Sunday, 23 February 2014

Back to the bark

It was a gloriously sunny day yesterday, so the obvious thing to do was to head down to the woods (with a fully charged set of batteries!) to see what I could find lurking in the leaf litter. Before I set off I had a quick look around the garden to see if any of the various weeds I've been cultivating have got to the stage of being identifiable, and noticed one of my carpet of Hairy Bittercress had opened its tiny white flowers to the spring sunshine.

75: Hairy Bittercress
Hairy Bittercress
I then decided to see how the bee hotel had fared in the recent wind and rain. Fortunately all of the residents seem safely still in place, and had been joined by a temporary resident in the shape of a seven-spot ladybird.

76: Seven-spot Ladybird
Sleepy Seven-spot
I then headed out onto the bridleway, and was soon wondering how I'd previously managed not to notice the blackthorn tree which was growing within 50 metres of the house. Mind you, it was a bit more obvious now that it was covered in beautiful white blossoms!

77: Blackthorn
The subtle and easy to miss Blackthorn
Further along the path I stepped to one side to let some horses past, and in the process spotted a rather non-descript looking plant growing at the side of a field of cauliflowers. It looked a bit like a humped daisy that had lost all its petals, but it turns out that the flowers of pineapple weed never have any. I'm definitely going to go back and give it a sniff to see if it really smells like pineapple though!

78: Pineapple Weed
Pineapple Weed
I continued along to the edge of the quarry, stopping periodically to check the fence posts which have turned up a variety of species in the past. Today was no different, with a multitude of springtails clustered on almost every post. Most of them looked like the Entomobrya I'd previously found in my garden, but on one post there were a couple of smaller, blackish looking ones, which on closer inspection proved to have a beautiful iridescent coat clothed in a blanket of short hairs. After a trawl of the usual locations (naturespot and are both excellent) I'm fairly confident that these were Vertagopus arboreus.

79: Vertagopus arboreus
The tiny but beautiful Vertagopus arboreus
It wasn't only springtails chilling out on the posts, there were also a number of tiny spiders which I decided to leave for another day, and a very early instar nymph of the common shieldbug Pentatoma rufipes - or Forest Bug to their friends.

80: Forest Bug - Early Instar
Early instar Forest Bug
I then headed away from the quarry and into a patch of mixed Scot's Pine and Oak forest which I'd previously earmarked as a promising site. Before I'd even started fishing around under bits of bark I noticed a large fungus growing on a dried out piece of wood which thanks to the helpful folk at Ispot I'm able to say is the common Jelly Ear or Jew's Ear. I also dimly remembered seeing on the 1000for1ksq blog that there was a fungus which grew on bracken stems, so I had a quick look around. Sure enough the first stem I looked at had a series of black markings on it and after tracking down the original post I'm fairly sure that they are the same thing - Bracken Map.

81: Jelly Ear
Jelly Ear
82: Bracken Map
Bracken Map
Finally I got around to flipping over some bits of bark, sending clouds of springtails flicking into the air and woodlice scuttling for cover. In amongst all of these, one creature stood out, a yellow springtail with huge antennae easily as long as its body. He wasn't too keen on being exposed to daylight, and started rushing for cover, but I was able to get a couple of shots before he disappeared into the leaf litter. After looking on the websites named earlier it seems pretty clear that this is one of the Pogonognathellus species, but I'm not currently sure which. Hopefully someone helpful will give me a hand! in adddition to this monster of the springtail world (fully 6mm long!) (edit someone helpful has indeed identified my springtail as P.longicornis) there were some more typically sized globular springtails. In addition to the Dicyrtomina saundersi I've previously found there were some smaller darked ones which I think are Dicyrtoma fusca.

83: Pogonognathellus sp.
Pogonognathellus longicornis
84: Dicyrtomina fusca
Dicyrtoma fusca
I decided to switch to the 300mm for the walk home, and as I was switching over a nuthatch conveniently landed in the tree above me and started prospecting for nest sites. It was a bit high up to get any particularly good photos, but I'll take the reoord shots for now!

85: Nuthatch
Nuthatch looking for a new home
Total: 85 Species - see all the photos here

Lifelist 1288 Species - new additions Pineapple weed, Vertagopus arboreus, Jelly Ear, Bracken Map, Pogonognathellus longicornis, Dicyrtoma fusca and, slightly embarrassingly, Blackthorn!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Bring on the moths

The weather so far this year hasn't exactly conducive to getting the moth trap out, when it hasn't been raining it's generally been so windy that the trap might well have had a brief aerial adventure. Finally though, this week has brought a couple of still, dry and not overly cold nights, so the trap has sprung into action.

February isn't the best time of year for moths, most species are sensible enough to wait for warmer nights later in the year, but there are a few hardy pioneers who venture out on all but the coldest nights. The first of these to find its way to my garden was the aptly named Dotted Border, followed shortly by the slightly more colourful Pale Brindled Beauty (it's all relative at this time of year!).

69: Dotted Border
Dotted Border
70: Pale Brindled Beauty
Pale Brindled Beauty
That was it for the first night of trapping, and before the trap went out again there was time for a bonus addition to the list in the slightly unwelcome form of a varied carpet beetle crawling up the bathroom wall. The larva of this attractive little beetle love munching on carpets and clothing, so I'm hoping that this was a lone wanderer rather than the start of an invasion!

71: Varied Carpet Beetle
Trouble in the form of a varied carpet beetle
The trap went out again last night, and quickly attracted the first micro moth of the year, and a new species for me, Agonopterix heracliana (or the the Common Flat-body to his friends). That was swiftly joined by a non-moth interloper in the shape of the ichneumon wasp Ophion scutellaris. Ichneumons are generally nigh-on impossible to identify without a specimen and a lot of patience, but this early in the year there are only a handful of species flying.

72: Agonopterix heracliana
Common Flat-body Agonopterix heracliana
73: Ophion scutellaris
Ophion scutellaris
That was it until the morning, when a rummage through the egg-boxes turned up another dotted border, and a couple of chestnuts, all a bit brown, but nice to see the moths back on the wing again!

74: Chestnut
Total: 74 Species - see all the photos here

Lifelist 1281 Species - new addition Agonopterix heracliana

Sunday, 16 February 2014

After the flood

Progress has ground to a halt recently, thanks to a combination of the appalling weather and a lack of free time to get out and about when it wasn't doing a decent impression of the inside of a washing machine. I did move the total one further along by identifying another lichen I'd found on a tree trunk as Xanthoria parietina, a common and widespread species, but it was a relief to wake up this morning to blue skies and still air.

59: Xanthoria parietina
Xanthoria parietina
I've got into a bit of a habit of always heading out the same way, as I'm lucky enough to live right next to a bridleway heading into the countryside. Today I decided to broaden my horizons and walk down towards a scrubby area of land opposite the local golf course. On the way there I noticed a particularly luxuriant patch of moss and stopped to take some photos, I think the one in the foreground is Wall Screw-Moss, no real idea about the one in the background, but I've got 10 months to go back and take a closer look at least!

60: Wall Screw-moss
Wall Screw-Moss
Slightly further along was a patch of Viburnum in flower, and within a few seconds a couple of honeybees buzzed into view. I was hoping for a hoverfly or two, but they were obviously waiting for a bit more warmth before they were tempted out.

61: Honeybee
Honeybee on Viburnum
By the golf course I made the long overdue discovery of some beech trees, and boosted the total one further by noticing a long evacuated mine in one of the fallen leaves, belonging to the micro-moth: Stigmella hemargyrella.

62: Beech
Beech bud
63: Stigmella hemargyrella
Stigmella hemargyrella
I thought I'd try turning over a few more logs to see if is there was anything different to be found. There were plenty more striped woodlice, and some small grey worms which I chickened out of having to identify, before I struck spider gold in the form of Pisaura mirabilis, the nursery-web spider.

64: Nursery-Web Spider
Pisaura mirabilis
I resumed the hoverfly hunt on a patch of sunlit ivy, but the best I could manage were a handful of bluebottles. They were almost certainly the common and widespread species Calliphora vicina, but not being an expert on any sort of flies, and knowing that there are several similar species, they'll go into the list as Calliphora cf vicina - the cf meaning, probably this, but I haven't done enough checking to be completely certain.

65: Calliphora cf vicina
Calliphora vicina
The path then headed along the side of some quarry workings, a good site for white-letter hairstreaks later in the year. There wasn't much chance of those today, but I was pleased to find a few goat willows starting to come into flower. The male catkins of these are a key early source of pollen and nectar for a number of bees, so I'll be keeping a close eye on them. My attention was quickly drawn away though, by the sight of three small birds flying away, making wheezing noises and showing a clear white rump - Bullfinch! I'd never seen these locally before, and quickly switched the lens over to try and get some photos, but sadly they'd already wheezed off into the distance. I consoled myself by adding Teasel to the list, but it wasn't really the same!

66: Salix caprea
Goat Willow buds
66: Salix caprea
67: Teasel
Not a bullfinch!
After that the path joined onto my usual route, so there wasn't much new to see, barring an impressive display of snowdrops which had appeared since the last time I'd wandered through. The first signs of spring are starting to peep through, but there's going to be a bit more winter to get through first!

68: Snowdrop
Total: 68 Species - see all the photos here

Lifelist 1280 Species - new additions Stigmella hemargyrella, Wall Screw-Moss and Xanthoria parietina