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Natural Perspectives: Bugging out at night

July 02, 2012|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
(Photo by Lou Murray )

Vic must have decided that he didn't have enough to do what with teaching birding and biology, working with the Amigos, and serving as vice president of Sea and Sage Audubon. He has become a volunteer with the National Forest Service for Cleveland National Forest.

As part of his new volunteer work, he signed up to participate in a nighttime insect survey with Gary Meredith in Santiago Canyon. A bug hunt in the dark sounded just crazy enough to interest me. When I heard that dinner at the Silverado Café was part of the deal, I was totally on board.

After burgers and lemonade at the little café, 10 of us gathered at a pullout off Maple Springs Road about two miles from the gate that separates the wild area from civilization. We drove up the winding, one-lane canyon road near dusk, with Vic and Gary doing some birding along the way.

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Meanwhile, Larry Shaw, who is director of operations of the Orange County Vector Control District, set up a white canvas with black lights that were powered by a 12-volt battery. Night-flying insects can't resist light in the ultraviolet range. They flock to it like, well, like moths to a flame. Only the moths don't burn up.

As we sat in folding camp chairs waiting for dark to fall, we listened to distant calls of poor wills and Western screech owls. The first insects that I noticed were the mosquitoes buzzing in my ears.

Gary helped me with settings on my new Nikon Coolpix 510 so I would have a better chance of getting some decent photos. It looked like everyone in the group except Vic was there to photograph the insects. The forest service benefits by getting the results of what insects were found, plus use of photos that people share with them.

Once it was dark, moths and other insects began to swarm onto the white sheet. The photographers vied with one another for perfect position to capture an image of first one moth, and then another. It started to look like a game of Twister on that white canvas on the ground.

Gary kept admonishing us to watch our feet so that we didn't step on any of the fluttering moths, beetles, and caddis flies that landed on the white canvas at our feet.

I regret to say that, photographically speaking, I was lost. I was facing photographic challenges that were new to me. I had no idea how to take macro photos in the dark. But by luck, I managed to get a few in focus pictures where the moth hadn't flown away.

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