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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Halloween Special

*Warning - Spider alert!*

Arachnophobes do not look any further!

I've been wanting to put some spider photos on my blog but thought I'd better do it all in one post rather than scare the living daylights out of anyone who would rather not see! So what better time than Halloween to do so. :-)

I'll start with the little cute ones, so you can have a quick peek then look away later if it all gets a bit too much.

I've been finding more and more different kinds of spider around my garden which I'm slowly learning a bit about. Some of them are absolutely tiny and I often come across them quite by accident, usually when photographing something else then discovering it in the picture. Some of these tiny spiders that I see are commonly known as crab spiders (mostly family Thomisidae) and like to sit around on flowers waiting for unsuspecting pollinators to arrive which they prey upon. They are not web spinners.

Possibly Misumena vatia. Their colours vary and they can actually
change their colour to suit the flower they are on.

I have no problems with tiny spiders running about over me. I do draw the line at big ones though!

Possibly a crab spider - actually I haven't even tried to ID it!

The other tiny spider that I have only recently discovered, having seen other people's photos and thinking they didn't even exist on this side of the world, are the jumping spiders from the family Salticidae. They are actually quite common, even inside houses, but are so tiny it's not surprising that I didn't notice them because I didn't know what I was supposed to be seeing! I came across my first one on our outdoor garden table.

I think this is the Zebra Spider, Salticus scenicus

The following one I discovered running around on one of my plastic compost bins a few days ago. In fact I've found three different kinds (or different ages, or different sexes..... you see how hard ID is!) of jumping spider on that one bin. They are absolutely miniscule so I can't crop the photos much. It was upside down here! What is so special about these spiders is the huge front eyes they have and the cute look. However they are extremely efficient hunters and often go for prey much bigger than themselves.

Unknown jumping spider

There is one other kind of really small spider that I see everywhere in my woodland area. This is one from the family Linyphiidae known as sheet web spiders of which there are hundreds. I can't exactly ID this one. This spider spins a web down in amongst the ivy that covers the woodland floor. Again it is so small that first I have to look for the web, then look around to see if I can spot the spider. I think this is a female as the males are often a reddy brown colour and much bigger. 

A sheet web spider

Still here? Because I'm going to jump up a size now. We're still talking small spiders, the kind I have peer around in amongst the flowers and foliage to notice!

This following spider was living on top of one of my sedums around the end of September through early October. I am not entirely sure here but think this may be a nursery web spider from the family Pisauridae and if it is, then it most resembles Pisaura mirabilis.

Nursery Web spider. Maybe.

Then there's this handsome spider who was happily posing on top of my chinese cabbage.

Unknown. Possibly another crab spider.

Another unknown hanging around my Hydrangeas

Getting bigger now....... there's also the stretch spiders of which I've come across several. The family is Tetragnathidae and are also known as long jawed orb weavers. Why they are called this is fairly obvious. They like to stretch out and they have long jaws!

A Tetragnatha something. I can't be sure which one, possibly extensa.

Possibly a female Metellina segmentata

Could be the same spider beside my compost bins, with nice festering insect meal!
Not sure if there is something wrong with its leg.

Not sure, I just liked this photo. Some of these spiders spin their webs beside the pond.

Want a few bigger, more gruesome shots, eating prey and all that? OK, here's a slightly bigger and very pretty spider, just hanging around.

I love the leg colours of this one. There's a possibility it may be the
same spider below, Araneus diadematus but I can't tell from this view.

The following spider is a common one in Europe known simply as the Garden Spider or Cross Orb Weaver, Araneus diadematus. I'd call it a medium sized spider so not that hard to spot. Here's one busy wrapping up a fly that got caught in its web.

Araneus diadematus

Same spider the next day. It looked a bit full to me.
Actually it was probably just waiting for its next meal to come along and get trapped!

And then..... there is the house spider. We're all used to them, only they are big, they get trapped in the bath, and they are a bit scary when they scuttle about really fast. When you are trying to photograph a cricket in your cellar, and suddenly you see the following in your viewfinder......

.... oh I can tell you, you jump bloody fast, both the cricket and me! Nearly gave me a heart attack! (The cricket survived, by the way).

But what exactly is a 'house spider'? There seem to be several species, so I'd go with Tegenaria .... something. I'm not going to post a photo here as they give me the creeps too, looking at photos of them, even though I'm happy to take the photo!

There's one more, which is possibly more scary even than the house spider. This one lives in our cellar-cum-mudroom where the walls are just the old stone with mud mortar. It builds a funnel shaped web in a crack in between the stones and as it gets dark, out it comes ..... leg by leg ..... first you see just a few little bits of leg poking out, then a bit more until if you are lucky you get to see half the spider sitting there waiting, with its legs on the silk of the web, waiting to feel some vibration indicating prey has arrived. It is very rare that we see them out of their holes completely. 

I've managed to get photos using flash without them scaring but they are easily spooked and just go straight back inside their hole. When they do emerge from their hole completely, to re-enter it they have to reverse back in! We think they are huge fun and as I'm a bit odd and have a tendancy to name my house spiders (usually Benny, Bobby or Billy), this new kind of spider got named Scary Brian. Only now there's currently Brian's mate and Brian's cousin in the cellar too. We ran out of names. We had a Big Bertha once too; she was a house spider. I have absolutely no idea why 'my' spiders' names have to begin with B but it's just become a habit!

Segestria florentina, a good way out of his/her web

If you got this far then give yourself a clap on the back and go off and get dressed up in some outrageous costume and go and scare the neighbours! Happy Halloween!

See you again in early December (the end of my previous post explains why I will not be around during November). 

Saturday, 27 October 2012

October flowers

There are still a fair few plants in bloom but most of the colour this month comes from the annuals which are still flowering, which are predominantly yellow and orange and really serve to brighten the place up, now that the weather is rather miserable!

Bidens with a hoverfly (Helophilus trivittatus) enjoying it

Gaillardia - this plant was still flowering in December last year

Yellow Pot Marigold (Calendula) still attracting hoverflies

An orange Calendula with a Marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus) hovering above it.

A few perennials have valiantly tried to make a come back such as this beautiful rose, but with the almost continual rain sadly the flowers didn't last long as roses and rain just don't go together!

Rosa 'Zephirine Drouhin'

Cranesbill Geranium 'Jolly Bee'

A final flower for my Lavatera

Which actually managed to open despite all the rain!

The Dahlias don't look too bad if you just look at the individual blooms and ignore the ones that have become a soggy mess; deadheading becomes a little bit less important at this time of year when you know the frosts can come any day now and the plants will blacken and need lifting.

Marmalade hoverfly again!

I don't know all the names of these Dahlias;
they are my OH's domain and he does have notes as to which
one went where.

With Dahlias, I love the brightest, most garish colours, none of the pastel colours for me!

Around the front of the house this Thunbergia alata
(Black Eyed Susan) self seeded and swamped the Jasmine that
I had planted here. I actually weeded out tons of the seedlings!

But somehow they seem to like it and have twined up and through
both the rose and the Verbena bonariensis here!

In this same bed under where the Black Eyed Susan is,
Borage has also self seeded. It's good for the late bees.

My Rosemary has also just started to flower again!
This normally flowers in profusion in late winter/early spring
so is great for the bees when there are few other flowers around.

And of course my Verbena bonariensis just keeps on flowering and flowering!
Here it is with a Heineken hoverfly (Rhingia campestris) on it.
These hoverflies are all over the place at the moment even on really dull days.

I can't not have a butterfly photo! Even on the most dire cloudy days this month
I've still seen a few butterflies here and there.
Peacocks (Inachis io) absolutely adore the Verbena bonariensis.

Our weather forecasts keep changing all the time; last week they said we'd be having between 0 and -2C this weekend; that's changed to slightly warmer (around 2-3C) but with horrible easterly winds, so I guess the flowers will carry on for a bit longer. If they can just survive through to November then I will have completed my one year challenge with something flowering in my garden every month over the last year!

Now, just to let you know. I'll be doing one final posting this month, a Halloween Special (mwahahahahaha!!!!!) but for those who may not wish to read it - and I will warn you about the content, promise - I have to let you know now that I shall be taking November off from blogging as I am going to England for the latter half of the month to catch up with family, shop till I drop, eat as much deep pan pizza as is humanely possible and get really cross with the horrendous traffic. :-) So will be back again blogging in early December and breathing a sigh of relief to be back to the peace and quiet and empty roads of rural France, as two weeks of enoying the consumerist society in England is enough to last me a good year!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Season of mists and mellow unfruitfulness

Unless you are a mushroom hunter! Apples - slim pickings this year. Walnuts - well there were tons on the trees but the squirrels have been working overtime and if I've managed to collect 100 I'll be lucky. Usually it's more like 1,000 plus, even shared with the squirrels. Chestnuts - haven't even bothered going up the road where the trees are as I've been told by several people that they are small and pathetic this year, which is a huge shame.

Unfortunately I don't know much about fungi and don't see anything here in the garden that looks immediately obviously edible, so I just enjoy looking at them, and with all the early rain this autumn, there are no shortage of them. The weather has been damp and truly dismal this last few days, too wet to do much outside even though I still have autumn jobs to complete. So I took a few photos of the fungi instead and started the job of tidying up, pruning and fungicide spraying my soggy, rust ridden pelargoniums as it's time to bring them indoors now before they rot completely.

This fungi is my favourite, growing on an old tree stump.

This next one I showed in my last posting but this time I've stuck my welly next to them to show up their size!

Sometimes there are whole lines of them, or semi circles.

Some have been munched!

Some of them are cute.

Some of them are really tiny.

The only time we actually did find some edible mushrooms here was our first year when a load of oyster mushrooms appeared on a bank which used to be part of an old field margin. 99% sure that our ID was correct, off we trotted with a few specimens to the Pharmacie, which we have always been told is THE place to go to get your fungi identified. Well I'm not so sure about that. First we had two ladies umming and ahhing over a book for ages, then they called in a third lady, who ummed and ahhed over the book for a bit longer. She then finally pronounced them oyster mushrooms. So off we went to pick some more only to find them full of maggots. That's enough to put me off wild mushroom hunting for life so I haven't bothered looking out for them anymore!

Here's an ancient photo of them from 2005 (how digital cameras have changed!).

As well as fungi there are spiders' webs everywhere in the grass. Whether they were there before or not I don't know, but the heavy dew is really showing them up beautifully. It's hard to know where to put your feet! There are hundreds of delicate little ones like the one below...

... and a few like this, which are like thick blankets. I did see some large-ish spiders scuttling off into the grass when they saw me bend down to have a look!

On Sunday I came across a really beautiful hairy caterpillar. I'd seen one before back in September but it was only a tiny version of it. This one is much bigger and was sitting on one of my cultivated blackberry leaves. It's the caterpillar of the Knot Grass Moth (Acronicta rumicis), which eats, amongst other things, bramble leaves. It hadn't munched much and I left it be. In fact it is a caterpillar which you shouldn't touch as those hairy bits can give you a nasty rash. I never touch hairy caterpillars anyway just to be on the safe side. Believe it or not though, the moth this will become is not some fancy red, black and white beauty, but quite an ordinary looking greyish thing!

It's hard to know sometimes isn't it? This is its back end!

And this is the front, even though that 'face' isn't actually
its face. The head/face is hidden under the lower hairy beard!

Sideways view gives a better idea of what I mean - the front end is on the right.

Looking down on it from its back end.
Yes there are self seeded cosmos in this area, not competing
with the blackberries, so why not?!

I realise that I haven't updated about my Swallowtail chrysalises. That's because nothing happened, and even the three that remained in the warmth of my kitchen for weeks did nothing at all, which really pleased me. Somehow these chrysalises seem to know that it is not the right time of year to eclose (hatch out) so they have gone into their winter hibernation. So I've put them out in their box into the duck shed where I put Teeny Guy. I don't expect anything to happen now before the spring, but I shall be watching the weather and if we are due for mild weather I'll bring them inside in March, if not then in early April, and we shall see what happens!

Friday, 19 October 2012

The green and soggy garden

I can barely believe the amount of rain that has fallen so far this month - over 140mm! That's a huge amount for a whole month let alone at just over half way through. Consequently I no longer have a weedy scruffy lawn as my OH managed to mow the main bit of lawn during one of the few dry sunny days we have had recently. It now resembles something like a real lawn - so long as you don't inspect it too closely, of course!

This photo was taken just before mowing, whilst my beautiful new-last-year 'Forest Pansy' was looking at its best. I kept meaning to get out my better camera as my compact doesn't do colours justice, but 5 days later it looked like the next photo, and by the time I did manage to wrench that macro lens off my Canon, there were only about 10 leaves left on it. That'll teach me!

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'
Taken 7th October

Harumph. But look at my lawn! I can even call it a lawn now!

I think I still have a hosepipe out which I really think can be put away for the winter now.

We also have a full lake, which filled up in just 24 hours!

The ducks under the 'peach on the beach'.
The rain came too late to water this poor tree
so the fruit was small, dry and inedible.

The ducks are not really very friendly at all and I can't get close to photograph them. We've gone from the stage of frantic preening if I went anywhere near them, to now a lot of chuntering noises, then they just swim off. Really we hardly see them during the day but they do at least come up to the shed at night to be put away safely.

And as for eggs.... well Doris the Saxon stopped laying about June and Rachel the Rouen, the one who went broody for a few days, was only laying intermittently after that, and now she's stopped too. That'll teach me to buy pretty coloured ducks. It's obviously exactly the same as laying hens. If you want duck eggs, buy white ducks. If you want hen eggs, buy red hens. 

Dirk and Doris the Saxons

Rubbish photo because I have to creep up and take it through the undergrowth
or they swim off!!!

Some of my shrubs are starting to exhibit autumn colours and some not yet at all, such as my purple smoke bush. It has doubled in size this year due to the wet spring - basically it's grown as much in one year as it did the previous six!! I'm going to have to do some serious pruning next spring as it's flopping out all over the lawn.

Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' still showing it's full purple colours.
This turns a lovely orangey colour in autumn.

The green smoke bush is just starting to show signs of turning. It will turn a beautiful orangey pinky colour eventually.

Cotinus coggygria 'Golden Spirit'
(I think, it had no label)

I'm so pleased about my Liquidambar though, as I'd showed that here a month or so back looking so sad and losing leaves due to being too dry!

Liquidambar just beginning to get some autumn colour.
This tree looks great through to November.

This next shrub is quite unassuming, having flowers that you'd barely notice in late spring, if not for the buzzing noise that comes continually from it. That's the bees who absolutely adore it. In autumn these berries will not last long, as soon, every time I walk past it flocks of birds will fly off squawking! So it is really good value for the wildlife and also screens off (to a certain extent) our ugly white propane tank.

Cotoneaster franchetii

Still looking quite colourful despite the plants
getting such regular drenching

Another thing I've noticed, which I haven't seen much in autumn for several years now, is the amount of fungi springing up everywhere. The first few years we were here I tried to take an interest and learn about fungi, but soon gave up as I seemed to have absolutely nothing that I could possibly ID. I wasn't really looking for edibles, just wondering what they were. I haven't noticed these ones before though - they are quite huge.

Unknown fungi

The chickens have been complaining that they haven't featured in this blog for quite a while. Well I told them that's because they don't stand still and pose for me, and all I get is a load of shots with blurry heads. It still didn't sink in so this is the only shot where I have no blurs. I did want to feature Marleen though. She's the grey scruffball at the back. Oh yes, it's moulting time, but whilst the others will do it by either just losing, say, their tail feathers, or looking generally a bit tatty all over for a while, Marleen has to go for it big time and do her 'just out of the battery farm' impersonation.

Front to back:
Andrea, Rusty, Snowy, Freddy the cockerel and Marleen
Clemmy is out of the picture.

Hen laying is down big time too - I'm barely getting a dozen eggs a week now! Andrea (the botty in the foreground) is managing to have a feminine looking moult and still lay most days, and Rusty manages about four or five a week. I'm not surprised Marleen has stopped laying though. I've never seen any of my hens moult like this before - and she's already got some new feathers around her neck here where she was bald before! She's happy though; I think she's quite a simple hen, so long as she has food that's all that matters to her.  :-)

In these two photos they are eating the outer leaves of my chinese cabbage, which is very holey and I'm actually seeing slugs sitting on the leaves eating it during the day, and I've even seen a sneaky snail sitting on a chilli leaf! Hope it tries to eat a Cayenne is all I can say!

Marleen, not looking her best!