Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bits and pieces

A few photos from out and about the last few days....

Yesterday morning I was up bright and early at 5.30am and in the garden checking the moth trap. I was really encouraged to find this Privet Hawk Moth....our most humungous resident moth! Its latin name is Sphinx ligustri. Ligustri refers to privet, one of its foodplants, but I've not been able to find out why Sphinx is used - any thoughts?

When I handled it, it spread its wings revealing those dramatic pink & black bars on the hindwing and abdomen. I was listening out for the hissing noise that males will also make when disturbed but this one was quiet. The sound is made by rubbing together spines and scales at the end of the tail.

And, away from the garden, I'm so fortunate in having this countryside just down the road!!

This late pair of Dingy Skippers were making the most of the end of their season. With the weather having been so bad we may not see any for another year now, though a number will turn up in August when the weather is more favourable.

But this small Hoverfly was the star of the day. It's a female Anasimyia contracta which has a particular liking for ponds. This one was on the fringes of a pond on the undercliff at Compton Bay. I think I'm correct in saying that this species hasn't been recorded on the Isle of Wight for over 25 years, so it made my day!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Walter's Copse

This fledgling Jay was present at Walter's Copse during a quick visit first thing this morning.

I took the opportunity of getting a short piece of video, too!

I also came across my first Painted Lady butterfly of the year...I think that the underwing is even more beautifully patterned than topsides!

The uncommon Picture-wing Fly, Melieria picta, a notable species, is common here on the saltmarsh.

I think that this spider is Cyclosa conica, the second part of the name describing the conical-like tubercle. According to the book it's widespread but confined to dark, moist woodland, which fits with where I came across it!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sphaerophoria loewi

 I'm trying to post photos and video sequences of various hoverfly species as I come across them. This individual may not look as dynamic and colourful as the Volucella & Chrysotoxum species posted recently, but it's very special to me.

I took a detour yesterday morning whilst on the way to meet Carole in order to search for this species at a private site in Bedfordshire. I spent quite a bit of time sweeping the vegetation on the fringes of a pool...finally deciding that, unfortunately, it was far too windy (the sound file on the video gives you an idea of just how windy it was!). Following a final sweep on the way back I looked into the net and, to my surprise and joy, found the individual in the photos above.

It's a male Sphaerophoria loewi, a rare coastal hoverfly that is part of the only known inland breeding site which I was very fortunate in finding a few years ago when, amazingly, I came across a mating pair. Previously, it had only been recorded inland once before - at Aviemore, Scotland, in 1986! This video clip shows the hoverfly in a tube.

After a while I put the open tube between my legs, hoping that the hoverfly would crawl out onto my jeans and settle down....which is exactly what happened! I'm disappointed that I was a bit too ambitious and didn't realise that I was focusing a bit too close leading to some slight blurring of the image, but I've enjoyed watching it giving itself a good clean even so. The Sea Clubrush plant at this location seems to be the key factor that has led to the establishment of a breeding population. It's great to see that it's still around...I'm now looking out for it on the Isle of Wight!

Chinese Water Deer

One of the positive things about spending a few days back in Bedfordshire is the opportunity to catch up with the various deer species, all of which are lacking on the Isle of Wight (though there are rumours.......!!!).

I caught up with this Chinese Water Deer in a field near Stewartby. It was a very close and gentle encounter. I wondered whether she might have a young one close by but couldn't see anything.

 There were a number of Chinese Water Deer tracks nearby.

On this photograph you can see how the right hind foot has been placed into the slot of the right fore foot.

And the mud is so soft here that the print is splayed and you can clearly make out the marks of the two hind dewclaws.

And piles of droppings are a giveaway!

A bit further on, this surprised Bank Vole was present under a refuge.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Chrysotoxum festivum

The Chrysotoxum hoverflies are some of my favourites with their striking wasp-like features. The clip below is a Chrysotoxum festivum that was enjoying the brief bout of blue skies and warm sunshine at Afton Marsh a few days ago following days of gloom and drizzle!

The larvae of many hoverflies feed on various species of aphids. Those of this beauty feed on the so-called root aphids which are farmed by ants for their honeydew...which is why certain ants' nests are the place to search for them. Fascinating!

Other recent sightings from the Marsh include this solitary bee. We think that it is Andrena nitida, the white 'spots' caused by the pale hairs on the sides of the abdomen being fairly distinctive.

Soldier beetles are now starting to appear in numbers. This is Cantharis pellucida - I love the black 'highwayman's mask' on the face. Mind you, they don't just 'hold up' the other insects that join them on the umbellifer flower-heads....they eat them!

And, last but not least, a Dusky Slug (Arion subfuscus).

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Volucellas about

The Volucella hoverflies are amongst the most distinctive and eye-catching of our insect fauna, especially at this time of year. A few days ago 3 of the 5 species were present at Walter's Copse:

The sequence begins with a brief view of Volucella inflata. Then we have the striking Volucella pellucens, which lays its eggs in wasp nests and has been observed  just walking through the front door unmolested! The close up footage of it feeding reveals that it is after the sweet energy-rich nectar rather than the pollen. The sequence closes with a view of the red-tailed form of Volucella bombylans.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Wildlife at home

Yesterday evening this Red Fox was feeding on our front lawn while it was still fairly light. Please don't worry about what's being said in the background - it's part of an Inspector Linley episode and not us!

And, just as I was getting ready to go to bed, I found this beauty making its way from the hall to the kitchen! I'm awaiting an identification. I think that it's probably a Mouse Spider (Scotophaeus blackwalli).

Update: The early indications seems to be that it is a species of Drassodes, but maybe not identifiable to species.

And now for some of the most terrible photos you will ever see:

 I found this tiny Glyphipterix species in the net yesterday during a walk in the drizzle through Afton Marsh. I took a quick couple of photos before it flew off. It turns out to be a good decision because this is Glyphipterix forsterella which has only been recorded on the Isle of Wight twice before: in 1974 by moth guru Barry Goater......and a couple of weeks ago by me!! :-) I needed photographic evidence and, terrible though it is, there you are! The white spot at the apex of the wing together with the 2 marks across the wings are good pointers.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Weird & Wonderful!

I was going to watch one of the rugby internationals yesterday morning but, when I woke up to sunshine streaming through the window, I grabbed my net and drove to Walter's Copse, Newtown to survey for hoverflies.

 During one of my sweeps in the short vegetation, I came across this alien-like creature clinging to the side of the net.

This angle from the side gives a clue as to what is going on....and it's fascinating. Thanks to the good folk at iSpot we've established that it is the larva of a Tortoise Beetle, probably the Fleabane Tortoise Beetle (Cassida murraea). There was plenty of Common Fleabane growing all around, so that sounds good to me!

I love the way that a blogger in the United States expresses his amazement at the habits of Tortoise Beetle larvae: ''s really super weird. The green oval-shaped thing with the spines is the actual creature. That big crinkly brown thing on its back? That's a mass of dried excrement. Poop. I couldn't make this stuff up. The larva actually holds this thing up over its back with a special "fork" on its hind end, and it can wave it around at will. Various internet sources suggest that this is some sort of defense mechanism, or a means of camouflage. Either way, blech. Also, ew.'

Apparently, the 'poop' can also include cast skins, and the fact that some Cassidine larvae feed on toxic plants gives an additional chemical defence.

Absolutely fascinating!!

Friday, June 8, 2012


There have been some Great White Egrets present over the eastern side of the island. I've never seen a Great White Egret in the UK but, following the exciting news that a pair has nested at Shapwick Heath in Somerset (see here), I'm sure that it won't be too long before I will be spotting them just down the road on our local river estuary...let's hope so!

The Great White Egret's smaller cousin, the Little Egret, has also been moving north, first nesting in Dorset in 1996. I videod this one on 'Station Pool' at Yarmouth a few days ago. I was enjoying the bird's reflection in the water when the image was very suddenly destroyed - watch and see what happens!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


This male Chaffinch is singing away fairly close to the 'Tidemill' footpath at Yarmouth.

The best mnemonic that I've heard for this song is one for the followers of cricket. Imagine your favourite bowler running up to the crease and then letting fly. The flourish at the end of the song represents the actual bowl following the run-up. If nothing else it has brought a laugh when I have tried to demonstrate it visually during bird-song talks and walks in the past!

If you're not a lover of sport, you'll probably prefer William Allingham's description. In his poem, 'The Lover and the Birds' he describes this song in the words: 'Sweet, sweet, sweet. Pretty lovely, come and meet me here'!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pollen delight!

I'm still struggling to upload photographs for some reason, so I'm going to stick to video sequences until I can get it sorted out.

Hoverflies make fascinating subjects, especially when studying feeding behaviour.

Tropidia scita is a hoverfly that is quite abundant at Afton Marsh. Yesterday I noticed that the flowering Yellow Flag was attracting them. Sometimes there were as many as 4 on the same plant at one time!

Another species that has suddenly exploded onto the scene in numbers locally is Meliscaeva auricollis - the arrow like marks on the abdomen are a good pointer to this species. Here is a bit of close up of an individual feeding on the pollen of a Hemlock Water-dropwort plant at the marsh.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Posting failures!

I've been struggling to upload posts with photos and videos over the last few days. Hopefully normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!