a french garden


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A Summer Day in October

Last Friday was the fifth of October and the sun shone in the blue Charentais sky like a beautiful summer day with the temperature reaching 26 degrees centigrade.  There was no wind and it seemed an ideal day to explore another little pond just about a kilometre or so away from the pond at Madion.  It would have taken a bit too long on foot so we opted for the bikes so that we would not lose the afternoon sun.

The pond and the Charentais blue sky

The pond is not far from a small road and has woods and vineyards behind it.  The surrounds of the pond had been cleared to stop the woods encroaching.

Common darters

From a distance I spotted what looked like an extremely large dragonfly but as I got closer I realised it was two dragonflies in tandem.  This was the first time I have seen dragonflies laying eggs.  I would say these are Common darters (Sympetrum striolatum), as we get a lot of them in this area.

Dipping into the water

It was fascinating to watch the aerobatics of the pair.

Vertical descent

The eggs were laid at the edges of the pond.  The tail would just break the surface of the water as if to ensure that the eggs did not float on the surface to be easy prey to predators.  Presumably, the eggs would quickly find a safe spot on the murky floor of the pond.

Another dipping

The frenetic tandem flight continues with the female’s tail being dipped for her to release the eggs.  It looks a tiring exercise for the pair of them as they zoom from place to place, stopping from time to time at a selected spot for repeated dippings of the females tail.

There was more than one pair of the same variety of dragonfly taking advantage of the sunshine for mating and laying their eggs.

Willow Emerald Damselfly, (Chalcolestes viridis)

I also noticed a Willow Emerald Damselfly sitting looking beautiful beside the pond, its metallic green colour sparkling in the sunshine.

I wondered what was happening at the other pond so partly pushing the bikes through the grass we decided to take a “short cut” thereby avoiding the road.

Ready for the vendage

We passed some vines, these are the Uni Blanc, as they are called here, or Ugni blanc if you prefer the Italian spelling which are widely grown around here and are likely to end up as Cognac or Pineau.  The harvesting of the grapes has just begun.  Almost all of the vines are harvested mechanically, apart from a few older vineyards where the distance between the vines is too narrow for the machines to pass and so these have to be harvested by hand.  This is true of our immediate vicinity and does not hold true for vineyards producing high quality wine.

Ragwort cafe

There were a few Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) plants in the grass but this  one seemed particularly  attractive to the local insects.  The female common blue seemed to be receiving a lot of attention.

First advances

The sunshine and the advancing season led to pairing off on the Ragwort.

On the ground

The pairing game continued on the ground but we wanted to push onto the other pond to see what was happening there.

At the other pond things were quieter and although there were a couple of darters performing their frenetic egg laying dance I could not get a shot of them.  Perhaps it was too late in the evening (our short cut having provided more distractions than anticipated) but these days the fields and woods are getting quieter.

Peacock butterflies in the Hemp Agrimony, (Eupatorium cannabinum)

A month ago the Hemp Agrimony was in flower and full of butterflies, bees and other insects.

Hemp Agrimony seed head

Now the flowers have finished and the little seeds float around the plants and waft in the air like miniature parachutes.  Without their flowers the wood edges have become a lot quieter, less nectar bearing flowers for the bees and other insects.  The hornets are still on patrol though.

European hornet, (Vespra crabro)

They patrol back and forth on the look out for bees or other insects.  It seems late in the season for them to still be hunting for prey for their larvae but I have seen more now than earlier in the year.

They take their searching seriously and trace the wood edges like little yellow bullets.

Run butterfly!

I think the butterfly outclassed the hornet but it did not stay around to argue.

Asian hornet, (Vespa velutina nigrithorax)

The one thing that puzzles me is that the hornets I trapped in March were all Asian hornets, non-native hornets which are causing concern among bee keepers in France.  However, I have never seen any of the Asian hornets in the countryside during my walks.  So much the better for the bees.

Carder bumble bee

The wild mint is still happily flowering providing a rich nectar, but the bumble bees are much reduced in numbers, the majority that I see outside the garden are Carder bees.

Butterfly on side

On the way home I noticed a butterfly on its side, attended by another one.

Mouth to mouth resuscitation?

I could not imagine what they were doing, so I approached closer.  Too close.

Dead butterfly?

The apparently dead butterfly, finding her partner had flown off and left her, took wing leaving me feeling foolish.  Even the poor butterflies don’t get a chance to get on quietly with their life when I’m around with my camera.

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Dragonfly pond update

In my blog on 8th. of July, I explained that inspired by the Dragonfly Woman’s blog ( http://thedragonflywoman.com/), I had decided to initiate my solo citizen’s science project to learn more about dragonflies.  I feel I have kept up my side of the bargain but I feel hugely let down by the dragonflies.  As a novice I expected a bit more leeway and consideration.  I don’t not want to sound paranoid but I do have a sneaky feeling that they are taunting me.

Madion pond

For one thing my decision to choose the pool nearby seemed eminently sensible to me.  The fact that it had a raft of water lilies in the middle made it more aesthetically pleasing.

The thought never occurred to me that the dragonflies might prefer to take their well-earned R&R on the water lily pads far from my invasive lens.  I watched bemused as a couple of huge dragonflies patrolled tirelessly back and forth across the pond.  They were very large and I had an idea what they could be because of their size but they were much too far away to identify.  However, there is plenty to look at while I keep a look out for dragonflies.

Oak tree with gash in its side

One day I noticed that the bushes had been lopped, I had never realised that the pond was being cared for, but an oak tree had been damaged in the process.

Hornet and cleverly camouflaged butterfly

The tree was oozing sap and providing an impromptu feast for a European hornet (Vespa crabro) and a butterfly.

Oak Eggar caterpillar

I was impressed by this huge hairy caterpillar that looked about 10cm. long passing by at the same time on the oak trunk.  I think it must have been looking for a good place to pupate in.  At least the caterpillar was playing ball being an Oak Eggar (Lasiocampa quercus) caterpillar on an oak tree.

Signal crayfish

The pond is also home to crayfish, this one is a signal crayfish, an invasive American species which has been introduced in Europe and is taking over the native species habitats. This is leading to a decline in the native crayfish species as well as upsetting the balance of other native species, such as newts and frogs. It is a voracious feeder and a far less fussy feeder than the native crayfish. This diminishes the food supply available to the native crayfish and at the same time as increasing the predation on native species at risk of being eaten.

Blue-tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans)

I see a lot of nature around the pond but my only complaint is that the dragonflies are camera shy around the pond.  The damselflies are much more predictable and sit delicately on the greenery at the water’s edge enjoying the sunshine. They seem creatures of habit, so I can now make a bee line to where I will see them if it is warm and sunny.

The Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)

On sunny afternoons I have noticed huge dragonflies patrolling across the pond in a tireless search for their prey.  I have seen them stoop like birds of prey and I was pretty sure of their identity, because of their size, but they were always too far away to be sure.  Eventually I managed to get a photograph of the male Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator).  It is not a good quality photograph but I think sufficient for an identification.

Southern Hawker or Blue Darner (Aeshna cyanea)

However, I am much more successful in dragonfly spotting on the way to the pond but I don’t expect that this counts as “pond watching”.

The biggest dragonfly that I have seen close up was in the woods on my way to the pond.  It was not much short of 10 cm. long and very impressive.  I think it is a Boyeria Irene  or Western Spectre dragonfly.  Please see Susan’s comments, it is a Southern Hawker or Blue Darner (Aeshna cyanea), I was mislead by his green eyes but they will turn blue as he matures

Lestes viridis

The same day I saw the Downy Emerald Dragonfly (Cordulia aenea) (or I thought it was, now revised to Lestes viridis, see Susan’s comments below) and

Willow Emerald Damselfly (Lestes viridis)

the beautiful metallic green Willow Emerald Damselfly.   This demoiselle does not hold its wings folded over its back in the typical damselfly fashion.  I told you they are out to confuse me!

Definitely a dragonfly day(especially if you include the damselfly)!

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum)

I am becoming familiar with the Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) and have a special fondness for him because he even comes and visits in my brussel sprouts.

Ruddy Darter

I must add a “health warning” to this blog, if I could I’d like to print a large L across it.  I am trying very hard to learn about dragonflies by observing and trying to identify them.  I welcome comments and I would love to hear if my identifications are not on target.

One thing I have learned is that there can be a considerable difference in colour between the male and female dragonflies and also between the mature and immature forms.

I have already become more aware and spot them in the environment.  The next stage will be to familiarise myself with them bit by bit.  But that will take some time!


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My dragonfly pond project

I follow The Dragonfly Woman’s blog ( http://thedragonflywoman.com/).  On the 2nd July she posted about a dragonfly pond watch in the USA: enthusiasts register a pond and keep watch for two dragonfly species and by visiting their pond regularly they collect data on the dragonflies.  They hope to amass more information on the dragonflies by this citizen science project.   As I am in France this leaves me out in the cold but then I thought I could do my own personal pond watch and learn about dragonflies.  As my knowledge about dragonflies was zero there could only be an improvement on my personal information base.

There is a pond about 20 minutes brisk walk from the house, if you take the short-cut through the woods it takes a lot longer than that as there is usually so much to see and photo opportunities slow you down.  The pond is on one of our more winter routes or rather autumn walks as there is a very abundant walnut tree close by.  I had not given the pond more than an admiring look from the path so it seemed an idea choice for my project.

Madion pond

Our neighbour who is in her eighties has told us the pond used to be larger and she remembers being taken  out on the pond in a small rowing boat when she was young.

I was sure if they got swarms of dragonflies in the States I  should see one or two over the pond.

Pond in sunshine

I chose a sunny afternoon for my first visit hoping the warmth would tempt them out into the open.

Lotus flowers

The lotus flowers were open.  The lotus flowers are not native Charentais flowers but they have been in the pond for at least ten years, whether planted on purpose or arrived accidently, I do not know.

However, no dragonflies.

There were, however, two species of damsel flies.

Blue damselfly

In fact I think it is a Blue tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans).

Blue tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans)

The leaf has got in the way here but the fine part in the middle of the tail can be seen better.

Brown damselfly

The second damselfly is brown and awaiting further research by me (or recognition by a reader?) before it finds a name.

I must admit I was somewhat disappointed.  The damselflies were lovely but I did want a dragonfly.

Pond in rain

Dragonfly woman said to check out the pond in different weather conditions and at different times of day.  Equipped with an umbrella this time, but still no dragonflies.

Today I decided to take the short cut and go through the woods along the side of the little stream.  It had rained overnight but it had been a beautiful day and it was still warm at 5 p.m.

Golden ringed dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii)

At last I got my dragonfly!  It is a Golden Ringed dragonfly ( Cordulegaster boltonii).  Not at the pond, perhaps, but better here than never.

Common Blue damsel fly (Enallagma cyathigerum)

In addition, there were lovely Common Blue damsel flies along the edges of the little stream.  Things were definitely looking up.

Lotus flowers

Success at last!  When I arrived at the pond I could see that flying back and forth over the mass of lotus flowers were several very large green-blue dragonflies.  They seemed to be patrolling back and forth over the lotus flowers.  I willed them to take a break, put their feet down and chill out but they seemed on a dragonfly mission.  I’ve got no photos as yet but at least I know my pond does have dragonflies, it would have been tough trying to do a solo dragonfly pond watch on a pond with no dragonflies.  I feel I am off to a good start.

I do not intend to confine myself to dragonflies.  I have heard a frog but not seen it and there is also a very shy waterfowl that hides among the lotus flowers.

However, just before I headed home, something walked out of the pond!

Crayfish

It appeared to be a crayfish.  He had a walk around for a couple of minutes and then walked back in.

Crayfish – no claws?

It seemed odd to come out for a walk on the edge of the pond but the other oddity is that it appears to be lacking a pair of front claws.  Perhaps he had been in a fight.

Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus)

Then almost back home, a Stag beetle was walking along the road in the opposite direction.  Definitely a photo opportunity.

The stag  beetle may not be as stunning photographically as dragonflies or damselflies but has a life history just as fascinating.  Since I have started the blog and have been reading other people’s blog it has made me notice much more around me and fanned my curiosity for the natural world that surrounds me.  The pond has added another dimension to our walks.