Down at the Thistles

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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.

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we start of course with the good old honey bee

Interesting Fact : the French for thistle isĀ 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)

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Who lives in a house like this : episode 2

Following leads from Agents Amelia, Laura and Karl, we now have a prime suspect, and I am hot on the heels of the Potter Wasp or Mud Dauber Wasp.

This erstwhile squatter, who thinks she can build residences for all her offspring just wherever she pleases, still remains at large – but the evidence is mounting. Further sleuthing has turned up more mud structures. These dubious looking pods were found in the shed attached to a garden chair cushion.

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Exhibit B : more mud huts, albeit of a different architectural design

Needing said cushion necessitated their removal – they wern’t stuck too tight and I took the liberty of breaking through the crisp skin – only to find it packed with little spiders, some still alive. So, my fiendish quarry is not averse to incarcerating her victims alive – what a horror bag!

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Crime Scene : store of baby wasp food

The wasp will have stung these spiders to paralyse them before dragging them off into their Cell of Doom. And then the wasp will have deposited a single egg, and sealed up the nest pod. The larva then has enough handy food to sustain its development into adulthood.

As is typical with most things, when you actually WANT to find wasps, there are none to be seen. I did track down this possibility, but it seems that she has a different MO.

off the hook

off the hook

I would dearly like to capture Madame Mud Dauber red-handed, in flagrante delicto – the pursuit continues.

Who lives in a house like this?

Something is constructing little tubular mud huts in the front door…

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I’m at a loss as to identifying the culprit.

This door is rarely used, and this construction is only visible when the door is ajar. A lovely old vine grows around the door, and the bunches of grapes are popular with wasps (and birds).

The door is so old and weather-worn, its doesn’t exactly seal hermetically – and offers living accommodation to various creatures, from spiders to snakes. The baby grass snake falling onto Andy’s head when he answered the door is an incident I would very much like to forget.

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To Let : single roomed accommodation, internal diameter 7mm, would suit ???

Door with vine, south facing, mud huts now hidden

Door with vine, south facing, mud huts now hidden

I would be most grateful for any pointers, so I know what creatures are now making themselves at home in the door jamb.

Hopefully its something that repels snakes!

Sunflowers bursting forth

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sunflowers surrounding a pigonnier in south-west France

The sunflowers in the fields around and about are all poised to transform from green buds into bright yellow flowers (with their velvety brown faces). Exciting times, on one hand simply because I find the sunflowers so visually appealling, and secondly because I know that they will be providing stores for the honey bees – hopefully in excessive amounts.

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I noticed yesterday, in a field at the bottom of our hill, that someone had been along and deposited, temporarily, a batch of mobile hives. They are far enough away from my bees to represent any potential competition.

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I took a drive yesterday to get an idea of the most convenient sunflowers for my bees, and to evaluate whats going to be available and when. Last year, the house was surrounded on three sides by sunflower fields – this year they have been planted with wheat and barley. There are however several large fields all within a 2 kilometer radius of the hives, and more beyond that.

The early sunflowers are already attracting their fair share of bees.

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honey bees start arriving on sunflower feeding station

The sunflower buds have something of a triffid like appearance.

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With the petals packed in tight, desperate to unfurl into the sunlight.

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Looks like my girls are going to bee very busy over the coming weeks.