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Friday, 26 September 2014

Autumn's here

At some point this last week we slipped into autumn. I'd assumed it was around the 21st but in fact the equinox was the 23rd this year. But it wasn't until this week that I was staring out of the window and realising that it was in fact looking quite autumnal out there, and felt even more so when I noticed the conkers dropping. I still pick up conkers and marvel at their tactile feel, even if it's been many a decade since I played a game of conkers! Anyway, this post is not at all about autumn colour or anything like that, but just a round up of the last week or so and the interesting things I have found.

I'm still watering my dry garden, although thankfully plants are not drying out quite so quickly now the weather has cooled, although certain veggies have no idea it's time to slow down; so long as they get sunshine they will just carry on growing!

Courgettes still think it's mid summer and the Aubergines which took a while to get going
have produced more fruit than I had expected! That's their pretty flowers top right.

Below are the two best of a bad bunch. I used my dslr and macro lens for this Buffalo Treehopper and managed to stuff up the focussing of every single shot. Grrrr! And it's the first time I've ever seen a Treehopper. This one is on a physalis stem and from what little I know about them, they are an introduced species from N. America and can be a pest on fruit trees. I've searched the physalis in vain since then but haven't found one again.

Buffalo Treehopper (Stictocephala bisonia) on a Physalis stem.

And then I came across my old friend, the Ornate Shield Bug on one of my purple curly kale plants. She'd been feeding on the leaves but that wasn't what I first noticed, it was the eggs she'd laid. I have to assume she's a she because she's the only one around. When the eggs hatch I am going to transfer the entire family to my nasturtiums because I really don't want my precious kale damaged!

Ornate Shield Bug (Eurydema ornata) with damage to her ? corium ?.
I'm not au fait with true bug anatomy!

In the collage below of the eggs, I did wonder about those two white ones, but the next day they'd toned down to a paler grey. However they haven't changed to black like the others so that's a mystery so far. I'm watching them every day to see what happens.

Ornate Shield Bug (Eurydema ornata) and eggs on curly kale leaf.

And..... I finally saw a not common round here Common Blue this year! A tatty old female flitting low over my lawn (yes that's my tatty old dried out lawn) and yes I did get shots of the underside of the wings to check the spots for ID purposes. None of the shots are much good for sharing, but I have much better photos from previous years so it doesn't matter.

A tatty looking female Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)
and Wall Browns (Lasiommata megera).

Unknown solitary bees buzzing around and going in and out of holes on the sandy bank beside the pond.

The next buggy is one of my favourite critters - I'm pretty sure it's a Chestnut Weevil although there are some similar ones which bore into other nuts, all from the Curculio genus. They use that amazing snout which is called a 'rostrum' to bore holes in the developing nut in order to lay their eggs inside. This is what the larvae eat until they leave the nut in the autumn and spend the rest of their time as larvae in the soil, emerging as adults in late summer to repeat the cycle all over again.

Chestnut Weevil (Curculio elephas).

Chestnut Weevil (Curculio elephas). This one is a female, as she has a longer rostrum than the male.

Here's one of the larva of the Chestnut Weevil which I found perfectly formed but boiled to death!
I avoid cooking any chestnuts with obvious holes, but there are many which are damaged
that you just don't know about until you peel them.

There have been a fair few dragonflies around this month, many of them in the last ten days or so, but apart from one Blue-tailed Damselfly the only other species I have seen is this Spreadwing.

Western Willow Spreadwings (Chalcolestes viridis), not quite in the mating wheel
but either thinking about it, or after the deed.

It was exciting to find two new species of dragonfly that either I hadn't seen before, or hadn't seen here. I had seen a female Ruddy Darter elsewhere this year but the male is a handsome beast. 

A male Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum).

A female Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) who let me get close to her,
but still wouldn't come on my finger!

I was really pleased to discover this Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) dragonfly.

This week we have finally had the cooler weather suitable for sowing grass seed, so we've worked on prepping half the mound left by the septic tank works. Half was enough work but that's mainly because that's all that a whole roll of chicken wire covers (and we are not coughing up for another roll as they are expensive). Some grass had already grown in this space so I went along chopping it back and removing weeds whilst my OH raked lightly and removed buckets worth of stones yet again. Then he sowed the seed, raked lightly again and we relaid the strips of chicken wire to keep the cats off (and hens!) and then I lightly trod it all down. And finally, watering with a light spray so as not to disturb the seed. Twice a day. 

And then I let the chickens out because I knew it was safe from their scratching. However I had forgotten about the seed on the surface until I saw them pecking at it! I'll have to keep them in their run until the grass germinates now but hopefully that won't be long, and once we have a swathe of green we can move the chicken wire and work on the other half.

Oh, and the Law of Sod dictates that, even though we have not seen a mole or vole in this main area of lawn for many a year, of course one has discovered the mound....... just as we've sown seed! Aaaaarggggh!!!

Marleen looking for yummy grass seed!

And now I will catch up with everyone's blogs. I've been in reading mode on my Kindle recently and spent less time on my computer. It was nice for a change. :-)

Thursday, 18 September 2014

September flowers - having fun with florals

Where has this week gone?! It's been quite warm and sunny and I've enjoyed seeing two new species of dragonfly visiting my pond. More about that another time as for now I am sharing a selection of flowers taken over the course of the month, some with bugs on them but that's more because there are always insects about, rather than I was specifically trying to capture them. Many of these photos I have had fun with, either with the shooting or the processing - with bugs I want them looking natural and lifelike, but with florals anything goes, so I am trying to make myself push those sliders and press those effects buttons, go garish or muted or add textures, or all of the above! And shooting towards the sunlight in the early morning when it's all misty and dewy with autumnal light produces some great effects and bokeh.

Bidens and a spider.

Bidens and a Marmalade Hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus).

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' and Golden Oregano
(the latter has flowered really well and for ages, thanks to the rain in August).

All the purple leafed Sedums are flowering late, having survived an early attack by Ermine Moth caterpillars.

Zephirine Drouhin. Images taken 3 days apart, in different light and with different processing.

A Dahlia, one of several which I inadvertently grew from seed last year,
thanks to a packet of mixed flower seeds for attracting butterflies.

This one looks better viewed large as the little ant doesn't show up very well here; however the
crab spider was a really tiny one and I couldn't get a sharper shot than this.

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff'. I know the name of this one!

Mating Flesh Flies on an annual Coreopsis.

Coreopsis again, also known as Tickseed. This one is my favourite annual.

Veg patch this year - there are veggies in there too!

Sunflowers are fun and the bees love them.

Pollinator Meadow year 3 in the early morning light.

Same view taken from behind a Dill plant.

Dewy Mirabilis jalapa, before the flowers close up for the day.

A Dahlia with a spider waiting for an unsuspecting pollinator.

A Grasshopper amongst the Rudbeckia 'Goldsturms'.

Cosmos in the veg patch.

Borage with a Honey Bee and on the right, a Heineken Hoverfly (Rhingia campestris).

This is a strange year! Verbena bonariensis is usually my main butterfly nectar flower but this year
hardly any have been attracted to it. Here's a Green-veined White (Pieris napi) having a drink.

Looking towards the garden through the trees early in the morning.

From the other direction - I still don't know what the tall yellow flowers are!
They spread like crazy just like the Bidens next to them.

Then there is ICM, which stands for Intentional Camera Movement, an effect you can create in camera by moving it whilst on a slow(ish) shutter speed. My friend Marianne has been trying to teach me how to do this and it requires a LOT of practice! I'm still mostly getting duff pictures but it's great fun trying.

ICM - the stems top left are my Bronze Fennel which hosted so many
Swallowtail caterpillars and there's also Sedum 'Autumn Joy',
the pink flower in the background (which is usually covered in butterflies,
but not so this year. Sob).

And a few harvest pictures that didn't fit in with other posts....

Thanks to heavy rain in August I actually got some edible peaches!
They doubled their size although they are still much smaller than
the commercially available ones.

And everyone loves rude veggies. :-)

And now I am awaiting the forecasted thunderstorms and heavy rain which the garden sorely needs, yet the sun is shining outside, I can hear a Robin singing and I'm torn because when this mini heatwave is over, that will truly be the end of summer. But roll on autumn! :-)

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Cool caterpillars, hoverfly mating dances and a duck casualty

Despite heavy rain at the end of August, it didn't take long for the sunny parts of the garden to dry out so it was time to get out the hose pipes again. However this time I refuse to use any more mains water as I spend a fortune watering each year - gardening is not a cheap hobby! And I didn't have to use mains because guess who has a full 4,000 litre water tank now which used to be the old septic tank.... it was time to make good use of it. So out came the pump and off I went with the watering.... oh but my god, it reeked! Ugh! So it's a good thing if I can empty it as much as possible before more rain is due to fill it, as I think it's going to take a while before that smell and any residual yukkiness clears. Needless to say I kept my hands well away from my face during the time I was hosing and gave my hands and arms a very good wash afterwards! Hopefully the plants will appreciate any extra nutrient in the water but I won't be watering any edibles with it! 

As far as butterflies seen at home this last week, the only ones of note are the ones I don't have photos of. I completely missed a photo of the first Hairstreak I've seen in my garden, a Purple Hairstreak. It was a lifer and was in my veg patch on one of the rare occasions that I'd popped out without my camera. I could have kicked myself and spent the rest of the day in a sulk. However the next day I did have my camera in my veg patch when I spotted a Mallow Skipper - but as I can't garden clutching a camera 100% of the time I still had to go about four paces away to grab the camera and when I got back to it, it had gone, so at least it made me feel better about the Hairstreak. And I also saw something small and interesting in the Blue department out of the living room window, but I was on the phone to my mum at the time.

Over the last week my bug spotter extraordinaire aka my OH spotted the following three insects. The first is a Buff Tip moth larva - I have seen them before but I had never seen one rear up in a defensive position like this before. It was on a dried out seed head beside the pond and well camouflaged from a distance before it reared up.

Buff Tip moth (Phalera bucephala) larva.

The second caterpillar was far more exciting as although I did see one of these last year just as it was wandering off to pupate, I hadn't seen an earlier instar looking like this before. This is a Lime Hawkmoth larva and it had fallen out of a lime tree. When they are fully grown and ready to pupate they change colour to a rather dull grey brown and look less than attractive. In fact the one last year had been spotted by either my OH or brother and was reported to me as "come and see this large ugly slug". :-) This one was just a youngster and after our photo shoot I put it down at the base of the tree trunk and watched it climb back up the trunk. I could have given it a helping hand but I wanted to be 100% sure that's where it wanted to be!

Lime Hawkmoth (Mimas tiliae) larva.

Lime Hawkmoth (Mimas tiliae) larva having a little walk about my wrist.

Stomping back up the tree trunk -
I used my flash here as it was evening and too dark under the tree canopy.

A caterpillar on a mission - to get back to those juicy lime leaves!
Mimas tiliae larva.

The last thing in the mothy department this week was a "Quick, come and see this large moth in the cellier/mudroom" for which I managed one shot before it flew off. Now if only those underwings had been blue, it would have made my year. It's a Rosy Underwing, one of the Catacala species which includes the (blue) Clifden Nonpareil - sigh. One day I will see one. Maybe when I finally get a moth trap. Next year! 

Rosy Underwing (Catocala electa) moth on a box of kindling.

A crop of the same photo of the Rosy Underwing (Catocala electa).

Changing the subject completely I've been witnessing what I think is some hoverfly foreplay! I first noticed it because I could hear a high pitched whining/buzzing noise and wondered why one hoverfly seemed to be hovering above another. I got the first pic on the left and after that the hovering one buzzed off. Then the next day I saw this display again and eventually the male seemed to dive down, touch the female then fly up over her again, and then repeated the action. I wondered whether that was it, i.e. a nanosecond of sex and maybe it was specific to this species. But I've googled and apparently it's a mating dance. Obviously in both instances here Madame was more interested in eating than what Monsieur had in mind. ;-)

Eristalis sp., possibly interrupta, in mating dance.

I was glad to learn that they do still mate in the way that I've seen other kinds of flies do it, but maybe hoverflies are just more fussy about their mates.

Here's a couple of Robber Flies doing the biz on a fennel plant.
I'm not sure if feet on eyeballs is normal during fly sex.

And now some bad news. Doris the Saxony duck is no longer with us. Doris was acting a bit strange and could possibly have been egg bound - although I am unsure about that as I don't think either of the girls were still laying. But she was standing about at the water's edge rather wobbly and looked like she may have been straining a bit although she seemed fine when swimming about on the water. With the ducks having gone 'wild' it is impossible to get anywhere near them so we could hardly shut a potentially sick duck in the not used in a long time duck shed. 

The next day Doris seemed to have disappeared so we searched for her and eventually my OH followed a trail of feathers into a wild patch in the woodland...... and found the remains of Doris. What we think happened is that she died and then her body was dragged off by a Stone Marten (Martes foina, also known as Beech Marten or 'Fouine' in France). We think that for two reasons: one, my OH had seen one in broad daylight recently, quite an unusual thing to see as they are mostly nocturnal, and two, (and here comes the gruesome bit) her head and neck had been removed completely! No doubt hanging up in a marten larder somewhere. There was no blood at the scene so that's why we are hoping that she died first and then was taken by an opportunist marten, in which case it's not so bad. I don't think one would go for a living duck as they are rather large! And the headless bit reminds us of the time long ago when we found a bunch of headless corpses in our garage, which turned out to be baby hares. We never did find the heads.  

Doris 2nd from right, with Dirk the male Saxony on the far left.

Taken about a month ago, the ducks had been going through moults but the two
Saxony ducks were still in their pale summer plumage.

Please don't be sorry for me as these ducks are not exactly pets (with the exception of Freckles the old white duck who we've had since March 2007, back when our original ducks were quite friendly) and they've always been so timid we couldn't get near them, so never formed any kind of bond with them. Bit of a shame really. 

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Honey Bee on Sedum

Honey Bee on Sedum

Dewy Web

Dewy Web

Coneflowers

Coneflowers

Broad Bodied Chaser

Broad Bodied Chaser

Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth

Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth

Cats past and present

Cats past and present

Cats Past and Present

Cats Past and Present

Holly Blue Butterfly

Holly Blue Butterfly

Swallowtail Butterfly

Swallowtail Butterfly

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

Cricket

Cricket

Dahlia

Dahlia

Marmalade Hoverfly

Marmalade Hoverfly

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Swallowtail Caterpillar

Swallowtail Caterpillar