MY FAVOURITE CARTOON AS A BOY..

Thursday, August 30, 2007

MALE SPARROWHAWK (2)

I haven't posted about Sparrowhawks for some time, but Anna and I were treated to a wonderful sight of a pink-breasted male Sparrowhawk fly right through (well, 20' above anyway) the garden this morning.
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...

COW MURAL

Click to enlarge.
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.
Great!


WYRT MOON

A colleague of mine told me to look out for the full moon this week - maybe she links I'm a lunatic, or maybe she is?

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

EARLY AUTUMN?

Autumn seems to be coming early this year? The blackberries were ripening before we went to Greece, in late July, (weeks early?), the fruit harvest is early and leaves are turning yellow and beginning to drop already.
I snapped the photo above this evening - our Lime Tree is turning very golden...
NB. 12/09/07 And two weeks later, the leaves are dropping from our Lime Tree faster than you can say: "the leaves are dropping from our Lime Tree"!
The garden is covered in crispy brown leaves now, and has been for a week I guess.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

GREEK FOREST FIRES...

It seems the Greek forest fires died down a bit, during the fortnight we were in Kephalonia a few weeks ago - (we only actually saw one burning when we were there), though it won't have gone un-noticed by you I'm sure, (if you watch the news or read the papers) that they have got considerably worse again since then.

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

PITTS SPECIAL

During a particularly ridiculous blokey pub conversation once, I remember saying that two favourite noises of mine were "An outside generator" and "A Bi-plane carrying out aerobatics"...

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...


NB.26/08/07.
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

A WARNING FROM THE BLACK RABBIT

You might have read my posts on Mosquitos this summer, and how the population of these flies has boomed because of the weather we've had this year.
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.

HOT AIR BALLOON(S) 2

I'm sitting in the office, looking north over the river Thames, and for once this summer, the sky is quite clear!
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

DRAGONFLY NYMPH CASE

We've just returned from a flying visit to see my mother and stepfather in High Wycombe, where we had a very relaxed lunch in a new(ish) bar in the centre of town called "The Glasshouse".

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

ROSE-RINGED PARAKEET


Like the Scops Owl, you'll have to forgive me here. Anna and I were in Ealing last night, enjoying a lovely pub meal with my sister Pippa, who flies back to Chicago on saturday.
I didn't actually SEE this bird, but I heard it repetitively, and certainly know enough about the species to know EXACTLY what it was.

We were seated in the pub's alley beer garden in Haven Road, Ealing, under heavy canopy, but I kept on hearing this bird in the surrounding trees.
It was a Rose-Ringed Parakeet, (or Ring-Necked Parakeet), one of several thousand which have set up a large (problematic?) feral population in this region of the UK.


Rose-Ringed Pararkeets are gregarious small parrots, indigenous originally to parts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent. They are kept as pets all over the world, and its probable that escapees (not just in the UK), started these feral populations worldwide - happily living in parks and gardens etc... in great numbers.
When you hear one (or a thousand) you'll not mistake it, and likewise if you see one (or one of the huge flocks).

I remember my first ever siting of one when I was thirteen years old (1984) - just about when they started to set up a very large feral UK population. It was sitting at the top of the main block of my school - squawking noisily.
Since then two MAIN population centres exist - one around South London / Kew (especially) / Richmond / Twickenham / Surrey border, and one in Kent (margate area), though you'll see them all over the south-east of England - (Regents Park is becoming another hotspot).
The subspecies of this Parakeet which has set up home here is the INDIAN Rose-Ringed Parakeet. It is sexually dimorphic in that only the adult male has the obvious ring around his neck - the females and juveniles lack this.
The bird yesterday (as in the changed time and date of this post) was obviously part of the Kew / Twickenham giant flock - if you are in that area, you might well see thousands flocking like starlings in an incredibly noisy fashion.

These birds might well have to be culled in the future - as they (in those numbers) outcompete our native birds for food, not to mention really annoy the local human residents with their incessant noise and droppings...

I include a photo, although like I said, rather like the Scops Owl in Kephalonia, I didn't actually see it yesterday.

PHOTO CHANGE NOTIFICATION - BRIMSTONE MOTH

For your information, I've uploaded my own photo (taken this morning) of a Brimstone Moth which has "blown" into the garden today, on these loverly August blustery winds and driving rain (when will it ever end?!).
The original post on the Brimstone Moth was posted on 28th April 2007.

MEDITERRANEAN FISH IDENTIFIED!

For your information, I've finally managed to positively identify one of the fish species we saw whilst swimming in the shallows off Kephalonia, and luckily for me, the most spectacular of the fish we remember.
I've uploaded a photo, and posted about it next to all the other Kephalonia posts (August 14th).

Monday, August 20, 2007

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

















In early July, this year, one of my twin sisters Pippa trekked through part of the Rocky Mountain National Park with her soon to be husband, Mike.
Rather like Nicola (my other twin sister), she has kindly forwarded me some photos taken on that trip, so it is my pleasure to draw up another "Guest Entry" on "Blue-Grey".
NB. This trek was taken between July 6th and 8th 2007, but as "Blue-Grey" is stuffed to the gills on those dates, I'm posting it on todays date, about 6 weeks too late. (Just as long as you are aware).

The Rocky Mountain National Park is located in the north-central region of Colorado, USA, northwest of "Boulder", Colorado and not too far from Denver. I am led to believe that the entire park is divided between two owning families - the Carringtons and the Colbys... (ok, that bit is untrue).
The entire area features magnificent views of mountains, forests, lakes and a whole host of wildlife including (if you are EXTREMELY fortunate): Moose, Mule Deer, Cougar, Grizzly Bear, Bobcat, Porcupine, and Coyote.

I am told that July and August are the best times to visit, temperatures during this period of the year can reach the 80s, although thunderstorms (and hailstorms...!) are common.

My sister walked through a large part of the park, as I've said, and stopped off at a wonderful lake called "Nymph lake" pictured below. These wonderful photos (almost pc wallpaper standard I suppose!) shows the grand natural beauty of this lake and its mountain backdrop. I am led to believe the conifers at higher altitudes in the park are mainly "Douglas Firs". Good job.


Now, Pip, correct me if I'm wrong, but a little research on the interweb has led me to assume that the two mountains in the background (separated by Tyndall Gorge? at around 10,000 feet a.s.l?!) are Hallett's Peak (the flatter appearing one to the LHS) and "Flat Top Ridge" (the more jagged appearing mountain to the RHS? (although the Flat Top IS flat behind these jagged peaks!).
Nymph lake is situated a walk away from other magnificent lakes such as Emerald, Dream and Bear Lakes.

Pip saw a lot of great "critters" during this trip, including the three described below:
Mule Deer -


named because of their Mule-like ears. These were seen at very close quarters right on the roadsides, nibbling the shorter grass. These deer exhibit classic stotting or pronking behaviour when alarmed, ie bounding away in leaps, all four feet landing on the ground at the same time!
A very nice photo of one too!

Gray Jay -

Much like our European Jay, Pip says - very comical, almost tame in fact. These birds are also known as "Camp Robbers" or "Whisk(e)y Jacks", because of their cheeky thieving behaviour. They do store food in a cache, like our own jays, but need cool temperatures for this, to stop the food spoiling, and because of general warming temperatures (climate change etc...) the Gray Jay is dwindling in the south of its range, and moving further north generally.

Moose -

Now then. This is where it gets a tad complicated. The Moose is the largest species of Deer in the world. If you are American, its a Moose. If you are European, its an ELK. The ELK however in America is the second-largest species of Deer in the world - a species almost identical to the Red Deer in Scotland.

So... to summarise:
MOOSE (USA nomenclature only). Largest species of Deer in world. Lanky legs.
ELK (USA). 2nd largest deer (rather like Scotlands Red Deer).
ELK (EUROPE). What North Americans call a Moose.
Get it? Got it? Good.
Just for your information, the actual word "Moose" comes from the Eastern Abnaki word "Moz". (Eastern Abnaki is a language spoken by the ancient Penobscot Native Indian Tribe of the Maine region of the USA, whose last speaker died in Maine in the 1990s).

Adult bull Moose (NOT Meese like Geese!), can weigh up to three-quarters of a ton - you don't want to run a Moose over - it will die, and so, possibly will you!
I've posted a wonderful photograph sent to me by my sister - her and Mike watched this adult and calf graze on trees nearby.

That's the Rocky Mountain National Park in a tiny wee nutshell for you. I'm sure one could write a whole blog on this (obviously) fascinating, awe-inspiring wildnerness.
Maybe one day Anna and I will get to see it, and I can do my Grizzly Adams** impression...!





** James "Grizzly" Adams DID actually exist, and DID roam about (mid 1850s) the mountains of California, mainly, getting friendly with Grizzly bears called Ben.


I've got no idea whether he did look like Dan Haggerty of the 1970s film and tv show though.
NB. If you are a soppy old get like me, and you'd like to hear the theme tune to Grizzly Adams again, click on the word Grizzly (above) and follow the link. (just don't blame me if you start blubbing...).
Me... I'm off now.
I'm filling up.... sob sob!

GOLDFINCHES (THE RETURN OF)

Very glad to say that this morning (NOW in fact), our Goldfinches have returned to a very poorly stocked feeder.
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

WOODPIGEON

The most commonly seen bird species in the UK, so recent surveys would have us believe.
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

BLACK BEARS OF YOSEMITE (GUEST ENTRY)

Apologies for the delay in posting this. My (soon to be ) Brother-in-Law, in America, sent me a wonderful account of his encountering Black Bears in the "Ansel Adams Wilderness Area / Ingo National Forest in the Minaret range ( in North America) in the middle of August, not to mention an account of Black Bears in Yosemite National Park.

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
clear.

Mono Lake-If there was a lake on the Moon this is
what it would look like.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale-love it.




The photos....


Cheers Mike. Really good stuff.



Friday, August 17, 2007

MOSQUITOS (2)


On Thursday 19th July I predicted (on "Blue-Grey") that there would be a plague of Mozzies at the end of the summer. It wasn't hard to work out though, eh?
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).
NB 24/08/07 On the news tonight - a massive increase in cases of Myxamatosis has been reported (the devastating disease which wipes out rabbit populations) due to the huge boom in Mosquito population this summer... (the vectors for Myxamatosis).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

RED UNDERWING MOTH(S)



Anna and I both (separately) saw these very large moths flying around the garden late last night.


When I got up at 5am this morning, two had settled beneath a couple of our first floor window ledges.


A climb onto a stool to take the photo (not great I'm afraid) and a gentle poke with a bamboo pole, to show Anna these moths' incredible bright red underwings, and they were identified.


You'll not really mistake these though - there is no other moth in the UK with large grey wings this size - 4cm long at rest. You may see the brown caterpillars during the summer, but they only have one brood, and don't tend to fly like this until August.


When they feel threatened they will display that lovely bright red colouration on their underwings - ours obviously didn't feel that threatened!


Another nice moth to add to the Great Knollys Street list though!


The photo below is not mine, but does show the red-coloured underwings that I mentioned...

THE GARDEN (POST HOLIDAY)

We returned on sunday (saturday night actually) and realised that the garden had become completely overgrown whilst we were away.

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...

SWIFTS. GOODBYE UNTIL NEXT APRIL....

(posted in yellow again, to remember the summer?!!!)

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

KEPHALONIA. DONE.


I do hope the posts and photographs below give you a small insight into what we saw during our fortnight in beautiful Kephalonia.

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.

Sea Urchins

Sea Anemones

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)

Lemon Trees
Lime Trees
Pomegranate Trees
Almond Trees
Olive Trees

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....

KEPHALONIA.
DONE.

(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.

KEPHALONIA (MISC. PHOTOS 2)



KEPHALONIA (MISC. PHOTOS)




TURKISH / RAINBOW / PEACOCK WRASSE


I've FINALLY identified that very brightly-coloured fish we saw off Antonio's beach in Kephalonia. (I'm writing this on the 21st August, but thought I'd file it alongside the other Kephalonia posts).

I must have gone into every bookshop in Reading yesterday, and STILL haven't identified the other two (far duller) species of fish we saw regularly.


We only saw this Turkish (or Rainbow, or Peacock) Wrasse once though, and not for long. I hoped I would be able to identify it when we got home - you can see from the picture that its very distinctive!
Wonderful to see and allegedly the brightest fish one will probably see in the Mediterranean! We are lucky people aren't we?!

SCOPS OWL


I'm cheating a wee bit here. I never actually saw one of these, but I was regularly up in the middle of the night and heard them calling very close to the studio.

So I thought I'd pop a photo on "Blue-Grey".

I'm sure you'll forgive me...

KERMES OAK


We thought these little trees (or shrubs really) were miniature Holly bushes. Wrong! This is the Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera), a small, Mediterranean, evergreen shrub, the leaves of which do resemble tiny Holly leaves, but it also has acorns.

The Kermes Oak is common in the region, and is host to the "Kermes insect" which was used extensively for the production of cochineal in ancient times.

In actual fact, our word "crimson" is derived from the ancient word "Kermes".

You learn something every day....

GRIFFON VULTURE

One Griffon Vulture - on the first day, from the coach from the airport to our appartment, thats all we saw. These are unmistakeable birds, absolutely HUGE. Larger than large Eagles and with a much smaller head. They don't breed on Kephalonia, but are regular visitors from neighbouring islands and countries - soaring over vast swathes of the region at great heights.
Click on photo (not mine) to enlarge.

SARDINIAN WARBLER


We saw a few of these at the top of the hill where we stayed - and these were the ONLY animal that the Natural Museum of Kephalonia helped us to identify. The Sardinian Warbler - widespread all over the region - look for the black cap and white throat (rather than the red ring around the eye, which is quite difficult to see). These birds seem to be relatively tame, so you may get quite close to them....

STONECHAT

You are more than likely to see this distinctive little Chat in Britain, perched conspicuously on a post or branch like the brightly-coloured male photographed below (not my photo - we were on our way walking over the hill to Argostoli for a Swordfish and Shark supper when we saw our little Stonechat, and didn't really get close enough to take a photo. The photo below was taken on Corfu again).

MEDITERRANEAN GECKO

This little blighter crept into our room at night, using a crack under the door. The Mediterranean (or Turkish) Gecko is very distinctive - pink in colour, with a spotty, almost warty back and a very obvious stripey piebald tail. It never grows that big (ours was a very wee one, only about 2" long) - MUCH smaller than the larger Moorish Gecko which is also found over the Med, and can grow up to 6 or 7" long.
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.

GREEK ALGYROIDES

Not a great name for a lizard. A lizard that is endemic to Greece, relatively small, quite variable in colouration and one we found basking on roads or scuttling very quickly into shrubbery quite a lot during the fortnight. I'm afraid to say I couldn't get to these quick enough (or close enough) to take a decent photo, so I've lifted a picture from the web, of an example of this species photographed in Corfu, by someone with more patience, time and skill (obviously) than me, not to mention a camera, and not a phone!

WOODCHAT SHRIKE



After a little research, I'm pretty sure THIS was the Butcher bird that we saw sometimes perch a little way down the hill from the studio.


These Shrikes overwinter in Africa and are known as Butcher Birds (as they are in Britain also) because of their habit of sticking their prey on thorns of trees and then eating them...

CYPRESS TREES


I've fallen in love with these.
I'm ashamed to admit I didn't know what they were at first.

The Greeks have a very apt name for them - "Dachtila tou Theo" which can be literally translated as Finger of God.

Absolutely.

ALPINE SWIFT


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...!







Picture is once again courtesy of Arthur Grossett - thanks Arthur - click to enlarge.

GIANT LONG-HORNED BEETLE

Well... these are the largest beetles I've ever seen (and Anna for that matter also). Anna spotted these big buggers slowly walking across the dusty track up Mount Ainos. I hope you get an idea of the size of these things shown by Anna's hand in the first photo. They were massive!
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....
Great!

YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS

Lots of these on Kephalonia, and a very common gull in the region - though strangely silent - unlike our own gull species back here in the UK.
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.

(The photo is (once again) courtesy of Arthur Grosset. Cheers Arthur).

RED-RUMPED SWALLOW

Very common in the region, these Red-Rumped Swallows are most obviously recognised (in my opinion anyway) by their pale buff rumps, long, wire-like tail plumes and slight chestnut head colouration. There were many of these on Kephalonia, all over the place, especially on the hill overlooking Lassi, looked over by our little studio, where they flew amongst the House Martins (one of which had obviously used our balcony earlier in the summer to nest - the ONLY balcony with a nest on it).

LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD

We are very lucky to have seen at least one of these birds, if not a few - very difficult to identify, in common with most raptors - soaring high in the sky.
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.
Good stuff.

CICADAS (2) (CHICAGO)



CICADAS


A nice close-up shot (my photo) of an adult male Cicada sitting on an Olive Tree in Kephalonia.
The word Cicada derives from the Latin name for "tree cricket" (Cicada), but this is slightly poor nomenclature, as lots of people assume Cicadas to be related therefore to locusts, crickets and grasshoppers. Not so. Cicadas are in fact large BUGS (Hemipterans, although they do have their own suborder).
The males produce the incredibly loud, characteristic call but NOT by the process of "Stridulation" like grashoppers etc... (rubbing of body parts to produce noise).
Male Cicadas have "TIMBALS" at the sides of their abdominal base - complex pieces of membranes and thickened 'ribs' which are vibrated at incredibly high frequency using very strong muscles, against special resonance chambers in the abdomen, formed by specially adapted trachea. Got that? Its fair to say that if you watch a Cicada closely, with a view to see how they produce that incredible noise, you'll not have much luck.
The Cicadas were everywhere on Kephalonia - not much surprise really. Their Greek name is "TZITZIKIA". They are eaten in Greece (and all over the world for that matter), but unless you really want a bowl of Cicadas for your tea, watch how you pronounce your order of "TZATZIKI" (cucmber and garlic dip)!
There is one species of Cicada which lives in Britain, but you'll do well to hear or see them.
I've also posted ( in the post above) a couple of photographs sent to me by my (soon to be ) American Brother-In-Law, Trebus, who, in common with the rest of Chicago (and the mid west of the USA) have just had one of their "Cicada summers" - when millions upon millions of Cicadas hatch at one time (although I'm led to believe that this brood hatch was more impressive and numerous in the past), from a specific brood, after spending 17 years dormant underground. This particular brood is commonly known as BROOD XIII - sounds very evviiiiil doesn't it - and check out the eyes of the American Cicadas - almost glowing bright red!
Cheers Mike.

BEECH MARTEN (STONE MARTEN)

If you decide to travel to Kephalonia for a holiday, and you do a spot of research beforehand to try to establish what creatures you might find on the island, you might be led to believe that Pine Martens dwell on Kephalonia. (Even the Natural History Museum of Kephalonia and Ithaca (located in Davgata on Kephalonia) would have you believe that).
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.
Click photo (not mine) to enlarge

CONVOLVULUS HAWKMOTH


We saw a few of these beautiful moths during the fortnight - mainly as the sun started to dip below the horizon. I thought they were Hummingbird Hawkmoths, they are certainly related - and DO resemble Hummingbirds as they hover in front of a flower, and use their long proboscis to obtain its nectar.

I am led to believe that these Hummingbirds do sometimes appear in Britain, but they are more widespread over the continent, especially the south of Europe, having migrated from Africa, where they overwinter. Lovely to see.

SCARCE SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY

Stange name for the most common species of Swallowtail butterfly in Europe. (It's so named because it IS scarce in Britain).
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...
Click photo (not mine) to enlarge.

"WINE DARK SEAS" (OF HOMER)


Just a shot of the almost navy-blue colour of the deeper sea around Kephalonia, immortalised in Homer's 'Odyssey'.

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.

Click on the photo to enlarge.