Friday, 24 January 2014

Not quite prepared

I had the brainwave of taking Friday afternoon off work with the intention of doing some serious rummaging in the leaf litter. Everything was going swimmingly up until the point where the batteries in my flash gave out, at which point I loaded up the spare set I'd carefully packed, and discovered that they were pretty much flat as well. Despite this display of organisational incompetence, I did manage to find a few new beasts amongst the leaf litter.

First up were a couple of woodlice, which after a bit of internet research I think I've tracked down to being the common striped woodlouse and common shiny woodlouse. I also discovered that my latest attempts at a DIY flash diffuser weren't entirely successful when confronted with the latter!
54: Common Striped Woodlouse
Common Striped Woodlouse
55: Common Shiny Woodlouse
Common Shiny Woodlouse
I then switched my attention to the more well endowed invertebrates scuttling around on the log I'd overturned, first focussing on what I thought was the armoured tank of the centipede world, but which subsequently appears to be a millipede in the genus Polydesmus (hoping Ispot can get it to species!). A slightly less formidable creature turned out to be the Blunt-tailed Snake Millipede, new for the year, and also an addition to the lifelist.

Polydesmus sp.
Polydesmus - but which one???
56: Blunt-tailed Snake Millipede
Blunt-tailed Snake Millipede
At this point the flash was fading fast, so I knew I was only going to get a few more photos before calling it a day. An inspection of a patch of moss (at some point I will learn some of the common mosses) turned up a tiny barkfly, which I think is Ectopsocus petersi. A final peeling back of a bit of rotting bark revealed a single earwig covered in drops of dew, which I managed a single shot of before the flash finally gave up the ghost. Lesson learned, I will be taking at least two sets of spare batteries on future excursions, and also be doing some redesigning of the flash diffuser.

57: Ectopsocus petersi
A tiny barkfly Ectopsocus petersi
58: Earwig
Total: 58 Species - see all the photos here

Lifelist 1277 Species - new additions common shiny woodlouse and blunt-tailed snake millipede

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Bonus birds

Wasn't expecting to head out today as my parents were coming to visit, but my Mum and better half were discussing wedding dresses, so my Dad and I were told to make ourselves scarce! We headed out for a stroll up to the quarry, I wasn't planning on doing much photography, but grabbed the camera in case any birds were feeling cooperative.

Cooperative might be stretching it a bit, but the birds were certainly active in the winter sun, getting down to the serious business of extablishing territories. I soon added to my growing collection of birds with an overexposed background by snapping a calling male great tit, before my Dad spotted a mottled umber chilling out on a bramble leaf - moth number two for the year.

50: Great Tit
Great Tit
51: Mottled Umber
Mottled Umber at rest
A bit further round the quarry a mixed tit flock came to join us, doubtless eager to share in our musings on politics, fracking and the complete inability of the media to hold any kind of meaningful debate on any subject which involves any amount of science. We broke off briefly from discussing the insanity of having a debate on fracking without a geologist, hydrologist or indeed any kind of ist present, to watch a lovely and diminutive Goldcrest flitting around a holly bush, and take few ropy photos.

52: Goldcrest
A Goldcrest being very small
After that we headed home to see if the great wedding dress discussion was complete, pausing only to finally add the remarkably elusive Collared Dove to the bird list. Four species added and the half-century reached!

53: Collared Dove
Collared Dove wondering what the big shiny thing being pointed at it is
Total: 53 Species - see all the photos here

UK Life List: 1275 Species

Putting some Spring into Winter

Winter isn't a great time for looking for invertebrates, but if you look hard enough there are still interesting creatures to be found. Before the New Year I'd found the springtail Dicyrtomina saundersi on an old egg box in the garden, so I decided to have another look around and see if I could add it to the list. I didn't have to look for long, as the lid of a plastic storage box just outside the door proved to be veritable serengeti for springtails with at least 20 Dicyrtominas wandering around. I spent a bit of time trying to get a reasonable photo, and making sure that there weren't any other species mixed in, before having a quick look around the rest of the garden to see if I could turn up anything else

41: Dicyrtomina saundersi
Dicyrtomina saundersi
It didn't take very long to find another springtail resting on the fence, this time a flat species in contrast to the globular Dicyrtomina. After a few false starts I'm pretty happy with an identification of Entomobrya intermedia, a common and widespread species. Like Dicyrtomina, Entomobrya possesses a special organ called the furcula, which is a two-pronged tail like structure, folded under the abdomen. If the springtail is disturbed the furcula snaps downwards with amazing speed, flinging the springtail high into the air, and hopefully to safety.

42: Entomobrya intermedia
Entomobrya intermedia
There are almost certainly several more springtail species in the garden, and if they're not there, then they'll definitely be in the nearby woods, grazing on the leaf litter, so I'll have to head over sometime soon to see what else I can find. I did spend a little time in the woods yesterday, but was focussing on rather larger targets as I tried to fill in some of the gaping holes in the bird list. I was moderately succsssful, adding another six species to the list, along with an early flowering daisy, but with species like Woodpigeon and Carrion Crow still missing, I've still got a way to go!

43: Dunnock
Dunnock singing in the hedge
44: Blue Tit
Blue Tit
45: Jackdaw
Jackdaw strolling down a lichen covered roof - extra prize to anyone who IDs the lichens!
46: Daisy
47: Starling
48: Magpie
Magpie on a horse paddock
49: Robin
Robin staking out his territory

Total: 49 Species - see all the photos here

I've also decided to keep track of my UK "all-taxa" list to see if I can lift it from its currently rather embarrassingly low total by filling in some of the more cavernous holes (according to my records I've only seen 68 species of plant in the UK!)

UK Life List: 1275 Species

Sunday, 12 January 2014

3 more!

After yesterday's stroll I had a few photos which I hadn't managed to get an identification for, so I did a bit of research, and when that failed stuck the photos onto the wonderful ISpot site. True to form I had an ID for my mystery fungus within 10 minutes, as well as confirmation on the ferns I'd put up earlier.

The fungus turned out to be the entertainingly named Witches' Butter (Exidia glandulosa). Even better those helpful folk on Ispot also pointed out that the lichen growing underneath it is the common, pollution tolerant species Parmelia sulcata. That takes the lichen count for the challenge to two, after I'd earlier found a very helpful article on the Bedfordshire natural history society website, which allowed me to identify a bright yellow lichen I'd found growing on hawthorn as Xanthoria polycarpa.

38: Witches' Butter - Exidia glandulosa
Witches' Butter - doesn't look very tasty!
39: Parmelia sulcata
Parmelia sulcata
40: Xanthoria polycarpa
Xanthoria polycarpa
One of the aims of the challenge was to make me notice and learn about some of the common species which I'd usually ignore, so it's nice to start to put some names to pictures!

Total: 40 Species - see all the photos here

Saturday, 11 January 2014

A bright spot in January

The problem with starting a wildlife challenge in January, especially one which involves photography, is that January in the UK is frequently cold, always dark and this year, very, very wet. Progress on the challenge has been slow thanks to a combination of these factors, and the unfortunate necessity of going to work five days a week.

As a result of all of this, the only addition to the list prior to the weekend was the less than spectacular, but still very welcome Winter Moth, which was the only moth daft enough to be lured in to the moth trap on Tuesday night.

15: Winter Moth
Winter Moth
Fortunately the sun was out all day today, giving me a good opportunity to make a more substantial addition to the list. I started off with the macro lens attached, so naturally the local sparrows decided to pose on top of the brambles.

16: House Sparrow
A few of the local sparrows
I then found some more conventional fare for the macro, in the form of the common agricultural weed, Fat Hen, and a patch of Sweet Violets which are already starting to flower, possibly a result of the incredibly mild winter we're having. Another springlike sign was the hawthorn buds on the verge of bursting.

17: Fat Hen
Fat Hen

18: Sweet Violet
Sweet Violet

3: Hawthorn
Hawthorn bud
The yellowhammer flock was feeding on the field again, giving a me a chance to improve on the rubbish photo I took last week, still nothing spectacular, but at least you can see the yellow head in this shot!
12: Yellowhammer
Male Yellowhammer
19: Pedunculate Oak
Pedunculate Oak buds
After that I had a productive spell of photographing various trees and shrubs. For the first time I took a closer look at some of the ferns in the local wood, and in addition to the ubiquitous bracken found that there were at least two other species present in the damper areas. I've tentatively identified these as Male Fern and Broad-buckler Fern, but I'd be happy to be corrected if I've got either of them wrong!

21: Dog Rose
Dog Rose, very hip!

22: Elder
Elder buds
20: Ivy
23: Male Fern
Male Fern
26: Bracken
36: Broad-buckler Fern
Broad-buckler Fern
I also found a couple of leaf mines - the marks left by insect larvae which have developed inside the leaf of the plant. These will be a lot easier to find later in the year when there are more leaves around, but even in the depths of winter bramble and holly at least have both leaves, and mines on those leaves. I'll be keeping an eye out later in the year for the adult insects to go along with these pictures of their mines.
24: Holly Leaf Miner
Holly Leaf Miner
37: Golden Pigmy, Stigmella aurella (mine)
Mine of Stigmella aurella - the Golden Pigmy
Up towards the quarry I was just thinking that I should make the effort to find some fungi, when I spotted this strange black gelatinous looking one growing on an oak bough. I haven't worked out what it is yet, perhaps a candidate for ispot?

Mystery fungus
There were still some easy trees to add to the list, but not that much else as the temperature started to drop. A flowering umbellifer was a bit of a surprise to find in the middle of the woods, think this is Hogweed, but again corrections welcome. Finding some gorse in flower was a lot less surprising, apparently there's a saying "When gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season"!

27: Alder
Alder Catkin
28: Larch
29: Broom
30: Scot's Pine
Scot's Pine
31: Downy Birch
Downy Birch
25: European Gorse
European Gorse
35: Hogweed
Hogweed flowers
34: Birch Polypore
Birch Polypore
Finally for the day, a single young oak tree had been unfortunate enough to attract the attention of at least two species of gall forming wasps. These non-descript little insects have the remarkable ability to hijack the growing apparatus of the plant to create a nursery for their offspring, although in a further twist to the story there are then even more wasps which search out the galls to lay their own eggs in!

32: Oak Apple (Biorhiza pallida)
Oak Apple, made by Biorhiza pallida
33: Cola-nut Gall (Andricus lignicola)
Cola-nut Gall made by Andricus lignicola
All in all a pretty productive day. Progress is likely to slow as I run out of trees and really obvious plants to photograph, but hopefully the weather will stay good and I'll be able to fill in some of the more obvious holes in the bird list, if not then I go always go crawling round the garden looking for springtails!

Total 37 species

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Biodiversity in Bedfordshire?

I started writing this blog with the intention of showcasing the amazing range of biodiversity which can be found by anyone, wherever you go looking. As the dark nights drew in at the end of last year I started thinking about how I could motivate myself to get out and about more often in the New Year, and in particular how I could find a good enough reason to look at some of the groups of species that I unusually ignore (generally things that don't move, like plants and fungi).

There are various challenges which I've come across via twitter with similar intentions - the 1000 for 1KSQ ( is an excellent challenge, which unsurprisingly encourages participants to find a thousand species within a single 1km square. Success is highly dependant on developing a wide breadth of knowledge, but also, to an extent, on the willingness to take specimens, especially of invertebrates, to confirm identifications. I have no ethical issues with this, and recognise it as an essential part of proper surveying work, but on a personal level I've never felt comfortable doing it.

Instead of going purely for volume, I decided to focus more on documenting those species which can be identified without resorting to microscopes and dissecting kits. I'm fortunate to live in a rural area with easy access to a variety of countryside, which I keep meaning to explore, so I decided to see how many species I can photograph within walking distance of my house. Whilst a thousand species might prove a bit of a stretch, I should be able to get at least half way there, especially given that I recorded 306 lepidoptera species just within my garden last year!

The challenge has made a bit of a slow start, thanks to combination of short days, bad weather and the inconvenience of having to go to work. The torrential rain in particular made me less than keen on venturing outside with my camera. Fortunately there are a few species which share my liking for staying warm and dry in winter, and these got me up and running. First up was a small garden spider which had made its web in the hallway, a reward for not feather dusting!

1: Garden Spider
Number 1 on the list, a small Garden Spider Araneus diadematus
Soon afterwards a second spider joined the list, the near ubiquitous Pholcus phalangioides or Daddy Long-legs Spider

2: Daddy Long-legs Spider
Daddy Long-legs Spider Pholcus phalangioides
Finally this morning there was a glimpse of blue sky so I headed out to start adding to the list in earnest. Plants were the main order of the day, as I worked my way down the hedge ticking off tree species. As usual when the macro lens is on the camera, there were birds everywhere, seemingly competing to sit in the most photogenic spots (why do they never do that when the 300mm lens is in action?!) Time was fairly limited so I ignored most of the smaller plants, apart from a clump of white deadnettle which is already in flower. In general the plan is to wait for things to flower before trying too hard to identify them!

3: Hawthorn
Hawthorn, with nice red berries to make it extra easy to identify!
4: Bramble (and 14 Violet Bramble Rust)
Bramble and Violet Bramble Rust, (the small purple patches on the leaves)

5: White Deadnettle
White Dead Nettle, an important source of early pollen, but this may be a bit too early
6: European Ash
Ash bud - I'd never realised there was an ash tree in the hedge before
7: Silver Birch
The lovely patterned bark of a Silver Birch
8: Hazel
Hazel catkins
9: Sycamore
Sycamore bud
10: Holly
Christmas is over, but the holly is still looking nice
Later in the afternoon I took along the 300mm on a primarily non-photographic walk, and predictably enough the birds became a lot less confiding. I managed bad shots of Yellowhammer, Greenfinch and Rook. Hopefully I'll improve on all of these by the end of the year!

11: Rook
12: Yellowhammer
A fractionally slower yellowhammer than average!
13: Greenfinch
The worst picture of Greenfinches you're likely to see today!
I'll be putting all of the photos from the year into a set on my Flickr account along with some notes on the species in question. Hopefully it will provide an interesting store of information as the year progresses.

Total: 14