Monday, 27 August 2012

Secret World

Had an enjoyable Bank Holiday Monday visiting the Secret World ( ) wildlife rescue centre with the children. Raining all day, but spirits not dampened and the children loved seeing the baby squirrels, harvest mice, bees in the glass walled hive and badgers sleeping in the observation set. Also saw a group of swifts being rehabilitated and it was very strange to see them floundering in a box with their almost functionless feet, when normally you only see them soaring with such confidence in the sky. Note: They suddenly seem to have gone from the sky, as do the swallows although the house martins are still wheeling about.

 Talked to the various people in charge of the birds of prey and learned a few things. I hadn’t realised that owls could live for so long, the European Eagle owl can live to over 40, if I heard the man correctly. The juvenile kestrels cannot easily be sexed until their first moult when they’re about a year old after which the feathers grow back with their distinctive female warmth or recognizable male blue/grey head cowl. Terrific to see the birds so close and surprized at how small the tawny owl seemed when in the hand and rather dampened by the weather and how eager and sharp the little kestrel was, keen to jump off the glove, so slight and perfect.

Friday, 24 August 2012

French Predators

Here in the south of France the multiple insects have multiple predators. The evenings are alive with the whir, hum and buzz of cicaadas and crickets but the air is also full of bats, the walls and floors alive with scuttering lizards, preying mantis and wasp spiders stalk the flower beds and the garden hides multiple green frogs and huge toads.

The noises of the night-time crickets and cicadas are so incredibly loud, and also quite distinct and recognisable, whether they are the same insects making different noises or all different species I can't say.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Wonderful French Moths

I have been surprised by the variety of moths here, although dead ones are hard to find. As I gingerly picked up an insect from the wall, thinking it was some sort of leaf bug, I was slightly shaken by the suddenly vigorous moth I had in my hand, a large 'oak eggar', which was sitting like a large out of place birch leaf on the plaster of the house wall in broad daylight. There are hawk moths everywhere and large 'garden tigers' feeding on the lavender beds. The most wonderful moths however are the multiple hummingbird hawk moths which dance in little gangs over the lavenders taking nectar from the flowers. The are quite astonishingly fast and unable to keep up with them, to use the auto focus on the camera, I resorted to hastily manually focussing and jigging about trying to keep one in frame as it stopped at each flower to hover beautifully for a fraction of a second before moving on.

In the evening, as we sat in the open sided dutch barn, we could watch the many moths come and go in the lamp light, with the occasional bat zipping in out of the dark to take advantage of the distracted oasis of insects. I took a few long exposure shots of the lights with the moths coming and going and this 60 second exposure captures at least something of the number of visitors, their erratic paths leaving reflected trails against the dark sky.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Enjoying the unfamiliarity of French wildlife.

Sitting up late at night pinning out my found dead or pool drowned insects and drawing on my art box.

 There are such a wonderful profusion of insects here and I am reminded of Alfred Russel Wallace's notes when he first encountered the rainforests of south America and was overwhelmed by the number of species. I have yet to get to a rainforest (one day soon !)  but even by driving 700 miles or so south into France, the environment and creatures are so different. Familiar buzzards and recognisable moths but many other more exotic species such as the hummingbird hawk moths, preying mantis, strange hornets, lizards and giant toads.

The frogs in the pond are clearly also a different species and are much greener, I am tempted to say they are edible frogs but they could be pool frogs, they are certainly nearly impossible to photograph as they shoot underwater if you move anywhere near the pond. I went out tonight to release a large cricket that I had been drawing and nearly stepped on a huge toad, perhaps the size of 2 tennis balls and bigger than any toad i've seen in the UK. Quite passive and easy to pick up and having drawn it also I nearly stepped on a second sitting below the outside light presumably waiting for moths and other insects drawn by the light.

On a walk to the river it was easy to count at least 6 types of grasshopper and cricket as they scurried or jumped from the grass as you walked along. I also found another of the large bright green lizards, only briefly seen previously in the lavender beds, by the logs by the river and managed to show the children but there was no sign of the catfish that I had seen on the surface of the water earlier in the week as after the very sunny weather the surface has bloomed with algae and so the slow moving water is now completely hidden by a mat of growth.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Ants and Slugs

In this kingdom of rains where the slug is king I notice that there are other happenings in the natural world. One thing that has become particularly evident in the recent weeks is that there are ants everywhere, both red and black, and that they are clearly on the march, with new nests under everything. I only have to move a sheet of plastic, an old tile, a play-mat or log to uncover a new nest. As such a colony is accidentally discovered all hell breaks loose and the worker ants rush about making the exposed eggs safe and the winged ants run for cover. I imagine that the ants are expanding out from older nests and looking for every opportunity to make their world of tunnels in rain protected sites.

There are also baby slugs everywhere at the moment and I don't recall ever seeing so many young ones.

On a different note, as I drove past Greinton to get wood I saw a little owl flying along a wall, this afternoon at about 3pm, shortly followed by a peregrine falcon, which was a bit unusual.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Weever Fish at Frinton

Lesser Weever. Scientific Name: Echiichthys vipera. Usual Size: Max.14cm

For the third year running I caught a Weever Fish at Frinton, having never previously caught one in the thirty+ years before that. Whilst shrimping in bare feet and in about 3 feet of water on the flat sandy seabed between the breakwaters I caught this Lesser Weever. It is clearly recognisable with it's poisonous spines on the black dorsal fin and gill spike. The children liked looking at it in my gold fish bowl and it was all I could do to stop them trying to poke it with their vulnerable fingers but it's a confusing message when they can and want to hold the crabs and shrimps and there really are so few creatures that can harm you in the UK. 

I remember a friend called Vince stepping on a Weever fish as we were pushing the boat out during a Devon dive trip at Mill Bay near Salcombe about 15 years ago and his foot swelled up and it was clearly very painful. The wound can be as mild as a bee sting or a serious as an adder bite, apparently, but you can't be sure how your body will react until you have trodden on one and so some shrimpers recommend wearing footware.