With this cold weather coming at the end of winter it is particularly important to look after our feathered and furry friends.
Click this link to see what birds you may see and how to look after them.
Snowdrops flowering now, its a sign that Spring is on its way and for some reason I am looking forward to it more this year than most.
Click to see my blog all about this interesting plant at www.woodlandwildflowers.wordpress.com
It is another blog that I am working on, and of course if you are interested in wildflowers than most of it is relevant to Poitou-Charentes as well as the UK. You are welcome to follow it….no charge.
So nice to be able to sit in the garden and see stuff that would be quite a big tick in the UK…. Like this young/female Pied Flycatcher. Also seen Firecrest and Black Redstarts,
Mostly it sits on the electricity cables and that does not make for such a good photo, here it is in a Fig tree.
It is well known that Oak trees support more species than any other tree in northern Europe. It is also thought that the longer a type of tree has been populating an area then the more species will adapt to become dependant on it.
Hazel has been around a long time so I had a little mini safari poke about on the various hazel bushes in our garden. As you can see from the state of these leaves, they provide quite a lot of food for various species.
I found quite a few species, possibly the most spectacular was these Hazel saw fly larvae. (Croesus septentrionalis). They look like caterpillars but they turn into saw flies. They also have a curious defence mechanism, which is that if something disturbs them then they all arch backwards and present a jagged outline to the leaf. Presumably this is enough to deter predators.
Some of the species I found were incredibly small like a tiny spider and a red mite, here is a slide show of some of them.
The largest I found was a stick insect, (Clonopsis gallicathis ) was about 10cm long.
I looked up on the internet (as you do) how many species live on Oaks and Hazel and found this article by T Southwood …. is it the same Southwood who wrote the two volumes on British Moths back in the 1960’s ? …… probably.
So it is 284 insects on Oaks and only 73 on Hazel
THE NUMBER OF SPECIES OF INSECT ASSOCIATED WITH VARIOUS TREES
By T. R. E. SOUTHWOOD
Department of Zoology, Imperial College, London
It is common knowledge amongst ecologists and collectors that some trees have many species of insect denizen and others, usually recently introduced, comparatively few. But the number of species of insect associated with a certain tree would seem to reflect not only the actual time it has been present in Britain but also, and of rather more importance, its general abundance or scarcity throughout this period. If this hypothesis is correct, then in other parts of the world where the pattern of tree dominance is different from that in Britain, we should expect the comparative numbers of insect species to vary accord- ingly. The coniferous forest belt is far more extensive in Russia than in Britain and thus pine, spruce, larch and fir (the last three introduced species in Britain) will be comparatively
Table 1. Comparative series of the numbers of insect species on various deciduous (un- marked) and coniferous * forest trees in Britain and European Russia
Tree Britain Russia
Oak (Quercus) 284 150 Willow (Salix) 266 147 Birch (Betula) 229 101 Hawthorn (Crataegus) 149 59 Poplars (Populus) 97 122 Apple (Malus) 93 77 *Pine (Pinus) 91 190 Alder (Alnus) 90 63 Elm (Ulmus) 82 81 Hazel (Corylus) 73 26 Beech (Fagus) 64 79 Ash (Fraxinus) 41 41 *Spruce (Picea) 37 117 Lime (Tilia) 31 37 Hornbeam (Carpinus) 28 53 *Larch (Larix) 17 44 *Fir (Abies) 16 42 Holly (Ilex) 7 8
The Cream-spot Tiger is quite a common moth in both France and southern UK it is often attracted to lights and is on the wing in May and June.
The eggs are laid on groundsel, ragwort, chickweed, dead nettles and dock amongst other things, so the food plant is quite variable. The caterpillars hatch in July and are of the dark brown woolly type. They overwinter as caterpillars and then resume eating and growing in Spring. In May they spin a cocoon and turn into the pupae but only stay in this stage for a short time, hatching out in late May or June.
Yesterday was grey, but today is mellow. It is a colour, like yellow but more rounded and with greys and browns mingled in. It is sort of autumnal but I think you could get mellow in other seasons.I had a short walk around the environs of our house but it took some time as I was messing about taking photos.
You need good light for mellow, not necessarily the magic light you get when there are black clouds, but the sun is still shining in one part of the sky. However it is that sort of light, but not so dramatic.
The old outbuildings are always good for a photo, I especially like the blend of old wood and mellow stone.
Autumn berries provide nice mellow shots, especially these spindle berries, less harsh than the bright orange rose hips, these are a more mellow pink colour.
The Oak trees are at their autumn best now and with some grey skies looked quite beautiful.
This is the dead seed head of a type of wild carrot, which is quite common along the road sides, has white flowers in summer but is grey brown now.
And finally one last shot of some more old buildings.I have about 50 more similar shots but thought 8 would be sufficient… probably too many. Also they are best viewed full size, they look nicer.
Several groups of Cranes have been passing over today, heading south. Me I am heading north…. who is brightest me or the cranes? Anyway this small group of 8 flew over and I took a few photos.
Then two of them peeled off and started to head back north…. odd I thought, they did not go far and then circled back round, but continued to circle. They did about three circuits and all the time making a lot of noise.
Then one lone crane appeared and it was honking very loudly.
It joined up with the other two and then all three headed off southwards again.
I presume this was a young one which had got detached from the group and Mum and Dad had slowed up to let it catch up… How nice.
Galls are really interesting….. yes they are. These ones are called ‘Spangle galls’ and are caused by a wasp called Neuroterus albipes
They are like a plant cancer, they are caused by an insect laying its egg or eggs inside part of a plant, often the leaf. Then the larva hatches out and lives inside the plant, protected by the plant. But its presence causes the cells of the plant to start multiplying and gradually a noticeable ‘bump’ appears, this of course provides more protection for the larvae living inside and also food, because the larvae are feeding on the plant cells. The larvae will produce chemicals like plant hormones which stimulate the plant cells to start multiplying faster than normal.
What is interesting and I think unexplained is that the ‘bump’ is not just any random shape, but develops into a recognizable shape and that different insects will cause different shapes to be formed. Sometimes the insect causing the gall produces quite small and easily overlooked formations and other insect species will produce much larger more noticeable structures. Look closely and you will see that the galls on this Oak leaf are different to the ones in the first photo. These are called Button galls and also caused by a wasp Neuroterus numismalis
Some plants seem more prone to galls than others. Oaks seem to be hosts to a vast number, but then again Oaks are the home to more species in general than any other tree. One gall that many people are familiar with is the so called pincushions which develop on Dog roses.
Many Oak galls fall off the leaves in the autumn and remain on the forest floor throughout the winter and during this time the larvae turns into a pupae and then in the spring it hatches out and a tiny fly or wasp will emerge from the gall. These adults do not normally live for very long, just long enough to meet a partner and then lay more eggs in next years leaves and so it goes on. in this photo you can see where some of the galls have already fallen off leaving a white scar.
Have a look now on the undersides of Oak leaves and you may well see all sorts of galls. Not just on the leaves, gall can be found on the buds and the seeds even on roots, but probably best not to go digging up the trees.
This year we have been blessed by the presence of some hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus in our garden in France.
I have seen them on odd occasions several times in the past, but not that often. This year we have had a group of young ones, we have seen up to 3 at one time but as they only showed themselves at night time we are not sure how many were present. I suspect it was more than three, as we could here lots of rustling from other parts of the hedge at the same time as being able to see the one two or three that had emerged from the hedge. Continue reading
This is not a definitive list at all, it is really just to get you started with the identification of bright coloured buzzy things that you might see at your local plan d’eau or in your garden.
Recently I spent some time sitting by my local lake with my grandchildren and I overheard a lot of English conversations. Sometimes it was about the insects flying over the lake. Sometimes people knew what they were looking at but more often than not they were fairly vague or wrong.
So here we have a basic guide, there are Dragonflies and Damselflies. Fist the dragonflies, these are big or quite big, they are fast and when at rest they have their wings out, more or less at right angles to their body.
The biggest are Hawkers, these have long bodies and fly very fast, often patrolling up and down the same route.
Then we have the Chasers, these have a shorter broader body and are quite big.
The smallest are the Darters, but still bigger than a damselfly. When at rest they will often move their wings so that they point forward and down, but they still stick out quite a bit.
Now onto the Damselflies, these are quite delicate and have long thin bodies and quite narrow wings. They often hover or flutter about, they are not very fast. When at rest they fold their wings up and have them lined up with their body.
One group the agrions have slightly wider wings but still they fold them up in line with their bodies.
All dragonflies and damselflies have males and females with different colours, often the male is brighter and the female is a more dull colour. When they mate you can see this difference.
There are many different species and different ones will be out at different times of the year. They do not live for one day, as I heard someone tell his daughter, but hey have a relatively short life. The longest part of the life cycle is spent as a nymph in the water and depending on the species and the availability of food this can be anything from, just under a year to as much as three or four years. The bigger the species the longer it takes. When the nymph has fully developed it crawls out of the water, climbs up a reed or twig and hatches out into the adult. If you look carefully around the edge of a lake or pond you can often see the old case of a nymph still attached to a reed from when it hatched out.
So there you have it, If you want to identify which dragonfly or damselfly you have seen then this is a good web address, http://www.dragonflypix.com/database/foundcountry.php but be careful as many of the small blue damselflies look very similar. Not all damselflies are blue, some are red and some are green, even metallic green… Good luck.