Three shots for C&C
I think that the crops improve both photos. And I do agree the butterfly photo is the stronger of the two... the mushroom one is mildly interesting. A much higher magnification of the mesh work under the right light might yield an interesting abstract photo. As for the brown stem... been there, done that! It is so much easier to see things in other peoples photographs!
As for your other questions...
I have been photographing for longer than I like to admit... over forty years (with a long hiatus for raising a family and building a career). When I started out I shot mainly 4x5 black and white negatives of landscapes.
These days I consider myself mainly a "nature photographer". I still do landscapes but I also photograph wildlife. Within wildlife, I seem to have developed a niche photographing dragonflies and damselflies, but in the end, I'll photograph almost anything that catches my eye!
As for gear, I am a Nikon guy. I currently using a D300. For close up/macro work I use a Tamron 90mm macro and a 70-300 mm zoom with extension tubes... see this blog post describing my "dragonfly rig": http://gorga.org/blog/?p=145 . This rig also works very well for butterflies!
By the way, a few days ago I posted a couple of photos of what I think is the same species are "your" butterfly... see:
I post new work regularly on my blog (see link below)... take a peak if you are interested.
Frank ( http://www.gorga.org/blog )