Down at the Thistles

thistle_down_2

Back down to Blog’s Gallop, this time to check out the thistles, on the opposite side of the track to the wild mint. These thistles are of various shapes and sizes – tall and thin, big and fat – I’m going to leave detailed thistle identification for another day – just concentrate on the myriad of bugs feasting upon the nectar.

bee_thistle_2

we start of course with the good old honey bee

Interesting Fact : the French for thistle is chardon, and is believed to be the origin for the name of the village in Burgundy – Chardonnay, which in turn gives its name to the grape variety.

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White Tailed Bumblebee on Thistle Flower
(Bombus lucorum)

Belted Hoverfly (volucella zonaria)

Belted Hoverfly
(Volucella zonaria)

Also known as the Hornet Mimic Hoverfly, it has no sting and the larvae live inside wasps’ nests.

Halictus scabiosae : male

Comma Butterfly (Polygonia c-album)

Comma Butterfly
(Polygonia c-album)

When I first downloaded this image, I thought here we go again, trawling through the reference material looking at countless orange/brown butterflies. But no. That tiny little white inverted ‘C’ or ‘comma’ neatly distinguishes it – not to mention the jagged outline and the withered leaf-like underside.

Blowfly sharing with a honey bee

Blowfly sharing with a honey bee

I was thrilled to see this chap below, but I’m not thrilled with the quality of the image, the light was going. Its the first time I’ve seen one of these bumblebees, with his very distinctive orange-red bottom.

Red Tailed Bumblebee : male(Bombus lapidarus)

Red Tailed Bumblebee : male
(Bombus lapidarus)

thistle_down

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Working on my inner lepidopterist

Having happened upon a small alfalfa field, just 2 kilometres from the house, I made a couple of return visits, to have a better look at the bee activity and see if I could find my inner lepidopterist.

Bfly_cabbage_white_under_alfalfa_1

Large White or Cabbage White
(Pieris brassicae)

On both occasions, there was plenty going on, but it was breezy, making photography tricky.

I thought about estimating the relative presence of various creatures – without recoursing to a butterfly net, walking of transects, traps or even a clip board. Let’s call it semi-empirical, quasi-quantitative Observation.

Clouded Yellow Butterfly (Colias croceus)

Clouded Yellow Butterfly
(Colias croceus)

Here are the results of my in-depth study :

Creature

Quantity

Honey Bee Countless
Bumble Bee One
Ladybird One
Cricket Many, at the edges of the field
Cabbage White Butterfly Plentiful
Clouded Yellow Butterfly A handful
Peacock Butterfly One
Common Blue Butterfly Quite alot
Queen of Spain Fritillary One
Heath (?) Fritillary Two – with more on their way

and some pictorial proof…

bee_alfalfa_10

Honey Bee
(Apis mellifera)

White Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum)

White Tailed Bumblebee
(Bombus lucorum)

I have invested in a reference book – Papillons (Larousse), as it has become apparent that my little guide is inadequate and too UK focussed. The new book is by no means exhaustive, but it is certainly handy to have something more oriented towards the butterflies of France.

It has only recently dawned on me how different the butterfly populations can be from one region to another.

Common Blue Butterfy (female)
(Polyommatis icarus)

I agree, she isn’t particularly blue – but the male below does have a violet nuance.

Common Blue Butterfy (male) (Polyommatus icarus)

Common Blue Butterfy (male)
(Polyommatus icarus)

Bfly_alfalfa_7_mating

Get a Room!
pair of Fritillaries – could be Heath, Meadow or Provencal?

Another lesson learned is that it really helps to have a view of both the upper and the underside of these butterflies.

And that even with a book, and the internet, identification is something of a challenge. Its not all black and white.

Airbus A350 – the latest first flight in Toulouse

Airbus A350 - first flight

Airbus A350 – first flight

There was a big buzz of excitement all around the perimeter of Toulouse Blagnac airport this morning, as crowds gathered to witness the maiden test flight of a brand new aircraft – the A350.

Weather conditions were perfect, big blue sky with a few fluffy white clouds, and barely a breath of wind. We found a good vantage point on a small hillock, surrounded by wildflowers, right at the end of the runway. My camera lens was distracted downwards, as there was quite alot of bee activity in amongst the poppies…

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But, stop it, we were here to witness the aeronautical abilities of an altogether different extra-wide bodied phenomenon.

The tension was palpable – many folk in the crowd were directly involved in some way with the design and creation of the new airliner. Just before 10 o’clock, a small corvette aeroplane took off in advance of the A350 – full of video equipment, with experts to observe the exterior of the A350 during its test flight.

And then, right on time, no fuss, the A350 started off down the runway and was soon airborne.

Airbus A350 takes to the skies

Airbus A350 takes to the skies

The plane is expected to fly for four hours, over France and the Atlantic, before returning early this afternoon – and then ready itself for the airshow in Paris next week.

bon voyage

bon voyage

Bee Friendly Shrub : Bush Germander

I was given a small, mystery plant in Autumn 2010, and popped it in the ground at the top a bank, not knowing what to expect. Luckily this well-drained sunny position suited it down to a ‘t’ and it has since flourished, proliferating vigorously, and above all it turns out to be quite the bee magnet – attracting the attention of the honey bees and bumblebees.

bee on tree germander (Teucrium fruticans)

common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) on bush germander (Teucrium fruticans)

It is a mediterranean native with downy grey-green, aromatic foliage. The flower is interesting and intricate – icy blue petals with deep purple veins, sporting great-reaching, show-off stamen, designed perfectly to rub themselves sneakily on the bee’s back as they get on with the business of sucking up nectar.

beehind you!

beehind you!

Teucrium was named for Teucer, the legendary first king of Troy who pioneered use of these plants as medicinals. He was a great archer and fought alongside his half-brother Ajax in the Trojan War. Fruticans, more banally, means shrubby.

got you!

got you!