Yellow fields

I don’t have an image which truly expresses the parched yellowness of the French countryside I travelled through recently.

France, in September when I was there, was dry, dusty and gasping for rain. I travelled through part of eastern France to Burgundy, the Dordogne and then northwards, on the western side on my way back to the UK.

In the eastern, near-empty areas, the fields were yellow, some admittedly because crops had been harvested, their stubble like a blonde buzz cut. This mainly agricultural area is one of lakes and big open fields, the yellowness unbroken apart from a few small woods and very few hedgerows.

France doImage result for north by northwestesn’t do hedgerows nowadays;  parts of it look like large prairies. The roads running through areas like this remind me of the scene from the classic thriller North by North West, where Cary Grant, standing at a bus stop in the US prairies  is attacked by a crop-spraying plane.

It’s a depressing fact that in France, shooters will take pops at birds and wildlife…but then what chance do birds and wildlife have to breed and prosper in an environment almost devoid of naural features like hedgerows?

The journey was made in warm sunshine. A clear blue sky with a few perfect cotton-wool clouds provided a stunning contrast to the yellow countryside. It wasn’t just harvested fields which were yellow; grass had turned to straw in meadows, and where the soil had been ploughed or tilled, the earth was varying shades of burnt umber, sienna and ochre.

France had had a summer of intense heat, which is why these yellow fields were in evidence pretty much everywhere I travelled. It was still very hot in the Dordogne, with July/August temperatures, making it the hottest I’ve experienced in this area in September. Not quite like usual. Not normal.

This is the new “normal” we have to get used to as climate breakdown sets in and time begins to run out to restrain or halt it. We’ll be having extremes of heat and wet, bringing flooding, disruption and danger to life (just as intense heat does).

This is just one of the concerns of Extinction Rebellion, who are bringing the breakdown of the web of life to public attention with peaceful demos and non-violent activities. Like it or not, environmental concerns are real and breakdown is happening now. Just keep an eye on the global weather and you’ll get the picture.

Image courtesy of no6cinema.co.uk

Five or six spots?

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I recently photographed this burnet moth in the Dordogne, at a place on a walk we enjoy in the hills near the river Vezere. We’ve dubbed this place Butterfly Corner. It’s where the path through the woods opens out and joins a road which leads down to the nearby village.

Why is it Butterfly Corner for us? It’s because the patch of land belonging to the house there has been allowed to go wild and be natural, and it attracts a large number of insects – we saw bees, a hornet, and plenty of butterflies. It’s no great hardship, after a walk uphill, to hang around for a while watching and photographing what we see there, busy in the wild flowers.

I was quite excited to see this burnet moth as I’ve not seen one in the UK for several years. I said, with the confidence of the incorrect, “It’s a Six Spot Burnet”. But now I’m home and I’ve had time to look at my photos, it’s clear that it doesn’t have six spots. It has five.

A look at the Butterfly Conservation website threw more confusion my way. Apparently there is more than one kind of Five Spot Burnet; there is a Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet – and guess what? They’re very similar and it’s difficult to say which is which unless you’re an absolute expert on the shape and angle of the narrowness of the wings.

So here it is. A Five – not a Six – Spot Burnet, and that will have to do!

The annual photo challenge

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We’re just back from France, having toured in our motorhome for the past 4 weeks through Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and France. We ended up for some R&R at our favourite lush and floral campsite in the Dordogne region, near the River Vezere.

In September there are banks of colourful flowers like these, attracting, bees, butterflies and hummingbird hawk moths. The annual challenge is to get a half decent photograph of  one of these furry moths in action. They move fast, their wings are ususally a blur, and worst of all, they flit rapidly from one flower to another, so the chances of getting a shot often becomes less likely as they seem to know when the lens is on them.

This one isn’t too bad; it’s the best of the bunch. But whenever we visit this campsite I go back for more of what I call photographic torture!

More of our travels to follow – life back in Blighty has be caught up on – but here are links to a few earlier posts with photos from the same location taken at the same time of year.

Hummingbird hawk moth on orange flower – not too bad, this one.

Carpenter bee smothered in pollen.

Clouded yellow butterfly on wild scabious.

A selection of insects, all photpgraphed in the same location.

Skipper – Small or Essex?

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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

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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.