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Invasion

An invasion of the most beautiful kind.  After several days of torrential rain we have had some dry spells.  I had been noticing several Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies passing through the garden, not stopping, heading northwards.  Today was lovely and sunny (showers now).  We had to go out in the car and during the drive of some twenty miles hundreds of these gorgeous insects were flying across the road.  When we got home they were in the garden in good numbers, this one enjoying the catnip.DSC_0215aDSC_0254a

Every once in awhile here in Europe we experience these ‘Painted Lady years’.  Millions of them migrate out of north Africa and head our way.  They stop and breed en route and the offspring continue the journey.  Come the autumn the second or third generation in this country then start heading back south, they cannot survive our winter (yet).

This species is also found in America.  Earlier this year I heard they had also had a mass migration in places like California with countless millions heading through.

Home Builders

Thrilling to see a big increase in the number of House Martins (Delichon urbica) in the village street this year.  When we first moved here 29 years ago almost every property had at least one nest under the eaves, our bungalow had one on each gable.  Slowly the population decreased until last year there was only three pairs left.  This reflects a nationwide decline.  In some monitored sites there has been a fall of 65% since the ’60’s.

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House Martin approaching the nest site

The reasons for this decline are probably all weather related.  Here in the UK there must be a supply of mud nearby for them to construct their nests.  So if the spring is dry they are unable to build.  Then if it is too wet there will not be enough insects to feed the young.  The Martins over-winter in south and west Africa south of the Sahara and again if the weather is wrong they will suffer high mortalities.

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A difference of opinion?

The pair in these images have chosen to build their nest on our neighbour’s property and is viewable from my bedroom window about 20ft away.  The nest will eventually be a complete dome with an entrance hole at the top (remains of a very old nest can be seen).  It is constructed of beak full pellets of mud, up to a thousand in total, and can take ten days to finish.  It will then be lined with feathers.  As I write this the dome is just over half complete but we are experiencing some very wet, windy and cool weather and activity has ceased.  Let’s hope it is a temporary blip.  It will be fun to watch them feeding their young.

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A little cuddle and it’s all ok

Pole Dancers

On reflection I should possibly have chosen a better title for this post.  I can imagine all sorts of ‘interesting’ people being directed here by search engines!  Hey-ho let’s run with it anyway, might get some interested in nature.

I have managed to get out and do a bit of dragonfly watching this past week or so.  It was a slow start but is picking up nicely.  Mike over in the States ( https://michaelqpowell.com/?wref=bif ) has been posting images for some weeks now, so we are playing catch-up.  Started by checking out Hickling Broad and on Sunday we went to Upton Fen.  At Upton I had to use my zoom lens to get the images and was pleasantly surprised at the detail.  A great lens for drag racing but after a lot of pretty poor butterfly images I was reluctant to use it.  You can see the link in the images and the reason behind the dodgy heading.

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Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) at Hickling. These are the smallest and earliest of the Hawkers to emerge and are forever on the move. If a bit of cloud covers the sun they will settle as happened here. The name ‘Hairy’ is because of the fine hairs on the thorax which you can see in this image
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Also at Hickling this male Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum). It was bending it’s abdomen in almost a complete circle
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The Norfolk Hawker (Anaciaeschna isoceles). This is a scarce species in the UK and as the name suggests are mostly confined to my home County, though they are spreading their range. This one was at Upton and is another dragonfly that rarely settles
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Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) The most numerous of the early dragons at some sites they can form ‘swarms’. This backlit one at Upton is beautifully marked with the colour on the outer spots (pterostigma) ‘bleeding’ into the wing, this is form praenubila.

Main Event… Rain stops Play

For me the most eagerly anticipated drag race of the season is the Main Event.  This is the first round of the European FIA FIM championships and all the big boys (and girls) will be out to try and get some points on the board.  Held over the four days of the Whit bank holiday, due to work, I can only get to the Sunday Qualifying round.  This is ok as it’s usually the best day with all the teams aiming to be number one heading into Monday’s eliminations, plus you get the chance to see all the cars/bikes twice or so you hope…..

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Backing up to the startline after their burnouts, Laura Turburville in the ‘Bad Blood’ dragster and Mark Flavell in the Pontiac bodied funny car. These run in a class called ‘Super Pro ET’ which is open to any car that can run between 6 & 8.99 seconds. The team will state what elapsed time they aim to run (ET) this is called ‘dial in’ and the car with the slower dial in gets a handicap start. It’s first to the win line but they must not go quicker than dialed in. Most teams can forecast their time to the hundredth of a second!

Tickets were booked weeks ago so I could get my favourite grandstand seat as this meeting attracts many thousands of spectators.  After a restless nights sleep we were away early for the two and a half hour drive (Tina always drives there, I have the homeward journey) to arrive before they start at 9am.  The weather forecast was not good.  It was warm and partly sunny on arrival but with a strong head wind straight down the strip and by 10.30 ominous grey clouds were beginning to move in just as the top Pro classes were starting their qualifying.

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In the gloom between the showers Jimmy Alund of Sweden runs a 6.579 @ 210mph in his Pro Stock Camaro

Sure enough the first heavy shower fell when forecast!  In drag racing the cars cannot run if there is any liquid at all on the track.  The strip is prepped prior to the event by dragging rubber over the surface of the concrete this is then sprayed with a traction compound we call glue.  Any liquid will sit on top of this like little ball bearings.  A race vehicle hitting that at speed on slick tyres is in big trouble!  The team worked like Trojans drying  the track and after forty five minutes they were ready to go again.  During this time we had walked back to the car park so came back and viewed from the bank near the finish line.

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‘Another Small Fortune’ is in reality a Top Methanol dragster but runs in Super Pro ET, it has trouble in keeping over the 6 seconds!

Four pairs of cars ran and the 300mph Top Fuellers were lining up and it rained again!  An hour later just as the crew were finishing off drying up another shower.  By now I was very tired due to lack of sleep and the strong wind so we headed for home.  They did get qualifying finished by 9pm and before work on the Monday I watched some of the eliminations on the internet.

Wildlife in Corfu

My weeks holiday allowed me to experience a small taste (no I didn’t eat it!) of the wildlife on offer in Corfu.  This lovely green and verdant Greek island in the Ionian Sea is awash with wild flowers in spring, though it seemed like every other Corfoit was in possession of a petrol strimmer and was doing their best to blitz it!  Away from the villas and holiday apartments things were much quieter, even so some olive groves were getting the treatment.

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A Dalmation Algyroides on a wall of the old fortress in Kerkira.

Loved the lizards, never see many in the UK but here they liked to sunbathe on the rocks.  They are very wary and scuttle off when approached making photography difficult.  The biggest was a Balkan Green Lizard living in the front garden of our villa, pity he had lost his tail.

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Green Rose Chafer (Cetonia aurata) enjoying some nectar.

Those of you who have read Gerald Durrell’s book ‘My Family and Other Animals’ will remember his meetings with the Rose Beetle man.  These beetles or chafers are big, up to an inch (25mm) long and are a glorious metallic gold/green.  Mostly seen flying around tree tops they like to feed on nectar.

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Egyptian Locust (Anacridium aegyptium) is a big beast, nearly 3 inches (75mm) long, and caused me to jump when I disturbed them and they flew to cover!
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A beautiful and large moth the Cream-spot Tiger (Arctia villica) has a wingspan over 2 inches (50mm) long. This one nearly met it’s demise under my foot as I left the front door. Well spotted (and saved) Tina!
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A rather pretty grasshopper Omocestus rufipes, the Woodland Grasshopper.

The birdlife on Corfu was somewhat disappointing, so much so the zoom lens never got bothered.  There was a distinct lack of garden birds and the countryside was pretty quiet too.  I fear the large amount of empty shotgun cartridges and feral cats may be responsible.  The hunting of spring migrants on Mediterranean islands is a big problem, although it is part of the culture it is not big and not clever!  We did see some nice birds though, Scops Owls by our villa at night and the Red-rumped Swallows in the old fort.  A highlight of an evening meal in our favourite taverna the ‘Olive Press’ was the Barn Swallows coming in to roost a few feet above us and the owner welcomed them.

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Another dinosaur! A Greek Algyroides on our terrace wall.

“But wait!” I hear you say “Where are the butterflies?”  Well butterflies were in a great abundance and if you would like to see a few check this out https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/corfu-butterflies/  I decided to put a gallery on my HOME page, enjoy!  For a taster feast your eyes on this beauty!

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Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius)

 

Corfu – Island Holiday

It has been many years since we have had a holiday abroad and even longer since we have visited Greece.  The arrival of the Lemming put paid to our trips but this year Mrs H and I decided to treat ourselves.  The destination we choose was the island of Corfu.  This was always on my wish list ever since I read Gerald Durrell’s brilliant book ‘My Family and other Animals’ as a child.  Although the story was set in the 1930’s we hoped to try and find traces of the past on what is now a very busy tourist isle.

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An evening view from our villa driveway toward Kerkira (Corfu Town)

Corfu is set in the Ionian Sea.  It is noted for being lush and green with a landscape of olive groves and tall cypress trees.  Even though we travelled in the second week of May we experienced some rain.  For our base we rented a villa in the beautiful village of Nissaki on the north/east coast.  Fifty yards from our terrace, through an olive grove filled with scrub and wild flowers, lay the sea and behind us the impressive backdrop of Mount Pantokrator, at 910m the highest point on Corfu.

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Looking down on Barbati. A view from 400m above Nissaki
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A calm Ionian Sea

On the fourth day we visited Kerkira or Corfu Town.  We had a hire car but having experienced the drive from the airport thought it safer to take the local bus!  To drive on Corfu you must forget everything you have learned, it’s every man for himself!  Indicators are frowned on, pedestrian crossings mean nothing and you can stop without warning and park up in the road.  The road surfaces are rough and that is being kind and to meet a coach on a steep hairpin bend is, er, interesting.

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Kerkira. Looking from the old fort toward the new

The capital is a very busy, bustling place.  Although there are many new shops some areas look pretty tired.  One downside being a problem with waste disposal meaning big piles of rubbish bags here and there.  We made our way through the back streets and along the promenade to the Old Fortress where we spent several hours exploring.  The fort was built by the Venetians in the 1540’s but the original fortifications date back to the 6th century.  The New Fortress was built a few years later to strengthen the town defences.

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The Old Fortress, a scene of many sieges
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On Corfu wild flowers grow everywhere

To find the island of Durrell’s book you have to venture off the beaten track.  We walked for many miles in the countryside, our favourite being the steep climb behind Nissaki.  We discovered a peaceful world filled with a profusion of wild flowers of every hue, also the wildlife but that must wait for another time.  One week and you are not even scratching the surface of this gem of an island with it’s friendly people.  At the end of each day after enjoying a meal at our favourite taverna, the Olive Press, we would sit back on the terrace and watch the neon flashing of the fireflies in the olive grove and listen to the whistling ‘twoo’ call of the Scops Owls.  In the distance, over the bay, the twinkling lights of Kerkira.  And relax!

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The hills above Benitses on the south east coast typify the Corfu scenery

 

 

Sleeping Beauties

Even after x number of years kicking around this planet I still get excited when I witness something new.  Just last week was a good example.  I was mowing the grass, the day had been cool and cloudy now the sun was breaking through.  In a patch of nettles and other assorted wild plants a flash of orange caught my eye.  Went to investigate, there to my absolute delight were three male Orange-tip butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines) roosting together on the same flower head of cow parsley.  I have never seen this before so thought it better be recorded, the grass can wait!

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Three.  As the sun breaks through one stirs
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Two.  A little flutter around and a move to another flower
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One. “With those two gone think I’ll get my head down for another forty winks”

And there he stayed for the rest of the afternoon.  What were they missing out on?  Well as they dozed away the day two female Orange-tips were in the back garden patrolling the flower beds, unlucky boys!