Monday 2 May 2011

Mission Impossible

This Spring, after years of abject failure, I made a concerted effort to attempt to photograph an Orange Tip butterfly, Anthocharis caramines. Opportunities were available on virtually every trip we have made, whether locally or further afield, but tradition is difficult to beat.

These butterflies aren't rare, being common throughout England and Wales, and widespread in Ireland and most of Scotland. They are very distinctive, certainly it would be difficult to mistake the male for any other butterfly, but still I struggle to photograph them.

In our part of the UK, the main food plant is Cuckooflower, Cardamine pratensis, also known as Lady's Smock, which is to be found in woods, damp meadows and hedgerows.

So, plenty of insects and plenty of its preferred flowers. What's so difficult about photographing it, then? Well, they're flighty little herberts, that's what. Lacking the patience to sit by a flower and just wait, I had to be a bit more reactive than proactive and take my chances when one happened by. Surprise, surprise, countless specimens visited the garden of Tense Towers (population of food plants; zero), but didn't hang about long enough for me to dash off for the camera. So far, so predictable, but even out and about in woods and meadows, I struggled to capture a decent image. Believe me, I ain't picky with my piccies, virtually anything in focus showing the whole butterfly would've had me in raptures. I suspect that, along with the camera shake (it's a skill), I have failed to do my homework and set up the camera for the amount of white in the photograph. In the unlikely event that the Orange Tip was still on the flower by the time that I brought Len to bear, I just couldn't manage a crisp shot. I've lost count of the number of images consigned to the waste bin with an exasperated press of the Delete key.

Further lack of homework became evident, when on a trip out sans camera, we noticed a female Orange Tip alighting on Garlic Mustard, Alliara petiolata, also known as Jack-by-the-hedge. It turns out that this is also a food plant and should've been on my radar from the outset. Grrrr.

Through the Spring, weekend after weekend went by, with out of focus or over exposed or good old not in shot pictures. My frustration and despondency were racing each other to the top of the graph.

Yesterday, whilst exploring the Bog Garden at Upton House in Warwickshire (a damp place, if ever there was one), I managed the shot in the previous post of a pair of Orange Tips, somewhat coitus interruptus. That's the butterflies, not Our Lass and I. A few minutes later, I spotted another male feeding on some Bluebells and finally attained a crisp image... the only drawback being that one of the flowers hid the butterfly's head. Darn it.

To be honest, I was now at the stage where, after trying, trying and trying again, I had only one option left to me. Give up.

This morning, whilst pottering around Hanson Environmental Study Centre, ostensibly surveying for Odonata, but always up for any natural history, Our Lass and I were stood staring at a clump of brambles. This is a very under-rated activity. I think the world would be a better place if more people just stood and stared at bramble bushes, instead of running around injuring, maiming and killing each other. As a manifesto commitment, it probably won't bring me many votes, but I digress.

Where were we, oh yes, staring at the brambles. This particular clump was in full sun and sheltered from the wind, so should've been heaving with roosting dragonflies. It wasn't, hence the prolonged staring. At the base of the bush, were some small purple plants, Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea, also known as Quick-there's-a-frigging-Orange-Tip-on-it.

As she looked down, Our Lass moved slightly and the flighty creature took off. That's the Orange Tip, not Our Lass. Fortunately, it alighted again, almost immediately, on an adjacent flower and I was able to press the shutter release once, before it flew off again, this time for good.

The afore-mentioned tradition meant that I didn't even bother to check the image, because why would I put myself through the whole failure trip whilst out searching for dragons? Once home and flicking through my shots, I was pleasantly surprised to find a perfectly visible butterfly, more in focus than many of my odo pics. Whoopee!

Ladies and Gentlemen, my quest is over.


holdingmoments said...

An enjoyable quest Graeme.
I'm another person who loves to stare at bramble bushes. So many secrets within them. ;)

Talibra said...

Piękny motyl, piękne zdjęcie, pozdrawiam.

Imperfect and Tense said...

You're welcome, folks. I was beginning to give up hope on the butterfly front.

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Ha! This sounds awfully familiar. Congrats on the great capture!

Imperfect and Tense said...

Katie, It's good to know that the "special relationship" between the USA and the UK (as the media always say) extends to photographic trauma involving butterflies!