a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Enough gardening, let’s go for lunch!

On Saturday it was too good to stay in so we decided to go to Pons for lunch.

Pons Donjon

We had lunch on the restaurant balcony overlooking the old Donjon and then walked down to the river to see if we could spot any Kingfishers.

1-Ducks la Seugne

Unfortunately, no Kingfishers were sighted but the ducks were parading with their numerous offspring so I was not disappointed.  As common as ducks might be I never tire of their antics nor of seeing flotillas of duckings.

1-Bridge la Seugne

The riverside walk has changed over the years and they have added some wooden bridges so that you can cross over the meandering Seugne.

1-Young male Calopteryx splendens(4)

It was a warm sunny day and quantities these dragonflies were flying around.  As far as I can tell they are male Calopteryx Splendens.

1-Calopteryx splendens (2)

Green ones were flying around too but these were less numerous and I supposed them to be another kind of dragonfly.  In fact, they appear to be female Calopteryx splendens.  The insect world does its best to confuse us.  At least when you take photographs of the dragonflies it gives you time to examine their rears.

1-Boy bits

Here is the male dragonfly displaying his boy bits or claspers.

1-Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

The Speckled Wood butterfly  (Pararge aegeria) was everywhere too, it is the most common butterfly we see in the woods around here.

1-For Picasa

There were lots of little white butterflies, probably different sorts of Pieris.  I always associate them with cabbages but of course their are lots of other plants in the Brassicaceae family.

1-Cardamine pratensis

Lady’s smock (Cardamine pratensis) is in the Brassicaceae and there was lots of it around.  I don’t usually see such dark ones near us.

1-Cardamine pratensis (2)

Although in the minority there were lighter forms as well.  It is called La cressonnette or cresson in French and apparently is edible although I have never tried it yet.

1-Bee pollen 1

This time it was my husband who spotted the cute bee.

1-Bee pollen

She was so covered in pollen that she had difficulty taking off.  Either that or the nectar she had been sampling had started fermenting in situ.  I cannot identify her as she was so covered in pollen but I would guess a little Halictes bee.  After a brief respite on my husband’s hand she took off into the air.

1-Bridge 2

Back over another bridge and we had finished our circuit around the river.

 


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A good year, so far

Back from the UK, I was curious to find out how all the rain that has fallen this year has affected the woods around the house.  Before I left some of the paths were still very muddy but the soil dries up quickly here.

Wild anemones

The wild anemones carpeted the ground under the trees still not fully in leaf.  They are more plentiful than last year and present in places I had never noticed them before.  They are mainly white and single but I enjoy finding the variants of other colours and the double variant.

Wild anemones

They are early this year and I would expect to find them at the end of April (See http://wp.me/p2cvii-6F ).

Path edge

The violets and lesser celandine stood out on the edge of the paths.

Dog violet

These are not the perfumed violets that I find in some places but they are just as beautiful.

Violet and butterfly

The yellow butterfly (maybe a Brimstone) seemed happy to accept the nectar, perfume or not.

Meloe violaceus

Always on the outlook for bees, I notice other things and I frequently come across the Violet Oil Beetle (Meloe violaceus ).  It is not a friend of solitary bees as its larvae find their way onto flowers and hitch a lift on the solitary bees that they encounter so that they can enter their nests.  The larvae then proceed to consume eggs, nectar and pollen.

Meloe violaceus matiing

I had never seen the beetle mating before and I was surprised that the female could scuttle through the leaves just as quickly while dragging the male behind her.  He did his best to stay upright but he often lost balance as it cannot be easy walking backwards with six legs that usually go frontwards.

I also noticed a lot of little flies on the female’s back and I have found out that they could be attracted to fluids that she exudes or they extract from her haemolymph.  This is an oily substance called cantharadin which can blister human skin.  This substance is produced by other beetles like the more well known Spanish fly (Lytta vesicatoria).

Pulmonaria

The Pulmonaria is abundant this year, usually with its mix of blue and pink flowerlets.  I read some interesting comments on colour change and pollination of flowers (more particularly on fruit trees) in Coloured clues; Mossy Mulch; and Easter Eggs at The Garden Impressionists.

Bee fly

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of bee flies on the spring flowers.  These flies are also parasites of solitary bees laying their eggs on flowers or near the nests of the solitary bees.

Asphodel

It’s not all bad news for the bees as the Asphodel are starting to flower and it has been a mild winter with lots of rain which has suited them well.

Lady's smock, Cardamine pratensis

The Lady’s smock (Cardamine pratensis) seems early and is more abundant.

Greater Stitchwort, Stellaria holostea

The Greater Stitchwort, Stellaria holostea is everywhere and is attracting the attention of an Andrena bee here, probably Andrena Willkella.Fern frond

Everything is fresh and pushing through like the fern fronds unfurling.

Bumbles

This is a time of activity and as I walk I hear the bumble bees, not just in the flowers but searching.  They are searching for just the right place to build their nest.  I often follow them as they explore and vanish into holes but they always return to continue their search, never seeming to find just the right place.


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Primula problem

Front house 10.3.14

Shortly after we set up home here I bought a packet of primula seeds.  There were hardly any flowers in the garden and I wanted some colour.  I was pleased with the  quantity of seedlings that resulted and which prospered and multiplied.  This suited me very well as there were plenty of places to put in new plants when the older ones were split.  However, as the years passed I began to run out of places and because you can’t eat primulas the neighbours were not interested in them either.

Front border 10.3.14

In addition, as I accumulated more flowers I found that the primulas could cover the smaller spring flowers like the crocus and snowdrops.  The red one with the yellow centre was particularly vigorous and I decided that definitely this year, enough was enough.  They could have their last flowering and then it would be the compost heap.

Anthophora plumipes on Primula

That was until this morning.

Anthophora plumipes 10.3.14

I’d seen him roaring through the broad beans yesterday afternoon, he was either chasing off another male or trying to catch a female as he didn’t stop.  The Anthophora plumipes bees were back.  They are one of my favourites.  Who couldn’t not love a bee with a name like the Hairy-footed flower bee?  (Please note his hairy feet.)

Anthophora plumipes on Primula

I never knew they liked Primula and Narcissi.  I should have because BWARS gives a long list of the flowers they visit.

Anthophora plumipes on red Primula

So this is how a bee saved some Primulas from the compost heap.

I couldn’t get rid of them now, could I?


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Of bees and blogs

Bee in Cellandine 17.2.13

It usually starts in February.

Early bumble bee February 2013The bees start sneaking into my posts.

Bee 1.4.13

By April things are hotting up.

Bee on Forget-me-not.18.4.13

They appear on Forget-me-nots.

Andrena fulva.25.4.13

I show the solitary bees pollinating our blackcurrants.

Carpenter April2013

The bees are getting bigger.

Bee on Dame de onze heure.19.4.13

The more flowers that appear the more bees that arrive.

Bee in Holly hock.13.7.13

Summer brings even more bees.

Bee-Geranium 5.7.14

The geraniums in my blog are accompanied by bumble bees.

Bee in Chicory.11.8.13

The Chicory flower is accompanied by a colourful solitary bee.

August poppy

In August the bees are in the Hollyhocks.

Bee in Dahlia.11.8.13

In the dahlias…

Bee in Dahlia-28.8.13

For a gardening blog I fear there maybe a bit too many bees.

Bumble in Sedum

I can’t help it they are too appealing (c’est plus fort que moi!)

I do, however, want to learn and understand more about solitary bees and so I have decided to separate (to some extent) my passion for the bees from the garden.  I have started a new blog Bees in a French Garden .  This is a more serious blog to find out if there is anyone else out there interested in solitary bees.  It would be nice to find people to exchange ideas with as has happened with my garden blog.  I have learnt so much following some great gardening blogs so I am hoping my bee blog will be rewarding too.

My French Garden Blog will continue as the garden changes through the seasons incorporating the advice and help from friends and bloggers.


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More on the Mason bees

No surprises!

I posted my first Mason bee update on  25 March and I was really satisfied that I had attracted Osmia to my new Mason bee houses and I hoped to gather a bit of data on what might be suitable spots to situate  Mason bee houses and what sized holes they preferred.

Mason bee house

19 July 2013

Firstly, no surprises, it looks like in France, at least, the bees prefer a sunny position.  Out of the first three new hotels that were put up, it was the one on the wall in the front garden, with the morning sun, that attracted the most bees.

The bamboo canes had been chosen to give a diameter of 6mm to 1cm.  I think the smaller diameter was favoured but my task was complicated as a potter wasp decided to use the hotel too.  The potter wasp is responsible for the filling of the larger hole in the picture and the open holes are where the wasps have already vacated.  I presume some of the other holes may hold wasp larvae.

The Bee hotel in the plum tree that received only dappled sunlight through its branches has Osmia and some other insects nesting but like the one under the willow at the bottom of the garden received fewer Osmia than the sunny hotel.

The bees arrive!

Osmia cornuta entering nest laden with pollen

Osmia cornuta entering nest laden with pollen

Keeping on track, not only did my original hanging house hatch out last year’s Osmia cornuta and have some more bamboo canes re-occupied but the new neighbouring one on the wall was even better received.

Osmia cornuta

Osmia cornuta

The O. cornuta preferred the new nest on the wall either because it was sunnier or because it was fixed securely to the wall rather than swinging on the branch of the lilac.

And then a second variety!

Male Osmia rufa in the lilac 28 April 2013

Male Osmia rufa in the lilac 28 April 2013

I had first seen the O. cornuta males around the old nest box at the beginning of March but in April  I spotted another species of male Osmia in the garden.

Female Osmia rufa

Female Osmia rufa

The Osmia rufa are not as brightly coloured as the O.cornuta and hatch out and fly later.  I had never noticed them in the garden before.

Head of Osmia rufa female

Head of Osmia rufa female

Both the O. rufa and the O.cornuta have curious prongs on their heads just under their antenna.  The prongs are used to tamp in the mud they bring to seal their nest.

New bee hotel 17 April 2013

New bee hotel 17 April 2013

With two species of Osmia nesting in the hotels my husband became concerned that they would run out of holes or feel overcrowded so he hastily built a fourth hotel to go on an outbuilding wall that receives the sun all day long.

The third Osmia provides lots of entertainment in the summertime!

Upside down Osmia leaiana

Upside down Osmia leaiana

The Osmia leiana were the next arrivals in May and stayed around well into July.  These little bees really put everything into building their nests.  Gradually they fill the holes, cell by cell, and you can get a better look at all the action as they complete the last one or two compartments.  I had now three species of Osmia nesting!

Osmia leiana 17 July 2013

Osmia leiana 17 July 2013

The Osmia leiana is not so colourful as the other two Osmia but nested for a longer period and the females even slept overnight in the bamboo of the hotel.

Osmia leaiana head

Osmia leaiana head

All the Osmia bees have strong mandibles to help them in building their nests.  The O. leiana were prolific nesters and nested in all the bee hotels, even building a few nests in the hotels in the shade under the trees.

Then there is the Anthophora!

Anthophora 7 May 2013

Anthophora 7 May 2013

I have Anthophora plumipes nesting in the stone walls of the house and in May they were feeding on the blue Cerinthe in the front garden.  I think this is a female of the light form that I have here starting off her nest in the holes of the trunk section of the bee hotel in the front garden.

The Anthophora have nested in the bored wooden holes in the cut tree trunks of the bee hotel on the out building too.  They nest deep inside the holes but their presence is noticeable as they leave “paths” of sawdust on the bottom of the holes.  They do this in the holes in the house walls but the “paths” in this case are like fine sand produced as they excavate their nests in the soft limestone.

And the Anthidium!

Anthidium at nest

Anthidium at nest

Another bee that nests in the bee hotels is the Anthidium.  It is called the cotton bee in French for obvious reasons.  She gathers the soft hairs from plants such as Stachys and brings them to the bamboo canes to make her nest.

Anthidium's cotton nest

Anthidium’s cotton nest

Frequently the nest is made deep into the hole and the cotton does not protrude so it is easy to miss their nests.  It is really amazing to see the quality and quantity of cotton that this bee produces.  I have a great attraction for this lovely bee.

Different Megachiles arrive!

Megachile beginning of September

Megachile beginning of September

I had noticed suspicious pieces of leaves missing from plants in the garden during the summer and I had suspected leaf cutting bees but I had never caught any “in the act” so I could not be sure.  So I was ecstatic when at the end of August I found them nesting in the sunny hotel on the outbuilding.  They were so engaged in their task that they did not object to being watched.  I found their determination and hard work fascinating to watch.

Megachile asleep 26 August 2013

Megachile asleep 26 August 2013

Some leaf cutting bees also nested in the hotel in the front garden but they were not early risers and I used to enjoy watching them wake up.  This little bee had been so busy that she fell asleep on her back with a piece of leaf for a blanket.  I took the photo at 9.49 a.m. and she was awake shortly after.

 Hole sealed with rose petals

Hole sealed with rose petal

At the beginning of September one of the leaf cutting bees used rose petals to make her nest.  I did not see her but the end result was beautiful.  I think they are most likely to be Megachile centuncularis.

Puzzles!

Cellophane glaze

Cellophane glaze

I am puzzled by this hole as it is shiny (I couldn’t manage to get a photograph to show the shine).  Who has filled this hole?  Is it another species of bee such as Colletes which line their underground nest with a cellophane?  Or is it some other insect?

The other puzzle is how many different types of bees are nesting in the bee hotels?  I have photographed six different species of solitary bees in this post.  In addition, I think there is more than one species of Anthophora in the hotels and what about the ones I’ve missed?

Predators!

I am always on the look out for parasites and predators, which are numerous.

Dolichomitus imperator

Dolichomitus imperator

I was concerned when I saw this on the nests at the end of September.

Ichneumon wasp 27 September 2013

Ichneumon wasp 27 September 2013

This wasp came around at the end of September and seeing her putting her long tail into the bamboos I worried that she had been laying eggs in the bees nests.  Apparently she prefers to parasitise wood boring insects but the larvae of the potter wasp which also used the bee hotel could also be a target.

And then there’s our lizards!

Lizard in bee hotel

Lizard in bee hotel

The lizards can be a bit of a pain as they insist on squeezing in between the bamboo and sometimes they will dislodge one causing it to fall.  I replace it but I think a winter job will be to put a backing behind the bamboo to keep out the lizards.  I comfort myself thinking that they will eat any little flies that might be lurking around.

Lizard asleep in bee hotel

Lizard asleep in bee hotel

I’m just not sure how vigilant my lizard guardians are but I can always hope.


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The largest European moth

I have to come right out and say it – this is the largest European moth’s caterpillar.  (Does that mean it is the largest European caterpillar?)

Saturnia pyri

Saturnia pyri

A couple of evenings ago I went out into the back garden to do a bit of watering and as I reached to turn on the hose I noticed something crawling along the wall in front of my eyes.  I did a double take as I had never seen anything like it before.  A few shouts and the whole household was roused to come and see what I had found.

Saturnia pyri from the front

Saturnia pyri from the front

It was not only its size that was astounding, 10 cm., but the blue baubles made it look very unreal.

Saturnia pyri from the rear

Saturnia pyri from the rear

I wasn’t able to get good pictures because of the poor light and the steady progress it was making along the wall.

Saturnia pyri on the move

Saturnia pyri on the move

I had a good idea what it might be as I had seen photographs of the huge moths that can be seen in the area.

For pictures of the adult moth and more information from Wikipedia please click on the links.  The moths fly from April to June so I presume the caterpillars must over winter in pupal form and my caterpillar did seem dead set on getting somewhere quickly, so it must have been searching for a convenient place to over winter.

The caterpillars feed on tree leaves and it appeared to have dropped out of our apricot tree.  The next day I started to search for leaves with large holes or even whole branches denuded!  However, when I looked up into the branches of the apricot tree I found something else.

Ring doves in nest

Ring doves in nest

The apricot tree was already being used by the Ring doves to nest in and I hadn’t noticed.  Not the most beautiful babies, perhaps I could label them “cute” if I was in a charitable mood.  I had to give up on my search for traces of the caterpillar’s passing.


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A bee with no name

Paranoid I must be, but I am beginning to think they are following me.  The bees that is.

Bee with no name

I posted on my Dasypoda hirtipes in my garden yesterday and raved about her “pantaloons” and today I go for a walk and meet another well-endowed bee.

Centaurea cyanus

I don’t think she is the same species but she is indeed gathering pollen or nectar from Centaurea cyanus which is in the Asteraceae family.

Pantaloons

She is certainly a well-endowed bee on the hairy hind leg side.  Her white pantloons give her a different look from the yellow ones I am used to seeing.  Dasypoda hirtipes has an attractive ginger brown natural colouration to her hind leg hairs.  I wonder if she could cover all that up with a mass of white pollen?


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Lilies

Lilies

The lilies are doing well this year in the garden.  I am seduced by the cheap packs of bulbs I see in the UK after Christmas.  I haven’t really a plan of where they should go.

Pink lily

Its easier to find a place for them in the winter when you have forgotten what other perennials you have planted and it looks as if the place is empty.  I don’t regret squeezing them in as their perfume is mingling with the second flowering of the Wisteria and filling the garden with perfume.  I never see much interesting life on them: the odd spider or fly – certainly no bees!

Dull moth

I was so surprised to see this dull moth sitting on one of the lilies sipping nectar!

not closeThen I saw the orange flash.  I had never seen a hummingbird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) at rest on a flower.

This moth had worked out that it could expend much less energy at rest on the lily and still reach the nectar.

Better hover

He still couldn’t resist the odd hover from time to time.

mmm. so good

The moth spent a few minutes on the lily and seemed to be enjoying it as a nectar source.  I had always thought that the lilies either had poor nectar or they were not recognised as nectar sources because they are “exotic”.

What are other gardeners experiences with lilies?  Do you get interesting critters on your lilies (maybe bees :))?


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Do bees have different characters?

On July 10, Sue posted Bird Brains maintaining that birds do have different characters – which I definitely agree with.

Taking things a step further I now wonder if bees have different characters too.  I have just met a bee with attitude.

Anthidium on camera

I must admit that it is really “bee time” over here and I am having plenty of models to take photographs and identify (hopefully).

Anthidium bee on camera lens

Usually they pay little attention to me and I have to follow their movements as they visit the flowers but this one seemed curious of the camera.

Anthidium bee and camera lens

Luckily I had my trusty assistant on hand to photograph my friendly bee.

Anthidium on camera lens

She was certainly not camera shy but had not quite got the idea of posing in an alluring position on a colourful flower.

Anthidium on back of neck

Tired of posing she seemed up for a game of hide-and-seek.  I think she has the advantage over me for this game.

Anthidium

I thought it was time for my trusty assistant to borrow my camera which was equipped with my Macro lens to see if we could get a close up.

Bee kissIsn’t she sweet!  I would call that a bee kiss and we haven’t even exchanged names.

I think she is Anthidium manicatum but I am not too sure about her species name.


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A day in the life of the bee hotel

We hung one of the new bee hotels within easy site of the patio so that we could watch the bees come and go: imagining relaxing as we sipped our coffee.  For the naturally curious it doesn’t quite work out like that.

Take a warm sunny day in May, the temperature has reached 30 degrees C, then everything shoots into action with the bees.  The Osmia cornuta had blocked up eight bamboo rods and I was getting ready to do a blog on how things had gone.

A bee arrives

A bee arrives

Then a bee arrives but it is not Osmia cornuta and it has attached something to the bamboo.

The baddies arrive

The baddies arrive

Leaving her nest exposed, what looked like a cuckoo bee arrived and some little flies were also hanging around, one is just above the head of the black and yellow guy.

Drosophilidae type fly

Drosophilidae type fly

I always think of little fruit flies as harmless but a fly – Cacoxenus indagator – is a parasite of the mason bees.  There is a very interesting New Scientist article on Cacoxenus indagator and they look suspiciously like these flies.

Mason bee returns

Mason bee returns

The mason bee seems oblivious to the danger and continues on her masonry business.

Two unconcerned bees

Two unconcerned bees

I found the behaviour of the bees peculiar as I had read that they often chased off cuckoo bees that approached their nest sites.  It is now six minutes since the little packet has been hanging on the end of the bamboo cane.

Yellow ventral bristles

Yellow ventral bristles

Osmia rufa have yellow ventral bristles called scopae so this could be an indication of the species of these bees  but the photographs are not too clear.

Better yellow shot

Better yellow shot

This shows the yellow ventral brushes better but was taken later than the following pictures.

Packet embedded in hole

Packet embedded in hole

The packet has now been stuck into the centre of the bamboo, eleven minutes after being brought back.

Almost finished

Almost finished

It took another five minutes of work until she was finally satisfied with the finished job and that meant borrowing some mortar from the neighbouring hole.  Excuse me, madam, but that hole has been in place since the 15 April and you were not around at this time.  This leads me to the accusation that you are purloining the mortar of an Osmia cornuta.  I’m not sure whether the plea that you are tired and need a break is a good enough excuse.

Taking refreshment

Taking refreshment

It is not far for them to go to the Star of Bethlehem flowers (Ornithogalum umbellatum) to recharge their energy levels with some nectar.

Back to the baddy

Back to the baddy

One thing is sure cuckoo bees don’t build nests and it is just what this one appeared to be doing.  I think I can see a clutch of eggs in the hole.

Partly sealed hole

Partly sealed hole

This is no Nomada bee but a potter wasp, probably Ancistrocerus sp. and perhaps Ancistrocerus auctus.

In this case it would be no particular threat to the mason bees as there was plenty of room for everyone so that would explain their lack of concern for the black and yellow visitor.

There were more surprises on the way for up until now no-one had shown any interest in the holes in wood on the lower log.  Then along came one of my favourite bees.

Anthophora plumipes female

Anthophora plumipes female

She had caused me a lot of problems to identify as she is a light form not like her ginger sisters in the UK.  They also nest in the house wall at the back and nectar on the Cerinthe in the front garden but more about them later.

Needless to say I was happy to see them trying out the bee house for size.

Clean out

Clean out

I’m not sure what she is doing here.  Perhaps removing some of the sawdust but when they nest in the walls they tend to kick out the dust with their feet.

Anyway it was a very exciting day.  The photographs were much poorer than I had hoped for but the nest is too high for me to hold the camera and avoid trampling on the border underneath.  We erected it for the bees not thinking sufficiently about photographing them.

I checked on the state of play later in the evening at eight p.m. and was surprised to see the wasp still there.

Settled for the evening

Settled for the evening

There are now twelve bamboo canes blocked up but the cane the potter wasp blocked up, is identical to my eye to the ones the bees have closed up.  This is the first visit from the wasp that I have noticed so I presume this is her first nest in the hotel, but perhaps not the last.  The wasps are carnivorous and supply their nests with grubs and caterpillars.

So it looks like I may have a pest disposal and pollinating service working side by side!