M's parents came to supper on Saturday night and a hilarious outside meal ensued. A meal snatched, I might add, from the teeth of certain disaster when one of two quiche fillings I was making was ruined by the addition of a bad egg. The girls are usually very reliable in the egg department, so I suspect that this was an old egg Mavis had been craftily holding on to for just such an occasion (ie, when she knew the pressure would be on) as punishment for me stealing her carefully brooded eggs over the past ten weeks. The filling (complete with half a tub of creme fraiche) was unsavable and went in the bin :-(
Despite this, there was enough for everyone and we feasted outside on asparagus quiche made with courgettes from the garden, new potatoes with butter and herbs and home-grown salad leaves all washed down with lashings of gin and wine and topped off with strawberries, cream and sugar for pud. Sadly not our strawberries because as we already know, the Blackbird's Naughty Child has eaten them all.
She is a very ingenious bird, as evidenced by the pic below taken this morning which shows her doing something none of the other blackbirds in the garden have ever thought to do before. Even her dad only manages to grab small beak fulls of the fatballs by jumping up and down beneath them in a comic, rather flappy, ungainly and ultimately doomed way. Apparently, no-one has told her she is a ground feeding bird. I love the Blue Tit hanging on surreptitiously beneath....
The highlight of the meal was M's dad getting chocolate on his face in just such a position that it looked in the candlelight like a tiny weeny moustache. I got a fit of the giggles, which M made considerably worse by commenting that it looked like David Niven meets Adolf Hitler, two names I suspect have never shared a sentence before and probably won't ever again.
Talking of which, has anyone ever had such a strangle-hold over a particular styling of filamentous biomaterial before? Despite Chaplin's earlier sporting of it, the toothbrush moustache is so synonymous with Hitler I can't imagine it ever being reclaimed or divested of the association. Anyway, I digress.
I'd promised the kids we'd do "moth catching the old fashioned way" this weekend, and M's parents (who were farmers before retiring, and organic farmers at that) were keen to have a go as well, so once dark had fallen (about half ten) we all traipsed up into the garden armed with a white sheet and one of M's uber bright bicycle lights. We hung the sheet over the badminton net, focused the torch on it and waited.
The results were very encouraging. Within seconds of switching it on insects began to arrive and settle on the sheet, and after about a minute the first moth zoomed out of the darkness and began to flutter about our heads. The torch's battery chose that moment to die, so I got the Rob moth box out and placed it next to the sheet before switching it on and warning everyone not to look directly at the bulb because it is mega bright.
Barely two minutes later a moth I have been wanting to see for ages appeared out of the darkness, drawn to the light and the white sheet. He was behind it initially so we couldn't see him but we could hear him and I had a pretty good idea what he would be because of the noise he was making, which is not unlike that of a jet engine. F darted round behind the sheet and confirmed what I was thinking by exclaiming "it's huge!"
I came round the sheet and there he was- a Privet Hawkmoth. This takes my tally of Hawk species so far this year to four: Poplar, Elephant, Pine and now Privet. I was thrilled, and it was a brilliant example of what you can see if you're prepared to be inventive with simple inexpensive methods.
Everyone was very excited. Here are some pics. Aren't his markings beautiful? Initially he sat on the sheet with his wings closed, but then very obligingly he flew down onto the grass and opened them so we could see his beautiful pink stripes. You can tell how large he is by looking at the flies beside him.
I have a big soft spot for Hawkmoths. They are generally peaceful souls who like to sit on your finger while they doze off. They have sticky toes which makes them hard to dislodge, and when they are ready to fly they rev up the engine first, so to speak, by vibrating their wings for quite some time. I suspect this is because they are so large and heavy. This revving can go on for several minutes before they actually get airborne. I've called M over to witness this so many times that he now does a "preparing to take off" commentary, which had everyone in stitches last night and generally ends in a big cheer when lift off finally occurs.
After last night's Moth Success, today has been a Day Of Crickets/ Grasshoppers (what is the difference?). I've been hearing them all week and today have seen three, all in different places. I've managed to get snaps of them all, so if any wise cricket/ grasshopper people among you know which ones they are I'd be v grateful for an ID or two. The third one is on the previous post as he was snapped while we were at the nature reserve. He was brown whereas these two are green.
The first one was on our bathroom wall when I got up this morning. I've had a (very brief) look through my insect book but nothing has jumped out at me (pardon the pun). I hate to say this, but I thought he looked a tiny bit menacing and I was a little bit scared of him....Is it me or does he look a tiny bit grumpy too? He looks like he's frowning and I found myself apologising for disturbing him while I was balanced precariously on the loo seat so I could get close enough to take pictures. It did run through my mind that if he were to jump I would have fallen off, or possibly into, the loo, neither of which outcomes would have been good, but fortunately all he did was lift one back leg slightly. However, he invested the movement with such menace that I backed off, climbed down from the loo and scuttled off to show M the pics).
The second one has a much friendlier expression and he hasn't got that horrid looking sharp pointy thing sticking out of his bottom either. Plus I like his nice spotty skin.
Very Impressive Back Legs in the shot below. They are Whoppers!
As well as the cricket-grasshoppers, there have also been more butterflies settling in the garden over the weekend so I've been able to get some pictures. They owe me really because I seem to spend a great deal of my time rescuing both them and damselflies from the greenhouse which is like an inferno by lunchtime. Some damsels are Very Sensible People, and hop onto my finger calmly, which makes rescuing them a doddle, others (including the butterflies) are twits, and bump into the glass time and again so I have to pot them. Silly Creatures.
Large White and her Child (below) on M's cabbage. Shhhh, don't tell him!
Emmelina Monodactyla, who is, in fact, a moth, and not, as she looks, a kind of stick insect. Marvellous stalky bits on those legs though eh?
The blueberries have so far survived (probably because they are no where near that part of the garden where the Blackbird's Child goes), although they are taking ABSOLUTELY AGES to ripen. I know what'll happen- they'll ripen while we are away and all be either gone or bad when we get home.
The Toms are starting to turn red so it won't be long before we are eating them...
Interesting Flowers have appeared at the end of stalks in the greenhouse... This is the Mysterious World Of Vegetables, of which M is the High Priest and I don't really get involved with them. Normal non-edible Flowers are my department.
The Hollyhocks are hollyhocking Like Mad and look Fresh and Young...
Sadly, the same can not be said of my Cornflowers, who are starting to look a bit Bedraggled And Woebegone Around The Edges (this is not unlike me. I think I am reaching that age where women degenerate mildly over night. This doesn't seem to happen to men, which is deeply unfair. BUT I have found a way to strike back- I've had my hair cut short so now when I wake up and look in the mirror in the morning I don't recognise the person looking back as me).
M is a Home Brewing Champion (in my eyes at least). His ale is usually second to none. Imagine his irritation this week when an Australian Pale Ale that was rather forced on him turned out to taste like rotting melons. We persevered but it was truly disgusting. You know it really isn't nice when even your seventeen year old daughter refuses to take it to parties (and let's face it, teenagers would drink paint stripper if you told them it had alcohol in it). Anyway, after reading that Moths Like Beer, M has kindly bottled them a few litres All Of Their Own, and presented me with these this afternoon....
I'm going to try it mashed into some banana in the Butterfly and Moth feeding station.
I actually saw an amazing example of Nature In The Raw last week, a sight I had never witnessed before. I was in the garden with Teddy when a small winged creature shot out of the hedge followed by a small bird who erupted with such force and shot off in hot pursuit so quickly it took me a moment to work out what was going on. In short, it was a blue tit chasing a buff ermine moth. I thought "the moth'll never make it across the garden and into cover" but he did! I never knew they could fly so fast and so nimbly. It was really amazing to watch. I gave a small cheer at the end when the moth dived into a flower bed and the bird flew sharply upward and landed on the fence looking
pissed off disgruntled, because, although I greatly love birds, it was a David and Goliath moment, and I rather felt the moth deserved to survive after his tremendous display of speed and flying agility. Go Moths!
It's another Moth Box Night tonight, so doubtless I will have some more Interesting People to show you during the week.
M has just come in and announced we need two more wickets to win this stage of the Ashes Battle (whatever that means), so I'm off to practice Looking Interested In Cricket (which believe me is a challenge harder than it sounds). I'm hoping it really means a pleasant half hour spent in the dappled shade of the apple tree with a glass of chilled chardonnay in hand.