Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A trip to Trumpton (part 2)

People have been asking me, am I glad to be home? The answer I give is, yes and no. It's bitter-sweet. I love the closeness and familiarity of the UK. I love how intimate our countryside is by comparison with the states. Flying over my home county of Kent demonstrated just how 'green and pleasant' it still is, despite it appearing to be a concrete jungle at eye level.
There is, or at least appears to me, to be an urgency about life in California that isn't happening here (yet), even the dog walkers and mothers out walking their babies in strollers, are not walking at all, but running.

Yet, I did love so much about the west coast. I am already missing those huge, open spaces where I felt like a (wimpish) Crocodile Dundee, not knowing quite what I might discover, and how dangerous it might prove to be. Americans seemed much more open to stopping to chat with you and would regale you with tales such as..."Did you hear about the 74 year old guy who got air-lifted to hospital after being bitten by a rattler?"


At an amazing place I had heard about (and so of course wanted to visit) close to Santa Cruz, where the monarch butterflies all congregate to pass their winter; although there were none to be seen when I arrived of course, I bought this field guide to American spiders...


The author describes how he overcame his fear of spiders by taking a 5-day, field school class in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and asks that others try to overcome their own fears, and even help to protect them... 


In case this proves tricky to read should you be viewing my blog on a phone or tablet, it says that "Too many people fear these beneficial creatures. Spiders need human friends to educate others and protect them from being needlessly killed."

And so, with that mantra in my head, I shall do my part here by sharing a few of the photographs that I took. You can educate yourself a little by trying to look at these pictures rationally...can't you? Ok then...bugger off for a moment whilst those with an open mind do so, and I will see you back here post 'spidergate'...


Or....you could lock yourself away in a cupboard somewhere and spend the next few minutes giggling to yourself like a little schoolgirl about the fact that there is a bird-turd spider!



Phidippus audax
Phidippus audax, commonly called bold, or daring jumping spiders, range in size from around 13 to 20 millimeters. That is much bigger than our largest salticid here in the UK, the fence-post jumping spider: which is about 10 millimeters in body length. These spiders have been known to jump from 10 to 50 times their own body length, which they achieve by suddenly increasing the blood pressure in the third or fourth pair of legs. Like most jumping spiders, P. audax tends to prefer relatively open areas to hunt in, as they actively seek and stalk prey and do not build webs to catch food.

I was trying to be clever and get a natural light shot of this one, but it was late in the day when light was poor.


Phididppus johnsoni, or Johnson jumping spider, or even as I like to call them 'JJ' spiders, are one of the largest and most commonly found jumpers of North America. Sometimes (wrongly) confused with the venomous red back spider. They quickly became one of my personal favourites and I would always be on the lookout for them on my walks. Sometimes the abdomen can be bright red; the females, as in my first picture here, have a black stripe on the abdomen. 

Phididppus johnsoni (f)


Phididppus johnsoni (m)


From the largest, to what must surely be some of the smallest jumping spiders I have ever seen...





I have not been able to get to species level with either of these yet but neither was more than 5mm in length.


This next little gallery is  of the crab spiders that I photographed, well, some of them...






Incidentally, that first crab spider is Misumena vatia, or the goldenrod spider. I read that they sometimes get called banana spiders too, because of their striking yellow colour. In fact, these spiders have a real clever trick that helps with camouflage whilst sitting on goldenrod, or any other flower: any other flower that happens to be white, yellow or green that is, because they have the amazing ability to change between these colourways. Like this...



That's probably more than enough arachnids for one update and so let's move on to something that might appeal more shall we. 


This raccoon was living in one of the large parks, where people are actually feeding them. Usually nocturnal animals, they are encouraged into the daylight by easy pickings. 
Raccoons are apparently noted for their intelligence: studies show that they are able to remember the solution to tasks for up to three years.



A weevil threesome
And I thought I was enjoying the sunshine!



I didn't see too many butterflies but there seemed to be several species of skipper butterflies around. I think this one could be a Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus)

Perhaps the only wasp I spotted (no ID as yet)


This next find was something of a moment for me: I would not have seen it at all had I not decided to lift a largish stone to see what, if anything, was beneath...



Potato Bug - Jerusalem Cricket - Child of the Earth: Take your pick, all of these names refer to this insect. Despite their name, Jerusalem crickets aren’t native to Jerusalem, and they are in fact mainly found in the western half of the United States. (Incidentally, they aren’t true crickets either.) They can be found throughout Arizona, New Mexico, and all along the Pacific coast of the country, being found all the way from British Columbia down to Baja California and many other parts of Mexico. Habitat wise the Jerusalem cricket mainly lives in underground burrows, but they can be found above ground in warm damp places.

Jerusalem crickets can grow up to two and a half inches long, and they have long spear-like legs that they dig into soil with. 


I did lift a few other stones, as well as some bark, and you can discover what else I found lurking beneath in my next USA update. 

A couple more photos then before I bring this already overlong update to a close...

Anthrenus species - Carpet Beetle

And finally this photo of an American politician.....sorry! I mean this reptile: a  Western Fence Lizard that seemed to be omnipresent: again, I don't mean this actual lizard you understand, rather this species of lizard. 


Phew! I apologise profusely for dragging you all the way down here to the eventual end of this humongous entry; and after starting with all those spiders too. I am forever in your debt for having stuck with it...you did stick with it didn't you? Yes, you must have done, or you couldn't be reading this. If there is anything I can do for you (sans lending you hard currency) then do please let me know. 

I am away now to dowse my laptop-sore eyes with Optrex. You have a lay down in a darkened room followed by a cup of green tea, and before you can say Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper, all will be well with the world once more. 

'Keep it real, peace out'





Thursday, May 10, 2018

Johnny Stateside...

Well yer man is back from another trip to North America and ready to share!

No need to ask if time in the Californian sunshine has been restorative and relaxing because here I am sharing a little photo and I never share photos of myself...ever! Yes, it was a blast and quite productive as far as bug-hunting goes: in fact, so much so that I think there is way too much to put into one update and I can probably have two or three installments. 

Added to all the excitement of my invertebrate finds, were some quite surreal moments; like the time I was walking through Chinatown in San Francisco and stopped to listen to an Asian street musician playing what I think was an 'Erhu', only to realise that he was playing Auld Lang Syne.  Then there was the time I was hurtling through the American landscape on a train, listening to the Pizzicato Polka on my iPod (You gotta check out that tune BTW if you don't already know it). 

Even before I had departed UK soil, well tarmacadam, there was a moment when we seemed to have been taxiing for ages before take-off and eventually the pilot announced "Ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed that we didn't take off (I did), unfortunately, when we refueled, the technician forgot to replace the filler cap. Now we have to return and add more fuel and get the cap replaced before we can depart". That took around an hour and I overheard somebody in the seat in front of me say "Wow! that's a bit like filling up with fuel at the garage and leaving your filler cap on the roof".

Anyhow, some 10 hours plus later, I was being patted down by a burly American official before heading off into the sunshine state.



And so what I will do is provide a little teaser of what is to come by just sharing some photographs of the amazing little hummingbirds that I saw. There will be additional updates that will feature the critters that I discovered, and I will do my utmost (scout's honour) to get those compiled and published just as soon as I can. I can confess upfront that bird photography is not my forte and I know better than anybody that I need practice to improve my technique; especially with these tiny, fast flying cuties. All that said, I hope you enjoy these photographs as much as I enjoyed taking them...


  


This one was bathing in a little stream







All of these needed lots of cropping, but this one I did less on to give an idea of proportion






This last picture was one where I experimented with my home made flash extender. It just consisted of a Fresnel lens mounted in front of small box that I mounted to the flash head. I think with more practice it could work well, but I did struggle with the correct amount of light. 

That's all for now, back in a...

Yes, there were plenty, plenty of these, and I seemed to become quite a magnet for them. Of all the things I could be a magnet for...it had to be a bloody tick!




Ooops...almost forgot to mention this: the blue tits that have been nesting in the garden now have seven eggs...




Saturday, April 07, 2018

Les Dawson, Tony Blackburn and Lady Ga Ga drop in...







Even so, I eventually made it back here to publish another exciting blog update. Alright then, a moderately arresting update!

Yes! At long last spring has decided to poke its head out from behind a cloud and give us all a big, warm hug...

“Awake, thou wintry earth. Fling off thy sadness! Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth your ancient gladness!”- Tony Blackburn


You may want to check the validity of this attribution: it may not have actually been the owner of a grin so cheesy that it's cheesier than a lump of cheese wrapped up in cheesecloth inside a cheesy sock!


Before I get to the update, I guess I should provide an answer to my mystery object from a couple of updates ago: You might recall it looked like this...


Well it wasn't some kind of plant as was suggested to me, and it wasn't fungi or slime mould. So here is the full image that I cribbed (or should that be cropped) the picture from...

The Alder moth and caterpillar (Acronicta alni)
Yes, just a little caterpillar/larva of the alder moth.




This video will not show in the e.mail version of my update; you need to view on the internet site...

One of my emperor moth cocoons has been twitching a little and so I have been watching closely to see if it may eclose soon: so far no signs that it will though.

However, I did find that one of the large white butterflies had emerged...




I had to keep it for a couple of days whilst I waited on the weather, but then was able to release it on a sunny day and saw it fly off quite happily (although, I am not sure exactly what a happy butterfly looks like to be honest).





And I think it was on a willow sapling that I spotted this tiny wasp. I wondered if it was egg laying and that got me to wondering if this is perhaps a gall wasp? I do know that willow leaves very often have galls attached, but seem to remember that they are usually produced by sawflies? 









Now that spring has officially sprung and there is even an upturn in the weather, as if it knew what was expected of it, I have been finding increasing numbers of invertebrates to observe and try to hone my photography skills on. After what seems like an inordinate amount of time passing without even picking up the camera, things are on the move...

At first I found a bee...


Then I found a fly...


Then I found...a bee-fly... 




Then I found a lady...


Then I found a bird...


Then I found a ladybird...

10-Spot Ladybird


I think I may look for the meaning of life next!


A Brimstone Butterfly

My butterfly count is coming along for this year. Okay, so they are the species that you might expect to see early spring; being the ones that hibernate, but still, so far I have seen comma, small tortoiseshell, large white, peacock and brimstone: in fact there already seem to be above average numbers of brimstone butterflies locally this year.

The last thing I can update you on is the progress of the nesting blue-tits in the garden. They are doing well actually. I think the nest building stage may be nearing completion: the tempo has certainly increased over the past couple of days and there was still nest material being added at well after 7pm tonight...



Even if at times there has been a struggle to enter the box...


This video will not show in the e.mail version of my update; you need to view on the internet site...