Saturday 25 August 2012

Going cuckoo!

A juvenile Cuckoo [Cuculus canorus] Coucou gris came to our window yesterday evening... very fleeting. It took something off the wall between the kitchen and the lounge and then sat for a moment in the cherry tree... looking straight at us!
How do I know that it is a juvenile... it was still around this morning [but vanished each time before I could photograph it!]... it had a telltale spot of white on the nape of the neck. No photographs... but what follows is a LOT of interesting links.

The Cuckoo is a Red List bird and a number of British nesting Cuckoos have been radio tagged and you can follow some of them on the BTO website on this page.

Two, both back in Africa now, are Lyster [who has a BBC article about him here] who can be followed here and Chris [named after Chris Packham] who can be followed here.
These two have been "followed" now for two journeys south and one back.

A female named Idemili who was tagged this year, was found injured and nursed back to health and has now been given a "lift" to Italy to help her on her way.
These two links have the story:
Cityplanter: Cuckoo hitches lift on a plane after missing migration.
Daily Mail: Freedom cuckoo with business Class BA flight to Italy [This article has the fuller story... the first shows what a sorry state she was in.]
The BTO have not re-tagged her... probably because, as a breeding female, she is too valuable to lose.

I shall see if it is around tomorrow morning, given the wind today... very strong and from the east... it may well have stayed, sheltered in our willows [the last place I saw it disappear] or in the trees along the riverbank. I'm sure that it won't have wanted to waste energy trying to fly into that!

Just think...
it has never seen another Cuckoo...
it is flying alone....
it has around another three and a half thousand miles to go to get to the Congo...
apart from the gross parental neglect, how the **** does it know where to go...
it thinks it is a Reed Warbler or whatever species the mother specialized in imitating the eggs of...
some evolution!

Bonne chance, CouCou!!

Friday 24 August 2012

Darwin Syndrome

There is a website dedicated to people who have done idiotic things and have died in the process... The Darwin Awards...    [this Video is the 2012 winner].  
But today I found a Peacock butterfly caterpillar that deserves it's place in the Darwin Awards record....

Most choose sensible places to hang around for the pupal stage... like these.

Tucked safely away behind a spider's web...

But occasionally the brain-cell must have "gone fishing".... look at this fellow...

This is the start of the process... yesterday.
Look at the top right... it should show where it has hung itself.

Yes... it has attached itself to a petal on a Pelargonium
A down-to-earth move!

He's going to drop off soon!

But all is immaterial... look closer at the above picture of the pupa and you will see that he's got visitors.

Two small parasitic wasps looking for a soft spot!
The old skin is bunched up at the top.

Even the one that was behind the spider's web isn't safe....

The ovipositor is indicated by the red arrow.
This is the caterpillar on the right of the first photo.

Susan of Days on the Claise and Loire Valley Nature will probably be able to furnish the name of the wasp and I'll update the entry from her comment.

This is the email that Susan sent: "Based on some quick internet research, your parasitoid wasp is the Chalcid (Pteromalidae) Pteromalus puparum. They are widely used as a biocontrol for Pierids and are known to go for Vanessids (like Peacocks and Admirals) as well. They only lay in newly formed soft chrysalises."

Saturday 11 August 2012

Why somethings take longer.............. to do!!

July fifth, twenty twelve.
There I was, sitting in a chair on the bridge with a glass of Munster* in hand, listening to Deep Purple's "Concerto for Group and Orchestra" and watching the sun go down.
No... one better, I was grabbing the warmth of the last rays whilst watching mayflies dancing in July, when.... suddenly... the view through the "macronoculars" was momentarily obliterated by a huge dark object.
You might think that the ant-eating cat had blocked my view.... but you'd've been wrong. A male Blackcap [Sylvia artricapilla] Fauvette à tête noire had snatched a tasty morsel to feed a young-un.
The next ten minutes were spent watching the Blackcap feeding a chick. Flit, feed, flit, feed.... on and on!

Also, there were a couple of Moorhen [Gallinula chloropus] Poule d'eau chicks chugging around below me... feeding themselves now... there was an adult around, up by the walnut. Probably a last feed before retiring to their "veranda" for the night.
The "city-boys"... Grand Pressigny's House Martins came through, feeding low.... a sure sign of bad weather. The sun was behind Grandmont now anyway and it was getting quite chilly.... so I decided to head indoors... the Munster was finished anyway!!

As I turned round I saw a 'short' rainbow over the Bois du Favier.
Just a shower... just that cloud!

The day had started badly.... the intention was to carry on with the maintenance of the meadow and potager after returning from the market. [ie... mowing!]

We never made it to the market... it started raining and nothing on the list was too important to hasten for [but we always feel sorry for the traders when it is miserable]... and it put a kybosh on the mowing too... grass, now wet, won't cut properly! Find something 'indoors' to do...

I started to write out a long intended, bird species list.... finished it too! There are about 120 species we could/should see here... we've seen about eighty. There are some.... Tree Sparrow and Coal Tit being a couple... that we should see but haven't. And yet others... Wood Sandpiper in Summer, Cattle Egret and Great Egret in mid-winter... that we shouldn't have.

Then, later, the weather turned for the better, so..... all intended up the spout.... I took a stroll round the meadow to see if there were any major patches of Creeping Thistle [Cirsium arvense]chardon des champs that I'd missed the previous day. I have no intention of trying to eradicate the Creeping Thistle.... it is too important a food plant for the wildlife around here.... I just want to control it enough to stop huge clouds of seed blowing over the neigbouring fields!!

The sun came out and brought with it a host of insects that had been sheltering in the nooks and crannies of tree bark, or under leaves.... dashed back in for the camera.... and managed to grab a few shots before it clouded over again.

One of the first in the frame was this Map butterfly [Araschinia levana] la Carte géographique which obliged by posing with its wings open.... I've got enough shots of the underwing to publish my own atlas.

The 'Summer' wings
And the underwing!

These are the summer brood.... spring [overwintered] specimens are so different on the upper wing as to appear a different species.

Susan of "Days on the Claise" blogged about them here and there seem to be an awful lot more around here than last year.

Also around were Red Admiral, Peacock, Marbled White, Silver-Washed Fritillary, Meadow Brown and a White Admiral.

However, around in even greater numbers were the Damselflies. Plenty of male Banded Demoiselles and some brilliant emerald green females...
The strange 'nostril' is the wing of a rapidly vanishing fly!
... and a few Beautiful Demoiselle males up near the wier.

One damsel that caught my eye was this male Blue Featherleg [Platycnemis penepipes] l'Agrion à larges pattes which was posing nicely at the edge of one of the new "Paths"#, but there were also Bluets and Bluetails around, males definitely, females probably, but I need to go out deliberately to photograph as many as possible and then sit down in fron of this screen with the "bible" - Dijkstra & Lewington, to identify what we do have. I wonder how long before I acheive that?

The 'feathering' on the hind leg is very clear in this picture.

Also around were Gomphidae, possibly a Western Clubtail as Susan has seen them here, but when it got close enough to see more clearly, the tail seemed to be very markedly "clubbed" and it could have been a Pincertail [Also seen here by Susan and mentioned in the "Days on the Claise" entry.]

So, no mowing.... but a provisional Bird List under the belt... after about six years of deliberating!!

*The Alsace beer... not the cheese!
# One advantage of cutting through beds of chest-high nettle is that it falls cleanly, leaving a high, sharp-cut edge that all sorts of insects like to perch upon!!

Wednesday 8 August 2012


We had a couple of Orioles in the dead willow on the bank opposite the bedroom the other morning. A juvenile [all greeny with a black eye-mask] which stayed in the top of the willow for a while, and an adult in black and yellow that sat there in full view for about five minutes before going and skulking around in the ash that was next door. It thought it was under cover, but we could both see it quite clearly. Sorry, no photographs. It was just too far away to catch!

Friday 3 August 2012

Proud parents

For the second time this year Pinknose the moorhen and her compagne have made it through a successful hatching and are now leading a little convoy of tiny bald black scribbles up and down the millstream.

On the nest.

With the first brood we saw four chicks. Two were slightly larger than the others, and it was most unlikely that all four would survive, due to a combination of predators such as pike, inclement weather and their own general gormlessness. The millstream flows quite fast under the bridge next door to the nest, but given a normal rate of flow even the smallest chick seems capable of paddling itself back upstream. In the end we only seemed to see two fully mature juveniles around.

Moorhens are very attentive parents, and they share all child care duties. When the chicks are away from the nest, there is always at least one parent with them, while the other forages for tasty snacks. The parent-in-charge makes a regular beep-beep which reminds me of the rather unimpressive horn on the tricycle I had at the age of five. It is quite a soothing call and seems to make the chicks follow the parent and not go wandering off. Whereas the growling noise from Pinknose on her nest when Tim went too close with the camera warned the chicks to dive under her feathers and hide from the perceived threat. She made the same noise when Baron the tom cat went to sit on the parapet. He doesn't much mind getting wet when it comes to rain, but he hasn't tried swimming - yet.

Declaration de Travaux:-  Patio and Apero area

Dad built a 'patio' to make room for the growing chicks, but that was the cue for the rains to start and we don't think they ever got the barbecue lit! As a result of the much greater growth of vegetation, we are not sure whether or not the old nest was used for the second clutch, or if it was the patio that seemed more suited. We only saw the little balls of fluff today and haven't yet managed to count them.

Dad! Can we have a barbecue, Dad? Can we? Can we?
Shurrup! I've told you... it's raining! Again!!
All these photos are from the first brood.