Monday, 27 July 2009

Insects (etc) On Patch 2

Seven Spot Ladybird
Seven Spot Ladybird

Soldier Beetle

Seven Spot Ladybird Larvae

Tutsan (after)

Tutsan (before)

25th July. Having crossed over the road from the grassland where once a special school had stood before a fire, I reached the area where another building, once a school had been recently demolished following a fire. Now, they did train gardeners here and the plants that remain are interesting, but many are likely to have been planted out by the trainees I think. I intended to look for the Tutsan Hypericum androsaemum as I wanted to see how it had changed since my previous visit, but more of that anon. Before I reached it I came across the umbellifer Garden Parsley Petroselinum crispum.

Tthe Garden Parsley stems were covered in Greenfly so perhaps not too surprisingly I found a Ladybird (seven spot) on the flower. It was accompanied by some very small black beetles. I forgot about photographing the plant and focused first of all on the Ladybird. Then I found two or three Soldier Beetles on the same plant and also several red and black, what I now know to be Seven Spot Ladybird Larvae. It would seem Garden Parsley is good for attracting insects! Bumblebees were busy on the nearby Spear Thistle.

Now, the Tutsan was still looking good. Its berries now turned red and little sign of any flower. This plant is a member of the St John’s Wort family and does grow wild in small parts of the UK and the seed is also carried from gardens by birds. I have read that its leaves when dried take on the smell of the likeness of cigars and that they were once often used as book marks especially in bibles. I’ll try and find my other recent photograph which will show the change in the plant and fruits when a comparison is made. The berries will eventually turn black.
As I walked across the playing fields and then the scrub area on my return I came across more Meadow Brown Butterflies and Small Skipper. It was now that the Sparrowhawk flew high over head. Small White Butterfly continued to be numerous and I found one Red Admiral in the small parkland area. I think my presence made it nervous of landing on the clay area, but it settled there eventually. I’ve found these clay areas to be very popular with Red Admirals in particular.

My Collins fieldguide to Butterflies of Britain and Europe isn't much cop and I feel I need to find myself a book which covers the butterflies of Britain only, but covers them in detail.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Insects On Patch (1)

Green Veined White Butterflies
Green Veined White Butterflies

Red-tailed Bumblebee on Ragwort

White-tailed Bumblebee (?) on Ragwort

White-tailed Bumblebee (?) on Ragwort

Flesh Fly

Great Crested Grebes

Coots on Nest

25th July. I’ve been feeling recently that my bird year list has come to a standstill after an interesting start early in the year. Any gap has certainly been filled this year by the number of insects I’ve been seeing locally, but before finding more I took a look at the lake today and found that two of the Great Crested Grebe young had made good progress. One of them seemed to be acting independently, whilst another eagerly followed one of the parent birds whilst constantly calling and being fed. There was no sign of the third youngster or other parent bird. I didn’t look on the larger lake so maybe they were over there. I couldn’t resist taking a photograph of the Coots on the nest which was surrounded by Flowering Rush Butomus umbellatus. Apart from Mallard, Moorhen, Blacked Headed Gull, there now almost resident Grey Heron and Swift there was nothing else about on the small lake. I did later spot the Sparrowhawk flying overhead. I could find no damselflies on the lake so took a walk across the field to the small area of tall grassland where, as it turned out, I spent quite a bit of time with the insects.

There were still numerous Meadow Brown Butterflies and a number of Small Skippers about. Small White Butterflies were on the wing of course and I found several Green Veined White Butterflies, two of which appear to have been mating. The council workers had been around and cut down all of the Common Ragwort Scenecio jacobaea which was growing near my home, but there was still lots of it here and it was attracting many Bumblebees (White Tailed and Red Tailed I think, but I would appreciate some help) and an assortment of other small insects. I found an interesting specimen on the foot path and on checking this black and white fly with red eyes turns out to be a member of the Flesh Fly family. I’ve found the following information about this family on the internet.

‘Flies of the Diptera family Sarcopagidae (fro the greek sarco-=flesh, phage= eating; the same roots as the word ‘sarcophagus’) are commonly known as Flesh Flies. Most Flesh Flies breed in carrion, dung, or decaying material, but a few species lay their eggs in the open wounds of mammals, hence their common name. Some Flesh Fly larvae are internal parasites of other insects.’

Not something I’d like to share my dinner with. I was faintly aware of the use of insects in forensics and I note that Flesh Flies, because of species preferences for states of decomposition and their predictable life cycle, can be used by forensic scientists to date the time of death, and have also being used in the investigation and detection of murderers. I remember listening to a very interesting radio programme about this very thing.
After a while I moved across the road and found another small area containing some interesting insects and I shall add these later.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Birding Holywell!

Small Skipper
Red Admiral Butterfly

Speckled Wood Butterfly

Comma Butterfly

Green Veined White Butterfly

Meadow Brown Butterfly

23rd July. I had planned to meet up with my mate Cain (Holywell Birding) today, so I was looking forward to spending time on his patch and my favourite area. You may know that it was Cain’s infectious enthusiasm that really began my keen interest in this area. On the way to the members hide there was more than a hint that today was going to be good for butterflies as every step seemed to bring more Meadow Brown Butterflies as I also watched the Swifts, Swallows and House Martins. I was approached by a lady with a photograph of a large moth and asked if I could identify it. Unfortunately I couldn’t, but advised her to look on the internet. Good to see people taking an interest.

The feeding station was quiet with only Great Tit, Blue Tit and Greenfinch making an appearance. There was no sign of the recently sighted Crossbills. The pond as could be expected at this time of year was fairly quiet, but there was some entertainment from at least five Grey Herons. Also on the pond were Mute Swan, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Coot, Black Headed Gull and Herring Gull. Pheasant called and the Sedge Warblers were their noisy selves. A Common Tern sat near to the island. After some chat and catching up we walked to the public hide and found the water of the pond quite high. After all of the recent rain I was surprised to find the pathways so hard and dry. Many more butterflies began to appear including more Meadow Brown, Small White and numbers of Small Skipper. I thought I had found a Large Skipper to, but having looked at the photograph it was another Small. I’ve not seen any Large Skippers for a while and will have to re-check their flying period. Now, I think it was here we found a snout moth species. Identified I hasten to add by Cain. If I was able to help with the plants and butterflies today he certainly helped me with the moths as my knowledge of them is practically nil. We found Greylag and Canada Geese in the meadow area and Whitethroat and Reed Bunting from the pathway. We took a walk to the small flash north of the main pond but there was nothing of note here.

We then made for the dene. I’m pleased to say that Speckled Wood Butterfly was found here again, as on a recent previous visit, as well as Green Veined White Butterfly. As well as the butterflies previously mentioned we also found during the day, Small Tortoiseshell (5), Painted Lady (4), Red Admiral (3) and Comma (3). Most of these seemed in pristine condition. On the small pool a Common Red Darter Dragonfly was found and I was able to introduce Cain to plants with wonderful names such as Enchanters Nightshade Circaea lutetiana and Nipplewort Lapsana communis! The Lesser Burdock Arctium minus reminded us both of the pop Dandelion and Burdock. The Enchanters Nightshade is an easily overlooked, but a beautiful plant especially when seen through the eye glass. It is worthy of comment and I quote below a passage from Richard Mabey’s Flora Britannica.

The sixteenth century Flemish Botanist Matthias de L’Obel reported that the botanists of Montpellier identified Bittersweet as the charm that Homer’s witch Circe used to turn Ulysees’s crew into pigs, but the Parisian botanists (‘Lutetiani’) favoured this species (i.e. Enchanters Nightshade), which thus became Circaea lutetiana and in English Enchanters Nightshade.’

Cain continued to help me with the moths and we found another snout species and another named something like Comela, I seem to remember. Oh yes, and I was tempted to taste the leaves of Wood Sorrel Oxalis corniculata as Cain has good knowledge of edible plants. I was told they ought to taste like apple. I’ll take his word for that! With all the dogs around in the dene, I don’t think I’ll be eating too many leaves! The woods were very quiet as far as birds go. A small flock of Curlew flew overhead as we took a break for a drink and bite to eat, on what was now a hot day.

The return walk through farm and grassland was interesting and birds seen included Sparrowhawk, Skylark, Linnet and Yellowhammer with quite a lot of song from the latter. Oh yes, and I mustn't forget the three or four Grey Partridges that flew low over the crops which announced themselves with calls. It also looked like there was a Harris’s Hawk on the loose, rising in the distance. I’ve also learnt a couple of new routes to take. Bit of interest historically too as we looked across to Seaton Delaval Hall and attached buildings. I think we may have caught a snatch of Lesser Whitethroat song. Butterfly sightings also continued. We found Lapwing, Lesser Black Backed Gull and Sand Martins at the pond.
It had been a great few hours really well spent. It is very rewarding to spend time with someone who knows their patch so well and who has the enthusiasm for wildlife that Cain clearly has. I’m confident that it won’t be long before Cain has much more knowledge to pass on to me and others! It has perhaps seemed a fairly quiet day bird-wise, but in fact we ended up with 47 species of bird on the list on what had been in any event a really good all-round nature day

Tuesday, 21 July 2009


The Strid, River Wharfe
Giant Bellfower

Yellow Loosestrife

Enchanters Nightshade

Hairy St John's Wort

Butterfly on Hairy St John's Wort

19th July. Unavailability of coaches meant the Local Group fieldtrip was on a Sunday this month and we set of under blue skies and sunshine heading for Wharfedale. Blues skies had been absent recently so it was good to see them return. Unfortunately they had left us by the time we drove past Bolton Abbey and the start of our river walk past the famous Strid was met by a heavy downpour, from which on the whole we were protected from by the woodland trees. Birds on the journey had included Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Lapwing, Curlew and a large flock of Starlings.

Initially I thought we were going to see few birds in what appeared a quiet woodland. There were countless Mallard on the River Wharfe and the Dipper put in a short appearance and it flew down river. We never did find the Mandarin Ducks the area is known for. I decided to concentrate on the plants and when the sun did come out, on the butterflies. Plants included some interesting species in Hairy St john’s Wort Hypericum hirsutum, Yellow Loosestrife Lysimachia vulgaris, Enchanters Nightshade Circaea lutetiana, Giant Bellflower Campanula latifolia, Harebell Campanula rotundifolia, Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum, Common Valerian Valeriana officinalis, Butterbur Petasites hybridus and good numbers of Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii. Butterflies seen were Small White, Ringlet (in numbers), Meadow Brown and Small Skipper.

The Strid is a narrow area of the river through which the water tumbles through at speed. I’ve read that people have attempted to jump over it (there are idiots everywhere) at its narrowest point, but that no one who has fallen in has been known to survive. It seems that the current pulls one below into underground caves. I can assure you that I didn’t get to close to the edge. I found I got a better vista of the Strid on the return walk from higher ground above, but by that time my camera battery had died. I was mindful of Spike Milligans old saying of ‘don’t fall into the canal’ and I repeated to our members the phrase ‘don’t fall into the Strid.’ I didn’t get much of a laugh so I’m not sure many were aufait with Spike Milligan. Perhaps they just think I’m best ignored!

We had some good views from the woods both up and down river and it certainly is a very pleasant walk. Eventually we did pick up some decent bird sightings. First of all we had three young Redstarts being fed by the adult female on the opposite side of the river. This brought everyone to a standstill for 10 to 15 minutes. Nearby there was Moorhen, Robin and Wrens. Swifts, Swallow and House Martin had been seen and as we walked on a number of Sand Martin were found flying to and from their river bank nesting site. We stopped near here for lunch during which there was another heavy downpour, but we were very well protected by the tree canopy above our well chosen stopping point. Just as the raindrops managed to find a route through to us the rain stopped again, the sun shone and we were off again.

It was on the walk back that I and a few others had our best sighting of the day. Whilst trying to find the family of Grey Wagtails I got my eye on a Kingfisher. Instead of the usual flash past the bird flew in circles across the river right in front of us rather like a bike rider on the wall of death. It seemed to be performing for us and kept perching nearby. We watched it for several minutes before it decided to fly off down river. Certainly one of the best views several members have had of Kingfisher. I broke the news ‘gentlyish’ to those who had gone off at speed and missed it. We did also find one of the juvenile Grey Wagtails perched on the rocks waiting to be fed.

By now we were high above the river on a narrow path and I just thought that if you were really unlucky you could easily fall off this path, roll down and drop into the Strid never to be seen again. Thankfully when a count was done on the coach before leaving everyone was present. I was sadly aware of the father and child who had died just the day before in Wales, near one of the waterfalls.

Everyone on the walk I think managed to see the Nuthatches and Treecreeper. In the same patch were Great Tit, Blue Tit, Wren and Chaffinch. I did remark on the lack of Blackbirds as only one or two had been seen all day.
When I did the bird list I found that one member has seen Garden Warbler. I wish he had told me! We had never expected a large bird list in woodland at this time of year but came away with a respectable 43 species for the day. The sun was at its best as we drove past Bolton Priory on our return journey. The trip had been a good one as usual and given me my first Ringlet Butterflies of the year.

PS. I'm a little confused by the butterfly pictured as to me it doesn't seem to have either the markings of Meadow Brown or Ringlet! I thought it was a Ringlet at the time and I'm sure it didn't have the under markings of a Meadow Brown.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Batting In Durham.

Himalayan Balsam
7th July. I’m a little late in writing this trip up! Today was a Local Group outing to Durham, and no, it had nothing to do with cricket. A few of the local group were out to find bats in Durham. I must admit my knowledge of bats is minimal and I have never been out of an evening with the specific intention of finding them so we were lucky to have the lead taken by an experienced member of Durham Bat Group. My initial idea was to make it a bat and owl night and I’m not too sure at what stage in the planning owls dropped of the agenda.

We initially stopped at Malton picnic site near Lanchester. We hoped for a few bird sightings, but to be honest more importance was attached to the picnic table for our wine and cheese etc. Thankfully the heavy downpours had stopped by late afternoon. In fact using your imagination you could have believed it was summertime! We didn’t dive straight into the food and wine, but did a little birding first. Highlights for a couple was the Kingfisher flying down river and the Great Spotted Woodpecker. Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were all heard. Other birds of the evening included Kestrels on the journey, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Swift, Swallow and House Martin. I found lots of the invasive Himalayan Balsam Impatiens glandulifera in the area too. A rather nice orchid like flower and some of it growing to at least 7 feet I reckon.

The wine and cheese were nice and I figured that if the group drank enough any lack of bats later would seem less of a disappointment as that trick had worked with the Long Eared Owls last year! We were soon off to Escomb to meet our guide. I was looking forward to seeing the Saxon Church. I was a bit disappointed to find and be told rather than it being a fine old Saxon Church it represented more of a Victorian ‘reproduction’. Anyway this is where we began to find bats and where things began to get more complicated. Bat detectors were shared out between group members and I noted that changes of frequency were required to detect the sounds of various species. Now this would prove difficult for me as without my specs my short sight is not good, so I couldn’t make out the frequency. This didn’t prove to be too much of a problem as we found only three species. (I understand 11 species frequent Durham with 8 of them breeding there). These were Common Pipistrelle, Noctule and Daubentons. There was lots of smack, crackles and pops in the darkness and I did find Noctules were quite large creatures. I must also say that the guide’s information was also really interesting and I’m looking forward to him giving a talk to our group in September. Bats are fascinating, but I have to say that a bat detector has not gone onto my list of future priority buys! On the whole one bat seemed very much like another to me and as far as sounds go I think I’ll stick to bird song. Everyone seemed to have had a good and informative evening though, and whilst a detector is not on my must buy list, a good book on British bat species certainly is.
Now I remember I tell a lie about not having been out batting of an evening. I have experienced the migrating Fruit Bats that hang out in Zambia in their millions. To see the sky full of these bird like creatures on the move, really was spectacular! You didn’t have to concern yourself with the frequency level on a detector either although I kept my hat on when they were overhead! I seem to remember it took them about 30 minutes to pass over

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Insects Before the Storm.

Small Skipper
Common Blue Damselfly (newly emerged)

Soldier Beetle

Small Skipper and Soldier Beetle

Meadow Brown Butterfly

Burnet Moth

Meadow Brown Butterfly

5th July. I decided to take a walk around to the lake today to check out how the Great Crested Grebe chicks were fairing. On passing the other day I had only seen three chicks. As it happens my attention was taken more by insects on the journey, but first of all the Great Crested Grebes. I found only three chicks remaining of the initial five and I’m sure I didn’t miss any. One of them seems to be doing really well and is far bigger the two siblings. One of the adults was busily feeding two of the youngsters whilst the other one appeared to be napping with the other youngster staying close by. I noted another photographer had come down to take photographs. Not much else in the way of birds on the small lake although the Grey Heron was disturbed when I approached, but only flew to the furhter side of the lake.

As soon as I walked through the area where a school had burnt down some years ago I was struck by the number of insects flying about, initially it was the bumblebees which caught my eye. Then there were large numbers of Meadow Brown Butterflies and Small Skippers. I hope I have the Small Skipper correct this time. ;-) They certainly looked like Small Skippers to me but I'm happy to be corrected. I managed to take several photos by just hanging around the patch of herbage. The only other butterfly about was Small White. There was certainly more than one Burnet Moth (not sure if you can see it well enough to count the spots) which I managed to photograph without noticing the Soldier Beetle next to it. I took some time to photograph the beetle then when I got home found I had it already. Neither had I noticed all of the small greenfly type insects on the stalks of the thistles.

There were also a number of Common Blue and the odd Blue Tailed Damselflies about and I tried my without success to photograph a pair of the former in tandem. By now the wind was bring the storm closer so photography was not easy. I did manage a photograph of a newly emerged Common Blue Damselfly. I suspect many of these insects were newly emerged and think the Common Ragwort Senecio jacobaea in the area is the attraction. I know this plant is vital to many insects although I have to check on which butterflies are attracted to it.
Anyway with my recent attempts at photography showing some success I’m seriously thinking about investing in a Digital SLR and doing some ‘proper’ macro photography. I think bird photography may be out for me as it seems like to much equipment to carry around and I have enough already with bins and telescope, but you should never say never I suppose and I suppose I often don’t carry the scope

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Nightjars Again!

30th June. Having heard but not seen the Nightjars at Slaley Forest this year I was pleased to have the opportunity of a quick return. I was accompanied by three friends who I had rather recklessly informed that I knew where to find Nightjars, so I was hoping for ideal conditions to aid the search. It was a warm and still evening with lots of insects about, so ideal conditions are what we got so I had no excuse if I didn’t deliver!

We initially walked onto the moor. There seemed to be very little about apart from Meadow Pipits. I did pick up the occasional call of Red Grouse which I was eager to point out to my companions so that they wouldn’t mark me down as a complete failure! Then we came across a pair of calling Golden Plovers with chicks. We kept our distance as the birds were clearly on their guard. Behind them we spotted a Brown Hare. That was about the total excitement we had during that part of the evening although my friends seemed to be happy enough. We retraced our steps to the car during which time there was a short shower which soon blew stopped to allow us to drink our wine, well watered for the driver, and eat our slices of cake. A lone Curlew flew over head.

Refreshed, we were soon back out again, this time intent on at least hearing Nightjars. By now I had played down a little my ability to deliver! I noticed on the walk lots of white flowered Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre and patches of what I believe where Heath Speedwell Veronica officinalis. I also found some very tall Common Spotted Orchids Dactylorhiza fuchsii which showed to perfection how these orchids tend to grow tall under the partial shade of trees. The Mistle Thrushes were still feeding youngsters and bird song included Chiffchaff, Blackbird and Song Thrush. We began to hear and see Roding Woodcock. At least they have seen Woodcock, I thought to myself! We eventually stopped to let the night come in and also hopefully the Nightjars. As darkness came so did the churring of the Nightjars, although at first this seemed very distant. The churring increased and gradually became so loud as to suggest that the birds were very close indeed. I passed the usual comments about waving white handkerchiefs, rattling coins and hand clapping as I also picked up the sound of calling Tawny Owls in the distance. With the sound of Nightjars churring nearby we eventually decided that we would have to move on, at which point, timed to perfection, two Nightjars flew in from behind us as if to suss us out. This gave everyone a great sighting as they flew in front of us for a short time before eventually disappearing into the night. Was I relieved? Yes I was! We walked back to the car with the sound of churring still with us for part of the walk, and calls of Red Grouse coming from the moor. Everyone went home thinking that the evening had been a great success, I think.
I must say I have never heard the churring of Nightjars so loud and clear at Slaley as I did last night. In fact I don’t think I have heard churring so intense and prolonged anywhere on my travels abroad either. I understand wet summers have had a detrimental effect upon the Nightjar population in recent years. Does anyone know how well they are fairing at Slaley at present? I do know up to three years ago they were doing well, but I’m not sure about since then. By the sounds of last night they seem to be doing ok!