Posts Tagged ‘Auvergne’

Welcome to my blog! I am a complete newcomer to blogging and so it may take me a little time to learn the ropes. Please bear with me!

All of the photographs on this page are linked to my online Flickr picture gallery. If you place your cursor over any photograph you will see the name of the subject; click on the photograph and you will get an enlargement of the picture.


I thought I would begin this blog by reviewing the year 2009, starting with what was for me the highlight of the year.

In mid-November, Nancy and I, together with other family members, went on a boat trip out of Rockport, Texas, to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Location of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Our objective was to see the rare and endangered Whooping Crane (Grus americana) which overwinters at the Aransas NWR after migrating south from its summer breeding grounds in the Wood Buffalo National Park in the Canadian province of North West Territories.

Whooping Crane (Grus americana)

One of only two crane species found in North America (the other being the Sandhill Crane) the Whooping Crane is the tallest North American bird with a life span of around 22 years in the wild. The US Fish & Wildlife Service currently estimates that there are about 260 birds, adults and juveniles, at Aransas. In addition to the Aransas/Wood Buffalo project a smaller migratory reintroduction project has been established between the Necedah NWR in Wisconsin and the Chassahowitzka NWR in Florida. Known as Operation Migration, this project has played a leading role in the reintroduction of whooping cranes to eastern North America. It reports that there are currently 150 known whooping cranes in Wisconsin, Florida and other eastern American states.

We saw a large number of other birds (I counted 28 different species in total), whilst dolphins leapt and dived around the boat and even a migrating butterfly passed by! The birds at the harbourside in Rockport were so used to people walking around that they took no notice of us at all. Here are snapshots of some of the birds that we saw:

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorlynchos)


Royal Tern (Sterna maxima)

Boat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus major)

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

They are from left to right: American White Pelicans with Double-crested Cormorants and an American Oystercatcher, Brown Pelicans taking fish from a moored fishing boat, Royal Tern, Boat-tailed Grackle and Great Egret.

Monarch on the moveThis is the remarkable sight of a Monarch butterfly heading across Aransas Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, probably towards its small winter hibernation area in Mexico. Apparently, Monarchs starting west of the Rocky Mountain region migrate to southern California and those starting east of the Rockies migrate up to 2,500 miles to Mexico. These butterflies instinctively travel each year to the same trees in the same mountains that their ancestors left the previous Spring. None of them have ever been there before because their life-cycle is only 9 months.


The trip to the Texas Gulf Coast was the last stage of a month-long tour of Canada and the United States visiting friends and family. The first ten days in Québec and Pennsylvania were mostly cold and wet and not good for photography. However, in Canada I did manage a day’s birdwatching around Laval, a suburb of Montréal and in Pennsylvania my brother-in-law and I spent a good part of a day at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area near Kleinfeltersville where I saw my first ever American Bald Eagle.


We then moved on to San Ramon in Contra Costa County near San Francisco, California, where the climate was considerably warmer. It was not long before I was out and about with binoculars and camera.

Black-tailed Jack Rabbit (Lepus californicus)

The Black-tailed Jackrabbit (also known as the Desert Hare) is a common hare of the western United States and Mexico. It is the third largest North American hare, second only to the Antelope Jackrabbit and the White-tailed Jackrabbit. They can reach speeds of up to 40–45 miles per hour (64–72 km/h), and can leap 19 feet (5.8 m) in a single bound.

I love these long-eared lopers and this one was happy to pose for me as I walked along the West Alamo Creek Trail in San Ramon.

Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana)
I captured this shot of a drab adult female Western Bluebird in the car park of the Lafayette Reservoir Leisure Area in Contra Costa County, California. I was walking back to the car with family members when this bird caught my eye as it landed only a few yards away from me. It continued to watch as I turned towards it, slowly got my camera into position, focused and pressed the shutter. It was the most obliging bird that I have ever encountered, remaining a few minutes more before flying away!

I was lucky enough to spend a few hours at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR, located in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay at San Jose in Santa Clara County. Most of the refuge stretches along the marshy shoreline north and south of the Dumbarton Bridge, but Bair Island in San Mateo County, is also part of the system. The southernmost extent of the Refuge is in northern Santa Clara County.

San Francisco Bay

The Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and according to the Refuge website it was the first urban National Wildlife Refuge to be established in the United States. It covers 30,000 acres of open bay, salt pond, marsh and mudflat in south San Francisco Bay and hosts around 280 species of birds each year. The Refuge is part of a complex made up of six other wildlife refuges in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

White-crowned Sparrow (Zenotrichia leucophrys)

American Coot (Fulica americana)

Merlin (Falco columbarius)

Above are some of the birds that I managed to photograph at the San Francisco Bay NWR. From left to right: American Vulture, American White Pelican, White-crowned Sparrow, American Coot and Merlin.


My next stop was Brushy Creek, just outside of Austin, Texas. By then it was mid-November and the number of birds visiting our hosts’ backyard were few and far between. This disappointment, however, was more than made up by the large number of butterflies that were around, particularly the American Snout or Common Snout (Libytheana carinenta). This butterfly is known for mass migrations and apparently their numbers can be so huge that it is not unknown for skies to darken as they pass overhead. I did not see that but I saw enough of them to know that they were on the move.

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

Unusually, this butterfly has a prominent elongated snout which can confuse predators into thinking that it is the stem of a dead leaf. They often hang upside down under a twig, making them almost invisible.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)
In the same backyard I also found four other species of butterfly. They are, from left to right, Monarch (Danaus plexippus), Queen (Danaus gilippus), Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia), Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus).

Whilst in Austin my brother-in-law and I had the opportunity of a morning’s birding with local expert, Mikael Behrens. He took us along the Lake Creek Trail at Parmer Village, off Parmer Lane, Austin. We came across 35 species during our walk and, for me, the highlight was a view, albeit long-distance, of a Belted Kingfisher. The photograph below is a poor one but it does give an idea of how distinctive this bird looks.

Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)

White Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis albescens)

Sleepy Orange (Abaeus nicippe)

Additionally, there were a few butterflies around, too, and I managed to capture two of them with my camera. Above left: White-checkered Skipper. Above right: Sleepy Orange.


And now for the rest of the best in 2009. Before I start, can you answer this question?

Hummingbird Hawk Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)

Do you know what is flying in this picture (right)? Is it:

(a) a hummingbird; (b) a butterfly

(c) a moth; (d) a wasp

In summer it is a common sight to see them flying around in our garden and feeding from flowers, especially those with lots of nectar, like Jasminum, Buddleia, Nicotiana, Primula, Viola and Phlox. It seems that they return to the same flower beds at about the same time each day. You will find the name of this curious insect at the end of this page.


At home in Burgundy, Nancy and I have a small number of bird feeders in the garden and last year two unusual visitors dropped in to take advantage of the food available.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos medius)

In February, a Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus medius) visited the fatballs and peanut feeder over several days. It is slightly smaller than but very similar to the commoner Great Spotted Woodpecker. In western Europe it is locally common in northern Spain, central and northern France (including Burgundy), eastwards towards Poland and south to parts of Italy and mainland Greece. It is not found in the United Kingdom or Scandinavia.

Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)

The next month a Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) (below), a not-so-common winter visitor from Scandinavia, stayed a few short days to stock up on sunflower seeds before migrating to its northern breeding grounds.

Both birds were first-time recorded visitors to the garden.


Turning now to flowers, I came across some wild orchids last year and two of them are shown below. The Early Purple Orchid (left) and the Lady Orchid (right)were both found locally in the village of Les Chaumes Grand-Jean.Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula ssp olbiensis)
Lady Orchid (Orchis purpurea)Pink Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)

Arum maculatum

Passion Flower (Passiflora caerulea)

Right-hand column: a small collage of flowers and plants: Top to bottom: Pink Cosmos, Arum maculatum, Passion Flower.


Moving on to butterflies, below are two shots of a Comma butterfly. The one on the left has open wings and the one on the right has closed wings.

Comma (Polygonia c-album)
Comma (Polygonia c-album)

Look for the small white mark on the right-hand butterfly’s hindwing – that’s why it is called the Comma.

In the next section I will illustrate how a diurnal (day-flying) moth got its name!

Below are five more butterflies that I captured in France with the camera in 2009. They are from left to right: Marbled Fritillary, Common Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Pale Clouded Yellow, Brown Argus.

Marbled Fritillary (Brenthis daphne)

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

Small Tortoiseshall (Aglais urticae)

Pale Clouded Yellow (Colias hyale)

Brown argus (Atricia agestis agestis) or (A. a. cramera)


I was not only chasing butterflies but also moths, dragonflies and other living creatures of the natural world.

There are about 1,500,000 insects worldwide. Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) make up 200,000 of these and the vast majority (185,000) are moths. Below are some of the day-flying moths that I encountered last year.

Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma)

Like the Comma butterfly the Silver Y Moth has a white distinguishing mark on the underside of its wing from which it gets its name. The picture on the left clearly shows the mark.

Jersey Tiger Moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria)

White Plume Moth (Pterophorus pentadactyla)

These two very different moths are known as the Jersey Tiger Moth (left) and the White Plume Moth (right). The latter insect has unusually modified wings which are rolled up when resting, giving it the T-shape seen here.


I have always been fascinated by dragonflies and damselflies, the brilliantly coloured, pencil shaped, insects that fly around lakes, ponds and river areas in the summer. You can identify a dragonfly from a damselfly and vice versa by noting the position of the wings when the insects are at rest.

The wings of a dragonfly are held at right-angles to the body as shown in the picture immediately below of a female Broad-bodied Chaser, found in a garden at Nantes on the west coast of France.

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)Platycnemis pennipes (male)

Damselflies, on the other hand, hold their wings alongside the body as in these two pictures. The female Large Red Damselfly was found in the same Nantes garden as the Broad-bodied Chaser and the picture of the Platycnemis pennipes was taken beside the River Allier at Apremont-sur-Allier in our neighbouring region of Auvergne.


And now for a close look at some of the other interesting things that I came across during the year.

Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger)

The Fox Squirrel is the largest species of tree squirrel native to North America. These squirrels are most often found in forest areas with an open understory or in urban neighborhoods with trees. They depend primarily on tree seeds for food but they also eat buds and fruits, cultivated grain, insects, birds’ eggs, lizards and small snakes which are plentiful in the United States. Strictly diurnal and non-territorial they spend more time on the ground than most other tree squirrels. This picture was taken in a backyard in Brushy Creek near Austin, Texas, whilst the squirrel, apparently a regular visitor, was happily munching away at a nut prised away from a feeder.

Dor Beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius)

Sling-tailed Agama (Laudakia stellio)

Unidentified cricket

California Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi)

Striped shield bug (Graphosoma lineatum)

From left to right: Dor Beetle (a dung beetle) found in a local forest; Sling-tailed Agama, a lizard which I came across in Corfu; the grasshopper-like insect (found locally) in the middle picture is a probably a cricket but there are so many of these around that I have not yet been able to identify it; California Ground Squirrel, photographed at San Ramon, California and, lastly, two Striped Shield Bugs. These insects are closely related to the Green Stinkbug and other foul smelling bugs and although they emit a smell rather like apples, it is apparently enough to deter all birds from getting too close to them.


Finally, the answer to “What is it?” is (c) moth. It is a Hummingbird Hawk Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum). With its long proboscis and hovering behavior, accompanied by an audible humming noise, it looks very similar to a hummingbird feeding on flowers. For this reason it can easily be mistaken for this bird.

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