshine through the trees and over the bluebells.

But there are some days when that's even too bulky to carry - the days when I go out for my lunchtime walk and just want to pop something in my coat pocket. So I have a compact camera too - it has limited zoom range at 3x, but excellent low light capability, so it makes a great social camera and just lives in my handbag. It too has served me well for several years. I was even able to take some street photos of a mugging that the Police put into evidence.

We were parking up outside a restaurant to meet with family and this scene adjacent in the evening light made me glad I'd put my little camera in my bag.

But pondering this concept of choosing a camera that you will always keep with you, set me thinking about the various photographs over the years that I've just snatched when an opportunity arose and I was glad I had popped a camera in my pocket, or had it in my handbag as we went out shopping.

All of these photographs were such opportune images, just moments that make you chuckle and you were glad you were able to record, if only because no one would have believed you otherwise.

This was an especially surreal moment, we were travelling over Kirkstone Pass in the English Lake District and I did a double take, I got the most fleeting of glances of the Tardis in a gap in the dry stone wall. I made my husband reverse back to try and see it again, he clearly thought I was bonkers. And there it was on the moor. It was actually a smaller model and two men with camera gear and tripods were either filming it or photographing it, but I was very glad I had my small camera in my handbag. Who on earth would have believed me.

You might need to click for the larger image to read the writing. I guffawed loudly when I saw this - I know what they meant, but it was still funny - had the staff been sampling the wares? I was trying to very discreetly take the photograph without being seen by staff, but an elderly couple wanted to know what I was doing and just didn't get it at all and went off loudly discussing about how odd I was taking photographs of cat food. By the following week the sign has been replaced with a printed one 'excluding' that particular variety. Shame.

This scene in Kendal has always made us chuckle - everything you could possibly need for a wet afternoon's entertainment in one place. Go and buy a monkey at Cheeky Monkey's, get it drunk at Dickie Doodles then take it to get tattooed. If he's enraged by his treatment, he can then visit his MP to complain.

How small are the people who live here - and not much of a view.

This black and white image still makes my tummy do funny things. My husband was critically ill in November 2005 and spent a couple of weeks on a life support machine, literally fighting for his life. During that time, they'd had to cut his wedding ring off. When we'd married we each put our rings on during the ceremony and neither of us had ever taken them off since - mine still hasn't been off my finger since 1982. With a solid then 23 years of marriage under our belts, we were superstitious about such things and the removal of his ring was quite emotionally significant for both of us - it upset our son too, as he fully comprehended its symbolic relevance.

It was a long time after he returned home and was recuperating that we felt like addressing it. I knew if I left it some time, an idea of how to deal with it would present itself and so it came to me one day in the shower - to bridge the gap in the ring where it was cut off (or rather chewed off and left in a terrible mess) with something even stronger, to make the bond again but even stronger than before. This was going to need a diamond in the gap. So the jeweller that made my engagement ring was visited with the idea and she did an amazing job of sourcing a diamond to match mine and used the same style of setting.

I took that photograph late in the evening of the day we collected it, hence it's all shiny and new looking after its restoration. He was just absent-mindedly watching TV after dinner, with his hand at rest and I liked the way the low level of the side light was catching it, so I reached gently into my handbag for my little camera - I didn't want him to see what I was doing as he'd move and the moment would simply be gone.

So photographs like these are as much about the moment and the memory as they are the image itself - the quality doesn't matter so much, although I love how this came out after I'd worked the monochrome version. But it's the emotion it evokes that matters and almost 5 years on, my stomach still does a somersault when I see it.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Aren't hoverflies brilliant!

And daisies are too!

And oft alone in nooks remote
We meet thee, like a pleasant thought
When such are wanted.

William Wordsworth: To the Daisy. 1807.

Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity. John Ruskin

I love daisies. If pressed, I might even declare them my overall favourite flowers. But they'd have a tough fight for that title, along with the likes of snowdrops and daffodils. I even love dandelions, when properly looked at, they're quite fabulous.

But the sheer simplicity of a daisy makes it near perfect - its cheerful brightness is often all you need in a flower - something Mr Wordsworth obviously grasped. Yet it isn't actually simple at all. It just lets you think that it is. The structure, when examined, is quite a magnificent piece of natural engineering.

Please click on the photographs for a larger view, the photos tend to look rather dark here on the page.

The white so called petals, aren't actually petals at all, but white bracts - the flower(s) is actually the cluster of tiny yellow florets at the centre - rotating from the centre in a complex, tightly packed, geometric spiral.

So I always have daisies of some variety in the garden - I love big pots of them. This year I have one huge tub at the end of the table and despite horrendous weather for the last month or so, has had a continuous fabulous show of cheering flowers.

I went out today to do some work between showers and the garden was full of hoverflies today - lots of them busying away around the various flowers - they seem especially drawn to both lobelia and my daisies - and they do look so fabulously colour co-ordinated against the daisies, so I grabbed my camera.

I just used my compact camera as it was to hand, I'd really like to do some more with the big guns - the compact is way too slow to react to catch them taking off and landing which I was hoping to catch.

Despite a shutter speed of 1/1000 second, the wings of this hoverfly are a barely visible blur.

There are something like 6000 species of hoverflies globally, with around 300 species in Britain and I spotted at least 6 distinctly different ones today on the same plant - although all the best photos I got seemed to be of the same species, so they must move slower than the others.

I love hoverflies, they're docile and fascinating to watch and just don't bother with you. Quietly going about their business and despite their dangerous looking colouring which mimics wasps and the like, they're totally harmless to humans.

If you watch one hovering quietly and gently put your finger underneath, they'll often lower their undercarriage and rest for a moment on your finger. When they realise you're not a source of food, they just raise their legs again and take off.

More photos with a DSLR:

I went out into the garden again when the light had supposedly improved. By the time I'd attached lenses and established focus, using extension tubes, the light was worse than ever. The hoverflies had now seemingly exhausted the food from the daisies and most were working other areas of the garden.

I managed a few shots before I decided that the exposures I was securing weren't worth persisting with. These were all taken at 1600ISO and some with shutter speeds slower than 1/100 second. Just as well that they don't move that fast when eating.

I hadn't noticed their metallic jackets before.

If I had wings, I'd like them to be delicate and iridescent like these.


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