Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Good bye 2015

Well it's almost the end of the year and my festive itinerary means that I probably won't get another chance to post before 2016 is upon us.

Looking back at this time last year I made all sort of natural history goals and predictions, almost none of which came true. So, I think for 2016 my plan is to just enjoy what comes along and to keep trying to see new bits of the natural history of these isles. But I am going to keep concentrating on beetles as discovering these over the last couple of years has been a revelation and has added so much to my enjoyment of natural history. My new job means that I'm based in a nature reserve which should mean some lunchtime forays over the coming months and may even result in some visits to other reserves over the year.

The one goal from last year that has sort of come true is that this blog is still going. In all honestly I was pretty sure it would fizzle out pretty quickly and although it is usually light on text and heavy on crap pictures, this posts represents the 52 post of the year. That's one a week!!

The blog has had more than 3000 views this year from a bizarrely varied list of countries. Not many comments but you can't have everything and that's probably just a result of my unengaging posts!

Anyway, if anyone reads this I hope you have a great Christmas and New Year and that 2016 brings you everything you hope for.

(and here's a nicely marked Mottled Umber that was hanging out at work the other day)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Merry men

Had a fun day out at Sherwood Forest yesterday. visiting the National Nature Reserve, and getting to hear all about the plans for the future of this rather fascinating and special place.

We visited the Major Oak and saw a good number of other ancient oaks. Apparently the highest density in western Europe.

There was so much dead wood about that I'm guessing invertebrate sampling must throw up some pretty cool stuff. Will have to make a return visit at some point and take a better look.

There were still a few fungi on show including a few Scleroderma citrinum, Common Earthball. A fungus that even I can identify (I hope).

Monday, November 23, 2015

My guilty internet secret

It's that time of year when we all spend time on the internet looking for gifts for our nearest and dearest for the forthcoming festive season. We're all at it.

Except, I have a guilty confession....

I always get tempted away from the job in hand by certain websites...

You know the kind.

One such late night online session last week, resulted in a parcel landing with a thud on my doorstep this morning.

I'm not referring to anything untoward here but it's the sites of the purveyors of natural history books that I'm drawn towards.

On opening the package I found the rather beautiful Suomen Luteet [Finnish Bugs]. It is a comprehensive guide to 521 species of Heteroptera known from Finland but has a good crossover with UK species. Obviously, the text is all in Finnish but the extensive photo spreads are great and will make a great first point of reference when dealing with specimens.

A wee bit of google translate does the job for most of the language and I'll go through and mark which the UK species are. Now that winter is properly here (ground frosts and everything) it's also a nice reminder of the year to come.

Ages ago I had an app that used the iPhone camera to auto translate text in real time. Can't for the life of me find or remember what it was now.

Bugger! If anyone can recommend one please do let me know.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Continental beauties

I've been spending some much needed time categorising and sorting out a whole load of images. I have 10s of 1000s of images on my computer and several hard drives. It's a slow process but should hopefully be worthwhile in the long run.

I occasionally find stuff that I'd completely forgotten about and that was the case with a folder from June 2008 entitled Beetles. The pictures were all taken of beetles that had turned up in my moth trap over a 2 week period whilst on holiday in the Cevennes region of France.

I remember being pretty blown away by them at the time but given my recent shift in interest toward coleoptera it was rather nice to be reminded of them.

Calasoma sychophanta

European Rhinoceros Beetle

Saperda scalaris

Female Stag Beetle

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


One of the ladies I work with popped over to my desk last week and asked if I'd seen the weird bug on the wall outside our office.

I popped my head out to see a new bug for me, but one that was immediately recognisable, Western Conifer Seed bug Leptoglossus occidentalis.

Not an unexpected species but this alien invasive was rather smarter than I thought it would be.
Native to the USA and introduced into Europe in 1999, it has since spread rapidly

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Legs akimbo

This week saw me starting a new job. Early days but I think it's going to be good with some challenges to get my teeth into. My new place of work is also surrounded by a nature reserve so I'm hoping that there will be plenty of opportunity for some impromptu natural history.

I found this harvestman on the wall outside my new office. Probably the easiest species to identify as it has a unique resting position, Dicranopalpus ramosus. Originally a Mediterranean species, this harvestman first appeared in the UK in the 1950's and has now spread northwards throughout much of the UK.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Where is the string that Theseus laid?

A tip off from Stephen Boulton on the UK beetles Facebook Group send me scuttling back up to Cavenham Heath NNR this morning. I'd seen Stephen's amazing images of Minotaur Beetle Typhaeus typhoeus and wanted to see one for myself. Whilst not an uncommon species in the southern half of the UK, it is localised, and not a species I'd seen before.

It is mainly found on heath and moorland with sandy soil and has a penchant for sheep and rabbit dung. Despite it being pretty chilly, I soon found over fifty of them going about their business in their characteristic stumbling fashion. When feeling threatened they buzz slightly which appears to be them rattling their elytra.

There appeared to be lots of burrows where they'd either just emerged from or where provisioning for breeding.

Whilst watching several move about and navigate the tussocks i noticed a smaller dor beetle that stood out because of its smooth and shiny elytra.

It appears to be a Spring Dumble Dor Trypocopris vernalis. This is a very local species and is seperated from Heath Dumble Dor T. pyrenaeus by denser punctures on the pronotum which are visible in the images below.

So turned out to be a two new beetle day and I even managed to buy a new car as well....

...and the title of the post?
With its link to the minotaur myth I couldn't resist stealing the line from one of the greatest groups of the late 70s/early 80s!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A walk on the heath

I'm currently on leave for 3 weeks in between jobs and will be using that time to catch up on jobs around the house plus a huge amount of gardening. However, this morning I decided to pay a visit to somewhere that I'd never visited before.

Cavenham Heath is part of the Brecks. Much of that habitat has now been lost so Cavenham is a remnant of that particular habitat of heathland and acid grassland. It is an important site and is designated a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The heath is next to the River Lark where it becomes wet grassland and fen and is surrounded by Birch woodland. It is managed by Natural England.

Late September probably isn't the best time to visit although there are apparently post-breeding flocks of Stone Curlews. Needless to say I didn't see these. I did see Green Woodpecker, Tree Pipit and loads of corvids.

The walk was very pleasant in the sunshine with a few insects venturing out into the cooling breeze. Lots of Common Darters were about including this female.

A Small Copper plus the odd Large White were seen flitting about on the track edges.

This Devil's Coach horse beetle was seen examining an over ripe dog turd, off which there were many (turds not beetles). Dog walkers that leave their pet's produce on the ground (or in little bags hanging from trees) really piss me off. Not only is it a walking hazard but I guess it also adds nutrients to areas that may not traditionally have many.

Roesel's Bush-crickets were apparent from their low soft sung in patches of longer grass. I've been noticing this song at several places recently.

I saw a couple of these sand wasps in the sandy edges to the tracks. Given I was in the Brecks this is most likely to be Kirby's Sand Wasp Podalonia affinis although hirsuta is a remote possibility.

On my way back to the car I noticed a late Volucella zonaria flying around a young oak and managed a few shots before it flew off. Always nice to see and I'm always amazed at what a whopper these are.

Monday, September 28, 2015

I am a cider beetle.....

This weekend's Indian summer weather had me out in the garden collecting apples and then processing and pressing them for juice and cider. It's something we do each autumn and I've managed to produce some extremely drinkable cider that will be drunk around christmas time. Although I might need some help with this year's 50+ pints.

I was disposing of a whole load of pressed apples at the composting bin when an unfamiliar beetle flew in and landed nearby, apparently attracted by the strong scent of apple.

It's the sap beetle Glischrochilus hortensis, one of three species of Glischrochilus beetles found in the UK. These are small beetles (around 5mm in length) which feed on sap and ripe fruit.

I potted and papped it and then let it go on its way. An unexpected and welcome addition to my beetle list.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A new hover...

...for me.

And it's a really common one. But to be fair this year is the first that I've really paid attention to them.

This little beauty is Rhingia campestris and is a fairly distinctive beast. With its long snout it's really only confusable with R. rostrata. The more orange abdomen, dark central line and lateral margins mean this is campestris.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Undiscovered Owls – a Sound Approach Guide

If I’m honest I’ve never had much luck with owls. Wherever I go in the world you can bet that I usually miss out on seeing even the common ones. Despite this constant needle in my side, I am rather fond of them, as I suspect are many birders around the world and they always brighten up a day or enhance a night out birding.

As a big fan of the Sound Approach series of books and e-books I was naturally excited when a review copy of this book landed with a thud on my desk. Beautifully produced and accompanied by four CDs the book looks and feels as good as its predecessors.

Led by expert sound-recordist Magnus Robb, the Sound Approach team have travelled the length and breadth of the Western Palearctic listening and recording owls in their natural habitats and using both physical and morphological differences as well as vocalisation differences have proposed potential undiscovered owl forms within the region.

In just under 300 pages and nine chapters, the book adopts a rather liberal taxonomy, recognising 27 species. For example, Barn Owl is split into four species (Common, Slender-billed, Madeiran & Cape Verde).

There’s a great deal of information in each chapter and includes some superb photography, as well as lots of sonograms to illustrate the points being made. The text is extremely readable and the reader gets a real sense of the adventures (and frustrations) the team must have had in getting all these recordings.

I’ve already spent many evenings with this book and the accompanying CDs and there is still much more to learn and enjoy. I only wish all books gave me as much pleasure.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

It's just not cricket...

...well that's not quite true.

I still need to write a post on all the rockpooling we did in Dorset/Devon but for now I will have to satisfy myself with a quickie on orthopterans - grasshoppers and crickets. (Mainly inspired by the new iPhone app for iRecord. Check it out. They've done a great job with it.)

Saw a fair few over the fortnight and I think two were new for me. A bit difficult to tell as I only recently started keeping records of these.

First up a Meadow Grasshopper showing itself nicely on my son's t-shirt. These were everywhere. On the cliff tops and fields.

I went looking for Cepero's Ground-hopper but drew a blank and only managed to find Common Ground-hopper

Field Grasshopper were another commonly encountered species and this one was particularly easy to get close to.

And now for the two ticks. First one was Bog Bush-cricket. Not in a bog but in a field although to be fair it was next to some heath that probably had some damper areas. The second new one was Great Green Bush-cricket that managed to show itself by landing on my son before posing for photos.

The one dip of the trip was Scaly Cricket. I searched at Branscombe and Chesil Beach, to no avail although did bizarrely find a shed skin. I will return next year with pitfall traps......

Monday, August 24, 2015

Four-spotted horseman of the apocalypse

Things have been hectic at work and have just come back from 5 days in Rutland at the Birdfair. It was great to catch up with a whole lot of folk I only see once a year but the preparation and time away has meant that I haven't had time to write any more posts about my time in Dorset.

So here goes one about moths......

I ran my actinic trap 8 or 9 times whilst away and caught a reasonable selection of moths, although none in great numbers. There were several British ticks for me in the haul including some rather beautiful moths.

Rosy Footman was caught on two occasions and while not rare is not one I've come across before.

Brussel Lace is a lichen feeder with its stronghold in the south-west. These turned up on every trapping session and were subtly beautiful with some variation in the base colour of the wings.

Another new one was the Mocha. Up to 6 of these were caught most nights. They were rather delicately marked and I think were my favourite moth of the holiday.

The title of the post was inspired by Four-spotted Footman. I've trapped these in France but it was nice to see again. I'd also forgotten how big they are. When they open their wings they really are a whopper. Capable of all manner of biblical destruction. Possibly......


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Eype of the Tiger

I've just returned from a great two-week family holiday to the west Dorset coast. Staying just inland from Charmouth, we had easy access to lots of great coastal sites. Fossil hunting and rock pooling were frequent events and the later turned up lots of goodies (for me at least!).

This bit of the coast is under constant erosion and there are frequent cliff collapses and land slides. This has lead to a very dynamic environment with patches of bare ground, pioneer vegetation and more established stuff. This is also riddled with gullies for water run off and seepages from underground springs.  

This is a fairly unusual environment in the UK and supports several rare and range-restricted species. My first taste of the Dorset undercliff (as it is known) came at Eype Mouth (rhymes with cheap!) on our first afternoon.

My main target was Cliff Tiger-beetle Cylindera germanica and these were quickly found scurrying around over patches of bare earth in between some of the pioneer vegetation. They didn't half move but I eventually pinned one or two down for a closer look. Smaller than the Dune Tiger-beetles seen recently at Holme, Norfolk, but still as feisty and ready to give a nip.

Now, I'm next to useless on plants, but a recent tip off by Steve Gale on his great blog alerted me to the presence of a real botanical rarity at this site. Slender Centaury is known from only two sites in Dorset and one of them is Eype Mouth. Having brushed up on what it looks like I found 50+ plants just to the west of the mouth. Similar to Lesser Centaury it is currently considered a full species.

I only had a couple of hours here before the kids wanted to move off in search of ice cream, but I could have easily spent several more hours working the cliffs and seeps for more rare beetles.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Recent offerings

With the abysmal weather of the last few days and a mounting workload before summer holidays next week, natural history has taken a bit of a sideline.

I have had the moth trap a couple of times which has resulted in three new species for the garden

Firstly, Lunar-spotted Pinion Cosmia pyralina, not one that was on my radar and threw me at first when i turned over the egg box. Not unsusal locally though apparently.

Secondly, a new moth family for me, Ypsolophidae with the offender being Ypsolopha scabrella.
When seen up a close a really cool moth with three little tufts of scales along its back. What are their function?!?

And lastly, a Dark Spinach Pelurga comitata.

Off to Dorset for a fortnight at the end of this week. Not somewhere I know at all so hopefully will turn a few new things up and I'll be taking the moth trap to keep things ticking over, but my number one target species is Cliff Tiger-beetle........

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Well marked and buff

There's a fair bit of variation in Buff Ermines Spilosoma lutea but this one that I caught last night is the most well marked individual I've seen.

I've found a couple of similar individuals online but nothing like it locally before.

You live and learn!