|At low magnification, the old slide photos still look nice enough. Kurler Busch 1983|
|Another set from back then|
This year (2016), I had the opportunity to spend the second week of June in my family home close to forest and meadows where in the early eighties I worked on the arthropod part of a very inclusive inventory of fauna and flora of the Kurler Busch. I am proud to say that much of the area has now the designation Naturschtzgebiet Kurler Busch, so it has become a nature preserve.
|Our house in 1978 and in 2016. It is now completely overgrown by trees and invisible from the road. Between nightmare and enchantment|
Very soon, I found out that the lack of quality of my old German images had only little to do with the factors mentioned above. It's all in the light! Now, like then, I did not have the use of balanced double flashes with diffusors. But I am also quite fond of natural light photography and see it as a worthwhile challenge.
North Rhine Westphalia is part of the Dutch/NW German bay and has a rather oceanic climate, with lots of clouds and fog. The light has a very different quality from the harsh glare in Arizona. Under the forest canopy, the diffuse light is filtered into all shades of green and blue that at first seemed to overwhelm everything else.
|Pyrochroa coccinea, a Feuerkaefer|
|This photo was taken around 10 am.|
|The Koernebach in Kurl/Husen 2008 and 2016. Too bad I cannot find a photo of the unappealing industrial canal that was there before|
|Landstroper See, another bergsenkungsgebiet turned nature preserve|
The Kurler Busch has its own version of a Senkungsgebiet: The Ramsloher Bach. It was originally the core of the nature preserve I helped to create. By now it is so overgrown that I could only peak in by climbing on a hunter's high seat. I was disappointed, but the herons and egrets living there were not.
Cool overcast mornings are not great for insect observations. On the first days, due to jet lag and early sunrise I got up before 4 am and walked into the forest. I got the impression that I would not find anything but snails and slugs that seemed to have proliferated enormously since my last visit.
Even around 10 am on those cool cloudy mornings, the white umbels along the forest paths attracted much fewer bugs than I had hoped. But actually, by comparison, the German bugs proved tougher than AZ insects at the same temperatures. Flower-longhorns and one of my favorite scarabs soon gorged themselves on pollen, together with bumblebees and flies. Surprisingly, Honey bees were missing.
|Along the borders of paths and agricultural fields, ideally herbicide and pesticide free zones give sanctuary to wild flora and fauna|
From flower visiting beetles of various families, to flies, bees and colorful spittle bugs - the wild flower diversity results in great insect diversity.
Leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae) are mostly small but colorful, making me think that they are giving warnings of toxicity or noxious taste to predators. The shiny beauty of the Europeans keeps up well with that of their Arizona relatives. The ones above were all photographed within a few hundred feet of a path between a meadow and a barley field. The Alder Leaf Beetle must have flown over from the nearby riparian forest.
Along paths deeper in the forest, where the light is dim and high groundwater levels are always ready to fill the trenches, burning nettles (Urtica sp.) abound. This usually is a sign of disturbance and high nitrate levels. But bugs like the burning nettles. My usual photo technique to support with my left hand the leaf with the subject as well as my camera-wielding right hand became a little tricky as I'm not too fond of nettle burns. But a firm, determined reach usually breaks all those little injection cannulae before they can penetrate the skin. This year the nettles seemed richer in weevils than ever, but maybe my friendship with one of the world's best weevil specialists Charlie O'Brien, has sharpened my eyes.
Germany's favorite and most well-known beetle was always the Maikaefer, or Cock Chafer, Melolontha melolontha. Lucky charm to us kids, not so well liked by foresters, this scarab has a somewhat unpredictable rhythm of appearance (every seventh year was supposed to be a boom-year) and some people say it's now getting rare. I found one in my own overgrown backyard which every day seemed to become more and more of an enchanted garden.
|Cepaea hortensis and Cornu aspersum|
..of A hornet queens (Vespa Crabro) that tried to nest in a little bird house at my cousin's place main entrance door and was carefully relocated at night, with the birdhouse. In fact, I had never before seen so many hornet queens seeking nesting sites as this June. Endlessly probing for cavities they did not sit still for photos. So the image is from a visit at another season and shows a male.
... of unusual numbers of fat round blue-black beetles that turned out to be the dung beetle Geotrupes stercorarius.
|Harmonia axyridis (Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle)|
|Bee keeper close to our forest in 1984|
|Bombus terrestris and Bombus lapidarius enjoying garden flowers|
|During my short visit I found at least 5 species of Bumble Bees, many in gardens with decorative flowers. Thank you, Bernhard Jacobi for help with the identifications!|
|Male Bombus pratorum nectaring on cherry leaf nectaries|
This time, I had dreaded my visit to Germany very much. But by the time I drove to the airport to fly back to Arizona, I was thinking that this shouldn't be my last visit to the forest of my childhood. I'm pretty sure that I will be back one day.