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Thursday, 11 September 2014

Cool caterpillars, hoverfly mating dances and a duck casualty

Despite heavy rain at the end of August, it didn't take long for the sunny parts of the garden to dry out so it was time to get out the hose pipes again. However this time I refuse to use any more mains water as I spend a fortune watering each year - gardening is not a cheap hobby! And I didn't have to use mains because guess who has a full 4,000 litre water tank now which used to be the old septic tank.... it was time to make good use of it. So out came the pump and off I went with the watering.... oh but my god, it reeked! Ugh! So it's a good thing if I can empty it as much as possible before more rain is due to fill it, as I think it's going to take a while before that smell and any residual yukkiness clears. Needless to say I kept my hands well away from my face during the time I was hosing and gave my hands and arms a very good wash afterwards! Hopefully the plants will appreciate any extra nutrient in the water but I won't be watering any edibles with it! 

As far as butterflies seen at home this last week, the only ones of note are the ones I don't have photos of. I completely missed a photo of the first Hairstreak I've seen in my garden, a Purple Hairstreak. It was a lifer and was in my veg patch on one of the rare occasions that I'd popped out without my camera. I could have kicked myself and spent the rest of the day in a sulk. However the next day I did have my camera in my veg patch when I spotted a Mallow Skipper - but as I can't garden clutching a camera 100% of the time I still had to go about four paces away to grab the camera and when I got back to it, it had gone, so at least it made me feel better about the Hairstreak. And I also saw something small and interesting in the Blue department out of the living room window, but I was on the phone to my mum at the time.

Over the last week my bug spotter extraordinaire aka my OH spotted the following three insects. The first is a Buff Tip moth larva - I have seen them before but I had never seen one rear up in a defensive position like this before. It was on a dried out seed head beside the pond and well camouflaged from a distance before it reared up.

Buff Tip moth (Phalera bucephala) larva.

The second caterpillar was far more exciting as although I did see one of these last year just as it was wandering off to pupate, I hadn't seen an earlier instar looking like this before. This is a Lime Hawkmoth larva and it had fallen out of a lime tree. When they are fully grown and ready to pupate they change colour to a rather dull grey brown and look less than attractive. In fact the one last year had been spotted by either my OH or brother and was reported to me as "come and see this large ugly slug". :-) This one was just a youngster and after our photo shoot I put it down at the base of the tree trunk and watched it climb back up the trunk. I could have given it a helping hand but I wanted to be 100% sure that's where it wanted to be!

Lime Hawkmoth (Mimas tiliae) larva.

Lime Hawkmoth (Mimas tiliae) larva having a little walk about my wrist.

Stomping back up the tree trunk -
I used my flash here as it was evening and too dark under the tree canopy.

A caterpillar on a mission - to get back to those juicy lime leaves!
Mimas tiliae larva.

The last thing in the mothy department this week was a "Quick, come and see this large moth in the cellier/mudroom" for which I managed one shot before it flew off. Now if only those underwings had been blue, it would have made my year. It's a Rosy Underwing, one of the Catacala species which includes the (blue) Clifden Nonpareil - sigh. One day I will see one. Maybe when I finally get a moth trap. Next year! 

Rosy Underwing (Catocala electa) moth on a box of kindling.

A crop of the same photo of the Rosy Underwing (Catocala electa).

Changing the subject completely I've been witnessing what I think is some hoverfly foreplay! I first noticed it because I could hear a high pitched whining/buzzing noise and wondered why one hoverfly seemed to be hovering above another. I got the first pic on the left and after that the hovering one buzzed off. Then the next day I saw this display again and eventually the male seemed to dive down, touch the female then fly up over her again, and then repeated the action. I wondered whether that was it, i.e. a nanosecond of sex and maybe it was specific to this species. But I've googled and apparently it's a mating dance. Obviously in both instances here Madame was more interested in eating than what Monsieur had in mind. ;-)

Eristalis sp., possibly interrupta, in mating dance.

I was glad to learn that they do still mate in the way that I've seen other kinds of flies do it, but maybe hoverflies are just more fussy about their mates.

Here's a couple of Robber Flies doing the biz on a fennel plant.
I'm not sure if feet on eyeballs is normal during fly sex.

And now some bad news. Doris the Saxony duck is no longer with us. Doris was acting a bit strange and could possibly have been egg bound - although I am unsure about that as I don't think either of the girls were still laying. But she was standing about at the water's edge rather wobbly and looked like she may have been straining a bit although she seemed fine when swimming about on the water. With the ducks having gone 'wild' it is impossible to get anywhere near them so we could hardly shut a potentially sick duck in the not used in a long time duck shed. 

The next day Doris seemed to have disappeared so we searched for her and eventually my OH followed a trail of feathers into a wild patch in the woodland...... and found the remains of Doris. What we think happened is that she died and then her body was dragged off by a Stone Marten (Martes foina, also known as Beech Marten or 'Fouine' in France). We think that for two reasons: one, my OH had seen one in broad daylight recently, quite an unusual thing to see as they are mostly nocturnal, and two, (and here comes the gruesome bit) her head and neck had been removed completely! No doubt hanging up in a marten larder somewhere. There was no blood at the scene so that's why we are hoping that she died first and then was taken by an opportunist marten, in which case it's not so bad. I don't think one would go for a living duck as they are rather large! And the headless bit reminds us of the time long ago when we found a bunch of headless corpses in our garage, which turned out to be baby hares. We never did find the heads.  

Doris 2nd from right, with Dirk the male Saxony on the far left.

Taken about a month ago, the ducks had been going through moults but the two
Saxony ducks were still in their pale summer plumage.

Please don't be sorry for me as these ducks are not exactly pets (with the exception of Freckles the old white duck who we've had since March 2007, back when our original ducks were quite friendly) and they've always been so timid we couldn't get near them, so never formed any kind of bond with them. Bit of a shame really. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

La Pointe du Grouin revisited: Coastal butterflies and spiders

We are making the most of better weather after a rather dire August so took the opportunity to visit the coast again on Wednesday. After moules frites at Port Mer near Cancale, we went up the road to the nearby headland at la Pointe du Grouin, which is one of my favourite places for bug and butterfly hunting. There are still a fair few tourists around but it's hardly heaving with them now that the kids are back at school. It's not so great for wildflowers at this time as many have finished but there's enough for the later flying butterflies to feed on.

Post from last July all about this place, with loads of insects.

Views along the coast looking westward.

Not knowing much about coastal wildflowers I think these colourful
seed heads in the foreground are Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum).

A number of shrubs were covered in webs both from spiders and from Ermine moth caterpillars, which spin silks to protect themselves and clothe entire shrubs with their silken tents. But it was the Garden Spiders hanging in the shrubs which caught my eye as they are looking particularly big and colourful now!

Garden Spider or Cross Orb Weaver (Araneus diadematus).

This Cross Orb Weaver is snacking on something, with a wrapped up
dessert waiting for later.... I love it when they turn their buggy lunches into
something that bears no resemblance to the insect in its past life. :-)

Hoorah I found one hanging the other way around showing its beautiful markings!

An old looking boat (no I don't know anything about boats!)
sailing between the headland and Ile des Landes.

Butterflies again. We were here with my brother in late July and I also saw some Brown Argus (despite the name, it's a Blue in the Lycaenidae family) back then. As the only Blues (or Coppers) I've seen at home have been Holly Blues, then the tiny butterflies other than Skippers have been in short supply. I was pleased to see many Small Coppers and finally got the chance to get in close for some shots. There were Brown Argus flitting about with these Small Coppers but they didn't want me taking their photo except from afar! I also saw a Swallowtail, which considering there is tons of wild fennel growing on the headland shouldn't be surprising, but in July I checked out a number of plants for Swallowtail caterpillars and surprisingly didn't find a single one.

I saw some Brown Argus here back in July too.
This time, having seen quite a few Small Coppers about and often on the same plant
for size comparison, these Brown Argus were considerably smaller!

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) feeding on Ragwort.

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) feeding on Ragwort.

And another Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) feeding on Ragwort! This one without chunks missing.
Of course I took tons of photos - I don't often get a chance to get right up close.

On the way home we stopped in at the fishing lake at Combourg as we go past it. This isn't the big lake which the Chateau overlooks but a smaller one with a footpath all the way around. There was more dragonfly life than bird life here but as usual, just like at home, the only dragonflies who would stop and pose were the ones that I already have photos of...... and the Hawkers just kept on flying around and around as per usual so no chance of a photo!

Something worrying I noticed here were the amount of very sad looking willow trees with brown leaves. I haven't heard of any insect or disease affecting willows like this - oaks, ash and horse chestnut, yes. Very disturbing.

Combourg's smaller lake, with Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
in the foreground.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) with very tatty wings but still perfectly able to fly.

A fresher looking Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum).

I'm glad to say that both butterflies and dragonflies have perked up at home too this week thanks to some warmth and sun! Long may it last. :-)

Monday, 1 September 2014

Flies, flying things, and things that are called flies but aren't

Well here I am on my new iMac which is pretty super-duper and very fast! My blog and the font look a bit different but I'll get used to it. Comparing my photos on my old PC monitor to this giant screen is a shock to the system - a very nice shock!

Anyhow here are some flying critters seen over the weekend. The first two are a couple of Volucella hoverflies that I hadn't seen before. I'd been over the lane in the orchard picking pears then had a wander up the road with my camera. Thanks to the recent rain the wildflowers growing on the verges and in the ditches are doing very well. I'm pretty sure it's Hogweed (Heraclum sphodylium) in the first set of photos - a large umbellifer that grows in all the ditches around here. 

Hoverfly (Volucella inanis).

Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens).

A fly of some sort feeding on a Dahlia.

I'm hoping for more butterflies this week as the temps are due to rise. There are a few Peacocks and Red Admirals around which I associate with this time of year, but few and far between. I'm used to seeing loads of them (and Commas too) feasting on rotting plums and feeding on my Sedums, but so far it's just not happening!

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria).

A tatty Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) on Feverfew.

The Peacocks (Inachis io) I've seen lately all seem rather small.

Zephirine Drouhin the rose has been looking tatty lately but has
managed a few more flowers - and who is that handsome dude on the leaf?

I don't know the ID but it's a wasp of some sort and a very handsome beast I reckon.

This Carder Bee matches the Dahlia perfectly.

I also saw this female Scorpionfly in my orchard. The banks of the stream are covered with nettles, thistles and brambles, perfect for wildlife. There are many orb weaving spiders too which is just what the Scorpionflies like, as they are scavengers feeding on dead insects and sometimes stealing from spiders' webs. They also eat live aphids so are welcome in my garden, and I have seen them in the veg patch a number of times. Scorpionflies are not flies despite the name and belong to the order Mecoptera.

Scorpionfly (Panorpa communis) stealing a spider's dinner.

Finally, something that can't fly yet as it's still only in the nymph stage but it was looking pretty on my Hydrangea so it got its picture taken.

Common Green Shield Bug (Palomena prasina) nymph on a Hydrangea petal.

I'm glad I didn't need to write reams for this post as I'm still getting used to a new keyboard, the only difficult thing about this computer change. 

Have a good week everyone!