Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Visitors, Pupae and leafcutter Ants.

Wednesday 18th January

Back with Mum and Dad for a few days, time to catch my breath as things are so busy at the moment. What with working at the Butterfly farm, proof reading the first of my hopefully soon to be published books about the Biking Birding years and sorting out all the various projects, things have been thankfully hectic. I would have it no other way. I love life!

Saturday at the Butterfly Farm entailed gluing carefully dozens of butterfly pupae to sticks to be placed in the hatchery. The amazing tactics of the pupae to stay hidden from predators when in their natural habitat is shown in the beautiful colours and deceptions.

Some, like Morho peleides, the Blue Morpho, have pupae that look like unopen flower buds. The pupae of Caligo memnos, the Giant Owl Butterfly, is a perfect dead leaf, if rather a plump one!

Raindrops keep falling on my head, the metallic gold of Tithrea harmonia, the Harmonia Tiger Wing, is stunning. A small pupae that glistens with pure gold.
Then there is the 'don't touch me – I don't taste good' pupae, such as the spiky, dark brown pupae of Hypolimnas bolina, the Eggfly Butterfly.
Green pupae, yellow pupae, so many colours and sizes yet all a miracle of packaging containing the soup that will become the adult, imago butterfly.
Showing these to the many visitors that came through the doors was such great fun that I was there for seven hours. Coffee brought to me went undrunk and I refused all offers of taking a break.

There were also large cocoons of the Giant Atlas moth, Attacus atlas, to show with three adult moths hanging nearby on the two bushes kept for that purpose in the Discovery room.
I know I overuse the word but the privilege of hearing from such diverse people, one a professional singer, with their stories, likes and dislikes; listening to their questions and answering if I could (no, a proboscis doesn't suck blood!) and seeing the excited faces on so many children when a pupae wriggled or they held the Giant Atlas moth cocoon and felt the large pupae inside, is truly wonderful.

Monday was pupae arrival day, 20,000 from around the World, so there's the all hands to the pump, sorting, counting and checking day.
Orders to be made and packaged to send pupae off to customers in Portugal, Italy, Czech Republic and further. 

Feeding Colin the blue-tongued skink is easy as he takes prawn and small pieces of fish, trying to feed the Peruvuan iguanas and the chameleon is less successful. they don't want any food. 

Tuesday, spiders and cockroaches, crickets and leafcutter ants; find the first three and persuade them to relocate and clean out and provide leaves for the latter. Madagascan hissing cockroaches have escaped and whilst removing spiders webs in the main flight area, I find a few and put them back in their house in the Minibeast Metropolis. 

John shows me how to carefully take the denuded privet twigs out without the ants biting. Once new material is placed in the tank, the speed in which the ants cut the leaves is incredible. There are ants carrying within minutes. There is a long rope dangling from the ceiling from the leaf tank to the nest tank. It is 15 metres long.

One visitor wants to know what the equivalent distance would be for humans. So imagine an ant two metres long, this would make the rope six kilometres long! The ants take around fifteen minutes to get from one end to the other. Twenty four kilometres an hour, speedy little things.

OK, all figures are all approximates but one can only marvel at the work ethic of the female ants. Yes, all of the worker ants are female.

Of course I take photographs of the butterflies and moths!

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Another Fabulous Day.

Wednesday 11th January 2017 A Great Life

Another day at Stratford Upon Avon Butterfly Farm, meeting Pat at the door, a feisty Brummie young at heart and lovely. Logged in, Tess, a young girl from Bremen, Germany over here to work, shows me where the equipment I will need today is and I am off into the Flight Area. Bucket, dustpan and brush, bottle containing 10% sugar water and a pipette in hand, the day is spent removing cobwebs, picking up dead leaves, removing spiders and the occasional cockroach. 

Butterflies abound, the weather outside is sunnier than Monday so butterflies are flying.

Of course there is the interaction between volunteer and visitors that is so enjoyable and a school party of superbly well school children from Birmingham come through. Of the thirty or so youngsters three are scared of the butterflies. Today there are literally hundreds of them flying around, butterflies not children. One the scared threesome seems to be pretending whilst giggling most of the time as she ducks. Another child is clinging onto her teacher tightly but the last child is crying. I see them all again later as Adam is showing them around and all are settles and fascinated.

Going around the platforms of artificial flower feeders, filling the small tubes with the pseudo nectar shows how quickly the butterflies empty them. 

Watching them as they feed on both these platforms and on cut fruit put out is fascinating, proboscis unfurled. With the fruit they show a definite preference for the oranges and grapes. The apple segments are ignored.

The two large green Peruvian iguanas are in a bush looking down on everyone who pass beneath.

Harriet is lining butterfly pupae along hanging sticks ready to go into the pupation chamber. The colours and shapes of these incredible packages of reincarnation are so beautiful. Many are spangled with metallic silver and gold.

Tess is holding a giant millipede to show it to some visitors and I get t hold the beautiful creature; a Mexican wave of leg movement as it crawls over my hands.

A train ride to Birmingham and a phone call from George Gay, the acting-assistant warden at North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory. George is part of our team, SpokesFolks, that is competing at the Champions of The Flyways (COTF) event in Eilat, Israel in March and is phoning about a well known birding optics company being prepared to sponsor us! 

George is talking excitedly about it all when a gentleman stops by me, looks at me quizzically and then mouths, “Gary?” Ivan, for it is he, knows of my Biking Birder adventures, explains who he is and passes over a donation for the charities. Ivan is a fossil fish professor at Birmingham University and what a fantastic man to be so kind.

from the left : Jason, Adam, Steve and Steve, Oracle Phil, Jules and I

I am on the way to a curry night with fellow Midland Birders and a train to Blake Street, north of Birmingham sees me picked up by The Oracle, Phil Andrews and driven to the restaurant.

An evening of uplifting frolic and cavortment with birding exploits and memories, character assassination and food.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

A New Life . . 2017 Part One Stratford Upon Avon Butterfly Farm

Well, The Biking Birder 2016 adventure might be over but the life of a passionate nature lover will not allow one to sit and reflect. On to new things with Foreign travel to Israel, France and Peru to look forward to this year, as well as returns to North Ronaldsay and Fair Isle.

For the next few weeks I will be working as a volunteer at The Stratford Upon Avon Butterfly Farm, UK.

Tuesday 10th January 2017 A New Life . .

The short cycle ride from Stratford Upon Avon Youth Hostel, my new abode for a while, to The largest Butterfly Farm in Britain, The Stratford Upon Avon Butterfly farm.

Met inside by Dan and Mark, after being taken on the tour of the whole site with a clipboard tick sheet for all of the Health & Safety advice, I am left to my own devices to explore and observe my favourite creatures, butterflies.
Five hours spent in the two main sections, the Flight Area and The Discovery Zone.

The Flight Area

With a pleasantly warm temperature of 26C to relax in, butterflies everywhere, how could one not enjoy it? 

Blue and White Morphos, Great Owl butterflies and Tree Nymphs were the most obvious butterflies with Giant Orange Tips, Common Mormons, Malachites, Scarlet Peacock and Zebra Mosaics, all seen and photographs attempted mostly using flash due to the dull day outside.

Tropical plants abound, streams gush down into the largest of the pools and a pair of parakeets chase each other around noisily. They respond to pishing which is a surprise. Mousebirds and quail are here too.

Two Peruvian Green Iguanas are found, one crawling around feet, the other, the larger male is sitting on a large ventilation pipe. A large cockroach, definitely not English, is on some of the stonework.

Mayan theme to the area due to the Butterfly Farm's links with a Mayan area of Belize, there are large reproduction Mayan statues around every corner. More on this on a later date.

The Discovery Zone

The zone contains foodplants, dozens of large cocoons festoon bare branches with huge Atlas Moths emerging from a few. A couple of Oleander Hawkmoths have also emerged and their cryptic colours are superb.

How to grow avocado seeds using a plastic bottle. Must have a go.
The pupae cabinet is a bit bare but with a shipment of 15-20,000 arriving today, it will soon be full.
Caterpillars and eggs to be found if one looks hard enough. Plenty to find and see despite this being the quiet time of the year.

Back to the Youth Hostel with panniers full of shopping. A complete change of diet with no more cake, biscuits or sweets. Instead plenty of fruit, vegetables especially greens, oats, fish, seeds, beans and pulses. My only indulgence from my past diet, coffee. I will limit this to one cup in the morning.

Back to the Butterfly farm on Wednesday. How fabulous to get up knowing that it will be another wonderful day.