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Sunday, 26 October 2014

October photo extravaganza

Okaaaaay here are some photos taken during the first half of October. I have a bit of catching up to do! Last weekend was fabulous and really warm, a true bit of Indian Summer and back in T-shirts again. All in all despite showers, which I am happy about as we have sown grass seed over the rest of the septic tank works and have had no need to water anymore, it's been probably the mildest October I can remember. No sign of any frost which is quite unbelievable, and at the moment the forecast is showing an optimistic 21C (70F) for Halloween! In fact our dinners have still been very summery and Mediterranean - ratatouille, moussaka, courgette fritters.... thankfully though the courgette plants have both died off now - huge sighs of relief all round although the aubergines are unbelievably still producing fruit and so are a few remaining cherry tomatoes, and we only bought our first commercially grown cucumber about 10 days ago.

My Forest Pansy tree has had the best colour ever this year. The leaves have stayed on for much longer than the previous couple of years since I planted it, and they've been a much needed blast of autumn colour in a garden which is largely full of natives which don't change to any spectacular colour - and other shrubs which do have nice colour have barely changed yet. So I have taken loads of photos of it and here are a few.... I have even more photos as it gradually turns caramel but they are still on the camera and await my next post.

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' at the beginning of October.

The yellow perennial was looking good too -
it has daisy like flowers but I don't know what it is.

Mid October and the Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea 'Winter Flame')
in the background was (and still is) looking a nice yellow colour.

When the sun shines through it from the other side it is just amazing!

In the veg patch I was amazed at how the ash wood chippings laid down on the paths last autumn suddenly erupted in 'shrooms!

First these ones popped up....

...which I'm pretty sure matured into these ones.

And then great swathes of these suddenly appeared!

I had to watch my step!

Unfortunately I have no idea what either of these species are
as fungi ID is beyond me.

My OH spotted this huge hairy caterpillar, 3 inches long! marching across the
gravel path and then over the grass. This is the best photo I could get as
it was travelling at speed - maybe off to pupate somewhere?
I think it is the larva of a Fox Moth (Macrothylacia rubi).

Borage in the morning dew.

And again in the early evening light.

Zephirine Drouhin the rose produced a few late fresh leaves and flowers.
I spot a tiny spider here too. :-)

Still no way to close the gate to the veg patch!

By the way there's an easy way to ID Ichneumon wasps, if you can get a clear photo of the wings that is. I was taught this a couple of years ago and it's been invaluable info. All wasps have a clear 'horse's head' shape in the wing vein pattern (known as wing venation) as can been seen here on this photo in this link.

An Ichneumon Wasp on my Dogwood - nice matching colours.
I have never seen one like this before but I don't have the time to try to ID it right now.

One day as I was pottering about the garden, there was a bit of excitement when something largish rushed past me followed by two cats. I had my Canon dslr and macro lens hanging around my neck at the time which I soon found was not ideal when I realised that what I had for a moment thought might have been a moorhen, was actually a Red Legged Partridge and I needed to save it from the cats! (That sounds like I wasn't going to bother saving a's just my badly constructed sentence!) Anyhow there I was yelling at the cats and trying to kick (nicely not hard) them out of the way whilst trying to also hold this heavy pendulous thing swinging around my neck but needing free hands.... luckily I managed to grab the bird but then I needed help. 

So there I was wandering around the house with all this by now irritating camera gear around my neck and a thankfully docile partridge in my hands yelling at all the windows for my OH. Finally found him in the living room and he came out of the French windows saying "Why are you walking around with a partridge in your hands?" to which my reply was something like oh for god's sake get this ruddy camera off from around my neck then take the bird so we can go and release it outside the property safe from the cats.... but I had to then grab my other bridge camera because of course I wanted photos. This is only the second time I've seen one since moving to Brittany 10 years ago; the first time was in the cow field on the other side of my veg patch, and as I know from seeing them in the past that they are reluctant fliers, how it had ended up in my fenced in garden I have no idea! We released it in the orchard which wasn't ideal as it ended up in the long vegetation on the banks of the stream, but I didn't want to scare it for longer by walking all the way up the road to an open field. And I did want to get a few photos as this was a rarity for us!

Red Legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) being held by my OH.

Once released it rushed into the long vegetation.....

....where it spent some time looking around then we were kind and left it be!

Another new bug spotted by my OH was this guy, or gal. I was really lucky because I belong to a facebook insect group and it just so happened that someone had posted a photo of one that day, so that saved me possibly hours of IDing! It is actually a North American species that has only in fairly recent years been found in Europe and is spreading and is considered an invasive species. More about it on Wikipedia here.

Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis) on my garden table.
I love those hind legs!

Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis) on my wrist.

I was amazed last weekend to see more dragonflies and damselflies out mating - seems late in the year. I will never win any awards for my in-flight photos but I still like to try taking them and these are the best of the bunch! I can only get better and it's still good for my records.

On the left which was taken late September is a male Southern Hawker and the other two are
possibly Ruddy Darters - there were two pairs flying around like this with the female ovipositing
(laying eggs) in the shallower edges of the pond, whilst the male was still attached to it. It's my
first sighting of dragonflies mating and reproducing in my pond which I was really pleased about.

These two are the Western Willow Spreadwing (Lestes (or Chalcolestes) viridis)
which I'm still seeing around my pond even now.

And to finish up a few cat piccies. I keep meaning to take more photos of them but outside they rarely stand still, or come towards me as soon as they notice a camera pointing at them; the rest of the time they tend to be racing around like loonies or climbing trees.

Harry looking grumpy.

Hallie looking pensive (the bench to the right had fallen over due to wind).

And the usual evening let's take over the sofa and Mummy's blankie -
this time by Bertie and Hallie.

I didn't really want to mix talking about my health with a nice blog post back to the things I love best, but as who knows I may not blog again for a fortnight, I'll add little updates when I have some news. My surgeon finally was in touch last week after days of frustration and worry waiting, and he'd set up a few new appointments for me - finally things moving at last! So Friday I had an echographie (ultrasound) but an up the bum one (lovely jubbly!!) which incidentally was done by the Gastroenterologist who I'd first seen back in July when I was having gut problems..... anyhow we are cautiously optimistic because he said it looked from what he could see that my cancer is at Stage 2 but has not spread to my lymph nodes, and is a bit higher up from the anal sphincter muscle than they had originally thought which is great news. Before getting too excited though I'll wait for the proper results of that, my PETscan from the week before last and the MRI scan which I'm having done tomorrow. Then Tuesday I am seeing an oncologist or radiologist (or are they the same thing)... I am not sure but I'm feeling a lot happier just because things are happening. Waiting around is the worst thing! I will of course keep you posted.

And now I shall be checking out all your blogs and catching up!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

It's been a shitty summer

I decided it was best to explain what was going on with my health and why I won't be able to blog as often as I have been. I left my last post with an ambiguous paragraph at the end and had a message from a friend wondering what was going on. So I may as well clear the air and then get back to posting my nature photos!

One of my blogger friends (you know who you are! xx) suggested that I may feel better in myself by mentioning my problems here, and I've already opened up on facebook to a select group of friends which has made me feel a whole lot happier - as I'm a private person I don't like talking about these things but sometimes it's better out than in. 

It's hard to know where to start but I have in fact actually, unknowingly, had two things going wrong with me this summer at the same time - a total coincidence. Even the first was a shock to the system as the worst illness I can remember having was gastric flu in my early twenties, and glandular fever as a teenager; other than that sick to me means having a cold or the flu.

So I was a bit worried when I started losing weight rapidly around June. I was already on the skinny side of slim (and had been taking advantage by eating cake whenever I felt like it, as you do....) but losing half a stone (about 3.5kg/7 lbs) left me looking skeletal. During this time I started getting screwed up guts and was running to the toilet a lot. Of course I realised something was wrong so off I went to the doctor who ordered blood tests, none of which came back showing anything wrong. So he sent me off to a Gastro-enterologist who could find nothing wrong initially but suggested having a colonoscopy "because of your age" (oh, cheers) and then ordered more blood tests for things that can cause upset stomach and by this time, uncomfortable bloating. One of the tests was for thyroid function and this is the one that came back showing where the problem lay. So the colonoscopy was cancelled and I had to go back to my medecin (GP) who ordered a whole lot more blood tests related to thyroid and said to get an appointment asap with an Endocrinologist. 

I should point out that this was all happening during 'les vacances' in France, July and August, where half of France including all medical staff go on holiday, so the wheels ground very, very slowly.

Eventually I got diagnosed with Graves disease (known as Basedow on this side of the channel) which is an auto-immune disease and one of the most common causes of hyperthyroidism, which is an overactive thyroid gland. At this point I was not feeling well and was often tired and my heart was racing and beating erratically. I was still bloated and running to the toilet umpteen times a day even though I had some tablets to help with the bloating. I couldn't go out anywhere unless I knew there was a loo nearby, so going out for walks was pretty much out of the question. I did (thank god) manage a few trips to the coast this summer but only because I knew there were toilets where I was going!

So I started on my medication but was warned it wouldn't start working straight away. Eventually I started to notice an improvement; however at the same time I was feeling pretty awful because of something else which was getting worse. I thought I had a bad case of piles (haemorrhoids) brought on by the constant running to the loo for several months. This got more and more painful and I decided to go and see a Proctologist. She examined me and proclaimed there was something 'up there' she didn't like the look of and booked me in for a colonoscopy a week later. I was happy about this because I'd always felt there was something else wrong.

Here in France they give you a general anaesthetic for a colonoscopy, unlike in the UK so I wasn't bothered about that, but the 3 days of low fibre diet was bloody horrible. No fruit or veg, no milk in my coffee and basically just vile dry food like grilled chicken and dry cooked pasta or rice - any more days of that and I'd have lost the will to live! (I love my food....). Yet being France I was allowed cheese.... :-)

So I had that done on the Monday a couple of weeks ago and afterwards when I was back in my room my Proctologist came to see me, starting her words with "It's not good news. You have a tumour. I've taken a biopsy and I'm rushing it through urgently so come to see me on Thursday". 

I still wasn't too bothered because she'd already forewarned me about something 'up there'. And when I was home and googled anal tumours, all that came back was anal cancer. There don't seem to be benign tumours in that region. So at the next meeting starting again with the words "It's not good news" followed by "You have cancer" I was not surprised at all as I was expecting it.

Thankfully we are now out of the holiday period and things are working fast. I have been allocated a surgeon who will lead my team which as far as I understand includes the Proctologist and an Oncologist who I've yet to meet. The surgeon instilled tons of confidence in me and came across as someone who actually understands how the human body works, unlike some of these specialists who seem to only care about their one little speciality and seem to know nothing about anything else (or pretend to).

I had a PETscan on Thursday but I was not able to have iodine contrast die injected in me due to the thyroid condition (it took a week of emails and phone calls and yet more emails to get the ruddy Endocrinologist to respond to whether I could have this done, as nobody, neither the surgeon nor the doctor in charge of the PETscan could make this decision. Only the Endocrinologist. Eventually she said no). 

So now I await hearing back from them as to how large the tumour is, and if it has spread, but I know I'm in for about 5 weeks of chemo and radiotherapy to try to shrink the tumour as much as possible, and then surgery after that but with a break of about 8-10 weeks in between the two. Worst case is a permanent colostomy bag but I'm not worried about that one bit. Well obviously there's a worst case worse than this but I am not going there..... :-p The tumour is an adenocarcinoma which is rare in the anus so is counted as, and treated as, rectal cancer, although from my perusings of the internet I can't actually see any difference between the two.

It's going to be tough and I want to just get on with the treatment as soon as possible, obviously!

Here's a pic of me taken with OH's phone before going in to my colonoscopy (which here they call a coloscopie) - don't you just love my paper hat and slippers? I even got given paper knickers - thank god for that as I hate hospital gowns that leave your bum on display! :-)

I'm not burying my head in the sand as I see little point - I'm feeling positive - my bum hurts a lot of the time but I have loads of pain killers and sometimes sitting at my typing chair is uncomfortable so I have asked my doc for a prescription for a rubber ring type of thingy to make it more comfy to sit. And when my body say rest, I rest and read or sleep. I have put back the weight that I lost due to the thyroid condition so I am happy about that - I have never been so happy to see my love handles return and being able to pinch an inch again. I can tell you that at 53 you really don't want or need to see your hip bones protruding like I did when I was a teenager. Bring on the middle aged spread!

So hopefully I'll get a more normal post up soon, back to the bugs and critters, because on my good days I'm still getting out there with my camera and watching the wildlife. And harvesting bloody courgettes!!! :-)

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Bugs, birds and butterflies from the last few weeks

It's been wet the last few days although there has been some sun in between, and still I see bees and butterflies make the most of those intermittent dry spells. Our garden sorely needed rain and it looked like it was really set in, but you only have to look at the weather forecast the next day to see it change completely, so for the next week it looks like sun is back and reasonably warm weather. This of course is after all thoughts had turned to winter duvets, electric blankets and the wood burner!

I've taken a few autumnal looking shots but will save those for later on, as for the most part the garden and countryside still look very green - it was more the trees with shallow roots which dry out (too) quickly like poplars and silver birch which were turning colour and dropping leaves and now, cross fingers, we should get a good showing of autumn colour now there is some moisture in the soil.

My only garden picture here showing my poor Yucca with the white flowers,
which collapsed under the weight of five, yes five, flower stalks all out of one branch
which has semi-snapped at the base. What a shame.

Now I'm going back to the end of September and some better photos that I managed to get of the Western Willow Spreadwing damselfly.

Western Willow Spreadwing (Lestes viridis).

Western Willow Spreadwing (Lestes viridis) again.

End of Sept and here's a Nursery Web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis) sunning herself
(or awaiting prey to land) on a fading rudbeckia flower.

This is Misumena vatia, my favourite crab spider. This poor thing only has 6 legs and I have
never seen one with a wrinkled abdomen before, which I hope doesn't mean that it is starving
due to the lack of limbs and perhaps agility when it comes to hunting.

It's the time of year for Crane Flies but I've never seen them mating before. This is on a water butt.

And Hoorah! I saw another female Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) and this one was pristine.
I spent about 20 mins following her around the lawn as she was being very flitty
(and you can see how brown the grass was looking then).

Female Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus).

There's never a shortage of Speckled Woods (Pararge aegeria) in my garden though
and this one posed for me on a bramble leaf.

And now to a few birds......

My only two captures of Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita) - these are warblers and are
very flitty little things and the 2nd photo was taken through double glazing
in my Oleander just outside the living room window.

Mr Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) enjoying the Sunflower seedheads.

Mrs Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs). Chaffinches are common garden birds all year round here.

Due to the mild weather I saw some lovely colour in the fields today where green manure has been sown and which is flowering beautifully. Lots of fields of phacelia and a yellow mustard which I assume is green manure rather than autumn rape, although they do look identical. I bet those fields are buzzing with bees on a sunny day. No chance of a photo as (1) I didn't have a camera with me (we were going to the supermarket!) and (2), you can't always just stop on a main road to take a photo!

From now on blogging from me will be sporadic, due to 'stuff' going on in my life and I will endeavour to catch up with your blogs, although I may be behind or miss some of your posts. Without going into details I am not in the best of health and have a lot of hospital tests/specialist appointments right now. But I am telling you because I don't want to feel pressure to keep up my blog during times when I am not feeling well. I am sure you will understand. Take care. xx

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Mummy's little helpers

Sometimes you need a bit of help with the harvest - other times you don't but you get it anyway whether you like it or not! First up was the rogue pumpkin that had grown on the other side of the perimeter fence. To save my OH having to get out stepladders and climb over the fence, he went and got a net which made more sense. But something had crawled into the barn and thought it would be a good thing to pupate on!

Hang on, what's this attached to the net?

I'm pretty sure it's a Large White chrysalis (Pieris brassicae)! We turned the net inside out
and no future butterflies were harmed in the harvesting of this pumpkin.

Will you hurry up and come and cut the pumpkin vine instead of taking photos?!
(That pile of brown stuff is well rotted horse manure courtesy of my
horsey neighbours to be dug in later - have loads more of it).

All that just for this (courgette has nothing to do with it....).
But I've only three Potimarrons total so it was important!

And over in the orchard..... he's 6 foot 4" (195cm) so comes in very handy -
so does that harvesting net on a long pole.

Pathetic apple harvest this year - that's the total from our two best trees for eating apples
(as opposed to those best suited for cooking, which totalled even less). But you can't have it all
every year and this is just the start of the walnut harvest from my earliest tree (we have 3)!

Back in the veg patch it was time to collect coriander seed for sowing next year.

But Bertie decided he'd come along and 'help'.

This is his idea of helping, that's after snotting all over me when I was squatting down
with the camera and risking smearing my lens.....

I have to say, it was nice to be cool enough to get back in my wellies!
And please ignore the weeds...... ;-)

I love you, Mummy.

Needless to say, I gave up with the harvesting at this point!
All that greenery around the coriander is self seeded physalis, by the way.
To think I BOUGHT a plant this year! Now I know better as it's self seeded everywhere.

There's very little in the veg patch that is still in neat rows apart from the winter veg -
here the purple curly kale is growing really well and the PSB on the right is coming
along too. Those eggs from the Ornate Shield Bug on the kale just
completely disappeared though - I guess a bird or something ate them all!

I've got a vole gone beserk in here too, and has tunnelled under all my most
recently sown young veggies. :-(

I've no idea if Bertie caught it but later I found the soil dug out and all over
the place; the only good thing is that he didn't poo in the middle of it!!!

And finally - we have a lawn! It's greened up even more in the two days since I took this photo.
A bit of rain has helped enormously.

I have a load more photos to sort through from this last week but I just don't know where the time goes - I'm always meaning to try to blog more often than once a week!! Will try to get the others up over the weekend.


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Honey Bee on Sedum

Honey Bee on Sedum

Dewy Web

Dewy Web



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







Marmalade Hoverfly

Marmalade Hoverfly

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Swallowtail Caterpillar

Swallowtail Caterpillar