Thursday, July 26, 2012

Special species!

The last few days I've felt very privileged with some of the species that I have managed to see.

First, a couple of nationally scarce notable (Nb) moth species. This is a Kent Black Arches moth that turned up in the moth trap yesterday morning. The photo really doesn't do justice to its beauty.

And this Festoon turned up this morning. It's reckoned that the period of their emergence is pretty narrow and so they are easy to miss unless they happen to be flying around close to a trap that's put out mine when it's not raining!

I was really pleased to spot this late yesterday afternoon whilst pushing my bike up a hill! It's Oxtongue Broomrape, a Red Data Book species (RDB2) that is only found here and on the Sussex & Kent coasts.

You can see the long and thin calyx teeth quite well on this photo. Until a few years ago it was mostly found on inaccessible cliff ledges, records in the early years probably coming from local climbers who would descend the cliffs in search of gulls eggs and samphire. Occasionally they were recorded on the tops of the cliffs but, more recently, a few have been found along the chalk road cuttings. The host plant for this species is Hawkweed Oxtongue.

Finally, a plant which, according to my orchid guide, has only been recorded before a few days ago in Wiltshire in England, the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, and County Down in Ireland. It's the hybrid Frog Orchid x Common Spotted Orchid.

Unfortunately, this individual is now on its last legs but, if you want to see it in its full glory, then go to Rog Powley's website here, and scroll along until you find it. It was Rog and his wife, Lyn, who discovered this beauty. They are on a quest to record all of the islands orchids this year and have already seen 17 species. Not bad going!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I spent a bit of time at the annual Isle of Wight Bio-Blitz today. It took place at the main Compton Bay car park, just off the Military Road, a beautiful location with the advantage of an ice-cream van close by!

This was my favourite find of the day: a wonderful Golden-ringed dragonfly. This is the first time that I've seen this species outside of the Highlands of Scotland. Later on a second individual flew down the path in front of me!

These spiders were very common in the short rough grassland right by the cliff edge. They are Bordered Orb-weavers (Neoscona adianta).

And this is a very interesting little beastie. It's the calliphorid fly, Cynomya mortuorum. With a name like mortuorum I suspected that an internet search would turn up some interesting information. This is what the species account on Wikipedia says:

The use of C. mortuorum in the judicial system is most commonly applied to the medicocriminal branch of forensic entomology. It is often useful in estimating the post mortem interval of a human cadaver. By studying the morphology and stage of development of the C. mortuorum obtained from a body, one can determine an estimate of a time of death for that body. Plenty of variables play into the use of insects in a criminal investigation, including temperature, certain chemicals, or location, but determining an arthropod's stage of development on a corpse proves to be an accurate technique in estimating a time of death.
Calliphoridae eggs, like C. mortuorum eggs, usually hatch twenty-four to forty-eight hours after being laid. These specimens, once hatched, undergo three instars in their larval stage, which can take anywhere from four to twenty-one days. Another three to fourteen days account for the blow fly’s pre-pupae stage, and, finally, the pupae stage can take an additional three to twenty days. Depending on certain variables, a forensic entomologist can pinpoint which stage of development a C. mortuorum is in, and how long it and the carcass it is feeding on have been there.

So now you know! Here's a video clip of this afternoon's individual:


Tigers & Frogs!!

I enjoyed the opportunity to walk over Afton Down with Caroline, Roger & Jenny early yesterday evening.

The main purpose of our trek 'up hill and down dale' was to catch up with this year's wonderful display of Frog Orchids.This is just one of 60 or so spikes that have been counted, though we didn't manage that many! There are not only good numbers, but many of them are surprisingly tall!

Caroline suddenly noticed a Wood Tiger Moth which disappeared into the short vegetation. I gently parted it to find this:

Not one, but 2 Wood Tiger Moths. At first I thought they were a mating pair but it didn't seem right. If you look closely - at the bottom left of the left wing - there is a big clue as to what is actually going on. The original individual that Caroline had seen was obviously attracted to a mating pair.

When he wandered off, we were left with this scene! I've never seen a Wood Tiger...and now I've seen three at once. What is it they say about buses?? :-)

To cap it all, guess what was in the moth trap this morning? Another Tiger - a Garden Tiger this time. I haven't seen an adult one of these since a Venture Scout camp at Leek Wootten back in the late 70s, which demonstrates how much they have declined. This one appears to be very much in decline as an individual!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Wild

This blog seems to be focusing on moths at the moment....but they are so amazingly varied and beautiful. Take some of the individuals that have turned up the last few days:

When I saw this beauty, I assumed that it was a Yellow-tail.....

....but, coaxing it onto my pen (you don't want to handle these beasties!) I discovered that it was the more local Brown-tail, the first time I've had one in the trap.

And, following the arrival of Elephant, Small-elephant and Privet Hawk Moths over the last few weeks, I was excited to be able to add this Poplar Hawk Moth to the list.

And here is the obligatory video clip of this wonderful creature!

Just a few more photos to emphasize the range of size, shape and colour that I'm confronted with first thing every morning. This is the Dark/Grey Dagger - only separable by examining the male genitalia...which is why I was happy to release it! :-)

Bright-line Brown-eye - what a great name! And last, but not least....

Purple Thorn....exquisite!!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Thursday Wild

We're assured that brighter and warmer weather is on the way, and the last few days have already started to see in upturn in the numbers of various flying invertebrates that have suddenly found the opportunity to do what they do best and launch themselves into the heavens!

Pick of the moths this morning was this Peppered Moth. This is the moth that many of us learned about when we were at school - the British version of Darwin's Galapagos finches, adapting to the smoke and grime of the cities by getting darker in order to blend into the sooty tree trunks on which it rested. Having cleaned up our act (in this regard, at any rate), most of these moths are now the standard form, like this one from yesterday evening doing it's best to blend into my jeans!!

And this is the hoverfly of the day - the uncommon Sphaerophoria rueppellii, a first for me which I netted from amongst the Sea Lavender on the saltmarsh by the Freshwater Causeway.

Here's a bit of video that I'm adding to the library I'm building up. I must remember to use a brand new tube in future! Other hoverflies included the impressive Volucella zonaria and Helophilus trivittatus.

Several butterflies were on the wing, including this beautiful Holly Blue.

This is the larva of the 14-spot Ladybird. The adults are fairly common, but this is the first time I've come across the larva with its distinctive 'paint-spots'!

And I ought to include a bug....this is a late instar larva of the Forest Bug (Pentatoma rufipes). It's my favourite Shieldbug.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Moth trap - Wednesday morning

This is the third night in a row when I've put the moth trap out - things must be looking up!

And they certainly were when I found this stunning Privet Hawk moth! When the wings are closed it looks like a massive dark moth (it's our largest). When they're open it's something else!

This one is new to me. It's the Chamomile Shark, separated from the similar Shark by the fact that the dark streaks at the hind edge extend into the fringe. The 'mullet' on the head is reminiscent of a shark's dorsal fin, hence its name. It really is a beautiful moth in the hand.

After submitting my records at the end of the year, this record was questioned by Tim Norris, the Lepidoptera Recorder for Hampshire & the IOW. As a result, this record has now been changed to  'The Shark' and not 'Chamomile Shark'. Tim noted that, although this specimen does show the black lines extending onto the fringe on the one side, it doesn't on the other. But the main issue is the flight period, too late for the single-brooded Chamomile Shark, the main flight period of which occurs from April to May. This is just one example of what a great job Recorders do!

 There were also two coastal moths present:
This is Synaphe punctalis.

And I was really pleased to find my second Crescent Dart in a week, demonstrating that there must be a fairly healthy colony of this notable species on the West Wight!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Moth Trap - Tuesday morning

Yesterday there were a few interesting moths present in the moth trap:

I thought I’d get a photo of this Herald alongside Richard Lewington’s illustration in the field guide – he’s a superb artist with a real eye for detail. The Latin name –  Scoliopteryx libatrix – makes it sound like something out of Harry Potter! With those colours these moths are really well camouflaged when they find some dead leaves to rest amongst during the day. Herald moths hibernate in cool places during the winter. A few years ago I came across several during a Bat hibernation survey in various ice-houses in Bedfordshire.

 Like moths to a flame’ the saying goes. This moth is called The Flame. It wraps its wings around its body, taking on the appearance of a broken twig.

This is a Bee Moth, so-called because the larvae can be found inside Bee & Wasp nests feeding on the honeycomb.

This tiny soldierfly was also present – it’s a male Black-horned Gem (Microchrysa polita).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Elephants in the garden!

It was very late by the time I put the moth trap out on Wednesday evening, and I wondered whether it was worth it but, not having tried it for some weeks as a result of the atrocious weather we've been having, I decided to give it a go.

And I'm glad that I did because, although there wasn't a lot of quantity on Thursday morning, there was a bit of quality!

Elephant Hawkmoth (above) and Small Elephant Hawkmoth (below) are two of my favourite moths - I love their beautiful subtle colours, though the latter is looking a tad worn! I tell them apart by whether there's a pink 'trunk' down the abdomen. If there is, then it's an Elephant Hawkmoth! Though the size is quite marked as can be seen in the video sequence below:

In this clip of the two of them on my hand, the Elephant Hawkmoth is warming up its wing muscles ready to take off. The speed of the wings is so fast that it results in an interesting wave-like motion on the video.

And this was an exciting find. It's a Crescent Dart, a Notable/Nb coastal species which has a bit of a stronghold here on the Isle of Wight.


(Other species: Riband Wave - 2; Heart & Dart - 4; Dark Arches - 3; Uncertain - 1; Scalloped Oak - 1; Garden Grass Veneer - 1)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Xanthogramma pedissequum

 This dramatic Xanthogramma pedissequum hoverfly, a female, was one of two nectaring on Hogweed umbels just south of Headon Warren a few days ago, the first time I’ve come across them on this plant.

 The video’s a bit jumpy, but I was pleased to obtain it because I’ve always found this to be a species that is difficult to get close to tending, as it does, to stay low and disappear at a rate of knots on approach! The larvae are regularly found in ants’ nests.

There are some stunning photos of the species here, obtained using a focus stacker.

Following a sweep with the net across the umbels, I found this yellow & black beastie, too. It’s not a hoverfly but a soldierfly: Stratiomys potamida.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Roseate Tern

Many thanks to Caroline who not only found this Roseate Tern at Fort Victoria this evening, but rang me to let me know. The US National Audubon Society says of these birds, ‘With its silvery appearance, light, buoyant flight, and streaming tail feathers, the Roseate Tern is the epitome of elegance.’

That says it all really. In the video below you can see it perched on the disused pier at Fort Victoria together with a few flight shots as it feeds with a dozen or so Common Terns on a shoal of fish just off the pier.

This is one of our rarest seabirds that has been declining over a number of years, though the species account on Wikipedia notes that the provision of nestboxes for the colony at Coquet Island, Northumberland led to a dramatic increase from 25 pairs in 1997 to an amazing 92 pairs in 2005! There are some great photos and video footage of this species at ARKive.

Caroline noticed from photos that the Tern had a ring on each leg. Following enquiries it transpires that this would be a feature of just about every Roseate Tern raised in the UK, Ireland & France. This bird is probably from one of the main colonies at Lady's Island Lake (Wexford), Rockabill (Dublin), Coquet Island (Northumberland), or our nearest colony in Brittany!

Spiderman's Spider!

This spider was photographed on the wall at the bottom of our stairs. It’s Steatoda grossa or, in English according to Wikipedia: Cupboard Spider, Dark Comb-footed Spider, Brown House Spider (in Australia) or – more ominously – False Black Widow.

With all the current hype surrounding the new Spiderman film that’s just been released, it’s interesting to note that it was this species of spider that nipped Peter Parker in the brilliant 2002 release, albeit painted with blue & red stripes for dramatic effect! You can see it here if you're not squeamish!

The fact is that this is one of only a dozen or so species of spider in the UK whose jaws can pierce the skin, resulting in pain and, sometimes, an allergic reaction that can be nasty, but it’s sad to see the public fear and overreaction that inevitably follows the diagnosis of a spider bite.

That was the case last week here on the Isle of Wight. You can read the story in the Isle of Wight County Press. I really do feel sorry for what Shannon has gone through but the hype is not helpful!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Beauty in the beast!

…..and still the rain comes tumbling down!

But I managed to spend an hour in Walter’s Copse, Newtown, on the way to a meeting in Newport earlier in the week where I had the first of my annual encounters with the creatures I find the scariest!!
Horseflies! I both love ‘em and hate ‘em. I find them fascinating and love finding and studying them, but they scare me when they’re flying around me looking for a nice juicy bit of flesh to land on and burrow in to!

I was photographing a spider when I suddenly noticed a silent grey blob flying around me. I knew what it was straightaway and, on the 3rd pass, managed to capture it with a frenzied sweep of the net!

It’s Haemotopota pluvialis one of the Clegs (I’m amazed that I haven’t come across a certain politician being compared to his namesake!). Even when it’s raining, these blighters are out on the hunt for a blood meal, hence pluvialis!

 This is one of the reasons why I love ‘em. Look at the amazing colours and patterns in the eyes (the photograph doesn't do them justice at all!).

I'm reading John Lister-Kaye's At The Water's Edge. In the preface he observes the beauty of a spider's web and writes: 'Wherever I look in nature I find myself confronted by the paradox of sublime design and grim function, almost as though one is mocking the other - a deadly game, sometimes so violent and brutish that it takes my breath away - the stabbing bill of the heron, the peregrine's dazzling stoop, the otter's underwater grace in pursuit of a fish. And then the beauty floods back in as though some grander plan than evolution fits it all together with added value, that extra aesthetic ingredient, the work of some unnamed genius quite incapable of creating anything shoddy or brash. So I walk, and I watch, and listen, and slowly I learn.'

I’ve been trying to find out why the eyes of these creatures are so dramatic. So far the only information I’ve come across is that paper by Helga Knuttal and Klaus Lunau. As you would expect, it’s in German, though there is an English overview which reads:

Conspicuous, bright colorations of insect compound eyes may be caused by two different
mechanisms resulting in different functions:
1) A thin layer of bright, light scattering pigment inside the pigment cells bordering cornea and crystalline cones may determine the eye’s outer appearance when seen through the transparent dioptric apparatus. The insect’s vision is not influenced by this phenomenon. The cornea transmits light equally well for all wavelengths involved in vision.
2) Interference filters in the cornea cause colourful, metallic reflections. Transmission measurements of single cornea lenses revealed that the interference filters act as colour filters by reducing transmission of light in a small limited waveband. These filters influence vision, because they change the spectral composition of visual stimuli.

If anyone could tell me what that means I’d be really grateful! :-)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Vendee Highlights

We've just got back from a wonderful week's holiday based at La Dune des Sables on the Vendee coast in France. I didn't have too much opportunity to explore the local wildlife but, every time I wandered around the local area, there was plenty to see.

Butterflies included the beautiful Queen of Spain Fritillery.

And I loved these Tiger Beetles which were very active in the zone between the sand and the Foret d'Olonne.

There were plenty of birds over the marshes including large numbers of Avocets, together with quite a few pairs of Black-winged Stilts. And, although I only saw a few Hoverflies during our stay, there were a number of other fascinating dipteran species around...

...including this Villa member of the Bombyliidae family.

Finally, a few video sequences:

I love the sound that this Bee-fly made as it flew from flower to flower.

And I spent quite a bit of time observing this Robberfly. At one point it can be seen with a fly that it has caught. Soon afterwards it 'freezes' as another fly trundles past, but decides that it isn't worth the trouble!

Finally, a scene of a different kind - the final 'ballet' from the incredible falconry display at Puy Du Fou. For years I have tried to explain to people about just how spell-binding this show is. After a gap of 11 years, we returned to Puy Du Fou for the 4th time last Thursday....and it was even better. I know they're not 'wild' birds, but just enjoy the spectacle!