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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 in 12 pictures

I made a calendar for family members for Christmas presents and I'm copying the pictures I used for each month below. They sum up my year, although of course I had to take December from last year's photos, not that it's any different this year. I decided to go with collaged pictures as I had taken too many photos to just pick two or three to sum up each month! The captions are as on the calendar.

January - Snow and ice but still some flowers

February - Wild things and tame things

March - New life then yet more snow!

April - Blossoms, bulbs and blooms

May - Our holiday in Spain

The bright colours of June

July - Harry and Bertie arrived to keep Hallie company

August - Butterflies galore

September - Days out in Brittany with Mandy's mum and brother

October in England with both our families

November - Autumn colours

Drippy December

Best wishes for a Happy New Year, and I hope that 2014 brings you health and happiness. Wealth, whilst nice, is less important. :-)

Rainfall data 2013

A very boring post which is just for my records, so don't bother reading unless you are a total geek. Like me. ;-)

Rainfall for the year 2013

Jan 76.5
Feb 78.0
Mar 141.0
Apr 56.0
May 106.5
Jun 39.75
Jul 102.5
Aug 34.5
Sep 35.5
Oct 60.5
Nov 104.5
Dec 134.5

Total: 969.75mm

It's been a strange year with some really heavy rainfalls at times yet still the usual dry period during summer, mostly during August and September. It would be so nice not to have to get the hosepipe out but rain never falls evenly through the year! This year has been almost as wet as last year, and good for replenishing the water table after a couple of years with dry winters. 

Previous years' rainfall:

2007:  944mm
2008:  878mm
2009:  867mm
2010:  757mm
2011:  663.75mm (over a quarter of which fell in December)

2012:  973.5mm 

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Butterfly count 2013

2013 has been a fantastic butterfly year! I've seen ten new butterfly species and three new daytime flying moths, plus some of the usual species have been more abundant. It's been a great year for Painted Ladies and Clouded Yellows, and I've seen many Brimstones, all through the summer as well as early spring, which is when they are normally about. Scroll down past the list for photos of the new species.

I've included in my butterfly count a few species that I didn't see at home, but did see in my hamlet, so very close to home.

Family Nymphalidae

1.   Peacock Inachis io
2.   Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta
3.   Painted Lady Cynthia cardui
4.   Comma Polygonia c-album
5.   Marbled White Melanargia galathea
6.   Map Araschnia levana (2nd generation)
7.   Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria
8.   Wall Brown Lasiommata megera
9.   Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina
10. Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus
11. Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus
12. Lesser Purple Emperor Apatura ilia (New!)
13. Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae (New!)
14. Silver-washed Fritillary Argynnis paphia (New!)

Family Pieridae

15. Orange Tip Anthocharis cardamines
16. Clouded Yellow Colias croceus
17. Large White Pieris brassicae
18. Small White Pieris rapae
19. Green Veined White Pieris napi
20. Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni

Family Lycaenidae

21. Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas
22. Common Blue Polyommatus icarus
23. Sooty Copper Lycaena tityrus (New! saw both male and female)
24. Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus (New!)
25. Long-tailed Blue Lampides boeticus (New!)
26. Brown Argus Aricia agestis (New!)

Family Papilionidae

27. Old World Swallowtail Papilio machaon

Family Hesperiidae

28. Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris
29. Mallow Skipper Carcharodus alceae
30. Lulworth Skipper Thymelicus acteon (New!)
31. Large Skipper Ochlodes sylvanus (New!)
32. Essex Skipper Thymelicus lineola (New!)

Daytime flying moths:

Of the colourful moths which fly during the day and spend time feeding on flowers, I've seen:

1. Hummingbird Hawkmoth Macroglossum stellatarum
2. Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth Hemaris fuciformis
3. Jersey Tiger Moth Euplagia quadripunctaria
4. Silver Y Moth Autographa gamma 
5. Cinnabar Moth Tyria jacobaeae 
6. Five-spot Burnet Moth Zygaena trifolii (New!)
7. Fiery Clearwing Moth Pyropteron chrysidiforme (New!)
8. Garden Tiger Moth Arctia caja (New!) - this is actually a nocturnal moth but I found one in the veggie patch during the day!

Lesser Purple Emperor - probably the most exciting due to the fact that these
butterflies don't feed on nectar, but usually spend most of their time up in
the treetops feeding on honeydew, therefore it's rare to see one!

Small Tortoiseshell - they used to be a common species
but I haven't seen one here since I don't know when.

Silver Washed Fritillary - the first fritillary I'm aware of seeing here.

A female Sooty Copper - I also saw a male one in the hamlet.

One of my favourites, the Holly Blue.
All the tiny blues and coppers have this cute look though.

Long-tailed Blue, only seen once and is really tiny!

Brown Argus - another nice surprise as I thought at first it was
something I'd already seen before. It's important to pay attention
to those markings on the underwings!

Onto the Skippers. This is the Essex Skipper and it's quite hard to distinguish
between this and the Small Skipper, but the red tips to the antennae are the key.

Large Skipper - this one is a male.

My favourite of the Skippers - a Lulworth Skipper (female).
Both male and female visited my garden over a period of about 5 days with
a preference for the lavender flowers. These butterflies are miniscule!

Although I took these photos on coastal heathland I actually saw one at long last in my garden!
I'm pretty sure this is the Five-spot Burnet Moth which seems to vary in the markings,
although the one I saw in my garden is like the one top left.

Pure luck that I noticed this tiny Fiery Clearwing Moth!

Whereas this Garden Tiger Moth in my veg patch was somewhat easier to notice!

I also saw three new species of butterfly on holiday in May, a Wood White (Leptidea sinapis) in SW France, and the Western Marbled White (Melanargia occitanica) and a Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus sp.) of some kind in northern Spain on the Mediterranean coast.

A Grizzled Skipper which just landed at my feet and I didn't dare move!

Given that I saw the last butterfly here, a Red Admiral, on 20th December, it's been a good, long and spectacular season for my favourite insects!

Friday, 27 December 2013

Mincemeat Bakewell Tart

I found this recipe in an old Good Housekeeping magazine and fancied trying it for Christmas. It's every bit as good as it sounds and is worth making the effort!

I went to all the trouble of taking a photo of the recipe then discovered that it's online.... well that's a lot easier if anyone does fancy making it. But at least you can see from the photo below that mine is not too different, is it? Only mine has less than half of it left, as it's that good!

Recipe link:

I rather fancy the other recipe on this page too!

Recipe and Photo Credit: Good Housekeeping Magazine.

Now I'm off to peruse the GH site for other recipes!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The last day of autumn

Today is the winter solstice and officially the first day of winter and the weather is vile - strong winds, grey, on-off drizzle and very much a stay indoors kind of day! The start of winter could seem daunting to think of three months of it lying ahead of us, but I like to think that from now on the days will start to get longer. By next month there will be bulbs pushing up out of the soil and by the end of winter we will have bulbs flowering and all sorts of signs of life in the garden.

However yesterday autumn went out in a spectacular way with one of those rare beautiful sunny days without being particularly cold. I couldn't believe my eyes when I walked up the garden and disturbed a Red Admiral butterfly! I don't think I've ever seen one in December before, although I have read that because they are hibernating butterflies they do appear occasionally on mild sunny winter days. No pictures as it flew off over the fields next door but I was inspired to go out and take a few photos. I had thought about a December in bloom post but that would have been rather short, so here are a random mix of photos of my December garden.

The toughest flower in the garden.
These little Heartsease Violas flower both winter and summer.
They are totally drought proof in summer, and totally hardy in winter.
They are wild and self seed all over the place.
(There's even a tiny fly in this photo!)

Frost has killed off most of the Rocket flowers but a few survive.

Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis).
There's only one plant with a few flowers left but these have come back
into flower several times during the year after dead heading.

Most of the annuals are history but
this Calendula bud has survived in a sheltered spot.

It's not only flowers which look decorative.
Purple Curly Kale is one of the prettiest plants in the winter garden
and can be grown as an ornamental too.

My favourite Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire').

Here it is right foreground but not currently looking so great
as I need to tidy up the now frosted Bidens behind it,
but some of the tatty plants in this bed are the
ones that look great close up in macro or covered in frost!
Old mistletoe covered apple in the background with pond behind.

Just a fun one turned upside down. Apart from the slightly blurry bits,
would you have known these are my alder trees reflected in the pond?
Maybe only if you had really zoomed in on the upside down moorhen
(tiny thing bottom left)!

I never remove the Sedum stems until about February.
This one is 'Autumn Joy'.

Maybe this is why they are called Coneflowers?
Looks like a bird has been enjoying munching on these seeds.

Even though the whole plant looks a total mess,
the remaining Physalis fruit is still attractive.

The fluffy seed heads of Smoke Bushes are hard to capture because there are so many stems
that get in the way in my photos, so I had to crop in hard to get rid of them.
This is my Cotinus Coggygria 'Royal Purple'.
I've seen Chaffinches take these soft fluffy bits in the spring to use in their nests.

Something I've noticed a number of times after wet but mild(ish) weather are new plants
germinating in situ on the seed heads of plants! This is a perennial plant called Gaillardia.

All the time I was taking photos Harry was 'helping' me. His favourite way is to bob up
against me just as I'm crouched down trying to focus on something.
He looks a bit grown up here and squinting against the sun, but believe me
he's still an overgrown baby. Ok, teenager.

And in the last light of the afternoon sun here he is helping my OH
who has started to remove the diseased peach tree from my veggie patch.

I won't be posting again before Christmas so Season's Greetings to you all. I hope Santa brings you everything you asked for and here's hoping you have a wonderful overindulgent time. :-)

Monday, 16 December 2013

Looking at life through rose tinted glasses

This post dates back to early October but I didn't have time to prepare it before going off to England.

It's a bit of a play on words. The story is that I noticed an interesting hairy caterpillar on one of my rose bushes up against the side of the house. Off I went to get my camera, but I thought I'd grab my reading specs too as anything close up is a blur without them, and sometimes I'm quite amazed at what I do spot when I put them on. I was not disappointed as I couldn't believe just how much buggy life there was on just three rose bushes that I would never have noticed had I not taken a really good look!

This is the rather handsome looking caterpillar that I first saw, and it's thanks to someone on G+ who posted one a little while ago that I knew the ID! This caterpillar usually feeds on the foliage of all sorts of trees, but also roses, and quite surprisingly, ground elder - that nuisance weed that is hard to get rid of.  They are welcome to that plant!

Grey Dagger Moth caterpillar (Acronicta psi).

Here it is again from all angles. Top left is its back end, right is its front end.

Knot Grass moth (Acronicta rumicis) caterpillar.
Note the spider in the background!

Knot Grass caterpillar again walking across the ground.
It is related to the Grey Dagger as they are both Acronicta species.

Unknown hairy caterpillar - can't find it in my insect book.
Edit: probably an early instar Oak Eggar Moth caterpillar.

As well as hairy moth caterpillars I have found two different kinds of sawfly larvae on the roses as well! Now this kind of larvae can be a real pest in large numbers; most people will know them if they grow gooseberries as gooseberry sawfly larvae can defoliate the leaves practically overnight! But the odd one on a rose is not a big deal.

Sawfly larvae on a rose leaf on the ground.

The same larvae looking a lot cuter curled up having a nap!
Also a few aphids in the background.

These spotty ones are more common and I see similar kinds on all sorts of plants.

Typical rose pest - aphids!

I also saw this cricket. I know it's a female because of the banana shaped
ovipositor at the end of her abdomen; but what the brown thing is
above that I'm not sure. I can only guess she's having a poo!
I also saw a male on this bush too.

There were spiders too of course.
Here's a cute little Zebra jumping spider (Salticus sp.) with a little fly that
it had caught. I didn't have the right camera for a tiny spider like this.

This is Metellina segmentata with a perfect orb web. The stem in the background is
another rose bush around the front of the house and those are Black Eyed Susans
(Thunbergia alata) in the background.

A closer up view of it; I'm 99% certain it's the same species
but hard to be sure when looking back through my photos!

All in all quite a surprising number of bugs just on one kind of plant. It really pays to have a close up look as you will be surprised just what you can find!