Were you scared too?

I know I should be happy – and believe me, I am – about the fact that in less than two months we are having a family expansion.

But can someone please tell me that it’s perfectly normal to be scared shitless?

Before the birth of our first, I was happy too. I had just finished my doctoral thesis. The baby was about to pop out. We prepared everything we could (well except the name, but you have to believe me that that was an exception). Life was pretty good. I wasn’t even that nervous about what was ahead. I just felt ready at the time.

Nothing had prepared me for what was about to come. A parenting tsunami of epic proportions. A wave that was not only giving, but also taking, a lot of our energy. Perhaps we were doing it wrong. We decided to move to another country with a three month-old baby. At the same time I was still rounding up my PhD and starting a postdoc position that – well – may have been better suited to someone with more experience, at least at that time. It was a rough start, and in all of that, Heike and I had only each other to rely on. They say it takes a village to raise a child. We didn’t have a village. To be honest, we didn’t even really have friends close by to share it with. We were all alone. Now Rafa really wasn’t the best sleeper. (But I have not seen the worst!) He never slept a full night until he was 18 months or so, and even now, he rarely does so. He would often wake up at night three times or more. At some point, my brain just gave up on sleep, resulting in the most horrible bouts of insomnia that sucked the life out of my mental well-being. As a result, I just wasn’t functioning in the way that I expect of myself. And for this, I have felt a lot of guilt. I have learned the hard way that I always took for granted that I was an excellent sleeper. I know now that I need my sleep. Good sleep is not a given, it’s a privilege. My wife was a bloody champion through all of this. I at many times felt like a hopeless pile of horse crap. At present, I have recovered in many ways. I now just feel like a hopeless pile – and that’s okay, this is just something I need to learn to accept.

What scares me in all of this, is that Rafa was not really much of an exception. He’s pretty average in terms of sleeping, and to be honest, with everything else he is super easy. Chances are that the second kiddo will not sleep any better, or be easy in any of the other aspects. I know I will again be losing a lot of sleep. I know, this is by choice. Of course we considered all these things in our decision to have a second child. We now have a much more stable position, including a permanent roof, some friends and neighbors to rely on, and a more established spot in our new home country. We should be in a much better position to handle this. I am happy, and excited and curious to get to know our new family member. Nevertheless, now that count-down is starting, it is starting to scare me. I can smell the horse crap also coming closer, and I don’t like the stench.

How do other parents of several look so energetic and awesome? Do you also feel like hopeless piles of horse crap? Have you grown accustomed to sleeping shitty nights? Were you scared? How the hell did you handle this pandemic?

Chefs versus druglords

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

It is – almost without exception – the first thing people ask me after I tell them we are expecting another child. How is that important? Even if I would know (I don’t), it would be none of anyone else’s business, so I wouldn’t share it. But everyone is so incredibly obsessed with it. Especially family. My mother was reading all the bodily signs like some kind of wicked voodoo witch. Belly shape, kicking behaviour, the amount of nausea in the first months, the way Heike walked, hell she probably just sensed the aura. Whatever she did, all signs were clear. This was clearly going to be a girl. My mother, by the way, was not the only one who claimed this. Only two out of many people guessed it right. The first was my brother, for the simple fact that he would say anything that disagrees with my mother. He just got lucky. The second, I think, also just guessed it, although he claims to know these kinds of things. I’m not sure what to believe, but at least he had it right. Not that I believed him for a second. Heike and I both believed firmly that the crowd was right. Our gut feeling also told us – this was going to be our girl.

When Rafa was born, this was quite an interesting scene. We did not really know what it would be. We chose to keep it a surprise. But since we basically knew for a fact that it was going to be a girl – and maybe because Rafa came ten days early – we had only made a firm decision about a girl’s name. The jury was still out on the boy’s name. I was personally pretty convinced by the name. Rafa is a cool name (and don’t you fucking dare say otherwise!). We hated all names in all the baby name websites, and were getting increasingly annoyed about it. We had to get inspiration elsewhere. We were at the time also binge-watching Narcos on Netflix, where some loco cartel boss’s name was Rafa. Not exactly the type you want to name your child after, but I thought the actor was pretty charismatic, and I still think Rafa is a pretty cool name. You can probably guess why Heike was not so sure about it. More or less in the same time span, we were also binge-watching another Netflix show, this time one on cooking, called The Final Table. We enjoyed watching that show, and one of the finalist cooking duos was Rafa and Ezra. This naming combination just sounds good, even though one of them was probably also named after some drug lord. They were also charismatic and friendly guys. These were more examplary for naming a child – maybe. This show was fun to watch, and luckily also gave Heike another source of inspiration than a Netflix series based on Mexican cartels. Who cared anyway. We expected a girl. So we never spoke of it again.

We were in fact really so convinced that it was going to be a girl that we did not take the ‘formal’ decision on a boy’s name until the very last minute*. The whole birth process took about twenty hours, and during this time, not once did we evaluate the chosen names. Our baby was born, naked, nameless, but with his boy parts firmly present in the nether region. How was this possible? Ah well, who cares. We didn’t. We were equally happy with our little boy worm! But it was there and then, in the middle of the night, 00:54 on the 15th of July, that the question was finally presented to us, and reality kicked in.

“It’s a boy. What’s his name?”

I kept my mouth wisely shut. There was a moment of silence.

“Rafa”, she said, after a clear moment of quiet contemplation.

I’m not sure what our son was named after, but it feels good to have both backup stories, depending on who asks…**

———————————————————————————————————
*We’re much better prepared this time… (and no, it’s not Ezra or some other drug lord)
**The number one question we’re asked after “What’s his name?” is “Oh… eh. From Raphael?” (What a stupid thing to ask. We have just told you the name is Rafa.) Now we all know where it may come from.

I almost thought I had lost her

Relationships come and go. I have experienced this over the past few years all too clearly. I have ‘lost’ friendships over the past decade that I thought I would never lose. Friends I spoke to and saw every day less than a decade ago now don’t even know I have a kid, and even have a second one in late-larval developmental stage. I guess people make very untrustworthy friends. (There is no blame here – I am as much a useless friend as the other side of the equation(s). This pandemic is not doing my friend role in extant friendships much good either)

From a very early age I sought friendships elsewhere. Being quite heavily bullied for being different in primary school, I didn’t have many ‘human friends’ at the time. I guess I had to find an alternative, and I connected much more strongly than most with other things, such as nature. Particularly, reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants have always had a special place in my heart, and I have cared for many over the past 25+ years. I have also had two felines that have been with me for quite some time. There used to be one (since 2007), but one turned into five (in 2009), and even though I got rid of the surplus, one of the babies ended back up – via an impressive series of irresponsible ownerships – in my student house years later (in 2012). This one was – quite honestly – simply left behind by its official owner when they moved out (in 2013). I somehow felt responsible, and promised never to let them go. They seem alive and well. I think they both have most of their nine lives left (although the mother once jumped from a third story window, which must have cost her at least one). I digress, I didn’t really want to write about cats.

This story is more about the unexpected bond I appear to have with plants. I have always had many plants. At some point in my student times, I had a twelve square meter room and shared it with around 20 snakes (at the time already drastically reduced from 150 or so), 50 tarantulas (and another 25 or so other arthropods – not counting the hissing cockroach colony), and probably 200 or so plants. It is quite amazing – really – how I managed to stuff all of this, and a bed and a closet, in one room. I was always germinating something and the windowsills were always filled with all kinds of plants.

Just one of many trays with seedlings. I think these were Musella lasiocarpa
I even had a couple of Welwitschia mirabilis – These dudes are notoriously difficult to grow (mature plants grow along the Namibian coastal deserts and take up water from fogs rolling in from sea, and this is tough to replicate). Although I managed to keep some alive for six months or so, I eventually killed them. It’s still on my wish list of things to do right…

Like human friendships, most plants also come and go. I often gave away plants. Although I have also worked professionally with plants for 20+ years, some also died under my watch. (I suck at amateur pest control…) However, one, the first one I bought when I moved out of my parental house, is still with me. It’s a Monstera deliciosa, better known as a Swiss cheese plant. I bought this one, I think, in 2007, as a two or three-leaf plant. It was tiny. Over the years it grew and grew and grew. It became a monster that deserved its scientific name. It has moved house with me nine times (that includes a five-month stayover with parents-in-law when Heike and I were traveling in Southeast Asia in 2013). During most of this time, this plant looked amazing. The worst thing that ever happened to her was that she got a little dusty. She has always been pretty much spotless otherwise.

Imagine that this was one of the better-looking leaves… It looked grim!

I don’t know what got to her when we moved to Germany. I mean, I know I was pretty overwhelmed and shocked myself when I just got here, which lasted more or less a year. It seemed that my plants felt my stress, or at least something bugged them too. I have lost several other nice plants that had been with me for years, and many still struggle now. To be honest, I still don’t fully understand what happened. Was it because the water had different minerals? I have moved places before, and all of my plants have had worse light or nutrient conditions without a doubt. For sure something stressed them out a lot, and they became vulnerable and attracted many pest insects. I repeat – I suck at pest control. Maybe because the pests also have a special place in my heart. My Monstera, my oldest green friend, the one that had always stood strong, survived the worst of light conditions, the coldest winters in poorly insulated student rooms, it was dying on me. I’m alright with some plants dying on me. But this one? It was different. I really felt horrible about it. Last summer, the plant looked terrible. The leaves had gone dull, greyish-green, and brown-edged, and although this champion never had any pests, ever, it now was feasted on by thrips (a lot of typical thrips damage, too). It looked bad. Really bad.

I almost gave up on her. Late last autumn I decided to give it one last chance. I trimmed it back by quite a bit, keeping only the leaves that seemed to be able to provide some photosynthetic energy. I think I removed about two-third of them (and she was still pretty large). I don’t use pesticides, but I washed her leaves under the shower several times to remove any present pests, until I no longer found them (thrips are not that fond of water). I prayed to the plant gods to stay by her side.

For the next few months, nothing happened. This was to be expected. My plan was to reduce bad parts, reduce pests, so that she would somehow survice winter, and hope for the best in spring, when she traditionally popped out leaves like a maniac. In February, she started producing ‘eyes’, where new leaves bud out eventually. A month later, she had developed several leaves, but all looked deformed. All new buds had issues unrolling their new leaves, and looked horrible. Luckily, all the leaves after looked pristine. She developed about fifteen to twenty new leaves, and the latest ones look amazing! I think she’s back!

Look at them new leaves smiling and shit :D. I think she’ll hang around for a couple more years!

I never expected that I could care so much about a plant, but I am very happy that I managed to save this ‘friendship’ :).

At least we saw some pretty bugs

Look, a tower crane…

Today we’re in the horribly named Gungoldinger Wacholderheide. I bumped into this nature conservation area about an hour north from here recently, while I was checking out a list of nature conservation areas in Bavaria. I’ve noticed that although agriculture dominates everything here, the nature conservation areas are generally quite worthy of visitation. This specific area is a sandy loamy heathland slope with rocky outcrops, and it borders the Altmühl river. Supposedly it has a good plant diversity. (Conveniently, this area has good facilities for camper folk, although admittedly, most camper people here are 20-30 years our seniors)

Once seen, it cannot be unseen…
Help? Edit: Steven de Goede came to rescue here – this is white swallow-wort (Vincetoxicum hirundaria) a poisonous plant that is rather rare in my home country.

Aside from a few common flowers that I had already mostly spotted in the Garchinger Heide last week (including the Helianthemum nummularium that I will of course never forget), there was little new to be seen, but I think the peak for plants this area may be in a few weeks from now. We did see some pretty insects.

Always good to see the dozens of insects that are attracted by umbellifers, in this case cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris).
A pretty reduviid bug
A restless ant queen, looking for a mate or a place to start a colony

I admit, I was a bit disappointed about the plant diversity here. Maybe I didn’t explore enough… The area does have beautiful views over the valley. I convinced Rafa to sit with me on the ledge and enjoy it for a while (well he convinced me, really. I have fear of heights, but had to look like a cool dad somehow). My boy was mostly interested in cranes, motorcycles and farmers passing by on loud tractors. From these heights we could see one farmer mow and destroy all his agricultural borders along a plot within the protected area. I didn’t understand the particular need for this, but I’m a dumb ecologist, what do I know…

They said take it slow

I think I deserve a short post today. I have just collected my second dose of BioNtech/Pfizer at the end of this afternoon. The doctor told me to take it slow, as the second shot often gives a bigger blow. No alcohol, no sports, sleep well, drink a lot of water. So far, so good. Only a sore arm, and – like with the first shot – some light fuzziness in the thinking chamber that my therapist insists is probably just induced by anxiety. After today’s shot, they asked me to wait for 15 minutes in a small room with about ten other people. It wasn’t really clear to me why, and no one told me. I sheepishly followed orders – as did everyone else. Maybe they hoped to catch the immediate allergic responses? Not sure.

Anyway. Not too much writing today. They told me take it slow.

Tonight I’ll celebrate my developing immunity to SARS-CoV-2 by relaxing a bit and starting a new book from the to-read-list. I just finished “Charles Darwin’s barnacle and David Bowie’s spider“. (What a pleasant read!) This book is entirely centered around scientific species names (and especially those of the eponymous kind). I’m a nerd for species names and have had some kind of obsession with them for as long as I can remember, and was happy to read that there are others that seem to suffer from the same obsession. So I found it fascinating to read the stories behind some of them. However, I think this book is written in such an accessible way that anyone with a bit of passion for nature and history will find value in reading it. Given that there are probably enough species names left to fill another book, I am certainly hoping for a Volume 2. Completely coincidentally, my friend and former colleague Ana from I focus and write has organized a free masterclass next Thursday with the author, Stephen B Heard, scientist blogger (or blogger scientist?) at Scientist sees Squirrel, who has also authored a book on scientific writing, and of course the many scientific papers that must have formed the basis for the book on this expertise. You can still sign up on Ana’s website (linked above). I will be there for sure.

Have a great (slow) weekend!

Garchinger Heide revisited

Today’s some weird holiday in Bavaria. Frohleichnam? No clue what it is, but I exploit it, of course. This morning – as planned since the weekend – I went to visit the local Garchinger Heide again (remember, from this post). When I visited it last time, it was mostly barren, and only some early-flowering gems were out. Now, about 6 weeks later, there was a lot going on, although I would say that it is still not high in terms of standing biomass. In terms of diversity though, it is pretty rich. I guess both observations can be explained by the rather low-nutrient soils in the area, which generally benefit the rarer plant species, compared to the common ruderal ones, and result in not-so-high productivity per square meter.

I brought the whole family with me, as it was a nice day. But it turned out to be a bit too warm for little Rafa and the very pregnant Heike. We quickly realized that I should just do a quick run around the area, and we shouldn’t stay too long. So I hurried through the field, and took some quick snaps of things that looked cool.

I noticed that a lot of species were getting close to flowering. I’m afraid I’ll have to return in a few weeks and bore you once more.

Sorry for that!

Buckler mustard (Biscutella laevigata)
Spreading bellflower (Campanula patula)
Common milkwort (Polygala vulgaris)
Common ballflower (Globularia bisnagarica)
And its cousin, the heart-leaved globe daisy (Globularia cordifolia), which were very abundant
The greyish stuff is all Globularia
Hoary plantain (Plantago media) – a pretty impressive flower here!
According to species lists, there should be two hawkbits here (Leontodon hispidus and L. incanus). My personal guess would be the latter.
Perennial flax (Linum perenne)
Yellow mignonette (Reseda lutea)
Rose-flowered salsify (Scorzonera purpurea)
This must be some Potentilla? I have no clue. My son just says it’s a yellow flower. Life can be so easy. Edit: fellow Twitter ecologist Steven de Goede pointed out that it could be common rock-rose (Helianthemum nummularium). Thanks!
Garland flowers (Daphne cneorum) – I guess I just missed the full bloom. I saw them in buds last time, and now they were mostly senescing…
Small burnet (Sanguisorba minor)
King Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum) – locally very abundant in this field.
I guess this is common kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) – I’m one of those ‘Hey, a Lotus corniculatus‘ botanists. I don’t take much time to look in the field, and find out at home while going through the photographs that it is something else.
Field mous-ear (Cerastium arvense) – I find some of these super common carryophyllaceous plants quite pretty 🙂
Broadleaf speedwell (Veronica austriaca) – quite abundant here. There should be V. spicata here as well, but I did not see it today.
I did see another speedwell growing next to it. Probably the slender speedwell (Veronica filiformis). I don’t find it on species lists here, but this shit grows everywhere…
Greater yellow rattle (Rhinanthus angustifolius) – A very pretty plant that parasitizes on grass roots (which does not hurt to maintain diversity of non-grasses). Insects love it, too.
This should be the bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) – but these buttercups could fool me easily
Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – super common, but I think it is pretty beautiful. I worked on it during my PhD, so it has some special place in my heart.
Some sorrel (Rumex acetosa – I guess) – not at all special, but pretty colorful and one of the few reds in the landscape.
White bedstraw I think (Galium album)
Mountain clover (Trifolium montanum)
Meadow sage (Salvia pratensis) – super common all over the place here. But a great plant for insects, and not too shabby to look at either.

The (bitter)sweet spot

I’m a sucker for millennial bullshit. Like many muppets of my generation, I’d love to live the vagabond life, travelling around the globe, while doing what I love, what I excel at, and what the world needs most. My generation seems to be on a quest to find this awesome state of being. From what I read and hear, it is simply the best thing in the world. Oh, how I would love to find that sweet spot.

Maybe my Fckyea! spot is in making amazing figures like this one

“But Robin,” I can almost hear you think, “Aren’t you in that sweet spot already?”

Maybe. Somewhat… But it doesn’t feel as they describe it in the books, you know. I mean, where are the pineapple pancakes and the watermelon fruit shakes? Let’s tear apart that stupid diagram.

I love this shit – Yes, I love ecology. I love working on interactions between plants and their associates or their enemies, or often, both. This circle should be all me, right? Wrong! For some reason, the system keeps abusing us into doing all kinds of stuff that has little to no relationship to doing what we love. Yet, it takes up 50% of our time. As a reward, we are allowed to still work 100% of our time on what we love. And we do it, because we love it so much. We really are a bunch of silly bastards. “What?! Is there something you do not love about your job?” There’s heaps. I somewhat love teaching (although it still scares the shit out of me, and this I hate). However, I absolutely hate it that I have a fixed quotum per week, and that preparation work does not count. I hate anything administrative, I’m just not made for it. I also hate unnecessary meetings. Or too many meetings. Especially meetings for planning new meetings. There’s plenty of shit that I do not love. Trust me. However, overall, I would still draw the conclusion that I love my work. I try to be a positive guy.

I own this shit – Yes and no. But let’s just say yes for the sake of argument. I am not sure I will ever feel like I completely ‘own’ this shit. Working in academia means that you are often working on the frontiers of knowledge. Arguably, if not, you are doing something wrong… Needless to say, this often adds a touch of uncertainty to what you do. In addition, I feel stupid beyond imagination every time I listen to people talking about modelling approaches. I am just not smart enough to understand most equations. It hurts my self-esteem every time. However, I believe that I’m quite skilled at what I do myself. I’m very good with plants and insects. I also take pride in being a somewhat skilled field ecologist. However, there are limits to my skills. Every time I walk through a field, I find plant species that I don’t recognize (and I cannot express how dumb this makes me feel). Don’t get me started on insects. If you wonder why, Google a bit about the numbers of insect species on the planet (or whatever, try Germany, as it is astonishing enough), and the number that has not yet been described. I will never be done learning and/or owning this shit. However, generally, I think I own my model systems and am pretty familiar with them. Conclusion? I own some of the shit. I try to be a positive guy.

The world needs this shit – Although I would give a full YES! response to this aspect, it still feels somewhat off. I think it is important that we generate a proper understanding of the world, in order to enable us to protect it. However, I don’t think there’s any intention to protect it much. Nothing too serious is being done by those that govern to protect our planet against ourselves. Climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, you name it. Very few things are being done to stop any of them. Economic gains always are valued over planetary gains. Sure, there are plenty of initiatives to mitigate our impact on the planet, driven by those that do care. Luckily there still are people that care, but let’s face it, we’re a small minority. In reality, politicians mostly don’t give a damn. To me it often feels like they are throwing some scraps at us in the form of tiny research budgets, in order to shut us up. And, as we are a bunch of silly bastards, and love what we do, we mostly just quietly take the bait and continue owning our shit, one piece of knowledge at a time. However much I believe the world needs this shit, I’m just not convinced that it will protect the world. I try, but perhaps I’m not such a positive guy after all.

I don’t know. I think it may just be some silly publicity stunt. That sweet spot of loving and owning the shit that also happens to be desperately needed in the world. I should be close to the center of that stupid diagram, but it has a bitter taste to it.

The knowledge drain?

After months of thinking about it, followed by weeks of trying to find time, due to various pressing deadlines haunting me, I have now officially started writing my first grant proposal where my role is as the main PI. Perhaps subconsciously the act of my boss verifying with me yesterday – in my annual evaluation meeting – whether writing a proposal was really something that I wanted, has made me realize that, yes (!), I should prioritize this more and, yes (!), I want to write this one. However, starting today was more of a coincidence than something driven by any event in particular. First of all, I just finished two revisions of important manuscripts that were approaching their deadlines. (Only one to go for now, with some time left, so I can breathe again) Starting my proposal was on the schedule for this week. Secondly, I have tried to implement a new structure in communicating with my team since last week, and this immediately felt like I gained renewed energy to take on the challenge of proposal writing.

I’m not sure where I stand on the proposal writing business. On the one hand, I find it important to spend time to structure thought and to develop a work plan for the next couple of years. Proposals are really good for that. On the other hand, most proposals don’t get funded. This is an inescapable truth. So it is also very likely that mine will end up down the drain at some point. It is as simple as that. This feels like a huge waste of time. An ecologist friend of mine recently shared his frustrations in a couple of tweets after submitting a major grant proposal. I think his tweets capture the sentiment pretty well. (And I had never embedded a tweet before, so I considered this an opportunity to expand my skillset)

I understand why people enjoy the process. I enjoy thinking. I enjoy writing. I enjoy writing most papers. (although I hate writing up results sections – especially writing in stats output is not my hobby) I could see how I would also enjoy creating a proposal. However, I also agree with Stefan’s point on the time that is likely wasted. It is personal time and energy. When invested efficiently, this time could also generate papers. Any manuscript I have written, has eventually been (or probably will be) published, and I see no reason why this would not be the case. However, what about proposals? If it is true that 90% of proposals get rejected (and in some cases that is a conservative estimate), is this huge waste of energy, knowledge and money worth our time and efforts?

I really don’t know the answer.

In any case, I’ll give it a shot with the proposal writing, and I’m ready to fail desperately. I guess that is the only attitude you can adopt to face the constant rejections in academia. I try to look at rejections as ‘their loss’ and it eases the pain a bit. A rejection wouldn’t really threaten me anyway. For now, I will have a job regardless. Nothing hinges on it. I have that luxury. However, wouldn’t it be amazing if it would just work out? The project that I will propose just seems to fit seemlessly in my current career path. I think it could make a fantastic project with very low risk compared to a high gain. I’m generally pretty pessimistic about my own thoughts, but I somehow feel that this work just needs to be done. I think it should make a great project. Let’s see how I feel after submitting it (hopefully before August, when my parental leave starts).

And now all are of course waiting for me to share what it will be about?

Plants.

Good night.

This year’s a little different

I had my annual evaluation meeting this morning. I hate these meetings. My first one – years ago – was a 3.5 hour rant by my superior, telling me how I lacked the knowledge to fulfill the job description. They could have delivered this message in two minutes. It created another huge dent in the moon landscape that is my self-esteem. Ever since, I have looked at annual evaluation as a load of horse crap, and even professionally organized workshops on how to use these meetings S.M.A.R.T. at my previous institute could not change my mind. I forget what the abbreviation stands for, as the workshop bored the hell out of me and felt like a complete waste of time, energy, and tax money. (Ever since, I firmly believe that I could give workshops on any topic as well)

I already had an annual evaluation last year, but I had not completed a full year yet. I was in a mentally dark place. I wasn’t happy. The onset of the pandemic triggered all kinds of anxiety, and brought about mental work loads that were simply too much for me. Combine this with repetitive bouts of insomnia, a young child that wakes up between 4 and 5 in the morning, and you have a recipe for disaster. The conclusion of last year’s meeting was that I wanted to cry under a thick blanket and let my river of tears flow me back to my home country. I was an absolute wreck.

Maybe that’s the secret to successful meetings. Create very low expectations from the get-go. Any success that follows may seem as a win…? Maybe that’s why this morning I left the meeting feeling unscathed. Don’t get me wrong, both my boss and I both spoke up about certain aspects of our collaboration. I’m not the person to sit back and say nothing. If you want such a meeting to take place, better be sure I will use it to improve my situation. Well, in my case (but probably any case) there is room for improvement, and this is very much true on both sides. We spent part of the meeting reflecting on expectations, and wrestled on how to make improvements that work for both of us. I think we may have found fitting solutions for the most pressing aspects. As my boss put it perfectly this morning – if you hire ambitious people, you cannot expect these meetings to pass in silence. At the end of this meeting I felt respected and valued. You might say that I even enjoyed this one.

Freisinger Buckl Revisited

Earlier this year – on the second of April to be exact – I wrote a short post about the Easter Flowers (Pulsatilla vulgaris) in the Freisinger Buckl, a nature conservation area just South of the Isar river. Some two weeks later, I visited the area again. When I visited the area then, it was still quite early season for most plants. The soil looked barren and dry, but the dead standing biomass from the previous year told me that there could be some interesting vegetation here in the summer season. A cold month with lots of rain followed, and for some reason the thought to go and have a look once more did not cross my mind. Until today.

What we encountered today was a different scene. Flowers so abundant that they make the Dutch tulip fields look like a joke. (Well, at least in terms of diversity!) I had heard that this area was also an important ‘hotspot’ for butterfly diversity, and although I have little reference to judge this by, it seemed like a good competitor for this title. Unfortunately I had only my phone to take pictures, which proved to be quite challenging. I seem to have lost all skill to sneak up close to any of the butterflies. Or let’s blame the warm weather. Ectotherms, such as butterflies, are most active in warm weather. Approaching them is easier on cold days, or colder parts of the days, but obviously they are much more active on warm days, so the odds of spotting some drastically improve with temperature. (Of course there are limits to this too!) For today, you’ll just have to do with a couple of pretty flowers, and some unrecognizable smudges in the distance.

Enjoy 🙂

A beautiful red-tail bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) queen feeding on the highly abundant meadow sage (Salvia pratensis)
Flowers of the ever-pretty maiden pink (Dianthus deltoides (?) ) were abundant
My guess is that this is creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), which was also locally very abundant.
Which legume is this – Edit: my friend Rutger Wilschut kindly reminded me that this is the esparcette (Onobrychis viciifolia)
I think red clovers (Trifolium pratense) are pretty, great nectar sources and highly underrated
Some blue butterfly (Lycanidae – no clue which one) on the thousands of horseshoe vetch (Hippocrepis comosa), Colias butterflies that use this species as their larval host plants were abundant but uncooporative…
In the more humid vegetation, these irises were abundant, my guess is they’re Siberian flag (Iris siberica).
In a small area these common columbines (Aquilegia vulgaris) were abundant. They pop up in various color forms. Not sure if that is all ‘wild type’ or maybe some garden escapee cultivar mixing in?
What is this pretty little thing? About 10 cm tall, 1 cm wide flowers, poor and rather sandy/pebble soils. Edit: another kind identification by Rutger Wilschut. This is American blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium montanum), not a native around here, but apparently introduced to France long ago.
I think this is the good old ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), lovely plants.
This species of orchid was highly abundant, but all were nearing their ends. If any one has any idea of the species, feel free to let me know. The barely had leaves, so I think they are not Dactylorhiza or Orchis, although the flowers have some resemblence. Edit: Another kind suggestion by Rutger Wilschut. It might be the green-veined orchid (Anacamptis (Orchis) morio). This certainly fits habitat, range and the looks.
I found a small bunch of these – what I believe to be – ball flowers (Globularia bisnagarica), which looked pretty sweet too.
One of the prettiest grasses I know, and one that I have worked with – quaking grass (Briza media)