Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Oak before everything

There's an old saying of Oak before Ash, in for a splash. If that's true then we're in for a seriously damp year, as on a wander around the quarry at The Lodge today, I came across the bizarre sight of an oak tree whose buds had begun to burst. Oaks are usually one of the last trees to come into leaf each year, so this is way out of season.

Early oak!

Despite the warmer weather, insects were still pretty thin on the ground, but I did see a couple of 7-spot ladybirds which had emerged from hibernation, and a few birch catkin bugs were out and about. While engaging in a spot of fence staring I noticed a small bug walking along, which I assumed at first to be one of the Anthocoris flower bugs, tiny predators of even smaller insects. After a while on BritishBugs trying and failing to work out which one it was, I gave up and called for assistance on twitter, and rapidly got an identification of Temnostethus pusillus, a close relative of the Anthocoris species and my second new Hemiptera of the year. I can't find much more information on it online, but the maps on the NBN gateway suggest it's a fairly widespread species.

Temnostethus pusillus

The night before I brought the moth trap out of hibernation early to see what might be about in the mild temperatures. The answer was not a lot, but I did get my first moth of the year in the slightly unexpected shape of a Brindled Pug, which I haven't previously seen before April, but in this crazy winter I suspect it's going to be only the first of many early emergers.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Liking lichens

There have been some really interesting posts on lichens on the pan-species listing facebook recently, and seeing as my UK list hasn't made it into double figures yet, I thought I should take a closer look at some of the lichens at The Lodge. The first one I found is the extremely common Xanthoria parietina, which is one of the few on my list already, but when I posted the photo to check I'd got the identification right, it turned out that a second common species, Physcia adscendens was also present, tick!
Xanthoria parietina
Xanthoria parietina, with little bits of Physcia adscendens poking through
My next find wasn't a lichen, but an impressive display of one of the few fungi I'm able to confidently identify, the excellently named Turkey-tail. Shortly afterwards I was rather surprised to see a leafhopper braving the near zero conditions. It's one of the difficult Idiocerus group, but with the pale markings on the head and pronotum it can be identified with reasonable confidence as Tremulicerus vitreus, a fairly common species associated with sallow and poplar, and in winter with conifers.
Turkey-tail, looking rather like a Turkey's tail!
Tremulicerus vitreus
Onto the heath and back onto the lichens with a wonderfully foliose Cladonia species, probably Cladonia ciliata ssp. tenuis according to more knowledgeable people than myself, but not with enough confidence for me to claim another tick. Much more straightforward were the lichens encrusting the concrete rim of the old swimming pool in the garden, the extremely common Lecanora muralis (commonly known as the chewing gum lichen as it often forms small patches on pavements that look like discarded gum), and my final new species for the day, the equally common Physcia caesia. I enjoyed taking a closer look at things that I've previously ignored, so I suspect a few more lichens may appear on this blog in future, at least until the insects are back :)

Cladonia cf ciliata ssp. tenuis
Cladonia cf ciliata ssp tenuis
Lecanora muralis - chewing gum lichen
Physcia caesia

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Inevitable springtails

There are few certainties in a year of wildlife watching, but one of them is that, at some point in January, I'll get fed up of not seeing any insects, and go springtail hunting. Well today was that day for 2016, with the weak winter sunshine enough to tempt me out into the garden. The first insect to hove into view was not a springtail though, but instead a barkfly, a less troublesome relative of the booklice.

This one didn't look like any of the, admittedly limited in number, barkflies that I've seen before, so I headed to the UK barkfly recording scheme website to see if I could figure out what it was. It turned out to be a fairly distinctive species, Trichopsocus brincki, which according to the website is a scarce species in England and Wales.

Trichopsocus brincki
Trichopsocus brincki

Flush with that success I soon found and took some bad photographs of my first springtail of the year, the linear species Orchesella cincta, with its distinctive dark band. On a nearby bush I found another couple of species, a cute little globular Dicyrtomina species, and another linear species Entomobrya intermedia. The Collembola pages on the University of Roehampton website are a very useful resource for information on these tiny but fascinating insects.

Orchesella cincta
Orchesella cincta

Dicyrtomina species (I susspect ornata, but the dark marking at the back of the abdomen isn't visible enough to be certain)

Entomobrya intermedia
Entomobrya intermedia
With that my time was up and I headed back inside, pausing briefly to photograph another barkfly that had landed on the back door. The photos are too rubbish to bother showing, but showed enough detail to allow to identify it as the common species Ectopsocus briggsi, my second new barkfly of the day!

Friday, 1 January 2016


As it's the New Year it only seems right to set some wildlife related resolutions. Having a new little person in my life is going to restrict the time available to me, but the wonderful thing about nature is you never have to go very far to find some. I'll definitely keep running the garden moth trap, and hopefully surpass this year's total of 252 species.

Sticking with moths, I really must make more of an effort this year to try and find a Hornet Clearwing. I live next to a Poplar plantation where they're known to occur, so no excuse not to spend a few mornings in June and July having a search for freshly emerged adults.

Having finally managed to go and see Adonis' Blue this year (and what a fantastic butterfly it is, gratuitous photo below!) the next butterfly on my must-see list is Purple Emperor, a spectacular woodland inhabitant that I've had a few failed attempts to see.

Adonis Blue
Gratuitous Adonis Blue - the bluest thing ever!

I'm still keeping track of my pan-species list, which currently stands at 1838 species, so 2000 species by the end of the year seems like a sensible number to aim for. One thing that would really help is spending a bit more time looking a plants - I did manage to more than double my list last year, but it still only stands at a mediocre 266 species, so plenty of room for improvement.

I'll also try and continue to develop my knowledge of hoverflies, and achieve the targets I've already set in my 2015 review post.

Possibly most challenging of all, I'll try and keep up this blog, and not do my usual trick of running out of steam half way through the year! Happy 2016 everyone, may it be full of sunshine and wildlife!