Thursday, 13 November 2014

Wow, wow and thrice wow

Our profound thanks to our friends Martin and Denise for alerting us to the sight of the year - migrating cranes coming in to their overnight stopover in the Brenne. This is just a quick post and we have all the videos (with stereo sound) and Tim's photographs to come.
If you can, GO TOMORROW!!!!

We've visited l'Étang de la Mer Rouge many times without seeing much. Our friends had visited on Tuesday and were raving about it - would the birds all have gone on? We saw not one crane as we pottered around the Brenne this afternoon. However at La Mer Rouge I caught the sound of a few calls on the wind.


At last (4:20ish) parties of cranes started to fly in. Lots of cranes. They milled around a bit - and flew on! Just over the wooded hill on the other side of the Étang.


Should we go or should we stay? We went. We found them again near the chateau de Bon Asile down a dead end off the D20, which turned out on further map study to be a continuation of the Chemin rural du Blanc that leads past La Mer Rouge. There were a few hundred cranes in the fields opposite the house but the incredible noise hinted at many more on the far side of the hedge.


Still they were restless. Tim spotted an osprey perched on a post in the middle of the field. A murmuration of starlings happened. Then...


Then the cranes took off en masse. Thousands of them. They were streaming back towards La Mer Rouge. What a sight! Both of us switched our cameras to video and filmed until we could no longer hold up our hands. Still they came  past.


Another dash, this time back to La Mer Rouge in rapidly failing light, and the cranes were visible as grey bands on the far bank. Marvellous!



But why thrice Wow? We were just eating our tea back home when I thought for an instant that one of the cameras had started playing a video by itself. I could hear cranes. I could hear cranes outside! Two large parties were circling up there, one above us and one above Grandmont or La Jarrie. No idea how many, it was pitch dark, but there were easily several hundred, going by the racket, and could have been as many as a thousand. And they were looking for somewhere for a little R&R. Forty minutes later, we heard them again. I think as I write this that they are just along the valley...

Update: 11,500 cranes were counted in Indre the following morning.

A further update [Sunday 16th at 11AM]:
We missed them... but there have been parties and singles seen over our region...
yesterday, we saw a group of twelve flying south-east....
in the direction of the Brenne...
and a singleton flying west...
the weather has bottled them up... and yesterday Grus-Grus reported...
that from Indre...
"plus de 35 000 grues sur les dortoirs en Brenne, ce qui constitue un nouveau record"...
so the spectacle goes on...
and will stay this way until the weather improves!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Stanley... his last year.

Stanley... 2011 to 2014 [possibly]
Stanley was found early this year on our woodchip "patio"...
we had decided that the existing woodchip had composted a bit too much over the winter...
so I began to remove it to use as mulch on one of the front flowerbeds.
Shortly after I began, I started to find chafer grubs...
probably Rose Chafer... our most common....
when I un-woodchipped a monster with really powerful looking jaws...
he was three times as large...
his sides were less complex than the chafers'....
and he looked altogether more solid.

The "young" Stanley

He was found near a chunk of willow log....
that we'd been using as an impromptu glass/mug putting down point...
and was most certainly a large, rotten wood denizen.
A quick look through the most likely suspects revealed nothing like him...
so I went for the less obvious and realized...
quite quickly...
that he was a Stag Beetle [Lucarnus cervus] Cerf Volant!
Cor! Exciting... well, I thought so.
he was living off the rotting woodchip of our "WOODCHIPIO"®...
although mother probably hadn't laid him there...
more than likely she'd laid her eggs in the old chunk of... then... slightly rotten willow.

Stanley can be recognised by the simpler folds along his sides...
this is a Rose Chafer grub and Stanley for comparison...

Stanley is on the left... the Rose Chafer larvae are inset...
note the much more ridged appearance of the two chafer grubs...
also their smaller head.

What to do with Stanley...
little else than pot him!
A reasonable size black plastic pot was to hand, so a handful of the chosen "feed" went in...
followed by himself... and topped off with yet more expatio.
Not long after, I found another smaller specimen, not as active as Stan...
but still too large to be a Lesser Stag Beetle larva...
the adults of which we get plenty passing by on the "WOODCHIPIO"®...
that one was also duly potted up.

The two pots were stood by the back door so I could keep an eye on them.
After about two months I noticed that Stan's food had depeleted somewhat...
so I took the opportunity to change the media and have a look at both specimens...
the smaller one was no longer with us...
just a husk remained... parasitised??
But Stanley was still very active...
and a right woodworker he'd turned out to be!!
And, as you can see below, a plastics muncher as well.
He was duly repotted into an old ceramic flowerpot...
I'm sure that black plastic wouldn't do him any good!!
The pots were always given the occasional watering to keep the expatio moist.

This...
PLUS...
These...
EQUALS...
THIS!!!

Another couple of months past and I noticed that the food level hadn't gone down very much...
had the plastic damaged him?
Only one way to find out, tip the contents of the pot out.
Only half came out...
along with this splendid pupa...
I breathed a sigh of relief...
took the pictures below...
upended the pot again and put it gently back over him...
and using a bit of card, returned Stanley to the upright.
You can see the inside of the pupal "case " in the second picture below.

Side view.... No wonder the Egyptians revered the Stag Beetle...
looks just like a Mummy!!
And you can see the edges of the sarcophagus here!!

They spend three to five years in the dead wood of the tree trunk...
but how long Stanley had been on our "WOODCHIPIO"®...
who knows...
he may have been laid there by a female we spotted close by a few years before...
or in the wood whilst it was stacked out on the pré by the old trognes....
there is plenty of rotting willow that never got brought up to the hangar down there.

This is not Mummy... this female was pictured by the longère in July 2010


But the "WOODCHIPIO"® hadn't been there before the "Big Freeze" of 2012...
that was when we ground up all the dead Cherry Laurel and made the sitting out area...
However, the chunks of willow had been out under the trognes for a couple of years before that.
So, who knows....

So, how long does the pupal stage last?
About four months at least...
because a few days ago, on checking the pots early in the morning, I found Stanley...
struggling, upside down on the top of his expatio!!

Stanley... wide-eyed and legless!!

Unfortunately, I feel he's hatched too early...
the latest, unseasonably warm spell after a cold snap might have triggered his emergence early...
too early to find a mate... pity.
There is a wonderfully illustrated and interactive life-cycle on Maria Fremlin's website.

Some Stag Beetles we've come across....

This one was trying to cross the road...
not a good survival technique, really!!
 
We found this really huge one crawling allong the pavement in La Celle Geunand...
he was four inches from the tip of the antlers to the tail...
impressive, non?
Sitting on the car bonnet...
"C'mon... If you think you're big enough!!"
Stanley...
a bit on the small side...
I don't think his diet was really up to scratch!!
Call these "antlers"!!

As you can see from the above pictures, we do get quite a few Stag Beetles in this region....
partly because of the vast amount of forest which is managed mainly for hunting and firewood.
But how long this situation will continue, who knows...
a lot of new building, especially institutional and commercial....
has been designed to be heated using woodburners....
mainly in the form of woodchip... but also log and pellet.
At Paulmy, a woodchip supplier has set up a "chippery"...
to coin a word... and is buying up waste wood to convert and dry.
In Descartes, the local paper works is looking to build a CHP* unit...
this will be using an estimated 200,000 tonnes of woodchip [plaquettes] garnered from a radius of around 100 kilometres.
To make this viable, the closer & cheaper the wood the better...
and that means all the "brash"... the wood too uneconomical to sell as firewood...
and normally left to rot in a pile....
suddenly has value and will vanish from the environment...
and along with it the potential for wood boring beetles to exploit stacks of rotting timber...
to our loss, environmentally.
Individuals can counteract that loss by stacking old timber...
neatly and closely, in a corner of their property...
or, if you have the space, anywhere convenient...
for example; two decaying chunks have fallen from our old "trognes"...
they have been left where they fell... I now mow around them...
and the "cleanings" from the river I managed to get dumped on our side of the Aigronne....
I will harvest the most useful wood from those piles...
but the remainder will get stacked, closely, for beetles and other wildlife.
So, please, create a "dead log" pile, somewhere.

And if you have youngsters... or grandchildren who visit...
invest in a Junior Bug Observation kit or two...
and point the young ones at the "dead log" pile...
all will be quiet for hours at a time...

-----------ooo~000~OOO~000~ooo-----------

*CHP = Combined Heat and Power

Some further reading...
Maria Fremlin's Stag Beetle site: http://maria.fremlin.de/stagbeetles/index.html

People's trust for endangered species
http://ptes.org/get-involved/surveys/garden/great-stag-hunt/

Days on the Claise: http://loirenature.blogspot.fr/2014/10/stag-beetle-lucanus-cervus.html
and
http://daysontheclaise.blogspot.fr/2008/09/big-black-beautiful-beetles.html

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Ivy

.. is the name of a famous London eatery. It's also a vital resource for insects - and therefore insect-eating birds - as the year comes to a close. Friday was sunny much of the time, and the ivy plants on the bridge over the bief were swarming with insects.

What I know about insects could be written on a very small postage stamp, but Tim helped me with the identification, as far as the family level anyway. One critter defeated us both completely, my thanks to Susan for identifying it. There were some very striking animals among the ones we saw and I can understand the fascination that insects have for so many people.. Here are a few.

1. Ivy bee - Colletes hederae
Colletes hederae is a  recent addition to the list of European bees, being described as new to science in 1993. It was first recorded in Britain in 2001. Appropriately, it is collecting ivy pollen.

2, Colletes hederae

3. Colletes hederae

4. Tapered Drone Fly eristalis pertinax, male
5. Tachinid - Ectophasia crassipennis (male)

6. Ectophasia crassipennis

7. Ectophasia crassipennis

8. Ectophasia crassipennis

9. Left -  Ectophasia crassipennis   Right - drone fly eristalis sp

10. As above, lightened

11. Episyrphus balteatus - the marmalade hoverfly

12. Milesia crabroniformis

13. Milesia crabroniformis

14. Drone fly eristalis spp (centre) with another small fly, probably Amphidae

15. Drone fly eristalis sp
16. The German wasp or European Wasp,  vespula germanica, la guêpe germanique, and a friend




Monday, 13 October 2014

A few pictures of chiffchaffs

... le pouillot véloce, phylloscopus collybita, out of the 49 or so taken out of the spare bedroom window on 11th October as they chased flies on the house wall in the sunshine. In between times they were going "chiff-chaff".

This is my favourite.

How long are those primaries?


At rather a strange angle

Got one!

Look! It's a really nice one!

A nice view of those primaries

How to look cute

I got one as well!

Cute and primaries! What more could one ask for?

Small greenish yellow warbler, dark streak through eye, pale streak above and below,  dark legs, short wings... check. Er - rather a long beak, flattish head - is this one a willow warbler?

'Oo're you lookin' at? Hey, there's a hom sap over there with a camera!


Friday, 10 October 2014

Of naked ladies in ditches... & mixed tits in bushes...

Yes...
appearing in your local ditches now are naked ladies.
Naked Ladies, Meadow Saffron or Autumn Crocus [Colchicum autumnale] Colchique d'Automne is in flower...
it might have been beaten down a bit by the rain of the past few days, but more will spring up.
The Naked Ladies are particularly noticeable in the ditches that have just been mown....
where their almost fluorescent pink shows them off wonderfully.
They are not to be confused with  Autumn Crocus [Crocus nudiflorus],  which is a garden escape...
but now naturalised in the UK and some parts of Europe.
Nor with Crocus sativus, commonly known as the Saffron crocus, which is also a late bloomer.

A Naked Lady
Naked Ladies
And more Meadow Saffron....

In the Spring, look out for their weird fruits....
well, not exactly weird, but they do look strange!!
The bulb sends up a shoot with three leaves encasing a green, somewhat egg-shaped seed head.
The first time I saw this it took me quite a while to identify...
well, books on flowers tend to only show the flower and has seeds only if they differentiate between species that look similar when in flower....
as if you are likely going back there at the right time.

Marjorie Blamey has illustrated the fruit in the "Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe" Fitter, Fitter & Blamey....
but it isn't quite how it looks in the wild...
the seed head is far too thin....
the leaves are too wide and too short
and there is no indicator of scale....
it has been tucked at the bottom of the opposite page....
both in my '74 edition and the new 1997 edition [we have the French version]...
so no help there, then.

Keeble-Martin shows a single leaf which is much more indicative of what you see...
but not the seed head or the structure of the three leaves and seed head on a single stem...
and it is very large when you see it....
about three times as large as would be indicated by the Naked Lady herself.

Roger Philips in "Wild Flowers of the British Isles" shows the seed head and the leaves...
very long and strap-like...
but the very thin seed-head looks like a young specimen....
but it is rare in the UK...
occurring most in the Bristol area....
so difficult to justify picking more than one to photograph.

These pictures are not mine.... I can't find mine... they are Creative Commons stock...
and are by Hermann Falkner and were taken in Austria in 2008.

A nice, rounded seedhead in Mid-May 2008
The open seedhead and withered leaves in July 2008
This picture shows the long, strap-like leaves....
almost 30cms long.

So, now to mixed tits...
and warblers...
There is a lot of activity at the moment with flocks of warblers on migration...
and they tend to interact with the flocks of mixed tits...
in our case Blue and Great...
with the occasional party of Long-Tails thrown in for good measure...
At the moment the warblers are mainly Willow-Chiffs with some Garden and possibly Melodious, too.
Last week it was Whitethroats and Blackcaps with the Willow-Chiffs....
Pauline also saw a Firecrest amongst those...
next week it could be them again...
they do tend to pass in waves.

All the birds move around very, very rapidly...
but seem to ignore us humans, so it is not difficult to get close enough to watch them without binoculars....
necessary because it is virtually impossible to follow them with the binos...
they are flycatching....
the food for their migratory flights...
so you can be panning with one and it will vanish from view...
with the naked eye, you would have seen that as you were panning....
it either dropped or flew vertically...
plucking an insect out of mid-air.
Their aerobatics are well worth "wasting" half-an-hour over...
free entertainment on your doorstep!!

Chiffchaff.... an "oil painting" done in Photoshop

Willow-Chiff is the "collective" name for Willow Warblers and ChiffChaffs....
almost impossible to tell apart except in the hand...
unless...
you hear them sing!!