Musings and photos of wild and everyday life

Posts tagged “Insect

SW France, Pyrenees – Review of 2010 – September

September

Sun rising over Collioure, France
Sunrise over Collioure France

Sun, Sea, good food and new birds – it must be holidays away time.  Last year we went to the SW corner of France to a town called Collioure, for 1 week and to the pyrenees for the next.

Collioure is lovely with castles, great food and fine beaches.  There is also plenty of wildlife both around the town and nearby.

Around the town I saw Crested Tits, Sardinian Warblers and Golden Orioles amongst other more normal species.  Outside the bird world there were Purple Hairstreak and Swallowtail butterflies, Hummingbird Hawk moths, Hornets and Robber Flies, Wall and Iberian Rock Lizards and Marbled Swimming Crabs.

Kentish Plover Winter plumage at Etang de Canet near Perpignan

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Nearby there were some good birding spots including the Etang de Canet.  Birds spotted included Chilean Flamingos,Little Egrets, Kentish Plover (left) and a Montagu’s Harrier.

There were quite a few Crag Martins around some of the old towns.

Some had nests on the roof beams of a Church entrance.

Crag Martin on nest in roof of church entrance
Crag Martin on nest in roof of church entrance

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Ordesa Mountains & rio Ara fromTorla Aragon Spain
We went to the Pyrenees via the Dali Museum in Fugueres and the City of Girona, both places of interest in their own rights.  But nothing prepared us for the magnificance of the Pyrenees and particularly, the Ordesa Valley.

The air is fresh, the water sparkling clear and the views incredible.  If you never saw any wildlife you would probably still be happy.

This is pretty close to the view from where we stayed – an incredible sight to open the window to, the first evening we arrived!

There are brilliant views everywhere and there are brilliant birds and other animals but you have to be prepared for some good hikes and severe slopes to make the most of such a brilliant place.

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Egyptian Vulture flying ove Rio Ara Valley Torla Spain.

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If you’re in the Pyrenees, you might expect to see Vultures.  There are plenty here.

We saw this Egyptian Vulture beside Torla, where we were staying, circling around and gaining height in the thermals.

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Dipper in river Ara, Bujaruelo Valley, Spain
Ordesa y Monte Perdido is a national park and the oldest Nature Reserve in Spain. It encompasses the valley and surrounding mountains, including Monte Perdido (Mont Perdu in France or Lost Mountain) reaching 3,355 metres.

In the Summer season it can get quite busy and cars are banned from the park. Access is by foot or bus from Torla. But you don’t have to walk far from the bus stop in the ‘Prairie’ – a flat grassy area on the valley floor – to get away from the crowds.

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Up in the higher valleys, dare-devil Dippers seem to be on every section of every river.

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Large male Mountain Grasshopper (Stauroderus scalaris) Ordesa Valley
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With so much clean air and fresh water, insects abound, especially on the warmer days.

In some parts you could not look at the grass without seeing Grasshoppers although it is their sounds that first brings attention.

Female Black Redstart with insect Ordesa Valley Spain.

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There are some great walks most of them involving steep climbs when you can be sorry for the extra camera lens you brought!

We were rewarded with Vultures, a Wall Creeper, Jays, Ravens, Reed and Willow Warblers.

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At the end of the valley is the Circo de Soaso, a classic glacial ‘cirque’ at the head of a glacial valley.

Here the valley is broader and once again meadow like.  Birds seen here included Water Pipit and Black Redstart.

Waterfalls on river Arazas, Ordesa Valley, Spain
Waterfalls on river Arazas, Ordesa Valley, Spain

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The higher walks are a must if your legs allow.  The views are stunning and you can get closer to the vultures and other birds and animals.

However the valley can be walked along the river, although even this is a bit hilly.  Along the way are many waterfalls, each one seemingly better than the last.

Pyrenean Chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica) pyrenaica peeing, Ordesa Valley, Spain.

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Marsh Tits and Pied Flycatchers can be seen along the river banks and there are also mammals about.

We saw many Marmots as well as Pyrenean Chamois, like this one peeing on the valley slopes.

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Griffon Vulture flying, Anisclo Canyon, Pyrenees, Spain .

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Bujaruelo valley and Anisclo Canyon, both nearby are well worth a look.  Anisclo is great for Griffin Vultures that fly over the narrow canyon and sit on the high ledges.

Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture flying, Ordesa Valley, SpainWe also saw Red Squirrels, Adonis Blue Butterflies and a Jersey Tiger Moth.

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But the vulture that I wanted to see but didn’t really expect to see is the Lammergeier.

We caught a glimpse of one in the distance early in the week in Ordessa but its wings were so long that at a distance it looked like a falcon.

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Near the end of the week, on a trip along the southern rim of the valley, we finally saw this magnicifient creature properly and could see why it is also known as the Bearded Vulture.

Here high in the mountains, the Lammergeier seems to be at home, gliding without any obvious effort.

It still didn’t look that big but its wings are well over 2 metres across.  They seem narrower and pointier than other vultures which makes them look different.

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A trip along the valley rim by 4×4 is well worthwhile, not just for the birds but also for the views down and along the length of the valley.

It would be great to have a large lens up there but that would mean serious weight and a tripod – hardly conducive to long walks or holidays in general.

Places like this need to be enjoyed slowly, with or without a camera!

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Wicklow Way, Kilmore Quay – Spiders and Insects – Review of 2010 – August

August

Wicklow SW and Lough Dan from Wicklow WayWicklow is known as the Garden County.  Some garden!

Brilliant scenery, great walks, and full of wildlife, this is my extended home!

Amazingly it is close to around 2 million people and yet remains mainly wild.

Perhaps we should keep it secret.

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The wicklow way winds its way across the mountains with railway sleepers in places making the going easier.  There are great wild flowers to be found.

Wild Flower mix road side Blessington.

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At home in Blessington, someone grew ‘wild’ flowers in a rough patch beside the road.

Perhaps not truly wild but they were colourful and probably beneficial to other wildlife.

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.Cross Spider on home wall

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Birds were still around but they tend to go a bit quiet in August.

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Insects and bugs on the other hand, seem to be everywhere,

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‘Evil’ spiders were commonplace, this one paler than usual on the wall of our house.

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On a short visit to Kilmore Quay, one of my favourite places, the weather was good and many insects flitted in the dunes.

6 Spot Burnet moth with tongue rolled up, Kilmore Quay dunes.

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There were many 6-spot Burnets feeding on the wild flowers.

When we were young (just a few years ago), my brother Don and I regularly cycled to Bull Island and spent a lot of time in the valley between the dunes and St. Annes Golf course, looking for birds such as Cuckoos, Pipits, Larks, Reed Buntings and the odd Long Eared Owl.

But a lot of our time was spent looking at or for other things – Pigmy Shrews and Butterflies & Moths, mainly.

The 6-spot Burnet was one of the commonest moths, together with the Cinnabar.

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Male Common Blue Buttterfly Kilmore Quay dunes.

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The dunes at Kilmore Quay also held many Common Blue Butterflies.

This is a male with its wings together showing the markings underneath.

They whiz around a lot and annoy would-be viewers and photographers but when they do alight they often ‘pose’ like this with the wings up.

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Male Common Blue Butterfly, wings out, Kilmore Quay dunes.

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But the colours shown when the wings are ‘out’ in the ‘normal’ position, are superb – a brilliant electric blue, seeming to shimmer and almost defy hue definition.

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As is common for the animal kingdon,if not for humans, females are a duller brownish colour.

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Grey Seal Kilmore Quay harbour

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In the harbour at Kilmore Quay, Grey Seals were frequent visitors to feed on discarded fish scraps from the fishing activities.

The Grey Seal has a different shape head to the less common ‘Common’ Seal.

It is said to be more dog-like and this one does look a bit like a dog looking for a bone!

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One of Ireland’s birding jewels, the Saltee Islands, is a short ferry ride from Kilmore Quay, but that’s another story.


Cleggan Birds & Insects – Review of 2010 – July

July

Galway Coast near Cleggan
The Wild West

Summer really humming – well not too hot of course but brimming with life.

Took a trip to Cleggan on the Galway coast.   The western coast and especially around Connemara and up to Donegal shows how poor our memories are, or at least mine.  Because every time I go, I am amazed.

Many parts of the world are truly inspiring and most of Irelands coast but somehow this coastline has something different – a kind of wild calmness.  It can make you feel that all is OK, even that most things are possible.

Probably it could also depress you if you were in the wrong mood and there on the wrong day!   The Bull Island is like that – it can amplify how you feel.

Anyway it was great as usual.

It wasn’t teeming with birds but Oystercatchers piped away and chased the waves, keeping ahead of us as we walked.

Oystercatchers taking flight Galway Coast near ClegganI always think they look too exotic for Ireland with their striking black and white wings and long, bright orange beaks and legs.

There were also Gulls and small birds including quite a few Wheatears like this male that frustratingly had a very strict idea of how close he wanted to be to a human.Male Wheatear on post Galway Coast

Willow Warbler on bush Blessington

Back home in Blessington, a Willow Warbler was visiting.   At least I think its a WW and not a Chiff Chaff. I checked a few photos and looked up many guides and after changing my mind a few times, decided on the WW.

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Didn’t catch the song which is supposed to be a give-away.

Whatever, he or she looked cute.

Wren on bush Blessington

Wrens have to be amongst our favourite birds. They are tiny, sing their little hearts out and are hard to see for any length of time up close.

This one was slightly more obliging than most but was still gone in a flash.

July is also a time of strong insect activity.  Much of it causes a lot of annoyance – Midges in particular.

One of the nastier bites comes from the Cleg Fly.  The one below looks innocent but alien on the car dashboard!  I love the sunglasses!  Wonder do they come from Cleggan?

Cleg fly in car, Wicklow

There are a crazy number and variety of insects and they come in all colours, even orange like this Soldier Beetle reaching the very tip of a blade of grass.

All the insects look at least interesting, up close and personal and the world doesn’t work without them.

Surely reason enough to provide habitats for them or at least, leave them alone.

Soldier Beetle, Rhagonycha fulva, on grass Ballydonnell Brook E of Sorrell Hill


Insects, Spiders & Flowers – Review of 2010 – June

June

In mid-summer Dublin looks great, especially if it isn’t raining. But then it actually doesn’t rain as much as is commonly believed and when it does it is mostly not too heavy.  It is rare not to be able to get out for a walk.  The wildlife is generally at full charge with multi-coloured flowers, some nests still being used, babies being nursed and youngsters out exploring.

Garden Bumble Bee Bombus hortorum with pollen on Cornflower
In my garden Bumble Bees were buzzing.  There are usually a few types although bees of the beekeepers’ kind are apparently on the decline in Western Europe.  Bumble Bees are much larger and are the bees we usually visualise.  The pollen sac collected from numerous flowers can be seen clearly in this photo of a Garden Bumble Bee on a Cornflower.

It is worth planting suitable flowers to attract insects.  Apart from the joy of watching them and the knowledge that you are helping them, flowers planted near vegeatable plots can help to keep greenfly and other creatures less desirable by food and image gardners, in check, by encouraging insects that feed on them.

For this purpose, the best flowers are those with strong scents and this often means old varieties as modern catalogues are full of pretty flowers in a plastic doll fashion – nice for a fleeting look but no real character and of little use to anyone or anything.  How often so even find a modern rose with a good scent?

Incidentally those supporting the conservation of old seed varieties should be supported as much as possible as remarkably, large corporations are being allowed to trade mark and own life-forms such as new seed varieties and they are actively trying to remove the older varieties to avoid competition!

On a visit to Athlone for a 50th birhday celebration, I got a chance to look around some of the Lough Ree lakeside habitats.  Damselflies were mating around the wet and marshy areas and a dense mixture of different plants and flowers made progress slow.

Early Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata Lough Ree AthloneAmongst the more colourful and surely the most interesting flowers were the orchids. The one below, taken with a compact (party) camera, is an Early Marsh Orchid, I believe, though I’m no expert. The petals have lovely markings.
Early Marsh Orchid petal detail


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Coming back to animal life, spiders tend to get a bad press.  In June they were also thriving.   But what’s not to like about this beautiful spider which was camaflagouging himself by extending his legs along the seed head of a grass stalk beside Blessington Lakes.

There are a lot more spiders around us than many would believe, or wish to know about! Looking under the leaves of most plants will show at least one spider although they can be very small and hard to see.

In the home spiders are useful in keeping other insects under some control and are worth the odd ‘cob-web’. Balance is all important. Politicians please note.


Dublin City, Wicklow – Baby Birds, Insects & Sport – Review of 2010 – May

MayRoof Section of NIB building Dame St Dublin 2406

Many of us get fed up hearing about how it always rains in Ireland.  Well it doesn’t.  And when it does it is usually not very heavy and not for too long.  And sometimes (usually in May) we get some weeks of sunshine!   May 2010 was one of those times.

Buildings in Dublin looked at their best.  It is amazing though, how little those of us who are used to the city, really see and how seldom we look up!  The roofline in some parts of the city is great, particularly in Dame Street (opposite) and Georges Street.    Have a look up next time you’re in Dublin but I can’t promise mediterranean style blue skies!

Garda Memorial Garden

Dublin Castle also looked well with its just opened Garda Memorial Garden.  This is an interesting design with a water feature but it’s hardly in keeping with the old castle and Royal Chapel beside it.   Still, it has to be better than squeezing another new building in.

Oregan Maple tree & front square Trinity College Dublin

Down the road in Trinity College, the magnificent Oregon

Maples were in full leaf and dominated front square.  There are many great old trees (and buildings) in Trinity and a walk around the grounds is rewarding – especially when the sun shines.

Sometimes it’s good to be a ‘local tourist’.

I am fundamentally a northsider and it was good to visit my original home area in good weather.

In the sea, sporty folk kite-surfed while in tall trees in the woods. young herons called for thier supper from large stick nests.

Kite Surfer jumping over Dalkey Island

Grey Heron juvenile in high tree nest

May usually brings the height of nature activity and this includes gardens all over the country.  Even our own unkempt parcel of private wilderness was looking well and thriving with plants, insects and birds.  ‘Friemds’ will understand how wild a garden can be!

Starling feeding leatherjackets to juvs in nest box

Lesser Housefly Fannia canicularis on Bluebell flower BG 2284xL

Finally a word about the ‘new’  birds of prey.  I have seen a buzzard in County Dublin but so far none of  the reintroduced species.  I took a spin out to the Reddross area of Wicklow in the hope of seeing one of the Red Kites but no joy.  Although the scenery was too photegenic to ignore in the sunshine.

Rape field & Moon nr Redcross Wicklow