Keep Looking!

Documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say!

Monday, 23 May 2016


National Insect Week happens once every two years - and this is one of those years. So here's a little nudge to watch out for insects around you - maybe to post about them?

I've three to mention.

Merodon equestris (Narcissus Fly)
The first was a bit of a disaster. You know how I said I was sitting in a friend's garden when, instead of politely drinking tea I leapt up and started taking photographs instead?

Well, while I was looking at leaves the sun had chosen to spotlight, I noticed a hoverfly on a leaf. It wasn't moving. It was just sitting there. Ridiculously, I was worried about it straight away. Was it ill? Hungry? Dying?

I say 'ridiculously' because I'm not above sliding my fingers along a stem to rid it of aphids, or clapping my hands together to kill a gnat if it flies into my house. So why did I bother about this hoverfly? (Hover Fly? I'm never sure whether to stick the hover with the fly or leave them apart.) Well, for one things, there's something profoundly different between an individual and a crowd. And for another, it looked a bit like a bumble bee. And for another - when I began this blog I thought a hover-fly is a hover fly is a hoverfly. When I found there are 270 identified species of hoverfly in Britain (*1) . . .  I was . . . . . . gob-smacked! And when I began to peer at those around me with my camera (which I use as a microscope as well as a telescope and as a recorder of images) I was overwhelmed by the beauty in the variety of their colours. So - as you may have gathered - I have a bit of a soft spot for hoverflies.

Ignoring the tea, I tipped a little sugar onto a saucer, added a little warm water, stirred it up and dripped the resulting syrup onto the leaf as a kind of rescue package. I had no idea, no idea whatsoever whether hoverflies drink sugar water . . . but it looked like a bee . . . so I treated it like a bee.

Merodon equestris (Narcissus Fly)
After a while, I gently lifted it and took it to the apple tree and lowered it onto a blossom. It must have been recovering by then, I reckoned, because it immediately spurned that particular blossom, and chose another for itself. I didn't know if it would have any interest in apple-blossom-nectar . . . but a little sugar and a little sunshine was all I had to offer.

I took it's picture and left it to its own devices.

Next . . . look through google images . . . find a possible ID . . . upload the photo to iSpot and hope I was wrong. But I wasn't.

This hoverfly had been sitting on a waning daffodil leaf. This hoverfly was a Narcissus Fly. This hoverfly was a Merodon equestris. This kind of hoverfly lays an egg in the crown of a daffodils. The grub burrows into the bulb, takes up residence and turns it to slush. End of plant! (*2) Oh. Bother. I thought hoverfly larvae eat aphids. Why do there have to be exceptions?

Next up.
Another Hover Fly.

Meliscaieva auricollis?
For all that I've said how often people stop to talk when I'm taking photos, by fortunate chance rarely are they neighbours. But I'd started to take photos of this hover fly (Meliscaieva auricollis?) when a neighbour came down the hill. Just as she hoved a few feet away, a bee (honey bee? a bit too fast to tell) bomb dived the hoverfly and away they flew.
"Oh, you've frightened it!" I exclaimed. Aloud.
(Why do I talk aloud? I don't know. I just do)
My neighbour stopped.
"Not you! You didn't frighten it! It was a bee!"
Then realising she might not understand, I explained about hoverflies as we walked on together . . . and how interesting they are . . . and that although I don't know why I'm interested in finding out which one is which kind . . . I just am . . . even if I forget straight away and have to go back to start every time I see a new one . . . and she seemed to think this was all perfectly acceptable. Phew!

Next up.
This beetle.
A Dor Beetle (Geotrupes) ?

Probably a Dor Beetle
I found it walking along a path through a wood in Somerset. I photographed it from above, from its side and face on. Er. Where is its face? This, I decided, was a spooky monster! Where are its eyes?

Internet to the rescue . . .  to the bizarre . . . to the wonderful. That some beetles have eyes on the tops of their heads so they can see what's above them as well as where they're going.

And, thence . . . to beetles with hats on.

Scientists in South Africa have demonstrated that dung beetles, needing to make a fast get-away with their haul of dung (with a possible wife thrown in) can use the Milky Way as a guide when working out the most direct route from pile to burrow. They aren't interested in stars - just that bright straight line overhead. To check this out, the scientists made little hats for the beetles. Some were clear. Some were dark. The beetles with clear hats could walk in straight lines. Those with darkened ones couldn't. I doubt their counterparts in English woodland would have any chance of walking in a straight line over twigs and under leaves - let alone see the Milky Way through branches and clouds . . . but if you find the idea of beetles in hats appealing - you can read all about them here.

Will you be posting about insects in the next few weeks?
If so, let me know and I'll put the links here.
(Regardless of where you live!)

Here's one from Philip Strange (Science and Nature Writing) 
Love Bugs and Other Surprises at Bantham Beach in South Devon

Probably a Dor Beetle

*1 What are Hoverflies? - on the Microscopy Site
*2 Narcissus Bulb Fly - on the Pacific Bulb Society Site
* * *


ALL ABOUT HOVERFLIES - Including diagram of body parts. This is on the Microscopy site - which includes a 'POND LIFE IDENTIFICATION KIT'.
WHAT IS THAT INSECT? - On site of the Royal Entomological Society
BUG GUIDE.NET - Iowa State University Department of Entymology
NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY - DRAGISA SAVIC (Serbia) - Large collection of clear photographs with IDs - flora, fauna, fungi of the kind you may not find elsewhere. A good place for rusts and lichens. Take time for an eye-opening browse.
IAN BEAVIS ON FLICKR - Photo Gallery with IDs of insects, amphibians etc. . . 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016


Slim apple branch with unopened blossom with a snail on the underside of a leaf.
Snail on an apple tree twig.
Loose and Leafy is primarily for wild plants; street plants and plants of the hedgerows. (Insects too.) From time to time I visit an open-to-the-public kind of garden. Rarely do I show photos from an ordinary garden belonging to an ordinary house. I haven't for ages.

The centre of an apple blossom flower.
Blurry apple blossom
This afternoon, I was meant to be sitting outside, drinking tea, chatting, with music in the background. 

Music is difficult outside. You need it loud enough to appreciate but quiet enough not to bother neighbours. With a bit of fiddling around the sound was perfected . . . and it was all very pleasant.

Part of a bright green, scented geranium leaf, showing its veins.
This scented geranium leaf is not specially blurry but the light pointed it out.
But I can't sit long if there are things to see - even if I'm meant to be engaged in relaxed and friendly chatter. And this afternoon there was a special kind of atmosphere. A storm is brewing and it's taking a while to get to the break-out moment. Sometimes, before a storm, the atmosphere goes clear and everything, even at a distance - especially at a distance! - can be seen in more detail than usual.

Well, having built up your expectations . . . it wasn't that kind of light today. It was . . . not exactly hazy . . . but not quite as clear as it is most of the time either. And there were unaccountable little patches of brightness; a leaf here and another there which seemed to have been out to buy batteries and had turned on torches of their own.

Light shining through a new and upright hosta leaf.
Out-of-focus hosta leaf
So up I got, left the tea on the table . . . and pottered off to look at leaves . . . and things.

But, as I say, the light was odd.

I can't remember having posted out-of-focus-photos before. But this is what I'm doing here. I could pretend I was using some special technique or camera setting; but I wasn't. They just didn't come out right.

At the same time . . . by chance . . . they show what it was like this afternoon. Initially I chucked them aside. But I kept coming back to them. And I like them. There are different kinds of beauty.

(All photos in this post taken on the afternoon of May 17th 2016.)

Monday, 2 May 2016


Tiny, naked, pink, plastic doll on a tarmac path.
May Days are celebrations of . . . May  . . . and Spring (ish) . . . and manual labour.
Roman Catholic Readers may also be aware it's the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. A pretty good collection of celebrations!

For most of the day I was at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival. It was really, really sunny - but not too hot. (Perfect.) There were masses of people. (Good for the town.) But not so many one felt crowded. (Good for me!)

I bought a T-shirt with a plesiosaur skeleton on it. Took a look at fossils for sale in a tent. (Bought none. Very particularly I didn't buy the £2,000 crocodile head from Africa.) Drank a cup of coffee from a cafetiere and went to a lecture about pre-historic creatures of the Jurassic Coast.

Then content after a happy day - came home.

Sunny days at this time of year tend to end in misty evenings and it's an inadvertent tradition that I set out to take photographs for Loose and Leafy when it's dull, or rainy or otherwise not-a-good-moment for taking photographs. My last post was sprinkled with rain-drops. Ready for this one, light decided to fail early. (If you are unfamiliar with Dorset, you may find it hard to believe this is one of the hottest and sunniest parts of the UK!)

Well, anyway . . . out I went with my camera.

Red creature cropped from the plastic cherub photo.
 Trombidium holosericeum do you think?
(Velvet Mite)
Now the picture at the top of the post . . . you may find it a surprise here. Perhaps, you may think, this would have been more appropriate on my other blog - Message in a Milk Bottle. But if you examine it carefully you will find something very specially interesting - apart from finding a plastic cherub lying on the path. This little doll was very small - barely more than an inch from top to toe - but it showed up bright and pink against the black of tar. Unmissable.
Now do you see why it belongs here? At the bottom edge of the photo, towards the left hand edge, unbeknownst to me at the time, a tiny red creature had walked into frame. The red is extraordinary but I don't know what it is. Anyone?

Washing machine (or tumble drier?) in a ditch.
This next picture . . . I know it will get much blood boiling among readers. Even I, one usually more conscious of the photographic potential in things left lying around than its status as rubbish . . . even I don't like to see washing machines or tumble driers or whacking great bits of board in ditches. But it is fascinating, isn't it? That someone has gone to the trouble of trundling it to a place where cars don't go so they can tip it under a span of honeysuckle and hawthorn.

Plants hanging on at the edge of a tarmac path.
Next up on my walk . . . 
I tend to call all sorts of plants dandelions when they aren't. Here's one of them which might be . . . or might not be. I don't mean the groundsel (with the little yellow flower) but the one with the bigger leaves. You know how I'm fascinated by urban plants? This is not one, despite the path. Behind me is the sea. Ahead you can see the blur of Alexanders. This is an urban-wannabe.

Silhouette of a sycamore bud with a little bit of colour showing.
Here's another thing you will have gathered over the years - that I get to like particular trees and photograph them over and over - even if, like this one - it's impossible to photograph them other than against the light. I've watched a bud from this tree morph into a summer leaf and into autumn. And its seeds ripen. Here we go again - yet more silhouettes on this friendly sycamore.

Newly opened sycamore leaves with flowers.
If you are a long-time reader, you will be familiar with these kind of posts. If you are new to Loose and Leafy, perhaps I should assure you I sometimes take photos of pretty flowers in bright sunlight. In summer there will be butterflies and hoverflies and . . . and . . . things like that. And come autumn there will be hips and haws and blackberries. 

And I've noticed, over time, that despite the ordinariness of what I show you here - I've never yet found anything rare - Loose and Leafy has an indefinable yet specific identity. I reckon if I were to take its name away from the header, and that you found yourself here by chance, you'd know in a trice you'd landed on the Loose and Leafy blog. (Don't you agree?)