Brittany rocks!

P1090702

Excuse the pun. There are a lot of rocks and boulders in northern Brittany and I saw some of them on my recent visit there. The lush green valley with moss-covered boulders is at Huelgoat (pronounced Hwelgwa, according to the French branch of the family I was holidaying with).

We took a walk in the Argent Valley, where these huge mossy boulders tumble down into the river, and are invitingly easy to clamber on and explore. The surrounding forest is a peaceful, shady place and the star feature is the Trembling Rock, which is said to move. One of the teenagers in our party tried to get some movement out of it by leaning on it and pushing. I have to be honest and say it didn’t appear to move to me….

The pink rocks of the Cote de Granit Rose stretch way along Brittany’s northern coast, near Ploumanac’h, and their formations are weird and fascinating. The sea has shaped them such that it’s possible to see (with a little imagination) recognisable objects – is that  tortoise? Or a lizard? Or an elephant? – were some of the suggestions we came up with.

We were following part of the sentier des douaniers – a path by the coast used by smugglers and strewn with these fantastically shaped rocks.

Skipper – Small or Essex?

P1070746

This Skipper butterfly was posing obligingly on a thistle in Tatton Park last week, but what with grandchildren staying, I’ve only now got around to having a close look at the quick photo I took of it en route to Home Farm for a hands-on visit for the children.

My first thought was “Small Skipper”, but then I looked it up in the excellent Butterflies of Britain & Ireland by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Lewington and was immediately torn between it being a Small Skipper or an Essex Skipper. Oh they are so similar!

The distribution of the Small Skipper covers much of the UK; the Essex Skipper is more confined to the south and east…BUT… it’s described as “expanding west and north”, so it could be from Essex, maybe visiting its cousins in Cheshire?!

The crunch comes with the description for making an ID of this butterfly: “…examine the curved tips of the anntennae in order to see the colour of their undersurfaces.This is best done in early evening….creep up on them on all fours until you are head-on and can look upwards at the anntennae….the Small Skipper has antennae that are dull orange or brown underneath the tips, whereas those of the Essex Skipper are glossy black….”

Having examined the ilustrations in the book very carefully, I’m taking a punt on it being a Small Skipper. There’s no way I could home in any futher on an enlargement to see more antennae detail, but I’ve learned something new about this butterfly – and – I was amused to read “…many experienced lepidopterists are unable to distinguish between Essex and Small Skippers.”!

That’s music to the ears of this relative novice.

Crocosmia Lucifer

P1070734

There it was, flowering in the garden. Familiar-looking and vermilion, but I couldn’t remember what it was called and ended up asking my far more knowledgeable neighbour. “Crocosmia” she said. I was none the wiser.

But I took a photo of one virile, prehistoric-looking budding stem because of reminded me of a dinosaur’s head – maybe a pterodactyl?

Fast forward a few days and we were talking again, me and Mrs Greenfingers next door, and she dropped into the conversation the other name for this flower, which I remembered right away. Montbretia.

I couldn’t help thinking that naming this version of the flower Lucifer was rather appropriate. It’s light and bright, and has a devilish look to it when seen from the angle  photographed.

Magical flower of the night

We’ve had this Evening Primrose in the garden for a couple of years but I’ve never taken much notice of it, probably because I’ve tended to think it’s flowering was either over, or that it was on the way out because of the shrivelled brownish dead heads of flowers on view.

Liking the colour of those flowers still blooming, I took a photo of them a week or so ago and thought no more about it.

We went away for a few days and when we came back I noticed there were more brownish dead flower heads. But later that evening, during the recent heatwave, I went into the garden and saw that the plant was covered in freshly opened yellow flowers…but it was almost dark.

The light dawned – Evening Primrose – it comes into flower at night! The second photo was taken in very faded light, yet the flower seemed to glow in the dark. It was quite magical. I looked it up in our flower ID book, which explained that the flowers are a source of nectar for moths.

Sure enough, the next night, when I took visiting granddaughter out into the warm darkness to show her this magical night-flowering plant, there were a few large moths in the vicinity, coming to visit the flowers. This reminded me of the French word for moth – papillon de nuit – literally butterfly of the night.

We love to see butterflies, but moths are sometimes regarded as less popular and not as attractive (but they are!).

Sea Holly

On holiday on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales last week, I saw this Sea Holly growing in the dunes at Pwllheli.

The colour is a delicate pale mauve-like blue and it’s an attractive plant which survives in sand. Its deep roots enable it to reach fresh water and its waxy leaf surfaces prevent moisture loss.

It was blowing a gale when we, dog, and visiting grandchildren went on to the beach to run around, let off steam and throw pebbles in the sea. We got off lightly though as I later learned a tornado had blown close by our Cheshire town while we were away!

Paradise found

It doesn’t take much to make me happy. Give me a few butterflies and birds to look at, maybe some dragonflies and bees, and I’m in my element. Of course, all this has to take place somewhere warm and sunny and preferably on a campsite which is not just any old campsite, whilst spending relaxing days of leisure in Audrey, our motorhome.

carpenter bee in pollen

One September few years ago this state of relative bliss was achieved. Having travelled south through France via a couple of sites in the Loire region we revisited the Dordogne and the aptly named Camping Le Paradis, a beautiful sub-tropical garden of a campsite with large shaded pitches and immaculate facilities.

Leaving behind the mosquitoes which had feasted on my blood in the Loire, we didn’t encounter any at Le Paradis, in spite of its direct access to the River Vézère, which flows alongside the site. Here I was able to indulge in close up viewing of shiny violet-black carpenter bees as they busied themselves amongst the colourful flowerbeds on site. These solitary bees are alarmingly large and make a loud buzz as they swiftly fly between flowers, seeking out pollen. One of the many I saw was smothered in it. They rarely sting and nest in dead wood, hence the name. In bee-spotting mode, I watched a red tailed bumble bee, also busy with pollen. The black and yellow furry stripes on its abdomen made it look as if it was wearing a frilly ra-ra skirt.

Lush vegetation abounds on site and in addition to the many different kinds of bees, the flowerbeds are visited by hummingbird hawk moths, fascinating day-flying moths which hover as they collect pollen through a long proboscis. They resemble real humming birds, have beige furry bodies and black and white striped rear ends. They’re a delight to watch but are difficult to photograph as they move so fast. Time can stand still just observing these insects go about their daily life.

There were plenty of butterflies to keep me happy as I walked along by the Vézère with views of the historic Roque Saint-Christophe on the opposite bank. This large IMG_3682prehistoric dwelling has numerous rock shelters on five levels, which have been hollowed out from the limestone cliffs. Earliest traces of occupation go back 50,000 years.

Having been to this ancient site, it was the butterflies which demanded my attention. Adonis blues darted across the nearby fields, in and out of the long grasses, and sometimes visited our pitch. They look like bright jewels in the sunshine. Meadow browns were everywhere, mostly where it was sunny, whilst the speckled wood butterflies preferred the shaded areas along by the river.

The high point for me was spotting a lesser purple emperor butterfly feasting on horse dung in a field not far from the campsite’s community herb and berry garden. Seeing this large and rather beautiful butterfly as it tucked into what might be considered a disgusting meal, the interconnectedness of the web of life was demonstrated while its wings reflected a purple sheen like shot silk.

And then, of course, there was the snake. Walking along by the river bank one day, I’d stepped off the path to get a better view of the water as it flowed over some reeds. “Why are you standing next to that snake?” asked husband. Executing a backwards leap that would have had a ballet master shouting “Bravo!” I managed to take in the lazily curled length (50-80cm according to my research) of this smooth snake (rapidly researched when we got back to the van together with its status – non-poisonous), before it quickly slithered into the nearby undergrowth. No photo of this; I was as busy getting out of its way as it was getting out of mine!

We did tear ourselves away from the flora and fauna to go to the nearby attractive town of Sarlat, well worth a visit, but decided to give the Lascaux 2 caves in Montignac a miss. The lure of the leisure time in the sun was just too strong to be ignored!

This edited and updated article first appeared in the Murvi Club in-house e-magazine.

Requiem for a dying bee

P1070564

I found this large buff-tailed bumblebee on the grass in our garden, still, dormant and not appearing too happy. I watched it for a while and kept the dog out of the area. It wasn’t moving. Was it tired? Did it need a little sugar water? One wing looked crumpled and squashed. Was it injured and in recovery?

I tried sugar water but it slowly walked away from the sweetness so I placed it on the garden stone bench. It wandered abound a bit, did a large yellow poo, then settled down again.

I left it and came inside to do a web search on “bee with crumpled wing”, described as follows:

Deformed wing virus (DWV) is one of the viral diseases associated with Varroa mite infestations. Other things can cause an occasional case of deformed wings and a diagnosis is impossible without laboratory tests. However, if you see a bee with distorted, misshapen, twisted, or wrinkled wings, there is a good chance you are seeing the results of deformed wing virus.

There was nothing I could do to help, except place the bee on an alium flower – a favourite, chosen bloom which is currently frequented by many bees, busy collecting pollen from the small star-like purple flowers which make up the head of each bloom.

And there I’ve left it, and nature will eventually take its course. It’s currently hunkered down amongst the myriad flower stems which make up these large globular blooms, and is supported by them, as if in a hammock. It should be a silken one; I think it is probably a queen.

Sleep well, beautiful bee. You may well live to see another day.