0530. The previous day I had found a location with an uncut hay meadow near Fließ that I thought would be ideal for one of my summit-valley “stepped” panoramas. On arrival, however, the extreme contrast between valley floor and treeline makes the exercise pointless so I continue up the hill into the Naturpark Kaunergrat where I had earlier seen some stands of large yellow foxglove. Few long thin plants fit comfortably in a conventional frame so I choose two specimens – one shot from the side, the other from the front - that I could combine later in a single square frame.
1030. Anna, Benny, Wolfgang and Elke, recreational1 nature photographers from Innsbruck, have joined me. They know the Sonnenhänge well and are soon bringing me specimen after specimen to photograph. Two caterpillars of the spurge hawkmoth are at different stages of development: the older ones are an alarming red, black, white, and yellow. For any bird dim enough not to read the signs (it feeds on Euphorbia so it is NOT going to taste nice), a menacing spike at the posterior end of the creature re-enforces the message. [1I SO dislike the term “amateur” photographer; it’s usually meant pejoratively and doesn’t reflect the dedication and skill that many people who practise their craft only at weekends and during holidays, possess. The mistake many make, I believe, is to ape what the “professionals” do when in fact, their freedom from commercial pressure means that recreational photographers have a brilliant opportunity to work on poorly-covered subjects and to be rather more creative than most photographers working to agent or client briefs can afford to be.]
1500. Five species of grasshopper later we move on to the slopes where the crew have seen more butterflies than anywhere else. The sun is still shining brightly, ideal conditions for Apollo butterflies. At this site at least, this alpine species is especially fond of thistles and sure enough, we see half a dozen of the large insects within moments of arrival. This is very encouraging but their flightiness is not. Wolfgang explains that late afternoon, once replete with nectar but before descending into the lower vegetation for the night, is usually the best time to photograph them when they can become so placid that they will sit on your hand.
1600. I didn’t have to wait long. Elke has found me an Apollo that is so busily guzzling nectar that I can set up the shot without it showing the least bit of concern. But there’s something not quite right about the picture; Wolfgang puts his finger on it - the balance between the size of the flower and the subject itself is just not comfortable. We need a smaller thistle and another Apollo.
1800. After almost two hours up and down steep slopes trying to find another obliging Apollo, my friends are worn out. Perhaps it was just too hot for them – the Apollos - but within an hour, there are none to be seen. At least I have continued to work on grasshoppers (many still in a nymph stage), adding another 3 species.
2100. Unexpectedly, Ernst appears at the guesthouse; his earlier messages to me didn’t get through, but it doesn’t matter: we’re mothing tonight. Regional entomologist Kurt Lechner and a couple of friends have already hung a large white cotton screen and mercury vapour lamp along the edge of a meadow near Fließ when we arrive at 2130. I make some pictures of the scene then wait to see what arrives. On good nights, more than 100 species are attracted to the light; I’ll be happy if I can photograph any; I’ve not tried using the white set for moths before and fully expect them to hop straight back to that seductive light.
The whole scene – men waiting expectantly around a large screen, the air charged with excitement and anticipation – was not unlike that in a sports bar as the Big Match is broadcast, only less rowdy and without the beer. And perhaps more fun because of that.
0130 on 6th July. This has turned into a long day. But the moths have been pretty accommodating, most happy to sit on the set while I record every last scale. But by 0130, not only am I exhausted, so is the battery for my flash’s powerpack.
For their help, companionship and support in the field and with the organisation of the trip:
Ernst Partl, Kurt Lechner, Elisabeth Falkeis, Philipp Kirschner
Benny Bachmair, Anna Hofbauer, Elke Ertl, Wolfgang Ertl
The Flash Centre, London, for supplying the Lumedyne flash outfit used throughout the trip (the Elinchrom one they loaned was, unfortunately, too heavy to bring).
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.