Friday, 8 September 2017

Confusion and Obfustication.... and Nature's digital art.

What does the Passenger want you to see...
Well, perhaps it is easier to say what it doesn't want you to see....
it, and all the other wonderfully patterned moths, don't want you to see a potential meal!!
Save those like the Tigers, the Cinnabar and other very brightly coloured insects...
they, apparently, are saying "Don't eat me, I'm yucky!"
No, I've not tried!!!
But these, whilst often seen in flight during the day, are few in number.

The vast majority of moths are resting at that time and only flying at night.
So they need to remain unseen...
the most well known of these was the Peppered Moth [Biston betularia]... often cited as "evolution in action"*...
where...int'Black Country and t'grime of t'far North'n cities with the mills and steelworks...
a dark form evolved... and thrived... because it couldn't be seen at rest.
And, now, with the "big clean up", it has become much rarer.

Everyone knows the Buff-Tip... which tries to make us think that it is a broken birch twig....

Here, it is actually on a broken willow branch....
so it isn't restricted in its choice of places to rest!


and the Lappet, in silhouette in the previous post, even has "leaf veins"!

The leaf veins are showing very well on the lower wing of this one.


But what is the Passenger trying to imitate?
As a moth, it is a very "flat-winged" one...

It is a very delta-winged moth.

but, by "posing" in a nose downward position, it is imitating a curled over, dead leaf.
A total optical illusion... but very effective... all the insect needs to do is keep its tail towards the sun...
et, voila...
it is a dead leaf.

Not one of my best pix....
but I had released it well before looking at it onscreen...
and spotting the illusion.

And it is all done with pixels...
nature invented digital art before computers were even a Greek dream!

And here are the pixels!!

*Personally, with the Peppered Moth, my take is that a dark form had always existed!
Many moths have dark forms... given the right conditions, they will be more successful...
simply because they are the least likely to be picked off as a tasty snack

Friday, 1 September 2017

Spinning on a branch!!



Sometimes book illustrations get it so wrong...
whilst being "right and proper"....
moths are one example...
illustrations of the waterside plant Butterburr [Petasites hybridus] Chapeau-du-Diable being another.... it always has tiny holes in the leaves caused by the Strawberry Snail [Trichia striolata] that feeds under the leaves. Artists have always "cleaned" the leaves when they paint illustrations for books.

A Lobster Moth [Stauropus fagi] fr... on a rendered wall... in normal, and book, position.

All moths are portrayed heads-up or from the side....
to show the underwing, quite often the moth is pictured with one pair open....
usually the right... and so it should be, you need to be shown the characteristics...
but they are always a bit "museum"!
Possibly because museum specimens were used to do the drawings??
But, possibly also, because that is the "norm"!

But on websites, I have noticed that the photographs are also quite often corrected...
the moth doesn't actually adopt the position shown in the books... but the picture's editor....
possibly the photographer... possibly the website owner[s]...
have orientated the moth to the book position.
You don't actually find the moth in that position...
and the direction of light shows it has been rotated.

An "almost-silhouette" of a Lappet...
showing the leaf outline... not the right plant...
but it chose to fly off and settle there!!

Take the moth at the beginning of this post...
The Passenger
[Dysgonia algira] la Passagère...
a moth new to me... but a beautiful example of evolution.
I rotated the first picture to the "book" position.
BUT... this is how it was in the trap...




And a better picture taken later...



And this is the position it immediately adopted on release back to the wild...


... in both cases, as in the trap, head down.
But can you see why?
Let your eyes relax a little and look at those last few pictures...
can you see the optical illusion?
Remember that the moth is a flat-winged creature...
the illusion is created in "pixels"... each wing scale being a "pixel"....!!

I'll post later about what evolution "thinks" you should be seeing.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

A LONG Gardening Break...

...or yet another "Hiatus on the Homefront"

After yet another gardening break...
and we are almost ready for the growing season...
OK...OK... I know it has gone mid-AUGUST...
but the drought and then the heat held us back.
But, on the other hand, we'll be eating food "out of season"....
when it begins to get expensive in the shops...
So any bloggin' has taken a back seat...

We had a marvellous visit, though, at the start of May, by fellow LPO Refugers...
a reunion for LPO members who have declared their patch of land, or balcony...
as a Refuge LPO....
which visits a different persons refuge each year...
and this year, we had been asked to host the  day...
with lots to see and lots talked about.... a guided walk around the Refuge...
broken around midday by a picnic lunch, plenty eaten... quite a lot drunk...
and then a great Orchid Walk from Susan of Loire Valley Nature in the afternoon.

The Moorhens decided to nest just beside the bridge this year...
having destroyed the patch of yellow iris...
there is only so much bending and destruction of the leaves that a plant can take!!
But the nest was very visible from the bridge and gave a very nice intro to the site...
and, for a change, had local naturalists... whispering!!

At the six egg stage... she finally laid nine.
Five survived through the early days and were split 2 & 3 amongst the adults.

Then Pauline led the group around the meadow using her new chariot!!
The day was nice, weatherwise... and plenty of wildlife seen...
and we even river-dipped...
with a net!

Pauline introducing the visitors to the meadow...
the raised side bar of "The Chariot" can be seen on the right.

Lunch was had.... and on the way to the orchids, we stopped on the 'flatlands' above Chaumassay to see if we could spot the larks that frequent the fields just there... and anything else that would be different from the valley fauna... and were treated to a wonderful exhibition by a male Hen Harrier... both quartering the fields and.... new for me... trying to flush small birds from the treetops.
As there has been a "vole crash" locally, I am presuming that this 'out of the ordinary' behaviour is a little observed method of hunting when times are tight.

The walk proved interesting...with a number of oddities spotted... the best for me, though, was discovering the very strange larva of a Bloody-nosed Beetle [Timarcha tenebricosa] le Crache-sang.... a "Jabba the Hutt" type of critter....
anyway...
here's a load of pictures from the day.



Two views of a male Beautiful Demoiselle [Calopteryx virgo meridionalis] le Caloptéryx vierge méridional...
this is indicated by the fact that the wing colour doesn't quite reach the body...
in C. virgo virgo, it goes from the body almost to the wingtip.

A nice fat Roman or Burgundy or Edible Snail [Helix pomatia] escargot de Bourgogne, or Gros blanc...
and also known as escargot de Champagne....
these are actually really heavy when they get to this size!!
 
Spiderlings of the Garden Spider [Araneus diadematus] l'Épeire diadème...
which carry the same back pattern as the adults.
All orb-web spiders... as well as many other species...
form these dense clusters of newly hatched youngsters for the first few days.

A Woundwort...
most probably Marsh Woundwort [Stachys palustrisÉpiaire des marais...
given the habitat and pattern on the labia....
although hybrids between Marsh and Hedge Woundwort are not uncommon.
We have Hedge Woundwort by the front fence.... and is a lot darker...
this, though, is by the Aigronne.

A "nest" of Peacock caterpillars on a nettle plant
And then the afternoon and orchids...

Susan of Loire Valley Nature giving a talk on the orchids at Chaumassay....
before leading a walk along the road and up through the woods to the right.


Two colour shades of the Monkey Orchid [Orchis simia] Orchis singe...
first, a reasonably normal version...

....then a hypochromatic version.
Hypochromatic means lacking in colour.... and this one is very pale...
but you can see a tinge of pink.

Then it was single file up the hill into the woods.

Where, as mentioned, I discovered the "Jabba the Hutt" larva of a Bloody-nosed Beetle...
they feed on members of the Goosegrass family...
in this case, found on Madder [Rubia peregrina] Garance voyageuse.
And a male Crab Spider [Synema globosum]... named for the female's very spherical abdomen.
This fella is 3 to 4mm from nose to tail...
in fact, his front legs, at 4mm long, make him look much larger.


We also dipped a net in the millstream before lunch and came up with a few goodies...


A caddisfly larva in its sand tube...
possibly one of the Limnephilidae, which tend to build long, straight tubes....
you can just see its front pair of legs... the others hold it in the tube...
and a Water Mite...Hydrachna sp. possibly, as the habitat fits.


A couple of mayfly larvae... type again unknown... an Olive or a Dun of some sort...

And, finally, a Freshwater Shrimp [Gammarus pulex]...
along with a very small spire-shelled water snail.
And so went the day....
In other news...
the moth trap has had two airings per month...
middle and end on the "half-moons" as it cannot compete with a full moon...
and the identified species count is now up to 230 micro and macromoths...
with plenty more unidentified... mainly the micros.

My favourite spider, Argiope, is back with a vengance... they seem to be everywhere in the verger and one in the potager... plus some casually spotted in the meadow...

And the bief [millstream] has been declared out of bounds to fishermen... it has become a nursery for truitelles... baby trout.
More on all this in future posts....

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A slight Hiatus on the Home Front....

or "Apologies for no major post last week..... or this, and this and that for that matter"

Sorry... with all this fine weather, and a need to get spuds in the ground at the right time this year... I hadn't pre-prepared anything...
But the moth trap has had two airings so far this year... and we've started to get visitors to the windows at night!
The Swallows are back... swinging in and out of the barn.... and paying a visit in here, too... which took a bit of juggling to create an escape route....
The Black Redstarts are back, as well....and the duck gave us a nice present the other day... a fresh egg that she'd laid on the fly down by the old apple tree.
How do we know it was fresh? Because anything like an egg down there wouldn't have lasted overnight....
A Little Egret had been fishing in the bief...and flew past the bedroom window just as I looked out... no need for binos...
The Nightingales are back... three singing males at least... and a Zizi was singing from the wall early doors... a Zizi is the Bruant Zizi... or Cirl Bunting... relative of the Yellowhammer... with a similar song but it keeps what it doesn't want a secret... "Little bit of bread and no..."
It misses out the "cheeeese"
We've got a group of young Viperene Snakes [Lat] Coulevre vipérine who have holed up together just inside the barn door... four is the maximum seen at one time.

So here are a few pictures taken recently.....

Here's the Bruant zizi... aka: Cirl Bunting.... zizi'ing his little heart out!!

There are four Viperene snakes in this picture
... count the heads... one sunbathing...
three in the gap 'twixt barn wall and the metal...
sunwarmed...
hinge.



Three from the moth trap....
R>L: a Brindled Beauty, a Small Lappet and a Lunar Marbled Brown....
the curate who named the last probably had cataracts.... it is all grey!!

 
A hoverfly.... hovering!

An Ichneumonid wasp...
possibly a female Ichneumon xanthorius based on looks and flight period.
{But, only experts can really tell... and not from photos!!}

Black Redstart [male].... showing his "shirt-tails"!

And finally... for the moment... an orb weaving spider.
Tetragnatha sp.... possibly Tetragnatha extensa which is the most common...
but I need the other side to be certain...and this one was...
thirty centimetres off the ground in stinging nettles!!




Tuesday, 4 April 2017

What's nibbling me willows?

I have been playing "catch up" in the meadow and along the millstream...
I haven't been able to get onto the meadow over-Winter for three years...
so I have been felling timber that needs to be felled as quickly as possible....
with the intention of tidying up afterwards...
the only tidying that I have been doing has been to create a safe environment for me to work...
or to clear the paths.

Some of the felling has involved the "nursery area" that is outside our bedroom window....
three of the young willows were too deeply rooted when Stuart and I were lifting them for replanting elsewhere....
and that, coupled with the fact that the ground had become very unstable by the time we reached them....
and we had no real purchase in the sticky goo... all that meant that they were left...
and, in reality, neglected for a further two years.
By that point they were too large to try and move, so I cut them off as waist high pollards...
this is the height that some biomass and basket making willows are kept at...
which means no back-breaking bending....
the oldest known pollard, some four thousand years old....
and found in the river bed of the Derwent in Yorkshire, is this same height...
so early man thought that too!

And therefore I began to harvest them in a three year cycle.... to create "bushes"...
which has been interrupted by three bad winters...
so I had a mix of four, five and six year old wood...
and I decided to cut them all and start again, because we only want bushes there...
the trees that they had become were blocking our view...
this resulted in a lot of timber
which I cleared to the side as I went, the largest one of which had its top in the millstream [bief]....
the butt end on the bank where I could get at it easily.

We couldn't help but notice....
as we looked out of the bedroom and kitchen windows at the newly cleared area....
that two of the willows were missing bark from the base...
and I thought to blame it on the ragondins [coypu]...

Two out of the three have had the bark stripped from the base... fortunately NOT all the way round

About two weeks ago, however, we noticed that someone had stripped bark from the branches that I had left lying in the bief...
immediate presumption... coypu!

Lovely white wood under that willow bark!

Then we saw this....

The focus isn't too sharp... I'll add a better one at the end

...now, according to the books ragondin do eat bark, but apparently reluctantly... as Pauline has discovered, they "only eat bark when they are desperate" as they prefer grass... visible and growing all this winter... and the fleshy roots of the teasels, thistles and similar plants... which we also have in plenty, despite their efforts and mine, in the orchard... as well as elsewhere.
But they stop at bark... they don't eat young wood!! Not like that, surely....
only a beaver leaves traces like that!!

Now, we've seen beaver activity... right in the heart of town, near the railway station... and they are spreading out quite rapidly from their point of reintroduction on the Loir in both 1975 and again 1995.... 13 animals in both cases... but up the Aigronne??
We needed proof before reporting it on Faune Touraine, the local focus for Citizen Science data collection...on an ever increasing diversity of wildlife.

So, time to deploy the "pieges photographiques"...trail cameras to Anglophones!
We had a stealth beaver... bark was going missing... but no triggers...hmmm!
The ducks were triggering the traps, as were the coypu as they swam past...
and the rats using the branches as a highway to avoid having to swim too much!
But, not what was bark stripping... by which time we had three cameras watching a twenty-five square metre section of stream...
so I contacted Martin of Wildlife & Countryside Services, the supplier of two of our photographic traps and our Wildlife Accoustics bat detector...
and a very useful source of advice....
who came right back with a probably cause... temperature...
beaver swim with only the nose and a flat area between that and their ears...
out of the water...
so as it emerges to feed, the temperature difference between animal and water...
is too little to trigger the PIR on the camera... try different positions!!
AND, bingo....

Yes, a beaver.... right outside the kitchen window...
... we were probably still up!!  And it is thanks to Simon that we've got these stills to insert...

.... yes, a positive sighting of beaver!!

These are European Beaver [Castor fiber galliae] Castor d'Europe....
and are genuine French ones, not Polish as I had read...
the reintroduction was from a remnant population on the Rhône.
Pauline immediately reported the wood chewing evidence on Faune Touraine...
back dated, which is quite normal....
whilst I tried to get a still from the video... nothing I had would play ball... or were programs I haven't had the chance to play with [learn]... but, again help was on hand in the form of Simon of LVTT and Days on the Claise who, after some Dropboxery and his preferred program... lifted out a couple of stills that Pauline reported the sighting with on Saturday night.... it would have to be the First of April!!
But we've supplied the photographic evidence along with the record....
so hopefully no "no you didn't" emails from the moderators on Faune Touraine...
probably thinking "Mon Dieu... it's those damned Anglais again!"

Pauline also had emailed Yohann the River Technician....who Susan posted about in December [an interesting read about a difficult job in itself].... during the afternoon to let him know... he came back with the nearest to us he'd seen activity was near Gatault... only about 2 kilometres from us downstream... so, as they have a multi-kilometre territory when confined to a stream, it/they have probably been going up and down quite regularly... or are doing so now? Looking at the grey wood on the largest stump, they've been here for at least three years it takes around that long to colour... and I hadn't noticed any damage before that....

The bright bits just as the shadow starts are teeth marks from the lower jaw.

BUT we may have also blown the myth that ragondin only eat bark when they are desperate... we got three videos where one particularly large animal stripped and ate the bark.... the tail said coypu, not beaver... unless it was so perfectly "side on" that it appeared the same as a coypu's... but my guess is that coypu will eat nice young bark if it is "presented" to them.

This stretch is perfect for European beavers as... because they burrow... there are plenty of old coypu homes ready to occupy.
It is calm and quiet, assorted different depths of water, too, so an underwater entrance would be easily maintained... even in the driest of summers.
We will keep watching... and feeding... our beaver(s) and add more information as and when!!

Here is the actual video of the beaver... uploaded via Blogger, so invisible on Safari and on Apple machines even if you are using Firefox, sorry....



And a much better picture of the tooth marks on the branch...

Yes, it does look dry... I rescued it before the branch broke at that point completely...
it is now strapped to a length of roofing lath as it has almost broken at the thinnest point.
Now... if that isn't natural news for us, I don't know what is!
We keep getting surprised!!