The English oak (Quercus robur) provides wonderful habitat for numerous creatures, but in the (relatively mild) depths of a British winter, they keep a low profile. Wait an hour or so after dark however and the trunk of an unassuming oak tree suddenly becomes an insect super-highway.
Oak bush-cricket, harvestman and winter moths montage
A particularly interesting creature is the flightless female winter moth, which emerges from the ground and climbs the nearest trunk to liaise with the flighted male moth at altitude. She then lays her eggs high up in the canopy.
Female winter moth climbing oak tree
Male winter moth lying in wait
In a ‘good’ year hundreds of female winter moths may be seen to climb the trunk of one tree in a single night. This is not necessarily good news for the tree however, as the caterpillars rapidly denude the leaves after emerging in the spring.
Taking photos of small wild creatures in the dark presents a few challenges! To light these subjects I used an LED lamp attached to my tripod. This is a lot more predictable than using flash in inhospitable outdoor conditions, but does require a relatively long exposure time.
Many of these bugs will freeze in the bright white light required for conventional photography. This is not necessarily a bad thing for macro work, but it can alter their behaviour in an undesirable way. A young leopard slug was quickly in defensive posture for example, and remained so:
Young leopard slug
It’s also cold, dark and more than a little spooky in the woods after dusk in December, so requires several thermal layers and a degree of commitment!