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Sunday, 4 June 2017

I'm still around, somewhere.....

... just not in the land of blog. We've just spent 3 weeks down in the south of France in the moho, and no sooner have I got through a ton of laundry and uploaded my photos to my big Mac, than we are off again for another week to explore Finistere in the rain with my brother. 

One of these days I will get back to blogging, I've just lost my mojo. I leave you with a photo of me searching for it.


Monday, 3 April 2017

Butterflies seen during our Pyrenees holiday - Part 2

Continuing on with the butterflies that I saw whilst on holiday last September. These ones were all seen by the Mediterranean sea, both in France and in Spain.

Not a lifer but I don't see these Mallow Skippers (Carcharodus alceae) very often, and I only saw one other skipper whilst away, a Small Skipper up in the mountains; interestingly enough it was pudding close to the Adonis Blues.

10. I'm now not sure that the following two butterflies are the same species or not! It pays to double check before you post those original IDs that you noted. I think the butterfly on the right is a Rock Grayling (Neohipparchia statilinus), but am unsure of the one on the left which was taken in the same location. It doesn't help when the butterflies are very flitty and you don't have very good photos, or they are a tad worn. There were quite a few of these drab brown butterflies flying around the rocky headland next to our camp site at L'Escala. Despite such barren conditions I also saw Wall Brown, Small White and Painted Lady here.

11. Now this one definitely is a lifer and there were lots of them flying around this plant which is something exotic in the pea family. They are Lang's Short-tailed Blues (Leptotes pirithous) and they feed upon plants in the Fabaceae family, amongst others, so that helps with ID. They would not stand still and the shrub was huge, so taking photos was a bit hit and miss; better just to stand back and watch them and enjoy. So long as I can get a few photos for ID purposes then I'm happy. Do you see those two tiny electric blue spots by the little 'tail' though? Aren't they amazing!

I should mention that this and the following species seen on flowers were seen at the beautiful Botanical Garden of Cap Roig at Palafrugell, Costa Brava. If I ever get my A into G I will share photos that I took at this place as it was heavenly.

I'm going to throw a few moths into this post as this next one is just stunning. We also saw a couple mating on a path right beside our camp site, but I prefer this photo of one on a dahlia. It's Zygaena carniolica and it doesn't have a common name in English because presumably it isn't found in the British Isles.

I also saw quite a few of these little moths which were flitting about feeding on Lantana and Heliotrope (?not sure). Not a chance to ID it, unless anyone can help?

Back to the butterflies I include this blurry image as it's the first time I've caught a Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) in flight and seen the topside of the wings! They always but always have their wings closed when they are perching on something.

I have taken some much closer photos of this butterfly in previous years but even here you can see its stunning green eyes!

Again, not a lifer as I've seen one in my garden, but seeing the regal Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia) in Spain is just icing on the cake.

12. I have saved the best till last. This butterfly was seen beside a beach at the far end of the Ebro Delta. Now I knew when I saw it that it was related to the famous Monarch butterfly because of that spotty body, but what it was I had absolutely no idea! I searched my European butterfly book but could only find a picture of the Monarch, as it can be found in Madeira, the Canary Isles and the Azores, where their foodplant, Milkweed, grows. However under the Monarch was a paragraph about the African Monarch .... and a google search showed that it was indeed the butterfly we saw! The African Monarch (or Plain Tiger) (Danaus chrysippus) is an African and Asian species which migrates across the sea to southern Spain. Lucky we saw them where we were as the Ebro Delta, despite being at the far southern tip of Catalonia, is still fairly north-ish. What a fabulous butterfly and not one I was ever expecting to see as I didn't know it existed!

So that makes 12 lifers seen, which is pretty darn good I'd say. We are heading down that way again in May so I hope to see some different species, as there should be plenty of wild flowers in bloom. Can't wait!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Butterflies seen during our Pyrenees holiday - Part 1

I have yet to see a butterfly this year so in the meantime, what better to do than to go through all my butterfly photos and notes from my holiday last September.

I saw a lot of lifers plus ones I've only seen once before, the vast majority being in the mountains or hills where it was green and there were flowers for them to nectar on. In the arid areas - and in September there are a lot - no or few wildflowers meant very few butterflies. Even so, part 2 of this post will feature the butterflies seen once we hit the Mediterranean. These following were in the mountains and foothills of the Ariege and the Pyrenees-Orientales. I'm only numbering the lifers in these posts (lifers being butterflies I've seen for the first time).

1. Number one lifer was at the bird reserve at the Arcachon basin however, a Southern White Admiral (Limenitis reducta), although no photo was possible.

Les Papillons d'Amaranthe, Lesparrou, nr Lavelanet, Ariege

This is a butterfly park but it also has a beautiful flowery garden which is open for you to walk around and spot the native butterflies. Oh, there were tons! I loved it better than the polytunnel with the exotic species. 

The butterfly below I've seen once before, in my own garden, but no less exciting. It's a Long Tailed Blue (Lampides boeticus).

2. This is the best photo I could get but I was still able to ID it from my photos - it's a Great Banded Grayling (Brintesia circe).

3. This butterfly was annoyingly flying low in a paddock with some goats so I couldn't get any closer. I think from being able to get a glimpse of the underwings, that this is a Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja). Even if it's not, it's still a lifer. And I did see a DG Fritillary later on!

4. More blues, this one being a Provençal Short-tailed Blue (Cupido alcetas).

Provençal Short-tailed Blue again, showing a bit of its upper wings.

5. I'll number this one as a lifer although I don't know what it is, and don't think it's a blue that I've seen before. I need to spend more time IDing but it's those two marks at the base of the front under wing that mean it's definitely not a Common Blue.....

Roadside ditch near the Chateau de Montsegur, Ariege

This ditch was teeming with butterflies as it was full of oregano and pond mint in flower. I could have stayed all day....

One of my blogging friends is going to hate me (you know who you are <grin>); this butterfly isn't a lifer but it's the first time I've seen the beautiful underwings of the Glanville Fritillary (Melitaea cinxia).

6. In the same place, Provence Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus hispana), or possibly Chalkhill Blue - apparently it's very hard to tell the difference. The Provence one is usually a little lighter, and given where it was seen I'd like to think it was the former.

Eyne Valley, Pyrenees-Orientales

This valley (1600-1700m altitude) is supposed to be very rich in flora and thus insect life - I read somewhere that it has the most species of bumble bees in all of France. In September there were still wild flowers in bloom and whilst we only walked for about an hour an a half uphill we saw many species of butterfly.

7. I'm not 100% sure as I don't have a shot of the underwings, but think this is a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene). In any event, it's still a lifer!

Now here is a Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja) for sure, and you will see from the blurry movement shot of the underwing how important it is NOT to delete all your blurry shots as they can be very important in helping you with ID!

8. Adonis Blue (Polyommatus bellargus). We were walking beside a small mountain river and in places where the soil was damp there were little clouds of butterflies puddling. This means taking minerals and salts from the soil. Upon reading more on the subject I hadn't realised it is just the males who do this - the minerals in the soil help brighten up their colours and thus make them more attractive to females. It might explain why I saw some Adonis Blues which were darker blue than others. I fell in love with these little butterflies.

9. I also saw several of these butterflies which I managed to partially ID after seeing more of them in another location. This one below is a female Ringlet of some sort, possibly the Autumn Ringlet. I hadn't realised there were so many different kinds of Ringlet and they have some very similar markings!

Mont Louis, Pyrenees-Orientales

The location here was also quite high, about 1500m, beside a mountain river in a forest of pines with open areas of grassland, with a few wild flowers still in bloom.

The same Ringlet as above but this is the male.

Next post to follow shortly. Now I'm itching to see some butterflies, it's been far too long!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Rainfall data 2016

This has been the second driest year in the ten years that I've been keeping records (yes, ten whole years!). We either had loads of rain or very little. Autumn was so dry that my lake didn't refill completely until mid January 2017, which is the latest ever. I think during late summer the lawn was the brownest I've ever seen it. I just about managed to keep my plants happy by endless watering; again thank goodness for the 4,000 litre reservoir in the old septic tank, although I don't want to see my water bill as I used mains most of the time.


Jan  134.25
Feb   77.50
Mar  123.0
Apr   44.0
May  36.0
Jun   95.5
Jul    13.5
Aug  16.5
Sep  45.0
Oct   24.5
Nov  95.5
Dec  23.0

TOTAL:  728.25mm

Rainfall data since I started being geeky and keeping records:

2007:   944mm
2008:   878mm
2009:   867mm
2010:   757mm
2011:   663.75mm (over a quarter of which fell in December)

2012:   973.5mm 

2013:   969.75mm
2014: 1,067mm
2015:   769.5mm
2016:   728.25mm

P.S. Proper blog post coming soon; it feels really weird to have been ignoring my blog for so long, but I haven't been able to summon up any blogging energy.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Middle Spotted Woodpecker and December's tree surgery

Brrrr! We are having a cold snap with real winter weather, something we haven't had for more than a few days here and there for quite a few years. The lake has been frozen over for about a week now and every morning I have to go out and take fresh water to the hens whose water bowls have frozen solid. I'm doing the same for the wild birds' water too as they can't drink from the lake edge. It's still not been as cold as in the early years here when we reguarly had -8C, but it was down to -5C/6C a few times. I'd also forgotten about freezing pipes so we've nearly lost our kitchen cold water feed a couple of times but I've got to the tap to run it just in time, however because it's been so long since we had such a cold period I'd forgotten about the 2nd floor shower room, so the cold feed is frozen solid there! It's the first time I've worn my thermals for quite a few years too. Aaarrgh, roll on spring, I can do without all this! (However, the sun is shining all day long..... it is so much lovelier than the milder gloom and drizzle which is due to come back soon.... you just can't win!) (That blurb was written two days ago and the end of the freeze has just started with cloud and some drizzle!)

We have a new(ish) visitor to the peanut feeder. It's a Middle Spotted Woodpecker which is a fair bit smaller and a lot prettier than the Great Spotted Woodpecker. We've seen it here before many years ago (and a Lesser Spotted too) but this time it has become a regular visitor. I haven't got any very good photos so far because the only times I've had my camera to hand have been when it's been either early in the day with low light, or just plain gloomy with low light!

Having seen the state of the peanut feeder in K's photo it was time for a new one, and thankfully he found a spare feeder in the barn, ditto a seed dispenser too which is hanging on our other feeding station. I've now found a good use for the last of the rubbery windfall apples as the blackbirds are enjoying munching on them. This is the kind of weather when it's really important to feed the wild birds and especially to provide them with fresh water to drink and bathe in. (But you knew all that, didn't you?)

This is Keith's photo.

The ducks have managed to keep a small pool of water unfrozen; unfortunately for all concerned this is not close to the bank where we can put food. At first K managed to break the ice but the next day it was already too thick! Dirk is hopeless on the ice and skids everywhere and looks like he's about to break his legs, and although Rachel is managing to get up onto the ice more easily than him, she doesn't seem to want to walk over to the bank where the food is. Luckily K had a brainwave and the pole he was using to break the ice with was put to good use again - this time with the apple picking basket holding duck food! He can just reach to put the food on the ice and the ducks are happily eating it from the water. Honestly, these creatures don't want much, do they?!!

Going back to December, our 'tree man' came and felled a load of trees again, just like he did three years ago. This time some largish trees had to go, mostly due to crowding out with other trees. I had to decide which ones were most important to keep - for example, although I hate to see a beautiful lime tree being cut down, I have five of them, yet only one cedar, as we already felled one of them which had obliterated the path down to the beach. So out of three specimen trees growing into each other, the lime had to go. In the photo below it's a sycamore which has had the chop as it was shading out my liquidambar. We have loads of sycamores so that wasn't a difficult decision. All this wood will be good firewood in two years time.

The monster shredding machine. This was parked right outside the chicken run and the poor hens cowered indoors for about three days, terrified in case the scary monster started making loud noises again. Sorry hens! We have kept a lot of the shredded wood and put it down on the veg patch paths again, and also on the path leading down to the lake.

The lime tree getting the chop but one of these three trees had to go.

Originally the tree man was going to have a bash at removing the fallen stand of alders in the lake, but as the water level had risen by a couple of feet since he first viewed it this was deemed impossible and he will return next year when the water level is at its lowest. He had a mate in to help as there was a fair bit of work involved here - anyway I had a brainwave and suggested that as they couldn't do the tree in the lake, could they prune my apple trees and reduce the height considerably. We had already asked him to clear the stream banks of brambles which were taller than my head - this is a job that's bad enough doing every year but when you haven't done it for three years it gets out of control. I can tell you we both breathed a HUGE sigh of relief at not having to prune the apples and pears this year!

Taken from my living room window - man up an apple tree.

I'm surprised they managed to climb up these relatively thin branches - and so overcrowed inside the trees too.

Afterwards, one of the trees with lopped off branches. All these fallen apples have been feeding Redwings and Fieldfares this winter.

The stream is visible! The other side has now been cleared by the owners of that land - it will grow back but K is going to try to strim it and keep the brambles and nettles down. In the past I've wanted to keep the nettles for the wildlife, but there are times when nature just has to be controlled. There are tons of nettles out in the ditches for the butterflies and moths to lay their eggs on.

At this time (December) there were still some leaves clinging to the Liquidambar tree and glowing in the sunshine.

Even on the ground they retained their colour for a long time. This way you get to enjoy the colourful leaves for much longer!

I'm jumping backwards and forwards in time but I have already uploaded the photos and can't be bothered to delete and rearrange the order here! In this cold sunny snap it seemed a good time to burn all the crap we've been piling up in the veg patch waiting for there to be enough to have a good bonfire. We are not supposed to have bonfires anymore for environmental reasons and because of the nuisance to neighbours. Well we didn't really know that but we do now, although having googled to try to find the law on this one for our department, all I can find is a lot of conflicting information on government sites. What else is new?!

You can see how much stuff there was - a mix of brambles, whippy elm growth, sycamore saplings, ivy and a fair bit of dead thuya hedge, plus a lot of veg patch weeds. The official advice is to compost or shred your garden waste (we do, but you can't do this kind of thing!) or take it to the tip. This would be quite a few trailer loads plus a lot of the twigs and stems would need to be cut to fit into our small trailer, all of which takes a lot of time. I've been cracking on with clearing the jungle much faster by not having to snip up bramble stems along the way.

It did produce a lot of smelly smoke but it's not like we're doing this every week - in fact it is only our fourth bonfire here in 12 years! We won't have one again though now we know it's not permitted. Since I wrote this one of our neighbours has had a smelly bonfire..... :-)

To finish off, whilst I was clearing up our overgrown pathways I found this twig with some interesting fungi on it. It's dead wood and the twig is thinner than my finger so the fungi is really small. I wasn't entirely sure if that is what it was but the underside of the fungi looks a bit like Turkey Tails. The small bits look like scale insect though!

Honestly, the less frequently I blog, the longer my posts get. If you made it this far, well done! It's been quite a marathon for me writing it..... :-)

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The coast in December

Happy New Year to all my friends and family! Thanks for following and supporting my blog, despite the lack of posts of late. How was your Christmas? Ours was just us two as usual but this year, after all these years in France, we went 'French' and had a shellfish blowout on Christmas Eve just like the French do. No oysters or yucky whelks for us; we ordered only the things we like - prawns, langoustines and crab claws. I've thought about doing this many times before but always imagined the supermarket on Xmas Eve would be a nightmare, but in fact going at lunchtime to collect our order it was just as empty as it usually is! So we'll be eating a la francaise again in the future.

For Christmas Day lunch, we again forewent the traditional turkey and had roast beef and yorkshire pud, followed by mincemeat bakewell tart. I made this tart three years ago and it was a hit - sorry about my rubbish food photography skills but here's the recipe and a better picture. If you like mincemeat it's really yummy and worth the hassle of making the sweet pastry - but there is no blind baking involved so not as hard as you'd think.

I did make mince pies but this year was a first - I made Mary Berry's pastry which is slightly sweet and has orange zest in it. It made a nice change.

What do you buy the woman who has everything? Some books about butterflies and moths of course, and a butterfly tea light holder. :-)

Right, onto the subject matter of the title. We actually took Mary Moho out three times in December! to the same place on the coast each time, although the photos here are from the first and most recent trips because the second time it decided to cloud over and rain. Yes rain, how very dare it! We set out in sunshine! So no walking that day.

We 'discovered' a new place; well we knew it existed from having looked at google earth, but hadn't explored around there yet. Not everywhere is easy to access or park in a moho, but luck was on our side as we stumbled upon a real moho car park at Pointe du Meinga, which is halfway between St Malo and Cancale. There is a coastal footpath all the way around the headland (it's the GR34) and a farm track up the middle, as some of the land is used to grow vegetables. For us seeing fields of cauliflowers and leeks is quite a change! Each walk (coastal track one way then back via the farm track) took about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, so is a good work out, as the coastal track is very up and down and has some difficult rocky places here and there. I needed Keith's help in some places and the second time took an alpine stick, which was useful in the difficult places.

Here are pics from the first day we went there, and the beach is the one on the west of the headland. Either side of the headland has fabulous golden sandy beaches - wonderfully empty in winter of course!

Selfie time - who needs special effects - those rays are for real from the sun (pure luck rather than photography skills!).

This rock caught my eye - what kind of face do you see? I see a sleeping koala, or a squirrel with its hand stuck out.... people on facebook and instagram saw all sorts of things, parrot being quite popular.

The most recent trip was the Friday before New Year, when it was even more cold and frosty than the first time. Inland was rather foggy and frozen but it was a glorious day at the coast. This time we were able to park in a car only car park with sea view, as the height barrier had been lifted. The following photo is our view from the moho whilst having lunch. Not bad, especially when you are sitting in comfort in the warmth, eating a hot picnic (Nigel Slater's chorizo soup/stew with crusty bread).

A view from the farm track...

...and the beach taken a bit closer from the coastal footpath. That white line is frost!

Steps leading down to the beach and a view back over the headland.

Back home the frost had not melted at all and the next day was even more frosty! I haven't seen frost quite like it here before, and to linger all day long is very unusual. This is chicken wire and that's Blondie the hen in the background.

We had to take Mary Moho back to where she lives, and K had heard that there was snow along the way and cars had gone off the road into the ditch. Thankfully by the time we got there the snow had melted on the road but the whiteness of the harsh frost was even more magical as it was covered in a smattering of snow. It's very weird how you can have such microclimates as this patch had freezing fog which we drove through the day before on the way to the lockup. Here at the lockup it was back to just the normal white frost - still incredibly magical. This is the only photo I have of any kind of view, through the moho window of the barrier gate at the lockup!

Icy weather means a frozen lake, and our ducks managed to get iced into a small patch of water beside the fallen tree, which was out in the middle of the (thankfully) narrower end of the lake. Of course I had a bit of a wade into the water and bashed at the ice with my wellies, but that was fairly pointless and all I got was wet jeans as my wellies are not waterproof anymore. So poor K had to get his waders on and get out in the water with a long pole to break the ice, so that the ducks could come and get some food on the bank.

Can you guess what happened the next day? Yes the silly ducks were iced in again, cue K getting his waders on again. I'm glad to say some of the water melted a few days ago and even though it is icy again, this time the ducks are up the far end under the overhanging trees by the bank, in a sensible place where I can take them food!

We also had our tree guy in to fell some trees but I have quite a lot of photos so that'll be another post. All these photos are taken on my phone - I've barely used a camera since coming back from holiday!