Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bee-fly - Bombylius discolor

This is a photo of two of our Bee-fly species from Stubbs & Drake's British Soldierflies & Their Allies' excellent identification guide. The relatively rare Bombylius discolor is centre-left, and the very common Bombylius major is centre-right.

For years I have examined hundreds of the common Bombylius major Bee-flies in Bedfordshire hoping to come across Bombylius discolor....but to no avail. Here on the Isle of Wight there have been large numbers of Bombylius major Bee-flies holding territory and buzzing all over Golden Hill Country Park in the sunshine over the past week...but no Bombylius discolor, though I have been told that the latter are fairly common on the Island.

Then today, at Walter's Copse, Newtown, I came across this during a brief patch of warmer weather:

Bombylius discolor....yahay!!! :-) :-) :-) The spotty wings present in this species are quite obvious.

I spent the next few minutes observing the fly nectaring on Primrose, it's amazingly long proboscis reaching right to the base of the petal tube as this video shows:

The long mouth-parts mean that it's not receiving any pollen in exchange, so the flower is probably being cheated! (There were also Platycheirus albimanus hoverflies feeding at the flowers - they would have been unable to reach the nectar but would be specifically after the pollen!).

What I will be looking out for now is the amazing sight of the female Bee-flies flicking their eggs onto the ground where the larvae will crawl into solitary bee holes and parasitize the larvae. These species of Bee-fly even have a sand-chamber at the base of their abdomen which they use to coat the doubt giving them a bit more weight for launching and, maybe, to give the eggs a bit of camouflage and protection before hatching out!

Here's a bit more video to enjoy:

Notice that white stripe running down the centre of the backside! When the bees are in flight I reckon that might be an easier way for distinguishing the two species rather than trying to work out if the wings have spots which I have been seeking to do up to now.

Walter's Copse

After giving the garage and good Spring-clean, followed by a trip to the tip, Carole and I spent the afternoon at the Walter's Copse National Trust Nature Reserve.

 I love the way in which the rides are being broadened. The Primroses are already spreading outwards. This is going to be so good in a month or so's time!!

At ground level the Primroses were beautiful, whilst up in the treetops there was an orchestra of bird sounds. The soloist was a nearby Mistle Thrush and a mewing Buzzard soaring over the treetops brought a dramatic contrast to the symphony!

Best of all, though, was one of the smallest animals - my first Bombylius discolor Bee-flies...and they deserve a post of their be continued!

Last Night's Moths

Last night my son, John, and I enjoyed a bit of star-gazing on the Alum Bay Road away from the lights. I'm new at this so my breath was taken away when I saw The Pleides or Seven Sisters...and then I managed to find the (literally) stellar Coma Cluster....what have I been missing all these years! Afterwards we drove home through the country lanes. No Badgers or Foxes, but we did come across a stonkingly huge Brown Rat!!

While we were out, the moth trap was on and I looked forward to this morning's results:

The Early Thorn with its butterfly-like pose, unusual amongst moths. Notice the feathery antenna of this male. I came across a pretty amazing electron micrograph of an Early Thorn's antenna here. All prepared for the vital job of picking up those female pheromones!

And what looks like a freshly-emerged Angle Shades moth,which looks like it would be pretty well camouflaged amongst fallen leaves!

Other moths:
Clouded Drab - 1.
Twin-spot Quaker - 1.
Small Quaker - 1.
Common Quaker - 1.
Hebrew Character - 3.
Early Grey - 1.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Rabbits and Stingers!

Yesterday, whilst exploring a small copse alongside The Causeway at Freshwater, I came across a young rabbit in the undergrowth who was quite unconcerned at my presence:

I was interested to see the Rabbit foraging on Stinging Nettles. It seems to be enjoying the young tender leaves in the centre of the plant.

I had a look on Wiki-answers where someone had asked if it was ok to feed their rabbit Stinging Nettles. The reply came back: "I should think not. Definitely don't try it!! Maybe if it was bought from a pet shop as a treat. But not a wild one from your garden!"

Other people are not quite so vociferous but, certainly as far as domesticated Rabbits go, most people seem to steer clear of feeding them Nettles.

The stinging hairs of the Nettle are designed to deter grazing animals, releasing chemicals that irritate the skin....but I notice that this Rabbit seems to be almost licking the underside of the leaf on occasions...perhaps it likes the tingling sensation!

Last night's moths

 I was really pleased to find this Oak Beauty in the moth trap this morning. They're fairly common this time of year....but that doesn't take away from their beauty!

Not having had the trap out for a few years, I'm going to need a bit of help. Sometimes you get a moth that you know you should know but, in the end, you have to confess that you don't know. This is one of them....any identification help appreciated!

More Pug quandaries. The dark wedges on the wing of this wee beastie seem to suggest that it's a Brindled Pug.

But is this another Double-striped Pug?

And this micro has got me beat. Diurnea fagella seems to be common at the moment, but this doesn't seem to tick all the boxes!

Any help gratefully appreciated.

Thanks to Steve T for his help. Both the pugs look like Double-striped. The other macro is an Early-tooth Striped (I guessed that it might have 'striped' in its name!) and the micro is Eudonia angustea.

Other moths:
Hebrew Character - 1.
Early Grey - 1.
Small Quaker - 3.
Clouded Drab - 1.
Light Brown Apple Moth - 2.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Last Night's Moths

I thought that it was about time I tried putting out the moth trap again last night.

This Pebble Prominent was a surprise. According to the books there are two generations, the first flying from May to June. That makes this one - 28th March - pretty early!
Update 30th March: At the moment it looks like the previous earliest record for this species in Hants & the Isle of Wight is 6th April 2011!

Not a good photo (so what's new then!). I'm assuming that this is a Double-striped Pug??

The other occupants of the trap were:
Emmelina monodactyla - 2.
Light Brown Apple Moth - 1.
Early Grey - 3.
Common Quaker - 1.
Small Quaker - 5.
Hebrew Character - 1.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dance of the Adders

A great few hours with Tim this morning - on holiday for a week and hoping to catch up with a few of the Isle of Wight's Adders.

I was really surprised not to come across any in the scrub above Freshwater Bay, though it was very warm and I guessed they were already very active or else out of sight during the sloughing period.

Before leaving we checked some scrub below the Freshwater Bay Golf Course and caught a brief glimpse of a male that cottoned on to our scent and disappeared into the Gorse. 10 minutes later we returned to find 2 males 'dancing':

It looks like there was probably a female around somewhere. This 'Dance of the Adders' often results when a male guarding a female reacts to another male that turns up. As they rise up together, intertwining their bodies, they are trying to force one another to the ground. I think it's fairly clear who the victor is here!

A few minutes later one of the Adders reappeared from out of the Gorse:

Monday, March 26, 2012


Our holiday lived up to all of our expectations and more....and that went for the Choughs, too!

For some reason I can't upload photographs to the blog at the moment, but here's a bit of video:

I had spent a few hours late in the afternoon walking along the coastal path in a fruitless search for the Choughs before returning to The Lizard National Trust car park alongside the lighthouse where mine was the last car. Suddenly, several Choughs flew onto the car park and started searching for worms on the grass close to me. I had to laugh!

After disappearing from The Lizard a number of years previously, 3 Choughs turned up again in 2001 and 2 of them started breeding, the beginning of a growing population of these fascinating birds!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Kynance Cove

Carole and I are off for a week's holiday to the National Trust cottage, Twitcher Retreat, in the secluded Kynance Cove, which is reckoned to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (we'll be staying in one of the buildings to the right of the photo). Situated on Cornwall's Lizard Peninsula, we're reliably informed that it's a stunning location with wonderful views over the Atlantic. It's on the right of the buildings in the photo, next door to the National Trust teashop which has just opened and will be very useful for lunches!

I'm looking forward to coming face to face with Choughs for the first time and seeing what other wildlife is around. I'll be posting again in a week or so's time.

P.S., Notice to burglars....our home here will still be occupied! :-)

The Weekend Browse

I've got a week's holiday coming up, so I thought I'd post 'The Weekend Browse' a day early.

On Tuesday I posted images of this erythristic Rabbit from Freshwater Bay. BBC Nature UK have a helpful page that explores the various colour variations we find in our local wildlife.

Badger Watching Man is an old friend from Bedfordshire. With my passion for getting young people involved with their local wildlife I was really encouraged to read of his walk with the local Beaver Group, giving the children an 'I-Spy' sheet with various signs to look out for. Simple, but very effective!

Whilst on the subject of Badgers, I came across this disturbing post from Wildlife Kate concerning 2 Badgers that appeared to have been hit by cars which, it turns out, were more likely shot and then dumped at the side of the road. When it's safe to do so this has spurred me on to check 'roadkill' Badgers in the future, though I sincerely hope that I won't find evidence of this despicable and illegal practice.

Further north, Ron Bury has managed to get some great trailcam footage of Pine Martens, including sequences of them mating and of a Pine Marten trying to catch a mouse!

Buglife - The Invertebrate Conservation Trust have published the results of their 2011 Oil Beetle Survey. The distribution maps, which you can view here, show that the Oil Beetle species do seem to have declined. You can find out all about these fascinating creatures and submit your records for 2012 via the Oil Beetle Hunt webpages.

Earlier this week I came across the Spider & Harvestman Recording Scheme website. The species index is a great tool for exploring what arachnids live in your area with photos and distribution maps for each species. You can also follow a link on the home page to the site of the Spider Recording Scheme newsletters going right back (3 a year) to 1999. Reading people's reports of days spent in the field - whatever the particular species interest - is one of my most enjoyable pastimes!

How on earth do orb spiders manage to move around their webs without getting stuck? BBC Nature published a report this week highlighting research from Costa Rica that shows just how they avoid getting into a sticky mess!!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Water Vole, Goshawk & a Small Tortoiseshell!

A walk in the sunshine at Afton Marsh late this morning turned out to be a good decision. Whilst watching a female Sparrowhawk quartering over the Marsh a large Goshawk suddenly soared into view, dwarfing the Sparrowhawk, even though it was higher up and further away.

But the highlight of my time was this Water Vole - my first decent view of the season. I managed to get a bit of video footage, though there were twigs in front of the lens. There's a fascinating array of sounds in the background as you watch: a screaming Black-headed Gull, Rooks cawing in the rookery directly above, Water Rails squealing, Goldfinches singing, some workmen erecting fenceposts and the Needles' Foghorn!!

Other highlights included a Bank Vole which scampered through this hole to deeper cover when I disturbed it whilst walking past. Note the grass stems that have been grazed:

And this Small Tortoiseshell butterfly...hopefully the harbinger of a good year for this species which has not been as common recently.

Marmalade Hoverflies & Red Squirrels

 Here on the Isle of Wight I've been amazed at the numbers of Marmalade Hoverflies (Episyrphus balteatus) that have been around over the winter period, a real sign of how much milder the climate is here compared to Bedfordshire. The video below shows two of the many flies that were feeding on Lesser Celandines at the All Saints Churchyard here in Freshwater. What I love is the shadow of the wings against the yellow of the petals:

After a lunchtime meeting, I cycled to Squirrel Copse to find all 3 Red Squirrels very active. At one point all 3 of them took it in turns to scramble along the branch just above my head!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Moths, Badgers, Water Voles & Turnstones!

The weather's turned cold and dull again, which gives me chance to share a few bits and pieces from the last few days.
The moth trap had a 'soggy bottom' yesterday morning and contained this Hebrew Character, which was being kept company by 11 Small Quakers!

I noticed a bigger snuffle hole than usual in the lawn over the weekend, with a smaller wormhole in the centre disappearing into the depths. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to repair it before Carole saw it....and recognised it as having been caused by my friendly Badger! To be fair, she was really good about it.....but the hole under the fence has now been blocked up with several pieces of sandstone....just leaving enough room for a future Hedgehog to squeeze through and take possession of the Hedgehog house that I've positioned just the other side of the fence.

The Water Voles have still proved to be disappointingly elusive. I did have my second brief sighting, though. At the weekend I was waiting to film a furtive Cetti's Warbler when a Water Vole suddenly crossed the path about 10m to my right and disappeared into the reeds...What's that about??!! :-)

If you haven't already done so, make sure you go outside on a clear night to watch the amazing conjunction of Venus and Jupiter that's taking place in the western sky at the moment. They were at their closest yesterday evening. And if you look at Jupiter (the less bright one) through a telescope, you'll even be able to see its 4 moons.

 Finally, a little bit more footage of the Turnstones at Yarmouth from last week. I could spend hours watching them!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Erythristic Rabbit

A few days ago I managed to get some footage of the sandy ‘erythristic’ rabbit in the scrub above the Freshwater Bay cliffs. The colour is caused by a genetic mutation affecting pigmentation levels.

In this video you can watch it using its paws as a flannel to wash its ears, and another short piece of it feeding with its 'normal' sibling.

Monday, March 12, 2012


2 warm days in a row filled with sunshine and it seems that everything is kicking off! A Red Admiral butterfly, was out and about, together with queen bumblebee and wasps.

I found 4 Adders enjoying the warmth of the sun above Freshwater Bay including the two individuals above. These are males which emerge some weeks before the females, the warmth helping in the development of the sperm ready for mating in April. The very dark Adder has got quite an advantage in this respect, absorbing the solar radiation much more efficiently and able to be more active in cooler conditions.

And this female hoverfly was soaking up the sunshine, too. It's Epistrophe eligans, an indicator species for climate change. Formerly emerging in April it is now being noted regularly in March. Correction, it's Eristalis tenax (thanks, Adam). The orange line across the abdomen threw me and it's taught me not to assume things, especially at the start of the season when I'm rusty! :-)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Weekend Browse....

I've spent a lot of time recently trying to catch up with the local Water Voles and even manage some half-decent Water Vole footage. Then, on Sunday, Terry Whitaker put some amazing video footage on his Photo Blog. I was drooling!! :-)

Thanks to Caroline for referrring me to last nights The One Show with it's report on a Polecat living under the decking of Fiona Leach's garden on a housing estate in Cheadle Hulme in Cheshire. Wow...I'm so envious! What got me is the pet rabbit that was wandering around the garden, too...surely he will disappear one day, just like the fish in the garden pond!! I don't know how long the show will be available on catch-up, but the relevant piece is just over 14 minutes into the programme.

Steven Falk is well-known to most people with a serious interest in insects. His illustrations in my 'Stubbs & Falk' Hoverfly guide helped to get me really interested in identifying and studying my local hoverflies. A few weeks ago he published his own website which is a work in development. The signs already look really good: Steven has already made a number of his local publications available on the site. If you're interested in bees and wasps you will especially want to have a browse! Steven also has an amazing photographic collection of wildlife that he's gradually uploading to his Flickr account...with a link from the website.

I've come across 2 fascinating Red Fox tales this week. Firstly, it appears that not only the British people, but the British Red Foxes are getting heavier! The pretty impressive photo above is used by BBC Nature on their page describing the shooting of the largest Red Fox killed in the UK, weighing in at a staggering 38lbs 1oz (17.2kg). It was shot whilst trying to increase its girth with a bit of Aberdeen lamb! The article explores whether Red Foxes are, indeed, getting bigger.

Then, Mike's Wilden Marsh blog contains a fascinating account of a Red Fox catching a Mole.

Is it possible for a person to get really passionate about searching for flies in winter? Miranda Krestovnikoff boasts the grand title of being the Collections Manager of Diptera at the Natural History Museum. If you listen to her recent broadcast on The Living World you might end up wishing you had a ghostbusters' kit like hers, too!!

Butterfly Conservation are a great charity, and they are offering a free annual subscription for the next 12 months. You can see the details via the Wildlife Extra website. You've got until the end of March to register your details.

 I've always wanted to learn to identify the Ground Beetles or 'Carabids'. That's going to be made so much easier this year because of the amazing photographic guides that John Walters & Mark Telfer are in the process of making available, and most of them by free download. You can find John Walters' website here. You'll find the guides under 'Publications'. The Carabid section of Mark Telfer's website can be found here. I can't commend these resources highly enough!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Snake in the Grass!

On the way back from a meeting in Ventnor this morning I stopped off to search the scrub above the cliffs at Freshwater Bay for Adders. It was very cool with a good breeze so I wasn’t really expecting to see much. I also decided that, next time, I was going to put my boots on because it would be so easy to get bitten in this kind of habitat with its springy grass & low growing ivy under which Adders could easily be resting. In the end, I almost stepped on this individual…..

 And here’s a bit of video – not great, but the best I could manage under the brief circumstances I had to capture it. It should be a bit easier to get some good footage on a warmer day!

Other sightings included a pair of Stonechats and what looked like a reddish erythristic Rabbit – I shall try and get some footage of that individual soon.

Sir Vivian Fuchs & Freshwater Dreamin'

I love being surrounded by the sea on 3 sides. To the south of Freshwater is Freshwater Bay.

 I regularly visit Ivy who lives at this residential home which was once the birthplace of Sir Vivien Fuchs in February 1908. Fuchs is most famous for leading the first team to cross Antarctica overland in 1958. He trained in geology and also had a passionate interest in wildlife.

 Yesterday, I sat down at Freshwater Bay, listening to the waves and watching the Fulmars glide over the white horses, and I wondered how many hours Fuchs had sat here as a boy dreaming of what adventures might await him in future days!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Parkhurst Forest

On the way to a meeting at Parkhurst Prison this morning I stopped off for the first time this year at Parkhurst Forest. In the woodland edge close to a cleared area I came across this:

Salt & vinegar-flavoured crisps are my favourite flavour, but I wouldn’t want to get a sniff of salt ‘n vinegar here, because it would mean that I had my nose too close to this Wood Ants’ nest and was being squirted by the formic acid that the occupants use to repel invaders! I find it compelling to watch those thousands of ants swarming over and around the old tree stump that has become the focus of the nest. These are Southern Wood Ants (Formica rufa) or Horse Ants.

This nest may well become a metre or so high over the next few months, and it extends well below ground level, too. All of these ants must mean that it gets pretty warm in there, which is why there is a system of ventilation holes that can be opened and closed to keep the interior environment stable.

There were also plenty of these chewed cones…evidence of the healthy Red Squirrel population in this forest, though I didn’t see any!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Turnstones doing what Turnstones do best!

What a beautiful day in which to cycle into Yarmouth along the estuary path and take the school assembly! Afterwards, I came home via Fort Victoria where I caught up with these 2 Turnstones I love the way these tortoiseshell birds use their bills to flick such big stones out of the way in order to get at the sandhoppers and other invertebrates underneath. Their neck muscles must be pretty impressive, too!! I watched them for 20 minutes or so from just over a metre or so away!
I also searched for Adders in the sunshine and was surprised not to find any in such ideal habitat in the scrub alongside the sea shore. But I did find something else:
What a wonderful piece of wood. It's probably come loose from some old wreck and been washed ashore. I'm going to collect it later and find something useful to do with it! On the way back to Freshwater I couldn't help but smile when I came across the following sign just out of Yarmouth:
Very appropriate!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Reddening Black-tailed Godwit!

This Black-tailed Godwit is beginning to gain its summer plumage and, at this moment in time, it stands out in the midst of the rest of the flock. In 'Birds Britannica' Mark Cocker describes the breeding plumage of the 'Blackwit' as 'a striking chequerwork of black, white and brick-red, and dense pre-migration flocks can form sumptuous pools of colour against the lush spring vegetation.' With a large flock wintering just down the road from where I live, here's one person who's hoping to witness some 'sumptuous pools of colour' over the coming weeks!!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Back Garden Badger

Our Badger visited the garden again last night. I happened to look out of the window just after 12.30am and there he was....3 hours earlier than his visit that I recorded earlier in the week! There should be cubs growing in the local setts now. For an area with so many Badgers the frustration so far has been finding a sett that will be suitable for observing soon when the young are old enough to come above ground and play & explore. I've found 3 good-sized local setts so far. 2 of them are deep in hedgerow and the other one is right in the centre of town. Watching that one would risk me getting arrested! It's pouring with rain today which is good because, like other areas of the country, we're much in need of it. As I write I'm sitting here thinking of our walk across the Down to the Needles yesterday...there's a bit of video of the Needles that I captured below.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Red Squirrel foraging

Still no Water Voles first thing - only Water Rails squealing and a Common Snipe grating as it flew overhead. It was still early, gloomy & raining when I checked 'Squirrel Copse'. 2 Red Squirrels were out and about, including 'Red' who was foraging in the leaf-litter. This is an extended bit of video footage to show the foraging and feeding behaviour. Red Squirrels must spend a lot of energy in the Autumn 'scatter-caching' their food. Their hoards are widespread and small, usually containing only a few acorns in each.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Weekend Browse....

I've spent hours this week watching quietly for a sight of our local Water Voles with just one brief glimpse to show for it. The river will liven up a bit over the next few weeks but, in the meantime, there are several websites that I've enjoyed exploring. The Brook Meadow Conservation Group have already been getting a number of sightings this year with some brilliant accompanying photographs. Further north the Whitchurch Community Water Vole Project has some interesting information on its website. Kate is also in Whitchurch and gets as excited as me about Water Vole latrines on her website, 'About A Brook'. And 'Views of the Ock' also has some great Water Vole material, including video of a Water Vole climbing the branches of a tree overhanging the river as part of the 2011 review submitted on 29th December.
If you run a moth trap and get confused between your Chestnuts & Dark Chestnuts, Steve Whitehouse has written a great article - Challenging Chestnuts - just for you!
If you’re fascinated in mammal poo like me you will enjoy reading about the research carried out into Otter spraint collected by volunteers in North Wales & Ireland as part of the MISE project. Evidence for 23 different prey items were found including crabs, birds & mice! The Countryside Council For Wales explain what went on here.
BBC Wildlife are giving away 6 copies of Tim Birkhead's book Bird Sense. All you need to do to put yourself in with a chance of winning a copy is to sign up.
Peter Friend has written the latest New Naturalist Volume. It's number 119 and the subject is Scotland. The NHBS has a review.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Whenever you visit the Freshwater Estuary you can’t help but notice a constant background noise that sounds like something out of the old ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’ programmes (Remember them?). It’s the pinging sonar-like call of the Teal. This male Teal was on the Western Yar River today (together with my first Green Sandpiper of the year). Look at those amazing patterns of colour, and the vermiculations along the flanks are stunning! As Teal go, this one was amazingly confiding. I’m assuming this is also the individual who didn’t mind a red light disturbing his sleep when I visited late at night a few evenings ago. Most Teal would take off well before I got this close…and the near vertical nature of this flight into the air gives rise to the collective name of ‘a spring of Teal’.
In another sense the Teal is the vertically challenged member of the duck family being pretty titchy as ducks go, but that didn’t stop it from becoming a table delicacy. Indeed, in 1465 a certain Mr George Neville threw a bash at which 4000 Teal and Mallard were on the menu. Bear in mind that they also used to be imported in large numbers from the Continent and it’s no wonder they’re so jumpy!

Result! Encouraging Foxes & Badgers into the back garden (Part 3).

One of the advantages of spending the night working at my desk is the opportunity to catch up with the Badger who has been regularly consuming the nuts I've thrown onto the lawn each evening. He arrived just before 3.30am!! The moth trap was literally a wash-out in the fog and I put it away just before midnight. In the early evening a Water Vole plopped into the water of the Western Yar but all I saw were the ripples radiating out from the bank! The fog horns are blowing their insistent note this morning.