Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Football v Nature...


Here in England, there is no escape from 'the beautiful game' (yeah, right) that is the FIFA World Cup. Apparently, erstwhile England manager Bill Shankly, once said that football is more important than life and death. If however you are one of the minority who even dares to admit that football leaves you cold, then may I suggest that you come on in to my latest blog update right now! 

It's lovely in here, honest it is: it even smells great, like wild English honeysuckle after summer rain. Despite what old shaky-Shankly thinks, there is more to life than kicking a pig's bladder around a park!  And as Van Gough once said "If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere". C'mon, do like Robbie Williams did at the opening ceremony, stick a middle finger up and...."Let me entertain you"...♫♫♫


(Click on any photo for a larger view)
Scathophaga stercoraria

What better to begin this update than this beautiful..........DUNG Fly! 

Yes, as its common name suggests, this fly is not only found on the feces of large mammals, but it also breeds there. If you find this abhorrent, then consider the following: the abundance of these flies has been directly influenced by intensive farming by us humans: and so now they are  integral in the animal kingdom, due to their role in the natural decomposition of dung in fields.

Shall we progress to something that is truly beguiling...


OK, I know it's only a fly, but come on, even flies look good in the right light huh? 

These few photographs are all from an early morning trip that I took to Marden Meadows recently. Marden meadows is a nature reserve east of Marden here in Kent, and is managed by the Kent Wildlife Trust. It is also a site of special scientific interest. 

A Hoverfly (Estralis species)
The hoverfly pictured above, on one of the many large, white daisies that litter the meadows right now, is trying to emulate a honey bee. They are quite good mimics, but unlike the bees,  have only one pair of wings, and no sting. They can be tricky to tell apart, but I think this one is E.tenax.  

Whereas these next photos are of a honey bee, and a very wet one at that!





I also came across this tiny creature: I think this is a leaf beetle larva...




You can possibly tell from these photographs that it was quite a dewy morning. It must be a  fairly vulnerable time for the bugs as they cannot fly until all that water has dispersed, or has been evaporated by the sun,  from their wings. 



Way back in July of 2014 I blogged about a species of weevil called Hypera rumicis, I described the pupal cases of these weevils as being like 'wild spun sugar' (that blog entry is HERE by the way, if you would like to come back and view it after reading this update). Well, I managed to photograph some more of these structures, at Marden Meadows this time. As with everything else I found, they were covered in dew drops...





You can clearly see the larva inside this case

I walked across an empty land
I knew the pathway like the back of my hand
I felt the earth beneath my feet
I looked up and saw this ladybird so sweet...


I wonder if male ladybirds mind being called ladies?




And if all of these pictures haven't been enough to hold your interest...well, you won't be reading this I guess! Assuming that you are though, my final offering from my early morning photo shoot is this voyeur image of two bonking beetles. 






This next photo is one that I took closer to home a few days ago...

Pentatoma rufipes
This is a final instar (the last stage before becoming an adult bug) of the Red-legged Shieldbug. They are quite large bugs when adult; you can see an adult HERE in a post from 2011 that I wrote about bugs moulting.


Yes, time to blow the whistle on this particular update before we get into injury time. I shall leave you with a final thought on 'the beautiful game' (that's football, in case you were confused) from a guy called Graham, who called the radio show '5 Live Breakfast, to share these pearls of wisdom..."The game is run by spivs, chancers and gangsters, it's played by morons and it's watched by cretins". Phew! So pleased my name is not Graham...heresy! 


How about a triptych ending then? (couldn't be bothered keeping the football analogy going by calling it a hat-trick) Applying the term loosely of course; here are three photographs I took of a fabulous Puss moth larva...








If you are thinking that it is quite an odd looking caterpillar, just take a look at how it looks immediately prior to pupating...




That'll be all for now chums. Take care until we meet back here for update number 221 in which I will attempt to alienate all cricket lovers, by suggesting that it is the most boring sport...



My good 'Flickr friend' Jason, has some lovely photos of the green veined orchids at Marden Meadows that you might like to check out HERE

Friday, June 08, 2018

A stormy exit...

Time for a little update on the blue tits that have been using a nest-box in the garden. When we left them in my last update, they were all doing well and seemed close to being about ready to leave the nest.

As it happened, they were very close to leaving. In fact it was just the next day, I was watching the box and saw signs of the first one appearing at the entrance hole...



 It wasn't long before the temptation to leave became too strong, and out it came into the big, bad world: well, my garden at least...




 Followed quite soon after by most of the others...


Finally, tempted by the parents, who sat outside the nest calling and offering food should the youngsters emerge to get it, the last of the brood exited the nest box...


They hung around the garden for a while and I managed some phone pictures...





And so I can report that this year, the story had a happy ending: well, not exactly! You see they could not have picked a worse weather day to fledge. I guess they must have been out of the box for no more than a couple of hours, when the heavens opened and we had a downpour, followed by thunderstorms through the night. I did spot some of them in a neighbour's garden the next day and so I am hoping that they got through okay.

At least my efforts to protect them from the cats worked out and they had the best possible chance of survival. I shall clean the box and prepare it for next year.

Here's a short video to end this update: I apologise for the horrible shaking, I was trying to hand-hold my 400mm lens at full zoom...





Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Look, it's a chequered skipper...or is it?

It's high time that I updated you on the blue tits that are nesting in the garden. I have tried not to disturb them too much, as I really want them to succeed this year.
There were seven eggs laid by the female: this was the picture taken on May 17th but I am unsure of exactly how long there had been eggs in the nest at that stage...


They seemed to be doing well, although I think perhaps there are only five or six babies?


There is definitely one egg that has failed, as you can see in the next picture...



And here's how they are looking  today (May 29th) Amazingly, there seem to be six of the original seven that have made it this far...




So far so good! They are well past the stage when the cat raided the nest last year and so I am hopeful.



Now I am probably not able to claim full credit for this, but...I think I am going to anyway. You might just recall this update from September of 2016...


Well...it may have taken close to two years for the change to happen, but happen it has; to my amazement, and I might add, great satisfaction, the makers of this product have now altered the image on the packaging...


The old design is on the right of the photo. So then, little 'JJ' beats the corporate giants into submission and forces change upon them! Alright then, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but still, as the great 'Wolfie Smith' once said..."Power to the people".



Let's get back to my recent trip to America now: I didn't feel the urge to try out this restaurant by the way. Should you fancy a 'gob full of garlic', it's at Columbus Avenue in San Francisco. I did have something of a hilarious moment at another eatery, when I overheard a large lady order the following "Could I get a double big mac, extra fries and a DIET soda?"


I was determined that not only was I going to try and be in the moment and enjoy America to the max, rather than arriving back home thinking, did that even happen? I also wanted to try and do better with my photography, as last time the strong sunlight, along with the excitement of just being there, foxed me somewhat.
It didn't even phase me that I arrived on April 18th, the very same date as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Anyhow, I don't really know too much about that earthquake, I do know it was all San Andreas' fault?

I couldn't help noticing that there were some fabulous looking birds in the area where I was staying...


Not THAT kind!


No, I was of course thinking of the Aves variety. I don't know if this cutie is a type of sparrow but it attracted my attention...

  



And the American Robin, is totally different to our own red-breast here in the UK...


They  belong in the thrush family, and so are quite a bit larger than ours.



A Buffalo Treehopper (Possibly Stictocephala spp.)
Let me get this one out of the way right now: I was so frustrated with myself for not getting a better photo of this critter. It was something I had hoped to see, but when I did spot it, it surprised me, and was much smaller than I had imagined (I am unsure if this is actually an adult). It also allowed me just one shot and as I had been using flash in a darker area previous to this photo being taken, had not adjusted the settings, hence the blown highlights.



You may have seen on BBC Springwatch this week, the story about re-introducing the chequered skipper butterfly to the UK: this is from the Springwatch website:


Extinct in England for over 40 years, our long lost chequered skipper has been reintroduced back to where it was last seen in the woods of the East Midlands and Springwatch went along for the ride!

Well I too saw chequered skipper butterflies, whilst I was in America. But...they were not the species that Springwatch featured; in fact, they more closely resemble the one we call a grizzled skipper (Pryrgus malvae). The species I photographed is Pyrgus communis.

Pyrgus communis - A Common Chequered Skipper Butterfly

I hinted in my last update that I had found 'other' creatures by looking under stones and bark etc. Well this has to be the most exciting of those finds for me: a scorpion...




I think this is a California common scorpion, Paruroctonus silvestrii as they are the species that seem to be most commonly found where I was looking.They are almost always not a danger and are very rarely seen unless you go looking for them. They are nocturnal and hunt after dark. Most stings are not serious and have only a local effect unless the sting victim is allergic to the scorpion's venom.

It's apparently much easier to search for them at night (when they are most active) using a UV light. Scorpions fluoresce under UV light, glowing yellow or green.,,






This picture (above) is of another under-bark find; I have tried to identify it to species level, the cricket that is, not the tree. I know the tree was dogwood, you can tell by the bark! Spotted Camel Cricket (Ceuthophilus maculatus) seems to be the best match. They seem to be quite secretive and are mostly nocturnal. I am not sure if that thing, to the left is connected in anyway.


The last creature I found concealed, this time under a large stone, was this...






I am going to plump for, or should that be plumb? No, you plumb the depths don't you; otherwise you wouldn't still be here reading this drivel ? (Big smiley face) so, plump for either Gryllus pennsylvanicus, or Gryllus veletis on this one. G. veletis (the Spring Field Cricket) seems favourite, as the adults are most abundant in spring and G. pennsylvanicusadults are most abundant in autumn/fall. Described as a solitary, aggressive, omnivorous, burrow-inhabiting species of field cricket.





On one particular outing, I spotted a butterfly (pictured below) on, well, shall we call it poo! It looked very much like our painted lady butterfly and so I wanted to photograph it of course.

As I was crouched over the....poo, trying to get my photo without distracting the insect from its delicious meal, a lady appeared behind me and seemed quite disturbed, not by the sight of me apparently photographing dog plop, no, it was the poo itself that had enraged her.

She muttered something about it being disgusting, and why hadn't it been picked up? Was she perhaps suggesting that I removed it? Before I knew what was happening she removed her hat and ignoring me, took a side-swipe at the butterfly to dislodge it, and bent down and picked up the poo with a bag. 'Nowt as queer as folk' as....somebody used to say. I'll leave you to judge whether it was her or me that was acting oddly.


I assume this is either an American painted lady, or just painted lady, there is a difference. The American painted lady has 2 eye spots on the underside of their hind wings, whereas the painted lady have 4. Which does the butterfly in my photo have? Dunno, not a scooby doo, ...you?.

Much as I love compiling these updates, I think this particular one is now bordering on outstaying its welcome and so I shall put it to bed and return as soon as I possibly can.
I actually have a rather important thing I need to check out anyway: I have a terrible habit of listening in on other people's conversations, just snippets, as they walk by, nothing sinister. Anyhow, I heard a girl say to her friend "I must go shake my lettuce" and I need to know exactly what that meant. I have lived a sheltered life, so don't know these things....yet. Then I must go do my goat yoga...

Pimps and Cheerios...I mean, pip, pip, cheerio...