Wednesday 23 July 2014

How to See What Isn’t There

Good morning, good morning, good morning. I thought we’d make an early start today as it is going to be another scorcher and the temperatures are likely to reach thirty Celsius by mid morning. Time? About ten to five. Come on, don’t just lay there yawning, there’s a whole new day waiting to be explored. Get dressed, come downstairs where tea and toast await, I’ve a photograph to show you.

Force 9 Wind Damage
Ah, there you are. As you know, last time we met up we were confined to barracks by the Meltemi wind running at a Beaufort Force 8 and we spent our time discussing Elemental Forces in general and the effects of wind on wildlife in particular.  This wind, which has been tormenting us on and off for the past fortnight, eventually reached a Force 9 with speeds of 75–88 km/h which is enough to break branches from trees, and here’s the proof. As you can see this was quite a sizeable bough which I found ripped away and dangling in the herb bed the other morning.

Yellow-legged Gull colony at Bramiana
So, what with the wind, the heat (and even an unseasonable drop of tropical rain last week) getting out and about hasn’t been easy. Hence the early start this morning. I thought we’d take a trip out to Bramiana and take our quarterly look at the reservoir and see what goes on there at dawn. Look at that magnificent sheet of still water under a forget-me-not sky just dotted here and there with a couple of fluffy pillows of clouds. Sorry, shouldn’t have mentioned sheets and fluffy pillows, some of you don’t seem to be fully awake yet. The water level is extremely low and the curious thing is, apart from the Yellow-legged Gull colony on the spit, there isn’t a bird to be seen. I wouldn’t expect to see Mallard, Teal or Pochard at this time of year but I can’t recall ever being out here and not seeing a coot and there should surely be the odd Grey Heron or a Sandpiper or two foraging along the water’s edge? This shows the importance of keeping monthly observation records because it is only by recording what you see and where and when you see it that you can “see what isn’t there” so to speak and noting disappearances is as vital a piece of phenology as noting first appearances.

Caper flower
Let’s turn our attention to the hinterland and see what flowers and insects we can find. You never know we might even come across the odd reptile or two. As you can see there isn’t much in flower at the moment; a few patches of Thyme and some Yellow Henbane but here’s one I wanted to show you over here. This stunning flower, being lovingly tended by black ants, is more familiar than you may think. If you like pizza then you’ve probably eaten a few of these in your time because this is the caper flower; traditionally picked and pickled before the flower develops. Incidentally it is not just the flower buds that can be treated in this way, the Italians pickle the leaves in the same way and the fruits (inaccurately known as caperberries) can also be treated thus. They should be out soon. Do chew on a leaf if you have any irritating insect bites – they contain a natural antihistamine.

Black and Yellow Mud-dauber Wasp
With so few plants in flower it is not surprising that there aren’t as many insects about as there were in the Spring when we were out here last. It is early in the day as yet of course, even the cicadas have only just woken up, but here is an insect that I haven’t come across before in the flesh although I have seen plenty of evidence of their existence. This is a Black and Yellow Mud-dauber Wasp. Difficult to see it properly as it’s darting in and out of this Lentisc bush. They are called Mud-daubers because they build their nests from mud, laying a single egg in each cylindrical chamber. These they provision primarily with a small spider which they first paralyse with their venom and then leave in suspended animation as a sort of living ready-meal for when the egg hatches. Gruesome isn’t it?

I have to admit that I was hoping to see a little more than we have this morning but we are approaching the height of summer which, at these latitudes, is akin to the depths of winter in more northerly regions. Nature avoids extremes and when the winters get too cold up north things either hibernate or migrate and so it is down south: when the summer gets too hot things either aestivate or migrate. I suggest that we follow their lead and meet up again in September. I’ll continue to publish the occasional blog throughout the summer and if you click on the little red G+ sign at the top of the page then you’ll be notified when I do or alternatively join my Naturalists Group on facebook. Until then enjoy your summer wherever you may be and good hunting. Meanwhile I’ll leave you with one of my favourite summertime birds, a small flock of which has just landed in that bush over there, the colourful, ever chattering Goldfinch.
Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)

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