Buff tailed bumble bee

It’s good to see there are bees in the garden. There are plenty of nectar sources; among these are the pale pink blossoms on the blackberry vine which wends its way along the wall under the kitchen window. Already the petals are dropping as the fruits begin to form.

Bees go for purple flowers and we have quite a lot of these. The lavender, which they are strongly attracted to, is just coming into flower.

As a child I was scared to pass lavender bushes smothered in bees. Now I’ll happily lose time watching the bees at work on them, trying to ID them – usually not doing particularly well so I have to go indoors to refer to the bee chart we have on the wall.

Maybe I need a bee ID book…? (birthday present hint!).

 

Rhinoceros beetle

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This handsome hunk seems to have taken up residence on our patio decking. He falls down between the cracks sometimes, but climbs up and then upturns himself, legs flailing.

I’ve rescued him a couple of times and set him on his way in the nearby planter, which has woody-rooted Box shrubs for him to feel more at home with.

I found him a short while ago on the patio table which we’d abandoned in a hurry at lunch time when it pelted with rain. He’d waited until the rain cleared and was having a stroll across the table top.

He flew down to ground level but let me offer him a lift to greater heights so I could take this photo of him, then he flew off down again to get on with doing his own thing.

The female doesn’t have a horn, and the Latin name for this beetle is Oryctes nasicornis, the nasicornis bit sounding decidedly nasal!

A day of birds and beasts

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Wetlands and Spanish Moss on trees, Brazos Bend State Park

Following our truncated stay and hasty departure from our visit to family in Houston ( to get back before all planes stopped flying, no other reason!) I’ve finally got around to looking at the photos I took there. So distracting and disorientating is this period of lockdown (what day is it…?) I’d forgotten about our family day out at Brazos Bend State Park and what we’d seen there.

It’s one of our “must go to” places when in Houston, so before our departure we had a family day together and enjoyed a walk around these wetlands. They are alligator- inhabited, a bit of a birder’s paradise, and they always delight us. We’ve seen roseate spoonbills, ibis, blue herons, bitterns catching fish just feet away from us, red-winged blackbirds and alligators basking on the banks.

Trees are festooned with Spanish Moss, noisy American coots hoot and squawk, anhingas (cormorant-like) sit with wings spread in the sunshine and large dark blue butterflies make their presence felt as their wings brush by.

P1080543There’s always something new to see, and this time it was the large brown furry creature in the marshy area, which some of our party thought was a beaver, some thought was a coypu, and some some just didn’t know. It’s taken me a while to get round to the ID job, and I had to check it out and do a spot of research too. It’s a nutria, which I’d not heard of before, but they’re quite common, are similar to beavers and are related to coypu, which are found in Europe. It’s the size and tail which give the answer – large body, rat-like tail. Beaver tails are flattened.

One down, one to go. What was that unusual bird with an orange and black head I saw lurking in the undergrowth? I took a few shots very quickly and managed to get enough for an ID. But what was it? I’d seen something like it before but couldn’t remember where.

P1080546Lockdown days offer more time to browse photographs. This bird looked vaguely familiar, so I tried a long shot and looked at photos I’d taken in Costa Rica, and there it was – a Crested Caracara. I’d seen one there. They’re listed as being seen in Texas, and specifically at Brazos Bend. It was quite  thrill to see this large bird – and not only that, on the way to Brazos by I spotted a male Hen Harrier (called a Northern Harrier in the US) flying low over a field.

This was probably the most significant sighting of the day for me. Hen Harriers are persecuted and endangered in the UK, and although I’ve been fortunate enough to see both male and female of this species on the wing in the UK, they still give me goosebumps on my neck when I do.

Lost in Cumbria

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It was summer and we’d gone away to Cumbria for a weekend break in our campervan, We were staying on a  site new to us, having read about it and heard good reports. In a park-like setting, with views of the sea, nearby access to the beach and village, and plenty of walks to be had, it sounded ideal.

The weather was good – quite hot as I recall – and we decided to explore the nature reserve area, adjacent to and part of the campsite. Following rocky paths, we climbed through a wooded wilderness, clambered over mossy rocks and stones and took care to avoid the cowpats and the insects which went with them. We couldn’t see any cows, but there was a faint whiff in the air so we guessed they were around. The cowpats were enough evidence.

Enjoying the walk, we explored the area for about an hour but realised quite soon that we weren’t getting anywhere and were going round and round in circles. We were following the same paths over and over again and we started to recognise the same cowpat, which we passed several times.

No matter, it was warm and sunny, we were glad of some shade and we spotted a shy roe deer and several butterflies – painted ladies, wood whites, even a dark green fritillary and a cinnabar moth. We began to wonder if we were a bit lost, passing that cowpat once again, but at that stage we weren’t really worried, knowing it wouldn’t be dark for a long time.

Repeating the same circuit yet again by following the now all-too-familar paths as we tried to find our way out, we both started to get a bit edgy. The dog gamely kept up but did give us a few looks which said “Why are we going down this path again?” It was getting cooler by this time and we were getting tetchy with each other too. Were we really lost? Nobody knew where we were, there was no phone signal and the Google map of the area included the nature reserve, but not the paths. It just showed up as a green space on the map.

Going round the circuit once again, we climbed up one of the rocky paths and found our way blocked by a large bovine. We reined the dog in on his lead, but he’d seen the cow and made an executive decision. He diverted from the blocked path and took off in a downward direction along another path we’d clearly missed, but had been searching for.

With some relief – it was cooling rapidly, and we praised the dog – we reached the gate at the entrance to the reserve. It was the same gate we’d entered through, with a “Please close the gate” sign, but there was no info board with a map of the place.

How good it was, though, to see civilisation again, in the form of the children’s play area in the campsite, and some mown lawns, people, and best of all, to get back to our van and put our feet up!

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!