Sunday, 17 August 2014

A touch of Scotch

One of the perks of my job is that I often get to visit some amazing parts of the UK, and last week I hit the jackpot with a trip up to Abernethy Forest. My first impression of Speyside was that it was rather damp, with torrential rain flooding the tracks and forcing us into an unscheduled stop at Kingussie, which seemed to be doing a reasonable job of disappearing underwater.

Fortunately the monsoon soon halted, although the weather for the rest of the week remained, damp, grey and overcast, making it a bit more of challenge to get out and find good wildlife. Fortunately there's so much of it at Abernethy that you don't have to do too much looking to find it. Blaeberries carpeted the woodland floor, providing an important food supply for the spectacular Capercaillie. Unfortunately were weren't fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of this largest member of the grouse family, but whilst wandering the trails in search of one we did come across another species with a fondness for Blaeberry, and one I'd been wanting to see almost as much as a Caper. Fighting its way against the wind and cold was a single worker Blaeberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola), with its neon red abdomen like a glowing beacon in the gloom. Unfortunately it was too active in the poor light to have any chance of a decent photograph, but it was still a memorable encounter.

More memorable still was the evening trip we made to the mammal watching hide at Rothiemurcus (after booking through Speyside Wildlife). After scarcely fifteen minutes in the large and comfortable hide, we were treated to close-up views of a magnificent male Pine Marten, followed shortly after by a daintier female, whose first action was to grab the hen's egg left out as bait, and disappear into the darkness with it. With a tasty follow-up of a trio of badgers, we left the hide well happy with our evening's work.

Pine Marten
Male Pine Marten
Pine Marten
Male Pine Marten
The following day the sun made a brief appearance during the morning, but had disappeared by the time that I was able to head out. The sunshine had clearly been enough to tempt the local Scotch Arguses out though, as the heather and surrounding grass was littered with these lovely northern butterflies. Although the light wasn't the best, the lack of sunshine and chilly air meant that the arguses were almost entirely comatose, making it easy to find a good angle to photograph them from.

Scotch Argus
Scotch Argus
Scotch Argus
Scotch Argus
With a smattering of new plants to round out the trip list, including Cowberry, Hard Fern and a patch of Mossy Stonecrop growing in a parking area, it ended up being a very productive trip, and even better it looks like there will have to be a return trip in December. Maybe those pesky Capercaillies will be easier to find in the snow!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Change of tack

Ok, so the initial aim this year of seeing how many species I can photograph within walking distance of my house may have fallen by the wayside, but I'm still doing my best to get out a about and see as much good wildlife as possible. Recently I've signed for for the pan-species listing website which has given me fresh impetus to find lots of new species, especially to boost my woeful plant list.

With that in mind I headed up to Potton Wood on Sunday afternoon to see what I could find, and with a vague intention of looking for broad-leaved helleborines for the Bedfordshire orchid survey. Before I'd even got into the woods I'd got my first new species in the form of the extremely common black knapweed, which was growing in abundance along the verges.

Common Knapweed
Common or Black Knapweed
Inside the wood I was mooching around in the undergrowth when I noticed a fly with a bright orange abdomen fly up and land in front of me. Through the camera viewfinder I could see it was one of the distinctive Rhingia hoverflies, with their bizarre beak like protuberance, but that it looked a bit different from the common species Rhingia campestris, with no black markings on the abdomen and a generally brighter appearance. I quickly fired off a couple of shots before the fly flew off into the woods, and sure enough they showed enough distinguishing features for me to be happy (with some confirmation from ISpot!) that this was Rhingia rostrata, the rarer of the two Rhingia species and a first for me. Historically this was a very rare fly, but recently it appears to have undergone an increase both in range and population, possibly linked to increases in deer numbers as its larvae develop in deer dung.

Rhingia rostrata?
Rhingia rostrata
After this brief diversion I got back into the botanising, and was soon happily ticking off a range of species which I may well have seen before, but have never gone to the trouble of identifying or recording. The main ride into the woods contained Tufted Vetch and Ribbed Melilot scrambling to lift their flowerheads clear of the grass (which I will have to bite the bullet and try to identify at some point) and large patches of the more robust Common Fleabane, whose latin name of Pulicaria dysenterica refers to its historic use to treat dysentery. Around some of the damper areas were patches of Corn Mint, whilst a large stand of Hemp Agrimony had a delightful bonus in the shape of a couple of Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies nectaring from its flowers. These large and distinctive woodland butterflies were first recorded from the wood last year, and seem to be having another good year, with several of them seen powering down the sides of the ride as well as these more cooperative individuals.

Tufted Vetch
Tufted Vetch
Meadow Brown
Common Fleabane being photobombed by a meadow brown
Silver-washed Fritillary
Silver-washed Fritillary on Hemp-Agrimony
By the time I left the wood I'd racked up a total of 13 new species, mostly plants, which lifted my life total for the UK up to 1422 species - enough to take me to 44th in the pan species listing - a mere 10421 species behind the current leader!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

More from the garden

Been a bit lazy recently, both in terms of getting out and about, and in updating the blog. Recent additions have mainly been of the mothy type, a good week with the trap meaning I'm still way ahead of my species total from previous years. Away from the moths I got myself another springtail tick with the blind soil dwelling species Protaphorura armata, several of which were left briefly exposed when I lifted up a flower pot.

199: Protaphorura armata
Protaphorura armata
The garden is well and truly in flower now, and attracting lots of bees and other pollinating insects. New for the year were several of the common mining bee Andrena flavipes, whilst the red mason bees were busy, but not interested in being photographed. More cooperative were the mint moths that had appeared right on cue, and the shiny Rosemary Beetles that have appeared out of nowhere. There were also several of the common micro moth Argyrotaenia ljungiana, a pretty little species which seems to pop up just about everywhere.

200: Andrena flavipes
Andrena flavipes
201: Pyrausta aurata
Mint Moth
202: Rosemary Leaf Beetles
Rosemary Leaf Beetles getting busy
203: Argyrotaenia ljungiana
Argyrotaenia ljungiana

The moth trap had been fairly quiet recently, but was lit up at the start of May by a lovely Chocolate-tip, along with a supporting cast of Chinese Character, Flame Shoulder and the first Cockchafers on the year. The escapee list also continued to grow, with red twin-spot carpet and pebble prominent both showing a clean pair of heels!

204: Chinese Character
Chinese Character
205: Cockchafer
206: Chocolate-tip
207: Flame Shoulder
Flame Shoulder
Briefly breaking up the stream of moths, a very bright 22-spot Ladybird was a nice find in the garden, as was a large red damselfly hawking for aphids. Moths were soon back on the agenda though, with scorched carpet and maiden's blush the best of the recent finds.

208: 22-spot Ladybird
22-spot Ladybird
209: Pale Tussock
Pale Tussock
210: Cochylis atricapitana
Cochylis atricapitana
211: Garden Carpet
Garden Carpet
212: Small Phoenix
Small Phoenix
213: Scorched Carpet
Scorched Carpet
214: Maiden's Blush
Maiden's Blush
215: Green Carpet
Green Carpet
216: Common Pug
Common Pug
217: White-shouldered House Moth
White-shouldered House Moth
Total: 217 Species - see all the photos here

Lifelist 1317 Species Additions: Protaphorura armata and the micro moth Notocelia cynosbatella

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Garden goodies

After spending the easter weekend down on the south coast, it was nice to be welcomed home by a new micro moth for the year in the shape of a carnation tortrix resting on a bush by the front door. I tried to boost the moth total a bit further by running the trap a couple of times, but clear skies and low temperatures meant that only a few of the hardier species which I've already recorded were lured in.
193: Carnation Tortrix
Carnation Tortrix
Whilst the nights have been cold, the days have been generally warm, sunny and generally very unBritish, although as I type this it's grey, windy and generally much more British outside! One sunny morning found me mooching around the garden, half-heartedly waving my camera at the hairy-footed flower bees before noticing a single dark hoverfly resting on a leaf. I quickly recognised it as one of the extremely difficult Cheilosia genus, but fortunately this was the relatively distinctive spring species Cheilosia caerulescens, which I'd recorded in the garden last year at a similar time. More straightforward was the queen garden bumblebee, Bombus hortorum, that was buzzing between the ornamental nettles that were planted to provide forage for long-tongued species such as this.

194: Cheilosia caerulescens
Cheilosia caerulesccens, showing the distinctively nobbly face
195: Bombus hortorum
Garden Bumblebee
As the forecast was for a cloudy night, and warmer temperatures, last night, I had another go with the moth trap. Hopes weren't high when I woke to a chilly wind blowing in through the window, and the trap was rather sparsely populated, with just 6 moths of 4 species present. 3 of those species were new for the year though, including the attractively patterned Waved Umber which is always a particular pleasure to see. Hopefully the weekend will prove to be a bit less damp and grey than forecast, and I'll be able to get out and break through the 200 mark.

196: Waved Umber
Waved Umber
197: Nut-tree Tussock
Nut-tree Tussock
198: Shuttle-shaped Dart
Shuttle-shaped Dart
Total: 198 Species - see all the photos here

Lifelist 1315 Species

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Picking up some plants

We were away over the Easter weekend enjoying the chilly delights of the south coast, but earlier in the week we spent a very pleasant morning walking along the bridleway to the lodge. The first addition to the list was a second tree climbing snail, this time a Garden Snail enjoying the morning sunshine. Along the sides of the bridleway the garlic mustard was just starting to come into flower, and nestled in one bit of the undergrowth was a tiny pinky red flower which turned out to be Shining Cranesbill.

175: Garden Snail
Garden Snail
176: Garlic Mustard
Garlic Mustard
177: Shining Cranesbill
Shining Cranesbill
Another common plant was added to the list at the end of the bridleway, the yellow flowered umbellifer Alexanders, apparently named after Alexander the Great, although I'm not sure what the connection is! At the lodge the short grass in front of the main house was studded with Common Storksbill flowers, and some interesting looking grasses which I'll need to pluck up the courage to try and identify.
178: Alexanders
179: Common Storksbill
Common Storksbill
At lunchtime I decided to head into the bluebell woods, as the bluebells are already well into their flowering season, about a month earlier than last year! There was plenty of other wildlife in amongst the bluebells, starting with the common hoverfllies Platycheirus albimanus and Syrphus ribesii. Butterflies were abundant, Peacocks, Orange-tips, Green-veined and Large Whites, Brimstone, Speckled Wood all fluttered past, with first and last species pausing long enough to be photographed.
180: Platycheirus albimanus
Platycheirus albimanus
181: Syrphus ribesii (f)
Syrphus ribesii
131: Peacock
182: Speckled Wood
Speckled Wood
Bluebells weren't the only blue flowers in the woods, around the edges of the bluebell patches were some freshly opened spikes of bugle and the dainty flowers of common dog violet. On the edges of the path to the gardens Green Alkanet was in flower, attracting the first red mason bees of the year, and a basking nettle-tap moth.
183: Bluebell
184: Bugle
185: Green Alkanet
Green Alkanet
189: Common Dog Violet
Common Dog-violet
186: Nettle-tap
In the gardens the first Holly Blue of the year fluttered past, unfortunately not stopping to have its photo taken, but a freshly emerged Large Red Damselfly was a lot more cooperative. Also very obliging was the strange hoverfly Rhingia campestris, with its horn like projection on the front of its face.
187: Large Red Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly
188: Rhingia campestris
Rhingia campestris
The walk home produced a few more plants for the list, starting with Sheep Sorrel in the short grassland by the quarry, followed by Yellow Archangel lighting up the woods with their golden spikes. Finally for the day I snapped the field maple in the hedgerow which I'd spent my previous walk fascinated by, but forgotten to photograph the plant which had attracted the hosts of bees and other insects which had held me so captivated.
190: Sheep Sorrel
191: Yellow Archangel
192: Field Maple

Total: 192 Species - see all the photos here

Lifelist 1315 Species - New additions, Garden Snail, Shining Cranesbill, Alexanders, Green Alkanet, Yellow Archangel, Dark Tussock, Cydia ulicetana, Tawny Shears, Smooth Sow-Thistle, Glaucous Gull and Harbour Porpoise (the last six from the south coast, which is a shame, as it would be quite a surprise to find a harbour porpoise in the local countryside!)