Category Archives: Insects

Mellow fruitfulness

I met my friend Carolyn for lunch at her home on the Wirral on Tuesday. The weather had been dreadful all morning, but the sun suddenly came out, so we decided to take her very reluctant dog for a walk.

Carolyn.

Continue reading Mellow fruitfulness

Phallus impudicus

A restless night. A tawny owl ke-wicking somewhere in the garden in the small hours. A stifled-sneeze-induced splitting headache mid-morning. Time for a walk down Burlees Lane to clear my head.

It's at this point that my natural history journal loses its U-certificate rating. Look what I found in the woods:

Stinkhorn.

The aptly named stinkhorn (with the equally apt Linnean classification Phallus impudicus): a fungus which, when it spores, emits a smell similar to rotting flesh. The smell attracts flies (as shown), which then fly away, bearing fungal spores to new locations.

My hero, Charles Darwin, was fascinated by plant dispersal mechanisms. I'm sure the stinkhorn fungus's spore-dispersal trick would have delighted him.

(And yes, it stinks to high-heaven!)

More photos from my walk »

Hobby and kestrel

I paid a short visit to the RSPB's Burton Mere reserve on Tuesday afternoon. As I approached the main bird hide, a birder passing the other way informed me that a hobby was ‘displaying well’. I gathered this was a good thing, so I thanked him and carried on.

I hadn't seen so many people in the hide before. Every single one of them bore extremely expensive optical equipment in the form of binoculars, telescopes and telephoto lenses. I tucked my own horse-racing binoculars and bog-standard zoom lens discreetly under my arm, and sneaked my way in amongst the experts.

The chap who had tipped me off had been right about the hobby. It was putting on a magnificent show, gliding high, then plunging down, twisting and turning, snatching hapless dragonflies from the air, and eating them on the wing. Unfortunately, the light was appalling, and the hobby was a very long way away, so I couldn't take any decent photos.

Crow chasing a hobby.

The hobby continued hunting in this way for about half an hour. All the birders in the hide were extremely excited about it—as was I.

Once the hobby had left, a kestrel approached the hide, and I got some better photos. But, as I say, the light was appalling. I had to turn the ISO setting way up on my camera, then deliberately over-expose to get any sort of shot. I then had to crop and process them on my computer, tweaking up the contrast and removing a lot of the noise. Modern digital technology really is remarkable. I would never have been able to get photos like these with traditional film:

Kestrel.

More (closer) photos of the kestrel »

Catching up

I'm a bit behind with this journal, so a quick catch-up:

I went for a walk on the Moor in search of sundews the other week, and wrote about it here.

Then I had a go at photographing butterflies in my garden:

Green-veined White butterfly.

Then I took a short walk at Burton Marshes: Continue reading Catching up

Two new life-list entries (in black and white)

Plumbers, a joiner and an electrician are wreaking havoc in what was once our bathroom and will, in ‘a good week and a half at least’ (plumber's promise), be our superb new bathroom. Radio 2 and power tools have been on at full blast. The house has been filled with alarming banging. I have been exiled to the dining room. So, on Tuesday, for a bit of peace and quiet, I left for Dad's much earlier than usual, and paid my first ever visit to the RSPB reserve at Burton Marshes.

As I entered the new visitor centre, I was surprised to see my friend Carolyn's teenage son greeting visitors. He explained that he was on work experience. I embarrassed him something rotten by insisting I take our photo and text it to his mum.

Dudes
A pair of dudes on Tuesday.

To test him, I then asked Carolyn's son to tell me what birds we could see in the scrape about 100 metres away. He pointed out shelduck, black-tailed godwits, lapwings, little egrets, and a few other species, then delighted me with my first ever sighting of an avocet. It was feeding in the shallows with sideways sweeps of its upturned beak. Continue reading Two new life-list entries (in black and white)

Where was I? (And how I spent my summer)

It has been pointed out to me that I haven't updated this journal in several months. Not that it needed pointing out, you understand: I was painfully aware of the fact. To be honest, I had been toying with the idea of scrapping the whole thing and using the lifesgrandeur.com domain name for some other, as-yet-unidentified purpose.

I've been very busy, you see. I've been writing my book. In fact, I've written my book, and am now looking for a literary agent. Literary agents are extremely difficult to get hold of, apparently, but it's definitely the thing to do, if you can manage it. And, if you can't, there's always the self-publishing-on-Kindle option.

And the weather has been so damn awful, you see. ‘The crappiest summer since records began,’ the Met Office said. Or something like that. So I haven't been getting out as much as I'd like.

And then there's the backlog, you see. I haven't posted here since mid-June. That's over four months' worth of posts I would have to write. Which is a daunting prospect to say the least.

So, tell you what: why don't I just post a whole bunch of photos of stuff I've seen since mid-June, with no commentary except the photo captions, and we'll carry on from there as if nothing happened. Which it didn't, I suppose.

Of course, this means I won't get to tell you about all the stuff I didn't manage to photograph, like the two female goshawk sightings in Anglesey (or, more likely, the same female goshawk twice—my first ever goshawk sightings), and the stoat that failed to spot me sitting on my favourite rock, and the peregrine falcon which flew right by my windscreen while I was stuck in a traffic jam on the M56 near Frodsham Marshes only last week. But you're not interested in goshawks or stoats or peregrines if there aren't any photos, are you?

So, without further ado, on with the pictures. First, a few shots I failed to include in my last post:

Lapwing
A lapwing spotted just below the Moor on a walk on 13th June.
Common haircap moss
Common haircap moss.
Gorse
Gorse.

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Song thrush
On 25th June, on a walk around the lanes, I spotted a song thrush next to the daytime moon.

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I took another walk on the Moor on 12th July—a longer walk than usual, up to High Brown Knowl:

Mitchell Brothers' Mill
Looking down from the Moor towards Mitchell Brothers' Mill.
Caterpillar
An unidentified caterpillar. (I am hopeless at caterpillars.)
Curlew
A curlew circled above me, emitting alarm calls.

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Red grouse
I was back up on the Moor on 18th August, bagging grouse. (The red grouse is one of the stars of my book.)

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Sexton beetle
On a knackering walk with friends in the Yorkshire Dales on 18th August, I added this sexton beetle to my entomological photograph collection. (But, if you look very closely, you will see that there is more than one insect in this photo.)

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And then, in September, came Anglesey: one of my favourite places in the whole world. The photos are here, and the slideshow is here, but here are a few of my better snaps:

Guillemot
A rather tame guillemot.
Wheatear
Quite possibly my best wheatear photo so far. One of my favourite birds (and another star of my book.)
Raven
It's pretty much guaranteed you'll see a raven or two, if you visit the Anglesey coast these days.
Sandwich tern
This sandwich tern was fishing by the rocks every day. It had a newly fledged chick in tow, and was teaching it how to fish—feeding its lazy and noisy offspring in the process.
Bottlenose dolphins
I looked for them every morning, and was eventually rewarded with the sight of a group of three or four bottlenose dolphins heading off across the bay.

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And, other than a couple more walks which did not yield any photos of note, that's about it. We're up to date!

Spring?

More like summer. Three days of unseasonably hot, sunny weather, with more promised.

I stood for twenty minutes, leaning over the gate near the compost heap, soaking it up. A couple of butterflies, several bumble-bees, lapwings calling, and a pair of rabbits in the back field. I have been seeing quite a few rabbits there in recent months, which is unusual. I think they might have established a new outpost nearby. They have even been digging in the lawn by the compost heap.

The larger of the two rabbits, which I assume was a male, was very active, hopping back and forth, scratching in the soil, and rubbing his chin against spiky, dead nettle stalks, presumably leaving his scent. The sap is rising. He had a sizeable, ginger, Mohican strip at the back of his neck. Do rabbits usually have these? I have not noticed them before.

It's about now that I start looking optimistically for swallows, but the earliest I have seen them up here is on my birthday, 2nd April.