Wednesday 23 May 2012

Things that go "BONK" in the night!

We've been amazed recently by things hitting the windows of an evening.... in this first post I'll concentrate on the moths [Papillons du Nuit].
The most exciting was a Giant Peacock Moth [Saturnia pyri] Grand-Paon-de-nuit which visited on the 11th... absolutely huge, it was at least 15cm [3"] across....

Now that's more my size of prey!

They don't normally have this sparkle, do they?
Hey, Mum... have you seen this!
The cat's heads and the Fox Moth give scale to this magnificent moth. had the full attention of the cats... but was very difficult to photograph... it wouldn't stop flying around.
Most of the other moths have been far more sedentary... settling for long periods.
But it did eventually settle for a moment.... and I got a lovely shot of it on our step.

The step is 27cms left to right.
This male is at the North of its range... it is, like most of the Saturniidae born without mouthparts, so is on the way out the moment it emerges from the pupal case. The young feed on Blackthorn [Prunus spinosa] Epine Noire or Prunelle of which we have plenty, as well as Ash and various other trees.
I found the remains of another that had probably fed a bat, by the Mairie in Grand Pressigny - a full hindwing and a few shreds of the others. [27/05/12 - Also a front wing by our back door... the front rib of which is constructional strength steel.... by the feel of it. The colours of the two wings are much faded when compared with these pix, too.]

A second member of the Saturniidae that has been around is the Fox Moth [Macrothylacia rubi] Bombyx de la ronce... we get loads of these. They really are daft creatures... laying eggs on our doors like the Emperor Moth on our window [blogged about here  and one that Susan wrote about here]... the titchy caterpillars have to cross three metres of bare calcaire! An adult female can be seen in [above pic] which then went on to start laying much to the amazement of our RonRon as she had noticed a male that was still trying to mate... so she tried to separate them...

What's going on here?
That can't be right!
[the female is the lower one and the eggs are
the pale dots on the door frame beneath her.]
Better separate them then...?
fortunately there was glass in the way, as I think what she had on her mind was a bit more permanant than "Go away!" A mouth full of moth wing scales... yuck!

Another visitor was an Eyed Hawkmoth [Smerinthus ocellata] Sphinx Demi-Paon...

...we usually have our attention drawn to where the 'bonking' is coming from by the cats!!
This was no exception... RonRon the 'scientist' made a mad dash across the tops of the work surfaces to the kitchen window... before being told off... but by the time I'd managed to get the camera and get outside, it had moved to the lounge window... lower and more convenient for photography.

You can see here the eye is just visible...

Eyed Hawkmoth female.

This and the Poplar Hawkmoth have a strange wing profile.
and after taking a picture to show the upper wings better...
I risked holding the wings open to show the eyes more clearly....
Still not perfect, but I didn't want to damage her!

Surprisingly, she didn't object!!

As mentioned before, we get lots of 'night visitors' and here are a few more in no particular order!

Lunar Thorn or Purple Thorn moth [Selinia spp]
The same Lunar Thorn or Purple Thorn moth [Selinia spp],
a couple of ichneumon flies [Ophion luteus & Lissonota setosa] and a micromoth.
Ichneumon fly [Ophion luteus /Ophion sp.]
An Art Deco micromoth and some more night visitors including an ichneumon.
Moth in a smoking jacket!
Peach Blossom Moth [Thyatira batis] La Batis
The next night visitors post will be on beetles.... things that really go BONK on the glass, floor, lampshade, etc...etc...etc!

Friday 18 May 2012

Water chickens - their struggle

Our resident pair of moorhens [gallinula chloropus] gallinules poules d'eau , Pinknose and her mate, have been industriously nest-building for their second year. Last year they raised two offspring, and in winter all four regularly visited the base of our cherry tree to clear up under the feeders. We blogged about them here in December last year.

The youngsters have now been driven off, in the same way that Pinknose was driven away by her parents from their territory further up the millstream two years ago. In the millstream immediately outside our kitchen window is a patch of yellow Flag Iris [iris pseudacorus] l'iris faux-acore. The patch has been expanding slowly over the years. In winter it is nothing but a patch of blackened stumps, then at the end of February shoots began to appear. Now the green spears are tall enough to provide cover for a moorhen nest, which is built from twigs and scraps of vegetation.

According to the books (and as we observed) the male does most of the fetching and carrying, passing pieces to the female who does most of the building.

Male with a branch
 He is readily distinguished from her by the white tail coverts (the feathers under and to either side of the black tail) which are fanned out for display, both aggressively and in courtship. In the case of the male, the tail coverts are permanently spread partially, in preparation to confront any of the other moorhens along our stretch. There is a visible white strip of at least a centimetre on either side of his tail, whereas the female shows only a white line or nothing at all. His bright red frontal plate is also broader, squarer and lumpier than his mate's.

Male on left: Female on right.

They communicate in gentle chucks and clucks late into the night. One morning he brought in a particularly large piece of vegetation. She clucked at him and swam away. "OK, you brought it, you fit it"!

On the morning of 29th April a single brown-splashed white egg, almost round, appeared in the nest. They both brooded it intermittently, the male being somewhat clumsy with it and nearly kicking it into the water. They continued to visit the feeder area together. Until...

During the afternoon and evening of 29th April, 2.1 centimetres (almost an inch) of rain fell. By the morning of 1st May, the stream had risen by over a foot and the nest was awash. The egg was gone.

The waterlogged nest site.

The couple stoically built higher. The following day, the water level had fallen again, the nest platform was well clear of the water, and there was another egg! A couple of days later there were two eggs, the parents still brooding intermittently.

The last time we got the opportunity to see the eggs, there were four of them. Both Pinknose and her mate are now brooding solidly, meanwhile keeping a wary red-rimmed eye on us as we look down from the bedroom. They have bent over the iris leaves around the nest and interlaced them, creating a neat bower which keeps a little of the rain off. The water level remains high, though when it drops the birds have a bit of a scramble to reach their nest platform. The iris started to flower today, immediately above the nest. Let's hope it brings them luck!

The 'second' egg
Pinknose in the bower....
And Mr. Pinknose taking his turn.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

A new species discovered in the Aigronne Valley.

I was busy working outside the other day and noticed strange activity in some short grass next to the bief.

The main sound was a sort of snuffling sound, so I walked over to investigate....

We had an anteater come to visit... and I don't mean the Green Woodpecker either.
It was a Black Anteater [Timandmea tetradcattongyla].

On a side note, I saw the female Green Woodpecker having difficulty in these claggy conditions.
I was watching her feeding and when she stopped, she had gained the biggest Roman nose I'd ever seen.
It would have suited a Raven.... she spent the next ten minutes hammering, then wiping, her beak clean on a post.
But, I digress....

Yes, there was an anteater at work at the side of the bief...
Its long sticky tongue was clearing the disturbed ants from the grass stems around the snuffled hole.

These are the ants.
It was an amazing sight... as the supply of ants ran out the beast either dug or snuffled to disturb more.
It was so busy feeding, that it wasn't at all worried by my attempts to get these pictures.

There's a lucky [for now] ant on the left...
It was probably an escape from a zoo somewhere....
or possibly an escaped pet...
I suppose I should have reported it....
but it seemed so happy in its work....
and we do have too many ants here.

The ants were climbing all over the animal, but it didn't seem to worry...

Ants on the animal's fur.

It could be very useful having one around.... the ants here are just too numerous to control...
and yet...

I don't know...

should I report it?

 No... I'll leave it be... let it do its own thing!


If you haven't guessed it yet, our big tomcat has developed a new addiction... ANTS!

Nose down hole, huff and puff a bit and the ants come running to defend their nest...

I've never seen a cat do this before... but it isn't a one off thing, he's doing it all the time...
"Cats on Acid"... now there's a thing!

.... and a few licks and down they go!!
Wierd habit or what?

Sunday 6 May 2012

Flocking finches!

Not because they keep emptying the feeders....
We've noticed in the last week that there is quite a large flock* of European Goldfinches [Carduelis carduelis] Chardonneret élégant flying around here....
something normally associated with the winter months
[alright... I know it is cold enough].

One of our Goldfinches

There are three possibilities for this behaviour....
Firstly, that these are bachelor boys from last years broods that haven't found a mate... but those groups are normally smaller.
Secondly, that it is just too cold and wet to nest, with not enough food available... so they've regrouped for safety in numbers.
Finally, there isn't enough cover to nest in.

The last could have something to do with the heavy clearance that is going on on the riverbanks, but I doubt it as, in the scheme of things it is removing very little of the actual available cover.
A few tens of metres either way there will be brambles and blackthorn... with more on the wood edges.
However, it could be as a direct result of the very slow growth in some of the vegetation that they normally nest in... the bramble especially!

Dead bramble that provides no cover....
...if you follow the willow trunk down you will see it through the dead clump.
 Our brambles [Rubus ssp] haven't got going at all yet... the freeze in February hit them very hard, killing off most of the exposed shoots and buds... those that weren't tried to open in the exceptionally warm March... only to be hit by another blast of heavy frost just as they had done so.

The brown patch is a huge clump of bramble by the last of the five pollards.
You can't kill bramble that way, but it now has to come from the base, or form adventitious buds up surviving stems and grow from those. Whichever way it happens, this is a very slow process to begin with and will probably delay nesting for weeks for some species.

* more than 40.