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.

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!).

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

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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.

Emperor Dragonfly

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Arriving at Brazos Bend State Park near Houston, the first creature I saw was this dragonfly sunning itself, sitting obligingly still for this photo.

Trying to ID it using my book of insects, with illustrations, makes me pretty certain it’s an Emperor Dragonfly, even though the book only covers European insects. The description given fits though, “male, easily identified by deep blue abdomen with black line…”

There are birds and butterflies in the US which have different names in Europe, so I’m happy that it’s an Emperor and will go with that. But what about this one? It was sunning itself nearby and I can’t see anything like it in my insect book….

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I suspect this one is a native of the southern US States. Any suggestions?

Lemon tree, very pretty

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Visiting family in Houston last year we saw, with some dismay, that the lemon tree we’d bought and planted in their garden was in a very sad and sorry state. An unexpected and uncharacteristic very cold snap one night had got to it and most of its leaves had frozen and shrivelled.

This winter it had been coddled in advance of any cold weather and covered in a protective blanket. When we arrived, the blanket was off, warmer weather had prevailed and the tree was looking very healthy.

Bursting with blossom, it smelled delicious. A bee was visiting the flowers and pollinating, and there is already an as yet unripened lemon hanging on one of the lower branches.

Seeing the tree in bloom reminds me of the words of a song:

Lemon tree very pretty

And the lemon flower sweet,

But the fruit of the poor lemon

Is impossible to eat.

I challenge that – the previous year there were enough lemons to make a couple of lemon meringue pies!