Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Platypus skull moth

I had a new moth for the garden this week, the rather pretty Ethmia quadrillella.

The caterpillars live in a silken web and feed on the foliage of comfrey and lungwort. Have not seen either of these nearby so must keep a better look out.

I don't think this has an English name, but if it did it would be the Platypus Skull Moth. Or at least that's what I see when I see it from above!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Who says micro moths are boring?

I do like micro moths. Well not all, granted. Those Eudonia can be a pain in the backside, but Crambids are pretty cool. After the recent longhorns I was back down the bottom of the garden and came across a resting Cherry Bark Tortrix Enarmonia formosana.

What an absolute beauty!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Voldemort's monocle

Mothing is still dire in my little garden just north of Cambridge. Last Friday netted just over 20 species, but overall number was 35ish. There are quite a few species that just haven't appeared this year. The one that I really notice the absence of is Ruby Tiger. It was one of the most frequent visitors last year, and I'm now wondering that if I've caught none of the first brood, whether I'll see any of the second later in the year.

The first hawkmoths of the year have appeared, with singles of Privet and Poplar, but as yet no repeat of last year's Goat Moth....

I did get a new species for the garden a week or so ago. Hence the title of the post.

Can you guess? Yep, Dark Spectacle

A rather smart moth and checking my records one that was actually a lifer. Mid-week is looking reasonable so will have the trap out Tuesday and Wednesday this week in the vague hope of improving numbers.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A lunchtime dash

I had a meeting in Thetford on Thursday afternoon, so decided to take my lunch break having a quick race round Lakenheath RSPB reserve. There was also the lure of a Collared Pratincole and a long-staying and elusive Little Bittern to be had, both of which would be UK ticks.

The day was warm and with the sun beating down I was soon rather hot. I walked out to Joist Fen to have a look for the pratincole. Needless to say in the midday heat it had upped sticks and gone elsewhere. Of consolation were several Marsh Harriers flying about, going to and from their nests. I witnessed some food passing from male to females which I don't recall having seen before. The bittern unsurprisingly went unseen. Interesting a low flying male Marsh Harrier flushed something that looked like it possibly was the bittern but the views were so brief and distant that it could have been a pterodactyl!

I ended up checking out the insects instead. The first Agapanthia villosoviridescens of the year flew round my head before landing for a photo.

There were plenty of a Cantharis rustica soldier beetles on various shrubs..

...and the odd Garden Chafer Phylloperta horticola feeding on flower heads.

It was quite windy and the only hover I identified was a Episyrphus balteatus.

On the lepidoptera front there were a few tatty looking Painted Ladies and a Peacock. I also saw Burnet Companion and a Cinnabar.

Once again the maze of paths that all lead to the visitor centre, manage to both confuse and piss me off in equal measure. I could see the car......just couldn't get there without the detour.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

It's all pants!

What does the discerning, modern, natural historian wear in the field for the 2015 season?


And workman's pants at that.

I recently found THE best trousers for doing fieldwork and the odd bit of natural history, which also double up as immense gardening trousers.

They are well made from hardwearing material and have a plethora of pockets. Notebooks, pens, tubes, pooter and even your lunch can all be accommodated.

And most importantly there is the option of the addition of kneepads. These make the work of getting down on your hands and knees for hours on end, to root out those difficult beetles, a veritable joy.

I can't believe I haven't seen more biologists/ecologists in similar attire. I love mine and will be ordering more (with ever increasing waistlines as the years progress).

Get them while you can!

Monday, June 8, 2015

There's no place like Holme

What to do on a relatively warm and sunny Sunday? The choice was quickly made: a trip to the coast.

All packed and out the house before 9 followed by a 90 minute journey meant we were hitting the carpark at Thornham by 10.20. We walked along the coastal path into the Holme Dunes NNR and set up base in a semi-sheltered spot. The number of common insects was amazing. Painted Ladies and Yellow Belles were disturbed from the side of the path and every stem seemed to contain a Cantharis rustica soldier beetle.

The main quarry was quickly seen, caught, papped and released and caused the kids much excitement.

Dune Tiger Beetle Cicindela maritima is restricted to the upper strandline in parts of Devon, Somerset, Kent, Wales and the North Norfolk coast. There were quite a few running and flying around in the warm sun and were quite prepared to give a friendly nip to curious fingers.

There were several Dune Chafers Anomala dubia flying about and wandering in the sand. Searches of the marram grass tussocks turned up a couple of weevils although I'm none the wiser as to what they were. Both were tiny.

The spider Arctosa perita is a coastal sand dune specialist and several of these were found on patches of sand. My book says there are other species in the genus from which they need to be separated by examination of the epigyne. The other species in the genus seem to have different behavioural characteristics and habitat preferences, so pretty sure this is the correct ID (famous last words).

They are incredibly well camouflaged when they freeze, despite their seemingly obvious markings, which I guess mimic the granular patterning of the sand.

Looking through patches of grass bordering the dunes turned up quite a few of the large click-beetle Agrypnus murinus.

All in all this was one of those great days where family fun and a bit of light natural history combined effortlessly. Everyone had fun I managed to see some cool things inbetween burying kids in sand and troughing on sandy ham sandwiches. Awesome.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Got the horn

The first Nemophora degeerella of the year appeared in the garden today, slightly later than last year. I love these longhorn moths, they have bags of character. The males' antennae are three to four times the length of the fore wing. In June, I see groups of males displaying, I guess in a lek.

The books say that the larval food plant is unknown. I kind of like the fact that there's a moth at the bottom of the garden which no one knows what it eats!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Return of the Titans

Moth trapping on Tuesday night proved pretty disastrous with only three moths of three species.
The only saving grace was the appearance of the first hawkmoth of the year... a slightly balding Privet! 

A quick trip out to Wicken Fen yesterday was rather quiet but punctuated by some lovely weather. Good views of a hunting Marsh Harrier and calling cuckoos and Cetti's Warbler were the best of the birds.

This Sericomyia silentis was the best of the few insects I managed to see whilst steering a small child along the boardwalks.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The aliens live amongst us

Looking at the weird and wonderful world of beetles has been a revelation to me. It' s just over a year ago that attended a course by Brian Eversham on the identification of Carabid beetles and since then I've become well and truly hooked.

It's humbling to learn how little I know and I've made plenty of mistakes working my way through keys but it has been a really enjoyable experience, and something that has so many possibilities close to home.

I purchased a binocular microscope on ebay and have been working through some of my IDs using this. I have also have begun a small reference collection of the more common species that I come across so that I can improve my in-the-field identifications.

One of the things I have been trying to do is to take images down the microscope. I've been wanting to snap key features and then use these as another reference. However, my set up involves poking my Nikon Coolpix down an eyepiece and vaguely hoping for the best.

I need to investigate better ways to do this or take the plunge and invest in a more 'professional' microscope set up.

I start by trying to take a standard image. Here of a Notiophilus rufipes...

...then I try and focus in on a particular feature. Here the 2nd elytral interval which is as wide as the next three combined. Highlighted in red.

All crap photos but it helps me to memorise key features. Finally a shot of the head. I showed this one to my kids who thought the eyes were amazing. 

"Daddy, it looks like an alien!"