Saturday, 27 November 2010

Beautiful Birds (11): Black Stork

Hellenic Ornithological Society Information Kiosk on the Pier, Pylos area, Peloponnese
While we were staying in the Pylos area of Greece last September, we visited the volunteers at the kiosk above, and decided to book in on one of their guided nature walks on the lagoon.

The view from the hide

The photo above shows our first view of this magnificent lagoon. There were Little Egret in abundance. I think one may be 'touching down' in the water to the left of the photo.

You can just see the hide on stilts (look below the mountain)

The guided walk took us along the banks of the lagoon to the hide on stilts.

The Old Pumping Station - a wildlife H.Q. and Information centre

We returned to our starting point, here at the Old Pumping Station, just as the sun set, casting a fiery glow over the scene. I will post my sunset pictures on another occasion.

A Black Stork over the lagoon, taken by David

The lagoon often has flamingos, but they were not around during the week we were there. We were thrilled, however, to see a Black Stork flying overhead - and glad to have the H.O.S. volunteers to confirm the identification. I had seen Storks in Turkey a long time ago, but it was a real thrill to see this bird in such a stunning setting. I'm wondering if it was on its hibernation route to tropical Africa.

We were on the mainland in the western Peloponnese, but there are other amazing areas for birds, such as the island of Lesvos. I wonder if you saw the repeat of a fascinating programme, 'Aristotle's Lagoon' (and here - but 11 hours left to view at the time of writing), the other night on UK television, about the bio-diversity of this wildlife-rich habitat that had so inspired the early philosopher-naturalist-scientist, Aristotle?

  • Black Stork (Ciconia nigra) - with recent UK sightings

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Dragonflies (3): Scarlet Darter

The stunning Scarlet Darter, Peloponnese, Greece

We had a slight frost last night, and I found my mind wandering to warmer climes! We spotted this fine Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea) near the frogs on their lily pads in the Pylos area of the Peloponnese back in September. Apparently this is as 'red as it gets' in the field of European Odonata. I am quoting Macropoulos, whose spectacular photographs of the same species can be found here, here and here. I understand this Dragonfly has occasionally been seen in the UK. Thanks to David Element's information, I am pretty sure that the Darter in my photograph is an adult male. These Dragonflies have their own Facebook page! 

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Ladybird Alert (2): Not a Harlequin, this time

Seven-Spotted Ladybird

I hadn't seen a Ladybird for ages until last week when I saw my first Harlequin. Then on Saturday we were out in Carmarthenshire, when we encountered this creature. I wondered if it was heading towards the crack in the wooden gate post, with an eye to hibernation. Mind you, I'm not sure that it would actually have fitted!

The Seven-Spotted Ladybirds has flame-coloured elytra. It is known as Coccinella septempunctata, for obvious reasons. Here in the UK, there are concerns that the Harlequin is ravishing the key food supplies of its seven-spotted cousin.You can see a selection of Ladybirds here, sporting their spots and stripes. Ladybird guides can be bought here.

Homes are often not the best choice of winter residence for the Ladybird, as the warmth tends to wake them from hibernation at a time of the year when aphids are few and far between (and rarely indoors, in any case). There are several ways to encourage Ladybirds to inhabit your garden, though. You might like to consider one of the following options:
  • Making a recycled Ladybird Hotel for the Winter - instructions here
  • Making a de luxe Ladybird Hotel/Stack - instructions here  
  • Buying a Minibug House from a charity like the RSPB, to benefit wildlife twice over - here
I know I have a Minibug House on my list for Santa, but I may well cover all options and have a go at making one, too, as soon as some corrugated cardboard comes into the house.

If you have posted any Ladybirds recently, let me know and I'll add a link.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Beautiful Birds (10): Red Kite

Red Kite
My thanks to David, who took this photograph in Carmarthenshire at the weekend. When we first moved to Wales eighteen years ago, Red Kites were a rarity. These days we occasionally see them flying over our home. They are fine birds, especially when the sun catches their bronze plumage. Like my favourite bird, the Puffin, Red Kites have 'Amber' conservation status.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Ladybird Alert (1): Late Arrival

Large Ladybird on the wall of our house

Two years ago I was doing a spot of Christmas shopping in November when I was stung by an unseasonal wasp and ended up at A&E. This year my late visitor was a more harmless one; more harmless, that is, as far as I am concerned. I would very much appreciate a firm ID, but I believe this may be my first Harlequin Ladybird.

Harlequins have been much in the news. They first reached the UK in 2004. I am told that they are not 'bad' or 'undesirable' in themselves. The papers tell us it's just that they do not belong here in the UK, where they interfere with the well-being of other Ladybirds.

I thought I should look up some facts. The Harlequin's name ironically is Harmonia axyridis. It belongs to the order of Coleoptera and the family of Coccinellidae. You can read more about it here. The Walton and District Garden and Allotment Society has a helpful feature on identification here.  

P.S. Other Harlequins were spotted in the area on 7 November, too. You might like to read this post on the Gower Wildlife blog.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Seasonal Splash (1): The Fall of Autumn Leaves

A Grey Squirrel in Swanseas
A Splash of Autumn Colour
A 'reflective' foretaste of Winter, when there will be bare branches on the deciduous trees
Meanwhile, we can enjoy the rich colours of Autumn

I can understand the leaves losing their green chlorophyll colour in the Autumn, but what makes them turn yellow and purple, russet, scarlet and gold?

Carotenoids are responsible for the shades of yellow and anthocyanins for the reds and purples.  You can read more about the process on the US Forest Service site here. Drop me a comment if you have posted some colourful leaves: I would love to see them!

Those of us in the UK, where we mark Guy Fawkes' Night on 5 November with fireworks and bonfires, would do well to read the RSPB advice regarding the safety of animals. You might enjoy my collaborative Bonfire Wordle here