Monday, 31 August 2009

Lurve is in the Air with Pleated Wings

Yesterday spotted two pairs of Common Darter Dragonflies joined head to tail spending a lot of time over the garden pond. I tried for a while to get a photo of them in flight but my ability to adjust the manual focus fast enough defeated me. I did manage a few fuzzy photos of which this is the best.

Mating Dragonflies

After a while they moved on to try somewhere else. Later I noticed a lone female spending some time around the pond and had more luck in snapping this one as she flitted about.

IMG_6251Dragonfly in Flight

IMG_6254Dragonfly in Flight

IMG_6248Dragonfly in Flight

Eventually she settled and spent quite a while in the same spot, occasionally flying up and returning to the same resting place.


One thing I was hoping to record was the unusual way the wings of the dragonfly are designed. At first glance they appear to be flat but if you get the chance to look very closely ridges can be seen. The wings actually have a corrugated or pleated effect.

Dragonfly Wings

Dragonfly Pleated Wing Structure

It can be seen if you study the left front wing shown above.

I would never have spotted this if it hadn't been for a post on Kelly's excellent blog - Red and the Peanut. You can see the post here - "The Stylish Pleats on a Dragonfly's Wings ....". Kelly did some research and recently it has been found that the folds in the wings create circulating currents of air which reduces the drag on the wing. This design appears to be unique to Dragonflies. Once again Nature has the edge on us mere humans in designing an efficient wing.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Encounter with an Evil Weevil

Taking one of my quick browses round the garden pond yesterday I spotted what I first thought was a beetle climbing one of the marginal water plants.

Vine Weevil

It continued to explore the plant and at one time fell in the pond. As I was interested to see what it was I rescued it and placed it on the edge of the pond.

Vine Weevil

At the time I hadn't the faintest idea what I was looking at. I just though it was an interesting beetle. Much later, after a lot of searching the net looking for the wrong thing, I finally identified it as a Vine Weevil. If I had known that to start with I would have been tempted to leave it when it fell in the pond. It was back near the beginning of April when I was investigating the demise of my strawberry plants in the greenhouse that I found the compost was full of the grubs of the Vine Weevil. See Grubbing About.

The weevil must like walking as much later in the day I saw it, or a relative, walking at the top of the kitchen window which at least gave another chance for a double reflection photo opportunity.

Vine Weevil

How do they manage to walk on smooth vertical surfaces?

Jan (Shysongbird) gave me a link to an interesting article from New Scientist on the subject of how creatures walk up walls and across ceilings without falling off.

Why evil? It, or one of its relatives, was responsible for killing off my lovely strawberry plants which I had moved to the greenhouse in the hopes of an early crop.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Of Sunflowers and Goldfinches

While I was still on auto-pilot early yesterday morning I glanced at two small Sunflowers and thought - what has happened to the centre of each? As the brain cleared I could make out that each Sunflower had its own visitor - a Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly busily topping up with nectar.

Sunflower Visitors

Sunflower Visitor

Fortunately they stayed long enough for me to grab the camera and creep outside to get a closer look.

When I filled up the new larger Niger / Thistle seed feeder I bought on Thursday I moved the old one. The next morning there were no Goldfinches in sight! Later in the day I put the old one back in its regular spot and hung the new one next to it. At one stage this morning there were four Goldfinches on the old feeder and one brave bird on the new feeder. I think the Goldies have got so used to the landing pad on the old feeder. They like to stand on that and reach to pick out the seeds. Also over the past couple of days some of the Chaffinches have been landing on that pad. They never take seeds from the slots in the feeder but pick up any seeds which have fallen out or been dropped by the Goldfinches.

I wonder what is in that ugly looking yellow thing?

It is most unusual, here anyway, to see a Goldfinch on the ground but this youngster was spotted rummaging in the grass I laughingly call a lawn.

I wish his nibs would get the mower out!
Young Goldfinch

Friday, 28 August 2009

Two Round Tuits in One Day

Yesterday - a leisurely morning followed by a reasonable carvery at a local hostelry with a friend. On the way home I decided to pop in to the town to get a replacement electric car aerial for the greenhouse. I didn't know about the road works at the major junction in town so that was a seven minute wait to move a hundred yards. At the car parts shop my luck was in. They had one aerial left.

On the way back home I called in the garden centre to see whether they had a large Niger seed feeder and against expectations they did so I bought one and stocked up with bird food. There - two items off the Round Tuit list in the space of an hour - whatever next?

By the time I got back home it was time for Bobby to take me for my afternoon constitutional so we nipped down the lane to the cricket field. There were quite a few Southern Hawker Dragonflies flitting around the hedges. Every now and then one would rest. The only camera I had with me was the one in my mobile phone so I tried for a couple of shots. The phone has a wide angle lens so to get a reasonable picture of something like a dragon it needs to be very close. One dragon was obliging and let me get the camera within a few inches.


After a quick cuppa I set about modifying, testing and fitting the car aerial to the greenhouse door.

automated greenhouse door

Top to bottom - door closed, on its way opening, fully open, some uPVC to keep the worst of the rain away from the cables.

While I was in the garden centre I spotted a small ceramic bowl that looked just the job for putting hedgehog food in. I wondered how long it would take for a hog to use it. Not long at all!

When I think of it - that makes three Round Tuits in one day as I have been meaning to buy a bowl for the hedgehogs for ages. No wonder I slept like a baby last night - exhausted!!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Do Goldfinches like Oranges?

To be honest I don't know as I have not put any out for them to try. What I do know is that until very recently I had never seen the local Goldfinches drink even though the bird bath is only a few wing flaps away from the feeders. What changed? A short while ago I bought a bottle of CitroSan.

Citro San

This is a natural product extracted from oranges. According to the blurb on the back of the bottle - "It is a very good sanitizer against a wide range of pathogens and a stimulant for maintaining natural immunity." A small amount is added to drinking or bathing water.

The day after I added some to the water in the bird bath the Goldfinches started drinking from it.

Goldfinch at the Bird Bath

Coincidence? Who knows?

This is not meant as an endorsement for the product just an observation of what happened in my back garden. Having read of problems with finch diseases on other blogs I wanted something natural, without harsh chemicals, that I could add to the water and spotted this and decided to try it out.

Up until this morning I have only seen two Goldfinches visit at any one time. Today there were six vying for a space on the small Niger seed feeder. Looks as though I will have to buy a larger feeder!

No part of this post may be used by the manufacturer or any distributors or sellers of CitroSan for any advertising or endorsement purposes. It is not meant as a scientific test!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A Few Feathered Portraits

Yesterday I decided to get out the Sigma 170-500mm lens. I haven't used it since I got the new camera and had always been disappointed by its apparent soft focus. I though I would see how it compared with results I have been getting from the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM. I set things up on my most sturdy tripod as the Sigma is a long heavy beast. The results confirmed my earlier findings. I can often get sharper photos from small crops with the Canon lens.

Anyway here are some of the everyday visitors to the garden taken with the Sigma set at about 450mm most of the time:

Adult Goldfinch

Young Goldfinch
Young Goldfinch

Young Sparrows at the bird bath
Young Sparrows

Sparrow enjoying Elder berries
Sparrow eating Elder Berries


Greenfinch trying to keep its balance


The lighting conditions were not very kind as the Sun was often hidden behind cloud. I had upped the ISO to cope but even so I still found the results disappointing as the Sigma had had good reviews. Mine is second hand so maybe it is not in perfect condition optically. Also there is the difference in price to take in to consideration as the Canon lens cost an arm and a leg whereas the Sigma only needs an arm!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Blue Tits

Just recently there has been a juvenile Blue Tit visiting the Birdy Bistro. It can be picked out from the adults by its grey cap which will change to blue later on.

Normally when the Blue Tits visit they spend a short while on the cables above the feeders bobbing their heads and having a good look round to make sure all is safe before descending. This youngster spent over a minute trying to pluck up courage to mix in with all the House Sparrows that were hogging the feeders before flying away to try again later.

An adult Blue Tit almost hidden behind a leaf on another Sunflower growing from a seed dropped by the birds.

Peek-a-Boo. I can see you.
Blue Tit

Finally another piece of video. It starts with a Goldfinch surveying for danger above the feeders. The second part is of a juvenile Blue Tit doing what Blue Tits do best - feeding upside down on the fat ball feeder.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Bits and Bobs

Just a few bits and pieces today. Yesterday I took the old Canon with me as it is lighter to use one handed whilst hanging on to Bobby's lead with the other. It was hot and Sunny with a gusty wind. In the end I came back with one photo worth looking at. All the birds were sheltering from the heat and the butterflies and dragonflies were being blown all over the place except for one little blue job which did pose for a short while.

I am fairly sure it is a female Holly Blue resting on a nettle leaf.

Blue Butterfly

Back home a spider was embalming a hoverfly with their reflections showing in the double glazing.


The Sunflower seeds I planted some time ago have finally reached flowering size. These turned out to be a small variety with stems about 3 feet high and flowers about 3 inches across.

Small Sunflower

The first large Sunflower to flower has now produced seed some of which have already vanished. Whether a bird or a mouse has helped itself I know not. I had hoped to be able to film or photo whatever fancied free Sunflower seeds but as fate would have it the darned thing faced North, away from the kitchen window, once it had been pollinated. In fact this one never did follow the Sun across the sky.


In the front garden I have two Hibiscus bushes. One is a mass of flowers and buds. The other is a wizened stick about nine inches high. I have never managed to work out why one grew well and the other failed. Both were planted at the same time and they are in the same area of the garden.

Hibiscus by night. As well as attracting some butterflies and many bumble bees by day it attracts moths by night.

Hibiscus Bush

Hibiscus Flower

At the edge of the pond is a lovely pink flower belonging to one of the marginal plants. A Schizostylis coccinea cultivar.

Pink Flower

Today I had put out a small pile of black Sunflower seeds and it didn't take long for two Coal Tits to start collecting them. During one period I saw one kept disappearing under the tall Leylandii in the corner of the garden. I decided to have a scout around to see if I could see signs of a store or activity. The ground under the Leylandii is covered with a layer of old leaves but in three places there were bald spots which were probably too small to have been made by Bobby when he is sniffing around. In one of these patches was a solitary black sunflower seed. Coincidence? Possibly, but the bird was flying very low in to that area.

Sunflower Seed

Finally next door's Elder is in full berry which means they will be dropping on my side turning everything a deep purple if the birds don't make off with them soon.

Elder Berries

Saturday, 22 August 2009

A Couple of Flutters and a Hairy Landing Pad

Yesterday I had a visitor at lunch time. Fluttering round the conservatory was a Peacock Butterfly which eventually settled on the roof beam.

Peacock Butterfly

Today I saw what at first I though was a smallish day flying moth but once I had taken its portrait it turned out to be a female Common Blue Butterfly. I have seen a few small blue butterflies around but they never land in the garden. This one fooled me as it was far from blue in colour.

Female Common Blue Butterfly

While I was getting a bite to eat at lunch time I spotted something on Bobby's back as he lay basking in the sunlight.

Bobby and a Dragonfly

On closer inspection I could see it was a Common Darter Dragonfly which kept hovering and landing while half asleep Bobby didn't seem to feel a thing.

Dragonfly on Bobby

In the end it tickled and Bobby wearily shooed it away so it moved over to the pebbled area under the bird feeders. I hope it keeps up the head twitching so it can spot a hungry bird which might arrive at any time.

Common Darter Dragonfly

Now to do what I was going to do an hour ago - get the mower out. I was going to do that after the afternoon walkies yesterday but it decided to rain so I had better get 'Round Tuit' before it rains again.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

One Darter and Two Hedgehogs

Yesterday was the hottest day so far this month. In fact it was still 21C outside when I went to bed. A few years ago when temperatures reached 30C I bought a portable air conditioning unit which has rarely been used since - until this year when I have really had my moneys worth of use out of it.

At last I had an outdoor visit from a Dragonfly. It made a change from having to rescue one from the kitchen. For quite a while a Common Darter Dragonfly kept finding places to rest. It didn't stay still for very long as there was quite a gusty wind at the time which kept blowing it off its perch but more often than not it would land again in almost the same place several times before taking a tour round the pond and finding a more sheltered spot to land.

I was intrigued watching the way it moved its head as it looked around for danger, or maybe for a mate. It is such a quick movement it looks as though it has a nervous twitch. The bright Sun reflecting in those compound eyes showed as brilliant white spots. When I think about it, with those eyes seeing in so many directions at the same time, the Sun should be blinding it most of the time. There must be something about the way their brain uses those multiple eyes. Can it shut off the signals from sections which are catching the brightest light? Or is the section catching direct Sunlight such a small part of their view that it doesn't matter?

A few photos and a video clip.

Common Darter Dragonfly

Common Darter Dragonfly

Common Darter Dragonfly

It made quite a change last night to see Henry and Honey, the adult Hedgehogs, visit the feeding area at the same time. Well - almost the same time as the video shows.

There are four clips in this video:
1. Honey arrives first and towards the end of this section sniffs and follows what appears to be a beetle - the mainstay of a hog's natural food.
2.Henry is feeding. Honey comes in from the shadows on the right, sees him, and backs away.
3. Henry still feeding. Honey comes in from the shadows on the left to have a drink of water.
4. Henry scoffing dried mealworms and crushed unsalted peanuts.

Last night I scattered a few of their favourite dried mealworms near the entrance to the Hedgehog House to entice them to that area. Eventually I will start putting some in the entrance so they get used to it. Finally I will put food just inside to get them used to entering it or maybe to entice any other Hedgehog visitor which visits the garden. One thing is for certain- a hog cannot resist dried mealworms.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Des Res Rent Free - Only Hedgehogs May Apply

Well - I have finally got 'Round Tuit' and installed the new Desirable Residence, one Hedgehog House. I gathered some more dried leaves to put in it and tidied up the wiring.

Tidying up the wiring Tidying up the wiring

The loop in the outside wiring is to let any rain run away from the hole where the cables enter the house.

I lugged the house and the two reels of cable which were now attached round to the wild area of the garden behind the shed. (Being well built of thick wood it is very heavy)

Des Res

Then came the task of making room to slide it under one of the small evergreen trees. I had to cut away a few of the lowest branches which meant crawling through dead pine needles and dead holly leaves. As well as being prickled my arm got bitten by an unseen bug or ant and I still have the red lump to prove it. I hope some Hedgehog appreciates the suffering caused in its name :)

Eventually I was able to slide the house in to position.

Hedgehog House

A bit more tidying up and fencing erected to keep the nose of an inquisitive Lurcher away just left the cables from the camera to fix. A quick test meant I could breathe a sigh of relief that the camera was working OK.

Des Res in position

From the photos it gives the impression the house is tilted but actually it is the drunken angle the exhausted cameraman was holding the camera. It was a hot day and I think I must have sweated off a couple of pounds by the time I had finished. It is a lot darker round the back of the shed than it appears in the photos. I was using flash. The Des Res is next to a fence which protects it from the prevailing westerly winds and the bushes protect it from northerly cold blasts. The shed is on the South side so the Sun rarely reached down that low.

I was not the only one exhausted by the heat. Bobby lay in the Sun keeping an eye on things and when I had finished he retired to the shade at the back of the shed.


Now it is a waiting game to see if and when a local Hedgehog starts looking for a suitable place to shelter during the day and to hibernate during the cold months ahead.

Still no news about Hope, the young Hedgehog. I may phone Elaine at the weekend to enquire after the little hog's health. I don't like to pester Elaine as she gives all her waking hours to looking after many sick and injured hogs. She has my phone number and I am sure she would have let me know if there was a major problem. As Hope was under weight it will take a while to build up her strength and weight so she can survive the hibernation period.

A Lovely Surprise

When I visited Porcelain Rose yesterday I was tickled pink to see Glo had designed a 'change of address' card for my Hedgehogs. It is beautiful and very cleverly put together. You can see it here - Hedgehog Haven - well worth a visit.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

I'll Just Take a Few for Later

In the Spring I was fascinated watching Coal Tits visit the feeders very frequently to take a Sunflower seed and fly off with it. They were coming and going at such a fast rate it would have been impossible for them to have eaten them all. If they had eaten the number of seeds they were making off with they would have ended up the fattest birds in the country instead of being one of the smallest.

After an absence of a month or more they are back again, once more making off with as many seeds as they can find.

Watch out - I'm coming in.
Coal Tit

I hope nobody is watching me.
Coal Tit

This one will do nicely.
Coal Tit with Sunflower Seed

So will this one.
Coal Tit with Sunflower Seed

And a few more for luck....
(slowed down as they are so fast)

In fact they do not eat them all nor are they so clumsy that they drop so many they have to keep coming back. Coal Tits are known to store seed for eating at a later date so my little visitors are restocking their larder. They ignore the Sunflower hearts and the kibbled Sunflower seeds but make straight for the black Sunflower seeds.

While the Coal Tit was busy harvesting a male Chaffinch stood waiting his turn for the hanging seed feeder.

Male Chaffinch

Bees and hoverflies continued to visit the Sunflower. I think this may be Bombus Pascuorum but on the other hand I could be wrong.

Bee and Hoverflies

A Large White Butterfly was finding plenty of nectar on a chives flower.

Large White Butterfly

The leaves of the Sunflower were beginning to look like a lace patchwork in places so I had a look underneath to see what was satisfying its hunger.

A Small White Butterfly caterpillar?

Green Caterpillar

At the end of the day one small area of cloud was catching the light of a fading Sun.

Clouds at Sunset
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