Ants attending aphids on a sea beet plant alongside the Cleddau Estuary.

And some more information about ants and aphids here


NWE 21

Plenty to see in Europe in May - 


Walk along the Cliffs on Moher in the west of Ireland


Look for Little Bustard in central France


Search for wildflowers in Greece


Enjoy the wetlands of the Ebro Delta in Spain


Marvel at the spring bird migration spectacle in Latvia


Visit the Thy National Park in Denmark


For the iPad and iPhone



Britain's Plant Galls

We bought this book because we didn't know anything about galls, but thought it might come in handy at some time.  So it languished on the bookshelf for a couple of years.

Then somebody pointed out a holly gall, and I knew just where to go to for more information.

That's when I discovered that not all galls are made by gall midges, or gall wasps, or even gall mites.  Some are caused by fungi - especially rust fungi.

The next discovery was that not all galls are like robin's pincushions, or oak apples. 

Those fuzzy balls I had thought were germander speedwell seeds were, in fact, caused by a gall midge.  And the bright orange patches on nettle stems were caused by a rust fungus.  And what about those little black fingers on bracken?  That's the little black pudding gall - caused by a gall midge.

So now I find myself looking at all sorts of aberrations on leaves, stems and fruits, and the book is well-thumbed.

It is written in an easily accessible style, and illustrated with photos.  It is arranged by host plant, which makes galls easier to identify as most are specific to a single plant, or group of plants.

The book is good, but it can't cover everything - it manages 200 of the commonest or most conspicuous of Britain's 1000 or so galls, which is a very good starting point. Google is useful for the rest.

Get your copy here


Songs in the air

Today I managed a decent photo of a skylark in flight. 

I've tried photographing skylarks before, but they present three particular problems.  One is that in order to hover, they have very fast wing beats.  Another is that they quickly gain height so that they are dots in the centre of the image, even with an 800mm lens equivalent.  Allied to this, they are nearly always against the sky - so often appear black against a pale or white background.

The solution to the first problem is to use a fast shutter speed.  Anything upward of 1/1500 sec.  The closer the bird, the faster the shutter needs to be.  There is no advantage in using image stabilisation and a slower shutter speed.

That dot in the centre of the image can be cropped closely.  This particular dot still makes a reasonable image for web use, it just wouldn't print very well.  But does that matter? Only if you need a print.

The bird is against the bright sky - so dial in at least one stop exposure compensation.  I could have given more - it needed another half stop in processing.

I took some similar photos yesterday, but the atmospheric conditions weren't good.  It was slightly muggy and misty, and despite the same shutter speed and exposure compensation, the photos just did not look sharp.  Nor quite so attractive against the dull grey sky.

There is still room for improvement - the bird could be closer, it could be facing the camera, and probably a few other things.  But they'll wait for another time.


Algarve Wildlife - Book review


If there was a book like this for every area I have the privilege of visiting, I'd be a very happy traveller. 

We took it to the Algarve in late March. The first paragraph for that period says that . . . . "Strong winds and even storms can occur, but they are the exception rather than the rule." Yes, we were hit by a very big storm on one day, and a short sharp hailstorm on another – the locals came out to take photos of the hailstones because it was so unusual. The rest of the time, the weather was fairly benign.

But overall, it must have been an average season, for we saw almost everything the book said would be there at that time. Except that the Portuguese Squill wasn't quite in flower yet. We found lots of things we probably wouldn't have looked twice at without a prompt from the book, like the endemic plants at Cape St Vincent (e.g. Biscutella and Wild Carrot) that look so similar to species elsewhere.

We dipped into other sections of the book – it's hard not to. Each chapter is a half-monthly block starting from August (the beginning of autumn bird migration) through to the following July when plants especially are withering and becoming dormant to escape the heat. But, as nothing is that specific as to the time of year, and seasons tend to be several months long, you find that the few chapters before and after your visit are also applicable. And, of course, some things can be seen all year round.

Beyond the seasonal guide, there are annotated checklists of birds, butterflies, mammals, etc., and a useful gazetteer of places to visit.

Overall impression? Filled with bite-sized chunks of information and excellent photographs, this books guides you through what you might find in the Algarve at any time of year. If you're an out and out bird-watcher, or botanist, or butterfly-hunter, or whatever, you'll probably need to supplement it with a more specialist field-guide. However, for the generally interested visitor, or for the birdwatcher who wants to know what the more obvious plants and butterflies are (or vice versa), this fits the bill nicely.

And it's pretty good for planning when and where to go next time, too.

Get your copy here