May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun
And find your shoulder to light on
To bring you luck, happiness and riches
Today, tomorrow and beyond.
~ an Irish blessing, to be sure, to be sure, to be sure
‘Are you looking for outdoor bunting?’ read the ad in the local newspaper.
Well, no, actually, I was outdoors looking for Spotted flies – this rather handsome Reed bunting was an added bonus!
It did look a little out of place, sitting in a leafy tree amongst a long row of leafy trees, rather than in or very near the reed beds around the lakes.
But it was certainly a very decorative addition to my afternoon’s birdwatching.
The Painted lady (Vanessa cardui) is supposed to be quite a common butterfly but I’d only seen two this year until this morning’s butterfly fest at Cardiff Bay, in a tucked-away spot full of Buddleja, Ragwort, Hemp agrimony and other assorted wildflowers.
The nectar bonanza was being licked up by four Painted ladies, two Red admirals, one Small white, two Meadow browns, and two Common blues. What a riot of colour they made!
It’s dragonfly time!
Just when the birds disappear behind the trees’ leafy boughs, the dragonflies emerge to take their place in Nature’s line-up of masterly aviators.
Earlier this week I spent over 30 minutes watching these magnificent Broad-bodied chasers (Libellula depressa), two males circling and defending their territories from each other, keeping watch from their favourite perches, mating with two females, and those females then depositing their eggs amongst the water plants. It was magical!
For Floral Friday this week, a most remarkable flower. Did you know
> a single poppy seed head contains 1000 seeds and each plant can have as many as 20 heads?
> of those 20,000 seeds as many as 85% (that’s 17,000) seeds will germinate if conditions are right?
> prior to farmers using chemical weedkillers, a one-acre cornfield could potentially have contained 100 million dormant seeds?
Facts garnered from Richard Mabey, Weeds: How vagabond plants gatecrashed and changed the way we think about nature (Profile Books, London, 2010), a most fascinating read.
Last week I showed you the largest salt flats in the world in Bolivia. This week we’re still in South America but have moved north to Peru, to Salineras de Maras in the Andean Mountains about 40 kilometres from Cusco, where salt has been mined for hundreds of years.
The earliest salt pans are thought to have been constructed by the Wari civilisation, but it was their successors, the Incas, who recognised the commercial opportunities of salt-mining and increased the extent of the pans, which now cover much of a steep gorge that runs down in to the Sacred Valley. The salty water bubbles to the surface in a small spring from ancient salt lakes now buried deep below the earth’s surface, and is ingeniously conveyed down the mountainside via a meandering maze of irrigation channels. People from the local community work constantly to maintain these channels and to ensure just the right amount of water is allowed into each pan before the pan is closed off and allowed to dry out. The sun’s heat evaporates the water, leaving behind a thick coating of salt, which is harvested for sale – and then the whole process starts all over again.
Salineras de Maras is very near the intriguing Inca site of Moray and the wonderful market town of Chincero, so combining a visit to all three makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting day’s excursion from Cusco. Or, if you want to spend a little more time getting a feel for your surroundings, try the hike from Moray through Maras and the salt pans down to the Sacred Valley. It’s well worth the effort.
From the kingdom of Animalia, the phylum of Arthropoda, the class Insecta, the order Coleoptera, the family Oedemeridae and the genus Oedemera, may I present my first beetle sighting of 2017 – and a new beetle for me to boot – a stunning example of the species Oedemera (Oncomera) femoralis. There are only 4 species of Oedemera in Britain (here’s another) and only 1 – this one – in the subgenera Oncomera. In layman’s words, she is one of the thick-legged (some people say swollen-thighed) flower beetles and I know it’s a female precisely because she does not have those swollen thighs.
I was lucky to find her as her species is nocturnal, feeding at night on the pollen and nectar of ivy and willow. During the day, they lurk under twigs and branches, which is how I found her, by picking up twigs and branches looking at lichen and searching for slime moulds. These insects grow to between 13 and 20mm long, and can be found in the more southerly counties of England and Wales, though they are not often recorded – there are just 278 recorded sightings in the NBN database (see map above), of which 65 are in Wales. I count myself amongst those fortunate to have seen such a beautiful little creature!
If you’re an insect geek (and I do not use that word disparagingly), you can see the full details of this species on the website of the Watford Coleoptera Group.