Thursday, 14 October 2021

The Ocellated Lizard.

Today I would like to show you all the photos I took of  a juvenile Ocelated Lizard , that crawled out from under the hedge only a few cm away from my foot. I felt a movement rather than heard a noise, looked down, and there it was, a beautiful yellowish lizard. All the other ocellated lizards I have seen  previously have been green, so I was delighted to have an opportunity to photograph a yellowish one.   


It was on the move, hunting for food, such as spiders, beetles, mainly large insects, berries, and on occasion bird eggs. For an Ocellated Lizard, the largest European Lizard, it looked small and quite skinny.


During the winter, it ceases it's activity, hibernating for varying periods of time, depending on climatic conditions. This was possibly it's first hunting trip after a long sleep. It was a lovely sunny day, and food was it's main objective. It was not in the least perturbed by my presents.


These images were taken in early March, just before the breeding season, which is mid-March,  when  the days get warmer, and sunny, and goes on until mid -July, when the females lay their eggs underground. Juveniles become sexually active by their third year of life


I watched it hunting, catching air born insects, admiring it's colour, and when I returned several days later to photograph insects, I saw it again when it crawled out from under the hedge in the same place.



It is difficult to know if it was a male or female, for unless you see them together you would not be able to tell as both look alike, but the male is larger, and has a bigger head.



Adults average 40-60 cm in length, but can sometimes reach an impressive 90 cm. Generally two thirds of it's length is taken up by it's thick  tail. I liked the striking ocelli spotted pattern on this juvenile, and the ocelli profusion gives name to the species


The Ocellated Lizard, or Portuguese Largarta, is a protected Species in Portugal. A lone unsociable lizard, but always a pleasure to see.



This is my favourite photo!



Friday, 8 October 2021

More Balcony birds.

When I opened the wooden shutters on my bedroom balcony I saw the Mistle Thrush perched on the railing. The moment it saw me it flew away to a nearby tree, which had only recently been pruned, so it was in full view. The light was poor, but I managed to get a few images before it flew away. I see a number of different species of birds on the balcony without having to go in search of them. Only a few days ago, I opened the shutters to come face to face with a Sparrow Hawk perched on the railing. It just stared back at me for a long time. I waited for a chance to get my camera but "it was the one that got away," however here are a few that didn't.



Mistle Thrush  Turdus viscivorus








Black Redstart.



Black Redstart  Phoenicurus ochruros


Greenfinch   Chloris



Jay  Garrulus glandarius


Blackcap  Sylvia atricapilla


Blue Tit   Cyanistes  caeruleus





Fly catcher








Coal Tit    Periparus ater


Crested Tit    Lophophanes cristatus



It was the Red Squirrel that damaged the plate on the previous photo


Great Tit    Parus major







Friday, 1 October 2021

A SLUG

In my last post, I shared  pictures of the Pyracantha hedge, and I remember when the individual shrubs were first planted, all in a row, set at 75 cm intervals in front of our garage. They didn't look as though they would ever join up, but because of the needle sharp spikes, they soon formed a dense hedge, and grew very tall. mine is about 2 . 50  meters, but only because it wasn't pruned this year.



I saw the sunlit trees on top of the mountain and took this photo as I walked down to see what I could find in the hedge which was in shade. The garage is to the right of the hedge and the sloping field to the left. It was on one of these visits, I noticed the shrub at the end of the row looked stunted. The leaves were small, and it hadn't grown as tall as the other plants.

On inspection I found that it  had a thick covering of  ivy, and it had smothered the whole stem. so I started to untangle the many layers, and it was after I had uncovered the shrub, and found it had just a stump at the top, that I stood there in amazement, it took me several seconds for my brain to kick into gear., for it was not a malformed stump, with a kind of knob at the top, but a living creature..


It was a large slug, I mean really huge, larger than I had ever seen before, and now that it had been disturbed from the cool place under the ivy, it had to remove itself from the heat of the sun., and it started to unwind very slowly from its perch. I was not in the least repulsed by the Slug, or the trail of slime, but  absolutely fascinated. by the gliding movements it made. It was a slow decent.,but I had plenty of time to spare. I think it's the first time, I have ever really looked at a slug in detail.


The bottom side of a slug, which is flat, is called the 'foot'. Like almost all gastropods, a slug moves by rhythmic waves of muscular contraction on the underside of its foot. It simultaneously secretes a layer of mucus that it travels on, which helps prevent damage to the foot tissues., and the slime is essential to keep slugs soft bodies from drying out. Around the edge of the foot in some slugs is a structure called the 'foot fringe', which you can see on this one.


Most slugs evolved from snails, losing all or part of their shell over time.The word slug, or land slug, is a common name for any apparently shell-less terrestrial gastropod mollusc., Generally disliked  by farmers and gardeners, but while they can be a pest, they can also be beneficial,  and even have a role to play in your garden, 



The majority of land slugs have two pairs of 'feelers' or tentacles on their head. The upper pair is light sensing and has eye spots at the ends, while the lower pair provides the sense of smell. Both pairs are retractable..Seen best in the first and second image. 


I didn't see much damage to the leaves caused by the Slug, and I believe the stunted growth was mainly caused by the lack of sunshine, as Pyracantha plants like sunny locations, and it had not seen the light of day for who knows how long, being covered by the Ivy, but of course the slug had eaten leaves and stems from the trunk, and it's interesting to know that slugs are aided in consuming plants, and other food sources, by their teeth!



They have 27,000 of them!! Slugs have so many teeth because they do not chew before swallowing. Instead their food is passed by a ribbon - like band of microscopic teeth, which is known as a Radula. The Radula acts like a circular saw which cuts through the vegetation, and other things it eats. When the Radula wear out, new teeth move forward to replace them.



In addition to eating living plant material, slugs eat a wide variety of other things, such as decaying matter,and plant debris, playing an important role in nutrient recycling, and the slime it produces which is considered repulsive by many people, has substances used in the production of beauty products, which is beneficial to the skin.



Slugs are hermaphrodites, and lay their many eggs underground, and this happens three times a year. It takes about a year for slugs  to mature into adults, and once they reach adulthood, slugs live for just a couple of years. Looking at this image, I can't help but see the beauty in it's appearance.
 

Rather  than  a singular structure, that could be described as a brain, slugs have ganglia, or "Knots of nerves" located around the body. These form a nerve network.



I could not photograph all the length of the body, but as it headed downwards towards the ground,  I knew it would find more Ivy to hide underneath, away from it's predators such as Toads, Snakes, Thrushes, Blackbirds,  Squirrels, Hedgehogs and Foxes to name a few.



I will end this post as I started by sharing more images of the hedge. It is now bent down with the weight of the red berries, and so brightly coloured that these photos do not do it justice.. It will only be pruned with shears next year, from May / July. 



With closer images you can see the beauty of this hardy shrub.. You can take semi-hard cuttings with a heel from July/ September,  so there is still time to  do this in mild weather, and either train it against a wall,  make a shrub,or hedge.
 

Aphids are it's main problem, as they eat the young shoots, so that is why it attracts so many insects to gorge on the green aphids, and it gave me plenty of opportunities to photograph lots of different species.

 

 
 I hope you will forgive me for indulging myself with another very long post. I seem to have got carried away again...
 

Saturday, 25 September 2021

THE PYRANCANTHA or FIRETHORN Hedge

For several weeks I have shown just one species in different poses, but today I share many different species, most of which I photographed when I first started blogging again, after my broken wrists had mended. I walked to the nearest field, where there is an overgrown evergreen Pyrancantha or Firethorn hedge, which provides plenty of cover for small birds, sparrows finches and robins, and they love the red, orange, or yellow berries, however when I took these photos, it was earlier in the year, so there were no berries on the branches but plenty of insects, around, and on the shrub. 



































































































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