Monday, January 16, 2012

The days are getting longer...

It's been a while since I've updated the blog, I've meant to add to it of course but events have conspired to keep me away from the P.C. However, here we are,January 16 already and mid-way through what must be, thus far, one of the quietest winter's in a long while?

Last year at this stage for instance we had already endured around 6 weeks of pretty harsh weather with very cold temperatures. This photo was taken around the same time last winter.

It has only been over the last couple of days that we have seen anything like a hard frost, today provided us with a hoar frost, only the second of the year.

If I understand it correctly, I think a hoar frost is when tiny ice crystals form on vegetation or any object that has been chilled to below freezing.The formation of hoar frost is similar to dew, with the exception that in a hoar frost the temperature of the object it forms on is below 0 deg.

Click on any picture for a larger view
Hoar frost on branches

Hoar frost on one side of a grass stem

It does make for some fantastic images though and really does transform ordinary objects into something of beauty. Here's another example, a bramble stem that I probably would never bother to photograph ordinarily but...

And so what of the winter wildlife I hear you cry!   I do hear you crying that don't I? My hearing's not what it was when I was a 'knee-high to a grasshopper-whipper snapper' I use the term 'whipper snapper' advisedly as I believe it refers to a 'young, impertinent person' and I was certainly (and some would say, remain) that.

Anyhow, I'm wandering from the path again, you wanted to know about the wildlife?
Those who know me well will tell those that don't, that invertebrates are what 'float my boat'. You will tell me when you get fed up with these constant clichés by the way, won't you? Or shall we 'cross that bridge when we get to it'? After all 'what goes around...O.K. I'll stop now.

Actually, he who hesitates is lost....and so I'll start again. As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself- my main passion is for insects and bugs but having spent quite a bit of time at a friend's house of late and observing the wonderful array of wildlife she has visit the garden (including a Kestrel on one particular day) I have become quite fond of one particular critter that turns up on a regular basis to raid the bird tables.Here is the culprit in question.....

Sciurus carolinensis

Yes, it's the Grey Squirrel that so many folks have a real disliking for. The line I hear quoted most often being "They're nothing more than tree rats". Then of course there is the much greater issue of these nasty beasts causing the demise of our native 'Reds', in truth, the whole question of the definition of 'native' is a 'can of worms' (apologies, I just can't seem to help myself).

After all is said and done! (cliché number 7) how many folks can say with any certainty that they are a true native of the U.K.? But do we insist on culling those that we deem to be interlopers? What then of the poxvirus? Answer: There seems to be no proven link from Greys to Reds, in fact the virus once affected the greys as it now affects the reds, a few survived it and developed a resistance to it; there's no reason to think other than the same could well happen to our red population.

The truth that is undeniable is that conservationists have been encouraging the planting of native deciduous species of tree at the expense of conifers and that just happens to suit the grey population rather than the red.

I'll get off my soapbox now and introduce you all to my new friend who you got a glimpse of in the photo above. What that photo doesn't show though is why I feel for this particular creature.

Yes, blind in one eye and yet still managing to survive (so far) this little grey also seem to have damage to the mouth area, with an odd looking front tooth.

Otherwise, it seems to be healthy enough and certainly displayed just how agile he/she is.
Click on this photo for a little animation
Old ' One-eye

Herbie the terrier knew one-eye was there
 & one-eye knew that Herbie was there...

In my own garden I've been conducting a few collembola searches having already turned up one unusual species. It was whilst I was engaged in this satisfying, but ridiculous looking. hobby that I came across two large caterpillars on the underside of a geranium leaf.
A little research together with the knowledge of the plant they were feeding on soon revealed them to be the larva of the Angle shades moth.

Phologophora meticulosa
These are one of the species that over-winter as larvae but even so, it was quite a surprise to find a couple feeding within a couple of hours of a really hard frost having cleared.

I've included this larger view as I haven't been able to fathom just what this one is eating. It does look like an insect to me and I know that some caterpillars will sometimes eat insects but with this being a natural light only shot, the detail is just not good enough to be sure, unless you can enlighten me?

The weather has been such that I have recently been spending some time in the garden clearing up and even cutting the grass. On inspection of the compost bin for likely subjects the only thing of interest I spotted seemed to be an earlier instar of the same species of caterpillar.Much smaller and of course a variation in markings but I can only assume they are the same.

I'll leave you for now with another shot of the frost from just yesterday morning at around 7.30am. I hope to be back here again very soon and should have some exciting news by then about some of my work in print along with what I hope will be another set of interesting wildlife finds and photos, the days are already getting longer and sunset is now at 4.30pm.

Until the next time then.....(keep your pecker up!)

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