The apple crop

Our small apple tree in a raised border by a fence usually has a crop of 20-30 smallish apples. About half of these are usually riddled with bugs and/or bird peckings. I don’t use any pesticides.

This year I recently picked the ‘crop’ – just ten apples, but each rather larger than usual. This summer’s weather must have somehow encouraged this by shining and raining at the right times, as I’d hardly bothered to thin them out.

The funny thing is, there were no blemishes on the apples, no peck marks, no bugs, no caterpillers, no sawfly larvae, no aphids… Now this is scary. We know about declining numbers of insects, but NO BUGS AT ALL? And no birds fancying a tasty peck? Even the army of slugs enabled by the lack of deterrent couldn’t be bothered to climb up.

I have never known such an occurrence before. Another piece of evidence of the alarming reduction in the natural world that is taking place before our eyes. What will future generations say when they look at David Attenborough’s films and literally cannot believe their eyes, and that this wonderful biodiversity was all lost by negligence?

So yes, there are more important things than unblemished apples.

 

Gladioli

I know you have to be quick photographing birds and butterflies, but flowers? These gladioli seem to have come out late this year, but what superb delicate colours, a magnificent garden specimen!

gladioli

And the next day it rained stair rods, battering down the stems and knocking the life out of the petals. So much growing effort for just a day or two’s beautiful flowering!

Small white

The thistle patch featured a few days ago is already no longer, the flowers being replaced by fluffy seed balls like dandelion clocks. These pictures from that time, of small white butterflies click well with the colour of the thistle flowers. The first is an especially pleasing composition, to my eyes.

thistle small whitewhite on thistle 2

The (small and large) white butterflies were very common in my youth and a bit of a nuisance, with their caterpillars all over the brassica plants. Now they’re not so common, so seeing them is a bit more of an event, and photographing them more of a challenge.

Comma 2

The comma butterfly has a quite outrageous outline shape, supposedly helping as camouflage against a background of dead leaves. This was an occasional visitor to our garden, usually only seen on a few occasions during the summer.

comma_2

You can’t see the comma that gives this butterfly its name from the top. For this you need to see the underside, as in this earlier post.

The colour match with the buddleia and phlox is not wonderful, but that’s where it deigned to linger…

Thistle patch

Most of the year the long straggly patch between two local fields on one of our walks is a bit nondescript and weedy. We bemoan the poor state of the hedge. But at this time of year comes a profusion of thistles into flower, some quite beautiful.thistle flower with insects

Look closely, and you see tiny insects on the leaves and flowers, with body length of just a few mm.

Read More »

Silver Y

New to me, this day flying moth, a Silver Y, was flitting about rapidly on the lavender, never staying still for a moment. Out of maybe 100 shots there were just a few that were not too badly blurred and relatively in focus. This was maybe the best, head-on, proboscis in flower.

silver y frontRead More »

Egyptian goose

What was this unusual pair of ducks or geese with eye patches, a ring around the neck and attractive variegated wing colouring, an unusual sight on the lake in Tatton Park?

egyptian goose pairIt seems that they are Egyptian geese, related to the more common shelduck. Egyptian geese were originally introduced into the UK as an ornamental species and now established in the wild.

egyptian goose specimen

Striking birds!

Bramble flower

Brambles are ubiquitous in Cheshire at this time of year, with those spiky stems riotously spreading forth from every wild patch and hedgerow. When I first saw these attractive hedgerow flowers out in the countryside I thought they might be some sort of wild rose, but no, they are simply quite large bramble flowers. And the spikes are vicious.

bramble flower

Must remember to pass that way again in a couple of months time to pick the blackberries!

Southern screamer

The southern screamer is a large South American wetland bird. What is it doing in the UK? This pair are at the Wildlife and Wetland Trust’s Martin Mere centre, now reopened for a limited number of visitors. The centre contains specimen birds from all over the world, as well as providing the space for thousands of local and migrating birds.

We were lucky to find the birds in photo-posing mode, rather than screaming at all and sundry.

Unlike geese and ducks this bill is not designed to filter water; they mostly feed on vegetation. These birds are thought to be the ‘missing link’ between wildfowl and game birds.Read More »

Black Swan

Black swan theory is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise and has a major effect, based on the observed historical fact in Europe that black swans did not exist.

I guess we could call covid-19 a black swan event, although it was actually predicted that such an event would happen at some time, which was always ‘in the future’, until it wasn’t. Of course, globalised trade made this black swan event a worldwide phenomenon pretty rapidly.

Globalisation also means we can now see black swans in Europe without travelling to Australia. This one was at WWT Martin Mere, caught in the act of biting off chunks of reed.

Marsh Hoverfly

A gang of these came around our pond for a few minutes, buzzed around furiously and noisily, occasionally briefly settling on water lily leaves. Then they disappeared. Nothing like the usual hoverflies that hang around flowers for ages.

marsh hoverfly

This beauty is a marsh hoverfly. Magnificent body markings and lace wings! Judging by the Wikepedia entry this appears to be a female.Read More »

The Dangerous Gnat

We used to call them gnats in Lincoln. The Spanish call them mosquitoes (diminutive for mosca – fly). It was many years before I realised these are the same thing, basically, although there are different sorts.

For us they were just pesky nuisances, but this is mankind’s ‘deadliest predator’. How come? The answer: malaria. In 2018 there were 228,000,000 new cases and 400,000 died, but few in the ‘developed world’.

For millennia people got the ague, got sick and many died. It even decided major events, such as Hannibal’s failed assault on Rome, the limits of Alexander the Great’s conquering. It was thought to be bad air that caused it (mal-aria).

Eventually mankind found the cure – draining swamps and quinine, a refined variant of which, hydroxychloroquine, has been in the news recently. Of course, a lot of the world can’t afford these solutions.

This reminded me of a trip we took a few years ago to the unspoilt Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. We stopped outside the gate of the reserve to take a quick entry photo, and by the time we got back in the car I had a number of mosquito bites on my arm. Of course, the whole of this eastern part of Texas was one big swamp before white men arrived. What a lot of mosquitoes! And what a heroic effort to carve the city of Houston out of such terrain. No wonder they use a lot of pesticide.

To know history and its causes is to understand today!

Thanks to an excellent review by Steven Shapin in the recent London Review of Books, on the book The Mosquito; A Human History of our Deadliest Predator by Timothy Winegard. Sounds like a great book!

No it’s not my arm. Featured image of Tasmanian mosquito by JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons

Alien gorse

There was plenty of yellow common gorse on display at Anderton Country Park recently, but I was puzzled by this rather pretty red-flecked plant – a single specimen. A web search suggests it could be gorse bitter pea, an Australian flowering plant, quite out of place in the English countryside – but very pretty nevertheless. This is in a recently regenerated part of the woodland; maybe someone, or some animal/bird, put it there?

red gorse