Insects In Unexpected Places

My wildlife adventures this week turned away from the typical ventures at nature reserves, towards indoor exploration. Matt and I spent a day with my family at the Science Museum and then the V&A Museum, to celebrate a birthday. I am always a big fan of museums as they are such excellent places for learning – whether it be about the natural world, the lives of humans long ago or otherwise. I wasn’t expecting much, if any, nature in this trip, after all we weren’t at the Natural History Museum. But as the title suggests, I was pleasantly surprised.

Before any insects, we found the DNA model made by Crick and Watson (NB: I feel more should have been said about Franklin in the description). After lots of button-pushing and pointing at shiny things by my nephew (a sign of how the rest of the day would turn out – he loves buttons!), we then stumbled across some bees! From what I remember, the one in the middle is robotic bee whose flight is based on the study of honeybees.

Skip ahead through galleries about atmosphere, household goods and wooden doors, plus some delicious lunch (surrounded by very loud children!), and we get to the Glass Gallery in the V&A Museum. My nephew amused himself, and the family, by running around laughing and looking for buttons to push or stairs to climb. In between being amused by his antics, I took the opportunity to look at the various objects on display. There was plenty of wildlife to be found – as ever, artists being inspired by nature. I think my favourites are the first three – jellyfish, vases and the branch, though I was awed to see work from mosaic tiles from 1-2C AD!

I was intrigued by whether I could find any insects among the collection. There were flowers, trees and birds a-plenty, but I felt certain there must be some insects in there, even if only the usual butterflies found in artwork. I asked the gallery attendant / volunteer, but they didn’t know. So what next? Well, obviously attempt to examine every object in there for insects – a challenge and a half, but I was going to go around and browse anyway, so why not make said browsing a bit more detailed? I was rewarded for my efforts, and many times over. Whilst the insects weren’t normally the main feature on a glassware (or pottery), nonetheless, they were there. Also, a cute snail too.

All in all, a lovely day out with the surprising, but pleasant, appearance of insects and nature within the galleries.

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Back From My Break

You’ll have noticed I have had a bit of break from blogging, initially due to exhaustion  / depression (thanks for the kind words), then finding out that I need to move house and thus beginning the stress of finding somewhere new, packing and such. So I have been a bit distracted lately! I haven’t yet moved, but am using writing as a distraction technique from the moving stress.

Now, what do we need to catch up on? A couple of things, for sure.

  • BBC Wildlife Magazine – I was Highly Commended in their Wildlife Blogger Awards 2015 which is super exciting and so wonderful to get such amazing feedback on my blog. Full details of Winners and other Highly Commended bloggers on the BBC Wildlife website.
  • We got a cat! And one of the feline variety, rather than a moth caterpillar as is the normal way for us (well, me). She is called Mowgli, she is three (ish) years old and we got her from a local animal shelter. She is very funny, though not always keen on being affectionate.
  • I got a moth cat.! It was found in Kent just after Christmas, and I will admit to being a little anxious about it. The last green caterpillar I picked up and tried to rear died on me, but the online Lepidoptera community identified for me as an Angle Shades caterpillar (Phlogophora meticulosa). It has now made its cocoon and is pupating. Updates will follow.  Other wildlife was also photographed in Kent, though I don’t know what they all are – i.e. the fungus.

 

I still haven’t had a chance to properly get out into the parkland of Wimpole and discover what wildlife lives there, but I hope to do so soon. Nonetheless, I have of course been keeping track of the wildlife I have seen. My Wimpole bird list is steadily increasing, with the most recent species added to the list being Greenfinch (Chloris chloris), Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus), Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) and Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris). The usual bird suspects have of course been seen on a regular basis, plus some other wildlife – Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae), Mottled Umber moths (Erannis defoliaria) and Two-spot Ladybird (Adalia bipunctata). The Winter Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis I think) in front of the restaurant are looking good, and the Snowdrops (Galanthus) in the garden too apparently (though  I haven’t seen them yet).

I also found a very interestingly-coloured feather (see below). The iridescent blue / green colour isn’t due to the photo, it’s the actual colour. What do you think it could be?

In addition to keeping track of my own wildlife sightings, I have obtained a diary for 2016 that can be used by other members of the Visitor Welcome Team to note down what they see. I hope to collate the data and send it off to the local records centre and the county recorders. I am also encouraging other staff, volunteers and visitors to add in their sightings too, through word of mouth and writing a small piece for the Wimpole Herald (the in-house newsletter). I have had great fun creating it as I have cut out pictures of British wildlife from some old BBC Wildlife Magazines, and have stuck them in and annotated them. Good learning experience for me, and hopefully others will enjoy flicking through it during the quiet moments at work.

A last note on Wimpole. I had my first lunch break in the restaurant this week, and it was delicious! Sitting with the Head Gardener and his wife, they informed me that the soup was made from squash they had grown. How wonderful! Plus the homemade foccacia and cheese scone were scrumptious! I should treat myself to lunch there more often!

One freezing day, we decided it would be a good idea to visit RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes. It was lovely, but I am not particularly good at standing still in the cold waiting for a Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) to appear. I went for a wander instead to keep warm and to practice my bird identification skills.

Last but not least, I want to share the good news that I have already completed one of my 2016 Wildlife Resolutions! I took part in the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt, although I will admit that Ryan Clark had to help with the identification of many of them. I did recognise a good few though, such as the beautiful Blackthorn flower (Prunus spinosa), plus some other wildlife about. A male Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) taking a break from hunting and a group of Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus). Sadly I only have blurry photos of the last, the combination of amateur photographer, fast-moving birds and poor lighting does not work well.

So long and thanks for all the proverbial fish, Part One

Having been visited by my parents, packed up my belongings in Dorset, finished my job, had a mad couple of days getting my car fixed, and finally moved house, I have finally got to the end of a very hectic couple of weeks. Despite being so busy, I have still managed to get out and about to see some wildlife!

w/c 5th October 2015

A great start to week at the Chesil Beach Centre. Despite getting confused by Sophie’s directions to the Starry Smooth-Hound shark (Mustelus asterias) as I thought she meant the other bridge, I had a lovely wander looking at crabs and picking up litter. I also spotted my first Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) of the autumn, though they were pretending to be interior design (flying ducks anyone?).

I swapped locations and spent a few days at Lorton Meadows, managing to spot two Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) from the office! They can often be seen grazing in the play / picnic / pond area. Whilst a bit cautious, they spent a fair bit of time there before disappearing into other fields.

A new experience for me when our wildlife camera person came to check that the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) box and camera were still in good condition (they are), and I got to go up into the loft. Ignoring the anxious voice inside me muttering about heights, I went up and looked at the box for the first time – in which we found seven Small Tortoiseshell butterflies (Aglais urticae) hibernating!

As the name suggests, at the end of the week came the weekend! Sadly it was my last full weekend in Dorset but I made the most of it! My parents came down to see me and amongst visiting awesome places, we also went out to local restaurants and watched a sunset over the Fleet. Our first location of awesomeness was RSPB Arne Nature Reserve in the Purbeck area of Dorset. I have been meaning to visit for ages and despite a touch of chill in the day, it was fantastic – dragonflies, birds, fungi, deer and more!

The weekend wasn’t over yet though! Oh no, we also went to watch Motor X on Weymouth Beach followed by a visit to Portland Castle! Naturally, I was most interested in seeing what wildlife was about, but I did enjoy reading about the castle’s history, using their interpretation and playing (well, winning) a game of Nine Men’s Morris with my dad. The game is basically a big version of Noughts and Crosses, and was good fun to play. I am tempted to make my own set!

Crossing the bridge to see the rest of the gardens, I found a ladybird wandering around on a bush. The proceeded to find another 100+ ladybirds – some in larvae form, some as pupae and some as adults. I found three different species, but also a couple of different versions of some species. For example, the Ten-Spot Ladybird (Adalia 10-punctata) has a few possible colour variations. Flick through the photos below for the identifications, or you can look at my Twitter thread on them.

The larvae look like they are quite evil, don’t you think?

I couldn’t let my parents without taking them to Lorton of course! Neither had been before, so a late evening walk across the meadows was perfect. As well as pointing out the birds, we ate blackberries and I showed them oak galls. In the pond area I found an Elephant Hawk-Moth caterpillar (Deilephila elpenor), which was rather small so presumably one of the earlier instars (stages of being a larva). It looks like it is plotting world domination!

And the aforementioned sunset, such beauty to finish off my penultimate week in Dorset.

 

Autumn is coming. Actually, it’s here already!

I know I have been saying it for a little while, what with the ripening berries and the variety in, and number of, butterflies seen declining, but summer is truely ending and autumn is upon us. Now the majority of berries I’ve seen are ripe, though a few are still lagging behind. It’s a pleasant surprise, but not yet very uncommon, to come across some flowering buddleia. I suppose that’s how the remaining butterflies feel too. Our September seems to be rather mixed so far, a few glorious days but also a few days of utter downpours. I don’t feel it is qualified to be an Indian summer, but then I’m not entirely sure of the definition … something else to read up upon!

Lorton Meadows revealed a couple of its secrets to me this week, though I am aware that it stills keeps me in the dark as to much of what it contains within its green fields, sun-dappled woodland and shimmering ponds. You will note the slight creativity creeping into this blog post. I now have less than a month until the end of my contract and am feeling rather sad about leaving Lorton Meadows. I have come to love it, and can you blame me? I feel a blog post devoted to the wonders of Lorton Meadows coming on …

Anyway, back to the wildlife at Lorton. After the dismal failure of my moth trapping the previous weekend, I was looking forward to an activity that never lets me down – pond dipping! Before I even got to that, my day started well with a new species on the porch wall of my landlord’s house. An unexpected Speckled Bush-Cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima)! And then a new moth species at Lorton, a Red Underwing Moth that would not let itself to be photographed.

That day, I ran an evening session with a local group of Brownies, with pond dipping and a meadow minibeast search. Despite having done pond dipping a couple of times, we still managed to turn up a couple of new creatures for me!

Two terrestrial larvae were also discovered during our session. One was a bright orange creature, crawling across one of the tables during the pond dipping. Of course, I hoped it was from the Lepidoptera group (butterflies & moths), but it turned out to be a new Hymenoptera species for me – the larva of a Poplar Sawfly (Cladius grandis)! Then we found a number of Fox moth (Macrothylacia rubi) caterpillars crawling about in the meadow. I warned the children that they need to be careful of fluffy caterpillars (the hairs can cause rashes), but truthfully I’m not sure if the Fox moth caterpillar is one of those to be careful of?

A downpour mid-week didn’t inspire me to take a wildlife wander, but I just had to on Friday. Lovely sunshine outside and I was spending a lot of time at my laptop! I am very glad that I did, as I identified at least 11 different insect species, plus found a new fungi species. New to me, not new to science, I should add!

The new fungus was a Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus), sometimes known as Lawyer’s Wig or Shaggy Mane. There were at least ten fruiting bodies (the mushroom part, I think) spotted around one area – I bet they are all connected though. Fungi has a tendency to do that I vaguely remember. The fruiting bodies were all in different stages of development (ripeness)? I think I’ve put the ones I saw into the correct order of development below (left to right, top row then bottom row).

The weekend rolled around, as it is wont to do, and I headed north to Malvern (Worcestershire). A garden stroll resulted in a surprise new species tick – a Hempiteran, the Hairy Shieldbug (Dolycoris baccarum). Pottering further around the garden, I examined spiders, spotted five 7-spot Ladybirds (Coccinella 7-punctata) and took photos of some hoverflies with the vague hope that I will get around to identifying them at some point!

End of the week, and time to head back to Dorset. Via Cambridge. Because I’m logical like that. No, truthfully it was to give Matt a lift back – typical train engineering works would have meant a very long and arduous journey for him. The warming autumn sunshine (with the right level of breeze) was a perfect for an afternoon walk. As I commented to Matt, there were much fewer butterflies as well as a number of other changes as the seasons plod on. The leaves are losing their green pigment, and flashes of yellow, orange, red and brown can be seen as the trees dance in the wind. Ivy flowers are starting to bloom, much to the delight of the pollinators, whilst the lanes are busy with local people foraging berries – blackberries, elderberries and of course sloes to make some sloe gin. Scrumptious!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

A little bird said …

This week I had the almighty pleasure and joy of taking over the Biotweeps account. This Twitter account is curated by a different biologist each week, who discusses their research, knowledge and interests. From a cursory glance over the contributors, the majority are in academia, but I queried whether a naturalist could curate for a week – with an affirmative answer!

During the week I wanted to cover a variety of things across two topics: people and nature, and pure wildlife. One of my regrets is not setting aside enough time to plan thoroughly and thus fit more in. Nonetheless I fit in a fair amount:

  • twitching and panspecieslisting
  • mental health and nature
  • young people and nature (including A Focus On Nature of course)
  • wildlife recording
  • getting a career in conservation
  • mammals of the UK
  • moths
  • butterfly identification
  • photos from scotland / south africa

You can see a selection of my tweets in the images below.

As I began my tweeting, I made sure to venture out into the sunny garden in Cambridge a couple of times, spotting a couple of different insects about, although the Old Lady moth (Mormo maura) had been caught in Matt’s moth trap. I’m not sure how clear it is in the photo – but the wasp is eating a fly caught in a spider’s web!

On the way back to Dorset from Cambridge, I popped into my parents’ house in north London where I was promptly distracted by a jam doughnut, plus a Hornet hoverfly (Volucella zonaria), a Large White butterfly (Pieris brassicae) and a dead bumblebee in the garden.

In work this week, there was a lot of sitting inside working away at various tasks, but I managed to get out for a couple of walks and see some wildlife – including a Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi) in a field that hasn’t got any records for them as far as I know! I attempted to do a bit of moth trapping at Lorton for Moth Night – but caught mainly Hornets (Vespa crabro), so I gave up after a little bit. Luckily the hornets weren’t in stinging mode so I was able to get them out of the trap without getting hurt myself! However, I did find a few moths, albeit not in the trap itself!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

Raindrops on noses. And blackberries.

A busy week, as ever! Trying to recover from Birdfair, to get stuff done both at work and outside. At Lorton, I had a woodland wander as I took some children searching for beetles. Typically, we also found some other cool stuff to be fascinated by: a tiny delicate mushroom in the middle of the path, a few different types of harvestman and LOTs of slugs, snails and worms!

  • ID Tip: Both spiders (Araneae) and harvestmen (Opiliones) are arachnids (Arachnidae). To tell whether you’re looking at a spider or a harvestmen, the trick is to look at the body. A spider has distinct body parts – i.e. you can see easily that is has a thorax and an abdomen. Whereas in a harvestman, the thorax and the abdomen are fused together and it looks like it has just one body part. 

Later in the week, I went on a meadow meander to find a Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi). Sadly, the one that I’ve photographed a lot recently was no longer in place. I think maybe the cows wandered through and trashed its web. However, I still managed to find one, and even saw her spinning a grasshopper (I know it is a female as the male Wasp Spider is brown and smaller)! No photos or videos of that sadly as she was too quick for me! But I did get a photo of her beginning to munch on it. The meadow meander turned into a general nature walk (the best kind of walk!), as we examined grasshoppers and crickets, pried open a hatched oak gall (to unexpectedly find an earwig nymph inside!) and I found a new species for me, the Red-legged Shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes). [PSL: my 12th Hemiptera species]

Also on the walk, I came across this interesting Hymenoptera in a patch of clover. I think I’ve decided it is an ant species (Formicidae), but that is as far as I’ve got!

  • ID Tip: Hymenoptera are the group of insects that include bees, wasps, ants, sawflies and related insects. I knew it was a Hymenoptera because (a) it has two pairs of wings ruling out flies (not easily seen in these photos I’ll admit) and (b) it has long antennae which again ruling out flies which have much shorted antennae. I knew it wasn’t a sawfly (Symphyta)) as they do not have a distinct waist, but the one in the photograph does. After this, I am not sure of the exact ways to tell them apart, but my instinct was saying ant (Formicidae). 

Saturday evening saw a mad dash down to Lodmoor, to scout out the area behind the tip. Why you might ask? Well, a Long-tailed Blue butterfly (Lampides boeticus, apparently also known as the Peablue which is a lovely name!) had been seen there! The weather was atrocious for butterflies, and a not great for me either I might add – I got soaked! However, I still had a hopeful look around. I saw plenty of wildlife (including a couple of butterflies when the weather had a break from pouring water down on Weymouth) – but no Long-tailed Blue! Oh botheration! I consoled myself with blackberries (covered in raindrops as previously mentioned) and taking photos of the other wildlife, including SIX Wasp Spiders, a very obliging Common Blue butterfly (Polyommatus icarus) and a rather wet male Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) trying to shelter from the rain.

Back at Lorton for Sunday, a rather grey and damp day, though no downpours. I had a bird-themed weekend running which meant one of my favourite activities – owl pellet analysis! I.e. lets take apart some solidified owl vomit to look at the bones of small mammals. Sounds grim, but it one of the best things to do I think. You end up finding some fantastic things and learning a lot about anatomy at the same time.

  • ID Tip: When dissecting owl pellets, one of the key bones to look out for is the skull (and lower jaws). By looking at the size, and the teeth, it is possible to identify small mammals down to species level.
    • E.g. A skull with no gap between the molars and incisors will belong to an insectivore. If the teeth are all white, it is a European Mole (Talpa europaea). If the teeth have red tips to them (yes, you read that right, red-tipped teeth) it is one of the shrew species (Soricidae). You then look at the end tooth and the number of cusps (bumps) on it, which then tells you which species it is. 
    • Hm, maybe I will write a whole blog post on owl pellet dissection and small mammal bone identification? Interested in reading such a post? Let me know! 

The end of my (working) week had a thrilling conclusion when a visitor asked me about a caterpillar they had seen. My interest was piqued, I do so love Lepidoptera and their caterpillars. I went out, armed with a caterpillars book and my camera. Turns out I didn’t need the former as I knew straight away what species it was. I have seen plenty of photos of this species on Facebook and Twitter, but never seen one as a caterpillar in the wild myself. Until today! The wonderful and beautiful Elephant Hawk-Moth (Deilephila elpenor), pink and green as an adult (PINK and GREEN!!), brown, smooth and seemingly with many eyes as a caterpillar (the eyes are to scare off predators!). Look how awesome it is!!

Heading back to the centre (my mid-afternoon snack was waiting for me after, mm chocolate cake), I yelled out “Caterpillar alert!” as I almost stepped on another caterpillar. Slightly smaller, and with many more hairs, I could tell what this one was straight away as well, the Fox Moth (Macrothylacia rubi) caterpillar!

Fox Moth (Macrothylacia rubi) caterpillar

In other news:

  • I wondered whether to write a post about the badger cull, and its extension into Dorset. But I don’t need to, because the Wildlife Trusts have written a superb news piece which covers everything (and a bit more) that I would’ve said. Please do read it, and speak to your local MP / Westminster / everyone about why the badger cull should not occur.
  • Dorset Wildlife Trust was awarded TWO bronze medals for our float at the Weymouth Carnival! Well done to Vicky who was our co-ordinator!
  • I only have a month and a half left in Dorset! Which is rather scary as there is still so many places I want to visit and things I want to do!
  • I’m recalculating my Pan-species List, as I’ve managed to get myself all confused – the online version and my notebook have different numbers. D’oh!
  • I’m doing rather well on my 2015 Wildlife Resolutions, but have got a fair bit of work ahead of me to ensure that I tick them all off!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

Pre-Birdfair Wildlife Adventures

The week was all about Birdfair, except that I had four days before it began. Which, to be fair, were pretty awesome days in themselves. So I shall cover those before I even attempt to write about Birdfair – which is going to require a separate post(s?!).

It began on a lunchtime wander at Lorton, with the realisation that autumn has started to creep upon us … quite a few of the flowers are gone, and berries decorate the bushes instead. However, there are still some butterflies flitting about! Plus it was a warm sunny day in which I could take yet more photos of the Wasp Spiders (Argiope bruennichi) which are now in my favourite animals list (a long list I’ll admit).

Mid-week led to the final preparations and unveiling of our hand-printed animal (remember last week’s fun?) – a basking shark for Weymouth Carnival! Due to my back issues (can’t carry anything heavy) AND my short stature (causing lopsidedness), I was unable to help with carrying the shark. However, that was ok with me as I got to be jellyfish! A dancing one at that! Despite the rain and wind, we had a fantastic time, but we are still waiting to hear who came first out of the walking floats, sure it had to be us?!

Thursday was a little bit of a struggle for us at Lorton and Chesil – we were all trying to recover from Carnival. It was surprisingly tiring, and the weather had undoubtable made it worse. At Lorton, the rain was continuing and I had to lead a butterfly activity! Luckily I had plenty of activities to replace looking for butterflies – including making a butterfly mask using one of the resources on the Wildlife Watch website. What do you think?

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).