Monday, 8 February 2016

The Mother of all Chiggers!!


A short "picture post"...
which will leave you scratching!
This is a Red Velvet Mite from the genus Eutrombicula...
probably Eutrombidium rostratus Acarien velouté....
and is regarded by the US Military as a creature of concern to deployed military forces#....
what about us gardeners!!



I couldn't capture the velvetyness as well as I'd've liked


Their offspring are Chiggers...
those NASTY, BITEY critters that get us around harvest time...
hence the other name for the chigger...
harvest mite.
"Chiggers in the genus Eutrombicula do not transmit any known pathogens to people, but they can cause irritating bites, dermatitis and severe itching when they feed on the unsuspecting host. They are widely distributed in the Western Hemisphere, and Europe."
The adult pictured above had the cheek to be crawling up the wall indoors...
it was rapidly put outside!
I probably shoulda squished it....
but to me it is also a "money spider"....
and I'd just bought a Euromillions ticket!

# 2006, U.S. Armed Forces Pest Management Board -- Field Guide to Venomous and Medically Important Invertebrates Affecting Military Operations: Identification, Biology, Symptoms, Treatment

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

More non-winter's tales

This is the outline of the post, no photographs... because....
...Faune Touraine have added hymenoptera to the list of species you can record!

Er... seven species of Hymenoptera, including the Ivy Bee, Hornets European and Asian, the Great Potter Wasp Delta unguiculatum and three Carpenter Bees, out of the four that occur regularly in France: Xylocopa violaceae, X.valga and X.iris. Mantids and Stick Insects have also been included in Faune Touraine recently, one species of each.

Colza, or oil seed rape, is a major crop in this region. It is sown in late September, flowers in April / May and is harvested in August when the stems are dry. In a normal year that is. Next year's crop has been trying to flower for the last month. Volunteers (self-sown plants) are in full flower, except where selective weed killers have been used to kill them out among winter wheat, leaving pallid, distorted yellowish-white lumps among the growing crop.

Even stranger is the appearance of the rape fields themselves. At this time of year we would expect to see plants with blue-green leaves perhaps 20cm tall. But by the end of November, they were throwing up flower stems and reaching for the sky in full if somewhat spindly growth because of the reduced day length. Most have been sprayed with a growth inhibitor, which has turned the tops sickly white, leaving the lowest leaves green. They have given up on the idea of flowering for the present. What will happen to them in spring we will be most interested to see.

Other unseasonable observation include
  • a snake, Hierophis viridiflavus, couleuvre verte et jaune, crossing the main road near the Chateau de Rouvray at Chambon (logged)
  • pipistrelle bats out hunting on 1st and 2nd February (bats are not among Faune Touraine's mammals, so not logged)
  • a European wall lizard sunning itself on 23rd and 25th January (logged)
  • a Carpenter Bee buzzing around near the lizard (watch it mate, he looks hungry enough to have a go). Hey, I can log this one! What species were you, you little wretch? Almost certainly X.violaceae, but almost is not good enough. 
  • Well, I can log plenty of potter wasp nests, mantis egg cases and innumerable ivy bees, along with photos, retrospectively.

Friday, 1 January 2016

A sort of non-winter

As the New Year begins, temperatures remain unseasonably high. This is no doubt the reason for some unusual wildlife sightings. Yesterday lunchtime on the back road out of the village towards les Roches we met this young hedgehog [Erinaceus europaeus] herrisson sniffling its way along the roadside. Hedgehogs are mostly active by night but not this one. It looked extremely fit and showed no fear of us.

Young Hedgehog, Les Roches

Would you happen to have a worm about you?

There might be one under here ...
We are regularly entertained by large flocks of siskins [carduelis spinus] tarins des aulnes - between twenty and fifty at a time twinkling through the trees.

Despite appearances, this picture is the right way up
Female siskins living up to their French name in an alder

Male siskins - little beauties

The bright sunshine reveals the subtleties of plumage, regardless of species. The olive green of siskins, greenfinches and green woodpeckers emphasised by swirls of yellow, black and in the woodpecker's case, scarlet. Great spotted woodpeckers [dendrocopus major] pics épeiches are doing their best to reduce the top branches of our ancient walnut tree to wood chip. You can see the pieces flying out as they hammer away. Their green cousins have been doing likewise, although they mostly feed on the ground.

A suitably scabby branch for a male great spotted woodpecker

This time of year is mating season for owls. A little owl [athene noctua] chevêche d'Athèna posed beautifully for us on the pile of assorted timber / firewood just beyond our fence. This pile is all that remains of the greater part of the poplar plantation next door, which was harvested in late summer. We know that little owls have nested over the road at Bezuard. It looks as though they are back. What the orioles that nested in the plantation will do next summer is anybody's guess.

Bits of this timber are disappearing from time to time - rather more than the woodpeckers account for!

The tawny owls [strix aluco] chouettes hulottes have been conducting their annual competition for best male vocalist, with up to six dotted about the valley giving it all they've got. We have a winner, who is now doing a circuit of the house and meadow every evening, hooting confidently.

But this year the tawnies may have competition for the owl box. We have seen several times a pair of barn owls [tyto alba] effraie des clochers on roadside fence posts only about two kilometres down the valley. Tim was photographing the Christmas full moon when another barn owl, this time a dark morph, flew past on the opposite side of the road. We also have encountered a long-eared owl [asio otus] hibou moyen duc on the far side of the river. These big birds have quite a large range and could nest anywhere in the locality.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Wheeeeeeel Hell..oooo Mantis


Wheeel Hellooo tooo You, too!

Another picture post... I think there may be more of these!!
we are really quite busy here with trying to recover as much as possible from the garden...
before winter sets in.
However, this mantis dropped in... or was on the Ficus when I brought it indoors...
it really seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.
It gave me the chance to try out part of my retirement present to myself...
a 100mm macro lens.


One for Halloween, just past....
The Vampire Mantis!



Hey, you followin' me....?



Mantis on the prowl!


La Mante fecund....
now is the time you see the pregnant females....
their husbands tucked safely away...
inside!

Sly Mantis... a portrait
I feel that these are the real aliens...
look at the apparatus under her chin...
the pipes for cleaning this planet's atmosphere!!
They just don't want to let us know that they are so small...
(As with all images, this is clickable, so you can see that plumbing up close.)

Her head suddenly snapped round and stared straight into the lens...
I think she might have seen her reflection...
and reacted!
This is the same shot as the first...
as is this next shot...
Which shows the individual facets...
only visible when you look straight down the tubes!

But, this last is perhaps my favourite from all those I took....

Conducting the Dawn Chorus
Caught in the act when I went downstairs...
There will be more of these...
probably the next will be on moths...
or perhaps...
spiders.


Published by Tim


Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Birdwatching Fraternity

Not our normal Aigronne Valley Wildlife post...
but the weather is dull... and some humour is needed!

Birdwatchers come in all shapes, sizes and types...
these are just some of the "species" that can be observed in the wild....
especially now... with the migration in full swing!!

The Birdwatching Fraternity
by Tim

[cartoons by Seppo and Rohan]

The occasional birdwatcher....
cartoon by Seppo


The Occasional Birdwatcher
Weekend vagrant...
Has a good pair of secondhand bins...
occasionally a cheap 'scope...
and a wobbly tripod...
carries a dog-eared original '60s copy of Collins...
that they've had since they were fourteen...
tucked in the pocket of an old water"proofish" coat...
gets out at weekends if the other half allows!
If married, has the sprog in tow!!
Somewhere at home is an old RSPB spotter's list...
with one dedicated to a Life list...
ticked in many different colours...
with lots of gaps!!


On his site Rohan posted a poem and a cartoon...
he's now posted a fully illustrated version...
it sums up perfectly the problems that some birds create...
for the birdwatcher.
[There was an Olive-backed Pipit in Norfolk this w/e...
and a Blyth's Pipit on the Isles of Scilly!
]

The Birder
Often to be seen at weekends...
rare vagrant during the week...
has bins, 'scope and a decent tripod...
nowadays, often carries a "bridge" camera...
with a 20x to 30x zoom ability.
Has a first edition of the more recent Collins...
often plastic covered.
Might well be single....
or have an understanding partner...
Much rarer sub-species is...

It's no use... it was up against the sky...
I'll need another look at it... perhaps it will come lower!?
The Paired Birder
As for The Birder...
but this will be a couple...
one struggling to keep up under all the gear!!
The other "travels lite"...
sometimes have their chicks in tow...
which can cause havoc for other serious Birders who have never had chicks...
however, the chicks can be palmed off onto older Birders whose youngsters have long flown the nest...
and will chickmind and enjoy passing on their knowledge to a younger generation.
These chicks will very rarely be seen in their 'teens...
but can reappear as they reach their young adulthood...
no real research has been done in this field...
but rumour has it that they retreat into darkened caves...
and perform strange acts upon tablets and computer screens...
called "gaming"!

"Patchers" will often have excellent records of migratory species!

The Patcher
Out as often as is possible...
but never willing to to travel far...
decent quality bins and 'scope...
good SLR camera and assorted lenses....
record books, a couple of field guides [one on "jizz" perhaps]...
always has a notebook on the go... or a page-a-day diary...
often looks miserable if an entry can't be made!
Often has a dog... the excuse for numerous walks around "the patch"...
the back garden, if there is one, tends to be converted...
into a haven for birds!!

Not a species to be dismissed lightly...
The Patcher is an important part of the naturalist research community...
often a "Citizen Scientist"...
their observations cover many years for the same area...
can evolve into "The Wildlifer" but remain as a 'patcher'...
this adds to the value of their records!!

Occasionally to be seen as a vagrant "off patch"!!

Confusin' the SeaWatcher!
The SeaWatcher
Similar to the Patcher... but much hardier...
spends very long periods sitting in one place...
on damp shingle, in dunes...
or on clifftops...
trying to spot Pomarine Skuas, Such'n'Such's Petrel or JoeSoap's Shearwater...
and have very large 'scopes and SLRs with extremely long focus lenses...
the latter to photograph the dot...
for identification and proof that they have seen the damned thing...
and it isn't that they've been sitting in one place for so long...
and they've got "floaters" from staring at grey sea and grey sky for six hours.
They will know their stretch of coast exceptionally well...
they keep extensive records...
and again play an important part in record keeping for science.

However, both the above species would play an even bigger scientific role...
if someone doing research could get their hands on all those records!!!

The sexes are the wrong way round... but this will be recognised by someone we know!!


The Wildlifer
As for Birder, with the qualities of the Patcher...
started as a Birder... but discovered other things along the way...
so the couple of field guides have become...
field guides [asst'd]....
birds, plants, insects, fungi, mosses and liverworts, butterflies&moths...
the latter in addition to the insect book...
they carry lots of notebooks... as well as all the other gear...
often single or divorced...
always has need of a car...
but some can be seen on bikes...
including one in Britain on a converted tandem [for one]...
there are some biking birders, too.

Number two... the Wildlife Photographer
From Rohan Chackravati's "The 11 Types of Wildlife Photographers"
which is here...


The Wildlifer can evolve into the The Wildlife Photographer...
this species may travel lighter...
but often not...
the guides may have been left at home...
but a lot of "glass" and other accessories have replaced them!


Has this ever happened?
Very possibly...
there is great kudos attached to being the person....
who spots the bird first!!



The Twitcher
Perhaps the most well-known...
a lot of this species are to be found in sudden eruptions at remote sites.
These are the Skuas of the species...

If a field has crops growing...
most twitchers couldn't give a ****!!

Can be a pest to permanent residents...
and can also cause terrible damage to habitats...
especially fragile ones...
if a large number gather in one place, the surroundings get trampled severely!

Twitchers at Cley, Norfolk...
this bit of Cley is normally VERY quiet!!

The more "juvenile" of the species will behave very irresponsibly...
breaking into peoples' property and couldn't give a damn about anything....
but getting a sight of that "twitch"!!

The amount of equipment carried varies considerably...
but always involves a pager or other means of instant communication...
always has an excellent pair of binos and a very good 'scope...
if one of their means of communication is a mobile 'phone...
then they will have the 'scope adapter...
for that combination of lens and 'phone!
It will probably be an EyePhone...
they will, also, probably have a tablet...
in fact an EyePad... major or minor...
the purchase of these is because you cannot get Collins or the BWPi for an Android!
In fact a lot of naturalists carry these....
mainly because all the worthwhile identification "Apps"....
are only released for EyePads and EyePhones.

The Chequebook Twitcher has ALL the equipment!!


The Chequebook Twitcher
The ultimate raptor of the Birdwatching Fraternity...
has all the latest equipment...
access to fast transport...
access to "loadsamoney"...
willing to pay to have someone "bumped" off a plane...
if young... has inherited a fortune...
if middle-aged... is self-employed as a consultant...
if retired... they are spending the kids' inheritance!!
They don't have a pager... they have multiple pagers...
They have a life list... that runs to several volumes....
Like all "twitchers"... they "tick" and move on...
they have no real knowledge of the birds...
instead, rely on others to "let them know"!
Because there is always a real birder...
usually local...
at any rarity sighting...
for them it will be a...
......"mega"!!! 
Not a "twitch"!!

Dedicated to all those Blue-nosed Coldtails...
who braved the elements to see the Red-flanked Bluetail....
at Holkham in Norfolk this week! !!
Another one of Seppo's cartoons...


As you may have gathered from the above....
I'm not very impressed by "twitchers"....
or "tickers" of any persuasion!
Get a life...
there is a "patcher" I follow...
his blog is called "Birds and Beer"...
and includes a list of Norfolk pubs that are good for watching birds from...
that is real luxury birding...
Pauline and I were out with the Leeds RSPB to the Wirral...
it was bitterly cold... we retreated to a nearby pub...
found a window seat that overlooked the marsh...
and watched seven spoonbills feeding...
just outside the window!!
That's birdwatching luxury...

Perhaps we should just let them fly around us and say
"There's yet another bird over there!"
-----ooooo00000ooooo-----


I was inspired to write this after reading another blog I follow....
written by a Norfolk birdwatcher who coined the term "chequebook twitcher"!
Thanks, Penny! And the Red-flanked Bluetail is dedicated to you...

-----ooooo00000ooooo-----

Thanks also to the two cartoonists featured here...
Seppo Leinonen from Finland....
and The Green Humourist,  Rohan Chakravarty from India....
both of whom put their cartoons up as Creative Commons artwork...
both their sites have some wonderfully drawn environmental 'toons...
and I can't draw 'toons!!

Seppo
Rohan

Posted by Tim