Showing posts with label Demoiselles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Demoiselles. Show all posts

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Beautiful Landing

This cutesome creature is a male Beautiful Demoiselle Calopteryx virgo, who spent some time sitting on my boot by the bief (millstream) in le Petit Pressigny this time last year.

They are the most abundant dragonfly along this small stream, which is nice, as they are not a particularly common species, being very picky about their habitat.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Weather and Wildlife in the Touraine Loire Valley 2013

"Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather." John Ruskin.

Personally I think he's overly enthusiastic about wind, but minor quibbles aside, his point is well made. Below are my notes about the weather and some wildlife highlights for 2013, made every couple of weeks and accumulated over the course of the year.

Jan -- early - fairly mild (not much frost, no snow) misty and overcast. Not much rain. Mild enough that hedgehogs emerged from hibernation, as evidenced by the occasional squashed one on the roadside. Likewise, badgers remained very active, with the same roadkill result. Marmalade Hover Fly Eristalis balteatus active. Mid - frost and snow, very cold windless days, a little rain. Late - back to mild, overcast weather (no frost, some rain). A few insects active. Small mammals appeared to be in somewhat short supply (burrows waterlogged), although I did witness a fox hunting in a field. Black Redstart in garden. White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum queen in orchard. Overall remarkably mild, but one of the 3 least sunny Januarys since 1950.

The scene at Veigne in February 2013.
February -- early - mild, very wet, very windy. Mid - a short lived dusting of snow, more rain, cold, but very little frost. Late -- cold, frosty, often a strong cold north-east wind, no rain, several clear sunny days, several days with a light dusting of snow. Overall - a cold snap, but still relatively mild.

Winter overall: about average temperatures, with notably less sunshine and about 40% more rain than average. The overall temperature average is a bit misleading though -- in fact temperatures flucuated wildly, and whilst there were cold snaps there were also mild spells. Temperatures ranged between about -2 and +12 mostly, with many days never going below 0. Because of high autumn rain the ground was saturated and the rivers full, so the steadily wet conditions throughout the winter caused significant flooding of water meadows, and a lot of standing water, but no serious flooding.

 March -- a couple of warm sunny days, but the heaviest frost we've had all year on several days. Cold days, some bright, some damp and overcast. Typical giboulées with squally rain, snow and hail all at once. Late -- mild (no frost), overcast (very little rain), with a brief cold snap the last few days. Apparently the least sunny March for a decade. The jetstream has been looped particularly low, over both northern Europe and north America. We've been on the fringes of the very cold weather this phenomena brings, whilst the Arctic ice began to break up at record speed and Greenland was 15 degrees warmer than us.

April -- early -- extremely variable, with some sunny but windy days and some miserably cold and drizzly days. Mid -- still variable, with much more sun, sometimes warm, but still often cold days. Deer in the fields seem quite numerous, attracted by the canola flowers, and a glimpse of a herd of wild boar with several really big pigs in the wheat one dusk. Squirrels have been very active all spring. This month finally the insects really got going, with many species of hoverfly and bee. Martins already nesting, swallows have arrived and the first swifts. A few bats flying in the evening. Overall a very variable month, with warm sunny days alternating with cold rainy days. My impression was of a fairly normal April, and the statistics bear this out. It was a couple of degrees cooler here than on average, and we had 50% more rain than the average, but levels of sunshine were exactly average. A light frost near the end of the month which damaged vegetable seedlings and newly emerging vine leaves. Since September last year we have received 25-50% more rain each month than average. The soil is saturated.

Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera.
May -- cold (temperatures rarely reaching the 20s) and overcast. Like March, it was not that the minimum temperatures were particularly cold, but the maximum temperatures remained determinedly under par. Many days with a little rain. Butterflies were extremely 'thin on the wing'. Fortunately no frost. Still lighting the fire every evening though. The rivers continue to run high and in places overrun their banks, but no serious flooding here (some roads blocked, riverside carparks inundated). Average temperatures about 2 degrees lower than normal, rainfall about 50% higher, and it rained more than an average number of days, with sunshine at only about 80% of normal. The mammal roadkill seemed quite high this month, with more sad glimpses than usual of squashed badgers, martens, hedgehogs and squirrels. The deer population was clearly very high, as there were several local culls organised. The orchids, on the other hand, were magnificent, enjoying the cool (frost free) and moist conditions after a decade of dry springs. The second coldest May since 1950 and the wettest since 1959.

Overall, spring was very changeable, cold and rather lacking in sunshine. It was the coldest spring since 1987 and one of the wettest since 1959.

June - early - hot sunny days in high 20s (at last!), occasional storms or showers. Dragonflies emerging in earnest -- lots of Broad Bodied Chasers Libellula depressa, some Skimmers Orthetrum spp and quite a few Clubtails Gomphus spp. Lots of Banded Demoiselles Calopteryx splendens and Blue Featherlegs Platycnemis pennipes. Hymenoptera (Bees, Wasps, Ants and Sawflies) and Diptera (Flies) doing well, with good numbers. Butterflies very, very low in both total numbers and numbers of species. All the hivernales (overwintering species) have died. Only Adonis Blue Polyommatus bellargus in any numbers (and they are limited to the limestone ridges and chalk grasslands). Mid - cool (for summer) to warm, with rain most days, ranging from torrential downpours to light mist. Vouvray and Tours hit by a severe hailstorm. Late -- back to warm sunshine. Overall up to this point in the year we have had nearly twice as much rain as normal.

Mating Gatekeepers Pyronia tithonus.
July -- early and mid - hot sunny days in high 20s interspersed with a rainy day about once a week. Butterflies finally more abundant, but some groups still woefully absent or meagre. The Tabanids (horse flies and their relatives) have emerged in earnest, with deer fly Chrysops spp and the beautiful, huge Tabanus eggerii much in evidence. Late -- hot, in low 30s, with some tremendous thunderstorms which were fortunately not all sound and light but gave quite a lot of rain too. One of the storms was noteable for the strength of the winds and there was a lot of leafy debris afterwards. Dragonflies in good numbers. Overall temperatures were about 2 degrees higher than average and this was the third warmest July since 1900 and the sunniest since 2006.

August -- early - warm (temperatures back down into the 20s) with frequent thunderstorms and some rain. Mid -- unusually warm, with temperatures reaching the low 30s some days, and dry. Large dragonflies in good numbers, including the generally less abundant species such as Goldenring Cordulegaster boltoni and Western Spectre Boyeria irene. Overall a hot dry month, with average temperatures but well below average rain and slightly above average sunshine hours.

September -- mostly warm and dry, but with a few extremely wet days. By the end of the month foggy mornings and drizzly days, much to the chagrin of the winemakers, who had mostly delayed the harvest on the basis of the earlier warm dry days, hoping to catch a little more ripeness after such a late start this year, but only to find themselves risking fungal disease instead. Lots of roe deer in the fields in the early mornings and evenings. Overall warm, with average rainfall, but a bit low on sunshine in the end.

October --  early -- mild and humid with some real downpours. Mid - a cold spell but continuing damp and warming up again. Late -- wet and windy, getting a bit colder. Large numbers of Common Winter Damselfly Sympecma fusca in the orchard, taking advantage of all the long dead seedheads that I have not been able to mow off due to the weather. They can drift about in safety, barely visible in the waving brown long vegetation. Overall October was unusually warm and wet. The 6th warmest October since 1900, with temperatures 2° above average and 50% more rain for the year than average up to the end of October. The mildness was mainly due to the unusually high minimum temperatures, but sunshine hours only just managed to reach average.

November -- early -- mild and wet. Barely any frost and remained relatively mild throughout, although got colder towards the end. A remarkable number of Clouded Yellow butterflies Colias croceus still on the wing. Overall average temperatures, very wet and somewhat low sunshine hours.

December -- early -- a mixture of fog and clear sunny days, quite heavy frosts and cold days with temperatures from below zero and to maximums in single figures. Mid -- a wonderful dry cold snap with hoar frost and brilliant sunny days. Late -- a couple of very windy days, rather mild temperatures, some  grey days with rain, a few quite sunny days. The year ended remarkably mild and rather wet.

Overall for the Year: Temperature wise it was a cool year, but with July to October warm, bringing the average overall temperature back up to the normal annual average. Rainfall wise it was a rather wet year, with about 10% more rain than normal. Sunshine hours were slightly lower than average.

March and May were particularly grim, being cold, very wet and worst of all, very low on sunshine. There was a particularly wet spell in June, with a tremendous hailstorm. July was hot, but by October it was back to wet and windy.

UPDATE: For other local overviews of the weather in 2013, see Tim's report on Aigronne Valley Wildlife (he's in the next valley across from us) and Walt's report for a hamlet about an hour to our north near the Cher.
Lunch Yesterday: We went over to Angles sur l'Anglin yesterday for lunch with our friend who writes Restless in France. She did us proud with a spread that included lumpfish roe on oat biscuits, mushroom roulade, moussaka, some interesting cheeses we'd never encountered before and a buche de noel. We were so busy eating, drinking and talking it was 5 pm in no time and we hadn't been out for the planned walk around this most picturesque of villages. We hurried out into the gloaming and did a quick twirl down to the bridge and back up la tranchée des anglais (not something I coped terribly well with doing at Simon's speed and after a serious meal).

Monday, 24 June 2013

Botany Outing to Panzoult

On Sunday 16 June the Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine sallied forth from l'Ile Bouchard to a limestone ridge just outside the picturesque village of Panzoult. The main drawcard was the magnificent display of the rare and protected orchid Red Helleborine Cephalanthera rubra that one can expect at this site in the middle of June. They did not disappoint, but the site has a wealth of other rare and protected plants too, and I saw several species new to me. Sadly we did not have the opportunity to visit the dovecotes in the area, which are apparently outstanding (although I am told not in very good condition).

I took a great many pictures on the outing and really struggled to choose just a few highlights for this blog post. Almost everything I photographed was another highlight! Adding to our enjoyment of the day was the warm sunny weather -- a real rarity so far this year.

The object of our visit, the lovely Red Helleborine. It was growing everywhere, and many of the flower stems were considerably taller than I had seen before.
These Beautiful Demoiselles Calopteryx virgo were exhibiting some interesting courtship behaviour on vegetation over a small stream. The green and bronze female was wing flicking and 'tail-lighting' (raising her tail so the pale underneath was visible). If you see a male demoiselle doing this he is signaling aggressive defence of a territory. Presumably it means something quite different if done by a female, as this male persisted in his approach, eventually landing on her and grasping her behind the eyes as a prelude to mating. If the female had been reluctant to mate she would not have been hanging around in the male's territory anyway. There were about 4 males and the same number of females in just a few square metres. These small streams are very important for the Beautiful Demoiselles, which are pickier about where they will breed than the more common Banded Demoiselles C. splendens. The Beautifuls like shaded, colder, more aerated faster flowing water over a clean gravelly or sandy bed.
The striking chlorophyll free root parasite Ivy Broomrape Orobanche hederae was sending spearheads of flowers up from the ground in large numbers.
The view over the vallon. We walked from the house on the right in the distance, in a big arc, crossing the stream halfway. It's a beautiful place, and the barley crop is looking very good. I was told they are expecting a good harvest. Barley is the most important cereal grain used as stock feed here, and is one of the first crops to mature and be harvested. This is a high yield low protein winter two-rowed non-shattering Hordeum distichum variety according to François, one of the professional botanists in the club. He also passed a comment to the effect that farmers are choosing barley varieties on the basis of their high yields, regardless of whether the cattle like them (which I gather they don't, and my further reading suggests that summer barley with high protein is the more usual choice as stock food, and the winter barley is used for malting -- I will have to quiz him further about this). More information from readers in the know would be welcome. Barley is by far my favourite crop visually, as it looks beautiful for the whole of its time in the ground.
Ecologists talk about flower-rich grassland a lot. It is the ideal habitat for many species of insects and should exist in vast swathes across Europe. Sadly it no longer does and its loss is one of the main reasons for severe declines in certain plant, bumble bee and butterfly species. I think the picture below gives you an idea of what a good natural flowery grassland should look like. The main flowers you can see are Red Helleborines, Crested Cow-wheat Melampyrum cristatum and Common Birdsfoot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus. The first two are rare and localised chalk grassland specialists, the third is common in all but very acidic soils.
An unusual hypochromatic Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera var flavescens. A normal Bee Orchid is pink and brownish, like this one in our orchard. These hypochromatic individuals have a mutation which means they lack (or are very low in) all except a yellow pigment. There were at least two of these in the grass at Panzoult. Bee Orchids are very prone to mutations, which I presume is a by-product of the fact that they frequently self-pollinate rather than rely on insect cross-pollination services.
These sorts of grassy banks and roadside verges are becoming an increasingly important habitat network. François had quite a lot to say about local authority's roadside management practices and has worked out that the area of verges in the département roughly equal a sizeable National Park. He pointed out that for decades the local authorities have been making a rod for their own back by frequent mowing. The mowing and the fact that the clippings are not removed make for an ever increasingly fertile strip of land, with ever increasing rates of growth. Plants like nettles that thrive on the increased fertility were increasing, plants like orchids that need low fertility were decreasing. One good thing to come out of the economic recession is the willingness of those who control the purse strings to listen to the conservationists when they mention win-win approaches such as a reduction in mowing. It began with fauchage tardif (late mowing), which was a good start, but François reckons that the local authorities still didn't quite get it and mowed everywhere between 1 and 15 September, whether it was necessary or not. Now some authorities are displaying fauchage raisonné (intelligent mowing) signs. This is much better. These local authorities are restricting mowing at intersections to a short distance in each direction, and often not mowing at all in the autumn, but waiting to see if the frost will do their work for them. Not only does this save fuel, time and other resources, but the routine restores a more natural balance for the plant life, encouraging and protecting a wide range of wild flowers. Plus the shorter range of visibility means that drivers are more careful and drive slower. François would like to see it go even further, as he thinks the collection of clippings for rabbit and goat food should be routine and maybe even some grazing along the roadsides could be reintroduced.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Wildlife Watching in the Touraine du sud in May

Swifts and Swallows are well established. The swifts spend their days swooping and turning in the sky, announcing their presence always with their incessant whistling scream. The swallows will be lower down, skimming the crops and even the streets, chasing each other and chattering, inspecting the insides of barns for nest sites and resting on overhead wires so you can admire their smart dress uniform. I'm hoping to get photographs this year of swifts nesting in the inner gatehouse at the entrance to the citadel in Loches. The martins are already busy nesting under house eaves.

Clubtail dragonflies will stage their mass emergence and demoiselles will start twinkling all over.

Common Clubtail Gomphus vulgatissimus (male).This was taken last year, but according to a contact of mine they have already emerged on the Loire in Tours.
Stands of intense blue Granny's Bonnets Aquilegia vulgaris appear on the forest fringes and roadside banks of Carthusian Pink Dianthus carthusianorum!

Grannys Bonnets, or Columbines.
On 1 May in much of Europe it is traditional to give a sprig of Lily of the Valley Convallaria majalis (muguet in French) to friends and family for good luck throughout the year. How the plants in the forest survive the annual onslaught of widely advertised outings to pick the flowers in the wild I do not know. The somewhat underwhelming photo below is the best I could manage last year in late May.
Chafer beetles and moths will come to lit windows at night. Look out especially for the big Cockchafers Melolontha melolontha and Giant Peacock moths Saturnia pyri.

Cockchafer (female).
The lovely jewel like reed beetles Plateumaris sericea will be getting a spring in their step. Here they are on a Yellow Iris Iris pseudacorus in the Brenne last year in late May. They are all the same species, but females are copper and males dark irridescent blue-green.
The average maximum temperature for May is 19°C. This is the wettest month on average, with 62mm of rainfall being the norm. We should get more than 200 hours of sunshine.
Fête des Plantes: The annual plant fair at the Horticultural College at Verneuil sur Indre is on Sunday 5 May. You can read our post about it from last year here. It's where I buy all my vegetable and bedding plant seedlings.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Banded Demoiselles - a photo essay.

I strongly recommend clicking on each photo to enlarge them. They will open in a new window.


Friday, 29 May 2009

The Wildlife Garden 12 months on

Last year Simon helped me prepare a rough garden bed and I sowed seed to grow annuals and biennials that would attract insects. Once it was sown, I just left it alone, and it has been fascinating to see what has come up this year, and what the mix is between plants that I sowed and plants that have just come of their own accord.

This is what it looks like now.

The garden varieties that have come again this year are:
  • Shasta Daisies Leucanthemum x superbum (Grande Marguerites)
  • Sweet Williams Dianthus barbatus (Oeillet du poète)
  • California Poppies Eschscholzia californica (Pavot de Californie)
  • Sweet Rocket Hesperis matronalis (Julienne des Dames)
Sweet Williams like crimson velvet just
coming in to bloom.

A classic egg yolk yellow California Poppy.

The wild plants that have come of their own accord are:
  • Creeping Buttercup Ranunculus repens (Renoncule rampante)
  • Greater Celandine Chelidonium majus (Chélidoine)
  • Common Nettle Urtica dioica (Grande ortie)
  • Common Mouse-ear Cerastium fontanum (Céraiste commun)
  • Broad-leaved Dock Rumex obtusifolius (Patience à feuilles obtuses)
  • Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata (Alliaire officinale)
  • Wood Avens Geum urbanum (Benoîte commune)
  • Red Clover Trifolium pratense (Trèfle des prés)
  • White Clover T. repens (Trèfle blanc)
  • Common Vetch Vicia sativa (Vesce commune)
  • Spotted Medick Medicago arabica (Luzerne d'Arabie)
  • Herb Robert Geranium robertianum (Géranium Herbe à Robert)
  • Long-stalked Cranesbill G. columbinum (Géranium columbin)
  • Upright Hedge Parsley Torilis japonica (Torilis faux-cerfeuil)
  • Wood Forget-me-not Myosotis sylvatica (Myosotis des bois)
  • Early Forget-me-not M. ramosissima (Myosotis hérissé)
  • Wild Marjoram Origanum vulgare (Origan)
  • Greater Plantain Plantago major (Grand plantain)
  • Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare (Cirse commun)
  • Prickly Lettuce Lactuca serriola (Laitue scariole)
  • Dandelion Taraxacum agg. (Pissenlit)
  • Bristly Oxtongue Picris echioides (Picride fausse-vipérine)
  • Rough Meadow Grass Poa trivialis (Pâturin commun)
  • Barren Brome Bromus sterilis (Brome stérile)
The tiny (2-3mm) flowers of
Early Forget-me-not.
In addition to the wildflowers, a great variety of insects have visited: 4 species of damselfly; 4 species of bumblebee, European Honey Bees Apis mellifera (Abeille européenne) and probably a dozen other species of solitary bees and wasps; a similar number of fly species, including several types of hoverfly and 3 species of beefly; a young bush cricket; half a dozen species of butterfly and a few moths; and a couple of bugs and beetles – and these are just the species I noticed without any effort at all. The place is an insect café, and the regulars know that there is food and places to sit in a warm undisturbed spot. One of the nice things for me is that I can hear everything buzzing, and get to know the different pitches for the different species. In London this was impossible, as there was always background traffic noise.

A White Tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum working
the Red Clover.

A Carder Bumblebee (probably B. pascuorum) also
enjoying the clover.
A female Holly Blue butterfly Celastrina argiolus
(Azuré des nerpruns).

A beefly (Bombyliidae) visiting the
Common Mouse-ear.
Simon is embarrassed by this garden and worries that the neighbours will think we are lazy and untidy, and that all our hard work removing the bramble patch will come to nothing if I let the space get overrun again. I think that the neighbours are sensible enough to realise that we have quite enough to do at the moment and will not make hasty judgements. In the next few weeks I will have to tidy it all up, as it is in rather an inconvenient place, but it has been a fun and enlightening exercise while it lasted.


Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Field Guides to go - Zoology

These are the zoology field guides that travel with us:

Les Papillons de jour de France, Belgique et Luxembourg et leur chenilles, Tristan Lafranchis, one of the outstanding Parthenope Collection of field guides for FBL, published by Biotope, 2000. Distribution maps (indicating status by départment);good photographs of adults in the field, illustrations of caterpillars not so successful, mais c'est déjà ça; good notes on plant associations, habitat and flight periods.

Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe, by the Dutch expert KD Dijkstra and illustrated by the incomparable Richard Lewington, British Wildlife Publishing, 2006. Lewington's beautiful illustrations allow all diagnostic features to be clearly indicated. Distribution maps (small, as they show the whole of Europe, but borders and major rivers marked); notes on habitat and flight periods. Limited to adult dragonflies and damselflies, so if you are into pond dipping and have netted a fearsome nymph or want to identify an exuvia, this book cannot help you. Also available in French.

Guide des Mouches et des moustiques, J & H Haupt, Delachaux et Neistlé. Originally in German, this provides a good overview of the diptera (true flies) of Europe, with an interesting (not dichotomous) key to families in the front. The photographs are often not very good, and a beginner would be very unlikely to get an accurate identification from the necessarily small selection of species featured, but for a more experienced amateur, it provides a useful aide memoire. Diptera are so numerous and so diverse, that no one is an expert in all families, so it can be helpful to have this little book to remind you what the possibilities are. The descriptions and ecological information is brief but useful.

Insects of Britain and Western Europe, Michael Chinery, Domino Field Guide, revised 2007 edition. A general guide that will give you an idea, but quite often not an accurate identification. The choices of species included are sometimes curious, in that they are not always the most likely to be encountered. However, it does provide an excellent overview of the possibilities (even if there are too many moths and not enough flies). It has a 'twin', Insects of Britain and Northern Europe, by the same author, and they are frequently confused. IoBNE is favoured by many professionals as the better book because it has keys, but it is let down by its inferior illustrations and by the fact that it contains fewer species that are relevant to France and Britain. I have packed IoBWE for its general usefulness, and because it is quite good on bumblebees, a group for which I don't have any literature that covers France (although I have several excellent guides for Britain). Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants) in general are not well served by field guides.

Field Guide to the Mammals of Britain and Europe, F H van den Brink, Collins, 1967. We picked this up for £1 when our local library had a chuck out session. An oldie but a goodie. Distribution maps, good colour illustrations of each animal, lots of black and white drawings of tracks and signs. Of course, some of the scientific names are out of date now.

The European Families of the Diptera: identification, diagnosis, biology; Pjotr Oosterbroek, KNNV Publishing. Originally in Dutch. Not strictly necessary to travel with, but jolly handy if I get anything I can't immediately slot into a family. Beautiful line drawings.

Les Libellules de France, Belgique et Luxembourg, D Grand and P Boudet, Parthenope Collection by Biotope, 2006. (One I don't actually have yet, but Summerfields Books will be receiving an order shortly.)


Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Les Libellules (Part I) - Damselflies

Damselflies are small members of the order Odonata, first cousins of the dragonflies, who are also Odonata (which means 'toothed jaw'). Damselflies are finer and less robust than their kin and their flight muscles are less developed, allowing them to rest with their wings folded neatly above their bodies. Approximately a third to a half the Odonatae are damselflies, or the sub-order Zygoptera (meaning 'paired wings'). There are currently about 25 species that can be seen around Preuilly-sur-Claise; compared to about 20 species in the whole of Britain; 30 in the whole of France and at least 100 species in Australia.

Banded Demoiselle Calopteryx splendensIn French le caloptéryx éclatant (ie brilliant or flagrant). The scientific name echoes this theme, meaning the shining beautiful wings. So, we are all agreed then - this is a dazzling creature. You usually only see them close to rivers and they are often common and extremely visible, flapping lazily about taking frequent rests on long grass, overhanging twigs or lily pads. Well - the metallic navy blue males (above, top) are frequently seen. The equally metallic emerald green females (above, bottom) with their yellow cellophane wings are much more low profile. The species likes open running water, but not too cold, not too fast and tumbling, not too big in surface area, not too high above sea level, and not too shady. The pictured male was taken on the riverbank at Yzeures-sur-Creuse on an extremely windy day in June, so he was struggling a bit with the conditions - clinging on for dear life, as close to the ground as possible, in the hopes of lessening the buffeting. All around him, poor little newly emerged Featherlegs (see below) were being blown sideways across the sports field like little bits of straw at harvest time. The female is from the same month and we met her in the grounds of Chenonceau - clearly keeping up the château's association with beautiful ladies. Around Preuilly-sur-Claise they can be seen from May to September. For more about Demoiselles, see my previous posts here.

Migrant Spreadwing Lestes barbarusKnown as the Southern Emerald Damselfly in Britain and le leste sauvage in France ie the 'savage predator' (the scientific name means the same). The English names all reflect very noticeable features of this species' life cycle and appearance: it is strongly migratory, reaching Britain every couple of years these days; it has the typical Spreadwing habit of perching with its wings held loosely open; its range covers the whole of southern Europe (and more, as it is becoming increasingly common in the north); both sexes are an elegant combination of metallic emerald green and cream. The species is unusual in that it prefers ephemeral sites and is more often than not seen in places that do not seem promising as breeding sites, such as meadows that dry out in summer. The female pictured (above, left) was photographed in June near Roux, a hamlet just outside of Preuilly-sur-Claise. It was resting on Common Gorse Ulex europaeus at the edge of a flowery fallow field at the top of a low hill. The male (above, right) was photographed nearby on the same ridge - note the pale hooks at the tip of the abdomen, used for clasping the female when mating (both upper and lower appendages are visible if you click on the image to make it full size). The species can be seen from May to September and is common in the area.

Western Willow Spreadwing Lestes viridisKnown in Britain as the Willow Emerald Damselfly and in France as le leste vert - so the British, French and scientific name all tell you that the creature is green. This is the Spreadwing most likely to be seen in gardens in France and can be seen from July to October in the Touraine and Berry. It is one of those species that has benefitted from urbanisation because of its preference for permanent ponds bordered by trees or bushes - parks and gardens provide this habitat in abundance. They are common and usually found hanging in bushes, just as in the picture of the female above, which was taken in le Petit Pressigny in August. The species can be distinguished from other spreadwings by its pale pterostigma, which are terracotta pink once the damselfly is mature. Males also have surprisingly noticeable white upper claspers at the tip of the abdomen and inconspicuous lower appendages (other species have darker upper appendages and/or long lower appendages).

Common Winter Damsel Sympecma fuscaKnown in Britain as the Winter Damselfly (although it has never been recorded in Britain). The French name is le leste brun ie the 'brown predator'. The specific name also translates as 'brown'. I love this species. It is extraordinarily cryptic, morphing in and out of view like a shapeshifting wraith or CGI special effect in a movie. The Winter Damsels are the only European genus which overwinters as an adult, and as a consequence, can be seen all year if the weather is sunny. This male (above) was photographed on the edge of an area of wooded heath on la réserve naturelle de la Chérine in July. They are common over much of Europe, but because of their superb camoflage probably often overlooked. Presumably due to climate change, the northern limit of their range is extending rapidly. They have a preference for well-vegetated standing water with floating dead reeds.

Common Bluetail Ischnura elegansKnown as the Blue-tailed Damselfly in Britain and l'agrion élégant in France. As you can see, the name themes here are elegance and blue tails. That blue tail certainly is noticeable. A male, floating over the dark background of deep water, can be almost invisible except for the astonishing neon blue of abdominal section number 8. The females are much more subtle and varied and can be either blue, lavender, green or pale pinky orange. In this picture of a mating pair (above, left) taken at Champigny-sur-Veude, you can see how the female is being gripped behind the head and curling the tip of her abdomen up to the male's secondary genitalia. You can also clearly see the pretty 2-toned pterostigma that is a feature of this genus and helps to distinguish it from the other blue damselflies. This species is one of the most common and widespread in Europe and can be seen from April to September in most places. Unusually tolerant of very eutrophic* sites, it is normally the dominant species in such places. The picture above right is from la réserve naturelle de la Chérine in July, and I'm afraid shows the predator predated: a Robberfly Asilinae hunkering down over her lunch and looking suspiciously up at us, exactly in the manner of a dog with a bone who is afraid you are going to steal it. Life and death on the nature reserve, eh?

Small Redeye Erythromma viridulumKnown as the Small Red-eyed Damselfly in Britain and la naïade au corps vert in France. The scientific name translates as the 'greenish water-nymph' and the French is similar ('the green bodied water nymph'). This species is often seen much further out over the water than other species of blue damselflies, sitting on emergent aquatic vegetation some distance from the edge of ponds or slow flowing rivers. As you would expect from a species that habitually leaves the safety of the shore, they are swift and powerful flyers in comparison to many damselflies, and over the last 10 years have colonised the south east of England. They could be confused with the Common Bluetail, which are about the same size, but they are charcoal grey rather than the lustrous black of other blue damselflies, and both the red of the eyes and blue of the thorax and tail tip can be seen from some distance away. This male (above) was photographed on the riverbank at Bossay-sur-Claise (the village just upstream from Preuilly). They can be seen from May to September in central France and are common.

Blue Featherleg Platycnemis pennipesKnown as the White-legged Damselfly in Britain and l'agrion à larges pattes in France. The very pale blue males (see picture above left) have very obvious white 'feathered' legs. Note also the pincers at the end of the abdomen for gripping the female when mating, which you can see in action in the picture on the right. For a better view of the feathered legs, see a picture from a previous post here. The scientific name means 'flat feathery calves' and the French name also highlights the broad legs. It is by far the most common Featherleg, characteristic of sunlit lowland floodplains and rivers, and can be seen from May to September. The most likely confusion would be with teneral (immature) specimens of other blue damselflies. Although they are actually quite large and robust as damselflies go, their ghostly colouration gives the impression of something ethereal and delicate (or if you are feeling more prosaically inclined, something feeble and ailing). Watch out for the males displaying by bouncing and fluttering in the air whilst dangling those fine feathery legs. They are very susceptible to pollution and their disappearance from an area can often be a sign of problems.

Finally, enjoy this offering from French animators, Miniscule TV. It is a shame that it has been over compressed so the quality is rather poor, but amusing nonetheless. If you liked it, you can find several more of their little vids on YouTube.

*Water having such a high level of dissolved organic nutrients that it is more or less devoid of oxygen. A particular problem of water bodies in agricultural areas because of fertilizer runoff (both artificial and natural).


[Note: this post has been edited to correct my misidentification of the Small Redeye.]

Sunday, 8 October 2006

Lunch by the River

The day we signed the compromis de vente (the pre-contract, when you pay the deposit) was an absolutely beautiful day in August with warm sunshine and blue sky. We bought some air dried ham, some carrotte rapee, some celeri remoulade and a baguette at the charcuterie in la grande rue and headed down to the river to sit in the open air and eat our lunch. We chose a spot that had some stone benches at the edge of a small carpark. The blocks of stone were probably really intended just to prevent people accidentally driving into the river, but the view from them was charming. There was a plum tree with many windfalls right next to us and the combination of the endless stream of insects coming to feed on the plums and the restless damselflies in the vegetation along the bank made for a fascinating lunchtime.

The star attraction at the plum tree was a beautiful big Horsefly. This turned out to be Tabanus eggeri, a species that was new for me, and one we don't get in the UK. They are easily identified because the first posterior cell on the wing is closed. Flies are often identified to family level by the pattern of veins on their wings. It is more unusual to get an easy ID like this to species level with wing venation, but other clues are her very black antennae and very orange abdomen. Also, unlike many horseflies, she does not have any obvious pattern of red and green stripes across her eyes. This particular fly had partaken of the fermenting plum juice a bit more than was prudent. She was so inebriated she kept falling over - an utterly shameful exhibition. And yes, I can tell she is a she (because her eyes are separated across the top of her head. Males' eyes touch at the top - seriously!).

Visiting the plums along with her was a hornet Vespa crabro, Red Admiral butterfly Vanessa atalanta and the inevitable social wasps Vespula sp.

Snooping about in the grass, irises and flowering umbels Apiaceae were various small blue damselflies and dashing about above them the bigger and more powerful darter (aka Meadowhawk) dragonflies Sympetrum sp.

We photographed Variable Bluet (aka Variable Damselfly) Coenagrion pulchellum, Common Bluetail (aka Blue-tailed Damselfly) Ischnura elegans, Large Redeye (aka Red-eyed Damselfly) Erythromma najas, and, by far the most common species that day, Blue Featherleg (aka White-legged Damselfly) Platycnemis pennipes. These last are rather strange faded creatures with, as their name suggests, legs that appear to be feathered. All other genera of blue damselflies are almost neon blue and black, at least in the males, so the Featherlegs are really easy to distinguish. And yes, the Redeyes really do have red eyes (all the others have blue).

Monday, 2 October 2006

Postscript to Demoiselles

I have just taken delivery of my copy of the new Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe by KD Dijkstra and Richard Lewington. Even with the brief flicking through that I have had time for I have learnt stuff.

I see I will have to keep my eyes peeled for Calopteryx splendens hybrids. Apparently I could get hybrids with C xanthostoma and at least one subspecies. That should keep me on my toes. Image below left is C splendens male, taken in our Essex garden July 2002.

Sadly, the authors do not rate la Brenne particularly highly - their beef is that too many of the ponds are privately owned, so although there are interesting species, you cannot necessarily get to see them, and the future of their habitat is not assured. Clearly my networking skills are going to have to go into overdrive to get the best sightings possible - I hope my French is up to the task! On the other hand, the Loire Valley is very highly rated, and there is an interesting section on speciation (the Loire Valley is important because species from the south-east, the north and the west meet or overlap here).

Not only is this book informative, but it is beautiful - mainly due to Richard Lewington's illustrations - he is a national treasure I think. As a result of his beautiful illustrations I have been able to identify the teneral damselfly I found in the bramble patch that will become our garden - very definitely a male Lestes viridis Western Willow Spreadwing (aka Willow Emerald Damselfly). No surprise really to get this species in the garden, as they are common in the area and often seen in gardens. (Teneral means newly emerged and not yet fully coloured and therefore difficult to identify.)

The book also has photographs - one of which possibly demonstrates why C splendens are 'eclatant' in French. Males have a creamy white 'tail light', and in that rather dark tubular abdomen it is rather reminiscent of cream oozing out of an eclair. The photo shows one displaying his tail light to another male - it had never occurred to me that eclairs were in any way threatening, but perhaps if you are a demoiselle you have to be more careful.

My only regret with this book is that it does not include the vernacular names in French. This is purely selfish, as it would help me quickly and easily learn the French names. I can quite understand that for space reasons the hundreds of European common names are not included.


Saturday, 2 September 2006


I see Simon has given me the big hint to talk about Demoiselles. Pas de probleme - I am always happy to talk about Demoiselles. Demoiselles are gorgeous fairyland creatures, irridescent, metallic, twinkling jewels of nature - not particularly uncommon, but always a pleasure to stop and watch. The area around Preuilly-sur-Claise seems to have an abundant population of all sorts of dragonflies. This is one of the reasons the area appeals to me so much.

There are two species in the UK - Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) and Beautiful Demoiselle (C virgo). Fauna Europaea tells me that France has both of these and 2 more species of Calopteryx, but I have not seen the other two. One of them rejoices under the name C haemorrhoidalis. In French, Banded Demoiselle is calopteryx eclatant (Bright Calopteryx) and the Beautiful is calopteryx vierge (Virgin Calopteryx). Eclatant can also mean 'bursting' - think chocolate eclairs - but perhaps we shouldn't go there - and I've got no idea why the other one is virginal. It seems curious that the English word for the genus is French and the French word is Greek. I suspect there is a more vernacular French name, but I have yet to come across it. In the US, Demoiselles are apparently called Jewelwings.

It is not so common to see the two species together, because they have different habitat requirements. Bandeds like slow moving water, over silt; Beautifuls need fast moving water and gravelly riverbeds - but you can see both on the river at Montrésor. Males can be told apart because Banded Demoiselles' wings are not wholly irridescent navy blue. Usually the tip is clear and the base, with the dark pigment not extending beyond the node (the little dip in the leading edge of the wing). Females are metallic green with golden yellow wings and very difficult to tell apart.

A walk along the riverbank in Montrésor in July is charming. You look across the river into lovely gardens descending right to the water, and beyond them the thoroughly picturesque chateau. If you look the other way, wave after wave of swallows (hirondelles) sweep low over a water meadow like heat seeking missiles, dodging left and right at high speed, hunting flies.

Something, perhaps the swallows, hunts the Demoiselles too. I found several sets of discarded (undigestable) wings on the path - all male Bandeds. Just beyond the water meadow, and having crossed over to the other side of the river, we came across a gathering of Demoiselles - mostly male Bandeds, but with some females and some male Beautifuls. The males, as usual, were fighting amongst themselves, spiralling upwards in twos or threes in choreographed posturing, and the females were lurking about much more discreetly and minding their own business. The fighting males had the perfect sunny platform of yellow waterlilies and floating waterlily leaves to stage their show.

Demoiselles are a type of large damselfly and are particularly feeble and half hearted looking flyers. They generally wave all four wings about in a rather vague and unco-ordinated way and look as if it is all the most tremendous effort staying airborn, much less moving forward. (All dragonflies can, and frequently do, move all 4 wings independently). Occasionally you will see a Demoiselle making a proper effort and obviously on a mission to get somewhere, but generally you get the impression they just aren't trying (especially if you compare them to the Star Wars spaceship style of the Four-Spotted Chaser or an Emperor Dragonfly chasing an intruder off his pond).

The male Demoiselle approach to flying is apparently to attract as much attention as possible from females. Like all dragonflies, you see males much more than females, because they are holding territory. The very flappy style means that a male Demoiselle glitters in a hopefully irresitable way. I have been told that some males, in their desperation to impress, will fly upstream, fling themselves upside down on to the surface of the water and float down past the females, presumably waving their little legs seductively all the while. This is an incredibly high risk strategy, as at any moment a fish may spot them, an easy meal, and pluck them off. It is believed that risk element of the behaviour is what is supposed to impress females, who are so bowled over by this reckless courage that they allow mating to occur.