Wednesday 22 December 2010

Beautiful Birds (12): Magpie

  • You might enjoy Kanak's post (here) on the Oriental Magpie-Robin, the national bird of Bangladesh

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Seasonal Splash (3): Snow on Snow

The shortest day, and I took this sunset-like photo after lunch at 2.15 pm - a very strange light
One of the Starlings: look at his hooked claw!
The intricacies of ice: hoar frost on a leaf
Starling Roost
Sunrise Colours
Sunrise over Mumbles
Jack Frost Patterns
'Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird . . .' Eleanor Farjeon
Feathery Trees . . .
Wales, a Winter Wonderland
A welcome Song Thrush . . .

The scene from Swansea, looking towards Mumbles, and across the Severn Estuary to the snowy hills of Exmoor

A Chaffinch - we have two who like to sit in this Larch

The poor spider!

Surreal snowbound Swansea! It's rare to have snow on the beach . . .


I hope you like my miscellany of winter scenes on this, the shortest day of the year!

You might enjoy this winter poem by Robert Frost. 

Thursday 9 December 2010

Trees (1): Holly, a seasonal species

'Now the holly bears a berry . . .'
trad. Christmas carol
Christmas draws ever nearer, so I thought I would post a plant that brings seasonal cheer. Holly is evergreen and although I tend to think of it as a bush, we often find holly trees. The berries are usually red, but there are some species that produce yellow ones. It's strange that these berries which provide such desirable nourishment for birds, are not safe for human consumption. It takes a frost or two to mellow the flavour of the berries, apparently.

I had not realized until now that the prickles on the leaves afford two-fold protection for small birds. They provide security during winter storms and also a measure of safety from predators. The Welsh word, 'celyn', which I see on road names around my home, means 'holly'. The botanical name is 'ilex'.

The wood from holly (that sounds less confusing than holly wood!) has been used in the making of 'white' chess pieces. Holly was also used for winter fodder before the agrarian measures introduced by a Norfolk man, Turnip Townshend (and here).

Holly reminds us of Christmas by its very nature, as we know from the words of the carol I used as a caption above. The red berries remind us that Christ came to bring salvation through the shedding of his blood. The prickles are a picture of the crown of thorns.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Beautiful Birds (11): Black Stork

Hellenic Ornithological Society Information Kiosk on the Pier, Pylos area, Peloponnese
While we were staying in the Pylos area of Greece last September, we visited the volunteers at the kiosk above, and decided to book in on one of their guided nature walks on the lagoon.

The view from the hide

The photo above shows our first view of this magnificent lagoon. There were Little Egret in abundance. I think one may be 'touching down' in the water to the left of the photo.

You can just see the hide on stilts (look below the mountain)

The guided walk took us along the banks of the lagoon to the hide on stilts.

The Old Pumping Station - a wildlife H.Q. and Information centre

We returned to our starting point, here at the Old Pumping Station, just as the sun set, casting a fiery glow over the scene. I will post my sunset pictures on another occasion.

A Black Stork over the lagoon, taken by David

The lagoon often has flamingos, but they were not around during the week we were there. We were thrilled, however, to see a Black Stork flying overhead - and glad to have the H.O.S. volunteers to confirm the identification. I had seen Storks in Turkey a long time ago, but it was a real thrill to see this bird in such a stunning setting. I'm wondering if it was on its hibernation route to tropical Africa.

We were on the mainland in the western Peloponnese, but there are other amazing areas for birds, such as the island of Lesvos. I wonder if you saw the repeat of a fascinating programme, 'Aristotle's Lagoon' (and here - but 11 hours left to view at the time of writing), the other night on UK television, about the bio-diversity of this wildlife-rich habitat that had so inspired the early philosopher-naturalist-scientist, Aristotle?

  • Black Stork (Ciconia nigra) - with recent UK sightings

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Dragonflies (3): Scarlet Darter

The stunning Scarlet Darter, Peloponnese, Greece

We had a slight frost last night, and I found my mind wandering to warmer climes! We spotted this fine Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) near the frogs on their lily pads in the Pylos area of the Peloponnese back in September. Apparently this is as 'red as it gets' in the field of European Odonata. I am quoting Macropoulos, whose spectacular photographs of the same species can be found here, here and here. I understand this Dragonfly has occasionally been seen in the UK. Thanks to David Element's information, I am pretty sure that the Darter in my photograph is an adult male. These Dragonflies have their own Facebook page! 

Thursday 18 November 2010

Ladybird Alert (2): Not a Harlequin, this time

Seven-Spotted Ladybird

I hadn't seen a Ladybird for ages until last week when I saw my first Harlequin. Then on Saturday we were out in Carmarthenshire, when we encountered this creature. I wondered if it was heading towards the crack in the wooden gate post, with an eye to hibernation. Mind you, I'm not sure that it would actually have fitted!

The Seven-Spotted Ladybirds has flame-coloured elytra. It is known as Coccinella septempunctata, for obvious reasons. Here in the UK, there are concerns that the Harlequin is ravishing the key food supplies of its seven-spotted cousin.You can see a selection of Ladybirds here, sporting their spots and stripes. Ladybird guides can be bought here.

Homes are often not the best choice of winter residence for the Ladybird, as the warmth tends to wake them from hibernation at a time of the year when aphids are few and far between (and rarely indoors, in any case). There are several ways to encourage Ladybirds to inhabit your garden, though. You might like to consider one of the following options:
  • Making a recycled Ladybird Hotel for the Winter - instructions here
  • Making a de luxe Ladybird Hotel/Stack - instructions here  
  • Buying a Minibug House from a charity like the RSPB, to benefit wildlife twice over - here
I know I have a Minibug House on my list for Santa, but I may well cover all options and have a go at making one, too, as soon as some corrugated cardboard comes into the house.

If you have posted any Ladybirds recently, let me know and I'll add a link.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Beautiful Birds (10): Red Kite

Red Kite
My thanks to David, who took this photograph in Carmarthenshire at the weekend. When we first moved to Wales eighteen years ago, Red Kites were a rarity. These days we occasionally see them flying over our home. They are fine birds, especially when the sun catches their bronze plumage. Like my favourite bird, the Puffin, Red Kites have 'Amber' conservation status.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Ladybird Alert (1): Late Arrival

Large Ladybird on the wall of our house

Two years ago I was doing a spot of Christmas shopping in November when I was stung by an unseasonal wasp and ended up at A&E. This year my late visitor was a more harmless one; more harmless, that is, as far as I am concerned. I would very much appreciate a firm ID, but I believe this may be my first Harlequin Ladybird.

Harlequins have been much in the news. They first reached the UK in 2004. I am told that they are not 'bad' or 'undesirable' in themselves. The papers tell us it's just that they do not belong here in the UK, where they interfere with the well-being of other Ladybirds.

I thought I should look up some facts. The Harlequin's name ironically is Harmonia axyridis. It belongs to the order of Coleoptera and the family of Coccinellidae. You can read more about it here. The Walton and District Garden and Allotment Society has a helpful feature on identification here.  

P.S. Other Harlequins were spotted in the area on 7 November, too. You might like to read this post on the Gower Wildlife blog.

Friday 5 November 2010

Seasonal Splash (1): The Fall of Autumn Leaves

A Grey Squirrel in Swanseas
A Splash of Autumn Colour
A 'reflective' foretaste of Winter, when there will be bare branches on the deciduous trees
Meanwhile, we can enjoy the rich colours of Autumn

I can understand the leaves losing their green chlorophyll colour in the Autumn, but what makes them turn yellow and purple, russet, scarlet and gold?

Carotenoids are responsible for the shades of yellow and anthocyanins for the reds and purples.  You can read more about the process on the US Forest Service site here. Drop me a comment if you have posted some colourful leaves: I would love to see them!

Those of us in the UK, where we mark Guy Fawkes' Night on 5 November with fireworks and bonfires, would do well to read the RSPB advice regarding the safety of animals. You might enjoy my collaborative Bonfire Wordle here

Thursday 28 October 2010

Testudines (1): Sea Turtle Mystery, Caretta Caretta - in Greece

Turtle Priority
I was particularly thrilled to learn that there were breeding Sea Turtles (Caretta Caretta) in our area of the south-western Peloponnese. I wondered if we would see any sign of these beautiful but endangered creatures.

Those of you who have followed my blogs may know by now that I always enjoy seeing unusual animal road signs (see below) - and although this sign referred to the beach and sand dunes, I have included it since it was in a car parking area!

Turtles allowed - and dogs on leads ...
The turtles lay their eggs in the sand dunes and then when the young hatch, they make their way down to the sea under cover of darkness. The adults certainly chose some beautiful beaches for their nurseries.

Surprisingly strong waves
I kept an eye open for any tell-tale signs, like shuffle marks in the sand. I stopped in my tracks for a moment when I saw the scaly object below ... but only for a moment!

False alarm!
Turtles have a number of predators. Sometimes they get caught up in fishing nets. You can read about 'Rafael' (here) and how he was rescued after a fishing net encounter. 

Fishing net may be fun for cats, but can endanger turtles
We kept a sharp eye out, but there were - apparently - no turtles to be seen. You can imagine my surprise when I arrived back in the UK and looked at the photo below. I can't be sure, but I think there may be something lurking in the water!

Archelon is a Greek-based organisation dedicated to the protection of Sea Turtles. The Peloponnese boasts about 900 turtle nests per year. Volunteers carry out patrols in key areas to ensure their protection. They try to raise public awareness through education initiatives such as slide shows. You can read more about these conservation measures here.

For a wonderful blog post on the Sea Turtle, do visit Vickie Henderson's Art blog here

A Couple of Unusual Animal Road Signs ...

Monday 25 October 2010

Butterflies and Moths (13): Painted Lady of the Peloponnese

Painted Lady at the archaeological site of Messine in Greece, early autumn 2010
Helen of Troy may have had the face that launched 1000 ships, but the Swallowtail and Painted Lady were the butterfly species that caught my eye at the amazingly extensive archaeological site of Messine (sometimes written as Messini) in the western Peloponnese.

Messine: part of the site, with its olive and lime trees
The site of Messine in Messinia, not far from Kalamata (of olive fame) was a fruitful haunt in this respect. The Painted Ladies flew among the white scrubby flowers, flitting in and out of the Swallowtails, who clearly enjoyed the same vegetation.

End on!
I found some interesting web pages about butterflies, including the Painted Lady and Swallowtail, on the Gerald Durrell Zoo site. I particularly enjoyed the quotations. You may like them, too. The link is here, and the Jesrsey Zoo Ark Gallery is here.

Feeding time
You can watch an amazing life cycle video of the Painted Lady here. Like other butterflies, they belong to the class of Lapidoptera: lepidos means 'scales' and ptera means 'wing' in Greek as the wings are made up of scales. 

I love the unfurling plants
Painted Ladies have a row of four 'eye spots' on the outside of each wing, plus a smaller dot. You can just about make out these eye spots in my photo below. The American Painted Lady has two large eye spots and the West Coast Lady does not have any at all.

A change from thistle nectar, which is often a favourite foodstuff

You might like to check out other 
Wildlife Photography Blog posts ...

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Herpetofauna (3): Frogs in the Peloponnese

A number of frogs like this one were enjoying the lily pads ...
They were actually pretty camouflaged in the dappled sunlight and shade, and we only realised they were there when presumably they heard us walking by and leaped off their 'sunbeds' into the water.

Guess who ruled the roost in this pond!
I am wondering if they were examples of the Epirus Water Frog (Pelophylax epeiroticus) - or at least the frog in the top photo. We were staying near Pylos, in the region of the beautiful lagoon at Yialova.

Land of the Lotus Eaters?