Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Sixteen thousand five hundred and one

The RSPB has recorded a huge number of species across its reserve network. The number it gives is 16,500. That's an impressive diversity.

Little did I know that when I went for walk at the Lodge yesterday lunchtime that I was about to increase that number by one.

Walking through the Old Heath I noticed a largish black beetle flying in front of me. I caught it in my hand and potted it. I assumed that it was going to be a Phytoecia cylindrica but on closer inspection it obviously wasn't but I had no clue as to its identity.

I took the beetle home to check against the literature. A bit of sleuthing later and I had got it to Tetropium gabrieli. There's not much available on this species but I think it's introduced and now established in a few places. The beetle feeds almost exclusively on larch and there's plenty of that at the Lodge.

Surprisingly this species has never been recorded from an RSPB reserve before. The Lodge is really well covered so presumably this species is a very recent arrival.

So today I went out and went to the same area and had a look at some of the larch trees, Within 5 minutes I'd located 2-3 adult beetles crawling around the bark cracks on one particular larch and manage to grab some rubbish video.

I will have to keep an eye out for these and see if I can find them on any more trees. Beetles of Britain and Ireland vol 4 says that the adults emerge in the summer and are mainly crepuscular and nocturnal. These obviously hadn't read the script.

In honour of its name, here's an appropriate (and rather lovely) track.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Union of the snake

There's a group of insects that I've wanted to see for some time but have never laid eyes on. Well that's not completely true. I have seen the larvae when out looking for beetles but I've never manage to see an adult.

Which family am I talking about? The Snakeflies (Raphidiidae).

There are only four UK species - Subilla confinis, Atlantoraphidia maculicollis, Phaeostigma notata and Xanthostigma xanthostigma but there is very little in the way of info on the web about them.

The adults look rather odd and elongated. This is due to their long prothorax. The females have really long ovipositors and use these to lay the eggs in holes and cracks in trees.  Once hatched, the larvae (that look a bit like Xantholinus staphs on steroids) take two years to mature and during this time mainly tuck into beetle larvae.

The adults spend almost all of the time in the canopy of the various trees species that they associate with and so are difficult to see.

So whilst on my lunch time walk today I found a recently emerged adult female snakefly sitting on a fence post waiting for her wings and exoskeleton to harden.

I found an out of print Royal Entomological Society Key online and had a go at keying it through. To get to species it's all about the wing venation and the shape of the head.

The wing's sub-costa (the long vein just in from the edge) has 13 small veins.

This female has two cross veins going through the pterostigma (the dark spot-like area on the edge of the wings)

And the back of the head narrows gradually with no sudden constrictions.

So I think that this makes it Phaeostigma notata, one of the more regularly recorded species. I'm just really chuffed to finally seen one of these amazing creatures.

To celebrate a whole new insect family. Here's an aptly name tune. One of my favourites from days gone by. By the looks of it the March Violets have reformed so here's the recent live version. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The weevil that men do

A walk around the reserve at lunchtime revealed a few weevils that had emerged over the recent period of good weather.

On some kind of ornamental thistle species, numbers of Larinus planus were beginning to rival those of Hairy Shieldbug.

Larinus planus
These are big as weevils go and as with most weevils they just drop from their perch as soon as they sense danger. There were several pairs doing their best to continue the evolutionary line, that were slightly less attentive to my camera lens, and who can blame them.

I then found a small patch of Common Figwort and scanned for the associated weevil species. I counted 3 species within a couple of minutes and without looking too hard. I'll have to come back again and see if I can find any of the others.

Cionus hortulanus

Cionus scrophulariae

Cionus tuberculosus

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Sponge Bob Square Pants

Last Monday, I spent the morning at the RSPB's Rye Meads reserve.  It's in the Lee Valley and is surrounded by urban sprawl but once in, apart from the drone of nearby traffic, you forget all that. Especially on a sunny May morning with oodles of flowering hawthorn.

The reserve is popular with photographers as Kingfishers nest in an artificial bank and regularly give great opportunities. It also has some areas of reed bed and open water.

There were quite a few insects about either feeding on hawthorn nectar or hanging about patches of nettles.

Glyphotaelius pellucidus

Myathropa florea

Nomada sp.
There were some attempts at pond dipping which resulted in lots of tiny stuff and a fair few caddis larvae.

Whilst hoiking the net out I noticed a weevil attached to the side, presumably knocked off from pond vegetation. This is Hypera conmaculata (formerly pollux) and is an aquatic weevil feeding on aquatic plants. It's a typical looking Hypera but has a glabrous (=hairless) end to its rostrum (=nose).

When googling info on this weevil, predictive text changed aquatic weevil to aquatic evil. Hence the post title.

In music news, there's a great reissue of New Order's first album, Movement, just out. I'd forgotten just how good it was. It represents a band trying to re-find themselves and come to terms with massive loss. Well worth a listen.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Jam and the Thicks

Just back from a  a cheeky weekend away with the family in Suffolk. There wasn't too much time for natural history but I ended up with few new plants and other bit sand bobs. The weekend was memorable (from a nat hist perspective) for two specific encounters.

The Saturday forecast looked mixed, with sunny spells punctuated with heavy showers. Wanting to get out and tire the kids out, we headed to Rendlesham Forest, knowing that there was plenty of cover should the heavens open.

On arrival, I noticed a few birders lined up with scopes set up. I stopped the car and asked a couple what they were there to see. Only a blooming adult male Red-footed Falcon! What a bird to jam on in. I've seen a couple of females before but not an adult male. So a plumage tick, if there is such a thing.

Apparently it had been there for a couple of weeks, hanging around the air strip. And I had no idea....
A lucky coincidence. Weirdly the family didn't quite believe me...

Can you see it?

The second encounter happened that evening.

I've been visiting coastal Suffolk for a good few years now, and every time I drive to Orford I always pass a piece of woodland that looks bloody amazing. Like something out of a fairy tale. I always intend to stop but never do.

This time I had a couple of hours to kill so decided to go and check it out. It didn't disappoint although these pictures will....

I have never seen so many ancient oaks, and so much dead wood. It was amazing. The other thing was the hollies. Not the band but bloody massive holly trees. Trunks of over a metre diameter, some with big rot holes, some upwards of 20m in height.

A holly tree. That crack is the width of my foot!

A pollarded oak

Dead wood!

Holly and more dead wood

More dead wood

I pootled a round for a while before heading back for my tea. I looked on the map and found that the wood is called Staverton Park and the Thicks. A quick google informed be that it is an SSSI and home to some truly ancient oak trees, many of which are pollarded, plus possibly the UK's largest holly trees.

The site is private but a footpath runs through it and this alone gives you a sense of the place. It felt wild and offers a hint of what once was.

And let's end with something appropriate...

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

A few recent bits and bugs from work

I'm very lucky that I get to work surrounded by nature reserve. It always makes it worthwhile getting out and away from the desk at lunchtime for a stretch of the legs and a look for wildlife.

Here are a few things from the last few days. A weevil and selection of hemiptera.

Pissodes castaneus

Stictopleurus abutilon

Forget-me-not Shieldbug Sehirus luctuosus

Hairy Shieldbug Dolycoris baccarum

Parent Bug Elasmucha grisea

Birch Shieldbug Elasmostethus interstinctus

Corizus hyoscyami