Last Post For A While

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I never was very good at consistent routines and for the last few weeks my blogging and following the blogs of my fellow bloggers has drifted into other things. Summer has meant a lot more trips out on the motorcycles, time in the garden, and time to just sit and think. I’m still not back into blogging mode but hope to be back soon. Many thanks to all for your ‘Likes’ and comments, and apologies for not getting around to viewing your posts for the last while. 

 

Last Post For a While …

‘Love is in the Air’

Yesterday evening we walked down to our neighbours for an aperitif – as you do in France. At about ten o’clock, after a lovely evening catching up with their news, we set off for home. It had been raining and as soon as we stepped out of the door there on the grass we were greeted by a pair of fire salamanders writhing around in a slippery embrace. They appeared to be mating rather than fighting. They are beautiful little creatures; black with vivid yellow stripes. We have encountered them on at least three or four occasions over the years, always on a rainy night in October, en-route back home from our neighbours. I discovered a while ago that they use a small pond at the side of the track for raising their young. On our way home, being most careful where we stepped, and thankful that we had torches, we met at least twenty salamanders! Love must definitely have been in the air!

 

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Hopefully I’ll be blogging again soon. In the meantime happy autumn!

Another Insect Visitor

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The other day when I went out to put some empty bottles into the new bottle bin I noticed something stuck under the handle. On closer inspection I found that it was a preying mantis, and it wasn’t stuck, it was attached to a sac-like construction. I did a quick Google on the life-cycle of the mantis and discovered that Madam mantis was in the process of laying three to four hundred eggs in her home-spun sac. Apparently the sac has a coating which will protect it from the winter weather, and then when the sun comes out next spring we shall be blessed with a few hundred little mantises, otherwise known as nymphs. I found a good little film of this process here on YouTube. 

Something under the handle ...

                                                    Something under the handle …

Madam Mantis lays eggs in her sac.                                             Madam Mantis lays eggs in her sac.

Job done she wanders off.

                                                     Job done she wanders off.

The egg sac waits for the spring.

                                     All sealed up the egg sac waits for the spring.

A much nicer story than the wasp experience in the previous post!

We’re looking forward to hopefully seeing the nymphs hatch in the spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Sealed Coffin – Eleven Spiders – One Egg!

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Nature is fascinating and beautiful, but can sometimes also seem terrifyingly cruel. I love nature programs, and I realize all creatures have to eat, but I really cannot stand watching a crocodile dragging down a thrashing wildebeest, or a hawk dropping on a rabbit. Killing in nature is necessary for creatures to survive, but sometimes some of their methods make me shudder.

Just imagine for a minute how it would feel to be captured, injected with a paralysing drug, and then dragged off and sealed up in a coffin. With you in the coffin are ten of your mates, all similarly paralysed. And lying next to you in the dark is an egg. It is the egg of a predator ominously waiting to hatch. When it does, you, alive and helpless will be its first meal. This is the story of the wasp and the spider – actually twelve spiders (baby wasps obviously have a big appetite).

A while ago there was a serious buzzing coming from somewhere at the back of one of the kitchen shelves where I keep various small jars and a few old wooden egg cups. I thought a fly was trapped and when I poked around at the jars something flew out in fast and furious style. Assuming it was gone for good I forgot about it, but later in the day the buzzing was there again in the exact same place. I examined the shelf contents and found a little pod attached to the base of one of the wooden egg cups. It was about an inch long, completely sealed, and appeared to be made from a sort of hard sandy material. Unfortunately I didn’t think to photograph this one.

I’ve seen pods like this before and I knew it was something to do with a wasp, but all the ones I’ve seen before have been opened and empty. Curious, I took it outside and broke it open. This was what was inside:

On the Inside

On the Inside 2

There were no less than eleven little spiders, and one small white wasp egg. I think the spiders were all the same type – tiny jumping spiders. I left them in the garden but sadly I expect they all died anyway. I then cleaned up the egg cup and returned it to the shelf. The next day I couldn’t believe it, Mrs Wasp was back beavering away in the back of the shelf sounding like a pneumatic drill. Cheeky sod! Prepared with my trusty flour sieve I flushed her out and caught her and popped her in a jar. It’s very difficult photographing a frenetic wasp in a jam jar so please excuse the poor shot.

Wasp

After her photo shoot I let her go with strict instructions to take her nasty egg-laying habit somewhere else, and not to come back. When I pulled out the egg cups I found that she’d already constructed a new pod, but this one was not completely sealed.

 

 

 

 

Coffin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffin 2

 

 

When I broke the pod open just one little spider fell out and there in the shell was a new egg. I assume that Mrs Wasp must hunt down her victims one by one and reopen and then re-seal the pod each time. When she’s supplied her egg with enough bodies she makes a full seal and flies away.

Second Attempt

Poor little spiders! But is this type of death any worse than ending up in a spider’s sticky web and thrashing around until Mrs Spider tears over, injects you with her paralysis venom, wraps you swiftly into a neat parcel and hangs you in her larder until she’s ready for dinner? There is a saying us humans use: ‘What comes around goes around’, I’m wondering if it doesn’t sometimes apply to nature? In my next life I definitely want to come back as a squirrel!

 

 

 

Been Offline

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There are definitely fors and againsts to living in rural France. A week ago last Saturday a sudden summer storm presented us with the biggest clap of thunder and flash of lightning that I’ve ever heard and seen. At the same moment the phone made a loud ‘PING’ and that was that, phone and email down for a week while we sorted out a new modem router. It’s a bit of a strange feeling being completely incommunicado, except for a mobile phone that only works if you walk up the hill behind the house.

Being offline has meant no WordPressing, so apologies to all those whose blogs I follow. When I looked at my list of emails this morning the prospect of trying to view the multitude of new posts was just too daunting. So I’m starting afresh as of today. Thanks to all of you for any ‘likes’ that you’ve left for me. I have managed to reply to comments.

One positive to being computerless for a week was that the house looks considerably cleaner! I spring – (summer?) cleaned the kitchen and caught up with loads of jobs that had been gathering dust. 

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The Things You Read in the News!

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It does make you wonder about some of the scientific experiments undertaken these days. How will mankind benefit in the future from this one?!

BBC News 5 Days ago:

 

Russia loses control of gecko sex experiment satellite

 

A Russian satellite containing geckos, fruit flies and mushrooms could plummet to earth if control is not regained, according to reports.

The engine of the Foton-M4 satellite, with several experiments on board, has stopped responding to ground control.

All other systems are intact, the Progress space centre stated, including “one-way” transmission of information.

The five geckos are in space for a study of the effect of weightlessness on their sex lives and development.

The Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, said the six tonne satellite could continue to operate on its own “for a long time”.


The two-month experiment involving the geckos included video-cameras and was a “study of the effect of microgravity on sexual behaviour, the body of adult animals and embryonic development” according to the IMBP website.

The lizard sex investigation was among several planned experiments, including other biological studies of plant seeds and Drosophila fruit flies.

 

I laughed so hard I nearly choked on my morning tea when I read this, and then of course followed various pictures in my mind of geckos trying to mate in weightlessness! This was the result!

 

Weightlessness and sex didn't work very well especially after consuming large quantities of mushrooms and fruit flies!

Weightlessness and sex didn’t work very well especially after consuming large quantities of mushrooms and fruit flies!

Very good news on the BBC this morning however. The Russians are back in control of the satellite! 

And the geckos are mighty relieved – but they said they’re sick to death of fruit flies!

 

 

 

 

The Wood Mouse

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Apodemus sylvaticus

(sometimes known as the long-tailed field mouse)

I hadn’t met a wood mouse until we came to live in France ten years ago. Their natural habitat is to live in burrows, and we live isolated on a wooded hillside where there is oodles of natural burrowing opportunity and a wonderful supply of berries, seeds, acorns, hazel nuts, sweet chestnuts and walnuts. Early on in that first winter we started to put out sunflower seeds on the window-ledge for the birds – blue-tits, great-tits, black-caps, nuthatches and more, and it was at dusk one evening when I noticed another visitor dashing back and forth to the seed tray. The wood-mouse!

A couple of years ago my hubby made this little video of ‘Mr Mousicles’  “Click Here”

I’ve been a great mouse-lover all my life, starting as a kid on the farm when I had pet mice. The discovery of a mouse on the widow-ledge caused immediate interest, especially when I realised it wasn’t a house-mouse. It was so pretty with its big ears and eyes, brilliant white chest and light-tan fur. He started to visit regularly and I looked out for him every evening.

A few years back we seemed to have a bit of a population explosion and the seed tray became extremely busy, not only with adult mice but babies came along too. Being so close it was easy to get some reasonable photographs. I just needed to keep the window clean.

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At this time we were also doing a lot of flying in our flex-wing microlight (ultralight in the U.S and ULM in France), and in the hangar we also encountered a wood-mouse who seemed incredibly laid-back and unperturbed by our presence. It gave me the idea for a story and ‘The Mouse and the Microlight’ was born. I had brilliant fun creating illustrations using a combination of photographs (of the window-ledge mice) and digital painting, using GIMP (my free image manipulation program).

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Dandelion

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The Mouse and the Microlight developed into a many chaptered story about a mouse called Formidable who came to love flying. It was easy to combine aerial photos with mouse photos for those parts of the story.

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Formid and Five

I ended up writing the story as a blog and putting up a chapter every week or two ( it can be found under Blogroll on the side-bar), and soon after a second story happened called ‘When the Hangar Came Down’. If you wanted to have a peek at the very beginning then go to Archives February 2011. I’m thinking seriously of making both stories into an e-book this winter.

A favourite pic from the story

A favourite pic from the story

 

I’d love your thoughts!

Lost in Space: Create a Space Scene in GIMP

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I recently entered a competition put up by GIMP (the free photo-editing software equivalent to Photoshop). I started using and learning GIMP a few years ago, it’s great fun for anyone who wants to be creative with graphics or photography. In this recent competition we had to create a space scene using paints, photos, or a mixture of both. I used some of my aerial photography combined with some biking pics and added stars etc with paint. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Which one do you prefer?

First submission:

Spacebiker

Spacebiker

(click picture to enlarge)

 

 

Second Submission:

 

The Sunday ride-out went a bit off-course!

The Sunday ride-out went a bit off-course!

(click to enlarge)

 

9th Anniversary Poem

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The Anniversary Gift

On the fourteenth day of May (tomorrow)
We celebrate our special day
Special both for him and me
It is our anni-ver-sary.

I scoured Google, trying to find
What gift you have for year nine
And there it was upon the list
A present that should not be missed

Pottery is year nine
Isn’t that just so divine!
No, well actually it’s not
I just don’t want another pot.

I don’t want crystal, lace or feathers
Diamonds, jade, or fancy leather,
Don’t want jewels, or wool, or wood
Linen, silk, or tin’s no good

You get some bronze for year eight
But bronze is something I would hate
Six is sugar, very sickly
Down the list I move right quickly

Flowers
Cotton
Wax
And fur!
NO! I want a silencer!
Carbon-fibre, nice and sporty
Even if I’m over forty (and the rest)

On the bike with visor down
Making noise right through the town
Throaty rumble, mighty roar
Now that’s the gift I’m dying for!

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Our tendency to blame

Originally posted on Mindfulbalance :

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When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change

Thich Nhat Hanh

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