|Long-tailed Blue on Rosemary|
Last week we finished our Saunter Round the Saltpans at an eatery. This week I propose that we start at one, to whit this Rosemary bush at the side of the road here. Being a predominantly winter flowering plant (September – April locally) it is very popular with many insects starting to appear after the long hot summer. Today I see we have a few hoverflies, a whole contingent of honey bees and a good half dozen Long-tailed Blue butterflies flitting hither and thither, sampling the fare with all the dedication of a gathering of gourmands. Rosemary has long been popular in our own cuisine of course, particularly in association with lamb dishes, and as it has a traditional reputation for improving memory there is no excuse for forgetting to add it to the pot.
As you can see there is a gully running beneath the road (still dry at the moment as the winter rains still haven’t started in earnest) but I see that we have a clump of Four o’clock flowers in that damp hollow below us which are also showing signs of being patronised by the insect world including quite a number of these young fellows. Maybe it’s the teenage hangout. These are Southern Green Shieldbugs and betwixt egg and their rather conservative green adult livery they change their appearance five times. They emerge in nursery clothing of reddish brown with discrete white markings; as toddlers they change into black, retaining the white markings but adding a splash of red; black remains the colour of the day for the youngsters but emboldened with more white and also yellow markings; and as they pass into their early teens as it were (please forgive the blatant anthropomorphisation) a hood and mantle of lime green makes its appearance. The final instar, as these stages are called, contains the reds, blacks and whites (now fading to cream) of youth on a background of adult green.
It is most definitely a morning for insects. Do you notice how we are being accompanied by a squadron of red dragonflies and with every step we are disturbing clouds of grasshoppers? The harvester ants are busy harvesting as usual, taking seeds down into the nest and I would have thought to have seen more small, perching birds (passerines as they are collectively called) hopping around in the olive trees. It is early afternoon however so maybe they’ve settled for a siesta after their morning feed although I fear that it is another sign of their decline in recent years. No beetles as yet and come to think of it I’ve hardly seen a beetle all autumn. Maybe there are some under this pile of rotting wood. Oh dear, this may not be good news. You may recall that we found a dead termite alate last month floating in the water as we spent Dawn by The Riverside? Well these termites are very much alive. Although they have a bad reputation it is only a minority, the drywood termites, that cause the most damage to human built structures. As these seem perfectly happy meandering around this damp and decaying wood I assume they are dampwood termites which will only hasten the demise of your garden shed if it is rotting anyway.
Ah, here we are at the cliffs and I see that the Prickly Pear is starting to bear fruit. These are not a native plant, having been introduced from Mexico, but they are pretty widespread down here on the south east coast. The fruit is very sweet and juicy and best eaten after they’ve been in the fridge for a couple of hours but you have to take care when harvesting them. The fruit is covered in tiny, detachable, hair-like spines that are extremely irritating to the skin. You may recall the advice given by Baloo in the song The Bare Necessities from The Jungle Book: “Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw. When you pick a pear try to use the claw.” So, has anyone got any thick gloves with them? Apart from me that is?
After that healthy bit of foraging I see that someone has erected a new bench overlooking the sea. Oh look, there goes a cormorant, skimming characteristically low over the water. I generally see these magnificent birds down here between November and March as they fly down from their breeding grounds which can be as far away as Scandinavia. You may have noticed that white patch on the thigh. According to my Collins Field Guide this is only present in the breeding season. Either this individual is still hopeful or he hasn’t read the right literature.
Until next week – happy hunting.
Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)