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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

One eyed hoopoe and mixed success in the garden

Yes really. We went for a wander by the river in the next village and there on the track was a one-eyed hoopoe. He was very accommodating and posed for long as we stayed in the car. Which meant photos through a dusty, bug splattered windscreen. Ah well, better than nothing I suppose.
The good side

The blind side

Lovely markings

We went down early, before the shepherd and cowherds came. But were a bit disappointed at the lack of living creatures. We had a good start when baby stork posed for the camera. Not the prettiest of creatures but lovely to see, especially when he showed off his wings.

There are two lakes before you reach the river, but apart from a couple of anglers they were curiously devoid of life. We put up a squacco heron, which flew to some reeds and disappeared, and we could hear masses of reed buntings, not a song, more of a croak. In the past we have seen herons, egrets, ducks, grebe, cormorants, geese and even swans. But all we saw was a bit of mist.

Moving on to the river we had lots of small brown birds about, many corn buntings with their curious lisping whistle, swallows, shrike, crested lark and bee-eater. We usually see at least one bird of prey but we were possibly a bit early. And of course there was the hoopoe.
Corn bunting

Reed warbler

On to a pool with reed thickets and the noise from reed warblers was deafening. Not much else there but the wild flowers were lovely, well worth a visit before they turned brown. Again, there were a lot less birds than normal (what's normal?) but we did hear kingfishers and saw a few bee-eaters, not as many as last year. We left feeling a bit deflated and worried. But maybe last year was particularly good despite the weather.

A noisy frog amongst the blanket weed
A bee-eater colony

A couple of fluffed up bee-eaters
I'm sure this egg isn't supposed to be here

Lovely grasses

Barley going yellow already

These thistles are at their peak at the moment, All these are the same plant but the blue ones are in the shade

With a beetle

Back in the garden we have had mixed results lately. We are still enjoying courgettes, beets, cucumbers, carrots, kale, onions and garlic and chard. We have also started to use our potatoes regularly and had a feed from the borlotti beans while we wait for the runners to get going. Also the mini tomatoes are ripening at a good rate. They're strange plants though (Vilma) sort of "constipated''. Nice juicy fruits and we have spared a few and some cucumbers for the neighbours who are still waiting for their first. They are impressed! We have pulled the garlic as they were showing more yellow than green leaves and we have some really good sized bulbs....again larger than the neighbours. I have also picked the blackcurrants. The birds had some earlier on and a few ripe ones had dropped, But considering the bushes were just a couple of manky looking twigs when we put them in last year, and they are too close together, they have done really well. We are getting raspberries in usable amounts too.
Our first tomatoes

Baby borlottis and kale...yum
Garlic drying in the sun

But a re-think is on the cards for peas and broad beans next year. I think a lot more space is going to have to be used early in the year. The broad beans which had so many flowers on their rather short plants have been devastated by thick crusts of blackfly, far too many for attending ladybirds to cope with. We tried spraying with soapy water (avoiding the ladybirds at work) but they are just too thick and the beans that have matured are stunted. The peas have had no pests (unless you count Bella and Splash) but I have pulled them out as it was not worth the bother of picking so few peas at a time. Even the latest ones I sowed, which came up thick and fast, are severely thinned out. Not sure if this is snails though, they live amongst the fig and raspberries. So next year I will definitely sow early, and might even over winter some broad beans.
We couldn't spray these even with soapy water, a ladybird larva

Erm...mum and dad?

So where the peas were I have sown some more carrots, another try at parsnips, parsley, chervil and beetroot. Next to them we have put in some more leeks, these bought for a few pence from the market, which have settled in well and started growing. I have weeded the red onions and found ten or so which were not attached to the ground and had no roots, so that bed looks a bit sparse.
Sad looking red onion bed

Watching or eating pea shoots Bella?
A very short video showing our intrepid hunter trying to find whatever the fairly large thing is that scuttled under the plastic. I wasn't going to have a look!

The flowers are going from strength to strength and I wish I had smally-puter. The cosmos are flowering, dahlias which I thought would be out by now are just breaking, the same with the zinnia and scabious. One thing which we are giving up on are the hollyhocks. Despite the flea beetle they have struggled on and produced rather small flowers, but an amazing black colour (very dark purple) If we keep them for next year I think they will have to move to a more open site where there is plenty of air movement and see if it helps.
Penstemmon électric blue

'Grapes a-growing

 Of course there are some new bugs too. Still not many butterflies but it seems to be a good year for beetles. The cosmos are particularly popular with bees, wasps and hoverflies. There are fireflies as soon as it gets dark, keeping the cat happy as he chases them around the garden.
Popular cosmos

No idea what this wasp is

And a tinier one

Accidental capture, a caterpillar

A lovely black and white hoverfly
Sad black hollyhock
Three types of lavender, bunches around the house hoping to repel bitey things

Not sure how I managed to see this

A rose weevil

And many unseen bitey things! They are driving me nuts as I react to them. I have big lumps and little lumps all over me, in all sorts of nooks and crannies and have had to resort to anti-histamines to sleep at night. Dave bought some Autan bite treatment at great expense but I use it only on the biggest, most painful lumps and tea tree oil on the rest.

It is continuing hot with the occasional storm. The poultry are keeping out of it most of the day and the duck pond needs an injection of cold well water in the afternoon to prevent boiled duck. Little (almost full sized) Ducky is in turmoil. He was getting so independent but Cagney has gone broody again and is trying to drive Ducky away. This is confusing the youngster and he just wants to sit with 'mum' so we have too shoo him out regularly. Cagney had decided the duck house was a good place to sit, but the rest of the girls also think it's a desirable property and line up to lay in there...though some just sit for a while and lay elsewhere. (There are three available boxes, only one will do) So it's back into the crate and the main house to give her some peace. Only two ever lay in there, the three babies are pretty independent and spend all day outside so it's only at night when there are more in there. It will also stop her being stomped on by five extremely clumsy ducks!
Pigeon feeder bought to keep the ducks from the chicken feed. The littles can only just reach, but they''re not supposed to eat it anyway

Poor Ducky, doesn't understand
Hot chicks, cooling in the shade

Splash is in a routine which suits him but not us! He spends most of the day asleep inside with occasional trips out to sleep in the shade. Late afternoon/early evening he gets active and starts hunting. Mostly insects with the occasional shrew thrown in. Then as it gets dark and we head for bed he goes off to play with friends. At 11.15 he either lets himself in the door by hanging off the handle or jumps up to our bedroom window (which has a net to keep insects out) and demands to be let in. Either way someone has to get up, and I am the one usually awake.Then it's a quick hello and purr, a knead of whatever part of a person he has by him, a wash and sleep cuddled up to someone's feet. Then at time. This is when Dave usually gives in and either lets him out or gets up altogether. Dear little cat.

Last night we were invited next door for rakia (and salad, followed by cold chips and white cheese, followed by caramel custard) Splash followed us but was ejected from the garden. Next thing he appeared on the house roof above the kitchen/living room. He was threatening to jump onto one of the brollies over the table.  Dave climbed on a chair trying to reach him, but he thought playtime and was batting Dave's hands and running off. Eventually Dave got him to follow him and he managed to catch him and shut him in the house. He'll let himself out say I. Nah says he. Half an hour later cat is winding his way round everyone's legs chirruping away. This caused a lot a of amusement, they do not have pets next door. He is not a cuddly cat and will only invite attention on his terms, at others he will attack a hand that reaches out (only in a mild way) which was a worry as these kind people were fascinated with friendly puss. When Venka went in to get pud, she invited cat in (bad move) and he was a good boy, following her about. I'm just glad she is so fanatical about shutting doors and windows! Then there was amusement as he started chasing crickets and fireflies and before he got too excited I went home to shut the birds in and he followed. The neighbours will see cats in a different light maybe.


  1. I have an ID for you, the beetle on the thistle looks like Oxythyrea funesta, which I encountered in Spain a few years ago on thistles. I thought it was something exotic but found some in my own garden since! It's a kind of chafer beetle. Also the 'wasp' looks like a solitary bee, there are so many of them I don't even try to id them. Flowers are looking good, and I'm not really surprised you are having problems with some of your veg because of the heat. Things like peas, runners and I think?? broad beans prefer English sort of climate I reckon! I didn't know that flea beetles went for hollyhocks, cos I have bad flea beetle here but my HHs only seem to have rust on them, which I understand is very common.

    Loved all the bird photos and the pics by the river and lakes. Hopefully next time there will be more species. And I enjoy following the antics of 'poor' duckie and that little monkey, Splash. :-)

    1. Thanks for the ID Mandy. I have such trouble telling bees and wasps apart, partly eyesight and partly because there are so many of them! And such a variety of sizes,

      You're right about the heat, We don't grow lettuce, spinach or radish after spring. And the peas and broad beans will definitely go in all together earlier. I am going to have a last try for peas at the end of summer. It's common to grow more cucumbers, tomatoes and potatoes late in the year too. So far the runners look good but last year they did suffer later in the summer. I saved seed in the hope that they might do better. The climbing French beans (cobra) did fantastically though, ended up sending a lot to the pigs and had a good amount for drying fot winter.

      Flea beetle are a problem here but we don't spray. The hollyhocks are against a wall so there is not great air flow, especially as we don't get much wind. They will get a chance in the open next year but it will be their last chance.

  2. The locals here also do not tend to have pet cats, the cat is a worker and usually sleeps outside and is fed only a few scraps leaving him/her hungry enough to be on the hunt all the time. Our cats have caused a lot of interest on visits to the vet. Firstly they are bigger than the local cats (we feed our cats) secondly their fur is much nicer (we feed our cats) and thirdly our cats are already three times the age of most of the local moggies for obvious reasons. I have to admit though, our cats are not hungry enough to seriously affect the local wildlife population hence the house mouse a month ago... but 'meh'... I love my cats. We have found that the wildlife, bugs n stuff seem to have good years and bad like the plants... this year the ants are causing us concern, they didn't seem quite so bad last year. Its all cycles I guess.

    1. Our lad is getting on for a year old and is still small and skinny with a fine coat. He is better looking than the tom we think is his father even so, and a voracious hunter of crickets and small rodents...and who knows what else. But he has never threatened the three chicks who have no mum to protect them, even though they have been running about since a week old. He spends a lot of time in the pen staring at mouse holes.

      This year there are not nearly as many butterflies as we saw the first year, though last year was a wash out. I've told the cat he is only allowed to chase the cabbage whites....

  3. I've been away for a couple of weeks and have just enjoyed catching up with your blog (difficult to find wifi in Cuba). Love all the flowers in your garden. it is starting to get warmer here in Northern Ireland and our veggies and flowers are looking good but far behind yours.

    1. Hi Lindsey. It's certainly warmer here now, up into the forties and some plants are suffering.