Monday, July 31, 2006


I've seen some amazing dragonflies recently - absolutely huge ones but unfortunately i haven't managed to take photos of them all. There were some amazing vivid blue and metallic turquoise ones but they were far too fast and not willing to pose.

I've been trying to find out more about the dragonflies - I don't have any reference materials that deal with dragonflies in any depth, so i've been doing a lot of googling

I've found out that a country name for dragonfly in the US is 'devil's darning needle' and sometimes they were called "Horse Stingers' in parts of the UK which was something I didn't know before.

I've seen one similar to this identified as Aeshna isoceles which is the latin name for the Norfolk Hawker dragonfly but when I've loooked at the British Dragonfly Society site it didn't look like their Norfolk Hawker -so mysterious at the moment.

I think it looks remarkably like a military helicopter perched on this lavender stalk.
Dragonflies catch insects in flight -they eat a lot of mosquitoes ansd pests - but a lot of people are freaked out by their size and speed [they can fly at speeds of up to 25 mles an hour]

This one I think is a female Darter dragonfly - i'm not sure if its the Vagrant Darter Sympetrum vulgatum or the Common Darter Sympetrum striolatum as they are very similar.
It had a wingspan and body larger than my hand.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Photo Friday- portrait

This is a photo pf my son, taken about four years ago at ArchaeolinkPrehistory Park near Aberdeen, Scotland.

He was holding one of the war shields, pretending some stalks of grass were a sword and putting on a warrior face.

The Archaeolink Park is well worth a visit if you're in the area. There are ancient houses and workshops, and ancient crafts and skills to try out as well as special events.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006


This amazing moth flew in our window the other night.
I had to do a bit of reseach to find out what kind he was- it turns out he is a male four-spotted footman moth Lithosia quadra

The females have the 4 spots that give the moth its common name and look quite different from the males.

They feed on lichen and are strongl attracted by light- which is why it flew in- we have a new halogen lamp that seems to be incredibly attractive to moths and flies [its done a good job of killing mosquitoes though thats not its actual function].

I really liked the moth's rusty coloured 'fur collar'

The photos were taken without flash in quite subdued halogen lighting- I didn't use the flash becuase it scares off whatever i am trying to photograph. Still the photos turned out well and after the moth had a short rest, it flew away.

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Superman returns

We went to see Superman Returns the other night.

*nb probably spoilers to follow*

It should have been a fabulous film given the director, the cast and the fact that special effects have moved on so dramatically since the last Superman films.

Unfortunately it was a disappointment - the casting turned out to be awful, the script sounded like it had been patched together and the special effects and action sequences were just sprinkled in almost randomly.

The worst element of the whole film had to be Lois - Kate Bosworth was awful - she was too young for the part.

This Lois would have 17 when she gave birth and yet supposedly a high powered news reporter at the peak of her career. The actress had zero rapport with her screen child and seemed to forget he was holding her hand and knock him into a wall and other people on a couple of occasions.
Kate Bosworth couldn't even act unconsious without looking like a child pretending to be asleep and smiling with the eyes tightly shut.

Lex Luthor/Kevin Spacey seemed to be going through the motions. His mad plan was boring and although Lex worked out that the boy was Superman's son he wasn't really very interested.

Superman/Brandon Routh could have been good if he's had better lines and direction
It was anticlimactic when the start of the movie showed Superman almost depressed over the folly of Man's wars etc, his father talking about Superman showing Man the way forward to a new way of living in harmony and Superman doing nothing globally constructive.

Superman spent most of the time catching people and some heavy things .This is the guy that turned back time to save the one he loved being reduced to doing good deeds and making no attempt to lead the world or improve things-no wonder he was a bit down, he was actually failing to do what he was sent to earth to do.

When Superman turned up to foil the bank robbery there seemed absolutely no point to the scene except to show the cool effects of bullets bouncing off Superman and that now they could appear to fire a bullet into Superman's eye and it would bounce back. I've heard since seeing the film that this scene was filmed after the rest was completed and added in later to add to spice up the action.

The Clark Kent character was an afterthought in this film - the fact that he couldn't find an apartment and noone cared summed up his impact on the other characters.

Lois' kid - he was so poorly used in the film, I can't remember his name. However, he was just used to save his mum once and then he was back to being pretty much sidelined- around a lot but not doing much.

Parker Posey was wasted in her part- she would have been a better Lois-then again just about anyone could have been a better Lois.

The film tried to comment on Superman's loneliness and separation from humanity attitude to being humanity's saviour and also show his human qualities and failed relationship with Lois.
However, this Superman moped around being a flying stalker when he wasn't catching people -which didn't quite reveal the things the director presumably intended.

The supporting characters were far from being believable characters. Its more important in a super hero film that characters have real motivation and personality, even if that motivation and personality makes them super evil. In this case the characters were flat- despite the characters having well known personalities from other films [apart from superkid and Lois' boyfriend].

Apart from dealing with difficult themes badly , the film tried to be an action movie -with stunts and scenes that seemed to have been written as really cool things to film rather than anything to do with plot or character.
Many of the special effects and action sequences were well done- they just didn't quite seem to work in the context of the film.

Overall I suppose the film passed some time, but i wish we had seen it on a rented DVD

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Photo Friday- common

I couldn't decide what photos to post for 'common' -in the end I decided to go with lavender - which is definitely very common [and much loved in Provence-even sometimes included in herbes de provence cooking mixtures.]

Lavender [genus Lavandula ] is native to the Mediterranean region- though now the plants are planted all over the world.

The name lavender comes from the latin word lavare which means 'to wash' - because the Romans used it to scent water for washing [baths and probably clothes as well].

Lavender flowers are hugely attractive to insects- especially honey bees and butterflies. Lavender honey is delicious -especially nice with greek honey

This is a Painted Lady Vanessa cardui butterfly on lavender - I had never seen a Painted Lady in the UK-but they are remarkably common here.
Painted Ladies are one of the commonest butterflies worldwide, as they are found on every continent except for Antarctica- which is why they are sometimes known as the Cosmopolitan butterfly.
Lavender sachets are still used to scent linens as they deter clothes moths and, of course, the essential oil is widely used in modern aromatherapy- as a general anti infection agent
Lavender was used as an anti plague meaure in the Middle Ages and its now known that lavender also repels fleas.
It is also very good for killing and deterring headlice and nits in conjunction with olive oil -much better than chemical potions, as the bugs are often resistant to modern insecticides.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Summer Storm

People tend to think of the French Riviera as being a constantly sunny place but we get a lot of storms, even in the summer.
The electrical surges when the lightning flashes make the uninterruptible power supplies boxes bleep-though in our old house the trip switch would trip and we'd have to stumble downstairs [outside] in the dark to re-set the switch.
The rain is usually impressive during storms -its not uncommon to be soaked literally to the skin.

When we were in La Turbie we saw a huge storm sweeping in from the sea. La Turbie is quite a vantagte point as it is on a hill above Monaco.

Here are the grey clouds gathering over Monaco/Monte Carlo -it started off bright and sunny but the visiblity dropped rapidly as the clouds swept in.

Normally the view of Monaco is much clearer.

Looking past Monaco towards Menton you can see the clouds have thickened.The hills were starting to disappear under the clouds.
It almost looks like winter - although the air temperature was still very warm-this was only about 3 in the afternoon,so a long time before sunset.
The rain started pelting down once we were on the bus.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Photo Friday- Remarkable

I had intended to have a couple of days break from insects and bugs , but when the photo friday topic turned out to be 'Remarkable' I couldn't resist posting these three photos of a Scarce Swallowtail, Iphiclides podalirius.

Until Monday afternoon my best swallowtail photos were very poor; blurred or distant or with very tattered wings. The only decent photo had been a swallowtail in flight over lavender.

However , this swallowtail was fairly accomodating -at least it didn't fly away as soon as i approached with a camera, though i did have to follow it through brambles and thick bushes to take the different photos [so i paid the price with a small sacrifice of blood].

This was a particularly nice swallowtail -as the huge wings are easily battered and of course they make a nice large target for birds to aim at.

The eye spots on butterfly wings are supposed to partly scare off predators by looking like other predator's eyes and also to be a distraction so that only part of the wing is lost , if the butterfly is attacked.

This butterfly has lost the tip of the bottom left tail.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Wool Carder Bees

These are interesting creatures- very similar in general appearance to large wasps - and I suspect they get mistaken for hornets quite regularly.

They aren't wasps though, they are bees - solitary bees with some interesting habits.

They are called wool carder bees because the females collect the hairs from certain plants in order to line their nest holes. They shave the plant hairs off using their jaws then collect them into balls before flying back to their burrow.

This reminded people of carding wool - sorting and detangling and collecting wool into hanks which was something that needed to be done before wool could be spun- hence the name 'wool carder bee' aka Anthidium manicatum.

Once the burrow is lined, and cells created from the plant hairs, they lay their eggs and place pollen inside the burrow as a food source for the larvae. Then they seal the burrow with small stones and soil.

I don't have any photos of the bees collecting the hairs- lavendar isn't hairy and there weren't any hairy plants around. These bees were photographed on a lavendar bush in the centre of Nice so i'm not sure where they find hairy plants like lamb's ear and mullein in the city.

It looks like i have only managed to photograph female wool carders -or at least these are the ones i can definitely identify- its probable that soem of the larger ones are males but their distinctive barbs on their abdomen and slightly different body patterns aren't clearly visible.

Certainly there were some definite males flying around at the time becuase they have quite agressive behaviour towards their own species. They would grapple and attempt to mate with the pollen collecting females or dive bomb bee couples in an attempt to dislodge the other male.

They weren't bothered by me taking photos though.

This is a European hornet Vespa crabro killing a honey bee - I'm posting the photo for comparison with the wool carders.
The hornet's red legs are quite noticeable and there is also reddish hair on the hornet's back

I didn't have a great deal of time between spotting the hornet and it flying away with its prey firmly grasped in its legs.

I was amazed at how easily it managed the weight of the bee. I knew hornets [and wasps] hunted bugs and flies but somehow i didn't expect them to hunt bees as well.
They feed the larvae on chewed up insect meat -so this will be the fate of the bee

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Bugs and butterfies

A male Common Blue Polyommatus icarus butterfly feeding on red clover. It has a chunk missing from its lower wing - presumably caused by some predator's beak.

They dart around and are quite easily spooked. I've tried to take photos of them several times but this is the first time i've managed to get close. They are also very small -the wingspan is only about 3cm.
The males have a metallic slivery blue colour on the upper surface of the wings

This is a female Common Blue - I didn't manage to catch her with her wings open. female common blues are mainly brown with or without a light blue dusting on the upper surface so they sometimes can be mistaken for the Brown Argus [which is in the Blues family]

This one is sitting on a daisy [Bellis perennis], which gives a good idea of the scale
Gendarme bugs are really common -I enjoy watching them -they look really interesting [ I think its something to do with their bright red colouring and mask-like markings] and always seem to be doing something worth watching.

This one was burrowing into a flower
This one was burrowing too. When it came out it spent ages wiping off the grains of pollen that had stuck to its legs and antennae.

This photo just about sums up Provence - a blue cloudless sky, warm air perfumed with pine resin and lavender and a butterfly.

Swallowtail butterflies are unbelievably rare in the UK - they are only found in a tiny area of the Norfolk Broads. The best place to try and see one is the Nature reserve at Hickling Broad-[Papilio machaon is the butterfly found there]

Swallowtails are quite common butterflies in France -although I always think of it as a privilege when i see one.

They have large wingspans and are strong fliers - you can feel the air move when they fly past.

This one is a Scarce Swallowtail Iphiclides podalirus apparently called the 'Flambé' [flamed] in french, maybe becuase of the triangular 'racing stripes'

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Trophée des Alpes

We went to the mediaeval village of La Turbie the other day to see the Trophée des Alpes [aka Trophée d'Auguste]

The immense monument was originally built by the Romans in honour of Emperor Augustus and to celebrate the victory over 44 Celto-Ligurian tribes who lived in the area

A huge carved inscription gives the names of the tribes [reconstructed now ]- Pliny the Elder had written down the full inscription which meant that it could be recreated using the original fragments filled in with modern stonework.

Its hard to tell from the photos how immense the monument is untill you notice the tiny figure on the right adjacent to the stone columns.

I had to piece the inscription together from 4 photos because its so huge but its not very readable at this size- however these are the tribal names - which explains why its such a huge monument
Tr{i}umpilini, Camunni, Venostes, Vennonetes, Isarci, Breuni, Genaunes,
Focunates, the four nations of the Vindelici, the Consuanetes,
Rucinates, Licates, Catenates, Ambisontes, Rugusci, Suanetes,
Calucones, Brixenetes, Leponti, Uberi, Natuates, Seduni, Varagri,
Salassi, Acitavones, Medulli, Ucenni, Caturiges, Brigiani, Sogionti(i),
Brodionti(i), Nemaloni, Edenates, esubiani, Veamini, Galli taetri, Ulatti, Ecdini, Vergunni, Egui, Turi, Nematuri, Oratelli, Nerusi, Velauni, Suetri.

Another inscription found in Turkey called the Res Gestae Divi Augusti [Deeds of the Divine Augustus] written as if by Augustus himself, says "I brought peace to the Alps from the region which is near the Adriatic Sea to the Tuscan, with no unjust war waged against any nation."
My kids are the small figures on the monument - you can climb up some stone stairs on to a viewing platform and then the continue up some metal stairs to a higher viewpoint.

My kids were shouting 'don't look mum' because they know how bad i am with heights -however i did manage [for one] to climb up without freezing with terror.

This is the other side of the monument looking up at my kids who have climbed to the higher viewpoint.

The views are spectacular -you can see all along the coast and the mountains and Monaco and Monte Carlo far below. However, a storm was gathering out at sea so a lot of the landscape photos look hazy and dark depending on the direction. The storm clouds got thicker and thicker as the day went on and by the time we got back to Nice in the late afternoon, there was a massive thunderstom with torrential rain.

This is one of the stone pillars

In Roman times the monument was not fortified- it was meant to be a visible sign of Rome's power and a reminder to the vanquished tribes.

The grounds of the monument were very attractive to wild life as there were lots of trees and grasses and flowers. I will post some of the nature photos i took another time, however, here are some snails that i spotted at the top viewing platform hidden in rock crevices.

They are conical shelled snails and probably Cochlicella acuta aka Pointed snail

There were lots and lots of these pointed snails nestled in crevices despite there being little obvious food or moisture. Maybe they just like highrise life.

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Photo Friday- summer

In summer in the city even the birds need to cool off, dunking their heads under the cool fountain.
They seemed to wait quite patiently in line to take turns in the shower, but they didn't attempt to bathe in the fairly shallow water.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

happiness is... photo Friday

Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.

Nathaniel Hawthorne 1804-1864

I took these photos a few days ago in Nice city centre. The butterflies are Geranium bronzes Cacyreus marshalli -that i've written about before here
They were feeding on lavendar bushes and seemed to be ignoring the geraniums.-however i didn't see any caterpillars

I am seeing more this year than last year than last year- or maybe i am just attuned to them

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