Wednesday, 19 March 2014


For the second weekend in a row the skies were blue, the birds were singing, and flowers were bursting open everywhere you looked, spring in Britain can be truly magical when it puts its mind to it! The weekend's natural history started with the moth trap, although some chilly winds on Friday night meant the catch was significantly down on the previous weekend's bonanza. There were ones and twos of the usual spring suspects, Common Quaker, Small Quaker and Early Grey, joined by the first Hebrew Character of the year, and a less predictable companion in the shape of the 4th Satellite for the garden.

122: Hebrew Character
Hebrew Character
123: Satellite
Saturday was devoted mainly to watching England fall agonisingly short of claiming the 6 nations title, but in a break in play I had a quick wander around the garden and found a Tarnished Plant Bug chilling out on some of the daisy like flowers which have emerged in my wild flower patch. These small drab insects are one of five species in the genus Lygus, which have been causing headaches for entomologists for generations. Fortunately my photo just about shows the very dense coating of hairs which is the key character to distinguish the tarnished plant bug from its congeners.

124: Tarnished Plant Bug
Tarnished Plant Bug
With the weather looking milder I left the moth trap out, hoping to add an Oak Beauty to the list, but had to settle for an equally characteristic, if slightly less beautiful, early season moth in the shape of the micro-moth Diurnea fagella, which resembles a miniature March Moth.
125: Diurnea fagella
Diurnea fagella
After Saturday's inactivity I was determined to make the most of the weather and make a significant addition to the list, and it quickly looked like my luck was in, as within a few hundred metres of the house a small tortoiseshell was quietly basking in the sun. On a nearby tree a single white-lipped snail had, for reasons best known to itself, climbed conveniently to eye level and became the first mollusc to join the list.
126: Small Tortoiseshell
A rather battered Small Tortoiseshell
127: White-lipped Snail
An adventurous white-lipped snail
Violets seemed to be sprouting all around, and in amongst one clump I spotted the delicate white petals of common chickweed, before recklessly deciding that a clump of green leaves growing at the base of a birch log might prove identifiable. It turns out that they were, but it took a bit of online help in the shape of Ispot to find out that these were the leaves of the appropriately named Spring Beauty.

128: Common Chickweed
Common Chickweed
144: Spring Beauty
Spring Beauty
By rhis point I'd reached the target of my wanderings, the RSPB reserve at The Lodge. It's definitely not the birdiest of the RSPB reserves, but it boasts an impressive species list, thanks to good variety of habitats, and an equal variety of staff prepared to go out and look for them. On this day my main target was a colony of mining bees I knew had started to emerge, but on the way I stopped to pick some low hanging fruit n the shape of the Bell Heather that grows abundantly on the heathy parts of the reserve. I wasn't the only one with an interest in the heather, as the clump I stopped at proved to be infested with Heather Beetles filled with the joys of spring.

129: Heather
Bell Heather
130: Heather Beetle
Heather Beetles
The next port of call was a tree I've come to know as the magic tree, a gnarled old sallow that is an magnet for insect life of all kinds at a time of year when supplies of nectar and pollen are at a minimum. Most of the catkins were too high up to see what was visiting them, but a couple of butterflies were taking a rest in the sunshine to digest their meals. After a bit of stalking, and in the case of the peacock quiet cursing and chasing, the butterfly list for the year was tripled, a far cry from the previous weekend's frustrations.
132: Comma
131: Peacock
Also taking a break from her meal was the first bumblebee of the year, a queen Tree Bumblebee basking on the dead leaves. These recent immigrants to the UK seem to be having a particularly good spring locally, being the most abundant species by some distance so far.

133: Tree Bumblebee
Tree Bumblebee
Finally I was nearing the solitary bees, but I still had time to get distracted on route, and by a lichen of all things! In my defence the lichen growing on the heath is pretty impressive, with branches and spikes to rival a tropical coral. Rather than the catchy title of land coral, this particular lichen has the rather ponderous name of Cladonia portentosa. In the same photo you can see the grey tipped leaves of Bristly Haircap (how come mosses get funky names), whose spore bearing capsules were held aloft by a battalion of scarlet stalks.

145: Cladonia portentosa
Cladonia portentosa
146: Bristly Haircap
The crimson stalks of Bristly Haircap
Without any further distractions I reached the mining bees, and immediately spotted a couple of females coming in to stock up their burrows with pollen. These bees are Clark's Mining Bee, Andrena clarkella, always the earliest of the solitary bees to be on the wing in the UK, and a welcome harbinger of spring. Equally a sign of spring, but less welcome to the mining bees at least, was the colourful wasp like bee scuttling around investigating their burrows. This was a female Early Nomad, Nomada leucophthalma, and see was seeking an unattended burrow in which to lay her eggs. Once hatched the larvae will steal the pollen collected by the mining bees, as well as consuming the eggs for which it was intended.

134: Andrena clarkella (f)
A female Clark's Mining Bee disappearing into her burrow
135: Nomada leucophthalma
Early Nomad taking a rest from looking for nests to rob
With the main target for the day wrapped up, I headed up towards the gardens to see if I could find any extra butterflies and bumblebees. Along the way I remembered I was meant to be looking for plants, so I rattled off a couple of shots of a common nettle and the horse-chestnut buds which were just starting to burst. Nearby my second ladybird of the year, a tiny Pine Ladybird, was meandering along a fencepost

137: Common Nettle
Common Nettle
136: Horse Chestnut
Horse Chestnut
138: Pine Ladybird
Pine Ladybird
In the gardens there were a few queen bumblebees foraging on the winter heather, mainly yet more tree bumblebees, but also a single White-tailed Bumblebee. Nearby a single early bumblebee was buzzing around some rosemary, although she looked positively sedate in comparison to the male Hairy-footed Flower bee patrolling his territory. Whilst watching the bumblebees I noticed a brimstone come skittering into view. At first I ignored it, assuming it would do what every other brimstone had done so far this year, and skip on merrily out of view. To my surprise though, it came down to feed from Scilla, although it soon resumed its fluttering when I tried to get a photo. After a couple more failed attempts it was looking like another blank was on the cards, but then he settled on a flowering bush in the garden, and remained happily feeding whilst I got into position.

139: White-tailed Bumblebee
White-tailed Bumblebee
140: Early Bumblebee
Early Bumblebee
141: Brimstone
A brimstone - landed!!!
Restraining the urge to do a victory dance I started to head for home, pausing on the way out of the gardens to check out an Eristalis hoverfly, whose tapered abdomen and yellow slippers (ok tarsi) revealed it to be Eristalis pertinax. The rest of the walk home was fairly uneventful, until a large spider broke cover onto the footpath, before conveniently freezing in plain sight. Upon close inspection it proved to have attractive patterns of yellow and black on its abdomen, characteristic of a male Alopecosa barbipes, or Easter Fox-Spider.

142: Eristalis pertinax
Eristalis pertinax
143: Alopecosa barbipes (m)
Easter Fox-Spider
Total: 146 Species - see all the photos here

Lifelist 1300 Species New additions: Cladonia portentosa, Bristly Haircap, Spring Beauty, White-lipped Snail and Easter Fox-Spider

Monday, 10 March 2014

After the moths

After a surge of moths on Saturday night, things were looking promising on Sunday, with clear skies and sunshine the order of the day. Sure enough it wasn't long before a pale-winged beacon of spring fluttered through the garden in the shape of a brimstone, and sent me scurrying for my camera. Sadly, as so often at this time of year, he had no intention of stopping and continued fluttering straight out of the garden and out of sight. There was some compensation to be had in the garden though as I found a green shieldbug, freshly emerged from hibernation and still clad in its drab winter garb.

115: Green Shieldbug
Green Shieldbug (in disguise)
Heading down the bridleway it was immediately obvious that the spring warmth and sunshine had brought lots of plants into flower. My plant knowledge is still pretty ropey, but a dandelion was an easy starter (although technically there are hundreds of dandelion species, I'll stick to calling them all dandelions!). In the woods there was a less familiar plant, with tiny pink flowers which made me think of speedwell. After a bit of research I settled on ivy-leaved speedwell as the most likely candidate, and that was confirmed by lots of helpful people on Ispot.

116: Dandelion
Dandelion or Taraxacum agg. if you're being picky
117: Ivy-leaved Speedwell
Ivy-leaved Speedwell
I soon found the more familiar common field speedwell, growing alongside the dainty white flowers of common whitlowgrass on a roadside verge. Butterflies seemed to be everywhere, with at least 10 brimstones skipping past me, but none of them settled for even a moment, so photographs were out of the question. Giving up on capricious lepidoptera I was pleased to find an Ophion scutellaris resting on an ivy leaf, not a new species for the year, but the first I've seen away from a moth trap.

118: Common Field Speedwell
Common Field Speedwell
119: Common Whitlowgrass
Common Whitlowgrass
73: Ophion scutellaris
Ophion scutellaris
Also on the ivy was a tiny yellow fly with neat black markings, that I think is the catchily named Thaumatomyia notata, along with a small army of seven-spot ladybirds, which seem to be having a very good spring. Back home I was hoping to find my first solitary bees of the year basking in the sun, but had to settle for a dopey queen common wasp, warming up in preparation to start a nest.

120: Thaumatomyia notata
Thaumatomyia notata (c.2.5mm long)
121: Common Wasp
Queen Common Wasp

Total: 121 Species - see all the photos here

Lifelist 1295 Species New additions: Ivy-leaved Speedwell and Common Whitlowgrass

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Moths and an Armadillo!

It's been a while since we had a reasonably mild night, but this week the temperatures started to pick up, and with the wind and rain of February starting to fade from the memory it was time to dust off the moth trap. The first session yielded modest returns, the first Common Quaker of the year was joined in the trap by a more unexpected micro, the rather attractively patterned Beautiful Plume.

104: Amblyptilia acanthadactyla
Beautiful Plume
105: Common Quaker
Common Quaker
The latter was a new species for more and not something I'd expected to see this early in the year, but the mild spring may well lead a lot of early risers. Another example of these was a the exotically named weevil Otiorhynchus armadillo. This chunky relative of the Vine Weevil is listed as a serious pest of horticulture and ornamental plants, and first turned up in my garden last year after I'd bought some wildflowers for the garden. This year it's turned up a month earlier, hopefully it won't cause too much damage!

103: Otiorhynchus armadillo
Otiorhynchus armadillo
The forecast was even better for last night, so I was looking forward to putting the trap out again. Before I did, there was another addition to be made to the list in the shape of the common nettle bug, found roaming the garden fence during half-time in the rather one-sided Ireland-Italy game.

106: Heterogaster urticae
Common Nettle Bug

That was it for the day, so it was up to the moths to keep the scoreboard moving - ideally at the same rate as Ireland! The evening started well, with the common spring species March Moth and Clouded Drab coming to light early on.

107: Clouded Drab

108: March Moth

That left me feeling optimistic for the morning, and the optimism proved to be justified as I had my best March year for a couple of years, with 26 moths of 8 species in and around the trap. Best of all was a single Yellow-horned on the fence, this is a common species down the road at the Lodge, but had never turned up in my garden until now. Other newbies for the year were Twin-spotted Quaker, Small Quaker, Early Grey, an unusually cooperative Double-striped Pug and a single of the common plume moth Emmelina monodactyla, lurking by the door handle. All in all a pretty good haul this early in the year, hopefully the start of another bumper year for mothing.

109: Yellow-horned
110: Early Grey
Early Grey
111: Twin-spotted Quaker
Twin-spotted Quaker
112: Small Quaker
Small Quaker
113: Double-striped Pug
Double-striped Pug
114: Emmelina monodactyla
Emmelina monodactyla
Total: 114 Species - see all the photos here

Lifelist 1293 Species New addition Beautiful Plume

Monday, 3 March 2014

Ton up!

I 've got a couple of days of leave to use up by the end of march, so more in hope than expectation I'd booked this Monday off. I was delighted to see blue skies and sunshine when I woke up, so headed straight out to see what I could find. I was soon off to a good start, knocking off another of the bogey birds on my list, thanks to a pair of cooperative woodpigeons in the middle of the village.

93: Woodpigeon
The elusive woodpigeon!
I then made an overdue visit to the local brook. This has a lovely set of alders growing on the banks, and I was just thinking how nice it would be if some redpolls were to drop in, when one started dangling on a cone in front of me. I managed to get a few shots before they were flushed by a passing van.

94: Lesser Redpoll
Lesser Redpoll doing what they've supposed to
94: Lesser Redpoll
Such lovely birds they deserve two photos
Further along the path, cleavers were growing in abundance, and there was a variety of birdlife. Unfortunately the reed bunting, wren and redwings all disappeared unphotographed, but the fieldfare was slow enough to be added to my collection of dodgy record shots. It was soon joined by a pair of skylarks flying over an arable field, their song was a near constant companion on my walk.

95: Cleavers
96: Fieldfare
97: Skylark
Skylarks (honest!)
The standard of photography didn't improve much when I reached the village of Sutton, where a Mistle Thrush was perched inconveniently backlit and with a mishmash of branches to confuse the autofocus. I took a break from bad bird photography to do some marginally better plant photography of some lesser celandine which had come into flower in the churchyard before being tempted back onto birds by some moderately cooperative long-tailed tits. These charismatic little fluffballs also have the honour of being species number 100 on the list - wonder what number 200 will be?

98: Mistle Thrush
Bad Mistle Thrush photo
99: Lesser Celandine
Slightly better lesser celandine photo
100: Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit - a nice way to bring up the century
From the it was a fairly uneventful walk home, broken by a quick snap of a male chaffinch, and the first Drone-fly of the year on some viburnum.

101: Chaffinch
102: Drone-fly
Drone-fly Eristalis tenax
Total: 102 Species - see all the photos here

Lifelist 1292 Species