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Monday, 25 February 2013

The many faces of a Blue Tit

Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) are such characterful little birds, so I've compiled a selection of my favourite shots all showing a different expression or emotion. Of course, that's adding a human touch as I'm quite sure they don't feel half of what I'm showing below, but it's just a bit of fun! 

Attentive Bird

Sad Bird

Angry Bird

Cute Bird

Dopey Bird

Thirsty Bird

Hungry Bird

Fluffy Bird

Icy Bird

And my favourite... Chilly but very Cute Bird

Friday, 22 February 2013

February bugs

Happily this is bugs of the insect variety, no nasty germs running around here! Earlier in the week whilst we were basking in glorious sunshine we had a little pre-taste of spring and out came some bugs to play. It sounded a bit strange to hear the drone of honey bees again - just a fleeting sound now and again and one that I take for granted during the summer months. I actually saw a bumble bee warming itself on the side of our trailer, but it had gone after I'd run inside for the camera. I think it was a queen as it was huge. 

All sorts of insects and several jumping spiders have been sunning themselves on many of the vertical surfaces outside, from the sides of our metal barn to the compost bins, trailer and the granite of the house walls. This doesn't make for the prettiest of backgrounds in which to photograph insects, but makes them easier to find!

I've made a start of tidying up my front bed which is the one full of herbs and plants which attract butterflies. Already the euphorbias are budding up and looking attractive and there are a few daffodils nearly out.  Euphorbias attract many kinds of insects but I didn't see any on them yet.

Both these Euphorbias are self seeded ones,
and for once in the 'right' place!

No sooner had I knelt down to start snipping and weeding when along came a honey bee and landed on me! This time I had my compact camera in my pocket so out it came for a snap.

Just call me The Bee Whisperer!

The previous day I'd taken some shots of insects on my barn walls and compost bins. All winter there has been insect activity around the compost bins but mostly just tiny flies, springtails and red velvet mites. Suddenly there was a lot more activity, with a Zebra jumping spider (family Salticidae, and from hereonin referred to as 'Salties') on one of the bins and another on the barn wall, large flies, and other creatures. I got shooting as I'd really missed my insects!

A not sure but possibly Flea Beetle

Red Velvet Mite (family Trombidiidae)

Another not sure but possibly a Rove Beetle

Firebugs are usually visible during winter, especially on a sunny day. They bask in family groups at the base of the lime trees, and this is another favourite spot of theirs. It's the base of our rose/clematis arch and the wooden posts are set into metal sockets with stakes which have been hammered into the ground, keeping the wood from rotting. For some reason they love it here and can fit down in the small space between wood and metal. They were also individuals climbing around on the barn walls too!

Firebugs (Pyrrhocoris apterus)

And so to the Salties. Since I have discovered that these delightfully cute tiny little spiders actually exist here I've been seeing them all over the place. However I was thinking that so far I've seen them on my outdoor table, compost bins, barn walls, inside all around my window frames, particularly when I've cleaned the windows, behind the curtains.... you get the picture.... but never yet on any vegetation, which would be rather nice to see! I also really wanted to see one actually capturing some prey.

This is the best shot I got of the Zebra Saltie on my compost bin, as both this one and the one on the barn wall would barely stand still to pose.

I cannot say with absolute certainty that this is a Zebra spider, (Salticus scenicus)
as there is another species with very similar markings.

Beautiful markings

Now what was that about wanting desperately to see one jumping on some prey? Guess what, the next day a completely different species of Saltie did that, on the same compost bin, right before my very eyes! Luckily I had trusty compact camera to hand, although unluckily, it doesn't do good macros with anything smaller than 1cm. But I was still happy as larry to have witnessed and captured this. :-)

Jumping Spider with prey

Now what was that about never having seen a Saltie on vegetation before? Well that day that I took the honey bee on my leg, a few moments before I'd taken a shot of a Shield Bug on my box ball which I'd noticed just as I'd knelt down to start weeding. I took a pic just because it was there and I could.

A few days later I downloaded the photos and was thinking, not very good and what is that bird poo in the photo? I have to explain that I spent a good amount of time last year examining and photographing bird poo, in the hope that it may have been something more interesting, such as a tiny caterpillar - many do disguise themselves as bird poo to detract predators. But no, unfortunately all I ever discovered was.... bird poo.

However look at this shot. It wasn't poo after all. I hadn't even noticed it was there as I'd only looked at the Shield Bug. This photo is already cropped and anyone who knows what Box is like will know how small the leaves are, ergo the insects were small.

Unidentified Shield Bug on right, and 'bird poo' on left. Only, it wasn't.

Mega cropped in, I'm kicking myself. Right in front of my bloody eyes, here was a Saltie not just on a leaf, but with a buggy lunch package as well!!! Oh the things we miss! I'm still laughing about it now.

Tiny Saltie with prey

Still I did manage a good 'un. I was photographing dewdrops on grass when all of a sudden a tiny money spider appeared in the viewfinder and I managed to get these three shots of it spinning silk whilst waltzing over the tiny dewdrop.

Now we are back to very cold again, still sunny but with a nasty north east wind making it feel bitterly cold outside, so hopefully my bugs are tucked up somewhere sheltered.

We have still not completely finished the orchard pruning - seven apple trees and three pears down, only one more apple to go. We are now feeling, not our age, but about 103! Digging the veg patch will seem easy after this!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

At last some sunshine

We have been busy over the last ten days or so whenever there has been a dry spell between showers. I could make this the shortest blog post ever by saying we have cleared the stream of all the brambles and dead vegetation clogging it up, and are currently ploughing our way through the apple and pear tree pruning in the orchard. But that's no fun if I don't have new photos to share, though if you want to see pics of my OH up a ladder, or what the stream looks like choked up with brambles, you'll have to look at last year's posts!

In the garden the hellebores are all flowering now and with milder weather, even a fair bit of sun lately, we look set to have daffodils flowering before the end of the month, which is rather early. It's making me a bit worried as I feel very behind with garden jobs and want to get clearing up all the beds and borders so that I can actually see all those bulbs properly!

Mirabelle plum blossom, possibly the earliest
it has flowered

Oriental Hellebore covered in dew, and a little aphid

The same Hellebore, looking a different colour as taken with
a different camera. Much work to be done here tidying up!

Daffodils getting ready to burst open

The biggest excitement round here in this sleepy hamlet is the start of our newest neighbour's renovation job! She bought this place over a year ago. We always thought the two buildings were just a couple of barns but in fact at least one is (was!) a proper house. I can see this view from my upstairs bathroom window and that's where I took these photos from, through the glass. The first was from about 2 weeks ago and since then the spoil heaps of soil and rocks have grown enormously. The builders have dug down over 2 foot of floor, probably to give them more ceiling space. We did go round and have a nosy but there's not a lot to look at just yet.

The house on the right is already renovated and belongs to a different family.

Two weeks later and the new window opening is finished and the soil piles keep on growing!
This view is over our orchard (the greener grass), with our stream in between that
and the neighbour.

The stream. Glad to say my wellies are still waterproof
as I have spent quite a few hours standing in it!

I've noticed all sorts of vegetation coming to life, from edible leaves such as sorrel to the poisonous but attractive woodland plant, Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum), below. According to Wikipedia the root of this plant was once used for culinary purposes but has to be prepared just so, otherwise it is highly toxic. I'll be giving this one a miss!

Arum maculatum

The Walnut trees have a yellow look about them from all the interesting lichen
covering the trunk and branches

Finished! I did wonder what the pink thing was hanging out of my pocket,
only to realise I had stuffed my mucky duck cleaning out Marigolds (rubber gloves)
in my pockets for some reason.

A Robin kept us company

There have been some lovely sunny mornings just recently. Song thrushes and dunnocks have started singing and misty views like this across the fields at the bottom of the property, and dew shining on the grass in the sunlight, just lift the spirits after all the rain that we have had.

View from the bottom end of our property - the line of dead bracken in the foreground
is beside the stream running into our lake

We had our first feast of
Purple Sprouting Broccoli and it was delicious!

Another sign of spring is the start of the egg mountain all over again. Both of my ducks are laying again after a really long break. Doris the Saxony went off lay back in June, useless bird! But dear old Freckles, the only remaining of our original four white ducks, and whose egg laying petered out last spring, somehow managed to produce these two tiny little eggs! I know they'll only have a bit of white inside and no yolk, but it was so sweet to find these tiny eggs which only weigh about 21 grams. Thankfully I am able to sell eggs to a neighbour so the birds can start to earn their keep again.

Hooray - eggs!

I have taken tons of photos the last couple of mornings as the sun was shining. I can't post them all here but if you are on Facebook then I do share extra photos there - just click on the Chateau Moorhen FB link at the top right.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Bees in flight

I found this album that I'd forgotten about from last year. Every time I managed a halfway reasonable photo of a bee in flight I uploaded the photo to this album as most of my bee pics in flight are just total blurs that get deleted!

I can't say I was actually aiming to try to shoot bees whilst flying but most of these are ones where I was trying to photograph either a bee on a flower, or something else, and the bee took off or came into land just at the moment of taking the shot.

This is certainly the best of a bad bunch so I thought I would share here as hopefully this year I may have some better ones - I might even actually try to take a bee in flight on purpose!

(The reason for posting this now is because if you want real life reports on what's happening at Chateau Moorhen, it would be all about mud, rain and more mud, and I can't even take a photo of the mud because of the rain!)

Honey bee and a Cranesbill Geranium

Bumble bee flying towards a Foxglove

Honey bee and Raspberry flowers

Honey bee and Oregano flowers

Carpenter bee (Xylocopa violacea) and Lavender

Red Soldier beetle on Phacelia with a bumble bee coming in to land

Bumble bee with pretty colours leaving a Cornflower

Shame I didn't get this in focus but it is not surprising!
Lift off for this bumble bee leaving a Marigold.

Saturday, 9 February 2013


Some of you may have seen this photo on facebook or G+, but I think it's funny so I'm sharing it here too. This is what happens when you've got an inquisitive kitty about when you are trying to take photos of things!

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Garden news - early February

PSB!! Far more exciting than the early flowers appearing in the garden, are the florets appearing on this Purple Sprouting Broccoli. It's an early variety called 'Rudolph' so hopefully with the other varieties I've grown we should be eating PSB nicely spread out over the next few months. I'm really looking forward to it.

PSB 'Rudolph'

Flowers are appearing in the garden now, although overall it still looks very wintery. I've made a start on clearing back all the dead stems and stalks in the beds but have a long way to go. It's a busy time in the garden yet the weather is against us still, with rarely a day without rain at some point, and often rather evil winds. I've decided that the veg patch digging can wait as it's more important to do pruning and general clearing up elsewhere, especially now the bulbs, shoots and early flowers are emerging. 

Helleborus orientalis. This kind flowers high up on the stem but
I have other hellebores which have flowers appearing from ground level,
which are only just opening now, and which I think are Helleborus niger.

I love Snowdrops - I have little clumps of them in various parts of
the garden and they herald the start of the long growing season.

You have to look hard to see these tiny
Pulmonaria flowers at the moment

Pale pink Primroses (Primula vulgaris).
Most wild Primroses are yellow but I find
a few pinky coloured ones here and there.

I always seem to miss that point when the upright shoot of a Euphorbia suddenly points downwards and you realise there is a flower bud in there, slowly unfurling as the stem slowly rightens itself. I'm sure it happens overnight!

Unknown Euphorbia. Background bottom right is E. myrsinitis
and top right is another self seeded and possibly crossed red stemmed
variety. There's an article on my Euphorbias here.

There have been a few sunny afternoons so we have had to make the most of it as the sun is still in very short supply. My OH has even managed to mow some of our lawns which is a first for so early in the year, but the mild weather has meant that the grass has grown! I certainly need green stuff to layer in my compost bins as I have a good bucketful of straw and poop every day from cleaning out the ducks and chickens.

The ducks across the pond with a view across the field to the copse in the distance.
I don't know what the crop is in the field; I assume a green manure of some sort,
but at least it is nice and bright and better to look at than a stubble field!

My spindly Buddleia beside the lake, with blue sky and cloud reflections in the water

A Great Tit in one of our cherry trees. Look, blue sky!

One of the thankless tasks needing doing, which I will never get on top of, is hacking back all the brambles that threaten to take over. I also cut back the ivy at the base of trees in the woodland area, but it's a tough job and again, like the brambles, ivy grows too quickly so I can never keep up with it. I can't do this job much later than February because I find birds' nests hidden in amongst the ivy low down in the forks of the multi-trunked elms, and I don't want to disturb them. So I'll keep the brambles at bay around the woodland pathways and every year I choose a few areas to clear completely (only to have it looking like this again a few years later!).

There's a little patch of beech saplings in the woodland under the canopy of willows and hazels beside the lake. There are no beech trees in our immediate neighbourhood, so these must have been deposited by a bird which had flown some way before having a poop here! I love the way the leaves stay on the trees through the winter, adding a touch of copper colour to the winter landscape. They are very slow growing so whilst originally I wondered if I should replant one of them and where I could place it, given their mature size, right now I think I will leave the worry to future owners of Chateau Moorhen! My view is to leave them be and if necessary, keep one but leave it in situ as they seem happy here, despite the shaded position.

Right in the centre of the picture are some young beech saplings

Beech leaves

The chicken runs are mostly just soggy bare earth right now so I let them out to play and eat some grass.... here they are all standing around having a preen.

Say cheese! Nope.

Andrea - the only photogenic hen - or rather,
the only one who doesnt look evil, dopey or miserable!

I like the pattern of her feathers here.
She has been moulting so I'm hoping she will hurry up
and start laying again soon!

Here's Snowy with her feathers all fluffed up looking rather large!

I know that spring has not yet sprung, and with a bitter north wind currently blowing to remind us that it is about mid winter now (if we go by the official seasons with winter not starting until the 3rd week of December), but all these signs of life, new growth and flowers emerging means for us gardeners, the new season is well on the way. 

Happy gardening, everyone! :-)