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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

July by the pond

As most of this month has been warm to hot, many an afternoon has been spent beside the pond, enjoying the slightly cooler air which blows over the body of water. The stream dried up at the end of June and the water level starts dropping very quickly due to the pond leaking like a sieve, thanks I think to all the tunnels dug over the years by muskrats and coypus. The lowering level does allow for more sightings of interesting things, particularly a chance to see those elusive moorhens!

Moorhen news:

It was 25th June when I noticed the two little pompoms and realised at least two baby moorhens had been born. A short time later I discovered one dead by the pond, so after that wasn't sure how many were left. Really it wasn't until the pond level dropped that we could start to see them in the shadows under the overhanging branches, on the rocks and mud by the side of the pond. There were still two so I think there had only originally been three. After this I think mum and dad each took a youngster with them to look after during the day as we rarely saw two together. And then sadly, a few days ago I found another juvenile dead. I'm left wondering why, because a predator would surely have taken it off. So there is just the one juvenile left, who is growing up very quickly, as you can see.

25th July - the juvenile moorhen has grown quite big now.
You can see how the pond level has dropped as it should be above where the ducks are.

12th July - back then the moorhen was still fluffy but at the 'emu' stage, as we call it.
All legs and huge feet.

Now it has adult feathers and will soon be starting to learn to fly.
Moorhens don't fly much unless they really need to,
but they need to learn just in case!

Damselflies. Going back through a month's worth of photos I realised I'd actually seen a third species of blue damselfy - having wrongly assumed that I was seeing the same two blue species all the time! I've spent a lot of time on ID but these creatures (and dragonflies) interest me hugely so I like to know what it is that I am seeing, and to learn more about them.

White Legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes) pre or post mating.
The male grabs the female at the back of the head and after mating
will often stay in this position until he has been sure she has laid his eggs.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens), female.
She kept darting out and catching midges,
which you can just about see in some of these pictures.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella), female, green form.
The female of this species can be several colours, making ID hard!

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella), male.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans), male.

Blue-tailed Damselflies (Ischnura elegans) in copulation wheel.
At long last I captured it up close and personal!

The same two showing more wing detail.

As above, Blue-tailed Damselflies (Ischnura elegans) but showing colour variation in female.
Pesky critters do not make ID easy for us!

Dragonflies. Many of the dragonflies that I see here seem to be huge 'helicopters' that just fly round and around my pond, never settling, which is hugely frustrating! I have seen some quite close up and think they are Southern Hawkers. I once saw a Marbled White butterfly flit across my pond, only to be taken by one of these dragonflies to make a meal out of it! But a few dragonflies have settled on vegetation overhanging the pond or twigs sticking out, and thanks to the zoom on my camera I have been able to capture and ID them.

Western Clubtail (Gomphus pulchellus), either male or female (both look identical to me).

Broad Bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa), male, and an unknown Damselfly. ID fails me.

A closer view of the male Broad Bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa).

I'm pretty sure this is the female Broad Bodied Chaser.

Now this beauty I encountered whilst out for a walk in my hamlet.
Golden Ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii).
No idea if it is male or female as they look alike.

But I feel justified in adding it because guess what alighted on
my garden fork in the spud patch the other day? Yup :-))))
It let me get quite close!

There are other creatures on or around the pond obviously, which are not necessarily so flashy or photogenic. Pond skaters are always about on the water and I can never resist a photo of a bit of buggy love.

Pond Skaters (fam. Gerridae)

Beside the pond where wild flowers grow, there are usually some pollinators about,
such as this Marmalade Hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus).

And often some Stretch Spiders (poss. Tetragnatha extensa),
which particularly like low vegetation in damp areas. 

Final update is that after three thunderstorms on Saturday, with absolutely torrential rain totalling 53mm (about 2 inches), the stream started flowing and the pond is full to the brim again! So I probably won't be seeing so much of the moorhens now, but it won't be long before the stream dries out and the water level drops again.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Veg patch update - July

I've been taking photos for weeks meaning to do an update, then after a few days it's all gone and changed again! In the last few weeks everything has grown really fast due to so much sun and warm to hot weather. Of course that has meant copious watering, even at times getting the hose pipe in there. Once I gave up and put the sprinkler on to try to give my maincrop potatoes and red onions a good watering, as a watering can is quite futile for things like this (unless you do it all day long). But using mains water is costly, so whilst we long for sunny days we also need rain!

So now I am harvesting all sorts of lovely summer veg but I'll show some of the photos from several weeks back anyway.

6th July and I only show this photo because I actually captured a Swallow swooping over
the veg patch - sometimes they land in it and take soil or just perch on the tomato posts.
But have I been able to capture this? No, of course not!!

13th July and looking nice and moist after the sprinkler had been on!
The shallots have been lifted now and left to dry in the barn.
My wildflower meadow is in the background.

My rusty garlic has been lifted and left to dry in the barn; we are already eating it.
The spring onions (left) are huge now and the leeks (right) are desperate
to be planted out, but have to wait until the onions come out,
as they need that space!

That nice feeling after you've dug up a load of spuds!

Oh no, not more courgettes.... a week later and it's glut time again!

16th July when the harvest was still quite meagre.
First tomato, 2nd cucumber and something like courgettes nos. 5 and 6.
Since then there's been nothing meagre about the harvests
and my fridges are bursting with cucumbers and courgettes which we can't eat fast enough!

I am still picking tons of raspberries, although I have had to put the seep hoses
on regularly on my two raspberry patches as they are very thirsty plants.
We even got a few cherries that the birds left for us.

This is a Physalis (Cape Gooseberry) flower - first time I'm growing them.
They are already forming their 'lanterns'!

18th July and planting out my French beans -
the soil was getting seriously dry.
I dug down about 6 inches into pure dust.

And then it rained! Hoorah, hours and hours of thunderstorms last Sunday; the temperature dropped a whole 10C which was a blessed relief and it rained and rained, totalling 28mm which is a little over an inch. Most of the water butts were full and the garden and I sighed in relief. Of course it was short lived because the temps are back up to about 29C again and the plants have sucked that moisture up like you wouldn't believe, and I have just started watering the veggies again, but having 3 nights off from the watering was like the best present ever.

After the rain and my bought squash plant 'Courge Musquée de Provence' is going crazy
in all directions. Usually I train smaller squash up through the fence wire a bit but
I have never grown this variety before and have discovered that the fruit grow to 6-9kg!

Another view of this plot which has tomatoes, courgettes and two kinds of squash.
The straw mulch is more for keeping the tomatoes off the soil than keeping moisture in.
We've eaten 4 tomatoes so far, medium sized ones called 'Fournaise' which are
my favourite all rounders. I've tried all sorts and been disappointed with many.

The 3 cucumbers are producing too well now but the lettuce
in the background is starting to bolt.

I also have 3 cherry tomato plants in pots at the front of the house which are
doing really well and the first fruits are just changing colour.

We're also eating blueberries from my one plant which is in a pot.

Finally, did you think I could post anything without a bug?! I just noticed this tiny Cinnabar Moth caterpillar last night, on a groundsel 'weed', near my currant bushes in the veg patch. Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)* really is an annoying weed as it has fluffy seed heads that disperse seeds like dandelions, but the Cinnabar Moth larvae eat this, although their primary food plant is Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris/Senecio jacobaea). So I always leave a few of these weeds here and there and check them for the caterpillars before I weed any out. The moth is a daytime flying one and very beautiful; I've only seen a few this year but I finally managed to capture one at long last, sitting on a strawberry plant!

Cinnabar Moth caterpillar on Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)

Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae) on a strawberry leaf

* Note about Groundsel from Wikipedia, and I have read this before elsewhere. I've not had a problem myself, but I wouldn't purposefully leave it growing right next to crops because of it:

"Groundsel acts as a host for the fungus that causes black root rot in peas, alfalfa, soybeans, tomatoes, red clover, peanuts, cucurbits, cotton, citrus, chickpeas and several ornamental flowering plants...."

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Raising Swallowtails - Part 5

And so it starts all over again! To recap from last year - whilst I failed to get to the stage of an actual butterfly eclosing from my four caterpillars as it was rather late in the season, I documented with many photos all the various stages of growth, moults and pupation of my four caterpillars. In the 4th episode I was finally there at the right time to witness the final moult revealing the chrysalis. All very exciting stuff but as the chrysalises very sensibly decided that it was too late in the year, they would wait until this year to eclose at a more suitable time.

Last year's posts here - this is Part 4 where I photographed the pupation. If you look on the right sidebar 'Blog Archive' near the top when you are on this page, you will see the previous posts, parts 1 - 3 in Sept 2012.

So they overwintered in a box in the duck shed and whilst I have seen the butterflies as early as April here in good weather, our spring was cold and miserable and so when the time came to go on holiday in early May, I was faced with the dilemma of what to do. I had no option but to put all the chrysalises on their respective sticks out in the garden in case they eclosed whilst we were away. I hid them at the base of my currant bushes thinking that would give them some cover. Upon our return however I found only one solitary chrysalis left intact - I imagine birds had taken the others as there were no signs of them at all. So in it came into its box again and we waited and waited. One day at the end of May we noticed that the chrysalis had changed colour from green to brown and it appeared to have started to split open.

Unfortunately, nothing more happened. After a month or so I realised that nothing was going to happen.

Well it just so happened that I needed the box as last week I found a solitary caterpillar on a dill plant in my veg patch. This one was already a good size but the opportunity was too good to miss, so inside it came! I decided to put the unviable chrysalis outside but then I couldn't resist having a closer look at it, as I could see that the chrysalis shell was very loose and papery, so in the interests of science I opened it up to have a look. Inside was a perfectly formed butterfly that somehow had just died. I am glad that I have done this as I don't think I would have seen exactly just how the butterfly fits inside the chrysalis if I had watched the eclosion. I took photos of course.

You can see how the wings fit in inside the chrysalis here.

This shows how the legs fit, and the antennae which if you can view larger,
are tucked in along with the legs.

View from the back - looking rather furry.

I think this is the mummy of the caterpillar I found in the veg patch. It's only the second one I have seen here this year and I had totally the wrong lens on my DSLR at the time and couldn't get close or zoom in. She flitted about various wrong host plants whilst I was willing her to find the dill.... here she is checking out the parsley that has gone to seed. She did find the dill but only seemed to hover there for seconds, but maybe she did lay an egg!

A few days later I found three more on my Bronze Fennel out the front of the house, so brought them in too! I took a few photos of the first one but after that - well, I have so many photos from my previous posts on the subject it seemed a bit silly to take more.

Suffice to say there were no more moults as they were all a good size and the first one had pupated by last Friday, the 2nd one yesterday and I have two more who will be chrysalises by this evening sometime.  And did they pick either of the two nice sticks I put in there - oh no, the first one is on the plastic mesh 'roof' (lets air in and keeps them in) right in the corner, the next one is in the opposite corner, the next one is also there but squeezed in between that one and the corner - I mean about 1cm/ 0.5" away from the wall of the box, and the 4th one, well it did choose a stick, bless it, but about 1" off the floor. Oh well, one has to assume they know what they are doing..... :-)

And now comes the waiting game..... but this time the weather is right, it is early enough in the year and I have four chances of witnessing the eclosion and photographing it. 

I will, of course, keep you posted!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Butterfly park and Dali museum

My last holiday post! If you've been following our travels then you'll know we had some problems with our car and so for our last few days in Spain we had to look at a map and do a bit of a rejig of routes and hotels. As the forecast was for cooler weather and in fact, cold and pouring with rain up in the mountains, it probably wasn't a bad thing after all! So we opted to stay on two extra days at our hotel in Roses as there were far more things to do there. Here's a pic of the hotel. It's an ugly double concrete block (this shows just one side of it) but it was comfortable and had a nice big garden with pool, that I didn't use! (The hotel is called the Mediterraneo Park by the way).

It was nice to chill in the gardens though.

So off we went to the Butterfly Park in Empuriabrava which by chance I had seen a big advertising panel for as we were driving around. It wasn't huge and on one side there were tropical birds and the other, the butterflies. I couldn't get very good photos of the birds as it was rather dark in there due to all the vegetation, but it seemed brighter in the butterfly side and that was far more interesting. I don't know all the different species as although there were info boards not all those butterflies were there at that time. In the photo below the big one on the right is an Owl butterfly (Caligo memnon) and the one at the back on the left is a Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) which has incredible blue wings when it opens them up, which is not often when it is resting.

The butterfly with its wings open below is Idea leuconoe and it's the same butterfly in the close up photo below this one.

Here's the Blue Morpho on a rare occasion it opened its wings whilst not moving; usually you only see the flash of blue when they are flying around.

There were a few birds in the butterfly house too, and this one took a shine to me. In fact I couldn't get rid of it! It started on my head and then I managed to get it onto my shoulder, whereupon it proceeded to nuzzle me and snuggle up to me for ages, with the occasional nip on my neck or cheek which was a bit painful!

There were big open cupboards with all sorts of chrysalises with butterflies eclosing all the time, which was fascinating to watch.

Our last day we thought we'd have a bit of culture by visiting the Dali Museum in Figueres. I'm not into surrealist art (know very little about it) but my OH said he'd enjoyed that sort of thing back when he was at Uni. It was something a bit different to do. From the outside it looked rather amusing and I liked that this weird modern building was sited very close to the 14th century church of Sant Pere, which appears in many of the photos below.

Inside though it was totally jam packed with people. This is the third most visited museum in Spain. As well as hating the 'art' I hated all the crowds. I also hated that it must have been here where I caught my cold that started just after I got home!

I can't even be bothered to attempt to lighten up the figure below of 'big breasted woman standing on an old American car with a boat with drippy things above her' which is what I will call this piece of crap art. What really got me was the amount of young people there too, all of whom were taking photos galore with their phones. I just hated the whole place, couldn't understand a thing and wanted to get the hell out! Thankfully my OH felt pretty much the same as me. :-)

Our last but one day was spent travelling all the way from Roses via the motorway that goes through the tail end of the Pyrenees (hardly any altitude so no problems with the car!) and then all the way to the Atlantic coast at Bordeaux, then up to La Rochelle. It was a long, long way and we were pretty bored and tired by the time we arrived in La Rochelle. Somehow travelling a long way in one day at the beginning of your holiday is fine; on the way home it is not!

As La Rochelle is only about 4 hours from home we had our last morning free to drive over the toll bridge to Ile de Re. It's actually larger than I had thought but was an interesting island and I'd love to have had more time to explore it (and neighbouring Ile d'Oleron to the south which is larger). That can be for another holiday!

Just a view at the tip of Ile de Re

I absolutely had to stop to check out the yellow flowers that I kept seeing on the rough ground beside the roads everywhere. I had a feeling it was Sedum acre and I was right!

The blue flowers are Muscari comosom, a bulb.
Much larger than the common spring flowering Muscari bulbs
that we know in our gardens.
I loved the decorative grass seeds heads too.

Of course, it was only fitting that I finished my holiday blog with a bug!
Not sure what it is, it has a fat little body that you can't see here very well,
so not really caterpillar like, but was obviously feeding on the Sedum acre.