Blog Header

Blog Header

Saturday, 28 September 2013

What a fabulous week!

The weather warmed up suddenly last weekend and whilst it hasn't been sunny all the time, it's been great getting back into shorts and sandals again after a couple of weeks of cool gloomy weather. I do find myself becoming quite lazy on days like this - although many days were a pleasant kind of warmth as whilst the sun felt very hot, it was nice and cool and fresh in the shade, which was much more apparent than during the summer months. But hey, we never know when it will be the last of our warm weather for maybe six months, so lazing around is not so bad, is it? 

The only sad note this week was the departure of our swallows. It's inevitable but always seems a bit strange when I first notice they have gone as the skies seem so empty and so quiet.  But on the plus side, a little bit of warmth and the Painted Lady butterflies were back, along with many others. I've found some goodies this week, like this groovy caterpillar. It was curled up in one of the large plant saucers that I use as chicken feed bowls. Luckily for it, chickens are at times sensible and don't go near hairy caterpillars!

Sycamore Moth (Acronicta aceris) caterpillar all curled up.

Sycamore Moth (Acronicta aceris) caterpillar - I had to prod it gently with a leaf to
make it uncurl and I didn't see its face until I put it down into the grass.

On Tuesday I went to revisit my Butterfly Walk to collect the seeds of the Greater Burdock that I'd found so covered in butterflies earlier in the summer. There were not many wildflowers about and far fewer butterflies, but plenty of insects were feeding on the ripe blackberries, even though the berries were rather small and not very juicy, due to the dry soil where they are growing. (As an aside, my brother asked me if I remembered us throwing the dry sticky seed heads of Burdock at each other as children. No. Still don't remember this plant.)

Comma (Polygonia c-album), very well camouflaged with their wings closed up like this.

A Green Bottle fly, a female Fever Fly (Dilophus febrilis) and
a Rose Chafer beetle (Cetonia aurata) all feeding from the same blackberry.

And at home a Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)
feeding on my cultivated blackberries.

It was certainly a(nother!) week for butterflies as I spotted two completely new species in my garden! Both tiny, both 'blues' and I'm amazed that I even noticed them at all, as these tiny little things are so easy to miss in amongst the big showy butterflies that are flitting about on these Verbena flowers.

A male Brown Argus (Aricia agestis).

A male Long-tailed Blue (Lampides boeticus). These butterflies are
migratory and will likely have come up here from the south of France.

Here's one of my favourite hoverflies, the weirdly named and strange looking Heineken Hoverfly, which are abundant right now. Yes the Verbena bonariensis is still a hit with pollinating insects - that and the sedums have been the favourites of many this last week.

Heineken Hoverfly (Rhingia campestris) with its strange snout.

There seems to be some kind of pattern going on here with my cats terrorising my chickens and ducks! Bertie is being a naughty little boy and worrying the hens.

Bwark bwark!

And here are the sound effects in this 13 second video. I've only just figured out how to get them off my Canon camera and be able to view them on my computer (yeah I know but I just haven't a clue where computers are concerned and didn't have the right software installed) so don't expect me to be able to edit them yet. The last few seconds are unnecessary and I wonder if you can guess what happened?!

video

Some rotten insect bit my foot! lol :-)

I will leave you with yet more butterflies and and whether the forecasted rain ever arrives (so far no luck) I'm getting back into the kitchen for yet more preserving. I'm off to England the middle of next month and want to take jams and chutneys with me as gifts for family and friends!

How many Peacocks (Inachis io) can you fit on one Sedum plant?
Yes, the blur counts!

Oh, one last thing I discovered just this morning after I'd written all the rest. Really annoyingly I've just found two young Swallowtail caterpillars. These are the only ones I've seen other than the four that I raised, so I'm guessing these are the babies of my babies. It's annoying because I don't have time to get them to chrysalis stage before going away.... yet we're going nowhere next spring... so I could have overwintered them and had another chance to see an eclosion earlier next year. Damn!

This one had just had a moult, because its facial markings are very pale
(and I found the skin on the stem as well).

Well I'll just chat to them when I'm in the veg patch instead. :-)

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Anyone bored of kittens yet?!

They'll be five months old tomorrow and growing up fast. Thankfully they are still every bit the kitten right now but I know from experience from when Hallie started going outside that most of the playing will be done out there from now on! Hopefully we will have less of a mess of cat toys strewn all over the place indoors (and other things which are not cat toys but they think they are). But I still don't really want them to grow up yet, although it has been lovely and peaceful the last few evenings - and nights - as they have been so exhausted after hours outside they have slept well when they came back in!

Here are a selection of pics taken when they've been outside over the last week or so. 

Bertie sniffing the wind which he hadn't encountered before!

Harry's shadow is beside the cold frame.

Now this one of Harry needs a bit of explaining. He is an oddball who has loved chewing the dried out ends of garlic and onions as I've been bringing them in from the barn. He then progressed to eating the green shoots of spring onions and even eats radish leaves when I leave them in a bowl in the sink in the mud room. So it stands to reason he would discover my chives and start to eat them!


After their first sortie alone, Hallie appeared every other time and they became braver. After that there was no stopping them and they've discovered trees to climb, the ducks (who they haven't actually chased, thank goodness), butterflies to chase, crane flies to pounce on, duck feathers to pretend are mice they have caught and vole holes in the lawn to investigate.






The worried look here is due to the proximity of the lawnmower!



Don't worry, I won't be posting updates every month now, only when I get some good or fun captures of them!
 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Late summer butterflies

About mid August all those many and varied butterflies I was seeing around the place seemed to dwindle somewhat, to be replaced by far too many 'Cabbage Whites'. For us here in Europe that means both Large White (Pieris brassicae) and Small White (Pieris rapae), and to a lesser extent, the Green Veined White (Pieris napi). I'm not sure that the latter are a real pest for brassicas (cabbage family) but I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the caterpillars of these and the Small White, as they are both plain and green. Of course the White explosion coincided with me sowing and growing my brassicas!

However I've still seen a few goodies here and there and in the last week or so it seems like the Whites' numbers have reduced, and suddenly we have a great wave of Peacock butterflies which although common, are so colourful they are always a delight to see. I'm also starting to see more of the usual autumn species such as Red Admirals and Commas.

The Whites have been so numerous that I've literally been swatting the darn things away as I was trying to flick their eggs off my baby kale and PSB! Since planting it out I've watched them lay eggs on it, and not just that, also on my rocket which I have to check when I pick it. They've also been quite promiscuous and I've found them mating all over the place too. I just wish I could get to see all this action with other species!

Cheeky Small White laying eggs on my purple sprouting brocolli!
At least they only lay single eggs.

Multiple eggs laid by the Large White butterfly -
this is on a rocket leaf. No I didn't eat it!

When those ones hatch out you get an invasion as shown on this nasturtium, which they are
welcome to munch. It's grown partially to help keep the caterpillars away from the brassicas,
but also because they are pretty!

There are predators of course, just as there are parasitic wasps which will lay their eggs inside the caterpillars. I didn't interfere when my OH yelled to tell me that a spider had captured a butterfly, just ran for my camera. Below is a female Large White that has been caught in a web, and I may have felt tempted to help had it been a more unusual species of butterfly, but really why should I deprive the spider of a meal? If you want to see more pictures of this spider and the butterfly, I've put the rest of the photos into a little album on Picasaweb here. I know that not everyone wants to see the gruesome stuff and/or spiders though!

Large White (Pieris brassicae) caught by a Cross Orb Weaver (Araneus diadematus).

OK moving swiftly on to prettier pictures! At the time of taking these photos I thought this was a Small Copper and was just taking a few pictures because it was the first one I'd seen in my garden this year. Luckily I checked in my butterfly book and was was really pleased to find that it was actually the far more unusual Sooty Copper, that I'd encountered for the first time on my Butterfly Walk last month. What I'd seen then though was the male, and this is the female, so I'm happy that I've seen both of them as they are quite different in colouring.

A female Sooty Copper (Lycaena tityrus).

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) - the only one I've seen in my
garden this year, although I saw plenty on the coast at the Pointe du Grouin!

Map butterfly (Araschnia levana) - I've seen precisely three this year.

It seems like the Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) left on our last hot day!
Couldn't resist adding this picture of one in the veg patch with leeks in the background.

To be replaced by the equally stunning Peacocks (Inachis io)...

... and Commas (Polygonia c-album).

I'll finish off with a Small Copper that I saw yesterday. Looking back through last year's photos, I didn't even begin to see them until September and they were around through most of October, so there's plenty still to look forward to on the butterfly front. Not to mention sunshine and warmth coming back for a whole week, according to the weather forecasts. I'm going to make the most of it!

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) on Sedum 'Autumn Joy'.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Kitties growing up

I can't believe the kittens will be five months old in about ten days, so I'd better post these pics which I have compiled showing them from age three to four months! I have some more to share after that from when we let them out all on their ownsome a couple of days ago, which made it a lot easier to photograph them than when we took them out on their harnesses and little leads. 

Bertie

Harry

The little basket is far too small for Hallie, let alone with Harry in it too!

"Can I join in too?" "No!"

Poor Bertie sulking alone in the big basket. Nobody likes this basket!

Aww - all peaceful for a change

Aww again!

Out on their little harnesses for the first time!

It's hard to take pics when you have one on a lead
so I gave them both to my OH, which wasn't easy for him.

Having a good sniff around, in that crouched down unsure position
that they adopt when they first go outside and everything is a bit scary.

Holding two is pretty hopeless as they both want to go in different directions!

Very tired after their exertions in the garden!

I don't think Bertie was in the mood for posing!

Harry, near the end of August and looking a little bit more grown up.

Two kittens don't fit in the small kitty basket very well any more.
At least not in this silly positon!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Poultry problems and nature notes

Poor old Freddie the cockerel is no more. He got some weird thing wrong with his eyes which just closed up, rendering him blind.  By the second day he wasn't even interested in drinking any more and there really wasn't any option. His eyes seemed very sunken and it was hard to actually try to open up his eyelids (or chicken equivalent thereof). He'd had a good old life - I don't know how old he was as we rehomed him from friends about three years ago as he was fighting with his son - and they'd taken him on from someone else several years before.

As for the two newbies, they had to be separated from the three remaining hens as the evil Andrea has decided she is top hen now and had pecked one of them under the eye, and I'd found her on day two with an eye all swollen shut and cheek all puffed up! Luckily the duck shed was free so I put them in there, but that wasn't a long term solution as I couldn't let them outside. So we remembered the 'broody box' that we'd been given along with Freddie, a sort of mini coop that we could use if we had a broody sitting on eggs. It never did get used as none of the hens went broody after we finally had a chance of some eggs getting fertilised! So the newbies have been sleeping in there in a run of their own for the last two weeks. I'm trying to get them back with the others and have been letting them out together during the day. Now we've had rain (at long last, after six weeks of bone dry) I've found this mini coop is not at all waterproof so they are going to have to go in with the others in the shed tonight, whether they like it or not....

Freddie two years ago meeting Andrea for the first time.

Onto the nature news - the wild birds are quiet now and not even much interested in the food we put out, but that's because like for us and our fruit and veg harvest, this is the time of plenty and there's tons of seed, fruit and bugs about to keep the birds happy. Mum was really happy to get to see a kingfisher when she was here (and I was happy to get a shot out of the kitchen window of it actually perching in full view over the scummy looking pond). The little warbler which I think must be a chiffchaff is still flitting about in my veggie patch happily eating my pollinators, thanks to all the flowers in there, and the swallows are still about. They won't be for much longer, and I noticed some grouping on the tops of trees, but zooming in on them I think they were youngsters. I've seen some being fed on the wing, so they've got to mature really fast before their long flight to Africa very soon.

Top left: Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
Top right: a warbler, most probably Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Bottom: Swallows (Hirundo rustica)

I've found a few more Odonata to add to my list of species seen here. The Common Darter below has been around quite a number of times and is an easy one to photograph as they like to perch and just dart out to grab a passing fly or midge, then back they settle on the same perch again. Sometimes I've managed to creep quite close.

Common Darter dragonfly (Sympetrum striolatum).

This damselfly is a little different from the others as it is one of the few species that rest with their wings open. Usually the way to tell the difference between dragonflies and damselflies (quite apart from the obvious size difference), is the way they hold their wings at rest - dragonflies always with their wings held open. This one has two or more common names (Willow Emerald Damselfly or Western Willow Spreadwing) and seems to have two latin names as well - according to Wikipedia it is now called Chalcolestes viridis, formely Lestes viridis, but google it and it's mostly still being called the latter everywhere else!

Chalcolestes viridis, formely Lestes viridis.

Very probably a Chalcolestes/Lestes viridis caught in a web
by a Cross Orb Weaver (Araneus diadematus) spider.
Unfortunately for me all happening inside the spent flower head of my Smoke Bush!

One of the kittens found the caterpillar below. We've been taking them out on harnesses for walks about the place before letting them out on their own, and I came running when my OH informed that Harry had found a 'big fat slug'. Hmmm with horns? I didn't know what it was at the time, although I knew it wasn't a slug, and it was flapping about like it was rather cross and angry - haven't met slugs doing that! I'm glad to know we have these Hawkmoths here as we have five lime trees (Tilia not the citrus fruit!) and although the caterpillars are green, they turn this colour when they are ready to pupate and go on walkabout looking for a suitable place to do so.

Lime Hawkmoth caterpillar (Mimas tiliae).

Just slipping in a photo of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum)
which I took recently!

This next one came as a nice surprise because out of the various colourful Tiger Moths I might expect to see in Europe, I've only ever seen the Jersey Tiger, which is a frequent visitor to my garden. This one, the Garden Tiger Moth, was just sitting on the dry soil in my veg patch a few days ago. It may have been on its last legs because we had quite a photo shoot without it attempting to fly off.

Garden Tiger Moth (Arctia caja), showing its beautiful hind wings.

Garden Tiger Moth (Arctia caja) showing its hairy side!

I saw one of these caterpillars this morning, despite it being damp and miserable. I first encountered them last autumn and this is a photo from then as I was not inspired to get my camera out earlier!

Knot Grass Moth (Acronicta rumicis) caterpillar.

The moth below was spotted earlier in August but I haven't shared it yet. It is very small and I wish I could have got closer as it's a beauty!

Fiery Clearwing Moth (Pyropteron chrysidiforme).
Also damn Stipa grass - always in the way when taking photos.... :-)

Finally... now this won't look like much to you but it's probably one of the most exciting mothy things I've ever found in my garden. And it's just a hind wing! It puzzled me for a while because it is largish butterfly size, and I couldn't think of any butterfly it had come from, and looked through all my books for rare and exotic species that might have visited - wishful thinking on the butterfly front. Then I thought maybe it was from a hawkmoth as they are big moths, but no.... then as I was leafing through the pages for any other kind of large moth, I found it. You should have heard the sharp intake of breath.

It's from a Clifden Nonpareil! One of those huge, beautiful moths that you see in books and on the telly on nature programmes, never expecting to see one in real life. So finding a wing and knowing that one was around in my garden is pretty exciting stuff for me! The topside of the hind wing is shown on the top photo, where you can just see the blue colour (probably shouldn't have photographed it on the blue tablecloth but hey, I didn't even notice the blue colour until I saw the image on my computer!). It's also known as a Blue Underwing and here's a link which shows the moth - nothing that special with its wings closed but it is huge, and it's something I've always wanted to see. :-)

Hind wing from a Clifden Nonpareil Moth (Catocala fraxini).

I'll continue with recent butterfly sightings on another post as I have gone on for long enough. Currently sitting here listening to jam jars going 'pop' after making chutney, and about to go and sort out the hens. Wish me luck!