Tuesday, 29 December 2015

More Mid-Winter Moths

After a few nights away from home for Christmas I decided to stick the moth trap out again last night, as the weather is still ridiculously mild for the time of year. Sure enough a total of five moths were attracted to the trap, with a mixture of winter and spring species.

Representing winter was a single winter moth, the first I've caught in this garden, and also a Chestnut and a Mottled Umber. From the spring range of moths there was a single Pale Brindled Beauty, which I'd normally expect to start catching in February, and a Spring Usher, which as the name suggests doesn't usually fly in mid-winter!

Pale Brindled Beauty
Pale Brindled Beauty
Spring Usher
Spring Usher
I also refilled the bird feeders which had been thoroughly emptied in my absence, and a little while later did a double take at what at first glance looked like a beige Great Tit - the first Marsh Tit for the garden! I quickly set up the camera to take some bad photos, and got an unexpected bonus when the first Nuthatch for the garden also dropped in. Hopefully they'll stick around until big garden birdwatch weekend!
Marsh Tit
Marsh Tit


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Top 10 Hoverflies 2015

Hoverflies are a great introduction to the wonderful world of British insects, being easy to find, brightly coloured (in some cases!) and generally fairly accessible to the novice recorder, which I definitely am. In addition there is a wonderful community of people happy to help out with identifying photos and generally offering assistance through the UK Hoverflies facebook group, I highly recommend joining!

As the year draws to a close I thought I'd have a look back over some of the best hoverflies I saw this year, and look forward to some more hoverflying next year.

10: Xanthogramma citrofasciatum

A trip to the downs to look for Duke of Burgundies was unsuccessful, but my first ever sighting of this chalk grassland specialist was a fine consolation. Superficially similar to the widespread X.pedissequum, this is a larger fly, with contrasting orange legs and thinner stripes on the abdomen.

Xanthogramma citrofasciatum

9: Leucozona lucorum

Not a rare species by any stretch, but one I'm always pleased to see, and I was particularly pleased to see it in my new garden, and to get some nice pictures of it as well. For a few weeks these were a constant presence on the forget-me-nots, along with lots of Playcheirus albimanus

Leucozona lucorum

8: Dasysyrphus pinastri

The gardens at The Lodge RSPB are a fantastic location for hoverflies, and will feature a few times in this post. On 17th June this year I'd already found some nice species on the main flowerbeds when my eye was drawn to a slightly different looking hoverfly on a buttercup. It had the thin yellow curves of a Dasysyrphus, which on closer inspection proved to stop before the sides of the abdomen, meaning that this is Dasysyrphus pinastri, a new species for me. (there's a small chance it's the similar looking D.pauxillus, which has only recently been added to the UK list, but the colour of antennae suggests pinastri.

Dasysyrphus pinastri/pauxillus

7. Volucella bombylans

A break from The Lodge, and a journey down to the south-west for a few hoverflies from a week in Cornwall at the end of June. First another fairly common species, but one that I always enjoy seeing, with its excellent bumblebee mimicry.

Volucella bombylans

6. Chrysotoxum elegans

Still in Cornwall, and strolling down the coast path on the Roseland peninsula I noticed a Chrysotoxum flying low over the path, and managed to get a quick photo before it flew off again. More by luck than judgement I managed to get enough of the fly in focus to be able to tell that this is Chrysotoxum elegans, a south-west speciality and a first for me.

Chrysotoxum elegans

5. Ferdinandea cuprea

Probably the hoverfly I was most excited to see all year. After seeing loads of photos of these on the facebook group I was getting increasing irritated by my inability to find one, so I was very excited when a shiny fly on the trunk of a tree at Trelissick Gardens turned out to be Ferdinandea cuprea. It's a lovely looking hoverfly with a shining golden abdomen contrasting with the matt silver and black thorax. Like London buses another was soon along - I had one in my garden the week after!

Ferdinandea cuprea

4. Eristalinus aeneus

The final entry from Cornwall, and a proper coastal specialist, whose larvae develop in seaweed. This one was found on soft rock cliffs on Pendower beach, where during the course of my explorations I also had the unusual experience of making an adder jump when I stepped round a corner and surprised it basking at the foot of the cliff.

Eristalinus aeneus

3. Riponnensia splendens

Back to The Lodge for the next entry, a rather unusual looking hoverfly with distinctive orangey-green eyes. I'd never seen it before this year, but it seemed to be regular around the fennel in the gardens towards the end of August, so maybe I'd just over-looked it in previous years.

Riponnensia splendens

2. Cheilosia soror

A final entry from The Lodge, and the only Cheilosia to make the list, partially because I rarely manage to identify them. With a bit of help from the facebook group I got this one to Cheilosia soror, a localised species of southern england, with orange antennae and a two-toned scutellum. One of my aims for next year is to find and identify a few more Cheilosias, out of the 38 UK species I've only ticked off six!

Cheilosia soror

1. Rhingia rostrata

The final entrant in my top 10 for 2015, and the wackiest looking of the lot. There are two Rhingia species in the UK, the common R.campestris which is a frequent sight in gardens, and the rarer R.rostrata, which I'd only ever seen once before this one turned up out of the blue in my garden. The two species are similar in appearance, both having the odd beak like projection, but rostrata lacks the black margin to the abdomen sported by campestris, and is a generally more brightly coloured fly. It was previously a rarity in the UK, but seems to have spread dramatically in recent years.

Rhingia rostrata

With 2015 pretty much over, my thoughts are turning to 2016 and what hoverflies I might be able to see. As I've already said, improving my Cheilosia list would be good, ten species seems like a good target. I'd also really like to see at least one of the Criorhina species, three spring flying bumblebee mimics that I've yet to find. Last but not least, I think I need at least one trip to a good wetland site, to look for species such as Tropidia scita and the Anasimyia species.

Sunday, 20 December 2015


Normally at this time of year the moth trap would be packed up for the winter, or at least the New Year when a new list can be started. This year though, there has been a unseasonably warm spell of weather, with night time lows staying in double digits - better than most of this year! A couple of other moth trappers in Bedfordshire had put their traps out on the previous two nights, and caught the first and second black-spotted chestnuts for the county, so I thought I'd have a go to and see what turned up.

A black-spotted chestnut was too much to ask for, but the single moth I did get was almost as good, a pristine Lead-coloured Drab. This is a scarce species that's meant to fly in early April, so this one has clearly been fooled by the springlike temperatures and emerged early. The feathered antennae show that it is a male, and give a handy way of separating it from the commoner Clouded Drab.

Lead-coloured Drab

Despite the warmth, the garden feeders have been a blur of activity, with today bringing the first ever Siskin to the garden, to join the redpolls, greenfinches, goldfinches and chaffinches that have been steadily increasing in numbers over the week. Yesterday I had another long-overdue garden tick in the form of a single male House Sparrow - who knows what might turn up if we get a proper cold snap!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Revisiting Minsmere

Yet again I've let the blog slide, but as the winter nights have well and truly gathered in, my thoughts have turned to warmer and brighter parts of the year. One particular week in April stands out, where running some training courses meant I was forced to spend my time in the holiday cottage at RSPB Minsmere (it's a tough life). Running training during work hours meant I couldn't spend all my time chasing after wildlife, but there was plenty of time before and after work to do some exploring.

The first order of play was to try and fill an increasingly embarrassing hole in my mammal list, in the shape of a certain fish eating mammal. I dutifully made my way to Island Mere in time for dawn on the first morning, expecting to have the place to myself, only to find no fewer than five people had beaten me to it! We settled in to scanning the edges of the reedbeds, trying not to get distracted by the ducks, coots and Marsh harriers.

After around an hour's wait a dark head briefly broke the surface, disappearing as fast as it appeared, but leaving a trail of bubbles heading tantalising in our direction. To my delight a stunning dog otter then emerged from the reeds onto a mud bank right in front of the hide, although it was immediately scared away by the surge of movement in the hide that its appearance had provoked.

Despite repeated morning and evening stops at Island Mere, that was the only otter encounter I had, but Minsmere has plenty of other wildlife to see. Spring had come late to the Suffolk coast, and the chill air meant that there weren't too many insects to be found, but on a bank on the edge of the car park I was delighted to find a colony of the mining bee, Andrena flavipes, attended by its cuckoo bee Nomada fucata, a species I've never seen before.

Nomada fucata (m)
A male Nomada fucata

Of course there were also plenty of birds to see, this being the RSPB's flagship reserve for good reason. Alongside the iconic avocets on the scrape were a collection of other waders, most of which were on route to the arctic for the summer. Looking particularly swanky were the godwits, mostly ginger-fronted Black-tailed, but with a couple of brick red Bar-tailed in the mix as well.

The obligatory Avocet

Black-tailed Godwit
A fine looking black-tailed godwit

Across the rest of the reserve there were plenty of other birds to see, Ring Ouzels on their way to the uplands, Bearded Tits pinging in the reedbeds and a cuckoo fresh in onto the dunes to name but a few. The highlight of the highlights though was a classic Minsmere bird, a bird that went extinct in the 19th century, and was perilously close to repeating the trick in the 1990s, dropping to a low of 11 booming males in 1997. It now ranks as one of the great conservation success stories with the population recently passing 150 booming males. I'm talking of course about the Bittern, elusive skulker of the reedbeds - well apart from this one, which spent half an hour standing brazenly out in the open.
A not so skulking bittern

All in all it was a fantastic week, and one I'll hopefully get a chance to repeat soon - I just need to persuade the right people that they need a bit more training!