Green bug, yellow flower

Arctotheca calendula flower
Arctotheca calendula flower

I was fascinated by the individual variation of this flower and took a series of photographs of different flower heads which I thought might make an interesting collage! But when I started to look closely at the images, I noticed that there was the same green bug in many of the flowers.

Green mirid on Arctotheca calendula flower
Green mirid on Arctotheca calendula flower

Arctotheca calendula is a flowering aster known as cape weed, cape dandelion or cape marigold; it is an invasive species in Europe – originating from South Africa – which I wrote about in a previous blog (1). The bug is a mirid or capsid bug (Family: Miridae).

Green mirid on Arctotheca calendula flower
Green mirid on Arctotheca calendula flower

I am not certain what species the bug is, but it looks a lot like the Potato Capsid, Closterotomus norwegicus, which is known to like to feed on flowers in the Family Compositae, which this is. It is sometimes a minor pest of cultivated chrysanthemum crops. But there are a number of green mirid bug species which look fairly similar. One characteristic feature of this species however, is a pair of black dots on the pronotum, which can clearly be seen on the bugs in these photos.

Green mirid on Arctotheca calendula flower
Green mirid on Arctotheca calendula flower

It’s interesting in a way that both bug and flower are both somewhat of a pest! The insect can damage fruit crops, and this flowering plant can exclude native species, as I wrote about before (1). So perhaps the bug is trying to make amends for eating our fruits by attacking this invasive weed! In reality it is not having much effect as the yellow flowers are everywhere in Spring in Galicia, and for the most part, much admired!

In one flower, there was an ant and what appears to be a late instar nymph of the mirid bug. Clearly they like this flower and their colours are analogous! I.e. yellow and green sit side by side on the colour wheel, so they make a nice match.

 Green mirid and ant on Arctotheca calendula flower

Green mirid and ant on Arctotheca calendula flower

This capsid bug, Closterotomus norvegicus, which is native to Europe, has itself been spread around the world and is considered as non indigenous, or an invasive alien, in New Zealand. It is an association which is a good example of how mixed up our world has become. Maybe it’s not all bad?!

All of these photographs were taken in Galicia, Spain, using a pocket camera, which explains why some images are not perfectly in focus!

1. https://rcannon992.com/2015/05/21/seaside-flowers-the-good-the-bad-and-the-invasive/

Sea Spurge

Sea SpurgeIn the Spring, they produce their remarkable receptacle-like flowers, which in close-up look to me like some sort of decoration for a miniature Christmas tree! The cup-shaped flower heads consist of a female flower – which is surrounded by male flowers (reduced to stamen) and four, crescent-shaped glands (known as involucre) which contain nectar, to attract pollinators. Ants are particularly attracted. A capsule-like fruit is produced, which contains just three large, resistant seeds, which reportedly can float in sea water and remain viable for several years.

Sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias)

Sea Spurge

Sea Spurge (Euphorbia paralias) 'flowers'
Sea Spurge (Euphorbia paralias) ‘flowers’

Sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias) is a common plant on dunes and sandy beaches, from the British Isles down to the Mediterranean. The stems are slightly fleshy and glaucous – nice word – meaning bluish-grey or green. They do however, turn a reddish colour with age, giving a pleasing two-tone effect which contrasts attractively with the sand, through which they grow each year from a deep tap-root.

Sea Spurge (Euphorbia paralias) with reddish stems at base
Sea Spurge (Euphorbia paralias) with reddish stems at base

In the Spring, they produce their remarkable receptacle-like flowers, which in close-up look to me like some sort of decoration for a miniature Christmas tree!  The cup-shaped flower heads (see below) consist of a female flower – which is surrounded by male flowers (reduced to stamen) and four, crescent-shaped glands (known as involucre) which contain nectar, to attract pollinators. Ants are particularly attracted. A capsule-like fruit is produced, which contains just three large, resistant seeds, which reportedly can float in sea water and remain viable for several years (1).

 Sea Spurge (Euphorbia paralias) 'flowers' close up

Sea Spurge (Euphorbia paralias) ‘flowers’ close up

The plant can grow to about 70 cm, consisting of multiple stems, which each divide into about 3-5 flowering branches near their tips. See if you can spot the ant on this plant (below)!

Sea Spurge (Euphorbia paralias) flowering in late April in Spain
Sea Spurge (Euphorbia paralias) flowering in late April in Spain

Sea spurge has become an invasive weed in Australia, crowding out native Aussie flora apparently (2). A lot more could be written about this plant, particularly concerning the constituents of its milky sap, or latex, which is toxic – the plant’s way of defending itself – but contains an array of chemicals (diterpenes) with interesting properties.

All of these photographs were taken in Galicia, Spain.

1. http://www.flowersofchania.com/html/euphorbia_paralias.html

2. http://dpipwe.tas.gov.au/Documents/DPIPWE-Sea-Spurge-Guidelines.pdf

 

Selecting from Nature’s patterns

Shells on the tide line

Selecting from Nature’s patternsWalking along a tide line, we might select in our camera lens certain features, patterns or accumulations as our fancy dictates. What drives this selection is a certain aesthetic, but what determines a given selection – a quick glance and then a largely unconscious choice looking through a viewfinder – is a matter of taste, and is probably not worth thinking about too deeply.

Galician ponies: an ancient breed adapted to life on the hills

Very young foal (Galician pony)

It’s hard not to be impressed by the natural, semi-wild lives these animals live in a beautiful countryside. Idyllic when the sun is shining in early June – as in the following sequence – but no doubt a different matter during the cold, wet winters. Nevertheless, they are perfectly suited to this climate, having lived here for thousands of years. They are a living legacy.

via Galician ponies: an ancient breed adapted to life on the hills.

Water pipits like watercress!

Water pipit (Anthus spinoletta spinoletta) Galicia, Spain

Water pipits are strange creatures, in that some of them move north for winter! But places like England and Wales are still presumably warmer in winter than high up a mountain in northern Spain (where they breed). In one location in north Wales, they were observed to favour watercress beds! In other places they were found on sewage farms. (2) They feed on insects and snails which presumably can be obtained throughout the winter in wet places such as this.

via Water pipits like watercress!.

Water pipits like watercress!

Water pipit (Anthus spinoletta spinoletta) Galicia, Spain
Water pipit (Anthus spinoletta spinoletta) Galicia, Spain

I came across some Water pipits (Anthus spinoletta spinoletta) on Serra de Capelada, a mountain near the coast in the north of Galicia, near Cape Ortegal, the second most northerly point in Spain. The mountain rises up to 620 metres before falling steeply into the sea. The birds were nesting on pasture grazed by cows and horses, below the high point at an altitude of about 550-600m a.s.l. The site is covered by cloud in the following photograph.

 Serra da Capelada (Galicia, Spain) in cloud

Serra da Capelada (Galicia, Spain) in cloud

This location is relatively low for Water pipits, who are typically a species of high mountain pastures. Most nest very high up, between 1,400 – 2,600m a.s.l., or even higher in the Pyrenees (1). There are said to be between 16,000 to 32,000 pairs of these birds in Spain, and about 2,000 to 3,000 in Portugal (1). So, not a very common species.

Water pipit (Anthus spinoletta spinoletta) Galicia, Spain
Water pipit (Anthus spinoletta spinoletta) Galicia, Spain

I managed to get some shots of the birds from the car, as they perched on fence posts running along beside the road, although they were still quite flighty. It was a new species for me. The ash-grey head and nape is clear in this shot (below) of one looking down.

 Water pipit (Anthus spinoletta spinoletta) Galicia, Spain

Water pipit (Anthus spinoletta spinoletta) Galicia, Spain

They are strange creatures, in that some of them move north for winter! But places like England and Wales are still presumably warmer in winter than high up a mountain in northern Spain. In one location in north Wales, they were observed to favour watercress beds! In other places they were found on sewage farms. (2) They feed on insects and snails which presumably can be obtained throughout the winter in places like this.

1. Eduardo de Juana & Ernest Garcia (2015).  The Birds of the Iberian Peninsula. Christopher Helm, London. ISBN Number: 978-1-40812-480-2

2. Johnson, I. G. “The Water Pipit as a winter visitor to the British Isles.” Bird Study 17.4 (1970): 297-319.

Dartford warblers in Galicia

Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) late May , Galicia, Spain
Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) with red orbital ring and orange iris, late May, Galicia, Spain

Unlike the UK, where there are only a few thousand pairs of Dartford Warblers – mainly in southern England (1) – this species is quite common on the Iberian peninsula, albeit locally. There are may be as many as 3 million pairs in Spain, and 100,000 in Portugal, although worryingly, overall populations have declined significantly  in recent years (1998-2012) (2). This species also occurs in France, Italy and north Africa, but its stronghold is in Spain, where it typical occurs in low scrub land (<1.5 m tall) composed of plants species such as Ulex, Erica, Rosmarinus, Genista, Cistus and Quercus coccifera (3). For me, it is typical of gorse heaths near the coast in Galicia.

Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) late May , Galicia, Spain
Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) late May , Galicia, Spain

There are three subspecies of Dartford Warbler, and all occur on the Iberian Peninsula (4). The so-called nominate race – Sylvia undata undata – is a common resident in most of mainland Spain, but it is joined in coastal northern and northwest Spain by both residents and migrants of the race found in Britain and France: Sylvia undata dartfordiensis. The more northern S. u. dartfordiensis birds and browner above (on the mantle and scapulars) and a deeper red-brown below, than their southern cousins which are solid grey above (4). Identification problems can arise however, because in reality there is a north-south cline (or gradient) in terms of the birds plumage; in other words they grade into each other. According to the authoritative Helm guide, ‘there is insufficient material [meaning collected specimens in museums which can be examined] to draw firm conclusions concerning populations …in NW Spain”. Additionally, because of the harsh conditions along the Atlantic coast – which can result in local extinctions – recolonization can may be by birds from different locations, producing ‘a mixture of plumage characteristics’ (4).

Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) late May, Galicia, Spain
Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) late May, Galicia, Spain

So what are the birds here then? There were all from the same area, on or close to a headland in northern Galicia called Punta Corveira – between the towns of Cedeira and Valdoviño. To be honest I am not sure. In some photographs (e.g. above) the birds do appear to have faint, brownish suffusion of colour to the grey upper parts, but whether this is enough to classify them as S. u. dartfordiensis birds, I don’t know. Perhaps someone can comment?

 Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) male with crown, late May

Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) male with crown, late May

Anyway, whatever they are, I like them! I like the way Dartford Warblers pop up for a few seconds, scan the horizon, give a short song, and then disappear again. I like the way they perch and posture! I love their colouration; so stylish: grey and wine red with a polka-dot cravat! What goes on down below in the shrubbery! Mating, nesting and foraging presumably. But we never see this hidden warbler world!

Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) female? looking at the camera, late May, Galicia
Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) female? looking at the camera, late May, Galicia

Finally, the name is a bit daft given that – as far as I am aware – there are no longer any of these birds in Dartford! Perhaps we should call them by their Spanish name, since most of them are Spanish! Curruca rabilarga.

1. Wotton, Simon, et al. “The status of the Dartford Warbler in the UK and the Channel Islands in 2006.” British Birds 102.5 (2009): 230.

2. Eduardo de Juana & Ernest Garcia (2015).  The Birds of the Iberian Peninsula. Christopher Helm, London. ISBN Number: 978-1-40812-480-2

3. del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Christie, D. 2006. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 11: Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain

4. Shirihai, Hadoram, Gabriel Gargallo, and Andreas J. Helbig. Sylvia warblers: identification, taxonomy and phylogeny of the genus Sylvia. A&C Black, 2001.