MY FAVOURITE CARTOON AS A BOY..

Friday, July 27, 2007

"OUT OF THE FRYING PAN..."

That title should, I suppose, read "Out of the Flood Plain....(and into the Fire)"!

You may have guessed now, or seen on the news that Reading was not flooded as badly as was first estimated - so my and Anna's flood defences at the house were as we expected, not inundated but redundant instead.

I never got my trip in the rescue Sea King.

So... I thought I'd give it another go.

Tomorrow, we fly to Kephalonia for two weeks in the sun. Well. We hope we do anyway!
We've had this holiday booked for months now, well before south-eastern Europe went up in smoke due to 100s of forest fires caused by an intense summer heatwave. Kephalonia was mentioned on the news last night as one of the worst affected areas, it is famous for being a very green Greek Island - lots of trees to burn etc... and heatwave forest fires are common on the island, though this year seems much, much worse than normal with 100s of British tourists being evacuated only yesterday.

Flood.
Fire.
Fire.
Flood.

Are we jinxed?!

Anyone got a hold of Blizzard or Hurricane? Then we'll have the full set! WE WIN!

Anyway, we should fly out early tomorrow morning, and return on the 12th August, although there is of course a possibility that flights will be suspended to the island, or we'll come back sooner, if the authorities on the island completely lose control of the situation...

Of course, we certainly don't expect to come down with food posoning now, from eating warm Saganaki that's been left outside all afternoon for example. I'm guessing that most foods will be instantly well-cooked immediately on taking them out of the fridge! I do like smoked cheese and fish, but I'm not sure I would like EVERYTHING I eat smoked!!!

I will not post on "Blue-Grey" until we return, with luck in two weeks. If we do manage to stay the full term, you can imagine, I'll have a lot of interesting photos and stories to post here, mainly of views, but with luck some birds / insects / reptiles etc...
I hear that Kephalonia is a real hotspot (yes.....) for Birds of Prey - but I cannot possibly tell you (at present) how all those fires have affected all the birds and creatures on the island. I am a little peeved though, as one of the birds I really wanted to see was the Black Woodpecker" on the island. A crow-sized, stunning Woodpecker and quite common in the forested parts of Kephalonia - when they're not alight that is.
On the upside though, we may be spending A LOT of time RIGHT on the beach, away from any trees, and I hear the coast of Kephalonia is one of the main spots one may be able to see one or two of the very endangered (and very dwindling population of) Mediterranean Monk Seals...

One more thing. I will NOT be reading "Captain Corelli's Mandrill" (or whatever its called) on "Captain Corelli's Island" like everybody else.
Why?
Because
1)Everyone else does
2)It doesn't interest me.

My holiday reading will be limited to "The Odyssey" by Homer. Now that DOES interest me, and in case you weren't aware, the hero of the Odyssey, Odysseus (Roman name of Ulysses), lived on Ithaca, the neighbouring island to Kephalonia, where I hope we are evacuated to, should the worst happen.
The Odyssey is that classic tale of Odysseus' ten year voyage back to his wife, Penelope, on Ithaca, after the Trojan War, fighting the one-eyed Cyclops, resisting the charms of the Nymphs etc...
I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into it!

Ok. That's it for now, grapple fans.
We're shortly to set off on the pre-holiday shopping trip. This would normally involve purchasing sunglasses (not needed due to the smog), sunblock (ditto), insecticide (no worries - they'll be kept at bay by the thick pine smoke) etc...

I intend to buy only three things-
1) A pair of shorts
2) An industrial size bag of Marshmallows
3) A VERY, VERY long toasting fork.

Turn on the BBC news in, oh.... maybe a week, and witness us being evacuated from our villa by a Sea King Helicopter, live on television!
This time.... this time....!








NB. Tuesday 28/08/07 (just over two weeks AFTER WE RETURNED from Kephalonia).


This photo was taken on last saturday, by a NASA satellite, and shows the huge extent of the forest fires in Greece at present.


For your information, Kephalonia (top left corner) seems to be "fire-free" at present, but under a huge plume of smoke issuing from a fire on the mainland.


A horrendous image I think you'll agree...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

HEDGEHOG

Anna came down to the river tonight, to see how high it was, before I started work at 10pm.
As we walked to my office, I heard a rustling noise in a 3' high bush next to a footpath.
Upon closer inspection, it became obvious that a Hedgehog was the source of the noise.

Hedgehogs are very noisy little creatures indeed, generally, stumbling around flower beds and litter piles at night, crashing around and snuffling noisily.
Stop by a hedge at night if you hear that sort of racket, and odds on, if you look, you'll see a Hedgehog.
I do like the fact that if disturbed, they'll raise up their body on their little legs, (like one of those old citroens, remember?) and scamper away from trouble, quite fast for such little legs!

What was this Hedgehog doing 2 or 3' up a bush? I've got no idea.
Perhaps it knows a flood is coming?!

I would say it was raiding a low birds nest, but its too late in the year for that.
It is feasible I suppose, that it sleeps the day away in this spot, out of harms way in a thick bush, (hedge, really), easy to climb to, and not that high. It did seem to be surrounded by a nest of dry leaves...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

THE RIVER

I thought I'd better give theThames a quick mention.
Those of you that know me, and know what I do for a living, might begin to appreciate I'm, (how can I put it politely? I can't!), BLOODY busy at the moment.
The Thames is on flood alert, my road is on flood alert, Reading is on flood alert, and even my office is on flood alert.
I have had one day off in the past 17, and this week, when it ends for me on Thursday morning at 7am (ish) I will have done well over 90 hours work, all at night.

I am liasing with all the emergency services, the armed forces, the met office, ministers, local and national media (including the very 'smashy and nicey' Howard Hughes from Smooth FM - he's a hoot!) and of course, very, very concerned members of the public, about the Great Floods of The Summer of 2007, I'm even advising residents on our street in a non-professional way, if you follow my drift.
It is generally accepted now, that these are WORSE than those of the winter of 1947 - that's really saying something.

Parts of Reading have started to flood this afternoon, and the levels are expected to peak at 04:00am tomorrow morning - when I'm alone in the office.
Anna and I have moved most of our possessions upstairs, weighed down the manhole cover in the back garden and bought some 'sandbags' (compost sacks), with which to protect the doors. All that remains is to pop plugs in sinks and weigh them down too.

In common with most incidents like this, the media have wanted their story and have sensationalised this out of all proportion. Allegedly a "huge surge of water is roaring down the Thames, ready to lay waste to Reading tonight".
The coppers haven't helped either, telling people in Oxford and Abingdon recently that they are "about to die" (quote - honest!) and then of course, there are the local councils and their staff, which are about as much use as bicycle is to a fish.


Well. I'm not going to give anyone a professional opinion about what will happen tonight.
I'll give you a personal opinion though.

Parts of Caversham in Reading will flood. Some (around 50? max) properties will take on a few inches of water. Kings Meadow and the flood plains around Reading will flood - thats for sure. My office will not though, even though it's built on the side of Kings Meadow.
The large volume of water travelling down the river (its taken this long to filter down from the Cotswolds) will push the low drains, drain covers, manholes and sewers right to capacity alongside the river, but I don't expect any backing up of drains etc... where we are, a mile from the river.
Some people have sandbagged their front doors on our road, and we'll do our back door before I leave for work tonight, but that is purely preparing for the worst, yet expecting the best.

I'll tell you what I can see on the river at present. I won't include any photos - they don't do it any justice - unless I had 'comparison photos', which I don't.
All the waterfowl are on the banks. All apart from the Swans that is, as they are just about powerful enough to swim against the flow - just.
The river looks in full spate. Milk chocolate brown and flowing very, very, very fast indeed. I'd normally not have a problem swimming against the stream, (I've done it many times), but not at the moment. I'd be swept away in a second.
The Caversham Weir is fully open, and incredibly high, and around the lock (where my office is), I reckon we've got approximately 3 foot of slack. (But then again, that could disappear overnight).
I haven't seen large lumps of debris racing by though. Not like I did in the 'Fens', when I remember another flood on other boating holiday. No trees, sofas, caravans etc...
Maybe that will happen tonight.

The simple fact is that with such a large amount of water in the Thames and her tributaries at present, the river authorities, have no option but to control the flow in stages downstream, effectively flooding different sections of the river over a period of time. Nature has the ultimate control of course, but measures can and are being put in place (like they always are in times like this) by the Lock Keepers etc... to keep damage to a minimum.

It is all rather impressive, and somewhat exciting, although to be honest, I'm ready to stop on Thursday and disappear to Kefalonia for a fortnight, to toast some marshmallows on their forest fires.

Thats what I see, anyway, although if I'm wrong, do turn on the news tomorrow morning, and watch me (only me I'm afraid), get evacuated by Sea King Helicopter live on air!
I've never been in a helicopter....

BARNACLE GOOSE


Regular readers of "Blue-Grey" may rememer me mentioning this Barnacle Goose before.

It has (since we've been in Reading, anyway) always hung out with the large flocks of Grey and Canada geese on the Thames at Caversham. This week, it has been joined by ANOTHER Barnacle Goose along the same stretch of Thames - maybe they'll stick around together amidst the mass of other Swans and Canada Geese?

Like the Black Swan on the Lea, in Tottenham, (that's a bird, not a boozer), we originally thought it had had its wings clipped, but that (like the Black Swan) became obviously incorrect, when we saw it flying over the winter.


Barnacle Geese are relatively small geese, much smaller than the large, dominant, alien Canada geese. They are more of a northern goose, and often are to be found on fields and marshes around our coasts, so to see this goose here is quite rare.

I assume it has escaped from the local Child Beale Bird Centre at Pangbourne, rather like the Carolina Wood Ducks and Mandarin Ducks I saw on this part of the Thames during my boating holidays with my father, but I can't be sure, as this bird certainly CAN fly, (away, should it feel the need).


Barnacle Geese are so named because in 'days of yore', sailors thought that these geese hatched from Barnacles.

Don't ask me why.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

COMMON POPPY



Anna and I have quite literally waited all summer for one of these to appear in the "Lower Paddock". I can't even remember now whether there were actually any Poppy seeds included in the packet of wild flower seeds I sprinkled on the bare earth in March, but even if there weren't any Poppy seeds in that mix, we were expecting Poppies to appear anyway - the pioneer species of bare or turned-over ground that they usually are.
Well, this morning, one, just one had appeared. So I got its photo.
Our lonely Poppy seems to be doing its job of attracting tiny mining bees with its pollen (it has no nectar). When the rich, red petals disappear, (as they probably will on Monday afternoon, looking at yet another rain-filled weather forecast), the seed capsule will stick around, often becoming an over wintering home for these small bees - a good enough reason not to get rid of the bare Poppies during the autumn.
I hope we get more than one!

TUFTED VETCH



Tufted Vetch, or Cow Vetch. Photographed on the Thames bank again, at Reading. This is a member of the pea family, and is thus beneficial (often) to surrounding plants, by fixing nitrogen in its root nodules (remember your biology 'O' Level?!)
Cattle like Tufted Vetch as food, as strangely enough do pet budgies - which will readily eat the seeds and leaves.
Click photo to enlarge, note the leaves (very distinctive of peas and vetches) and also the SMOOTH stems. (Hairy Vetch looks identical to Tufted Vetch, but has hairy stems).

RAGWORT AND CINNABAR MOTH CATERPILLAR


Click photo to enlarge.
As this summer fast becomes a dull washout, I thought I'd post some photos of some bright flowers on "Blue-Grey", to brighten your mood a little - and I wanted a photo of the Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar on its preferred plant anyway.
I took this photo in roughly the same spot, on the Thames towpath between Cabersham and Reading bridges as the previous post on Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars.
Ragwort is a toxic weed, no matter how bright and beautiful it looks. Should your cattle, horse, sheep etc.... start to graze on Ragwort, the toxic alkaloids contained within it will soon get to work on their liver - once clinical symptoms start appearing, your livestock is doomed!
It can also affect humans too - entering the bloodstream via the skin.
Steer clear of Ragwort... (not like me this morning), unless you want a liver transplant.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

ROESEL'S BUSH CRICKET



Not quite sure how this bugger got into the kitchen, (like the Lesser Stag Beetle).

But there it was, when I got up this evening.

This is a bit of a success story in recent years.

The Roesel's Bush Cricket was originally pretty-well confined to the south-east coastlines of Britain, and Essex in the main - favouring lush, damp grassland.

In the last decade though it has spectacularly increased it's range north and west. I fancy you could find one of these as far north and west as Liverpool these days, possibly.


It is a very big cricket - it almost looks like a mini-locust! You can immediately recognise it by the yellow-green line around its pronotum (shell behind the head), and the 2 or 3 yellowish round(ish) marks behind this - both these markings are very distinctive and will avoid confusion with the (bog standard, hur hur) "Bog Bush Cricket".


Roesel's Bush Cricket is probably most famous for its "song" though. It has been described as sounding like an electricity pylon whining in an electrical storm, or even a dentist's drill. It tends to only sing when the weather is very hot though, so not much chance of that this summer!

That said, it normally only has very short wings - no longer than its abdomen. It will form long wings (as you can clearly see in the first photo), but only in long hot summers!


Something tells me this Cricket is somewhat confused about the weather. I popped him outside in the garden, to have a word with himself...!

NB. I've been doing a little research on this striking Cricket, and it seems that before 1980, it was regarded as relatively rare. A report from Buckinghamshire in 2006 (only that recent) was certainly noted as being out of the ordinary, although becoming a trend, so I may have been a tad premature when I suggested they may have got as far as Liverpool! I KNOW they are in Worcestershire though.

I'm also led to believe their "song" is similar to that of a "Savi's Warbler" - in case that helps you at all!

There is an article in the September 2001 issue of New Scientist magazine suggesting that the incidence of long-winged Roesel's Bush Cricket has risen from a few percent to a third of the entire population, as opposed to the short-winged variety, over twenty years.

This is attributed to global warming.

I should have guessed.

EMPEROR DRAGONFLY (IMMATURE MALE) (4)

Well that was a turn-up for the books!
I've got to admit, when I put the feeder up, I never intended to attract Dragonflies with it -let alone Emperor Dragonflies, that generally stick around water!
Absolutely wonderful!
It's yet another example of what we WILL see, if we look, keep looking, look properly and then question what we are actually seeing.
I was sitting in spare bedroom, uploading the photos of the Blue-Tailed Damselfly, when I glanced a few times out of the window, in the direction of the bird feeder right at the bottom of the garden. The more and more I looked, the less right it looked. Then it hit me, and I pegged it downstairs, mobile phone in hand.
To be fair, the Emperor was very patient with the giant 'sneaking' up on it, and I took a dozen or so photos.
No sooner had I gone back inside to upload them, the Dragonfly was chased off its perch by our resident Goldfinches.
I'm chuffed to bits with our new visitor!
My Uncle Ruary would be proud!

EMPEROR DRAGONFLY (IMMATURE MALE) (3)


You'll be able to click and enlarge this one too...

EMPEROR DRAGONFLY (IMMATURE MALE) (2)




Ok. You should be able to click and enlarge this one.

EMPEROR DRAGONFLY (IMMATURE MALE)

You know what? You can get bored with Goldfinches and Bullfinches! ***

I thought I'd see if I could get a photo of something else on the feeder...

A little while ago you might remember me saying the photo of the Bullfinch and Golfinch together on the feeder was the worst quality photo on the blog.

Well it was.

But now. Here is the best. (and one to follow).

Taken with the mobile phone, at a distance of about 5 inches, please click on the photo to enlarge it. (APOLOGIES. CLICK ON THE PHOTOS ABOVE THIS ONE).




*** NB. That was a poor attempt at humour. You'll never be bored with those birds.

BLUE-TAILED DAMSELFLY



Anna saw this in the garden yesterday afternoon whilst I was having a pre-work ZZzzzzz.


I thought I'd better get a photo of it for her this morning, and identify it properly, although she described its name perfectly to me.

This is (almost) obviously the "Blue-Tailed Damselfly". I say almost, because there are other blue-tails, "The Scarce Blue-Tailed Damselfly" (but the blue patch on these males cover just segment 9, (the last segment) and the rear portion of the eighth (penultimate) segment only), not like in the photo above where the penultimate (8th) segment is the truely-blue segment..... and "The Red-Eyed Damselflies" (small and large), but these have, you've guessed it, red eyes.

That is why I'm sure this is (just) the (normal and very common) Blue-Tailed Damselfly.

But what a Bobby-Dazzler, as the mahogany-hued David Dickinson might say.
Click the top photo only to enlarge.

MOSQUITOS

Get ready for the sensationalist headlines - "PLAGUES OF MOZZIES INFEST UK", etc... etc...
I'm sure like Anna and I, you've noticed an awful lot of these detestful things recently. Just their noise sets me off, and I've only just recovered from 2 painful swollen mozzie bites on my legs in the last day or so, and they still itch!
There are lots and lots of mozzies around this summer. You'll see (and hear?) them everywhere.
Its not hard to work out why. Mozzies LOVE the damp weather - plenty of standing water lying around (in watering cans etc...) in which the young hatch.
We're squashing them every night here.
Apologies to any Buddhists reading this.

CINNABAR MOTH CATERPILLAR(S)


The Thames at Reading is lined with Ragwort in places, and (weather aside) I haven't worked out why I haven't seen any Cinnabar Moth caterpillars munching on these plants yet.

I left work this morning and decided to give the Ragwort upstream from the office another chance, and as luck would have it, managed to see a good half dozen caterpillars a few hundred yards from work.

Cinnabar Moth caterpillars are unmistakeable - they exhibit classic warning colouration, yellow and black stripes, rather like tiny Wasps Rugby scarves.

They also are an(other) exception to quite a good rule of thumb I've mentioned before with moths. Very often a showy adult moth will have a dull larval stage, and vice versa, but the bright Cinnabar Moth caterpillar becomes one of the most extravagantly coloured (crimson and jet black) moths of Britain also. (see earlier post on Cinnabar Moth for a photo of the adult moth).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

COOT

I happened across this Coot on my walk along the Thames this morning, after my flying visit to the barbers.
It didn't seem in a great hurry to get out of my way from the towpath either - and this shot was taken from WELL within 6' with my phone.
Maybe something was up with the little thing, 'though I couldn't see anything obviously wrong, at least not externally...
Oh well.
A nice picture of a very noisy waterfowl, prone to attacking everything and anything around it usually... (and if you can, do enlarge the photo to check out the Coot's wonderful red eyes - not the best photo to highlight the crimson eye colour of a coot I know, but I was pointing the camera almost into the sun).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

SPOT THE PEREGRINE!

"Use your eyes"?! The header of "Blue-Grey".
This is what I mean!
I took a train from Reading to Ealing Broadway today, to visit my sisters, brother in law (of sorts) and nephew.
At 10am I saw a Peregrine sitting on the building opposite the railway station - admittedly very high up.
When I returned at 8pm, it was still there (although on a different strut).
I guarantee you that probably none of the thousands and thousands of people milling about in the centre of the City today, or outside the station even saw it! (Ok, most probably wouldn't have cared even if they had, I expect).
A beautiful Falcon, the fastest bird in the world, right above their heads, in full view, all day, and un-noticed!
I've just said to Anna, I may take the telescope up to the Station tomorrow, and if I get the Station Masters permission (or maybe even if I don't), charge the commuters 50p a pop to look at the Falcon through my telescope. I'll make a bloody fortune! But its not very RSPB is it?
Aw well...

Can YOU see it?
Admittedly its absolutely TINY in this wide-angled view, but if you click the photo to enlarge it, you should be able to make it out as a very blurred, pale, bird-shaped, pixellated smudge. (The real-life view was much much clearer by the way).
Wonderful to see, I hope it sticks around, and this proves beyond question I think, that the Peregrine stooping our 'rec' a few weeks ago, was most certainly just that. A Peregrine Falcon in central Reading...!


"THE GHERKIN"


Whilst I'm on the subject of all things London, a note about "The Gherkin", (photo not mine).

Like most contemporary designs / artwork, this is loved and hated in equal measures it would seem.
My sister and I were discussing it, from a pub on the South Bank. She loves it, and I absolutely agree. Its fantastic!

It was designed by Foster and partners (who also put up "The Millenium Bridge", well, they can't win every time I suppose), and completed in 2004. I think it was sold early this year for £600m, but its main tenants are still "Swiss Re".

I wish more buildings in our cities were like this - contemporary design at its very, very best.
I also like the way the droll British public have nicknamed, what is formally "30 St.Mary's Axe", and informally "The Swiss Re Tower", after something so humble.
"The Gherkin".

Good stuff.

"EVENT HORIZON"

My sister pointed these marvellous sculptures out to me, on a walk down the South Bank of the Thames yesterday as in the changed date and time of this post.
The Hayward Gallery (on the South Bank) has commissioned Antony Gormley (of The Angel Of The North fame, amongst other work), to produce the largest ever "urban art exhibition" all summer.
He has produced 31 (I know not of that numbers significance) life size casts of his naked body, which he has fixed to roofs of prominent high buildings like the Shell Tower, around the South Bank.
I like them. I like them a lot. As my Sister said, it looks like "They are people committing suicide!"
Gormley has called the exhibition (running alongside his "Blind Light" exhibition at the Haymarket) "Event Horizon". He wants people to understand that over 50% of the planet's population now live within cities, and "I want people to see these sculptures, even out of the corner of their eyes, on the horizon, and feel uneasy about the city, and what's happening around them".
Well..... I'm not convinced by that, but I do think its a wonderful idea.
Myself, though, I would have liked him to go one step further (and leave the reason for the exhibition behind). Rather like the contemporary graffiti of "Banksy", much of which I have a lot of time for, I would have preferred Gormley to also cast two coppers in various poses for each of his 31 upright casts - you know, persuading the statue to reconsider his suicidal aims, or leading one or two of them away! Maybe one or two hanging off a ledge, or one peering down through a cast telescope at the tourists below! I would have liked them much more if they were different and posed. But I do understand that was NOT the point of the exhibition. Shame!
If you are on the South Bank before the middle of August, do keep your eyes on the tops of the surrounding buildings!


Monday, July 16, 2007

MALE LESSER STAG BEETLE

Who's a lucky boy then?

Me.
That's who.

I know many people who would, on finding this in the sitting room, run a country-mile!
Not my girlfriend though.

She found this Lesser Stag Beetle lying under the tv remote control on the arm of one of our sofas, and calmly popped him in a tumbler, to wait for me to get home a few hours later, to positively identify it! (Although she did baulk somewhat, when I began to try to get him in position for a photo shoot, using a tool from her personal hygiene bag, a set of tweezers)!

This is a male Lesser Stag Beetle, 2.5cm long. I don't know what it was doing under the remote control, perhaps it wanted to watch something on tv, I wouldn't like to say.

There are two species of Stag Beetles in the UK, and although they are not particularly rare, they are protected and declining rapidly in numbers.

There is the Stag Beetle (proper) and the Lesser Stag Beetle.

If you find a male Stag Beetle, and it makes you exclaim "Kerreist! Check out the jaws (look like Stag antlers) on that"! - its a male Stag Beetle (proper) - up to 7.5cm long including its "antlers".

Stag Beetles generally are bigger, more rotund and browner than Lesser Stag Beetles also.

Some say Stag Beetles (proper) also have a 'swagger' about them. They know they're the daddy, and if you try to handle one, it will walk sedately away, whereas the Lesser Stag Beetle will either freeze, with its legs pulled in towards its body, or scuttle away quite quickly.

There may be some confusion though between female Stag Beetles and male Lesser Stag Beetles. Remember the size (Lesser Stags rarely bigger than 3cm, female Stags often bigger than that;the colour differences - Stags browny black, Lesser Stags black; the flatter profile of the Lesser Stags and you'll probably be ok. There are really key differences, mainly to do with ridges and spines on their tibia, but you really could do without knowing them I'm sure.


All Stag Beetles live in rotting timber (lots of that in our siting rom??!!) - their larval stage can exist in an old railway sleeper for example, for up to 7 years.
They all fly in humid, moist summer evenings, in a very cumbersome, drunken fashion, rather like the Chafers.

Very nice visitor to our house though. And top marks to Anna again, because at first she thought it was a Cockroach - and she really does not like them!


LARGE (CABBAGE) WHITE BUTTERFLY

Click photo to enlarge.
These are regular visitors to the garden here, but they don't settle long, and soon bugger off to other gardens when it becomes obvious there are no nasturtiums or cabbages in our plot.

That said, I have been trying to take a photo or two of our Large White visitors, but with no success until this afternoon.

This is a battered female Large White, I expect she's taken a pounding with all the wind and rain recently.

There is a good number of White Butterfly species in Britain - the Large, the Small, the Green-Veined, the Wood, the Orange-Tip the Bath and the Marbled are the ones I can remember off the top of my head.

The Large (this one) is by far the most common visitor to the nation's gardens though, and it can (usually) be distinguished by a prominent black (or dark) corner of the forewings which extends (usually) half way down the wing. That distinguishes it quite readily from the (smaller, obviously) Small White, which looks very similar apart from the extent of its black corners to its wings.

I'm trying to take a photo of the fantastic Red Admiral butterfly also, which sometimes flutters into our garden - but that doesn't stay long either.

We need a Buddleia!

COMMON DARTER (2)

Click photo to enlarge.
Well... the sun has come out, (in fits and bursts) and our fast-becoming resident immature female Common Darter Dragonfly was using her favourite bamboo pole in the vegetable plot, to hunt from.

This is classic Dragonfly behaviour. My Uncle, a leading Dragonfly expert in the UK, will show people around his Dragonfly reserve at Wicken Fen, extend a finger into the air (in a non-rude gesture), and get one of the Dragons to land on it.

Pop a tall (well, 3 or 4 feet anyway, and taller than the surrounding vegetation) up in your garden and keep a check on it. I dare say you'll get visited regularly by one of these Dragonflies before too long...

DAS WETTER

Whats this?

RAIN?!

I'm normally the first to 'defend' the British weather - our national obsession.

If you have spent any time actually working outside, you will know exactly what I mean when I say it rains in Britain far, far less than is commonly thought.

You might also know that rain in summer is statistically more forceful and often more prominent than at other times of the year. Don't believe me? Just google weather records for the past 20 years or so - when it rains in July, it really, really rains. (Summer storms etc...).

My present job means I'm tied to weather forecasts every day. I get satellite images and predictions beamed straight from the Met Office into my face every day, via one of our monitors in the office which is never switched off.


I've resisted giving this weather a post of its own until now. I can't anymore. This is just silly now.

I'm bored of this summer. There doesn't seem to be much point of looking at weather forecasts, because I know what the weather will be like today. Like it has been since the first week of May. Wet and windy.

I've certainly never known a summer like it, and I'd rather not again. I do love my summer, and I've missed it!

I'm still very much in my 'winter plumage', the vegetables have suffered (although on the upside, we haven't had to water them since May), even Carnoustie, the 'hardest golf course in the world', which hosts The Open Championship next week doesn't look like a scorched, brown links desert like it should do - it looks like a rich, lush, green fertile parkland course ths year. It baint natural I tells ya.

Well. Anna and I are off to Greece in a couple of weeks, for a couple of weeks, where I hear they're experiencing their hottest, driest summer for decades. I'll have to go easy on the sun though, as any tan I picked up in April this year has long since gone - all very strange!

I'll leave you with a couple of photos of our washing line and apologise for this rather depressing post!


As I upload this post, wait for it, I thinnnnkkk the sun is coming out...! Waddya know?!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

SAWFLY (SOLOMON'S SEAL?!) OR BIRCH?

The insect life in the garden has gone mental, I said mental, in this clammy weather.

I've been in the garden snapping 3 species of Ladybirds (the mating 2-spots I've added to the old 2-spot ladybird post), an unidentified micromoth and this smokey black Sawfly species.


It looks like the Solomon's Seal Sawfly, but as we have no Solomon's Seal plants in the lower paddock, I somehow doubt it is.
However, if it IS, I've seen a Solomon's Seal Sawfly on Saint Swithun's day (Sunday). Superb!
(It is St.Swithuns day today (15th July, every year), so if you were hoping for an Indian summer this year... forget it)!

I'll pop it on the WAB website and see if someone called Blundle can identify it...

I've also been trying (and failing) to take a photo of a fantastic Ichneumon fly- black with bright orange legs.
We've seen it before in the garden, but it just will not stay still for more than half a second!
I'll keep trying...

NB. 21/09/07 After much discussion on the WAB site regarding the Turnip Sawfly larvae which I correctly identified, I've done a little reseach into the adult sawfly in this post also.

It may be the Birch Sawfly I think, although Solomon's Seal is still an outside possibility.

Whichever it was (I favour Birch), it didn't stay long and I haven't seen it since. It shouldn't have been in the lower paddock anyway!!!

"FLYING ANT DAY"

The warmth and humidity today (and climatic conditions in general) have made Sunday 15th July the first "Flying Ant Day" of 2007 in West Berkshire anyway.

I've posted that fact on the WAB site and asked if it was also occurring in other parts of the country.

Time will tell, though I know its happening in SE London and the Kent border today also.



In case you weren't sure, the Common Black Garden Ant, commonly seen as flightless workers, will wait until weather conditions are just right in July or August, and then the sexually active males and females - double the size of the worker ants and with wings, will erupt from the undergound nests in great numbers.

These are nuptial flights, and only happen once or twice a year sometimes.

The males and females will mate, the males then die, whereas the females find a suitable location for a new nest, and soon a new colony will begin.



I took 2 photos of 2 "Flying Ants" this afternoon - in the second, I'm afraid a young, small, Walnut Orb Weaver Spider (see earlier post) had caught the Flying Ant. I think this is a (bigger) female ant, but if it was a male, I do hope it managed 'the nuptials' first.
Imagine spending your entire life being cooped-up underground, waiting for one day, THE one day, your LAST day of life, when you'll escape, find a female and indulge in a spot of ant-love.
That day arrives, you escape, and immediately get caught and eaten by a spider...!
Aaah... the brutal reality of the natural world!


NB. 16/07/07 7:30am. Well, the "Flying Ant Day" post on the WAB site seemed very popular yesterday, I've had 12 replies so far, mainly from the south east of England.
The Ants did all erupt yesteday, it seems, from London, Dorset, Kent, Essex and Sussex.

20/07/07 22 replies now, the ants have not flown from the midlands north yet, it would seem, but last sunday was The "big day" down south.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A FEW BIRD NOTES

Just a few notes on a few species of birds I've noted recently:

Blue Tits.
We were visited by a young Blue Tit this morning. That is to say our feeder was visited. It had a yellow face like our fledglings, but as our fledglings left the nest almost 2 months ago, and we probably haven't seen Scargill et. al. for 6 weeks, I'm not convinced it was one of ours.
Young Blue Tits tend to lose their yellow faces after a month or so, but it is just about feasible, I suppose, that this could have been one of our five chicks, coming back to visit on its own.
The bad news regarding this young Blue Tit was that on closer inspection of it, through the telescope (constantly trained on the feeder from the dining room at present - to enable me to identify individual Goldfinches visiting the feeder, by noting their individual tail feather plumages), it was obvious that this young Tit had two large ticks on its face - one by its right eye and one near its throat.
There is nothing unusual in this, lots of birds have ticks - and I hope these two ticks will have their fill of blood and drop off soon, as is normally the case. Not particularly nice to see though.

Wrens.
When I visited my mother the other week, she showed me where a family of Wrens had nested in a 'rustic thatched nestbox', which we out up in her garden some years ago. I wanted some photos of the Wren niblets, but as is VERY often the case with young Wrens - they had fledged the day before, without much warning.
If you have a Wrens nest in your garden, and you feel the fledglings have left the nest too early, dinna fash yersel - this is almost invariably the case with young Wrens. They always seem to fledge almost before they can even fly, or cartainly fly with any confidence anyway. They drop out of the nest usually, and skulk around in low vegetation, begging food from their mother (the male will play no part in this - no comment)!

Blackbirds.
Anna and I were also treated to a sight of a male Blackbird feeding a very nice speckly brown young Blackbird on my ma's patio. The young bird would flutter its wings to beg food (classic instinctive behaviour) and the male would give it a mealworm that mum had put out for it. When we got home, our garden had the same thing going on, although in our case, the adult female was feeding its young earthworms pulled up from our lawn.
It is tempting to think of ALL young Blackbirds as female - as they all are a chocolate brown colour, and speckled, like their mother. This is not the case though, and it will take a good 8 weeks or so, before the young male Blackbirds develop the yellow-orange bill and jet black plumage of the adult male.

Bullfinches.
I've heard a lot of Bullfinches recently - mainly in the dense foliage of the Lime Tree at the end of the garden. But I haven't seen any either on the feeder or in the air, for a good 2 weeks it seems. I do hope they retuarn to the feeder soon, so I can get in the hide and get a few phtographs of them, but as it is, the feeder is pretty-well dominated by Goldfinches and House Sparrows at the momant, with the odd visit by a Great Tit, and a couple of Woodpigeons pecking around underneath, picking up the scraps.

Mallard Drakes and Ducks.
Many Mallard drakes are undergoing a change of plumage at this time of year. They are entering their yearly "Eclipse Stage", when they exhibit plumage rather like the female - a mottled brown. Young ducks are also this colour mainly.
The easiest way to tell all Mallard drakes from ducks, whether they are young birds, or a group of mixed females and "eclipsed males" is to look at their bills. All (pure , not hybrid) Mallard drakes will have a yellowy-green bill - much more obvious than the brown bills of the ducks.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

SUMMER CHAFER (2)

Anna found another Summer Chafer climbing up our straggly Lavender plant last night, (as in the changed time and date of this post). So I laid down on the path, in amongst the ants, and took a photo of it.
You can clearly make out its yellowish thoracic fur in this shot, which distinguishes it clearly from the (normal) "Cockchafer".

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

(AUSTRALIAN) LIGHT BROWN APPLE MOTH

This wee beastie (no bigger, at its biggest than 2cm, so a micromoth) is the Light Brown Apple Moth, native to Australia, and commonly referred to as the "Light Brown Everything Moth", because of its voracious appetite and indiscriminate habits when it comes to selecting its food plants.

It was accidentally introduced to the UK in the 1930s, in Cornwall, and has since spread pretty-well everywhere, breeding very quickly, and eating everything in its path.

The females will lay hundreds of eggs as little as 6 days after pupating themselves, and their lifespan lasts not much more than a few weeks in most cases.

This moth is a problem. A real problem in the wine-growing regions of California, where it is estimated that this species of moth has cost the large vineyards millions and millions of dollars.

I photographed it in the garden this evening, after chasing it from the potato plants onto the Bindweed above the compost heap. It had better stay there!

GUEST ENTRY - GRASS SNAKE

Anna's Dad was at his flat yesterday, overlooking the river Lee, at Tottenham Hale, when he spotted a large snake swimming across the river's surface. (For views over the river see my Tottenham Hale post earlier).

This will undoubtedly be an adult Grass Snake (sometimes known as the Ringed Snake, because of its yellow collar, or Water Snake), Natrix natrix.

Grass Snakes are invariably found near freshwater - they are very strong swimmers whose diet consists mainly of amphibians such as frogs, though they will take the odd mammal or bird.

Many people think Grass Snakes are quite small - possibly remembering demonstrations on school field days etc...
This is not the case with Grass Snakes - the last one I saw in a freshwater drainage ditch on a golf course in Wexham near Slough was at least 1m long, and they can grow longer than 120cm.

Of course they are not venomous, and you will be lucky to see them at all.
Anna's father was certainly very fortunate to have seen such a beastie - (to add to the Egrets, Terrapins etc... in that part of the world!) and all a stone's throw from central London on the tube.

It just goes to show just what you can see, if you use your eyes well...
NB. The posted photo is not from me (or Anna's father), but taken from the web.
I'll just have to get back to London, and lie in wait...!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

ROSE BAY WILLOW HERB


A very well-known plant. Growing up to 150cm tall sometimes, very often in damp meadows.
Its Latin name (Epilobium) means "On"(Epi) a "Pod"(Lobos), as its flowers are formed at the end of a long, elongated seed-pod, which looks like extensions of its stem.

In Ireland its known as "Blooming Sally" (from its specific name "Sallix"), and in America it is commonly referred to as "Fireweed", as it springs up very quickly from fire-cleared fields.

The Rose Bay Willow Herb is a medicinal marvel, although you'd probably not know it.
Its leaves in particular can be used to treat mouth ulcers, chronic diaorrhea, and even bleeding of the uterus.

I took this photo on our walk up the Thames where the Willow Herbs are growing in abundance, and yes, thats a coot in the background...!
Click on the photo to enlarge it.

COMMON THISTLE

A fantastic flower.
The proud emblem of Scotland, and photographed on our Thames-side walk again.

Used in ancient times (by boiling down the entire plant) as a medicine (both internal and external) to treat 'bleeding piles'.
I thought you'd like to know that.

If you really wanted to, you could boil the flower heads and eat them. They allegedly are like a small, bland Globe Artichoke.
Of course, you could boil the roots and eat them also. These are reputedly like very bland Jerusalem Artichokes.

Both flowers and roots contain the indigestible protein INULIN.
A cautionary word of warning here. Should you be out in the countryside with a diabetic, who is in desperate need of insulin, but for some awful reason, has forgotten their supply, do NOT, under any circumstances, remember this blog, remember that Thistles contain INULIN, and that's probably close enough to INSULIN, and DO NOT therefore do a 'Ray Mears', boil down some Thistles and administer the patient the INULIN as a substitute.
INSULIN and INULIN are very different, and instead of helping your diabetic friend, you'll not be doing them any favours as you'll see below.
They probably will not thank you.

Inulin, (like artichokes) will give you incredible flatuence; flatulence that if vigorously and repeatedly endured and enjoyed?! might well lead to bleeding piles - in which case you've got a remedy (as described) right there on your plate of Thistle flowers and roots anyway.

Your choice, but I think I'll not bother...

MARSH WOUNDWORT (& RHINGIA CAMPESTRIS) & YELLOW LOOSESTRIFE



These look a little like Southern Marsh Orchids. (In fact I thought they were something like that, before a kind botanist on the WAB site identified them for me).
They are Marsh Woundwort, a species of plant in the "Mint family", common around marshes, rivers and streams all over the UK, click on the photos to enlarge them.
Their leaves have been used in the treatment of inflamed spots and to stem bleeding since ancient times.
The hoverfly on the right of the Woundwort is Rhingia campestris, easily recognised by its long upturned 'snout' and orange abdomen. The Rhingia hoverflies have amazingly long tongues, are the real pollen specialists amongst hoverflies, and the larvae are often born in cow dung.
The yellow flowers behind the Woundwort belong to the very abundant (along the Thames), "Yellow Loosestrife" (part of the "Primrose family").
These, like Woundwort, can often be found growing around ponds, rivers etc...
Once again, these plants can be used as a remedy for diaorrhea and even dysentry.
Their bright yellow flowers make a decent yellow dye, their brown, underground rhizomes make a decent brown die, and the growing plants are effective insect repellents. They were often burned in houses to drive away flies.
NB. I have (at last) identified the flower in our garden that I didn't know, (in the garden flowers post a few days ago). Its called Redshank (I know not why, as unlike the wading bird of the same name, which is very aptly named - having red legs, this flower neither has legs or red legs?!), and is not particularly jaw-dropping in terms of its interest to most botanists.
Aw well. At least its got a name now!

24 SPOT LADYBIRD

Anna found this little beggar on a reed by the Thames during our lovely, long, post-sunday lunch walk.
This is the tiny 24 Spot ladybird.

It has the longest specific scientific name I've EVER heard of, which weighs in at a whopping twenty-three letters. (It should be 24 though eh?)!


For the record its scientific name is:

SUBCOCCINELLA
VIGINTIQUATTUORPUNCTATA.


The 24-Spot ladybird is not rare. It has fine hairs over its dark orange elytra (wing-cases), making it appear dull. The number of spots can vary between 22 and 26, though the 3 spots joined together (looking a bit like a silhouette of Mickey Mouse) are quite distinctive.

It is also only one of two species of British Ladybirds that eats plants, not insects, and becomes the sixth Ladybird species to make it onto "Blue-Grey". (Seven if you include different varieties of the same species in the case of the Two Spot Ladybird).

AC COBRA

After a photo of a wonderful motorcycle, now one of a wonderful car, seen in the car park of Wycombe Air Park. In actual fact (I don't suppose this sort of thing is that uncommon, knowing how expensive it is to fly), the car park had quite a few classic cars parked up amongst the Mondeos etc... there was a huge (new) Ferrari and a Classic T-Bird also, but neither of those compares to Cobra.

This is the AC Cobra, from the early '60s, decked out in its racing colours.
I think that is quite important.
Bugattis should be blue. British racing cars should be British Racing Green. Mercedes racing cars should be silver. Ford GT40s should be decked out in the old Gulf Logo colours - powder blue with the orange stripe. Ferraris should be red. (In actual fact, thats not right. The Ferrari road colour is red, but the 'Prancing Horse's racing colour was originally, and always yellow. Not any more it would seem).


I think it was in either '63 or '64 that the American Carroll Shelby donated his big V8 sportscar engine to the AC Ace Roadster, transforming it into the hairy-chested Cobra you'll see at Classic Car shows around the UK.


Legend also hs it that when demonstrating these new Cobras in the mid-'60s, Shelby used to tape a $100 note to the dashboard of the car, and whichever passenger he was demonstrating the car to had to try and grab it (whereby he could keep it). Few managed it!

This is allegedly a real 'drivers car' - a real hairy-arsed beast. I've always liked the looks of it, it's up with the Jaguar D Type in my book, in terms of raw, unadulterated beauty. (Yes, yes, I am well aware that almost everyone prefers the Classic E Type for aesthetic qualities normally (including my father))!

Like my photo of the Triumph Bonneville, Car and Motorcycle photos will have to work hard to appear on "Blue-Grey", as generally I think anything in the natural world is more beautiful and / or interesting (to me, anyway), than an internal combustion engine cloaked in painted metal.

But. The AC Cobra certainly warrants its place here.
Jeremy Clarkson would probably describe it (in his fast-becoming annoying way) thus...
"This car doesn't stroll into an Indian and quietly order a Korma. It orders a FAHL."

A beautiful car and right in your face.
I took a few photos of it, (including a negative, as the cloud effect is quite amazing).

BLUE SKY (AT LAST) & RED KITE SOARING

Have we waited A LONG time for the sun to come out and produce a sky like it has this weekend?!
Wonderful. Really uplifting.
(As it was physically also, for the Red Kite in the photo, making use of a rare thermal this year, over Booker Airfield). Click to enlarge.

CESSNA 172 SKYHAWK (4)

Amelia Earhart, sorry, Anna Bristow, after her pioneering first flight!
Click to enlarge.
Hats off to Anna.
She's even got a "Stifficate" to show off!
Good stuff.

CESSNA 172 SKYHAWK (3)

The landing bay for Anna's Skyhawk. Number Twenty Six. (A spooky number for us - always has been. Anna was born on the 26th (of December); we had our first date on the 2nd of June (2/6) and my lucky number since I can remember anything, has always been 26).
We felt this landing bay therefore was very apt indeed - and we had absolutely no control over it!

Anna taxiing towards "26" at the end of her flight.
Click either photo to enlarge, and do note just how much the propellor of this plane is bending whilst rotating at high speed - amazing eh?!

CESSNA 172 SKYHAWK (2)

Anna taking off. (The dot in the distance, above the wing of the plane in the foreground).
Click on the photo to enlarge considerably!

CESSNA 172 SKYHAWK

It was my pleasure to buy Anna a flying lesson for her 30th birthday some time ago. (Actually, it was an experience I bought - she chose the flying lesson).
So, we toddled off to Booker Airfield (just south of Wycombe), and up Anna went, at the controls of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk light aircraft.
She was flying for approximately 30 minutes, in quite beautiful weather - we were VERY lucky on that count!
On returning (smoothly!) to ground, she told me how she could see Canary Wharf from above Wycombe, Wembley's new arch, and the fact that she (and her instructor of course) had flown over the Henley Regatta and to Reading - and she'd flown right over the recreation ground behind our house - also ACTUALLY spotting our house!
It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that she enjoyed the experience thoroughly!
I took a few photos and I'll post them individually here (in the hope one can double click on them to enlarge them...).

The Cessna 172 Skyhawk is probably the world's most popular training light aircraft.
Originally produced in 1956, it is STILL being manufactured today.
I guess the most famous flights made in the Skyhawk were the rather ballsy landing of one in Red Square, in 1987, by a German teenager name of Matthias Rust, who flew through Soviet airspace from Helsinki, and avoided being shot down! Also, the 'copycat 9/11 flight' in 2002, when an American High School student flew a hired 172 Skyhawk into the side of the Bank of America building in downtown Tampa, Florida - causing a bit of damage to the building, killing himself, but doing no worse than that really. I prefer the Red Square effort myself!

FLESH FLY & GREENBOTTLE

Many people refer to different species of gulls as just Seagulls, which is rather like referring to all the different bird species as just birds.
Likewise, many people refer to different species of flies as Blowflies or Houseflies - but I like to know exactly what I'm seeing.
Its a childlike fascination I suppose. Nothing more.

Flies (yes, I know - mostly they are horrible...) can be beautiful, and can be relatively interesting - even the more commonly encountered species.

Below is a picture of a Flesh fly I took recently - easily recognised by its striped thorax and chess-board abdomen.

It feeds on decaying meat (as its name would suggest), but I suppose the most interesting thing about the (large) Flesh Fly is that it is VIVIPAROUS. (It gives birth to 'live young' - in this case larvae, rather than lays eggs).




The second fly I'd like to bring your attention to is the Greenbottle Blow Fly. Yep, it is everywhere, but unlike the Flesh Fly (and its cousin, the Bluebottle for that matter) will rarely enter houses. It is a spectacular fly though, all things considered, with a metallic green body, red eyes and silvery jowels - very distinctive of the Greenbottle amongst all the various types of Green Blowflies.


Don't write off all flies as horrible, annoying, buzzing pests.

Not just yet, anyway.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

TRIUMPH BONNEVILLE

You might know I like motorbikes.

If you didn't, you do now.

I used to go to the big bike show at "Ally Pally" regularly and drool. Not just at the models strutting about in leathers, but some really fantastic bikes.

I won't post much on motorbikes, but if I see one that's worth a photo and a mention, I'll pop it on "Blue-Grey"


This one does.


This is a real classic motorcycle - an old Triumph Bonneville, in the right colour also.

There are a few of these on the roads these days, but not too many in this good nick.

A very nice bike indeed. (The label "transport" doesn't really do this old classic justice)!

Friday, July 06, 2007

HOLLY BLUE BUTTERFLY

There are quite a few species of blue butterflies in Britain, but if you ever see a small blue butterfly in a tree or bush like this one, then it's almost certainly the Holly Blue Butterfly.

It is our only native blue butterfly more commonly found in trees and bushes (rather than flying low over grassland), feeding off ivy in the autumn for example (like this one). Is that the first time I've mentioned Autumn on "Blue-Grey"?!


If you are in any doubt though, look at its underside. It is a silvery blue with a few elongated black dots, (not ringed with white and NO orange). Completely different to all of our other blue butterfly species.
I found this one in my mother's back garden, in High Wycombe. A very beautiful butterfly... check out the stripes on the legs and antennae!