Thursday, August 30, 2007
We were watching two Goldfinches chow down on the feeder seeds, when suddenly, without warning they flew away.
We had also noticed a couple of Magpies get a little twitchy, sat on the roof below.
One of the Magpies took to the air above our heads, giving a little alarm squawk, and immediately a male Hawk, in wonderful condition flew past us, relatively slowly and low - I don't think he was hunting with serious intent at the time.
Another example of what you WILL see, should you:
a) spend a large amount of time outside like we do, looking at everything and nothing in particular (if you see what I mean)?!
b) look in detail at the signs around you, and question what you are seeing AT THE TIME! Birds will almost always tell you a Hawk is in the vicinity before you see it. Keep 'em peeled, and you will!
A wonderful view of a beautiful male Sparrowhawk then. But no Goldfinch breakfast for him this morning...
We've always liked this large mural, painted on an (unused now) office side at the corner of our street - I've just never got round to photographing it before this morning, and I've only recently found out who painted it and why.
The mural is situated right opposite Reading Cattle Market (on our road), where Anna and I disappear every other saturday morning for a bit of shin and some breakfast! Well, that explains the subject of the mural then.
It turns out that a friend of a friend of a friend in my office is the artist. He was caught illegally spraying graffiti on walls in the area, so the powers that be thought they'd persuade him to use his skills in a positive manner and paint the cows above.
You might argue that that hardly constitutes a punishment, or community service (which I think is what is was called at the time). You might well be right. I wouldn't care much.
I wish more buildings were adorned with this sort of stuff.
I saw it last night, low (and appearing very large) in the southeast sky, although I think it was strictly a full moon the night before.
This is an actual picture of the full moon on the 28th August, (not last night, the night before).
Monthly Full moons have always been named. I guess the most famous of these is the Harvest Moon, which occurs around September 23rd each year (this is the moon that appears (and only appears) to be the largest, most colourful moon of the year); but the Full Moon in August is the Wyrt Moon (always the full moon BEFORE the Harvest Moon).
In common with many things in life, these monthly full moons have many names - the August Full Moon is also called the Corn Moon or the Dispute Moon (Celtic name) or the Lightning Moon, as well as the Wyrt Moon. (Wyrt is a green plant (modern name 'Wort' as in 'Ragwort'), and this pagan name was first given to the August Full Moon in medieval times).
Just in case you didn't know, a BLUE MOON strictly is the THIRD Full Moon of a season which has four full moons in it. This is a a rare event as most 3 month periods only have 3 full moons, (one a month). The modern definition of a Blue Moon is the second full moon in a Gregorian (modern) calendar month - rare also. The last Blue Moon by that definition was in June this year, and the next (by the older definition) will be in May next year. But you knew that anyway, eh?
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
I snapped the photo above this evening - our Lime Tree is turning very golden...
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Nasa have released some INCREDIBLE images of Greece (taken from space) showing the extent of the fires.
Just to inform you that I have posted one of these images at the bottom of the original post: "Out of the frying pan..." made some weeks ago (just before we went to Kepahlonia).
The image is worth seeing...
Click HERE to return to the "Out of the frying pan..." post, written on July 27th, a day before we flew out.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
These were two of the slightly more left field suggestions, I admit, but there is personal reasoning behind them.
Generally, if I hear either of these noises, it means I'm outside, its probably a sunny summers day, and I dare say I'm at an event of sorts, almost certainly with a beer and burger in my hands - now that's heaven to me.
What with the Reading Festival on this weekend, what with the weather being beautiful this morning, and what with the huge park on the Thames next to the office turned into a carpark complete with burger vans etc... the noise of outside generators is in the air outside the office.
Not only that, there is the noise of a plane carrying out some pretty impressive aerobatics high in the sky about a mile away.
I looked for it on a quick walk along the river (I'm at work this morning) and watched a fantastic PITTS SPECIAL Biplane loop-the-loop for a few minutes in the very blue morning sky.
Pitts specials were first designed in 1944 and versions of them are still being built today! It is regarded as the benchmark by which all aerobatic planes (bi-planes in particular) are measured against.
I haven't been to many airshows - just one if I remember correctly, at Duxford in the early 1980's, but I do like to watch bi-planes in aerobatic flights - I know each flight will be choreographed perfectly and taken very seriously I'm sure, but to me, watching far below, an aerobatics flight looks like flying for the sheer joy of it all, and I really appreciate that...
Yesterday evening brought home to me what I've been missing this summer. A glorious evening, with hot air balloons, sparrowhawks and two helium balloons (very high), drifting across the warm, pale blue sky. Now that's summer!
Friday, August 24, 2007
Today on the news it has been reported that now, thanks to the vast increase in numbers of mosquitos, cases of Myxamatosis (in rabbits, both wild and domestic) have increased markedly.
Mosquitos are the natural vectors for this disease (along with the rabbit flea), so this sudden surge in reported cases was expected.
I've just taken my first call from a very concerned member of public regarding a neighbours pet rabbit, a call taken because the reporter couldn't get through on DEFRAs phone line. Luckily I take an interest in such things, so was able to inform the reporter about the current situation.
On YOUR travels, should you look (or be at all interested or indeed bothered), you may well see (more) rabbits with Myxamatosis.
It should be pointed out here that whilst Myxamatosis virtually wiped out the rabbit population in the 1960s in Britain, nobody expects a return of that situation - there is absolutely no need to be overly concerned, or if you are a farmer, overjoyed!
Because we introduced Myxamatosis into the UK***, and because we have Mosquitos and rabbits have fleas, it never disappeared totally, many rabbits have become immune to the disease, and it is now, effectively (and depending on your point of view, unfortunately or fortunately) entirely natural.
It is not particularly pleasant to see wild rabbits lollop around with eyes full of pus - I've seen many in my travels, but (thanks to us***) it is here to stay.
I just thought The Black Rabbit should mention it...
*** There are still arguments raging as to whether "Myxi" first appeared in Britain (Kent) in 1953 as an "accident" or whether it was effectively introduced. What is certain though, is that it first appeared in Uruguay, was trialled as a method of biological control in the UK and Australia in 1919, was deliberately introduced to France, and was let to run riot in Britain after the government realised they could pretty well do bugger all about it, and of course, farmers had no qualms at all in letting it wipe out 99% of the UKs rabbits. The main vector in Myxi is the rabbit flea, but mosquitos will spread the disease also.
We've had the most miserable summer imagineable and its wonderful to see that this weekend is set fair and warm (nice for the revellers at the Reading and Leeds Festivals) - it may even reach the dizzy heights of 26c here in the southeast of England tomorrow, and I hope the weather forecast for sunday is correct - Anna and I have a big barbequeue to go to in Finchampstead.
There are two hot air balloons slowly drifting westwards a few miles away (it looks like they took off from around the Henley area or nearer Wycombe possibly) - a sight I always like to see - a real sight of summer in the UK, and one I've missed this year since April anyway. (Or actually March 13th - See my first post on Hot air balloons).
Hot air balloon companies must have had as bad year as the farmers this year, lets hope September is warm and settled...
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Residents of Wycombe (past) might remember a really rough pub (and when I say that, I mean it) called "The Anchor", behind the Swan Theatre. This was re-vamped two and a half years ago, to become this quite swanky bar - an amazing transformation. There are now people going in on their own with broadsheet newspapers and laptops, and quietly drinking a coffee or "mocktail" - if you did that at The Anchor, you'd have left through the window, and you'd never see that laptop again!
Annnywaaaay.... we briefly stopped by at my ma's house, and I found this Dragonfly Nymph Case on one of the reeds in her back garden pond.
I couldn't tell you which species of Dragonfly this belongs to, although I'm sure there are some Odonata experts around who could, including my Uncle Ruary, no doubt...
The Dragonfly nymph lives for most of its life underwater (anything from a number of weeks to a good number of years depending on the species), breathing with internal gills and it is an incredibly voracious predator - eating everything and anything.
Eventually it climbs up a stem, and begins its amazing transformation into the wonderful flying adult so familiar to us, even away from bodies of water, but this adult stage of its life-cycle, (ie the bit we actually see) lasts normally no longer than 2 months, with a maximum adult life span of only about 4 months...
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
The original post on the Brimstone Moth was posted on 28th April 2007.
I've uploaded a photo, and posted about it next to all the other Kephalonia posts (August 14th).
Monday, August 20, 2007
I hadn't seen them since we left for Kephalonia over 3 weeks ago, although Anna had in the last week (she's still off on holiday of course, until September).
This morning the feeder was visited by 4 Goldfinches - 2 adults and 2 juveniles.
I'm very relieved - time to go to the garden centre methinks, and buy another two bags of sunflower hearts and niger seeds.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Woodpigeons have the reputation as fat, stupid, yet tasty birds, (at least, that's my opinion of them anyway).
We have a pair of Woodpigeons nesting on a bough relatively low over the river outside the office at present, and when I say nesting, I suppose I mean just starting to nest, for the final time this year.
Most birds have finished nesting for the year some time ago, but the Woodpigeon may well have up to THREE broods in a single year, at any time from April to September. These are probably the latest nesting of all bird species in the UK.
I'll pop by and take a photo when I get the chance, but for now I'll leave you with an interesting fact that I remember about Woodpigeons, a fact to liven up dull dinner parties...
Virtually ALL species of birds find the act of sucking-up and swallowing water without tipping their head back, physically impossible. They'll take a beakful of water from a puddle (or birdbath etc...) and throw their head back to wash it down their throat, using gravity as the propelling force.
Not Woodpigeons though - they can suck up and swallow water against gravity - no need to tip their head back for a drink.
Demonstrate this, if you like, with your glass of wine at that dinner party, or better still, your bowl of soup, though best not to start strutting around the table with your chest puffed out, COO-cooing, or even worse, breeding...
There you go. You learn something new every day on "Blue-Grey".
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Mike goes on these expeditions very often, and I am very jealous indeed!
I have edited his original email slightly, but felt it was important to keep it pretty well intact, as he gives a very good account of what it is like to encounter these magnificent beasts in the wild, in THEIR natural habitat, and not behind bars in a zoo.
Maybe one day I'll be in the right place at the right time to go deep into one of these vast parks (I still don't understand why on earth they are called "wildernesses"?), and see these beautiful bears for myself.
Original email, edited...
"I have enclosed two pictures of black bears in
Yosemite proper from 2005 and a 2007 picture of a bear paw print from our
camp. All for your blog.
I returned from a 5 day hiking and camping trip in
the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
This year we were not in the National Park proper
but in the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area/Ingo National Forest in the Minaret Range
where we attained a height of 12,500 feet attempting to hike up Mt. Ritter,
which we failed to do.
This is the third year I have gone as my good
friend Randy Gates (yes,Randall) is an expert on this area and an avid
outdoorsman, natural builder and environmentalist.
He relates that in the 8 years that he has worked
the Sierra Range he has seen evidence that it is warming and drying out. I
can attest to the fact that in 5 days there was zero moisture in the air.
Even in the morning there was no dew on the ground at all.
By day two a nice trickle of blood was coming from
my nose every morning as a result of the dry air.
Black bears avoid conflict with people and will
run. In 2005 we found the bear, being a bear, in that he was tearing bark
from a tree and eating termites. He sensed us and started sniffing the air
and walking down the trail towards us. I asked Randy when we should start
yelling at him and making noise.
With a sly grin Randy tuned to me and said
"anytime you want Mike". The bear gave us another good look and seeing 6
figures took off into the woods without us making a sound.
In 2007, I awoke to the sound of our bear
canisters and kitchen dishes being flayed about in the kitchen area we had set
up about 30 feet from our tents.
I opened the tent and could not see anything.
Randy was yelling at the bear and the little dog
we had was barking so I heard it scamper away.
In the morning we found the print of what was a
small bear -probably.
When we returned to Randy's house in Squaw Valley,
Ca. it had been broken into by a bear who ate all the dog food and stole a
backpack containing some drink mix.
We found the bag with all its contents minus the
drink mix about 200 feet from his house, full of bear slobber. (Nice use
of the word slobber Mike. Pip teach you that?!)
We also saw a huge Marmot - they are really
thieves and will take anything shiny-even if they have no use for it. They
will simply steal and put whatever they find in their dens. The one we saw
was huge- a small dog.
He was watching us from afar waiting to enter our
camp to steal and shit on our stuff. (Again. Nice. Ed.)
Many great birds as well. I love the
Hunter's Jay (locals hate him but I think he looks like a Kingfisher) and
the Mountain Blue Jay. Also birds of prey a plenty.
Random thoughts - Lake Tahoe-the most beautiful
lake in the world. Surrounded by mountains and clear, clear
Mono Lake-If there was a lake on the Moon this is
what it would look like.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale-love it.
Cheers Mike. Really good stuff.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Well, almost exactly one month later, I've (as you know) been away in Greece for two weeks, so may have missed some headlines already, but I KNOW that the Belfast Telegraph ran a "Mozzie story" on August 10th, telling its readers that people in the southeast of England were having to sleep under Mosquito nets, and today in the Independent, is a big story telling us that the NHS Direct helpline is being swamped with concerned people ringing in about Mosquito bites.
We're still squashing a handful of them in the bedroom each night, and they are everywhere around us when we "take tea" in the garden.
Be warned, almost all (in my experience) insect repellants do not offer ANY protection against these buggers, nor do creams, nor does eating shed loads of garlic.
The only way to protect yourself from them is to cover up, and use a quick eye and quicker hand to squash them, (although it IS fair to say they do not like smoke or wind (that's atmospheric / weather related wind I should point out, NOT flatulence).
NB. As for concerns about Malaria-carrying Mozzies, one of the species which does carry the Malaria parasites in other parts of the world DOES live in the UK, (Anopheles), but if I remember correctly, this JUST lives in the Kent Marshes and carries NO Malaria at present. Nor has it for a century (says the Indy today).
Thursday, August 16, 2007
We had two courgettes that had turned to rotten marrows and the artichoke had plants had grown 2 feet in two weeks.
We've had no option but to dig EVERYTHING (bar the carrots) up, including the artichokes - way too early.
Our potatos are plentiful though and we'll slowly get through them.
The photo below is of me standing next to our Jack and the Giant Artichoke plants, just before I pulled them up.
As for the birds - no Swifts like I said, although the Martins and Swallows are still around, and hardly any Goldfinch activity at the (very nearly empty) feeder. In fact, only Anna has seen the Goldfinches at all - though I have heard them.
I'll have to buy 'em some more sunflower hearts and tempt 'em back...
It was clear that when we returned on Sunday, all our Swifts over Great Knollys street had deserted us for the sunnier, warmer climes of Africa for the winter.
Its always very sad this, maybe this year it was better for me that I did NOT see them leave in their flocks - I often do, and find it very depressing.
I'm sure there are still some in the country, probably Devon and Cornwall and along the south coast maybe, but they've certainly left Berkshire.
Luckily we DID see a small flock of Common Swifts (almost certainly migrating south, as we only saw Common Swifts ONCE, in this flock, and only for a few minutes) whilst on holiday.
I remarked to Anna at the time that I hoped that DIDN'T mean they were on the move, but it was pretty obvious they were...
So, its goodbye to my favourite bird of all, until very late April next year. I do hope they have a better summer with us next year than they did this.
Until they return, my mobile phone's ringtone will be changed to the "Swift scream"...
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
We saw many other sights of course, too many to mention or to document fully, and some we cannot identify (as yet), at least to species or probable species level.
For example there were 3 species of fish that were commonly swimming around our legs in the sea that we haven't been able to identify yet, attracted by our feet stirring up the sand, no doubt. One of these I feel I should know - its called a Rainbow Blenny or a Parrot Wrasse or something - the next time I find myself in a large bookshop, I'll dive into a book on fishes (Yes, before you correct me, that IS the plural of Fish), and post what I find later.
There were bats everywhere also, probably Pipistrelles, but by no means definitely.
One of Anna's favourite finds were lots and lots of large grey Crickets (or Grasshoppers) with dark bands on their hind legs or wings, on dusty paths or even a grey-sand beach we ended up at once, which when disturbed flew away, displaying bright red mini "sails". I've since found out that there are MANY species like this, so I've got my work cut out for me to identify them specifically.
Talking of Grasshoppers / Crickets, there were also HUGE examples of these, one green with red extremities and one straw-coloured, which were numerous also. These looked more like Stick Insects really - I'll try and identify them when I can also.
It was interesting to note also that the first species of birds we saw from our balcony were Sparrows (House Sparrows) and Goldfinches! Maybe they'd followed us down to the Mediterranean? Goldfinches look like they belong in the Med - with their bright plumage and joyful, bouncy song.
Many of the species of birds on the island were the same in Britain - Jays, Blackbirds, Sparrows, Great Tits, Collared Doves, House Martins, Kestrels (never did see a Lesser Kestrel though), a Peregrine Falcon, Stonechats etc...
I'm pretty sure I saw a "Butcher Bird" (or Shrike) a few times, perching very conspicuously on a bare tree below our balcony, but couldn't formally identify it, as every time we got close, it buggered orf. I'll do a lot of research on that, and post on it later.
A few other things we noted down, in no particular order were:
Huge Black Wasp / Hornet with an orange abdomen
Pharaoh Ants (all over the kitchen - like Tottenham again).
Brimstone Butterflies on the beach
A Huge cockroach running through our favourite Taverna (Neferli)
Loads of Goats. I love these goats. I'd like one.
Thin, slinky cats everywhere.
Squashed rats on the roads
Red Admiral Butterflies
Wood Ants on Mount Ainos
Swarms of Small Blue and Brown Butterflies in Davgata
A Jellyfish off our most frequented beach - beautiful but a bit scary!
Shooting stars (Perseids)
The International Space Station passing overhead
2 pet Turkeys
1 caged, pet Quail in Argostoli (the capital)
A migrating party of Common Swifts (talked about separately)
The "Oriana" Cruise liner on her way from Southampton to Venice and back.
All in all, a wonderful holiday that we'll never forget.
We made good friends with our local Taverna proprietor, Costas, after raving about one of his traditional, trademark Kephalonian dishes - rabbit; we obtained the recipe and on our last day he gave us a whole carrier bag of fresh Bay Leaves off the tree to take home. We of course, in no way shape or form, dared to take these through customs - that would be most illegal. Oh yes.
If we could have the holiday again, we'd not do much differently. We would have liked to see the Loggerhead Turtles nesting on a beach in the south of the island, and we would have eaten out in Argostoli more (if we'd have only realised just how close Argostoli was earlier), but that's about it.
We spoke a little Greek, and did ourselves proud I think. I remember in particular, asking for the bill in Greek (after a lovely meal in Argostoli harbour) to the waiter - who looked like a salty old sea dog, and he absolutely loved it!
Our flight home provided some magnificent views of the Lakes around Neuchatel (just north of Lake Geneva) and the Alps including Mount Blanc.
Then all that was left was a train back to Reading....
(But we'll be back...)
NB. All posts concerning our holiday in Kephalonia are NOT in chronological order, nor were they all seen on August 14th (obviously). We got back on the 12th August, and its taken me this long to write it all up.
The Mediterranean Gecko has now invaded North America and is very common in parts of that continent.
Unsure if the reptile you've seen is a lizard or a gecko? Check out the eyes of the Gecko below - great big goggly things - a giveaway sign of a Gecko.
We really enjoyed seing this little niblet, and named it Gordon. Obviously.
These birds (we only saw FOUR in the fortnight) were possibly the highlight of the avian sites I saw all holiday, but then again, I do love my Swifts!
Alpine Swifts are large, slower flying Swifts than the Common variety, with white bellys and white throats (although it is often difficult to spot the white throat from a distance).
They can be found all over mountainous and hilly regions of the Mediterranean, (not just the Alps), and I spotted our first flying through the mists of Mount Ainos. A wonderful site, that I'll never forget.
Before we left the island, on our penultimate day, Anna and I were sat on the balcony, quaffing Greek Mythos beer no doubt, and three more wonderful Alpine Swifts flew right over our head.
I'm so glad to have seen these birds, and it was certainly a sight I didn't expect to see...!
I'm not sure of the exact species, but I'm positive they are Long-Horned Beetles of some description - the males having the longer antennae.
Unfortunately for the first one Anna spotted on the way up, (a male),as we walked down the Mountain again, we noted a jeep had run it over - and killed it - a bit sad really.
All part and parcel of the quite eerie atmosphere in the dark forests high on Mount Ainos....
The Yellow-Legged Gull, until a few years ago was thought to be the same species as the Herring Gull, but that opinion has now been changed - it IS now classed as a separate species of Herring Gull (with paler legs)!
This is probably the most common gull species in the Mediterranean, but nice to see anyway. Look for the dark wingtips if you want to identify them on your travels.
There are many, many Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) in Kephalonia - by far the most common raptor you'll see on the island, but there is also a small but healthy population of Long-Legged Buzzards (Buteo rufinus) also.
Long-Legged Buzzards are most numerous in Turkey and parts of the Balkans (although they are FAR from common), and they seem to enjoy a habitat of semi-desert, although they are found in wooded mountains and cliffs. In common with most Buzzards, they'll eat pretty-well anything, although in semi-desert areas, reptiles provide a large proportion of their diet. They'll search for food from high in the air, or potter about the ground in their 'pyjama bottoms', looking for lizards etc...
You'll need superhuman eyesight to note the longer legs of this Buzzard, but you may just notice its pale head (and chest often), its more eagle-like appearance, and the fact that unlike its common cousin, the Long-Legged Buzzard is seldom heard, although if you do hear it, you may note a shriller, higher-pitched shorter "mew".
We are pretty sure that as we left Myrtos Beach for the final time (after getting engaged!), one Long-Legged Buzzard flew over the car, and we also saw one from our appartment balcony.
A word to the wise here though - Pine Martens do NOT inhabit Kephalonia, it is the BEECH or STONE MARTEN that does instead, in common with large chunks of the rest of Europe.
Now you might be thinking at this point : "Hold on a minute Mr.Black Rabbit! Surely the Natural History Museum of Kephalonia would know what species of animals are in their neck of the woods - NOT you?!"
Not so again I'm afraid. Anna and I took a detour to the museum one day and to say it was disappointing would be a massive understatement. It was more like a bad school exhibition in a 'terrapin classroom'. It told us nothing we didn't already know, and even had a large photograph of a Sparrowhawk named as a young Buzzard - very different birds even for the most casual of ornithologists or even most people mildy interested in wildlife.
Pine Martens inhabit the far north west of Europe (in the main), whereas Beech / Stone Martens are much more widely distributed all over Europe - even becoming pests in some areas.
We saw THREE Beech Martens during our two weeks. All dead on the roads, 2 near the coast, and one up a mountain, but we couldn't stop to take any photos as there were no laybys at those places - shame really.
I can only assume that people listing the Marten species on Kephalonia thought that the Martens MUST be Pine Martens because of all the (Kephalonian) Fir Trees on the island.
Would the two different species of Martens stroll down a path towards you however, you'd be able to tell them apart quite easily. The Pine Marten is darker with a singular round white 'bib', whereas the Beech / Stone Marten is paler with a 'double bib' under its mustelidy chin.
Easy to remember.
We didn't see a lot of these large, impressive butterflies, but we did see the odd one on many days - an unmistakeable butterfly, and very nice to see...
This photo was taken from Sami, an important port on the northeast coast of the island, although a rather dull and uninteresting place we found, unlike the very picturesque Agia Efimia just up the coast.
Ferries run to and from the neighbouring island of Ithaca (the kingdom of Odyesseus / Ulysses) and Sami (referred to as "Same" in The Odyssey (although Homer referred to the whole island of Kephalonia as "Same" in that work).
The mountains of Ithaca can be seen in the distance (top right) of this photo.