MY FAVOURITE CARTOON AS A BOY..

Saturday, June 30, 2007

COMMON TOAD (2)

No time for a photo of this one.
Its been raining heavily all afternoon here, and as I got to work at 10pm, I very nearly stepped on another Toad. It seemed bigger and darker than the Toad me and Anna saw on the towpath at the start of the month, but I couldn't stop to photograph it as I was in a hurry to get in to work...
We started June (on the first day) with a Toad, and we'll end on the same note (on the last day of the month also).

SPOT THE HERON


Saw this out of the corner of my eye on leaving work this morning. I was walking in the other direction but just gave the lock a quick glance from 200 yards or so away, and thought I saw what looked like a Heron land on the cutting. So I strolled up there and took a peek. Pity I didn't have Anna's Dad's camera with me, as I might have been able to take a good shot with the bigger lens.
This phone camera handles macro shots well... but not long distance stuff.

Click the photo to reveal a bit of a 'pixellated heron' (not penguin I'm afraid, ma).

Friday, June 29, 2007

GARDEN CARPET MOTH


A very dull moth this, common, but new to the garden, so I suppose it warrants inclusion...
This is the Garden Carpet Moth - a dull moth with a dull name and (unusual for dull moths) a dull caterpillar also...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

HOVERFLY - Myathropa florae

Found this on the MPs this afternoon. (Maris Pipers).

This looks very similar to the Drone Fly (see Dronefly post), but with one very key difference.
Look at the markings (pale horizontal bands) on its thorax - these are very distinctive, and something that the Dronefly does NOT have on its thorax.

This, therefore, is a hoverfly by the name of Myathropa florae - although it really should be called the Yellow-Dusted Hoverfly in my book - its fat body hair seems to be covered in pollen.
Relatively common in gardens, it breeds like the Dronefly also - and the 'rats-tails' found in stagnant water in tree-holes could well be the larvae of this species of hoverfly...

MATING ROSE SAWFLIES (ARGE PAGANA)

The last two photos I took of a Sawfly were a little disappointing to say the least (see previous Sawfly post) - a bit pixellated (to quote my ma) and slightly out of focus.

Well, apologies to my ma for posting again on "creepy crawlies", but these two flies were blissfully engaged in a spot of Sawfly lurve on the underneath of one of our Jerusalem (f)artichoke leaves. I couldn't resist taking a couple of photos, just to, er... capture the romance of it all.

NB. 21/09/07 I am now pretty convinced these are large Rose Sawflies - Arge Panana. They normally feed on nectar but also feed on leaves also, and not just next doors' Rose bush!

I've altered the title of the post to reflect this identification.

GARDEN FLOWERS (3)

COMMON VETCH

DEAD NETTLE

BUTTERCUP

GARDEN FLOWERS (2)

MARIS PIPER

COURGETTE

FIELD PANSY

GARDEN FLOWERS

As the weather looks set to be grey and rainy all weekend, I thought I'd brighten things up a bit with photos of the flowering plants in the back garden.
All these are flowering in our back garden at the moment. The Common Vetch is way past its best. The Courgette flowers and Bindweed flowers are the only obvious flowers at a glance - the rest are subtle, hidden (in the case of the Field Pansy) - just how I like it.


Give me weeds, poppies, and forget-me-nots any day of the week over Lupins, Hydrangeas and Roses...


REDSHANK
ROCKET
FIELD MUSTARD
BINDWEED


AN EARLY HEADS UP FOR A HEADS UP

Very early this. But I wanted to warn you in plenty of time.

Meteor showers occur regular as clockwork. There are many showers each year, and I have been lucky? enough to watch most of them at some point or other in my life, and also see some amazing 'fireball' meteorites which have lit up the whole sky occasionally - now that is luck...

Where are you going to be between August 10th and August 15th this year?
If you are somewhere experiencing clear weather, especially around the 13th of the month, do spend an hour or so outside, during the early hours of the morning (or around midnight at least) looking at the night sky.

Do that, and weather permitting, you are guaranteed a spectacular show.

The Perseid Meteor shower happens each year between those dates - August 13th being the date of peak activity (the 'Zenith'). This year will be spectacular though, for one reason really - there will be no moon in the night sky - and that means even the tiniest meteors will be visible to us on earth, and not 'washed-out' by the light of the moon.

It does promise to be spectacular, with dozens and dozens of meteors streaking across the sky.
And all you have to do is get away from the street lamps for an hour or so, into the dark, hope for no clouds, and look up. I'll try to remember to post on this before we disappear to drought-ravaged Greece in August, to let you know which part of the night sky all the meteors will appear to come from (the 'Radiant').
Watch this space... (quite literally)!

(We are in Kefalonia until the 11th of August - shame really - we could probably guarantee a clear sky out there on the 13th, but we'll be looking on the 10th and then here, back in Blighty).

If the weather IS clear, you may not see a better meteor shower in your life...

THE PLANETS IN JULY

This is going to sound a little rich, what with the weather (and forecasts) at the moment - (and on that subject, my weather-forecasting Swifts haven't got much higher since monday... keep your sandbags handy for the weekend!) but a little information for you, should we get the odd clear night in July.

Venus (the evening star at the moment) is at its brilliant best in the west right now. By mid July though, it will be gone - so make the most of it while you can. It will appear as a clear crescent through a small telescope or a pair of decent binoculars...

Saturn is directly above Venus at present, in the western sky at nightfall - and it will move further and further to the right of venus as the month goes on. A small telescope will show you its rings very nicely. (see my second ever post).

Jupiter is a bright (non flickering (planet - not star)) light in the south. Worth looking at through a pair of binoculars again (hold 'em steady) as you will be able to make out probably four of the giant planet's moons.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

DRONEFLY

Everyone has heard of the Dronefly.


Well... here's what it looks like...


Common in gardens, hovering like a hoverfly, it is so named because of its excellent mimicry of the drone HoneyBee, with the ginger "fur" on its thorax.
Its a large fly which breeds often in stagnant water, especially in holes in trees.


A lady rang me a few weeks ago in great distress, telling me that she'd got Dronefly larvae breeding in her lavatory bowl.
Dronefly larvae look like "rats-tails" in water, she'd read up on it (using the internet) and come to that conclusion.

Well. Its possible I suppose, but more likely that her cistern had been wrongly connected to the "hot water tank" in the attic (instead of the normal mains) when the house was built, and a bird or something had died up there, flies had started breeding and thats what was causing the fly larvae in her lavatory bowl. (More common than you might have thought).


Anyway, the Dronefly above was NOT in our lavatory, but on..... the...... Potato plants!


We'll dig up the tatties in a few weeks or so, and then our garden will become a bleedin' barren desert!

BLACK ANT "MILKING" BLACKFLY

Those of you that have seen the film "Antz" might remember the cartoon ants drinking "Aphid juice" at their "bar".

Those of you that haven't seen that film will probably know the phenomenon of "Aphid milking" carried out by ants in real life.

Our Potato plants have quite a population of the Black Aphid or BlackFly. We also have a good population of the common Black Ant (the most commonly seen ant species in the UK), which climb up our Potato plants to milk the BlackFly.
The reason behind this is that the aphids produce a sweet honeydew which the ants adore.
Ants can be seen to stroke the aphids, to encourage them to produce this honeydew - in the same way that, for example, a doe will lick around the arsehole of its hind, to encourage it to defaecate.
Some aphids are even carried back to the ants nest, as milky prisoners...

I took a few photos of our ants milking our Blackfly this afternoon - this is the best I'm afraid!

ORNATE-TAILED DIGGER WASP





As I thnk I mentioned on my FIRST photo of a Digger Wasp species posted on "Blue-Grey", what with there being over 100 species of these in the UK, most looking remarkably similar, I just cannot tell you what species this is. Its Scientific name will not have an English version though , so let's just call it a Digger Wasp and be done with it.

(Though I will post it on the WAB site also, and see if any "wasp-head can identify it).

This individual had its mugshot taken by me on the, guess what? The Potato plants again.
NB. The photos above make this wasp appear to be massive. Its not the case - this wasp is significantly smaller than the Common (and German) Wasps we waft away from or pic-a-nics. The photos are just that damn good, thats all!


Ok.Ok. A bloke called Greg has just gone onto the WAB site and identified my Digger Wasp straight away. Its Cerceris rybyensis - the "Ornate-Tailed Digger Wasp", and as it's named after its tail... here's another shot of it. From behind.

GOLDFINCH PHOTOS FROM HIDE (2)

These two photos you can also definitely click on (to see the Finch nice and close-up...)

Last two.

Promise.
NB. THURSDAY 28/06/07 6am. A couple of days after I took the pictures above and below, of a solitary Goldfinch snaffling from our feeder, and this morning SEVEN, yes, SEVEN Goldfinches turn up to feed! 3 adults and 4 juveniles. Thats a record then! And I'd better go buy another film for the camera, and slowwwwlly move the hide closer...

ONCE MORE (double click away...!)


AND AGAIN! (This time double clicking on the photo should work...)


GOLDFINCH PHOTOS FROM HIDE

I spent an hour in my makeshift hide in the corner of the garden this morning, between 8:30 and 9:30am, hoping for some nice photos of our Bullfinches.

No Bullfinches turned up, just some snails in the hide, and this on the feeder - a beautiful adult Goldfinch.

The feeder is now full of a home-made mix of Niger seeds and Sunflower hearts.

I'll get a photo of those pesky Bullfinches eventually...


Ps. Just returned from Jessops in town (where I developed this film). Turns out the couple of photos I took of the newly-fledged Sedge Warbler at Walthamstow reservoirs a couple of weekends ago, were very blurred indeed. Aw well. Another time...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

14-SPOT LADYBIRD LARVAL FORM

Here's another hunting machine.

The Ladybird has a, how can I put it, sweet, cuddly reputation - all "Alice in Wonderland", fairytale sort of stuff.

Nothing could be further from the truth...

Before a Ladybird becomes the colourful adult beetle we know (and love?), it goes through its larval stage, when it runs around plants, very quickly at that, snatching aphids and sucking 'em dry.

This of course is not rare in insects, the well-known Dragonfly larva which exists underwater a lot longer than its 'flighty' aerial adult form is an absolute MONSTER for example - a real alien to beat any sci-fi dross.

Both adults and larval Ladybirds do not find their prey using their eyesight, nor any reception of chemical trails or anything like that, they just blindly (almost literally) follow plant veins and stalks, and pretty-well just bump into an aphid. Then its coytuns for their prey...

We found these Ladybird larvae in the garden yesterday (as in the changed time and date of this post), tucking into the local greenfly population...


Just to show you how small this larva is - that is the extreme tip of my insect finger behind the larva (bad quality photo, but as I say, its just to highlight scale).
NB. 28/06/07, after looking on the excellent WAB site (linked on top of page), at photos of Ladybird larvae, I have come to the conclusion that these larvae are 14-Spot Ladybird larvae, (the small, yellow, square 'spots' Ladybird - see my other post for photos of the adult beetle) and altered the title of this post accordingly...

SWIFTS (3)

Just returned from one of my 5 minute walks along the Thames (on a work break).
Today the rain has set in permanently it seems - not particularly heavy here in Reading, just a constant light rain.
I've never seen Swifts hunt so low as they are today.
Swifts are very reliable weather forecasters - flying higher and higher as pressure builds, and their insect prey flies higher and higher, and vice versa.
One can often tell what the weather will be like for the next day or so by looking at Swifts, and the height they are catching insects at...

Its fair to say that low pressure has well and truly encamped on the UK at present (or at least the southern part of Britain - and the channel was the worst hit in terms of heavy rain this morning), the flies are very low and so, therefore are the Swifts.

If they were flying any lower, they'd be flying under the surface of the river! As it is, they are only a few inches above it. I've also never physically witnessed a Swift catch a fly either - until a few minutes or so anyway. I've seen birds of prey kill and even a Great Crested Grebe actually catch a large Roach underwater (once in a lifetime thing that I think), but never a Swift catch one fly.

I was watching a Swift circle just over the river surface, spot a Mayfly 6' above the Thames and deft as you like, pluck it out of the air as though it didn't exist - continuing to circle as though it had done nothing at all. None of that "Wagtail business", where a Grey Wagtail will sit on the bank of the watercourse, wagging its tail, spot a fly, rush up into the air to grab it and return to the bank with the legs of the fly hanging out of its mouth - the Wagtail looking very pleased with itself!
The Swift is a hunting machine. Flying constantly, trapping many many insects in its gape, which over time are formed into an insect bolus (a "fly meatball" if you like), which it eventually swallows (hur hur!) or feeds to its young...

I do hope the Swifts get higher tomorrow (though I've heard the weather forecast, so am not holding my breath...)


NB. I write this on Tuesday morning (26/06/07), the tuesday after I originally wrote this post (on sunday), and also the day after the "wettest day in Britain for 50 years" (quote) - so wet, whole vast swathes of the UK were flooded and people actually died because of the weather.
There will be complaint after complaint I'm sure, directed both to the Met Office, and the Environment Agency.
"Why weren't we warned?" etc... etc...
The simple fact is - monday's weather was WELL predicted by the Met Office and the Environment Agency, (even the Sun newspaper ran their monday headline as "Today WILL be the wettest day for 50 years".
And if you didn't listen to the (plentiful) media-led warnings, the Swifts put up their own subtle warning for anyone observant enough to notice! I remarked on Sunday that "I'd never seen Swifts lower "(in 30 years), and on Monday we had the wettest day (for 50 years).
Another simple fact is that even when warned, there's pretty well bugger all anyone can do about weather like yesterday (Monday 25/06/07). Our antiquated Victorian sewage and drainage system, combined with massively increased floodplain residences and riverside recreation means that every time it rains like it did yesterday, the consequences will be magnified, ending, inevitably in some fatalities I'm afraid.

Keep your eyes on those Swifts, and go buy some sandbags!!!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

22-SPOT LADYBIRD

One of our smallest ladybirds - bright yellow with 10 or 11 spots on each wing case, common in the south, where they feed off mildew on herbaceous plants - quite rare in the north.

We have another common species of little yellow Ladybird in the south - the 16-Spot Ladybird. This (yesss...) has less spots than the 22, but as they are normally difficult to count on a moving tiny beetle, the more obvious difference is the dark black line down the middle of the elytra (wing-cases) in the 16-Spot, which the 22-Spot does not exhibit.

Anyway... a new Ladybird species for the "lower paddock" - 2 at once also, and once again mating! Maybe I should give "Blue-Grey" an 18 Classification!

"THREAD-WAISTED" DIGGER WASP



Another nice visitor to the Potato plants this afternoon - a Digger Wasp (there are over 110 species of this type of wasp in the UK - you tell me which it is?!)

This one has its paralysed prey caught underneath it - difficult to tell what it is - maybe a LeafHopper, maybe a Hoverfly, maybe a Spider. It will be carried back to the Wasp's nest where it will be eaten alive by the developing grubs...

Nice!

DEAD NUTHATCH

Maybe I should add another label to "Blue-Grey"? Dead animals?!

This is REALLY sad. Much more sad than the dead fox I think, or the dead sheep.

I've just popped out of the office for a 5 minute stroll along the Thames, and saw a really sad sight in the EA courtyard at the bottom of 6 stories of tinted (blue mirrored) EA windows.

Iarrived for my shift at 06:45am this morning and went for a break(?) at 10:45am.

In those four hours, a little adult Nuthatch has obviously flown into the mirrored windows, broken its neck, and fallen to the courtyard below - dead as you like.



The last time I saw one of these was a few years ago, though we heard them in the Shropshire countryside when we last visited Anna's parents. I remember them well in the garden, growing up in south Bucks.



Wonderful, unique little birds, with a blue-grey back and pale peach coloured front, a dagger bill and a black eye-stripe - only about Great Tit size, and really, really sad to have one die like that right outside my office...

Friday, June 22, 2007

LESSER YELLOW UNDERWING MOTH


As with most moths - describe how they look, and you will invariably get their name. This species looks very like many others though - a medium-sized sleek brown moth with very delicate brown markings and "kidney-shaped blobs" on its wings - with paler underwings (with a dark crescent on each).

How do you get a name from that lot?

Well, in this case, its the underwing that is different - so this moth becomes the "Lesser Yellow Underwing".
This (2.5cm moth), once again isn't rare, and is one of the group of moths that can upset squeamish people in (for example) open,lit public-lavatories. These moths, unlike the Brimstone Moth (see earlier post) for example, fly hard and fly fast, in good old-fashioned straight lines. They're like little fighter planes zooming around!






We also saw another species of Moth well after dark, but it didn't settle, so we didn't get a close look at it, or a photo. I have a feeling it was a "Swallowtail Moth" though, which once again, are not rare, I've seen them before, and behave just like our mystery moth, (large pale fluttery moth - a bit 'ghostly'). We may never know what it was, but I think it'll be back...

BROAD-BARRED WHITE MOTH


Two nice moths in the garden tonight, (or rather on the side of the house).

The first being a "Broad-Barred White" - a very distinctive white moth with a dark band across the wings - no other moth looks like this.
Its not rare, is about 1.5cm long, and this one thought my old Scotland fleece would make an ideal hangout. It is wonderfully camouflaged - as Anna said, it just looks like a pale bit of lichen or something...

OUR FIRST COURGETTE


Couldn't resist this.
We harvested our first courgette tonight, (we have already thrown half a dozen away that rotted before they grew to any decent size).
This one was a real byoody though - and we had it in a nice vegetable risotto for tea.
Good stuff.

LABELS

A recent change to "Blue-Grey".
My labels were becoming very full, very quickly over the last month or so- I've therefore changed the classification of labels on th blog.

INSECTS, MAMMALS and AMPHIBIANS will now be segregated down into SCIENTIFIC ORDER (English - not Latin).
BIRDS are now segregated down into SCIENTIFIC FAMILY (again, in English).

There will be many anomalies over time I'm sure. For example, the Long-Tailed Tit is NOT part of the Tit FAMILY, and the Barn Owl is NOT part of the Owl family.
These will become apparent as more things are posted I'm sure...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"MIDSUMMERS DAY"?!

June 21st. The longest day of the year. "Midsummers" day. (Always badly named).
I have been watching the street-lamps on our road to see what time they've been flicking ON this week - real rock and roll lifestyle eh?!
I was expecting a year record (late time) tonight, but due to the shitty weather we've been having - (spare a thought for those at the Glastonbury Festival this weekend), it was darker earlier than the 20th, and the street lamps all came on at 21:46. (On the 20th they came on at 21:50 in a clear sky).
Annyywwway.... its all downhill from here - here come the short days and long nights etc... etc...

COCKCHAFER

Anna and I have noticed that as the large Lime Trees to the rear of the Manor (heh heh), just past the 6'meadow, or the "Lower Paddock" as I think I'll start calling it now (ho ho), blossom - (in fact they are quite literally dripping with their 'fruit' at present), so the Chafers can be seen bumping around the top branches at dusk, in their very characteristic way.

A few nights ago the Summer Chafer, and now the CockChafer - which I've just found in the sitting room.

The Cockchafer is almost double the size of the Summer Chafer (see other post), with a grey (not brown) less hairy pronotum (front bit behind the face).

They are also the only of our Chafers to have a pointed abdomen - and that's the reason I include my second (poor quality) photo - to show the pointed abdomen of the CockChafer - very distinctive.

The pavements are littered with dying Chafers every morning at the moment - they're on a mating mission methinks...

(message to my old pal Dave. In the last few posts I've mentioned the terms Cockchafer, mating AND orgy. Comment ideas must be boiling over in your head?! Now, you're better than that aren't you? Resist.... RESIST!!!)

VAPOURER MOTH CATERPILLAR

Found this on our (very in demand, obviously) Potato plants this afternoon, before the rains came.



At 1cm long, this cannot be long out of the egg, as they will get up to 3.5cm long before pupating.

This is the Vapourer Moth Caterpillar - very distinctive, but if you are in any doubt, remember the 2 dark "horns" at the front end, and the blindingly obvious 4 cream "shaving-brushes" down its back.

As is very often the case in Butterflies and Moths, the dullest Moth often has the most extravagant, showy caterpillar - the most beautiful Butterfly or Moth often has a very plain caterpillar. The Vapourer Moth is no exception to that rule, as can be seen by the photo of the adult male (only the male Vapourer has wings - the female is little more than a bag of eggs) below (taken from the WAB site), but what a fantastic pair of feathery antennae! (Butterflies as a rule have clubbed antennae, Moths - feathery).



Vapourer Moths are very common in towns and cities - I found one in Oxford Street once, in a tiny tree outside that bloody awful, massive John Lewis store. (The tree was FAR more interesting than anything inside the building)!

Vapourer Moths are considered to be somewhat of a pest in some "leafy cities".
One last point about the Vapourer Moth is that is does have a good scientific name - Orgyia antiqua. The Antique-Orgy Moth then. Easy to remember.



NB. 23/06/07 05:00am ... less than two days later (more like one and a half really), the same Vapourer Moth Caterpillar on the same plant, and probably TREBLE its size of almost 2 days ago - at 3cm long. Greedy little chuffer.


CAPSID/MIRID BUG


Another welcome (albeit a little earlier than expected) visitor to our Maris Pipers this morning.

A Capsid or Mirid Bug. Superficially similar to a ShieldBug, but not part of the same family.

These can be recognised by their obvious cuneus (the triangular bit on their back) which is very often a different colour to the elytra (wing cases) and the most striking thing about them.

This one, I think, (for the record) is Deraeocoris ruber - not that thats particularly relevant.
Its bleedin' quick though (like Ladybird larvae), and that explains the slightly out-of-focus-snapshot.
The Capsid/Mirid bugs tend to fly later in the year (think July-August) and love to chow down on those nasty nasty aphids. Great stuff!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

LEAF CUTTER BEE

I've been doing some gardening this afternoon, as my shift at the EA finished at 3pm.

Took a tea break, sat down, and a small leaf hovered by me, in a very laboured way!

At first I thought I was going mad, then suddenly realised it must be a leaf that was being carried by a Leaf Cutter Bee. (Something I can't remember ever seeing before)!

As luck would have it, the little niblet didn't fly off to its nest with the neatly cut leaf - (these bees line their nests with bits of leaves) - it landed on our fence (for a breather?!), I rushed inside to get the phone camera - rushed back outside and snapped the furry little thing.

Really wonderful to see - I'll have to keep my eyes open and try to locate the nest...