Chris Mattison Wildlife Photographer
Chris Mattison Wildlife Photographer
Chris Mattison Wildlife Photographer
Chris Mattison Wildlife Photographer

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Re-designed gallery pages

The old galleries were looking a bit dated so I have re-designed them. This should give me an incentive to add more as the opportunity arises.  I would welcome any feedback, especially if you find that something is not working as it should.  Thanks!

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A Log Blog

It’s amazing what you can find on, in or under a log.  I have a small pile of rotting wood at the bottom of my garden and, together with a few excursions to a nearby wood, I have found enough material here to keep me happily taking photographs for the last week or so.  Fungi are the most obvious subjects at this time of year but there are plenty of others.  Some are very small and my 65 MP-E lens has never been so busy.  The only other lenses used for the images shown was my 90mm tilt and shift lens for the avenue of beech trees (unnecessary probably but it happened to be the right focal length for where I was stood) and my 180mm macro for all the larger fungi.  A 17 – 40mm lens came in handy for some “fungi in habitat” type shots but these are not part of this article. To complete the picture, if you’ll excuse the pun, I also downloaded the Pro version of Helicon Focus and have made good use of this excellent programme, exploring parts of it that I had not used before.  The retouching function is brilliant.

The first photo is a scene-setter – some early morning mist along a little-used road in the Peak District en route to some fungus-hunting.  Logs of the future! 

Beech trees in autumn

Early morning mist along a small country road.

First of the macro shots is a pair of small “bonnets”, Mycena, with a small amount of flash to give some rim and back-lighting in an otherwise shady situation. 

Mycena species

Mycena species, probably M. galericulata

These pink balls are the fruiting bodies of a slime mould belonging to the genus Lycogala, known, for reasons that completely escape me, as Wolf’s Milk, which appeared on the surface of a moss-covered log as if from nowhere and then quickly turned brown and shed its spores.  The images were made just two days apart. 

Wolf's milk, the fruiting bodies of a slime mould, Lycogala epidendrum or Lycogala terrestre (the two species are indistinguishable at this stage).

Wolf’s milk, the fruiting bodies of a slime mould, Lycogala epidendrum or Lycogala terrestre (the two species are indistinguishable at this stage).

 

Wolf's milk, two days later.

Wolf’s milk, two days later.

On the same log, but a few feet further along was this group of Glistening Inkcap, a common but attractive fungus that can be found over a longish period of time. 

Mica cap, shiny cap, or glistening inky cap fungus, Coprinellus micaceus, sharing a beech log with the Wolf's Milk

Mica cap, shiny cap, or glistening inky cap fungus, Coprinellus micaceus, sharing a beech log with the Wolf’s Milk shown above

The Pale Stagshorn Fungus was growing on the same log as the two other species of stagshorns:  Small Stagshorn and Orange Stagshorn.  The pale species is the smallest and required the 65 MP-E lens and a stack of 11 exposures.

Pale Stagshorn fungus, Calocera pallidospathulata,

Pale Stagshorn fungus, Calocera pallidospathulata,

The Stump Puffball was growing exactly where you would expect it to be – on a stump.  An easy enough photograph to take providing you don’t mind kneeling in boggy ground for a few minutes. 

Stump puffball, Lycoperdon pyriforme

Stump puffball, Lycoperdon pyriforme 

Another slime mould, this time a group of miniscule fruiting bodies belonging to the species Trichia decipiens.  I found two clusters of these this year, one about six miles from home and the other on my garden wood pile.  This is where the 65 MP-E lens, set to its maximum 5X, and Helicon Focus, were absolutely indispensible.  The image consists of 40 individual stacked frames.

Fruiting bodies of a slime mould, Trichia decipiens

Fruiting bodies of a slime mould, Trichia decipiens

The photo of the underside of the cap of Suede Bolete was made from a specimen that had toppled over, at about 4X life-size and using a stack of 11 exposures.  The bolete fungi shed their spores through honey-comb-like pores, whereas most other species, including the edible mushroom of course, have radiating gills.

Suede Bolete

Pores on the underside of the cap of a Suede Bolete, Boletus subtomentosus

Finally, lurking under a sliver of wood from my log-pile and discovered while I was searching for more fungi and slime moulds, was this harvestman, photographed at between 3X and 4X and using a stack of 13 images.   It is a common British species, Ophilio saxatilis.  Like all harvestmen, it has no English name.  A tiny springtail managed to get in on the act.

Ophilio saxatilis

Ophilio saxatilis, a common British harvestman.

A final plug, for a book that I bought to help me identify some of the fungi: “Collins Complete Guide to Mushrooms and Toadstools” by Paul Sterry and Barry Hughes.  Not only does it contain photographs of 1500 different species of fungi but also has sections on habitats and an introduction to their biology.  There is even a page on slime moulds; well worth the money if you spend any amount of time looking at logs!

Three Days in Joshua Tree

Jumbo Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park

Jumbo Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park, in golden afternoon light

Named for the distinctive Joshua Trees, Yucca brevifolia, that grow in the northern part of the park, Joshua Tree National Park covers the transition between the Colorado Desert to the south and the Mojave Desert to the north. The northern half is best known, with its forests of Joshua Trees and unusual rock formations.

Joshua Tree sign

Road sign for Joshua Tree National Park, with many stickers kindly donated by previous visitors

This a photographer’s paradise, not just for the landscapes and spectacular sunsets, but also for the wildlife.  Late afternoon and early in the morning are the best times to be there: not only is the light best at these times, but wildlife is more easily seen once the tourists have stopped using the roads.  Driving slowly after dark is a good way of finding nocturnal animals, including snakes, geckos, rodents and so on.  In three days in late May, sandwiched between visits to the Anza-Borrego Desert and the Sierra Nevada we concentrated mainly on the reptiles and saw a good selection, including Speckled Rattlesnakes, Gopher snakes, Glossy snakes, many spiny lizards and several Desert iguanas.  As usual, I wish we had had more time.

I have picked out a small selection of images to give a taste of what this Park has to offer.

Joshua Tree, Yucca brevifolia

Joshua Tree, Yucca brevifolia

 

A Great Basin Gopher Snake found crossing a park road

A Great Basin Gopher Snake found crossing a park road

 

Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake, Crotalus mitchelli pyrrhus, camouflaged against decomposed granite, Joshua Tree Natinal Park, California

Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake, Crotalus mitchelli pyrrhus, well camouflaged against decomposed granite, Joshua Tree Natinal Park, California

 

Another nocturnal resident, a Desert Banded Gecko, Coleonyx variegatus

Another nocturnal resident, a Desert Banded Gecko, Coleonyx variegatus

 

A pair of Desert Iguanas, Dipsosaurus dorsalis, test each other's strength in a bout of pre-mating combat

A pair of Desert Iguanas, Dipsosaurus dorsalis, test each other’s strength in a bout of pre-mating combat

 

Joshua Tree, Yucca brevifolia, at sunset

Joshua Tree, Yucca brevifolia, at sunset

Photographic notes.  Most of the images were taken with a wide-angle (17 – 40mm) lens, a 180mm macro lens, or a telephoto zoom (70 – 200).  The reptile shots were taken in habitat early in the morning using natural light with a small amount of fill flash on some of them, mostly with a Gitzo GT3541 tripod with ball and socket head, as were the sunset shots, and the Jumbo Rock panorama.   The Desert Iguana shot was cropped from full-frame to a panoramic (3:1) aspect ratio whereas the Jumbo Rocks shot was stitched using three images in photoshop.

Midwife Toads re-visited

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

A male midwife toad carrying eggs, photographed in North Spain some years ago. Probably Alytes obstetricans boscai

Since posting the original version of this blog we have been back to the colony and found two males carrying eggs in their late stages of development.  I have added a couple of new photos towards the end of the blog. 

The Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans, gets its English and scientific names from its breeding method, in which males carry strings of eggs around their hind limbs. Its natural distribution covers much of western Europe but several colonies have become naturalised in England.  One of these is in a small village on the South Yorkshire – Nottinghamshire border, quite close to where I live.

The toads there live in stone walls, using small chinks in the stonework to hide during the day and emerging at night to call, feed and breed. A small group – reportedly five toads and about a dozen tadpoles – were apparently brought to the area in 1947 and released into a private garden.  They seemed to disappear and the colony was forgotten about until the 1980s, when they were found again, by which time they had spread throughout part of the village.  Though rarely seen, they are often heard making their soft but persist “ooo ooo ooo” calls in the evening as it gets dark.

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

I was fortunate to be taken to the colony by a local resident recently and, though the conditions seemed too cold for amphibians, they started to tune up as dusk fell and by the time it was completely dark the full concert was under way.  Calls could be heard from every direction, far and near.  Around the same time we started to see individuals emerging from their daytime hideaways and before the night was over we had found eleven, including adults, sub-adults and juveniles.

Male plus eggs

Male Midwife Toad carrying a string of well-developed eggs.

Hatching eggs

Male Midwife Toad with well-developed eggs beginning to hatch.

Taxonomic note: midwife toads belong to the family Alytidae, which also contains the painted frogs.  The are five midwife toad species, all in the genus Alytes.  One of them, A. muletensis, occurs on the island of Mallorca and was only discovered in the 1970s, and another, A. maurus, lives in Morocco.  Two of the remaining three species, A. cisternasii and A. dickhilleni, occur only on the Iberian Peninsula while the remaining species, A. obstetricans, known as the Common Midwife Toad, has a wide distribution over western Europe.  This species has been divided into several subspecies, differences between them being slight (as, indeed, are the differences between the full species).  Identification of species and subspecies is made much simpler if their origin is known although there are areas where the ranges of the Common Midwife toad and the Iberian Midwife Toad overlap.

It is assumed that the English colonies originate from the nominate form, A. obstetricans obstetricans, which occurs naturally in France and neighbouring countries.

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans

 

Majorcan midwife toad, Alytes muletensis

Mallorcan midwife toad, Alytes muletensis

 

En-crustaceans: Another Place for barnacles

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After spending an enjoyable but unproductive day at the Ainsdale Nature Reserve on the Merseyside coast looking for signs that the natterjack toads had started breeding (they hadn’t) we decided to use the last couple of hours of the day to re-visit Antony Gormley’s installation on the beach at Crosby, a few miles south.  Named “Another Place” it consists of 100 figures spread over a two mile stretch of the beach, each figure being a life-size replica of the artist.

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Statue head with barnacles

More to the point, the figures are submerged in the ocean at high tide and, as a result, have built up an impressive encrustation of marine invertebrates, mostly barnacles and mussels.  The barnacles are not one of our native species, but an invasive one, Austrominius modestus, (previously known as Elminius modestus) originating in Australia and first arriving on the British coast during the Second World War, probably in bilge water of visiting ships.  In the 70-odd years since, it has spread around the coast.  Prior to the “Another Place” installation it would have had little chance of colonising the Crosby shoreline as there are no rocks or other solid surfaces on which it could have settled.  The presence of 100 cast-iron statues changed all that so I suppose you could say that thanks to Mr Gormley the barnacles have found “Another Place” in which to live.

Barnacles, Austrominius modestus, an invasive species, growing on one of the statues

Barnacles, Austrominius modestus, an invasive species, growing on one of the statues

 

For the sake of completeness, these are the native acorn barnacles, Balanus balanoides, photographed in Northumberland

For the sake of comparison, these are the native acorn barnacles, Semibalanus balanoides, photographed in Northumberland

Zoological note: despite their appearance, barnacles are crustaceans, related to shrimps, crabs and so on.  They occur in three basic forms: acorn barnacles, one of which is the subject of this article, and which are encased in four or six hard bony plates with a small aperture at the top; goose barnacles, characterised by a long “neck”; and a parasitic barnacle, Sacculina carcini, that attaches itself to crabs, especially the shore crab, and looks like a little yellow bean stuck to its underside.

Photographically-speaking barnacles are not among the most challenging subjects.  To all intents and purposes they don’t move, and they are often stuck to a flat surface, so depth of field is not a problem as long as they are perfectly aligned.  A macro lens helps, as does a tripod.  If you stand the tripod in damp sand be sure to rinse it off in fresh water as soon as possible to prevent a build-up of grit and corrosion.

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A couple of good eggs

Leopard snake, Zamenis situla, hatching

Leopard snake, Zamenis situla, hatching

A new arrival gets his (or her) first view of the world.  60 days previously he was one of four eggs laid by a female leopard snake.  With very few exceptions, notably the pythons, snakes do not display any parental care.  Once the female has laid her eggs, in a moist, secluded place such as a cavity under a rock or log, or in decaying vegetation, she takes no further interest in them.  

Hatchling number two puts in an appearance.

Hatchling number two puts in an appearance.

The young snakes often remain in their eggs for several hours, or even days, after they have created a slit in the shell, seemingly recovering from the effort of hatching and waiting for an opportune moment to slide out and disperse into the surrounding countryside.

Leopard snake, Zamenis situla with clutch of recently laid eggs.

Leopard snake, Zamenis situla with clutch of recently laid eggs.

Leopard snakes occur in southern Europe, including Italy, Greece and several Mediterranean islands. They are among the most attractive European snakes and feed on small rodents such as mice and voles, which they are ideally equipped to follow into their burrows and nests.

The photographs are of captive animals: the chances of discovering a snake in the process of laying its eggs in the wild are almost non-existent – catching one in the act of hatching is even less likely.

 


Nature

Fruiting bodies of a slime mould, Trichia decipiens
A Log Blog

It’s amazing what you can find on, in or under a log.  I have a small pile of rotting wood at the…

More in Nature

Photography

Fruiting bodies of a slime mould, Trichia decipiens
A Log Blog

It’s amazing what you can find on, in or under a log.  I have a small pile of rotting wood at the…

More in Photography