Monday, November 28, 2016

Some late autumnal colour

A family walk yesterday to a local National Trust property ended up with the kids building a den from logs. I ended up turning some of the larger pieces and found a couple of these colourful beetles, Badister bullatus. These are distinguished from similar species due to their pale first antennal segment and black scutellum. A very widespread species pretty readily found at this time of year under logs.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Stealth bomber

There had been a big influx of Convolvulus Hawkmoths into southern Britain in early September with large numbers seen along the coast. I never expected to catch one but when I went out to check my trap on the morning of September 25th a large shape was sat on the wall of the house.

This made a total of 9 hawkmoth species for the year in the garden. I suspect I may never add another!

NB: I let it go that evening and it turned up in next door's trap!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Enough grousing

You may have noticed lots going on in the media recently around banning driven grouse shooting. For me the thing about it that needs reform (as well as the stopping of illegal raptor persecution) are the land management practices that tend to **** up the environment: the draining of blanket bog, excessive burning, soil erosion and loss of stored carbon into the atmosphere.

The question is once these moors have been shagged to within an inch of their life, is there any coming back from this.

The answer seems to be.......probably.

Earlier this year I spent a day visiting RSPB's Dovestone reserve in the north west Peak District to see how they are reversing the effects of this bad management and restoring not only blanket bog but the nature that thrives there.

The land is managed by United Utilities and the reservoirs provide drinking water. The most amazing fact I learned was that a third of the reservoir capacity is taken up by peat that has run off from the moor after being drained. This means these reservoirs can store less water for drier times and probably ultimately means we have higher water bills as the water is so brown that it has to be cleaned before going out to customers!

Blocking drainage ditches means that water drains more slowly and allows the peat sediment to sink, so stopping it from entering the reservoir.

This ditch had been blocked with hay bales which are slowly rotting. Behind them bog is being reformed. Plugs of sphagnum moss are planted in suitably wet places and allowed to take hold. Over time these spread, holding water and reestablishing the blanket bog. There's a lot of work being done and much of it has to be done by hand. There are some amazing volunteers who have made alot of this possible.

There were lots of the rather beautiful Wood Tiger moth disturbed from the vegetation. It was a spectacularly bleak and beautiful place, with breeding Dunlin and Golden Plover out on the moor and I got to tramp around for a few hours taking it all in. Must get back there again soon.

NB: Just under a year ago Dovestone featured in a mystery death that has never been solved. The police investigation that followed is fascinating and worth reading about

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Tickling nymphs

(Haven't blogged for ages but will try and catch up on some of the better bits of summer natural history)

The post title sounds like something that might indicate a mid-life crisis in a man of my age. However, the real reason for it was a trip out earlier this year to help in a translocation project for Field Crickets Gryllus campestris. 

In the UK, the Field Cricket has disappeared from most of its historic range, due to agricultural changes resulting in a loss of shifting systems, lack of disturbance by livestock and increased rates of vegetation succession. By the 1980s it was confined to one site in West Sussex with less than 100 individuals and was expected to go extinct.

It didn't!

Since that time, there has been a concerted effort by several groups and individuals to shore up existing populations and to create new ones by introducing individuals to suitable sites.

I spent several hours at Farnham Heath in Surrey trying to catch adult crickets. This involved first of all finding the burrows (which are subtly different from Minotaur Beetleesons) with their semicircle singing arena at the entrance. Then a piece of grass is used to entice them out. This is the tickling bit. Once out due to their curiosity they can be placed in a bag and then moved. Males are usually easier than females to find but we quickly managed a few of each sex.

The crickets where then taken to another bit of the reserve where they'd be unable to colonise naturally (they are flightless and there are roads bissecting the habitat). On arrival we found some suitable place and let them go to reorientate themselves and to find a place to burrow. Hopefully next year will find that they have successfully established and are breeding

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Peppered conundrum

The story of the Peppered Moth is a well known tail of natural selection in action. The original 'peppered' forms are superbly camouflaged on tree bark. In the 19th century an all dark melanic mutation arose around Manchester and began to spread as it had the selective advantage of being better camouflaged on trees that were now covered in soot from all the heavy industry.

As the UK has cleaned up its act and improved air quality and reduced pollution, the frequencies of the two have changed again with the original form being more common. In fact in my lovely little semi rural garden I've never seen a melanic form at all.

This particular individual turned a couple of nights ago and gave me a surprise. The forewings appear to be melanic and the hindwings peppered. What's going on?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Like number 3 buses....

I've been wanting to see the weevil that is Platyrhinus resinosus for a couple of years now. Pretty much since I first laid eyes on a photo of it on Facebook.

I finally caught up with one on a woodpile at work last week, but only had a phone to take a quick and frankly, badly out of focus snap.

I went for a walk today around Wicken Fen and found another sat out on some rotting logs. Incredibly well camouflaged but as I had a slightly better camera to hand I managed to fire off a few frames, before leaving this particular individual to carry on looking gnarly.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Where the fairies play

Down the end of my garden is a slightly wilder bit where I let the grass grow each year and I have several woodpiles for invertebrates.

Whilst down there last week I came across a micro moth that I've been expecting to see in the garden but had never turned up before.

Esperia sulphurella sometimes known as the Sulphur Tubic, although the scientific name is far pretty.

Up close they are stunning moths. Flashes of yellow and deep blue. I often wonder if these and the dancing longhorn moths are what gave rise to the idea of fairies down the bottom of the garden.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Day of the dead weevil

Some call it the Smiley face Weevil, most know it as Platistomus albinus but I think we should push for this rather awesome weevil to be known as the Day of the Dead Weevil.

Under a hand lens the head looks like one of those painted faces that Mexicans adorn themselves with to celebrate the Day of the Dead.

This one (a male I think because of the long antennae) was found sat on a log pile at work. They also seem to be bird dropping mimics and curl up and roll over when disturbed.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Anglo Saxon treasure

I've just spent a rather lovely bank holiday weekend on the Suffolk coast, staying in the village of Thorpeness and visiting a few locales. Typically a family break but I did manage a few snatched hours out birding in the early mornings. These yielded my first Ring Ouzel and Nightingales of the year plus many other common migrants.

There was also some time for beetling on Dunwich Heath and surroundings and I have a few beetles still left to ID.

On the last day we paid a visit to Sutton Hoo, (the site of some Anglo Saxon burial mounds and treasure including a famous helmet) as one of my sons has a fascination with history. The set up was frankly a bit crap (they didn't really know who their audience was) but there were a couple of nice circular walks (with singing Nightingales thrown in) to do there.

Whilst meandering the paths I came across the following cranefly which stood out from the couple of Tipula maxima it was with. A female Ptychoptera albimana, and although being common, completely new to me.

Reinforces that there's always new stuff to see, wherever you are.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Fade to grey

During the brief periods of sunshine yesterday I made some attempt to photograph some of the bees visiting the flowering patches around the house. Visiting the primroses and white deadnettles were these guys, Hairy-footed Flower bees Anthophora plumipes.

These bees emerge from hibernation in early spring, from late February to March. The males emerge first and then the females a couple of weeks later. They feed on the nectar using their long tongues, which can be seen in the picture of the flying female where her tongue is extended.

The males look very different. They start out much more buff in colour but fade to grey as they age. And check the hairy legs out in the bottom pic!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Hovering above zero

I've seen very hoverflies this year so far. I guess because the spring has been so cold. We have had several frosts over the last week which is playing havoc with blossom and especially my emerging asparagus.

Wednesday was warm and sunny and a walk along the river Cam to Grantchester revealed a few hovers - mainly Eristalis and Syrphus.

This one I found in the garden last weekend and is a new one for me. The shape, yellow scutellum and the fact the abdomen is longer than the wings make this Sphaerophoria scripta.

Here's to hoping the temperatures pick up soon!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Been a bit quiet

 It's been a quietish couple of weeks on the natural history front.
I have been getting out and looking at stuff, especially at lunchtimes at work but nothing particularly interesting to report on. I'm also let down by not having a great camera so images are hard to come by.
In the garden today tidying up and I decided to beat various shrubs and trees. I have a few pollen beetles to look at, but this beautiful fly came off an ivy covered tree stump
Euleia heraclei I believe. I'm sure I've seen it before, just never bothered to try and put a name to it.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Carding beetles

It's one of those jobs that any coleopterist has to get to grips with and one that gets easier the more one does it..... allegedly.

I have to admit that I secretly enjoy it but I still find beetles under 5mm a real chore and struggle to get all their bits in perfect symmetry.

A couple of things prompted this post. I've recently been finishing last year's backlog of beetles from the fridge in readiness for the new season that is now upon us and I will say that I'm (sadly) rather excited about a few imminent days in the field pootling (or should that be pootering) about on my hands and knees.

I was taking some pics down the microscope of a beetle that I was having trouble with. In retrospect it was an easy beetle, but I just couldn't make out a couple of key details to clinch the ID. In this case an elytral pore near the scutellum. The beetle in question was a Calodromius spilotus, collected from some recently pollarded willow in my garden.

I also found a couple of staphs on a recent trip to Cornwall which I have duly carded and put to one side while I await the more expensive of the 2 of Derek Lott's staph books.

The other thing that has prompted this post is a video that was recently posted on the UK Beetles Facebook page by Mark Telfer all about his carding technique. Worth a watch. Happy carding!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Spring arrivals

It's been a slow start to natural history in 2016. Am still working my way through the remaining specimens from last year and planning some excursions. We're off to Cornwall next week and while I'm not expecting much, there's always the chance of some guerilla rock pooling, plus I'll be taking the moth trap on the off chance that there's a mild night or two.

Mothing so far this year has drawn a blank in the garden, but the security lights at work have served up Pale Brindled Beauty a couple of times. We finally got round to putting out the work MV trap on Thursday night and it turned up a reasonable selection for the first week in February.

A reasonable selection of spring moths

Pale Brindled Beauty               7
Spring Usher                               2
Common Quaker                      2
March Moth                               3
Chestnut                                      5
Agonopterix sp. (tbc)              1
Light Brown Apple Moth       1
Tortricodes alternella              1

Pale Brindled Beauty males. Form monacharia and a more standard version

Spring Usher

March Moth