Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wednesday wanderings

There were only five moths in the moth trap this morning, but two of them were new to the garden and Andy & Melissa, our moth recorders, reckon that they're both good records:

This Frosted Green had settled down on the outside of the trap.

This is the May Highflyer, the larvae of which feed on Alder.

It's great when you can combine work with a walk in the countryside. Liz and I explored a few gravel pits this afternoon in a search for damselflies. At one spot we found large numbers of Large Red Damselflies....and a single Blue-tailed Damselfly! On the track to Rookery Pit we came across this young Bank Vole - it spent most of the time with its eyes closed, though they seemed to be ok when they were open.

When this moth flies past your line of vision it's like an avant garde fashion icon, flashing its garish colours! It's a Cinnabar Moth and is the adult version of the caterpillars mentioned in a previous post here. It's pumped full of poisonous pyrrolidizine alkaloids imbibed from the Ragwort plants it feeds on. Those colours are like a big neon sign to any potential predators: "I don't taste good!!"

Duck End Nature Reserve

These are a few photos of yesterday's lunchtime walk around Duck End NR - it's amazing what you can find in a short time!

This is the first time I've come across this Shieldbug - Troilus luridus. I love the metallic colours and the way in which they blend together...and the antennae headlights are pretty impressive!

Beautiful or what!! Male Orange-tip Butterfly.

Soon after hearing a real clamour of various alarmed birds, I came across this Song Thrush egg at the base of a bramble. It was at the entrance of a small mammal run, so I wondered whether I'd disturbed a Stoat or Weasel, but a Magpie also flew off as I turned the corner - the more likely culprit, I feel!

The Adder's Tongue Fern is one of Duck End's special plants. You can see the two rows of reproductive spores on the spike, which gives the plant its name. The 'Green Oil of Charity' was the name of a poultice of this plant's leaves and rhizomes which was applied to wounds. A leaf tea of this plant was also given to people who were vomiting!

I should have posted this on Friday: April 23rd, St George's Day. This is the St George's Day mushroom - it was fruiting in Galler's Pasture.

Bigger bugs, like the Shieldbug above, can be very dramatic in appearance, but I find the smaller ones fascinating, too. Thanks to Bernard Nau & Sheila Brooke for helping me to identify this as Anthocoris nemoralis.

Thanks to our new Weevil Recorder, Wilf Powell, for identifying this Weevil as Rhynchites aequatus. It was swept from an apple tree by the entrance to the Reserve, and Wilf remarks that this species sometimes becomes a pest of cultivated apple trees.

Here's something I'm still working on which I thought would be straightforward - is this Ladybird a Cream-streaked Ladybird or a 10-spot Ladybird? The diagrams and photos I've come across look remarkably similar. The Cream-streaked Ladybird is more of a conifer specialist which would make it less likely, but I'm not a 100% convinced yet...I guess this is the best way of learning!

Update: Thanks to Helen from The Ladybird Survey, who has confirmed that this is a 10-spot Ladybird (colour form: decempunctata). Helen says that 10-spots are smaller and less domed than the Cream-streaked, but they are tricky to tell apart.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Id section

Friday 21st May - Back garden

Thursday 20th May, Ampthill Park: Tiny white micro.

Wednesday 20th May, Ampthill Park: Aethes smeathmanniana (947)???

Tuesday 18th May - Unknown Weevil at Jone's Pit.
Confirmed: Cionus scrophulariae (L.). Wilf, our Weevil Recorder comments, 'There are 6 Cionus species found in Britain; an attractive and fairly distinctive genus. Four species are particularly associated with figworts (Scrophularia spp.), including this one as you can tell by the name. It is widely distributed and fairly common, sometimes also occurring on Buddleia.'

14th May 2010 - A few bugs for id: found whilst surveying for hoverflies at Duck End this morning.

This was on hemp agrimony. CONFIRMED AS Harpocera thoracica by B.Nau.

This is one weird beastie! CONFIRMED AS: Miris striatus nymph by B.Nau.

I think this is a young Troilus luridus? CONFIRMED AS: Elasmucha grisea (Parent Bug) by S.Brooke.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stewartby Lake - southern clay area.

I can't believe that this is my first record of Green Hairsteak butterfly in Bedfordshire, though it has to be said that they're not common. The closest location I've seen them before is La Brenne in France! This was one of at least five that I came across. It's a male and it was holding territory on this particular patch of Hawthorn, setting off now and again in pursuit of suitors encroaching on his territory, and engaging in spectacular dogfights, before returning to his perch, characteristically angling his wings to catch the full benefit of the sunshine! I love his stripey socks and the orange tips to his antennae, apart from his dramatic green livery!

The stance of this one reminds me of one of those famous Viennese Lipizzaner stallions! Incredibly, this individual most probably hatched from deep within an ants' nest. Like all members of this particular family, the Green Hairstreak chrysalis attracts ants in the Autumn, indeed it seems they can't resist it. As one source says, 'Not only do the ants lick the secretions that ooze over the hairy, brown cuticle, but they also appear to be attracted, or at least appeased, by the cluckings and churring made by the chrysalis's sound organ...the loudness of these stridulations are clearly audible to the human ear as a series of squeaks. Indeed, it was in this species that the extraordinary phenomenon was first noted, over 200 years ago.'

So, if you're in Green Hairstreak territory in the Autumn, and hear curious squeaking noises at your feet, you know what you're looking for! But what I want to know is how they manage to get out of the ants' nest??

This is a male Eupeodes luniger Hoverfly - they are very common at the moment, and probably will be throughout the year...notice the lunules on the abdomen which give this fly its name.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Duck End Nature Reserve

The 2010 Dragonfly season began for me today when I stopped off at Duck End Nature Reserve on the way home from a meeting and eventually encountered this female Large Red Damselfly. The Latin name is Pyrrhosoma English, the 'Flame-bodied Water Nymph' - says it all, really!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chicksands Wood

Following a sighting by Andy & Melissa Banthorpe, I couldn’t resist visiting Chicksands Wood this afternoon in order to experience a plant that I’ve always wanted to see, and yet always failed to locate before now.

But it was a mammal that got me excited first of all. I made my way southwards from Appley Corner and past the monument to George Montague Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax. Suddenly a Weasel ran onto the ride about 25m in front of me before noticing me, stopping dead, and then bounding back in the direction it had come from. I waited and tried to squeak it back, and was rewarded a few moments later as it reappeared, pausing once again in the centre of the track, before disappearing into the scrub on the other side. After having spent several hours waiting in prime Weasel habitat and following up Weasel leads in recent weeks, I should have known that I would finally see one via a chance sighting!!

I continued southwards before coming to this spot:

You can see the a number of pale plant spikes on the right-hand side of this photo, with a further spike just visible amongst the vegetation on the left-hand side...

It’s Toothwort, a strange plant that lacks any green chlorophyll and parasitizes the roots of several tree-types, tapping into the plumbing of the host plant and diverting the sap for its own benefit. Hazel is the plant that it is principally identified with, but I think that these spikes may very well be parasitizing Elm or Willow roots. Another old country name is the 'Corpse Flower'...look at its ghostly appearance and you understand why some folk in a former age believed that it wasn't roots that this scarey plant grew from.....!!

Why 'Toothwort' then? Look at the scales below the flowers...just like a set of molars - I really didn’t need to be reminded of my up-and-coming dental appointment!!

I’ve looked this strange plant up in my various reference books and can’t find one instance of it being used in past herbal remedies, which is unusual for such a distinct species. I counted 15 spikes in total.

Beauty parade!

A few weeks ago, on 22nd March, I uploaded a photo of a newcomer to my garden patch: a stunning Oak Beauty moth.

Yesterday, this species visited my little garden for the first time: a Brindled Beauty.

Then, this morning, I looked into the trap to find yet another first for the garden....and another beauty, this time the Pine Beauty. The photo's a bit blurred because the moth is in the process of shivering its wings, warming up the flight muscles prior to taking off, which it did a few moments after this picture was taken!

Badgering about in a local wood

Yesterday, I spent a very enjoyable morning in the amiable company of Mick, John, Don, Angela, Richard, Bob & Peter, members of the Bedfordshire Badger Group. We were checking on setts and other signs in a local wood.

We found a number of active setts, both here at the main sett, and at setts in other parts of the wood. You can just make out the remains of some of the bedding that has been dragged down into the sett. Another giveaway is the presence of flies entering and leaving the sett entrance. I did try putting my head right into the entrance of a few of the holes, too, hoping to hear the distant rumbling of a snoring occupant, but to no avail. But I was reassured that this made me a 'real naturalist'! :-)

This is one of the most obvious signs of active Badgers....fresh poo!! And its fairly obvious that this was deposited last night. This Badger latrine was next to the main sett, but we found latrines all over the wood!

The claw marks on this tree trunk are obvious. I remember the first time I ever watched this sett - I sat down next to a fallen trunk like this, not realising that it was the cubs' primary playground. I was treated to three cubs playing right next to me, jumping up and down and chasing one another along its length!

This fallen tree trunk had been ripped apart - the result of Badgers searching for grubs and other succulent treats in the midst of the decaying bark.

This dead Badger has been lying here for about a month. It's a sow and may have died naturally, though we could feel a marked dent in the forehead, probably the result of an accident. The bony sagittal crest could also be felt running longitudinally up the forehead. Although the Badger looked small, this well-developed feature revealed that it was well-grown when it died.

Even though we were in the depths of the wood, there was plenty of colour and life enjoying the warm sunshine filtering through the branches of the trees. Primroses were flowering all over the wood.

We came across this Red Fox scat on the relatively high stump of a freshly-felled tree. It illustrates vividly how Foxes will advertise their territory on raised objects. Those raised and jagged shards of wood means that the Fox would have to have been careful!!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Duck End Nature Reserve, Maulden.

A few photos from this morning's Bedfordshire Natural History Society small mammal trapping event at Duck End Nature Reserve. We've hardly had any children for this event over the past few years, so I took the liberty of inviting several families during the week...which resulted in a few more people than usual...38 in total!! But Sue Raven did a great job in leading this...maybe, just maybe, a budding naturalist or two has been born today - it wouldn't surprise me having seen the wonder on the faces of some of the children!

Common Shrew - "Cheese!!"

Pygmy Shrew - "If I crouch right down, they might not notice me!"

Bank Vole - "This would make a nice conservatory for the burrow!"

Wood Mouse - "Make sure you get my good side!"

20 traps were set with the following captures:
3 Bank Voles (1 @ 18.5g; male @ 18.5g; male @ 19.5g).
1 Wood Mouse (male @ 26.5g).
1 Common Shrew (7.5g).
2 Pygmy Shrews (1 @ 3.5g; another escaped through a tiny hole in the plastic bag!).


Thanks to Mick McCarrick for this photo. It's a Badger cub at Bedfordshire Wildlife Rescue that was found on Thursday, running to and fro from one field to another across a busy road, and obviously in some distress. It's about 8 weeks old and it's assumed that something must have happened to the mother.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Maulden Allotments

With the promise of blue skies & sunshine, I took time owing today in order to spend a day with John O’Sullivan, our Hoverfly Recorder, searching flowering sallows for spring hoverflies. But the star of the day was a bigger and furrier creature, a Bank Vole that we came across mid-morning in the Maulden Allotments. I’d left my camera in the car, so these photos – minus the beastie itself – are the result of popping back later in the day.

It was John who spotted the Bank Vole scurrying around in the vegetation just to the right and forward of the brussel sprout stalk in the rear. That’s where the hole is.

We watched it for nearly 5 minutes or so as it constantly made its way up to a few feet from the hole before returning. Sometimes it was difficult to see what it was doing, but on one occasion we saw it drag a wad of old vegetation down into the hole. At other times it returned with a whole length of Red Deadnettle. In this photo you can see a number of the stems blocking up the hole!

This photo shows the stems removed with the hole on the left. The stem fragments are quite long.

A photo of the hole entrance reveals the presence of more stems jammed even further down the tunnel!!

This close-up reveals a few of the Red Dead-Nettle stems that have had sections gnawed off and removed. You can also see where a length of Chickweed has been removed, too, though there was no evidence of any Chickweed amongst the Red Deadnettle by the hole itself.

In this photo you can see the hole, filled with Red Deadnettle stems on the left-hand side. There is an obvious pathway running from left to right where the Bank Vole has removed the vegetation! The Bank Vole breeding season begins in March – I’m assuming that we witnessed a female animal collecting bedding and food material. If it is a ‘she’ and she’s about to give birth, maybe this food store jammed into the entrance of her home means that she won’t have to risk leaving the burrow for a few days?? I’ll keep an eye on it and see what happens!