Monday, 12 December 2011

Metellina segmentata or Meta segmentata, the Lesser garden spider, the Autumn spider

There is some confusion about the name of this spider, but that doesn't make it any less pretty.  It is supposed to be abundant, but this is the only one I have seen, although I imagine it is fairly well camouflaged, and it's web look a bit like the ordinary garden spider, so perhaps I have just missed it.

The photograph above is a close up of its eyes.  As spiders go it has fairly boring eyes as they are all pretty much the same size.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Lacewing larva and Ben Elton's Stark

Above and below are photographs of a green lacewing larva.  The white bits on its back are the sucked out husks of its prey - aphids or their close relatives the scale insect!  In the photograph above you can see one of its fearsome jaws.  The photograph below shows its rear end.  It was climbing up a clematis stem.  I didn't see any aphids on the clematis, but there is also a rose climbing up there too, and my roses do get their fair share of aphids.
I've become a great fan of Ben Elton's books after reading the First Casualty.  So I'm working my way back through his stuff.  I'm about half way through Stark.  The part I'm reading tells of a plot by some super-rich individuals operating as a cartel to sell off stocks, spook the market into crashing, to further spook the commodities market, and the sovereign wealth of countries.  The end result making everything cheaper for them to buy, and countries desperate for the money, so turning a blind eye into the cartel's purchase of some restricted materials - uranium for one.

This is just a part of the whole story, and I haven't finished the book yet, and dunno what the uranium is for.  It was written way back in 1989, but could have been written just a few years ago.  Scary stuff.

In the boom years of banking deals there were huge commissions made every time something was sold, and stuff was sliced and diced and resold again and again, as that became the most lucrative thing a banker could do - sell dodgy stuff to people who were using other people's money to buy the dodgy stuff.  With both seller and buyer creaming off a huge commission it was not in their best interests to enquire too deeply into just what they were buying/selling, and hey - they only hold it long enough to mix it with other dodgy stuff and resell it and rake in another whopping commission.

They must have known it couldn't go on forever, but the commission was paid as every deal was done, so why should they rock the boat?  And now the various governments who cannot possibly pay off the debt they've taken on on our behalf have decided the best way out is to debase the currencies thereby debasing the debt and inflating their way out of the hole.  In the process the industrious middle and working classes who have saved and worked all their life are watching - as yet passively - as their savings dwindle away to nothing, their pensions are chipped away at, taxes rise, services are cut or discontinued, and their very jobs and prospects of earning disappear. Revolutions have occurred for less.

Rant over.  I'm off to the snowy woods with a dog who doesn't care a fig for all this.  As long as food followed by a comfortable sleep, then a nice walk follow one another then all is right with the world.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Sweat bee Halictus rubicundus

 This is the sweat bee Halictus rubicundus.  I've just added these images to the Other bees pages.  When I first saw one I though it was a hoverfly, then a wasp.  It was only when I found one in the garden and caught it in my net and saw the legs that I knew she must be a bee.  Those back legs are just fantastic for carrying pollen.  I realise now that the ones I'd seen when out with my dog had been heavily laden with pollen, and it was that that made them so visible.
The weather is getting colder and windier by the day.  I have to light the log fire every day now, but it is nice to come home from a long walk in the woods to sit and doze by the fire.

The purple cow

I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one.
G Burgess.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Hoverfly that looks like Bombus pascuorum

This hoverfly was foraging in the woods along with Bombus pascuorum, and at first glance could easily be mistaken for it.  I'd seen it many times before, but had never managed to get a good photograph of it.  This is the best I could do.  However when I got home and tried to identify it I realised I hadn't taken a very good photograph of the vital parts that distinguish this species - it has orange antennae - most other hoverflies have black or dark brown antennae.  Anyway at least I've got a photograph of it.  I set the camera to zoom and stood well back.  Before I was setting it to close up, as I do for bumblebees.  Bumblebees are so tolerant and will let you get within a cm before showing any signs of anger.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Welsh wave Venusia cambrica

Just added this image to the Geometridae page.  I spotted this moth in a next to a woodland path one morning.  Luckily I was able to photograph it before it moved off.

I've finally managed to get my onion sets planted, and we've even had a few minutes of watery sunshine.  I have yet to succeed in growing onions to anything bigger than the size of a marble, so we'll see what these winter onions will do.  There would be nothing in that bed at this time of year anyway, so even if they are not so big, it will be a bonus.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Mesembrina meridiana, large fly with yellow markings on face

 This is Mesembrina meridiana, a large fly in the Muscidae (house flies) family.  It has very distinctive yellow markings on is face.
 The photograph below shows the sticky pads on its feet, and the two claws that will help it cling to almost any surface.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Eudonia mercurella - obscure but common moth

 I photographed this moth months ago - way back in the spring, but I couldn't identify it.  Finally I now know what it is.  I'd seen a few on the walls of the house early in the morning.  I like its striped legs.

I was going to plant garlic today, but didn't have the time and the weather was bad anyway.  I must get it in soon though.  Apparently garlic must have a cold spell if it is to do well.  Last year I put mine in in the spring, and it was pathetic.  Now I know why.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Tetrix denticulata

This is Tetrix denticulata.  I think it's a female, but I'm not sure.  I'd been trying to photograph this spider for ages.  She lives in the wall at the base of which I've been digging a border and planting.  I saw her many times, but never got a proper look as she scuttled back into the web as soon as there was any movement.  So I got the camera and tripod all set up, and them got on with some gardening.  Later, when I came back there she was sitting at the entrance to her web.  I think I have quite a few of this species in the wall.  I've seen bumblebees touch the edges of the web as they bask in the sun.  They are big enough to escape, though.

I'm going to plant up some pots of Freesia bulbs/corms tomorrow.  I know some say they can survive outside, but I'm not taking the chance.  This year I had them in a pot, but they were very disapointing as they flopped over everywhere.  However this time I am going to put a wire support or something around them to hold them up.  I do love the smell of Freesias.

I am still picking sweet peas, but only enough for a very small vase.  They took absolutely ages to get going this year, and only the ones facing south came to anything.  The ones facing east fizzled out very early on.

The cucumber spider

This stunning spider is a mature male Araniella curcubitina, commonly known as the cucumber spider.  I almost squashed him as he was crawling over the handle of my trowel when I went to pick it up.

His palps are swollen, so that means he is mature and on the hunt for a female to mate with.  I took him in and photographed him, then put him back in the greenhouse and left him to it.

I haven't seen any female cucumber spiders in there, however they do have small, untidy webs, so they could be at the back of the shelves.

I cannot get over how attractive this spider looks.  I got out the x10 lens to have an even better look, and he was very good and stayed still for a while.

I've just finished Kipling's The man who would be king.  I'd seen the film, but never read it before.  It was really good.  I might go back and read some more Kipling.  I used to devour his stuff when I was a kid, but I think it was all in the children's versions, and so probably cut and abridged.

Well Downton Abbey has finished.  I watched them all, and though I did thoroughly enjoy it I do think it was less good than the first series - but then that was a hard act to follow.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Large yellow underwing

I found this very battered Large yellow underwing when I went to add some compost the the bin.  It looks as if it has been attacked by birds on more than one occasion.

I often find the fat caterpillars when I'm digging in the borders.  I know they eat some of my plants, but I just leave them.  It is worth it to get an occasional glimpse of the adult.

I had one in the greenhouse last year.  It almost made me jump out of my skin, and I did drop my watering can.  It was resting in the corner on the soil and some dead leaves.  I bent over to pick up the leaves and it opened its wings to display the yellow. Well it certainly works, even on humans!  I've seen the orange underwing too, but the startle reflex flashing works so well that I've not been able to catch one to photograph it.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Ants milking aphids on my climbing rose

I took this photograph way back in July.  The rose is a climbing rose called Compassion.  It has big fragrant pink flowers.  Just as it was coming into bud I noticed it was covered with aphids guarded by ants.  I didn't want to spray it with anything as I like ants - I didn't have anything to spray it with anyway -  but I love the rose.  Anyway I waited to see what would happen.  And all was well.  The ants fed, the aphids thrived, and the rose bloomed, and is still blooming today, though no aphids or ants to be seen.  The aphids will probably all have died now and will overwinter as eggs, and the ants will be underground; just emerging when the sun hits the wall.

Aphids are bad news indoors, in the greenhouse and on seedling and small plants, but bigger plants outside just seem to take these things in their stride.  Also to thrive in my cold, wind blown garden plants have to be tough anyway. I feed and water them for a year, but after that they are on their own apart from a bit of pruning and mulching when I have the time.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Eristalis horticola - hoverfly

Finally got this hoverfly identified as Eristalis horticola.  I saw masses of them this summer.  It's larva is like the rat tailed maggot.  We have been having stormy but warm weather, and finally the wind has dropped and the sun has come out, so I'm off to the garden to plant a Magnolia.  I've had no luck with magnolias before, so I hope this time I will get it right.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Speckled wood, Pararge aegeria

Just added this photograph of a Speckeld wood that I found lying, sunnings itslef on a path in the wood one morning.  I tried to take a photograph, but the movement of the leaves prevented it, so I took it home, photographed it and put it back later.

For the past few days the weather has been really mild, and yesterday I saw 2 Bombus terrestris queens foraging off my lavender and viper's bugloss.  These were the first terrestris I'd seen for ages, in fact the only bumblebees I've had in the garden for the past few weeks are pascuorum.

My plants are looking pretty tatty, and i have started cutting back some of the lavender, but I always leave cutting back until there are no flowers at all, so no nectar.  I'm glad I did this year as it has really helped the pascuorum, who have had the nectar practically to themselves - although I expect the night-flying moths get their share.

The weather has turned cold and rainy today, and nothing is foraging from the garden flowers, though I did see a few hoverflies early this morning in the woods before the rain hit.  Lots of red squirrels in the woods.  This appears to have been a bumper year for them.

My log fire was lit, and my desk lamp was switched on at 3:30 this afternoon - it's like winter.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


This is Chrysotoxum arcuatum - quite a mouthful for a little hoverfly, and it doesn't have a common name because I checked.  Here it is sitting in one of my orange poppies sunning itself.  I get a lot of insects doing that as the temperature inside these bowl-shaped flowers is higher than outside.  So the heat saves them energy and helps them digest their food.

I don't know much about this pretty little fly except it is common in Scotland especially around woodlands, and it is uncommon elsewhere.

This year I have had a huge number of hoverflies in the garden and the greenhouse, and they are very welcome.  I don't know if there has been an increase everywhere else this year, or if it is because I have left a few dill plants to self seed.  I know the hoverflies just love dill when it is in flower, so I deliberately pulled out only those I didn't want, or were in the way of something else.  I even left a few in the greenhouse, and they grew huge!  This year I haven't been bothered with greenfly until a few weeks ago - so I wonder if it is the dill attracting hoverflies.  Anyway I will do the same next year as I hate the mess of greenfly honeydew covered in black fungus.

Just started Harry Potter's The order of the phoenix.  Am really enjoying Somerset Maugham's The magician, but got a bit fed up of Dawn French's Dear Fatty.  Perhaps I should have read it over a longer time - just a few pages a day.  I didn't like the format.  I've just got Jan Beccaloni's Arachnids, but I won't start it until I've finished the old, battered copy of Bristowe's The world of spiders - of which I've read just a few chapters, good so far though.

The leaves are piling up in the garden.  I've bagged some, but have yet to discover how to remove leaves from gravel.  Do you wait until they blow away somewhere they are easy to gather?  I'm using last year and the year before's leaves as a mulch round some plants during the winter.  As a mulch they look better than grass clippings, but are less nutritious.

Now I will take to the chesterfield with a glass of Pomerol and Somerset Maugham before rousing myself to watch Jim Al-kalili at 9.  It's a hard life!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Slug eggs

Found loads of these slug eggs whilst forking my compost from one bin to the other.
I put them into the new bin.  They looked just like seed pearls, they really are the most beautiful and delicate looking things.  Sometimes, when there are masses of them, I put some on a plant saucer and lay them out for the birds, but I always feel guilty doing this.

I don't mind slugs in the compost bins, after all they are breaking down the stuff I put in there, but I do hate it when they hoover up my seedlings.

Still reading Dawn French.  I'm not sure I like the format the biog. takes - a series of letters to people - at times I find it a little contrived, but it does allow her to speak as different aspects of herself, and even as different characters.  Her letters to Madonna are funny, but I'm not sure what they are doing in her biog. as they read like they are written by a character from one of her progs.

Just started the Magician by Somerset Maugham.  I'd started this book years ago, but lost it while travelling.  Good old Kindle, now I can finally read it.  I'd forgotten all about it, but was browsing through Feedbooks and found it.

Blustery cold wind in the garden today, but beautiful blue skies, so too hot in the greenhouse with my fleece on.  Picked some more sweet peas.  Why isn't there a scent called sweet pea, I cannot think of a nicer fragrance.  For the past few months I've had a small vase of them on my desk.

Today my study is being kept nice and warm by the sun, but I will probably have to like the woodburner when the sun goes down.  I'll be burning some of my next door neighbours' copper beech.  Beech gives out a really good heat, but I have read that ash is the best.  And for kindling I am still burning my way through my other neighbour's laths after the work they had done on their house last year.  The workmen were delighted to put the wood over my wall as it saved them hoisting it into the skip and getting it carted off.  I'm the great recycler!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Cream spot ladybird

Finally added this little cream spot photograph to the ladybird page.
I photographed it way back in April.  It was on a birch tree in the garden, but had been blown off, so I took the pic and put it back on.  Today the leaves from that tree are blowing everywhere - it is a very blustery day.  The Bombus pascuorum are still hanging on though - they are the only species of bumblebee left in the garden, but there are still plenty of flowers for them to forage on.

Been given my husband's old HTC phone.  It is lovely and does lots of things, but it is a bother to carry around.  My old tiny Nokia fitted quite happily into the pocket of my jeans, but this one doesn't, or rather it  does, but the touch screen keeps getting touched (squashed more likely) by my jeans, and eventually I get a beeping phone telling me it has little or no battery power left.  I have a little pocket thingy that fits on my belt loop, but I don't wear a belt with all of my jeans, and it look silly when I have a long jumper on, so what to do?  I don't carry a bag when I go out dog walking, or when I'm in the garden, but I do need my phone for the odd occasion that somebody remembers I exist.  Must I get extra baggy jeans?  It is getting colder now, so I wear jackets when I go out, so it is not too much of a prob. but what'll I do for next summer?

There must have been at least 4 or 5 days this year when I went to the woods with a short sleeved t-shirt, jeans and non-waterproof shoes - this is called summer up in Scotland - we don't get it every year, and it comes as quite a shock when it happens.  My dog has to go into the burn and lie down to cool off when it's hot, actually she has to go into the burn on most days.  I've seen her on a day of icy blizzards jump into the burn with icy water swirling around her at belly height, and you can tell she is just loving it - it's the heat that gets to her.

Just started Dawn French's Dear Fatty good so far, and expect it will be all the way through.  Also got, at great expense, the New Naturalist's the world of Spiders by Bristowe, oh they don't make them like him any more.  I could live, study and write for 100 years and never come close to these guys.  Any time somebody complements me on the web site or my knowledge of creepy crawlies, I am aware of just how little I really know compared to them.  Oh, well Flossie says it is time to explore the woods for an hour or two to make sure everything is as it should be.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Ticks feeding on me!

I have been unwillingly providing a female deer tick with a meal!  After my shower I was rubbing cream on my elbow when I felt a little bump.  There was a speck of black on my elbow, just a tiny couple of millimetres sticking to my elbow.  No pain, no blood, nothing.  It was a tick.

So I got dressed and searched out the otom tick removal tool that I got from the vet for my dog (when we moved here 3 years ago the tick medicine I'd been giving her every month was not strong enough for the Upper Deeside ticks, so until the new stuff started to work she got ticks).  This tool looks rubbish, but it works a dream.  Anyway I hauled the thing out, and my elbow is fine, so I must have got all of the mouthparts.

Now I don't know whether to go to the doc to get checked out for Lyme disease.  My neighbour has had it, and it is nasty if untreated or undiagnosed.  All part of the joys of living in paradise, I suppose.

Only Bumbus pascuorum left

I've been in the garden turning compost all afternoon, and the only bumblebee I've seen is Bombus pascuorum.  It is lovely and warm today, but we have had some bad weather in the past few weeks, so perhaps things have come to an early end for the other species.  There are loads of pascuorum though, so they will have plenty of flowers to forage on.

I used to love my garden
But now my love is dead
For I found a bachelor's button
In black-eyed Susan's bed

C P Sawyer

Monday, 19 September 2011

Chimney sweeper moth

This is the Chimney sweeper moth, Odezia atrata.  In June and July the fields near my house were full of them, but I couldn't get a decent photograph.  They are too fast, small and nervous.  Also I wanted to show the white edging to the wings.  So I brought on home to photograph it on my dirty study window.  They are lovely little things, and I'd always thought they were butterflies until I looked them up in books.  They are actually in the Geometridae (loopers and inchworms) family, so I've added this on to that page.

I'm just finishing Peter Hadfield's 60 seconds that will change the world.  It is about the unpreparedness of Japan for the "big one" that is supposed to hit Tokyo.  It is a really good book.  It was written way back in the 90's before even the Kobe earthquake, but knowing the Japanese I wonder if much has changed even after the recent quake.

When I lived there I remember talking to some old people who lived through the 1923 Kanto earthquake.  In that one fire was the big killer, as it was during the bombing in WW2.  But when I moved to Niigata both fire and tsunami were the things to worry about if you survived the quake.  Many of my friends had been in the 1964 quake that caused widespread liquefaction of the ground, so being outside on bare ground was also seen as a hazard to avoid.
They told me that after the 64 quake many in the city centre made their way to the city office as quickly as possible, to try to get onto the roof and out of the way of the expected tsunami.  The city office was only 3 or 4 stories high, but it was solidly build and one of the few concrete buildings in the area.  Of course the tsunami, when it came, was only 2 metres, so they were all OK.  But as they waited they could see the river flowing backwards, and those who had been near the sore saw the sea disappear (apparently it went out 2 miles).  It was an anxious time for them all.

When I lived there is you wanted anything done to your house or apartment - insect screens fitted for example - one of the fist questions you would be asked was jishin mae ka jisisn ato (was it built before or after the quake).  I lived in a house built before the quake for a few months and soon learned that no right angle was 90 degrees, and no floor or wall was truly flat.  So it was impossible to get anything to fit exactly.

Now I'm looking for an even older book - Japan sinks by Sakyo Komatsu, but cannot get one at a decent price anywhere.  Oh well, I'll wait.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Leafcutter bee

Added this pic of a female leafcutter bee to the other bees pages.  I love its long ginger pollen carrying hair.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Pterostichus madidus a ground beetle

Just added a photograph of Pterostichus madidus to one of the ground beetle pages.  It is similar to Pterostichus niger, except that niger is slighly bigger - though their sizes do overlap - and niger has reddish antennae and a differently shaped thorax.

Well autumn is truly here.  This is the first day this year that I have lit my wood burner in the daytime.  It is cold and rainy outside.  And as soon as I have finished this I'm off to the woods with my dog for a wet walk.  She loves it, and I confess that after the first few minutes I do too - provided I'm dressed for it.

Went to try to buy a pair of waterproof boots this morning, but failed.  Every pair of boots I buy leaks after a while - it can take weeks or up to 3 months, but the so-called waterproof boots aren't.  You can hike, trek and climb mountains, but you cannot saunter through wet grass!  I wax the leather with Nikwax, and that helps a bit, but they will leak within days in wet weather.  Consequently I have about 6 pairs in various states of drying out waiting to be waxed.

I know I should wear wellies, and I do sometimes, but I like the support that boots have, and they are much more comfortable.

Bombus pascuorm workers are still foraging off the herbs and lavender in the garden.  A few queens of terrestris and lucorum are still around, but I haven't seen any pascuorum or hortorum for days.

I've just finished reading "Thinking the unthinkable, might there be no way out for Britain" by Tim Morgan from Tullett Prebon.  Scary reading, especially after reading Adam Fergusson's When Money Dies. Why don't those in power just admit how bad things are, then silly people with jobs and guaranteed final salary pensions might not want to go on strike so that others have to contribute so much more to their pension that they have none left to put into their own.

All people care about now is their entitlements.  We are not entitiled to anything.  We have responsibilities.

Taxes are there to run the country and to help the old, young and sick.  Ooh I am getting angry, but isn't it about time we paid our way?

To take a quote from one of my all time favourite books David Copperfield
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six. Result happiness.
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six. Result misery.”
I'm with Micawber on this, and the result is not just a miserable country, but a miserable world.

On a happier note I am just starting the the Goblet of Fire in my re-read of the Harry Potters.  And I'm glad to say I'm enjoying them as much the second time as I did the first.  I have also taken to P G Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster - rather late, I admit.  Perhaps it is the longing for a more innocent time.  I wish I had Bertie's standard of living and a Jeeves to look after me.

Oh well, the breadmaker has just pinged, so I'll take out the pine nut and pesto bread whose smell has been wafting from the kitchen.  Then off for a muddy walk, and back to warm bread and butter by a log fire - who am I to complain!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Silpha atrata, snail-eating beetle

This is Silpha atrata, it doesn't have a common name.  It is in the burying beetle family, but it is a snail eater.  It has a long head and a poisonous bite.  Both adults and larvae eat snails.

I found it on a woodland path in late May.  Unfortunately my dog had stood on it and killed it.  I noticed it because it was so shiny.  I imagine it had got washed out of a tree as we went for a walk after a heavy shower.  Since then I've seen a few more in the moss around the base of tree trunks and on the trunks itself.  I haven't seen one eating a snail yet though.  Perhaps they bite them then bury them.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Bumblebees and fuschia

While I was weeding I saw a hortorum worker enter a fushia flower.  She had to wriggle and squeeze herself to get in, and it was the high pitched buzz that attracted my attention.  Well she was in there for over a minute, and emerged covered in pollen, and went into the next flower.  Fuschias must be a good nectar source to take such a long time to deplete.  I'd never noticed bumblebees foraging on them before, but this one is right next to a cerinthe, which they love, so perhaps it was a lucky try.  I cannot imagine that a big fat terrestris would have any chance getting in, so perhaps it is just hortorum that can manage it.

Newly emerged worker

Just added an image of a newly emerged worker with soft wings and silver hair.  It is a truly fantastic image.  I wish I could take images like this.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Caddis fly larva

Just added this drawing of a Limnephilidae larva to the second caddis fly page.
Limnephids are probably the most commonly found caddis flies, so it is about time I had a drawing to add.

The sun is actually shining today, and the garden is filled with bumblebees - new queens, males and workers.  They have had a tough few days with all the rain, and many of my flowers have been flattened, but there are still the wild flowers and the lavender for them.  Didn't see a single honey bee though.  Masses of hoverflies.  I've been trying to photograph some of the hoverflies, but they are really difficult to get as they move away as soon as I'm ready.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Natsuo Kirino and Stephen Fry

I've just finished reading Natsuo Kirino's Grotesque, and while I did think it was good, it is not a patch on Out which is truly fantastic and I'll probably read it again. 

I discovered her books while I was in Japan, so I don't know how difficult they will be to get hold of over here, but if you can read just one then Out is the one to choose.  I couldn't put it down.  It describes the life of women working in a bento (packed lunch) factory - the type of life that most foreigners will never know much of - so that is part of the fascination.  This is not the hightech, sleek, Japan.  This is the Japan of backbreaking, boring low paid work.  It is the story of 4 very different women; how they came to work in the factory, and what happens to them.  I'm not giving any more away.  Get the book, read it and pass it on.  It's a murder/mystery, so it will appeal to men too.

Last night I finished Stephen Fry's Hippopotamus.  Hilarious as always.  I'll have to get hold of his other books. 

But I'm thinking of rereading all the Harry Potters.  I've just seen the last film.  Of course, good as the films are, they are not a patch on the books.  But I want to reread my Dickens too - it's ages since I read one of his books.  There are just not enough hours in the day, and I've all the pics of bumblebees to sort through and add to the pages, not to mention the other beasties I've photographed.  And the pile of books I've bought and not had time to read yet.  What a life I have, I am so lucky, all I want is more time.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Audio books on Kindle

Audible are giving away 1 free audio book - you've probably seen the ads as they are everywhere.  Well I downloaded Stephen Fry's Chronicles onto my Kindle.

The book was great, they service seems good, and the offer genuine, but the user experience was a nil out of ten.

The navigation on the kindle for the audio book was practcally non-existant. 

I read in bed.  The kindle is great for that - no heavy book, and when the kindle flops over because I have fallen asleep it turns itself off and remembers where I've read to even if I don't.

The audio book keeps on reading to you - it needs no time lapse of inaction to assume you're no longer paying attention.  So you wake up with someone speaking into you ear and you have no idea what's going on.  There's a jumble of wires around your head, and you yank out the headphones when your arms flail about thinking something is wrong.  Then when you come to yourself and realise it's just Stephen Fry getting to an interesting bit, you don't know what you have missed, don't know where you fell asleep and you are torn between spending the next 10 minutes trying to find your place, by which time you'll be thoroughly awake, or going back to sleep and staring all over again tomorrow.

I hated it.  But I enjoyed the bits I did hear so much that I'll get the book, either in kindle or hard copy. 

The audible offer does allow you to choose the device you download to, so perhaps I should have chosen the PC or ipod.

I'm not sure how a device can tell you have fallen asleep.  But anyway there should be better nav.  A chapter listing would at least let you go back to the last chapter.

Rant over, I'm off to draw a caterpillar.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Sphingidae caterpillar

Just uploaded this to the Sphingid page.  We haven't had very good butterfly weather recently - too much wind and rain.  Today it is pouring again.  Oh well off to the wet woods with a delighted dog.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Octopus by A C Hilton

I've been up to my eyes in emails, gardening and trying to catch and photograph a male scorpion fly.  I've seen a few males, but have yet to catch one.  I've given up trying to photograph them outside as I cannot get anywhere near enough. Oh well, now time to veg out on the sofa and watch a prog called The joy of stats. - oxymoron if I ever saw one! 

To relax I've been reading the Faber book of comic verse, and came across this.
The Octopus by A C Hilton

              Strange beauty, eight-limbed and eight-handed,
                 Whence camest to dazzle our eyes?
              With thy bosom bespangled and banded
                  With the hues of the seas and the skies;
              Is thy home European or Asian,
                  O mystical monster marine?
              Part molluscous and partly crustacean,
                  Betwixt and between.

              Wast thou born to the sound of sea trumpets?
                Hast thou eaten and drunk to excess
            Of the sponges -- thy muffins and crumpets,
                Of the seaweed -- thy mustard and cress?
            Wast thou nurtured in caverns of coral,
                Remote from reproof or restraint?
            Art thou innocent, art thou immoral,
                Sinburnian or Saint?

            Lithe limbs, curling free, as a creeper
                That creeps in a desolate place,
            To enroll and envelop the sleeper
                In a silent and stealthy embrace,
            Cruel beak craning forward to bite us,
                Our juices to drain and to drink,
            Or to whelm us in waves of Cocytus,
                Indelible ink!

            O breast, that 'twere rapture to writhe on!
                O arms 'twere delicious to feel
            Clinging close with the crush of the Python,
                When she maketh her murderous meal!
            In thy eight-fold embraces enfolden,
                Let our empty existence escape,
            Give us death that is glorious and golden,
                Crushed all out of shape!

            Ah! thy red lips, lascivious and luscious,
                With death in their amorous kiss,
            Cling round us, and clasp us, and crush us,
                With bitings of agonised bliss;
            We are sick with the poison of pleasure,
                Dispense us the potion of pain;
            Ope thy mouth to its uttermost measure
                And bite us again!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Hibernating wasp queen

Well this awful weather has its compensations, I suppose.  I am finally getting to grips with all the photographs I've been taking. This one was taken in the depths (literally) of winter when snow was more than welly deep and the temperature was double digit minus.

A few weeks earlier, when we'd had people to stay, I heard screams and was told a big wasp had just been thrown out.  As the snow was falling, the wind howling, and no sign of any greenery, never mind flowers, I paid no attention to this, and thought it must have been a spider or something, and felt sorry for the poor thing.

Then I came across this while taking in some logs.  I found many more, so obviously our log store was considered a good hibernation place.  Temperature must be a factor in waking up the queens.  The log store is open on one side, but has a roof of sorts.  It is certainly not what I would have thought of as a good place to hibernate, but by the numbers of queens I subsequently found, it must be good for them.
I love the way she is holding on to her wings.  She has a nice fat abdomen, so perhaps she made it and is laying eggs as we speak.  I hope her daughters find better food than my strawberries at the end of summer.

I hear the rest of the country is having summer, and some are complaining of the heat.  I am sitting here in a wooly jumper, looking out on a sodden scene.  However there is little wind, so the bumblebees are busy on my vipers bugloss and foxgloves.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Ruby tiger moth

I found the caterpillar below ambling down a path in the field last month, and just managed to stop my dog stepping on it.  It looked like the Garden tiger, but was the wrong time of year, so I took it home to try to identify it and photograph it.  Well it is the Ruby tiger, and was on its way to build its cocoon.  It started to do this as I was putting my camera away, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

The cocoon should be built at the base of the foodplant, but it is now on the side of a plastic dish.  But I have put it is a safe place, and will leave it alone to see what happens.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Knot grass moth caterpillar

I found this caterpillar last year crawling on a bit of bare ground in the garden.  It was a day of high winds, just like we've had the past two days, so I presumed it had got blown off its foodplant.  I took it in with a few leaves off the surrounding plants to try to identify it, but it wouldn't eat any of them, and I couldn't identify it, so after I photographed it I put it back where I'd found it.

It was only a few days ago while reading a book on woodland insects that I came across it's picture, and so was able to identify it at last, and add it to one of the Noctuid pages.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Queen Lucia by E F Benson

I just finished Queen Lucia last night.  What a hoot!  Isn't life wonderful.  I've been reading all my life, and have shelves of books, boxes of books, and lists of books I want to buy.  Yet I can still find authors that I didn't know of who write so well as to make me giggle so much in bed that complaints are made by the other occupants.

On a different note I recently finished Keith Richard's Life, and that was very enjoyable too.  I didn't know much about him before, apart from the music, but he seems a really nice guy.  He's been lucky, and he knows it. It made me look out my Little Walter tracks - oh boy, how good they are.  They are now safe on my ipod to be listened to when I'm stuck in the kitchen cooking or ironing.  I wonder just what other music I have that I haven't heard in ages?  Is this one of the few pleasures of growing old?  Brian Jones came out of the book a thoroughly obnoxious character.

Now off to the garden.  The bumblebees are on my tuberous comfrey - I know it is regarded as a weed, but they like it, and so do I in small amounts.  So far it has been a very good year for bumblebees up here.  Let's hope it continues.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Woodlice vision

This question was posted in the bumblebee section below.

Hi there! Sorry for asking this here. But do you know why woodlice 'prefer' red light to blue light?

I had never heard of this before. I just thought that woodlice prefer low light levels. So does anyone else out there know about this?

I imagine it would be easy to set up an experiment using LED light which is high in the blue end of the spectrum, and an incandescent lightbulb which is high in the red end. But my money goes on the woodlice scuttling under and cover they can find.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Bombus hypnorum travels north

Bombus hypnorum (tree bumblebee) has reached the north side of the Humber! It won't be long before it reaches Scotland - if it hasn't already. The pic above was sent in to my by the people at Bees in Art.

Bird boxes are popular nest sites for this bee - if fact I get more emails from people with bumblebees in their tit boxes than I do from those with bumblebees in bumblebee boxes.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Has anyone else read this? I thought I'd read all her stuff, but I found this on one of the free ebook sites. It's short - could be read at on sitting - and really good.

I do love my kindle.

I've just started re-reading Robinson Crusoe, downloaded for free on my kindle. It was the first book I read that did not have pictures. I was only 8 at the time and I bought it from Boots for 7/6 - which was a lot of money for a little girl. One of the Oxford Classics series. They were wonderful books. Well made all hardback with a dust jacket. Why don't they make books like that any more?

Well I'm amazed at myself to think I read this at that age. I'm sure I couldn't have understood all the religious agonising he went through, but still a very good read.

Very dark Bombus terrestris queen

Yesterday I saw what I thought was the first Bombus lapidarius in my garden - I'd seen a couple of others at the edge of the wood, but non in the garden. Anyway she was bigger, or rather fatter than normal, so I went to have a look. She was huge! But her tail was not the usual red, but a dirty brown, and just the very tip. Then I had a better look. She was actually a Bombus terrestris queen. The yellow stripe on the thorax was completely missing, but this is not so unusual as it can be very faint in terrestris, or dirty and covered in dust and soil. But usually the abdominal yellow band is there even if it is a darker dirty yellow, but this one had none. What she did have as she moved into the sun was a sort of sheen of dark ginger/blackish hairs where the yellow abdominal band would be. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera so I couldn't photograph her. It wasn't pollen, or anything else because when she moved into the sun I could get a good look at the hairs with the sun shining through them, and she was clean.

Has anyone else seen this?

I've never seen such a dark terrestris in all the years I've been watching bumblebees. Perhaps she was just a mutant. She was large, and otherwise seemed perfectly normal feeding off an ornamental currant bush.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

smaller format free ebooks

Well, it can't be said that I don't listen. I've reformatted the free ebooks to have a smaller page size so that they are easier to read on small screens. So now there are 2 versions of each ebook on the downloads page.

This probably would not have happened if I had a lovely iphone or similar. The trouble is I hardly use my mobile phone, so can't justify the expense. What I need is a gadget that can be used for surfing the internet, reading books, listening to music - doing everything but phoning. If it could also make coffee I would pay big money for it, but perhaps I'm asking too much.

Monday, 7 March 2011

The Northern spinach

Just added this image of the Northern spinach to the page with the other Geometridae moths. I have no idea where it got the strange common name. I took the photograph last August. I'd seen the moth a few times, but could never get a photograph of it. In the end I caught it and took it home to photograph, then put it back when I next took the dog out.

I couldn't identify it from the photographs I'd taken, and thought no more about ti, but then I was reading a book about woodland insects, and came across its photograph. So at last I could put a name to it.
Me and my kindle

Well I do love my kindle. Especially as I can get loads of old classics for free. I'm discovering books I've never read, but should have, and wonder why I have got to this great age without reading. Just finished The moorland cottage by Elizabeth Gaskell - a great bedtime read. And I have discovered E F Benson - I know probably everyone else has read his/her books, but I just finished Miss Mapp. It was hilarious, so I'll read the rest of them when I get the chance.

There must be thousands like me out there reading classics that they've never read before. Perhaps that is one of the best things about the kindle.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Different shapes of butterfly scale

Just added this drawing of many of the different type of butterfly and moth scale to the main Lepidoptera page. I could see from photographs that not all scales were the same shape, but I didn't realise that there were so many different kinds. Quite amazing.

So the middle east and north Africa are in turmoil and I am messing about with butterfly scales, and downloading free books on to my Kindle. The world is a strange place, and I feel totally out of it. I read, I walk my dog, I do the garden. The most exciting recent event is the annual snowdrop show of strength as they heave their way up through frozen ground and ice, then present a nodding fragile flower for me to marvel at.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Recognising the common British bumblebees ebook

I've just made an ebook to enable the public to recognise the most commonly seen bumblebees, and I've added it to the downloads page, along with the other ebooks. In this one I've also listed the nesting habits and the preferred flowers of the 6 most commonly seen species of bumblebee. Hopefully that will help gardeners provide not only nesting sites, but also flowers for whatever species they have in their gardens.

If this is a success I might produce more ebooks.

I got a Kindle for Christmas, and I am just beginning to realise the possibilities of mobile content. Now I long for an iphone - I can see what all the fuss is about now.

On a sadder not I have been told that my nice new Canon G11 camera is useless for attaching to my old microscope. So I'm not sure what to do now. It is a great camera for everything else though.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Insect eyes and vision

I've just added a huge chunk to this section as well as this diagram of a couple of omatidia of a compound eye. I am always getting eye questions, so perhaps this will provide some answers.

I'd much rather be out in my garden which is looking forlorn and neglected, but it is still below zero, and it is such a miserable cloudy day, that I tell myself that I'm better off in front of the log fire. Even though it is below zero the witch hazel is blooming. Its tiny yellow petals really do brighten up the grey day.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Bombus pascuorum males

This is a Bombus pascuorum male foraging on scabious. It is fairly easy to see he is a male if you look at his rear leg you can see it is narrower and has no pollen basket.

Below you can see the head of the same bumblebee. This shows another way of recognising males. Just below the antennae they have a very prominent tuft of hair. In pascuorum it is the same ginger colour as the rest of the body. In many other species it is yellow.

Bombus hortorum on scabious

This was taken at the end of last August at the side of a path along the edge of Torphins wood. This small patch of wildflowers always had nectar feeding insects on it. At the other side of the path was a clump of nettles that was a favourite with the woodland butterflies and moths. And just on the border of the wood was a tumbled down dry stone wall with some stones in the sun and some in the boggy shade. So in this very small area - smaller than even a small suburban garden there was such a wide variety of habitats. Admittedly it looks pretty bare uninteresting most of the year, but from mid to late summer it is abuzz with activity.

This is a perfect example of what to do if you have a garden large enough for you to leave a small patch to go wild.

There is no management that I can see. The path is well used by dog walkers, and the surroundings are grazed by rabbits and deer, and small patches are disturbed by the red squirrels burying nuts. Early in the spring the lizards use to stones to warm up on, they probably use them at other times, but I have only managed to see them then.

Bumblebees keeping warm inside a courgette flower

I took the photograph above in September last year. It had already started to get colder in the mornings and every courgette flower I had was full of insects. Some would even try to push their way inside the half opened flowers. I imagine the large size of the flower gave them shelter, protection and also food.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Insect orders free ebook

Happy New Year to you all.

Well I'm getting the hang of the ebooks, and number 2 is up and ready to be downloaded from the main page of the invertebrate site. It is Insect orders and lists the characteristics of each order along with either a photograph or drawing of a typical representative of the order.

The password to open the book is

insects rule

and it has to be entered twice - I don't know why, but there it is.

I have a few more ideas for fitire ebooks, but if there are any requests, just let me know.