The Harsher Side of Nature

We are both a little snowed under with digital images at the moment. One week after returning from a seven week trip around France, we went to a friend’s wedding and banged off several hundred more photos. Consequently, it is taking us a while to filter out the rubbish. However, while Carol works on a wedding album, I am making some progress on our French web album.

With both of us clicking away at critters large and small, some of my progress requires the use of iSpot of which I have become a HUGE fan. We don’t always know precisely what we’ve captured on pixels and wouldn’t want to misreport what we’ve seen. The wonderful folks at iSpot usually clear things up and frequently give more information than is found in our field guides, so another big thank you to them.

As keen as we both are on nature, we do, of course, recognize that it isn’t always pretty. This last trip seemed to produce a larger than usual bag of somewhat macabre sights that we were “privileged” to witness. Of course, for the most part these situations are just nature taking its course with one subsection, the predators, trying to live of another subsection, the prey.

IMG_5896_Black_Kite The first instance provides an opportunity to use a picture that is interesting enough but, perhaps, not quite good enough for a trip web album, largely because the subject was too distant, even for TheBeast, and going away (now there’s a surprise). A black kite swooped down on our favourite camp site lake, the sheep farm at Fanjeaux, and is clearly flying off with some hapless victim in its talons. You can see the head down examining its catch. The lake is teeming with thousands of frogs but there are also fish, as we shall shortly see.

IMG_6927_Spider_butterfly Continuing in the less-disturbing vein, on one of farmer Luc’s walks, while I was off chasing very active butterfly prey harmlessly with pixels, Carol spotted a relatively small spider apparently tucking into a butterfly, more specifically a Clouded Yellow. I have no idea what species the spider could be but I may try iSpot to see if the good folks there can enlighten me. Being a fan of butterflies, it isn’t my favourite image but the spider is just doing what comes naturally. Last year we saw a very large Garden Spider tucking into my other favourite, a damselfly.

IMG_7270_Snake IMG_6278_Snake Now the feint-hearted should, perhaps, look away. In addition to literally thousands of frogs and some fish, our lake (we get very possessive about it) contained at least one water snake. One day we spotted it swimming along with a fish (a perch, I believe) in its mouth. It seemed to be having trouble with the size of its “prey item”. It struggled about over some weed but eventually left the lifeless fish alone, uneaten. What a waste! A day or so later, while stalking dragonflies and damselflies by la digue (the dyke) that retains the lake, we spotted a snake, perhaps the same one, tackling a humongous tadpole. These tadpoles were the Goliaths of tadpoles, being at least 3 ins/9 cms long with v. large heads. Those with a strong enough stomach may be able to see that the poor tadpole, still alive, has a fair sized hole in the top of its head and quite a bit of skin missing. Once again, the snake seemed to give up on its over-sized prey and left it to die a slow death.

IMG_5949_Coot_brutalityFinally to something a little different. This has nothing to do with making a living; it just seemed to be parent brutality. The lake was home to a number of breeding waterfowl, amongst them a family of Coots with seven chicks. After watching them for a week or so we noticed one parent biting the head of one of its chicks, for no readily apparent reason. It happened several times. I assume that it was the same chick but I have no evidence to that effect. I used iSpot and was told that this behaviour is not uncommon with Coots and that they will occasionally pick on a chick until it stops following them around and, presumably, perishes. One comment from iSpot was, “it’s hard to like Coots”. I know what they mean. Maybe this has something to do with clutch size? We don’t know. Both parents were otherwise very attentive and tireless feeders of their brood. Peculiar!

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