Sunday, May 31, 2020

Build it and they will come

So back at the beginning of April I started digging a pond. The first days efforts can be seen here. I've tinkered with it ever since and a couple of weeks ago I finally got my arse in gear and measured up and ordered the waterproof liner. It arrived on Friday and I have spent pretty much the entire weekend on lining, filling and landscaping (grand word for chucking soil, sand and gravel about).

Friday, May 29, 2020

Causing grief to the bleeding eyes

After my previous frustrating attempt to key a couple of flies, I decided to take the tried and tested route of tackling some of the easy ones first.

Out in the garden net in hand I've been honing my catching technique. I'm still pretty pants at it if I'm honest. But I have managed to catch a few flies and more importantly even managed to identify them too. Well some of them 😆

First up was this one. I knew it was a hoverfly, so that was a good start. Using the great guide by Ball and Morris I got this to the genus Eupeodes.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Will crave what has all gone away

The Fens must have been an amazing place to visit before they were drained. A varied landscape of water and woodland; a mixture of big open skies and claustrophobic views. The wildlife must have been abundant and spectacular too. 

Most of these places have been lost but there are some attempts to recreate some areas and to join up some of the last remaining fragments of this ancient landscape. Looking at old maps of the area it's almost possible to envisage what it must have been like. Almost.

Tuesday evening saw me heading to an East Cambridgeshire fenland site for a spot of moth trapping. The weather was warm and humid and we put out a couple of MV traps for a few hours. There were roding Woodcock and reeling Grasshopper Warblers as the sky darkened and the mosquitos came out.

There's a woodcock in the sky there somewhere....honest!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Still running

I'm too angry to write anything tonight. We are entering a very dangerous place. Post truth and increasing division.

Anyway... the pheremone lures out. Two new species for me and the garden. Currant Clearwing which I missed with the net (Doh!) and two of these beauties, Red-tipped Clearwing.

Friday, May 22, 2020

A man will rise, a man will fall

So had the moth trap out again last night as it wasn't supposed to dip below 15 degrees. I was hoping that it might bring some beetles too. It seemed to be cooler than that in the end and the wind had really picked up by dawn.

Going through the catch I only found a single beetle a Anotylus rugosus but there were a tonne of flies in there. I have in the past professed a desire to have a go at diptera and even went so far as to join the rather good Dipterist's Forum.

So looking at the mass of flies sat politely in the trap I picked the two that looked the most distinctive. One had big boxing gloves on its front legs and the other had massive eyes and (to my mind) odd looking wings.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Look at the thighs on that

I had a whole new beetle family whilst tapping a flowering dogwood on Wednesday. Melandryidae.
This is a pretty varied group but they are all apparently saproxylic, living on dead or damaged wood.  There are only 17 UK species and my first one landed with a small thump on my beating umbrella.

A male Osphya bipunctata. It looks like a soldier beetle on steroids or at least one that has done the dirty with a male Oedemera nobilis and this is the resulting offspring. Interestingly, the females look completely different and could easily be mistaken as another species.

On my way home I popped into another site to tick a plant. I don't normally go looking for plants but as I had been given some reliable gen and as I was close by thought, 'what the heck'.

The plant was Myosurus minimus otherwise known as Mousetail, a plant in the Buttercup family. Like many arable plants it's in decline but to be honest unless you were looking particularly hard to find it, it would be very easy to overlook.

In the next field there were a few tail-enders of a population of Green-winged Orchids, whilst most had completely gone over. A nice way to end a great day out

Bovine beetle

So what was the beetle highlight of yesterday's Fenland trip? Well it wasn't Musk Beetle. I've still not seen that one although they are reasonably common around where I live.

No, yesterday's highlight was one of the first beetles I came across as I made my way through one of the denser parches of fen woodland. I happened to notice something out of the corner of my eye sitting on a blade of grass. Something made me stop and have a closer look.

I was rather surprised and not a little bit pleased to see that it was a longhorn beetle and none other than Mesosa nebulosa. This species develops in the canopy in dead and rotten twigs and branches of various deciduous trees, but I think in the UK mainly on Oak. On the continent it commonly uses hornbeam, beech and lime as well. 

So not sure what it was doing sitting on grass. It is also something of a looker so I moved it for some better photos.

The first shows just how cryptic it is.

Spot the beetle!

I then went in closer for the money shot. 

To my mind there's something rather bovine about this beetle. Probably something to do with its slow lumbering manner. Anyway, it was rather obliging and sat there as I took a few shots. Definitely the highlight of the day

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

There is a grove, there is a plot

I was up and out the door before 6 this morning to visit one of the four remaining fragments of the ancient wild fens. There were already a couple of cars parked up when I arrived and I spotted a couple of photographers taking shots of emerging dragonflies. I walked in the opposite direction and didn't see another soul for a couple of hours.

It was a magical morning. The air was filled with birdsong and there seemed to be cuckoos calling in every direction. Willow Warblers sang and Grasshopper Warblers reeled. Flies seemed to be warming up on every sunny leaf and trunk. Including this massive tabanid which I think is Tabanus autumnalis.

There were Cercopis vulnerata froghoppers every few centimetres. Thousands of the things on every bit of path side vegetation.

I found this Chrysolina beetle by the side of of one of the lodes perched on a reed. At a smidge over 10mm it's either C. graminis or herbacea. The epileuron length and shape fit the former as I think does the punctuation on the pronotum but the jury's still out. [EDIT: it is C. graminis, the Tansy Beetle].

Tapping a few bits of hawthorn and oak I managed to find a few other beetles but the star of the show deserves its own post (more tomorrow). I did finally catch up with Rhagium mordax and it turned out to be a 7 species of longhorn day. My best yet I think.

Just like number 73 buses I found my third new ptinid in 10 days. This time it was Ochina ptinoides found on oak.

It was just lovely being out in some awesome habitat and seeing a bit of wildlife. By late morning the temperature had risen and it was quite warm in the sunshine. I decamped to check out a couple of other sites and even did a bit of botanical twitching. Very unlike me.

I'll leave with the blog title inspiration.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

In the pines

I cranked the moth trap up last night and set it up down the end of the garden. It was a much milder evening than we have had of late and the cloud cover came in at sunset and there was even a very light drizzle when I first checked on it.

Moths numbers were up and I recorded 26 species. Not a huge number but far better than recent trapping sessions. New for both the garden and for me was this rather subtly beautiful tortrix, Cydia conicolona. It's food plant is Scot's and Corsican Pine. I'm not sure where the nearest of those trees are. I do have a pine in the garden but not quite sure of the species. Maybe this moth has slightly broader tastes.

I also had two new species of beetle in the trap, which was pretty good going. The first was another pine feeder and the second new species of Ptinid in a week. Dryophilus pusillus. Adults of this species appear from about now until the late summer and are associated with various conifer trees, especially spruce, pine and larch. The apparently prefer mature conifer woodland of which there is none around here. They are mostly active at night and are attracted to light such as moth traps. So this little lady may have come a fair way or this species may be less dependent on mature stands of trees than previously thought.

At only 1.9mm this was tough to photograph given my set up so apologies for the abysmal pics. Amazing big eyes though.

The other new beetle was one that I have looked for, checking lots of its commoner cousin Dasytes aeratus. How ever this one is D. plumbeus. It has a narrower pronotum, and the tibiae, tarsi and front femora are partly yellow.

It was also noticeably smaller than the D. aeratus that I have seen this week on hawthorns, plus the eyes seem larger.

This week's night time temperatures are building so there's a chance of more stuff turning up. Obvious inspiration for the blog post today.

Monday, May 18, 2020

In a room with a window in the corner

I have a window in my kitchen that faces east-north-east. It gets the morning sun and helps warm up the downstairs of the house on days like today. It also is quite good at catching and holding insects both on the internal and external faces.

Some insects must come into the house via the open patio doors and end up here whilst they try to escape. For one beetle species Anthocomus fasciatus, the only place I have recorded it has been on this window. And that has happened twice now, with both times in May. This one appearing last week.

Today, I was cooking dinner when I happened to glance outside and caught site of a dark smudge on the glass. A closer look and I saw it was actually a pair of moths having some fun on the outside of the glass. They were small and vaguely pug-like.

But when I went round and had a gander from the outside I saw they were in fact Small Dusty Waves Idaea seriata. The book says a first brood emerges in June-July, but I don't normally record these in the garden trap until August.

Whilst walking back in the house I plucked a beetle from the air as it flew into the house via the patio doors. Turned out to be the first Glischrochilus hortensis of the year. Must have liked the smell of my cooking. This is the only one of three species in this genus that I have seen. It often appears in pub gardens attracted to the boozy smells and I also get them turning up in late summer when I am pressing apples for cider. Attractive little things.

The post title inspiration is rather timely. Forty years ago today Ian Curtis committed suicide. I was too young at the time to have heard of Joy Division. It was probably another nine or ten years before I came across their music but it immediately hit a chord with me. There was something about their sound that encapsulated the atmosphere of walking through the streets of a northern city, in my case Hull. Something of the concrete and the metallic. All industrial, nothing organic. I still feel that way listening now...

Sunday, May 17, 2020

And here's a story about being free

Well, it's all relative isn't it. This week, the lockdown restrictions lifted ever so slightly, so Saturday evening saw me in a field on the Cambridge-Suffolk border in some chalk grassland with a moth trap. Nothing stupid, nowhere too far, and not another soul in sight. I just hope others do similarly and that we don't see another spike in infection rate. Just thinking about being in lockdown during winter puts shivers down my spine......

The temperature was supposed to remain in double figures until gone midnight but it got colder much more quickly. Consequently I saw the sum total of 2 moths plus a few beetles but it didn't matter, it was nice just to be out somewhere different. Listening to the sounds and taking it all in.

Today, I took the kids out of the village and in the car for the first time in two months. We drove all of 3 miles to have a walk and ended up in an old fenland site in amongst the arable. There were a few others out there too but not many and not enough to distract from the relative isolation. There was lots of flowering hawthorn and some dead wood scattered about and the dragonflies and damselflies were patrolling the water margins in numbers.

With two kids in tow there's never enough time for natural history but I did manage to beat a few bits of foliage and was rewarded with a new longhorn species. One that I really should have seen before...Stenocorus meridianus.

There were also lots of the weevil Archarius salicivorus on Salix, which I don't think I'd ever really appreciated how lovely and delicately patterned they are when viewed from the side. They also have a proper weevily proboscis on them.

I also caught one of my favourite beetles, Ischnomera cyanea. Not sure why I like them so much, I guess they are subtly beautiful with the their sculptured elytra and non-garishly metallic colouring. I also see them regularly beating hawthorn but not so often that I become blase about them.

Up close the colour is even more impressive although this image doesn't really do it justice.

Back home I got a garden tick in the form of Chrysolina oricalcia, which was sitting atop a blade of grass while I pulled a few weeds. Although widespread it's another one that I don't see that often. It feeds on umbellifers, so I guess may have emerged from nearby.

And here's the blog title inspiration. A good one to listen to on a sunny day with slightly increasing possibilities....

Friday, May 15, 2020

Well boredom is a killer

Another couple of busy days with lots going on. Not much time to get outside and things were getting a bit predictable. Being mindful of what the Young Fathers said (hint: post title) I made sure I had half an hour in the garden at lunchtime to try and mix things up.

Rather than gaze at the heap I decided to beat the few remaining and pretty much gone over hawthorn blossom. There were all the usual suspects but two species caught my eye and for different reasons.

The first was a beetle which I knew was new to me. It was distinctively patterned and I immediately recognised it but couldn't for the life of me remember the name, just that it was a Ptinidae. A quick look at the web confirmed it as Hedobia imperalis. It is found on decaying wood, where its larvae feed and the adults are often found near old Hawthorn hedges. It is relatively common across southern England.

The second species was a large sawfly which I thought was probably worth trying to identify. I've only IDd a couple of species before and this looked like it might be an easy one. I worked out from images that it was in the genus Tenthredo and with help from AndyM and SimonK on Twitter, I now know it's Tenthredo temula

The key features are black antennae and black scutellum, with the clypeus pale and uncoloured.

The tergites (topside bits of the abdomen) should be black on 3 and yellow on 4 and the sides of 5. I've marked the image up below and numbered the tergites. All seems to be present and correct.

It's a common species but not one I've encountered. Anyway feel a bit less bored and a bit happier after a new beetle and a foray into a new group.

This song would perk anyone up. Great video.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Not much doing

Had a bit of a natural history lull the last couple of days. Work and other stuff has meant very little time to get outside and stare at things or tackle some of the identification backlog I have waiting for me. My carrion trap has failed to attract anything more than flies and the hawthorn in my garden has pretty much gone over.

However I did manage 20 minutes in the garden at lunchtime. There was a cool wind but in sunny sheltered spots it was rather pleasant.

There were a fair number of  Cocksfoot Moth Glyphipterix simpliciella sat around on various plants. They are tiny things but despite their ubiquity at this time of year they are always worth a closer look. Stunning little things. Trying to get a focused shot in the wind was nigh on impossible.

I also beat this caterpillar off some hedgerow elm and it gave me a chance to have another look at the recent Caterpillar field guide.

I managed to mess up the ID fairly easily before being put right (Thanks Graeme). This is a Common Quaker caterpillar and probably one I will regularly encounter, given how common it is.

Hopefully the weather and my enthusiasm will pick up over the next few days.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Tiny rhino

I was checking out the UK Beetles Facebook page yesterday morning over breakfast and noticed a post about the increase in the weevil, Rhinocyllus conicus.

Originally this species was native to southern and central Europe, western Asia and North Africa. But in recent decades it has spread north and has made it to the U.K. Over here it was first restricted to southern coastal areas but following a recent and continuing expansion possibly due to a warming climate it is now reasonably common across England and Wales.

It was also used a biological agent in Canada during the first half of the 20th century to control introduced and invasive thistle species. It was successful but then turned its attention to native flora. Another example of humans underestimating the adaptability of nature.

Anyway, I saw the post. Looked up the species, discovered the above then went to the back of the garden where I pointed my suction sampler at a couple of ground height thistle rosettes with no particular expectation.

Thirty seconds later.....


It's a big weevil. This was approaching 6mm. I found two individuals from a single sample. So must be pretty common here I would imagine. Another new species for me and a particularly easy one to both find and ID.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Green eyes

Before Christmas I got hold of an Olympus TG-6 camera. I'd seen and heard all the fuss around its in-camera focus stacking and its amazing close focus abilities and I thought that I would be able to put it to good use especially on taking shots of beetle specimens.

Like with any camera, it's isn't a quick fix to getting amazing images. You need to learn what it does and how to coax the most from it. To be honest since I got it I haven't really given it much attention.

However, this week I've at least been taking it out and seeing what it can do. First off, I decided to beat a bit of hawthorn to see what I could point it at.

There were lots of Grammoptera ruficornis running about and I managed to grab a couple of shots where most of the beetle was in focus

This cranefly proved to be exquisitely beautiful viewed close up. Just look at that eye! What a perfect shade of green. The stripe down the abdomen and the aforementioned eye colour make this Tipula vernalis. (Thanks to Tristan, Calum and Ryan on Twitter for the ID).

I also had my usual sieve of the garden heap to find that a whole load of Lesser Earwigs have turned up. I always think 'staph' when I see them until I notice the end of the abdomens. They kept running about but I manage a shot or two that were vaguely recognisable.

Still lots to learn an have only dipped my toe into what is possible with this bit of kit. For specimen images I really need to sort out a suitable lighting setup, but we'll get there. Will just have to keep on practicing...

Today's title inspiration for you.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Warm grass around you

So I added fresh grass clippings to the pile on Saturday and popped to have a look at lunchtime to see what was happening. The grass and bacteria were doing their thing and it was too hot to put my hand in to any real depth. In the outer cooler layer there was a fair bit of beetle action. Mainly staphs such as Lithocharis ochraceaPhilonthus varians, P. jurgans and P. discoideus.

On the first sieve, this monster (15mm) turned up. Ontholestes murinus. It's the first time I've seen one in the UK. They are absolutely stunning creatures and move incredibly quickly, much more so than other big staphs I've seen. They are predators and it will have been scouring the heap for prey. The other species in this genus tessellatus is even bigger and has pale legs. I'd never realised before that they have patterend scutellum. I'm amazed at the stuff that keeps turning up.

Other recent additions to the garden list are a rather battered Leptacinus pusillus sieved from the heap.

The rather lovely Rugilus angustatus. This is confined to the south east and is much bigger than the more commonly encountered members of this genus. They all have the amazing narrow neck though. I've only seen this once before at Wicken Fen.

Last but not least is this Lobrathium multipunctum which was running around the the freshly dug earth of my new pond. I've only seen this once before in north Norfolk on soft cliff whilst twitching Nebria livida. It apparently likes very early successional habitats, of which my pond is prime example! How the heck did it find it though?

Today's post title inspiration comes from Underworld's third album Beaucoup Fish. It reminds me of living in Australia and seeing parrots everyday. That all seems like a long time ago....