Saturday, March 29, 2008


Just a quick update on a few things.
No time for a very long post as we're away to Shrewsbury this weekend, for a "Wedding Summit" with both sets of parents....

We seem, recently, to be in a pretty weird pattern of weather - quite April-like in its ferocity of showers interspersed with (almost) warm sunshine, and very blustery also.
This has brought on the bug life in the garden pretty well. (I hear the north of the UK, from a pal, is not so far advanced at present).

In the sun, in the garden, I have counted AT LEAST twenty Zebra Spiders, (though not one Garden Cross Spider yet), many Andrenid mining bees, (and a Tawny Mining Bee - which I haven't got a photie of yet, but I'll keep trying!), all types of fly, a Seven Spot Ladybird (VERY nice to see - makes a change from all those bleedin' Harlequins), Pine Ladybirds, Hoverflies (still rare as yet), Soldier flies (ditto), Honey Bees, Bumblebees and even the first (Queen) Wasp of the year!

I hear from Jane over at Urban Extension that the bats are out, though as yet, I haven't seen any, and people are seeing Butterflies all over the shop (though, once again, I've seen none apart from that one Cabbage White a week or so ago - must be something to do with the fact that at present I have no flowers to speak of in or tiny garden...)

All the photographs above were taken by me in the last 4 days, and ALL can be found in my online photo album, at full size, complete with notes, by clicking HERE.

Thats it for now I'm afraid....
Got to bugger off to sodden Shrewsbury (where I know some Mad March Hares are, though I won't be seing them this time I fear).

Have fun in the wind and rain this weekend, grapple fans...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008



Monday, March 24, 2008


SOooo... "Spring has sprung" eh?
Like I said, I did think I was being a bit premature...

After an Easter weekend of hail, snow and sleet (its sleeting as I write this), it does feel like Spring is some way off still.
The met office weather forecast at the office (direct from Exeter) suggests it may be Thursday before we see temperatures back in double figures.

Well, the first Swallows have arrived in the county. The (right) Royal county of Berks. (Take that either way!)
There are a few martins and swallows that do overwinter in the UK, right on the south coast, (especially the south west) but they are very few indeed and the recent arrivals in Berkshire have (I'm reliably told) travelled from their traditional winter feeding grounds in sub-saharan Africa.
There ARE still Redwing and Fieldfare about - generally in large migratory flocks - though I still haven't seen any for some time.

Finally - we have a pair of Blue Tits nesting in one of the tiny boxes in the office courtyard.
I feel like I've been well and truly "given the bird" (so to speak).
Unfortunately, the box that they've chosen is right next door to one of the huge mirrored panes of glass that provide the outside skin of the office - and I watched the male bird today repeatedly fly up and down the window (and into it), chasing away its reflection, or trying to.
I hope that behaviour stops, as they'll need all the energy they can get, when raising their brood - and certainly can ill-afford to spend the time and effort chasing shadows...

The picture above (CLICK TO ENLARGE) is a portrait of one of the three Collared Doves I've been watching at night - all roosting together in the office courtyard, in a tight huddle.
They're obviously getting the same weather forecast as me!

Sunday, March 23, 2008


THE "LENTEN MOON", originally uploaded by THE BLACK RABBIT.

'Twas a full moon on the 21st. The "Lenten moon", (named after "Lent" - the period of fasting before Easter.
Talking of Easter - Easter sunday (today) is the earliest Easter has fallen for 95 years!
Ever wondered about Easter and why the DATE changes?
Blame the Catholics (as per usual).
Easter Sunday HAS to be celebrated on the FIRST sunday after the FIRST full moon AFTER the Vernal Equinox.
The Equinox (21st) and the full moon (21st) fell on the same date this year, and the first sunday (23rd - today) was only 2 days later - THAT'S why Easter feels so early this year.
It is. (It can hardly BE any earlier)!

That doesn't explain the bitter conditions though! Or the snow in the east of the country!

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Well... ok, maybe I'm being more than a little premature (what with talk of wintery showers over Easter) .... but I can't wait any longer!

Firstly the bad news.
I've given up on our Blue Tit box. Both birds seem completely disinterested in it - have been for about a month now.
There are boxes all over the country that have the beginnings of nests being built in them now - (a few are linked to BG in my links section), so if you want to see Blue Tit nests - feel free to use those links!
Its fair to say we feel dreadfully disappointed, especially after last year and the activity in the box over winter, but hey ho - you can't win 'em all!
The pair do come to the garden each day, to steal from the feeder - I'll pop a sign up before too long - NO BLUE TITS ALLOWED!!!
Anyhoo... we'll keep the set up, and take it with us wherever we move to. Here's to the future eh?

Thats the bad news. What of the good?

Well... I know some people have reported seeing Redwing and Fieldfare over the past few days here in the south of England. Not for long now - if at all. I haven't seen them for at least two weeks.
What is apparent though, is that we're experiencing the first influx of Hirundines*** (Swallows, Swifts and Martins) into Britain.
*** Always makes me think of "Hrundi Bakshi", the character played by Peter Sellers in the film "The Party" (Still one of the funniest films ever made, in my opinion).

Generally the order is ALWAYS the same, each year - first to arrive are the Sand Martins (they're here in good numbers already). Then it's the Swallows and House Martins, (never were the same after Fatboy Slim left...), then, finally, my favourite bird of all - my Swifts "scream" into Britain in late April, or very early May.
I've yet to see the Sand Martins - because I've not had time recently to visit my "haunts", but I know they're there!

An awful lot of birds appear to be nesting already - Magpies, pigeons (no suprise there) and even Blackbirds. I wandered down to the garden centre t'other day, to pick up some heather, and got run over by a juvenile Blackbird, which had obviously fledged no more than a week or so ago, and was indignantly peeping at it's ma for some scran.
The Egyptian Geese goslings at the University lake seem to be doing well also - I don't suppose it'll be tha long before the Mallard Ducks start getting serious, and little balls of fluff are bobbing up and down on the Thames.
I am also aware that Ospreys are on their way back to us again, from Africa. One has been spotted fishing over a large gravel pit near London (well.. Slough really) this week, though I've not checked the Scottish websites yet (or Rutland, for that matter) to see if any have arrived at their breeding sites yet.

I know (from my friend Jane as much as anybody), that Badgers are up and about after their winter slow down, and Hares (Nic) are starting their annual madness. I am up in Hare country next weekend, but am otherwise engaged in wedding duties, so won't be going to see these marvellous animals.
Should you want to see Badgers and Hares, I advise you most sincerely to visit "Urban Extension" (Jane's site) where she's recently uploaded at LEAST two fine videos of these critters...
(UE can be found near the bottom of my alphabetically-ordered links section).
I really hope to find time this year to visit the setts I know (with Anna) and get some photographs of at least a fox, if not a badger or a deer, (a Roe I hope, but a pesky Muntjac will do!)
Time will tell.
The "bug life" has bounced into action also.
Mating Ladybirds, and lots of bees.
Garden Cross spiders have JUST started to spin their first orb webs of the year, and it will be any day now before the Squash bugs and other shield bugs appear.

Big sticky Horse Chestnut buds have appeared over the last ten days, and I'm sure its only a fortnight, maybe 3 weeks before our large Lime tree starts budding and raining sap on us again in the garden below!
I spent the last two mornings in the garden, knocking back the er.... cough cough... "lower paddock", in preparation for the seasons ahead, and have scattered a few Poppy and Cornflower seeds for the insects in a few months.
The Bumblebee box is buried and covered in heather - maybe we'll get lucky there instead of the Blue Tits eh?

All the photographs above have been taken by me in the past few days, and I think they are all in my online photo album, the "New Warren" (flickr account).
Click here to visit my album, to see the images in their largest, original sizes, and read a little more about them.

Anyhoo - HAPPY EASTER! to anyone dumb enough to be reading this! I am on nights for the next 7 nights (including the er..... festive? weekend), so if you could all be a little considerate with any levels of noise during the day, I'd be most appreciative!

Monday, March 17, 2008


Monday - a day off and MUCH better weather.
The insects responded today....
Greenbottles buzzing around, mining bees and this emerging "Cabbage White" butterfly.

No cabbages in our garden (I TODAY put in 28 Maris peers and a little heather for my bee box), so this chap is my friend.

Click on the photo to see a full size version of this photograph I took on our backdoor step this afternoon.
Have a little wander around the "New Warren" whilst you're there if you like.
I've also today uploaded a photo of the FULL butterfly (showing the very dainty wing scales) and a photo of a small "Greenbottle" blowfly, with its eyes nicely in focus...

Like I said - click the photo above to be transported to my online photo album, or click the link at the top LHS of the home page of "Blue-Grey".


MATING HARLEQUINS (1), originally uploaded by THE BLACK RABBIT.

We've had a bleedin' abysmal day or two - weatherwise (not to mention the rugby).
That said, the wind and rain didn't stop these two (Succinea) Harlequin Ladybirds indulging in a bit of what comes naturally in the office courtyard yesterday.

I also managed to spot a "Conspicua" Harlequin (black with red bullseyes) sheltering from the rain also - but failed to get a decent photo.
Click on the photo above to view the full size Harlequin ladybirds photo in the "New Warren".

Friday, March 14, 2008


GARDEN SNAIL, originally uploaded by THE BLACK RABBIT.

Well. At least the snails have come out tonight to play - they've liked this wet weather, clearly.
The garden was crawling with these tiny snails this evening.
I don't know much about Gastropods or indeed Molluscs in general, but I'd hazard a guess that this is one of the tiny round garden snails from the Zonitidae family, and very possiblly Oxychilus cellarius, which as the name suggests, is very common in gardens, parks and cellars.

These snails tonight in the garden all had (calcium carbonate) shells of about 8 or 9mm across (no more, for sure).
Just in case you weren't aware, there are about NINETY species of terrestrial snails in the UK.
Most snails exhibit 4 retractable "tentacles" at the front of their head. The bottom two are "olfactory" organs (smell), whilst the top (upper) two are the "eye stalks" or, if you want a posh word to impress people with at dull dinner parties (or more likely, bore them to tears), you can call them by their proper name..... ommatophores

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


After yesterday's shenanigans - lying on my back in a pool of muddy rat urine, shooting bumblebees infested with mites (does life GET more glamorous?), I thought I'd spend this afternoon chasing a teensy weensy Mining Bee around the garden - the first such bee I've seen this year.

Its only about 1cm (no longer) in length, and was trying to indulge in a spot of sunbathing, before the giant ogre disturbed its "me time".

I'm afraid I didn't manage to get a great shot (the photo will only be on BG - NOT flickr), but the photo WAS good enough to tentatively ID it as a solitary mining bee yes, an Andrena sp, (almost certainly), specifically Andrena haemorrhoa - (very probably), and a male Andrena Haemorrhoa, well yes... it has brown facial hair you see, not the silvery grey of the female.

These mining bees are all solitary, all look quite similar, all are tiny, and all have the female burrow a small hole in the earth, where she lays her eggs and stocks the hole with food for her young.

Don't ask me what the male does.
No honestly. Don't. (I have no idea, apart from the obvious).

A.haemorrhoa is one of the FIRST mining bees to appear in the year - as early as March certainly - timing their arrival for the Blackthorn blossom...


The other shot above is of the Waxing moon (leaving new, approaching full), which I took at ten to seven tonight.

I'm rather proud of this photo - as I had to hold the tripod steady in the blustery winds tonight to get it - FAR from ideal moon photography conditions.

This moon shot IS in the "New Warren". (see link at top LHS of "Blue Grey").


Just a few points really...
It has been recently pointed out to me (by a good blogging pal of mine) that I seem to be using "Flickr" (The "New Warren" online photo album of mine) more than my blog at "Blue-Grey (use your eyes)".
This is absolutely right.

I use my "Flickr" (my New Warren) as it is SET UP to deal with large file size photographs - something I am very much getting into at the moment, and enjoying thoroughly - especially the macro or close-up shots I take.

I will be posting on "Blue-Grey" (my blog) regularly, and feel free (possibly) to use slighly er... fruitier language on my personal site (my blog)!

There will be some (many possibly) instances where I won't be able to get a decent photograph of what I'd like to post about, and therefore I will be posting about those times on my blog alone.

There will be times when I don't feel the post warrants any photo -again, "Blue-Grey" will (obviously) be the place I make that post, still.

Then are the videos I intend to keep taking with my stills camera - again - these cannot be uploaded to the New Warren (Flickr), so have a place in my blog (and on my "youtube channel") reserved especially for them.

Finally there's the nestbox.

I am afraid we are both (Anna and I) very pessimistic about the chances of our pair of Blue Tits nesting in our nestbox any time soon - if AT ALL this year.
As mentioned briefly a week or so ago, I was worried that the pair hadn't visited the box in some time after being SO interested in it, and visiting every day for some weeks.
I'm afraid (after briefly becoming optimistic after the "Long-tailed Tit incident") that I've seen no nestbox activity AT ALL since then, so can only assume they've really lost interest now.
Was it the rat? The woodpecker? The windows in the box? The wee camera? Us? The bloody awkward neighbours (but one)?
Who knows?
Lets just say, that I am WELL aware that Blue Tits can nest as early as the middle of march, and as late as May, so we have a few months to "re-attract" them to their rightful home...
Fingers and toes crossed please, everyone, and any activity we manage to get - I (of course) will post on "Blue-Grey".

As for "flickr" (the New warren)....
Many people post photographs on flickr with little or no text. I always like to add a bit, even if its where I photographed what I photographed, or a little information about the shot or subject of the shot.
For my benefit, if no-one elses!

Feel free to peruse both "Blue-Grey" and "The New Warren" should you wish, and comment on either, if that takes your fancy.

But please be under no illusion - "Blue-Grey" is not going anywhere, or being taken over by my online photo-album.

Hey thangyew.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I am seeing these big Queen Bumblebees everywhere at the moment - all looking for a suitable nest site.
Unfortunately, the individual I snapped on the garden fence this afternoon was carrying a few passengers...

Please click on the photo to be immediately transported to the New Warren, where you'll not only be able to see the full size photo, but also be able to read a little about these Bumblebee mites in my explanatory text (should you so wish...!)


Click on the edited photo to be transported to the New Warren, where you'll not only be able to see the FULL version of this photograph I took today (with its head still on!), but get some explanatory text to go with it....

Sunday, March 09, 2008


I hear that we are due a bit of a storm tomorrow with gale-force winds and driving rain.

I'll make this quick then.

Just over the last couple of days, I've noticed far more insect life out and about in the garden.

Queen Bumblebees (of a few species I'm sure) are always flying around the garden like big bomber planes, (I nearly got a shot of one today), as are the Common Carder Bees (always early to rise in the year, and late to disappear).

I saw my first Mirid Bug of the year today, and the first two species of Hoverfly. One was a "Marmalade Hoverfly" (I've posted on this species before), but I wasn't quick enough to identify the second.

I've noted some aphids (Greenfly to be precise) on the Daffodils in the front lawn, and Wolf spiders in long grass on my walks.

Finally - I've seen two Harlequin Ladybirds in the past few days - one in the garden (see above). So now we have loads of Pine Ladybirds out and about (I saw dozens on lichen on an Oak tree t'other day), and the evil intruder also...

I'm a little concerned about our Blue Tits once more. I know both are alive. I see them about a bit - but they really seem to have lost interest in the nestbox. We'll just have to wait and see on that score...

The female Woodpecker is visiting the feeding post quite often these days, and the rat has yet to walk into our live capture trap - though our neghbours have caught a baby rat in a similar device - (I'm a bit jealous to be honest)!

Click HERE to see the full size versions of a few pictures I took today (of a Harlequin Ladybird and a Dunnock) and explanatory text to go with them in my "New Warren" online photo album...


I'm writing this a little later than I thought. We're just recovering from a day spent in the pub yesterday, watching Anna's team win (Wales) and mine too (Scotland). What a turn up for the books - Wales could win the Grand Slam this year if they beat France next week, and Scotland could still yet win the wooden spoon, if Italy beat us next week, even though we've beaten England! I am pretty sure that event (if it happens) is rare indeed...

On friday (gone) I took a train to a local lake, where I normally spend time watching the Peregrines and interesting Ducks - Hosehill lake (a nature reserve near Theale).
I think this was the first time I walked round this lake and hardly even looked at any birds - I was far more interested in photographing the flowers and views around the lake.

It was nice to see the Oak buds appearing. I have been worried for the past few days that we were in for an "Ash before Oak" season (you're in for a soak) rather than an "Oak before Ash" (you're in for a splash), as I'd seen the Ash buds out already.
The first large Oak I happened across though - and it had obviously been in bud for ar least as long as the Ash.
I've posted a picture of a "Marble Gall" on an Oak branch below. This was made last summer by a single female parasitic wasp, but it hs been deserted for months now, and turned quite woody.

I think we have something to the tune of 90 or so different types of Galls and Gall Wasps in the UK - and around half of those are found only on Oak trees.

I also think friday was the first day that all the midges hatched in huge numbers. I really could have done with some "Jungle Formula" walking around the lake - but I very much enjoyed watching some spiders "make hay" with these chironomid midges.
The Zebra spider I photographed above had just finished her meal of midge when I took her photograph.

It was also nice to try and learn a little more about our wild flowers which are now popping out of the ground all over the place - that book I bought t'other day is really coming in handy now! I fully admit my knowledge of flowers and plants is pretty abysmal - I've stepped on them for as long as I can remember, but am starting to really appreciate them now...

Finally - I thought I'd take some photographs of a grazing horse, which seemed very happy to follow me around. I like the photograph so much (above), that I'm thinking of printing it up nicely, and asking the horse's owner (who I don't know) if they'd like to buy it off me! What have I got to lose eh?!

Anyhoo - click on any of the photographs above to enlarge, as normal... AND click HERE to see more of my Hosehill lake photographs (and others) in the "New Warren" online photo album.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


As I snapped the first "wild" flowers to appear in our back garden this year (the red dead nettle flowers), I thought I'd snap this bunch too - the second species to flower in our BACK garden.
The above photo I've just taken - and shows a tiny plant of Common Lungwort, growing in the lawn, near the "Polish fence".

It's very easy to recognise, with pink buds (blooming to purple or mauve little bell-shaped flowers), but its the leaves that this plant is named after.
Common Lungwort has spotted oval-shaped leaves (see second photo above), which are supposed to look like lungs.

In olden days, (ddd-ddddurrrring da warr, as Uncle Albert might say), concoctions brewed up from these leaves were meant to help with chest infections and problems with one's lungs...

Anyhoo. Common Lungwort, is as the name suggests, a very common plant (although less so in urban gardens like ours), flowers between MArch and May, and allegedly likes damp, alkali hedgebanks....

NB. Most of that information above is paraphrased from my NEW (and first EVER) Wildflower identification field guide, which I bought from good-ol Waterstones in town this afternoon...



The Daffodils in the front garden are seemingly overlfowing with critters recently.
Two Angle Shade moth caterpillars, a Spider Mite (or a dozen) and now some black ants.
The larger version of this photograph is now in the "New Warren" for you to take a look at, should you wish...
Click on the photo again to do just that...


WHITE DUCK DUCKING, originally uploaded by THE BLACK RABBIT.

Another photo from yesterday's marathon walk along the Thames.
See my "New Warren" for more details...

(Click on photo to be immediately transported to the "New Warren"...)


I finished another week of nights the night before last, and yesterday thought I'd disappear on another of my epic treks into the Amazon, cough, walks up the Thames, in search of new spring flowers, immediately after finishing work at 7am.

Well, it was a glorious day - you know, one of those spring days that starts with a crisp frost and chill in the air, and ends up pretty damn warm - certainly too warm for 2 jerseys, a fleece and my hat!

The insects were very slow to get going after the frost, but the bird life was in full spring breeding mode - Rooks noisily building their nests and Grebes constantly shouting for each other - just two examples. You might be able to see from the "Rook's nest" photo above that this year, I think the Rooks are building their nests "low in the boughs". Not great news if you believe that country folklore!

I thoroughly enoyed escaping for five hours and seeing what I could see - I found an awful lot of things to photograph, and am learning so much, especially about flowers and blossoms - subjects which I really don't know that much about.

The photographs above are a taster of the FULL SIZE images I took yesterday and uploaded onto my "New Warren" Flickr account. (My online photo album, if you like).

I've uploaded pictures of a diving white duck (mid dive), a few very close up shots of new Daisies, Buttercups and Dandelions, a very disgruntled pheasant and much more.

Please feel free to click HERE to immediately be transported to my online photo album, or click on the permanent "New Warren" link at the top of "Blue-Grey".

Monday, March 03, 2008


1) Female Greenfinch.

2) Male Greenfinch

3) Robin - your guess is as good as mine (male or female)?
All photographs taken this morning.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Click HERE to see a MUCH larger version of this - my treble clef painted by me with my torch, and an explanation behind it, in my "New Warren" online photo album.
I guess I should remind any readers of "Blue Grey" that "Use your eyes" was never meant to be JUST about the natural world...



I first wrote about this species*** of "Blowfly" on September 18th 2007, so once again, no real need to go into this fly's biology.

It might be wise to point out though, straight away, that "Blow flies" are not so-called because they blow these bubbles (as in the photo above - click to enlarge as normal), but because "blown meat" was an older English term meaning meat that had been spoiled by having fly eggs laid in it.

The bubble the Bluebottle*** is blowing above is a regurgitation of its stomach contents.
The fly will sit somewhere quiet (usually!), blow these "stomach content bubbles" and suck them back in, a process which aids digestion allegedly.
This one was bubble-blowing on the back garden fence this morning.

I've uploaded this photo (which although is a bit full on, I like it a lot) to the New Warren, in a large size - that can be viewed by clicking HERE.

Some people have remarked that they think my "macro photography" is gorgeous (a lovely compliment, I'm sure you agree).
I wonder if they still have that opinion after this photograph?
Aw well...
Anybody slightly nauseated by the photo above might want to pretend the Bluebottle*** above, is simply blowing a "Bubble gum bubble".
(A little digital manipulation of my original image... and hey presto)!

NB. 7/3/08 After a little more research on this fly, I've now positively identified it as NOT Calliphora vomitoria (the "Common Bluebottle") but the almost identical C.vicina.

How did I come to that conclusion? Because its "cheeks" (the spots on the face under the eyes) are RED(ish) in colour - in C.vomitoria the cheeks would be BLACK.Just as well I got the head in focus. Only C.vomitoria is strictly speaking the "Common Bluebottle". Calliphora vicina is very closely related, but not as blue as the Bluebottle.

There you go - I'm learning something every day...

Saturday, March 01, 2008


On walking through the station at 7am this morning, I noticed the Peregrine had returned to its roost overnight. (I know exactly where to look, from a distance these days, and can virtually make out if the bird is on its spot, from the office, about 1/2 mile away).

Took the shot above with the teleconverter in place. Click to enlarge.

Anna and I were fortunate enough to see a lovely male Sparrowhawk with his bright-orange breast hunting around the Lime trees at the rear of the house when we returned from the farmers market also.
Unfortunately, the camera was upstairs at the time, and we were discussing other matters such as "Unions" and "Striking" etc... (Don't ask).
Hey ho!

Did I mention our female Great Spotted Woodpecker returned to the feeding post in the garden this morning too? (I didn't want to boast or owt!)
I did get a few photographs of her, but until I get back into the garden hide (which Anna is already tentatively beginning to suggest I remove, for the sake of the grass!!!), I'll not upload any more, just yet.

Like I said.
A nice start to March.