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Thursday, 27 August 2020

More interesting discoveries at home

Have you ever heard of a Southern Gatekeeper? No, me neither! I only discovered recently that they exist. I knew there was a Spanish Gatekeeper, which I'd seen once before in the Pyrenees Orientales near to the Spanish border. I thought then that I was seeing this butterfly in my garden, but having a look through my butterfly book I realised that I had in fact been seeing the Southern Gatekeeper, along with the regular Gatekeeper. There isn't a huge difference in how they look, other than the male Southern Gatekeeper has sex brands on the topside of its forewing, and underneath they lack the small spots that the regular Gatekeeper has. There's also a bit more of a Y shape in the pale coloration underneath. There's a side by side picture on Wikipedia here showing the difference in the underwing pattern between the two species.

You can clearly see the sex brand markings on the forewing above.

The underwing showing a slight Y shape in a pale white colour, and no spots.

The next discovery was really exciting! We had seen Praying Mantises in Provence a few years ago, but I was very surprised to discover one when I was deadheading the geraniums. I'm really finding some goodies in the flower pots around the pool - a wasp spider, Geranium Bronze butterflies, and a praying mantis - you wouldn't expect so much interesting wildlife there, would you?!! Wonder what will be next.... đŸ˜€

The following photos were taken with Keith's phone, which was the nearest thing to hand....

European Mantis (Mantis religiosa)

You can really see how well camouflaged they are as they are identical in colour to the leaves! K was amazed that I had even found it, but it moved, which is how I noticed it. It's worth clicking on the individual images to view them a bit closer, as they have an extremely scary alien-like head and eyes, and terrifying front legs (imagine being their prey, or indeed, their mate!).

A few days ago K spotted this crab spider on the tiles in our covered patio area. When I went out with my camera, it of course started to walk, so there I was on my knees, bum in the air, crawling along with it trying to get some decent shots. đŸ˜€

It walked along to the drain that runs along the patio stones beside the pool area, and took shelter beneath one of the metal rails. I could still see it though!

It's Heriaeus hirtus, a member of the Thomisidae family of crab spiders. Hirtus means hairy in Latin!

Last but not least, a Hoopoe flew into our neighbour's garden, which was wonderful to see. K had seen a few before but I missed them, so this is the first one I have seen since moving here! I was hoping to see more. Never mind, we have seen Bee-eaters in the vicinity of our village several times, so I'm not too upset. It's bloody brilliant living here! 

(Credit for these photos goes to Keith, who took them through the kitchen window).

Talking of loving it here, we really do. I just love everything, love my new house, love the easy to manage garden, the pool (of course!) and the view. And love, love, LOVE living in the south of France! There is just SO much to explore here. It will take us years to explore just our own department, never mind the neighbouring depts. There's the Pyrenees, the Montagne Noir, the Haut Languedoc mountains, the Corbieres hills, the coastal area... and in normal times there is nearby Spain too! And of course the fauna and flora, so much of which is different. I feel so much better depression wise and feel joy again often. Life is good. 

Saturday, 15 August 2020

La Carriere du Roy - a walk around a marble quarry and gorge

As I've got a tiny bit of my blogging mojo back, I am trying to work my way through some of our post lockdown walks to share some of the goodies that I've come across. Where we live now is both familiar and different as we are in the cross over zone of more northern flora and that of the Mediterranean area. However on this walk, which was across the plain and up into the foothills of where the Montagne Noir meets the Haut Languedoc range of hills/mountains, it was definitely different to where we live now. 

This was an area of garrigue and rocky hillsides opening up in one place to a gorge with magnificent views. There is a marble quarry here called La Carriere du Roy - the King's Quarry. There are walks all around and the red marble that is quarried is very apparent, and there are interesting modern sculptures dotted around created from it. The location is near Caunes-Minervois in the Aude department.

We first came here in late February with the Birding Languedoc organisation who run birding holidays and have started to do day trips with a professional guide, so it was one of these day trips that we joined. Our main target species was the Wallcreeper, and after hitting a blank at Minerve in the morning we came here after our picnic lunch. Many of the group had spotting scopes and as luck would have it, someone spotted a solitary wallcreeper right across the gorge on the far wall. It was just a blur that moved through my binocs but I could just about see it properly through a scope! Hopefully we will get to see one this coming winter now that we know of a couple of sites to look. A bit closer would be nice! 

So we decided to come back again to see what it was like here in the summer. It was June when we visited so I'm behind again with blogging as usual!


The gorge this summer looking each way.


Going back to February - after a mild winter the day was really pleasant and fairly warm, and there were quite a lot of plants flowering on the slopes of the garrigue. 

Cistus

Strange, with this new Blogger layout there doesn't seem to be an option to caption your photos! This is a Cistus, though I don't know which one.


Iris


Tiny Narcissus


This is a view taken in February looking towards the Corbieres hills.


Same view though zoomed in a bit in June.


Keith walking along one of the many tracks with one of the marble sculptures.

In June sadly the cistus had gone over apart from a last few flowers here and there, so next year I would love to come back in late April/early May to see the hillsides covered in bloom. Damn that virus.

However there were still plenty of plants flowering, many of which I didn't know. Butterfly pics at end if flowers don't interest you!


I knew this was an allium but after a bit of research discovered it is Allium flavum, also known as Small Yellow Onion or Yellow-flowered Garlic (according to Wikipedia).


Here there are two types of sedum, Sedum album and Sedum sediforme. In the background the yellow flowered shrub is Bupleurum fruticosum or Shrubby Hare's-ear. You can click on the photo to see it bigger.


I recognise this plant as I think I've had it as a garden plant but can't remember what it is called.
Edit: it's White Rock-rose Helianthemum apenninum. Found it!



Here we have a mass of Scabious in the foreground, with Bupleurum fruticosum on the slope with a few Brooms. Imagine it with butterflies flitting about all over!


There were tons of butterflies but mostly just of two species, one of which was the Marbled White (Melanargia galathea).


However it was brilliant to spot this Spotted Fritillary (Melitaea didyma). Not a lifer as I have seen one once before.


I've saved the best until last! The other butterfly that was prolific was the Great Banded Grayling, but it was very flitty and the only time one settled and I got a chance to get a photo, my SX50 just played up and I could not get it to focus! However I was quite pleased with this one just as it flew off.... (lol). They don't rest with their wings open so you only get to see the glimpse of black and white in flight.
 

Great Banded Grayling (Brintesia circe)

We have been out a number of times since then but at this time of year I have to watch the weather forecast, as I want a nice sunny day for the butterflies, but without much wind, and not much hotter than low 30s. There's usually only about one day a week like that!

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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