Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Murder on the patch

A mid-morning stroll round the patch on this the first day of August. A kingfisher the main avian sighting - a couple of months since I saw one of these on the patch - and a flock of 30 Swifts high over the park evidence of migration. Otherwise it was the camera not the binoculars that did the work again today.

An Ornate Digger Wasp at the colony by the bridge, this time with paralysed prey about to be taken down the tunnel to feed a growing grub. Insect life is just brutal.

A couple of new dragons for the year on the patch today (for me). A black-tailed skimmer whizzed by and what I believe is a female common darter perched briefly.

Finally a hoverfly. This thing is tiny, under a centimetre. I think it is a female sphaerophoria interrupta, which is "common and widespread" as well as small and beautiful.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Bramhope revisited - and the importance of comprehensive note taking

A bright morning walk to revisit old haunts round Bramhope. I walk I used to do periodically from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s. Walking down Long Meadows a loud screeching turned out to be from a Little Owl sat in a tree on the edge of the field. Then past Old Rushes Farm. This used to be a tumble down couple of barns but is now all done up and inhabited, not just by people but by a small flock of Tree Sparrows. Up to Paul's Pond and a Little Grebe in with the Tufted Duck and Canadas. Up to the slopes of Golden Acre Park, and where once children sledged down a grassy slope there are now trees of all shapes and sizes, and consequently a family party of Bullfinch and a Nuthatch. Up to Lineham Farm where two Willow Chiffs hooet-ed in the bushes, back to Bramhope where an Oystercatcher flew high over.

I checked my records. I used to have Little Owl at the tumble-down Old rushes Farm, clearly not one there now. My records showed Tree Sparrows at nearby Adle Dam but no records from anywhere on the walk, and to be honest I have absolutely no recollection of seeing Tree Sparrows at the Dam. And no flying over Oystercatcher records either. Add the Ubiquitous Red Kites and that's four new species-records for the walk. In addition I had Nuthatch calling from all reasonable size bits of woodland (about 5 in total). I have Nuthatch records from Adle Dam but not anywhere else.

So has there genuinely been an increase in Tree Sparrows and Nuthatches? I'm just not sure my old records are comprehensive enough. If I'd done then what I do now, which is to regularly record all birds seen on my standard patch walk, I may have a reasonable basis for comparison.

If I could go back in time and have a word with my younger self, I would say - just once in a while, record everything you see. Things that seem commonplace and dull today may become of great interest in later years. And you will need to know that if its not on that list, that means it wasn't observed, not that you couldn't be bothered to note it.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

July photos

A couple of trips. Firstly Rainham Marsh RSPB. Marsh Harrier and Bearded Tits notwithstanding, it was all about the insects. There were masses of workers on the Lavender in the car park and I think these were Brown-Banded Carder Bees, mainly because at least one of them was a carder bee with a brown band. Difficult to photograph in a suitable pose, I am nevertheless quite pleased with the art in these photos.

Then a few Shrill Carder Bees, an Emerald Damselfly in the Cordite area that I am told is a Willow Emerald, and some more common stuff - the Hornet Mimic Volucella Zonaria which I now see more often than I see Hornet.

Shrill Carder Bee worker
Willow Emerald

Then with David today to Stansted Airport Lagoons for waders followed by another trip to Hatfield Forest to see Purple Emperors. Needless to say this did not go as planned. There was a lone Lapwing at a very full lagoons, but there were up to ten damselflies on algae pads on one of the lagoons. David was sure these were Small Red-eyed Damselflies and having looked at photos the step on the end of the abdomen does match the photos and is quite distinctively different from Red-Eyed. A flicker in the foliage turned out to be another Willow Emerald.  We left the lagoons quite happy with our haul and went to the Forest. We walked round the NW corner of Hatfield Forest finding little new in the way of Butterflies, and no sign of the Emperors but did see plenty of Ringlets and Gatekeepers sunning themselves. We paused from looking down long enough to see a Raven fly over which is a good record for the forest.

Willow emerald

Gatekeeper sunning itself
Finally a reminder that wildlife is exploding all over. David's eagle eyes spotted a freshly emerged Six-Spotted Burnet Moth. Quite fantastic it is too, with its damp wings still creased.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Patch Summer Doldrums

A mid-day mid-summer walk round the patch. It's Groundhog Day. Everything that was here yesterday is here today, and will be tomorrow. So not much of note today? Well, that depends on your perspective.

Bird-wise it was hard. Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat all present singing away, but unseen. Reed Bunting and Greenfinch a bit more obvious. A Herring Gull over was noteworthy for the patch. Buzzard and a pair of kestrels less so. Plenty of young birds - family partiers of Chaffinch and Long-Tailed Tit, and a Little Owl in its usual tree was on its own, although I am told a pair fledged young here this year.

There were plenty of odonata by the river as well, but nothing new; Emperor, Brown Hawker, lots of Banded Demoiselle, and from the Damselflies there were Red-eyed, Azure and Blue-tailed. The canal had lots of vertical blue damselflies I guess ovipositing on vegetation - quite a sight.

There were butterflies too - a Marbled White, plenty of Meadow Brown, Ringlet, a Small Tortoiseshell, and Essex Skipper and Gatekeeper were new for the patch for the year.

Essex Skipper showing off those Black-tipped antennae

There were bees too. My favourite the male Red-Tailed was out for the first time this year, and there was a hairless bee as well. I can see some tufts on the body so it may be a bumble-bee that has lost its hairs, or it may be a mining bee of some description. I'm thinking the latter, as I don't see too many semi-hairless bumble bees, just fluffy bees and these hairless ones, so I'm thinking they are a separate genus altogether.

male Red-Tailed
hairless-bumble or  a mining bee?
more of that hairless bee.
then by the bridge over the canal some freshly dug holes, and some insects using them! There was a black-and-yellow wasp-like thing going in and out. Very hard to photograph but miraculously I got one hovering, and also one digging out the entrance to the burrow.

I think these are some kind of Field Digger-Wasp. They drag paralysed flies into the burrow for the young to feed on. I didn't see anything being dragged in to day, but I did see some smaller wasp-like things with reddish bodies. The closes I can find is a kind of Sawfly. Again I think these are parasitic.

UPDATE: having posted this I'm now not so sure about the ID. Field Diger Wasp has yellow on the thorax just behind the neck and at the base, but this has a completely black thorax.
SECOND UPDATE: tweeted the picture and got a great response back from Ian Beavis at @TWBC_Museum - Ornate Tailed Digger Cerceris rybyensis - isolated all-yellow segment is distinctive

in-flight hovering wasp
digger wasp digging
tiny wasp-like thing showing keen interest in the burrows.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bee IDs

I've been taking lots of photos of Bumble Bees recently. Here's a few that have me stumped, and one firstly that I'm reasonably happy about.

1. I think this is male Vestal Cuckoo Bee (Bombus Vestalis) due to the yellow on the edge of the white tail and the faint yellow midriff band. On the brambles near my house this seems to be the commonest bumble bee. Odd that a parasite should outnumber the host, but there we are.

2. Again on brambles in a local wood. Two shots of a completely smooth bee apart from a yellow frill. I think this is just a completely hairless worker bee of a common species, but only because I cannot find an alternative explanation.

3. And two more from the same area. Again, I think this may be a bumble bee with hair loss, but it may not be a bumble bee at all. I have no idea.

 4. This was taken at Thursley Common in Surrey. A dark bee with a greyish white tail. On close inspection it has a faint collar and midriff so I suspect it is just a variant of a common bumble bee. There were at least two like this.

5. From a recent visit to Hatfield Forest. It looks like a common bee except for the profuse yellow on the head. I thought at first it might be Early Bumble bee but on looking in my book Barbut's Cuckoo bee also has lots of yellow on the head. So I'm confused, again.

6. And finally another from Hatfield Forest, and all black one. I couldn't get round the right side of the bush to get a decent photograph so sadly these will have to do. My book indicates there is a form of male Field Cuckoo Bee that is black, but I don't think there is enough on this to confirm an id.

Having spent a few decades watching birds and being pretty confident about identifying any British bird on a good view, its fun to go back to the start with a new group of creatures. I haven't yet got a feel for what is variation within a common species and what marks out a different species. And I still haven't been able to point at a bee and say "thats a Garden Bumble Bee" event though I'm sure they are all around.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Mindfulness in Surrey

D#3 going on what now appears to be an annual pilgrimage to Thorpe Park. This gave me most of the day to do with as I pleased. Last year I did Box Hill but this year David came along and we went to Thursley Common.

Redstart - a beautiful confiding male by the Moat Pond Car Park, Hobby, a brief Dartford Warbler, and singing Tree Pipit gave us what would be a pretty decent list by itself, but we were primarily interested in the Odonata. A first go at some of these for me. My Id guesses in the photos below.

We saw Small Red Damselflies, but I think this one is a Large Red Damselfly due to the bronze on the rear segments.

Four-Spotted Chaser, so called because its wings have eight spots. Quite common these. 
I think this is a female Keeled Skimmer due to the two yellow stripes just behind the head.
A poor flight shot of Downy Emerald, showing the green eyes an club tail.
Emerald Damselfly, appreciably larger than the more common Azure and Common Blue. 
Then on to Oaken Wood for butterflies. We saw Silver Washed Fritillary, some high-up Purple Emperors, and lots of White Admirals. Its been a while since I saw this, and was fortunate to have one pose for me.

Some White-Legged Damselflies. The breeze meant getting it in focus wasn't easy, but here it is anyway.
 I found the searching for odanata really quite relaxing. A gentle stroll with lots of looking, then when seeing one waiting for the dragon to return to its post or complete its circuit. Mrs D tells me this is Mindfulness. I think I can quite happily have some more of that.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Verging on madness

Possibly the only thing to be said for the snail's pace of traffic in this area is that you get plenty of time to look at the road-side verges, and with this being early summer there are lots of flowers to admire.

I though I spotted some Bee Orchids today so returned mid-morning to find 22 spikes by a local main road. Further up the road the flowers I had thought were Common Spotted Orchids were indeed that species. Also a couple of Pyramidal Orchids out on a local roundabout. It turned out there were Bee Orchids at all three sites I stopped. I guess the shorter spikes are not that easy to pick up from the car.

I'm not sure how these got here. It is tempting to think these flowers naturally occur here, and the occasional mowing and attention from rabbits makes a supportive habitat. The alternative explanation that I've heard from a Landscape Gardener is that when a new road is constructed the contractors buy a load of mixed seed which contains daisies and various other standard species and a few orchid seeds for good measure, so these are effectively introduced. Whatever the explanation, these beautiful and intriguing flowers liven up our local environment.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Summer on the patch

Summer on the patch. Birds are busy raising young, so not much change to report, but insects are beginning to appear.

Bramble bushes in particular are insect magnets. Here's one in a wooded area so protected from wind, and it was alive with bees.

This looks like a male Vestal Cuckoo Bee (bombus vestalis).  It has the distinctive yellow tinge to the edge of the white tail, and has a band round the top of the abdomen.

This and the one below look like a female Vestal Cuckoo Bee (no middle ring).

I don't know which this one is. It is a female worker bumble bee (has pollen baskets) but has no middle band.

This is a worker (pollen baskets again) and is straightforwardly either a buff-tailed bee or white-tailed bee.

Then a couple of hoverflies, both of which are I believe Volucella Bombylans. These mimic bumble bees, the first one mimicking red-tailed bee and the second white-tailed bee.

Now on easier ground. A male Large Skipper - first of the year.

Finally a Whitethroat, and then one of the more notable birds of the patch. Please leave a comment when you have found it!