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Wednesday, 2 September 2015

After the rain and some interesting critters found in the local area

I'm starting off with photos from two weeks ago when I was feeling up for a walk to the local track which we call the 'Melodious Warbler Walk'. The birds are still around but not melodious any more as they have stopped singing as mating season is well over. This time it was pretty dry but there were still a fair few wildflowers, notably Knapweed, which both butterflies and bees love. But it's getting a bit overgrown with this year's bramble growth so some of the wild plants are getting swamped. It was the only place I could see in the neighbourhood where the verges have not been chopped back, but as this is a farm track leading to some fields, it's not being managed the same way as proper roads where the council often seems to chop, hack and remove all growth just as the wildflowers are starting to look lovely!

My OH wandering up the track.

I was really chuffed to find a butterfly which I have only seen a handful of times - it's a Sooty Copper and for once, it's the female of the species which is the more colourful! The male's upper wings are a rather sooty grey with a few spots and only a vague hint of copper.

Sooty Copper (Lycaena tityrus), female.

Sooty Copper (Lycaena tityrus), female.

A warning as the next two photos are of a spider - BUT! This is the most amazing beautiful spider in northern Europe so go on, do have a look.....

I spotted this Wasp spider and was over the moon, as although we had one in our garden about 9 or 10 years ago, it was before I was really into spiders and whilst K took some photos, in those days digital cameras only took small pics and we didn't have macro lenses or functions on our cameras either. I've wanted to see one again ever since so I could have a better look and take my own photos. They are part of the Argiope family which are orb weavers, and the zigzag bit of the web is called a stabilimentum. Nobody really knows the reason for this but there are various theories.  

Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi).

Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi).

We went back yesterday looking to see if we could find her again, as I'd learned that they make their egg sac nearby and it is enormous - indeed the spider itself is rather large. But although we found not just this one again, but four more, we could see no signs of egg sacs. I was really pleased to see so many spiders as it means this is pretty good habitat for them; the place is crawling (or hopping!) with grasshoppers, which make up the vast majority of their diet, but seeing what was wrapped up for dinner in various webs they are happy to eat all sorts of other insects too. No shortage of food around here!

Jersey Tiger Moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria) feeding on Water Mint,
which was happily flowering in the ditch even though it was
very dry at that time. I guess there was still moisture in
the ditch as it is close to the water table here.

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) butterfly
feeding on bramble flowers.

And then the rain came just in the nick of time as the countryside was so dried out and looked so miserable. You saw the photos of my poor dried out garden and brown lawn! A week of heavy rain has done wonders and this August we have had more than double the average rainfall - many months in summer we get a lot less than the average which is why everything suffers, and our average rainfall is not very high anyway (about 50mm per month Feb to Sept for Rennes; there are no records for my local area of course apart from mine), which when you have free draining sandy soil is even worse! But now ten days later the countryside is green, the yellow leaves on the trees have blown off in the strong winds we had over a couple of days, and everything is breathing a sigh of relief. Including us, as we no longer have to spend time and money watering the garden!

In the woodland tiny thin blades of grass are emerging amongst the fallen leaves.

Since taking the photo below, only on 29th August, weeds had grown a lot! I hand weeded amongst the lettuce, coriander and spinach yesterday - first real gardening I've done in a while, if you don't count flicking off the eggs laid on the brassicas - not just from Small and Large White butterflies, but also those pesky Ornate Shield Bugs (Eurydema ornata) which eat my brassicas. It's so lovely to have damp soil, but even with the cooler weather my lettuce (in the first row) bolted. But that means happy chickens.

In the background are my purple curly kale and purple sprouting broccoli.
This year my English neighbour raised the seedlings and shared with me -
usually it's the other way round. We can't buy either of these
veg in France as they don't exist here!

There were casualties due to the rain and wind - this very tall hollyhock is now nearly prostrate despite having been tied up to the fence! And many sunflowers are leaning at 45 degrees whilst others have been completely uprooted. But it's late in the season and by this time of year I'm usually beyond caring. Nearly all the plums split open due to the sudden rain so we managed to harvest about 20 in all from two trees. The wasps are happy. However K has picked loads of pears from one of our trees which is having its most bumper year yet - so just hoping the ones in the fridge will hang on until I'm up to cooking a pear clafouti when I come out of the final chemo slump...... one of my favourite desserts.

Blocked gate!

Yellow and pink Mirabilis in the Pollinator Meadow.

Strangely this year my different Sedums are starting to flower all at the same time; they are usually staggered in their flowering times. Insects love sedums!

Just caught one quick snap of this Robber Fly as it landed -
I hadn't noticed it had a yummy fly lunch until I saw the photo!

First time this year I've managed to get some close up photos of a Holly Blue
(Celastrina argiolus), as this one was busy feeding on Sedum matrona.

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus).

I'll be kind and not share the photos I just took of a poor Holly Blue still struggling in a spider's web with the spider crawling all over it!

This tiny bumble bee was enjoying the Sedums too.

22 Spot Ladybird (Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata) and larva.
There were lots of both on some oak leaves.

A very cool looking Harvestman (Dicranopalpus ramosus).
ID thanks to JJ.

I found this Blood-vein (Timandra comae) moth just sitting on the lawn during the day!

Now for some eggs - I think they may be Common Green Shieldbug eggs (edit - probably not!) but won't know for sure until they hatch and I see the bugs. I've been watching them every day and you can see the changes in egg colour over the course of time. Close up (if you click on the image) you'll see what looks to me like little fish faces with smiles inside the eggs! This morning four of the eggs are white again indicating four have eclosed and there are two which appear black with something dark coming out of them - but it's too difficult to really see what is going on. These eggs were laid on Smokebush 'Grace'.

Photos taken on 18th and 28th August.

Here are some bugs seen in the last few days:
Top left: Dock Bug (Coreus marginatus) nymph
Top right: Dock Bug (Coreus marginatus) late instar nymphs
Bottom left: Striped Shield Bug (Graphosoma lineatum) adult
Bottom right: Common Green Shield Bug (Palomena prasina) 4th instar nymph

And to finish, a pristine looking Peacock butterfly.
Although it appears its name has changed from Inachis io to Aglais io.
That's annoying as I have them labelled as Inachis in my database.

Bah humbug! My last lot of chemo was supposed to be tomorrow and Friday, but they have called to cancel because my platelet count has dropped too low. They will call to reschedule..... hmmm I guess that means a couple of weeks, then another blood test to check..... I really have no idea. I had just received an appt for an after chemo PETscan so maybe that will have to be postponed too. So frustrating and confusing too because 4 weeks ago my platelets had gone up to the healthy zone, then two weeks ago dropped down low again! So they must be very low now, but unlike the Oncologist who gets his results faxed or emailed through, I have to wait to get mine in the post, usually arriving the following Monday. I had SO wanted this to be over!

Frustrated of Brittany. :-(


  1. Love the wasp spider. We had one the first year here and were thrilled with it, but haven't seen one since. Maybe Dave is too tidy in the garden and we have a lot less insect life than the first year when it was a wilderness. Never seen a harvestman...and a holly blue....haven't seen one of those for many a year!

    Sorry to hear of your chemo being postponed. Hoping it's just a blip.

    1. That's probably true about the messy garden and not seeing them since it has become more cultivated. They seem to thrive in places where grass and long vegetation is not chopped back regularly (kind of obvious really as it would destroy the egg sac). Unless you don't have them in Bulgaria I bet you have seen some harvestmen, they look like spiders with tiny bodies and very long legs - this one in the photo is different from the ones I most usually see. They are related to spiders, hence the 8 legs. Holly Blues are about the only blue I've seen in the garden this year!

      I've got over my disappointment about the chemo and now thinking of the positive side and getting to enjoy some warmth and sunshine next week, some walks out and about and maybe a meal out..... :-) Cheers D!

  2. Super pictures, especially of the Holly Blue. Love the Copper- very pretty- and the striped shieldbug. What a pain about the last chemo. xx

    1. Thanks CT, I haven't seen many of the tiny flutters this year so this was exciting! I have got over my disappointment about the chemo and now thinking positively and hoping to get out and about a bit next week, when the forecast looks much better than this week, which feels so chilly! xx

  3. The Dock and Shield bugs are under-rated in my opinion - they get little good press but are so important in the sche me of things and such variety - wonder post as always.

    1. I agree Ian - so the Dock bugs eat raspberries and blackberries but they hardly cause damage, and anyway butterflies eat blackberries too. I have some shield bugs here which like to munch brassicas but in summer when my brassicas are small they have nasturtiums to munch on instead, and in spring when the PSB is big their munching is hardly causing damage to the big leaves. I'd rather have them around (they are red and black and colourful) than not! Thanks! :-)

  4. Wonderful post with so many great insects and photos :) Love the Sooty Copper and Holly Blue photos.

    I really enjoyed the Wasp Spider photos too - I looked for the species, sadly in vain, in Dorset a couple of years ago. I don't think they have yet spread as far North as where we live.

    Sorry to hear about the chemo being postponed but hope the weather is kind enough for you to get out and about.

    Pleased to read the rain has "rescued" the garden and countryside :)

    1. Thank you RR. K is grumping because parts of the lawn need mowing now! But he doesn't need to do much watering so it's swings and roundabouts, just a few pots. I was just looking to see if there were any Wasp spiders at home in the long vegetation at the edge of my orchard by the stream but no luck. If you wait 5 or 10 years they may have got up to your area!

      I'm hoping the weather forecast stays as it's showing now with sun next week, but it often changes every day. In any case I'll try to make the most of another break whilst not feeling too tired! If I can get to the coast that would be brilliant as that seems to be the place for finding Brown Argus and Common Blue as well as Small Coppers. I have seen very few little butterflies at home this year for some reason, which is a shame.

  5. Love that Harvestman. I have never seen one before. Love your beautiful walk

  6. Mmmm...some smashing bugs here to keep me happy Mandy ;-) Dicranopalpus ramosus is a great spot, have been finding a few of them around here too. Can never see enough of those Graphosoma lineatum either! Butterflies are ALL beautiful and beautifully photographed. I don't know what stage your eggs are at now but, for me, I would be surprised if they are Palomena prasina...just because I have never seen them turn yellow, but there's a first time for everything. The egg cases are basically transparent and reflect the colour of what's inside and Green shieldbugs are brown when they emerge...that's my theory anyhow....;-)

    Oooh! That sasp spider is great as well...and the blood vein moth, looking forward to running my own moth trap again, should it ever stop raining...

    1. Oops! Wasp spider of course...butter fingers...;-)

    2. I thought you were slacking because you usually notice your typos straight off, JJ! Thanks so much for the lovely comment and also for the ID of the harvestman. I shall update that on the post - also I noticed that my Dock Bug labelled as adult isn't, it's a late instar. Oops I'm slacking. Well so are you for not pointing it out. ;-)

      I actually went around the garden looking for true bugs after you mentioned on your blog that you had been seeing a lot. I hadn't really been noticing them but they are there when you look, all the usual suspects like above plus Hairies and Red Legged shield bugs. I don't know what the eggs are to be honest and they are odd because there are dark coloured nymphs hatching out but then they disappear? Normally they congregate together around the eggs, don't they? I can't see any sign of them. And the ones hatching seemed to take a long long time doing it, up to 24 hours. It's all a bit odd and maybe I should get out my tripod and dslr - but I've still got to hold the leaf steady! Just frustrating when I can't make out what is really going on and then the damn things go and disappear! :-) Horrible cold weather here and not really in the mood to go out and take photos today to be honest!

    3. Ha! Not slacking exactly, just have other things going on, making demands on my time. I didn't notice that you had the dock bug as an adult ;-) Hmm...about those eggs, well, yes, some do stay around the site of the eggs, but others not so much, they might stay as a gregarious group but move under a leaf or just elsewhere, depending on which species
      they are. Still can't fathom why the eggs were yellow if dark nymphs emerged but unless you find a nymph sometime, it's a job to say.

      Colder here too!

    4. I'm waiting for another eclosion and I'll try to get a better pic, but when the eggs are only about 1mm diameter it's not going to be good! I did notice on British Bugs site that the Common Green Shield Bug has green eggs but the first instars are quite dark reddy black looking before they change to green later on. This may forever remain a mystery however as there's no sign of any bugs anywhere! :-)

  7. Lovely post and great photos Mandy. I'm not a lover of spiders but I do like the Wasp Spider, so glad you didn't show his face though...all those eyes!! ;-)
    So sorry to hear that your chemo's been postponed, I hope they contact you soon.xx

    1. I couldn't get down low enough to shoot its eyes so you don't have to worry, Deb! Thanks very much. I am actually really pleased now that I didn't have the chemo as the weather is great and going to warm up - so planning to go to the coast this week and eat out and a few gentle walks in the countryside. So pleased you were able to log on! :-) xx

  8. Your walk looks so lovely and I hope you manage to get out and about at the coast before your chemo. The weather is lovely here and we had a nice weekend at Carnac to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. We've been cutting the grass again today so our grass must be faster growing than yours as we cut it on Friday before we went to Carnac.

  9. Forgot to add Philippa at the end of the comment but I'm sure you realised it was me.


    1. Hi Philippa - yes I'd have known it was you! Happy Anniversary to you both and I'm glad you had a lovely weekend. Some of our grass is growing very well (K not amused) but the weedy grass on the open sloped lawn behind the house is very slow growing, but at least it looks green now!

      Managed a longer walk elsewhere on Monday and we are off to Port Mer today. Now I'm really glad the chemo was cancelled as cooler damp weather is coming back at the weekend, so gotta make the most of the next few days! :-) xx

  10. Thanks Mandy.
    Hope you have a lovely day out at Port Mer and a lovely lunch I expect. xx

    1. It was lovely and we had moules frites then an ice cream later after some walks around a couple of headlands. The weather was perfect but I stuck my toe in the sea and it was freezing! :-) xx

  11. Sounds lovely Mandy.
    We went to the North Coast and sat on the beach and then had moules frites, the sea felt warm enough but there were loads of jellyfish so I didn't venture in!

    Philippa xx

    1. There were lots of jellyfish at Port Mer too! Sadly there was tons of seaweed, and I was trying to paddle at high tide and it looked a mess with all the washed up seaweed. You'd think someone might clear it up for the tourists. There were people swimming and it might be that the water was warmer, but I have neuropathy in my feet which are all tingly and half numb, so I may be feeling the cold a lot more!