A New Dawn

Well, I am all settled in here in Cambridge, and I have started a new job too! However, I shall come onto that momentarily, as I had some interesting wildlife sightings beforehand.

Before the live wildlife sightings, I took a train ride down to big old London town for a meeting at the Natural History Museum. A wonderful meeting, and in addition, I got a quick tour of Angela Marmont Centre – a resource for naturalists! When we went to look at the specimens, naturally I requested to see the Lepidoptera. How superb it was! I spent much of it just going “oh wow … oh look at that one … oh that’s gorgeous”!

Following this, my parents came to see where I am now living and we went for a lovely autumn wander in the nearby woods and fields. Toby had a wonderful time – lots of new smells to investigate! And then we enjoyed a scrumptious Victoria Sponge that I had made as a belated birthday cake for my mum. I suppose I ought to be modest, but it really was scrumptious.

I’m trying to learn how to garden as best I can. I am not naturally green-fingered but I am giving it a go nonetheless. The pond had been completely covered with grass, so I have been clearing that. I haven’t done all of it yet, I wasn’t sure if I should, but I have done a good proportion of it. And managed to spot a little frog (Rana temporaria) whilst doing so! A couple of days later I was pruning the hedge (which is attempting to take over the garden) and found the summer form of the Hawthorn Shieldbug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale, the first generation in spring looks different). Matt and I are collating the garden list, I wonder what else will turn up? Domestic cat has – on numerous occasions!

A Saturday morning dawned bright and mostly clear of clouds, and we took ourselves to RSPB’s Fen Drayton Lakes where autumn had definitely taken hold. However, I did spot a couple of bramble flowers! At the end of October! Very odd, or perhaps not? I’m not sure. From what I remember, we saw almost 50 different bird species in just a couple of hours – including my first Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)! Strangely Matt spotted it from the car park within a minute of getting out the car! Other highlights included Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle (Staphylinus olens) and Ruby Tiger Moth caterpillar (Phragmatobia fuliginosa). For the latter, I risked life and limb to protect it from cyclists zooming past, before managing to safely relocate it off the path!

And so, suspense over – news of my new job! *drum roll* I am now working in the Visitor Welcome and Membership Team at National Trust’s Wimpole Estate. It’s a beautiful location and the team are absolutely lovely! Do flick through the photos below!

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

A bewildering start to the week, as I awoke in the east side of Dorset. Not by magic mind, I had travelled over on Sunday evening to visit a friend who has just started a Masters at Bournemouth University. Watch out Bournemouth! A lovely start to the week, due to seeing both my friend and also a Red Admiral first thing in the morning. As she (my friend, not the butterfly) went off to her first lectures of the term, I wondered how to pass the time for the rest of my day off. There was no question of course – at a nature reserve! But which one …

I settled upon Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Upton Heath Nature Reserve, as it had been over a year since I had visited, and I haven’t wandered around heathland much. Naturally I popped my head around the door at the Beacon Hill Urban Wildlife Centre to say hello, then headed out to see what I could discover.

Ah, heathland … still purple in autumn, with the bright splashes of other colours, plus the more subdued oranges and browns of drooping leaves and partially hidden fungi. The quick glimpse of a snake as it is startled by my footsteps and slides away into the gorse and heather. (I think it was a Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), but not 100% sure as I haven’t got much experience with snakes).

I was drawn to examine the stems of the plants as I could hear the singing of a cricket … it took me a while, but I finally spotted a male singing away. It was a Bog Bush-Cricket (Metrioptera brachyptera), a new species for me and my eighth Orthopteran. I soon found a couple more, including one with the green patterning.

I also saw a couple of different grasshoppers and a groundhopper, but I haven’t yet worked out which species they are. With the grasshoppers, I think one of them was a Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus), and the others are Field Grasshoppers (Chorthippus brunneus). The groundhopper is most likely a Common Groundhopper (Tetrix undulata).  I also took a video of the bush-crickets/grasshoppers singing, but haven’t uploaded it yet.

And then the fungi … no idea what they were, but they look rather cool!

A few days of working at Lorton, and I made sure to eat my lunch outdoors. I had allowed myself to get into the bad habit of eating at my computer, which is not at all healthy. I even sat in the sunshine by the pond for my lunch, which was just lovely – and still warm despite being the beginning of October! I enjoyed watching the dragonflies zooming about – and even managed to get a few shots of one in flight. A tad blurry, but the best I’ve ever got! This particular one was very curious and kept flying over to see what I was doing (or to work out what I was?).

At one point, I was rather startled as suddenly a bird appeared suddenly overhead and splashed into the pond. A duck! Rather surprisingly, this is actually the first duck I’ve seen at Lorton! I wonder if she was hiding from a bird of prey?

A few more photos from lunchtime outside, including a slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) who was really chilled out and let me take lots of photos!

A post-work weekend walk with Sean took us down to Two Mile Coppice as we peered into the undergrowth attempting to find fungi. However, it has been rather dry recently so we weren’t expecting much. We found a few scattered about though and Sean managed to identify a few (I got one too, wahey!).

End of the week, I was sleepy and wanting my bed. But I headed up to Portland to show Christina and Amy (two of the trainees) where the Portland Bird Observatory is. We saw a Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) in the PBO garden, plus the Little Owl (Athene noctua) in the quarry, ate plenty of blackberries, saw some tiny caterpillars and listened to Great Green Bush-Crickets (Tettigonia viridissima). All in all, a very nice Sunday evening.

As I finish writing up this post, I can hear the wind howling outside. Looks like our spell of good weather is over for now! I wonder if there will be any more decent periods of weather before I leave Dorset? There’s still so much to see and do!

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).

 

Our hands were peppered With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

As the title suggests, I went blackberry picking this week! If you attended school in the UK you are likely to have read the poem from which I’ve taken my title – Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney. If not, do go and read it – it’s one of my favourites. Anyway, the blackberry picking was late in the week, so shall come onto that in a bit!

Earlier in the week, I was based down at the Chesil Beach Centre. A mixed bag in terms of weather, but I managed to take some nice photos after work. Sadly I can’t get out much during work as the centre tends to be quite hectic, and I usually end up gulping down my lunch!

A day at Lorton mid-week, no groups in so I was getting on with work in the office. Thought had a stroll had to be taken of course.

This week was a bit topsy turvy, as I was then back at Chesil again! As before, busy during the day. I had an unplanned wander after work – the weather was very calm, with no wind for once, and the sunshine was glorious. I popped across the road to Hamm Beach and photographed the Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) for a while. They are such wonderful birds, and as the name suggests, they turn stones!

I also filmed them for a bit as their stone-turning is brilliant to watch, plus they call – I think to each other. Using an educated guess, I would say they are contact calls? I.e. letting the other(s) know they are still there?

I also saw this massive bumblebee – I think it may be a queen? She really was huge!

Despite being the end of September, I literally took the plunge and went paddling. The water was actually a decent temperature, once I got used to it!

Some others photos from the evening:

Back to Lorton again for the weekend and the theme of Pond Life, which means … pond dipping! Woohoo! One of my favourite activities! We discovered a myriad of insects, molluscs and other invertebrates within the pond, as well as seeing some adult dragonflies zooming about above it.

Saturday evening I went blackberry picking – even though the freezer is already full of fruit thanks to Matt’s foraging efforts. And on both days, I had someone else at the centre with me (membership recruiter, then a volunteer) so we peered at wildlife together during a couple of quiet moments.

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).

Nature is full of drama

What a week of drama! So much wildlife has been seen and there have been stories worthy of a TV soap opera! And oh yes, there was that general election thing as well. I’ve written about that too.

In terms of the caterpillars, they are all still alive and munching their way through large quantities of leaves. I did get quite worried about the Garden Tiger Moth caterpillars at one point as they were not moving much, or eating much. And then I found what looked like half a caterpillar! But I still had three … turns out it was the skin of one! Evidently they outgrow them and shed them. It wasn’t long before the other two went through this as well. Just after they shed it, their hairdos look particularly fresh! They are called Fluffy 1, 2 and 3, whilst the green caterpillar has been nicknamed Jade (as suggested by Jennifer Hunt).

At Lorton, we have had a couple of school groups in looking for minibeasts – pond dipping, using sweep nets in the meadow and searching under logs in the wood. An interesting beetle, caught by a little girl, caught my eye and I took it back to the centre. My line manager identified it as one of the soldier beetles, and with a bit of further investigation I do believe it is Cantharis fusca which is Nationally Scarce species. [ID was confirmed by NHM Coleoptera, I said previously that it was a Red Data Book species, but it was downgraded in 2013]. In the woods, one group found a caterpillar, so I promptly potted it up (with some leaves of course). This one is called Fusspot as he/she seems quite fussy about food.

We had a bit of a work jolly on Thursday. As part of being a volunteer at the Chesil / Lorton centres, training is provided. In this case, training took the form of a trip over to Durlston Country Park and National Nature Reserve where we had a lovely wander in the sunshine (surprisingly pleasant weather considering the wind we’d had the rest of the week!). We found yet another caterpillar – now potted up and named (Arnold – suggested by Chris Calow), as well as plenty of flowers and even my first Wall butterfly of the year!

After our wander, we were given a guided walk by one of the rangers, during which we saw some more fantastic wildlife!

Back at Lorton for the weekend, and I was anxious during Sunday morning – the eggs had been unattended all morning, with just the quickest visit from the male Kestrel. Later on, he sat on them for a good long time, though as I type at 8pm, he is absent again from the webcam. My fears were confirmed when someone found some wings and feathers in the meadow near where their box is … Kestrel wings, and according to Sean Foote, they look to belong to a female!

To cheer myself up after this tragedy, I spent an hour or so sitting by the pond after work (busman’s holiday!) looking at the insects and listening to the birds. As you can see, it is a lovely spot to relax at. I watched a damselfly nymph crawl across a lilypad, attempt to climb a vertical leaf a couple of times, before it fell into the water. I saw a bright red beetle lurking in the shade of a post, and a spider waiting for its next prey item to appear. A fellow naturalist appeared and we discussed wildlife, before he spotted a damselfly on a nearby bush – my first of the year! Just after, I spotted a dragonfly exhuvia attached to a plant near the pond – a different shape to the one I found last week, thus a different species presumably!

Catching Up pt 2

Spring truly began for me on the w/c 23rd February. Twice during the week, I saw a bumblebee, though both times it was just a quick flyby. However, on 1st March (when attending the GMS conference), I photographed my first bumblebee of the year! There was much excitement as Matt and I racked our brains, I definitely recognised the species but couldn’t quite remember the name – it had, after all, been quite a few months since I had last attempted to identify a bumblebee! With a vague inkling in mind, I searched through one of the books on sale at the conference and triumphantly pronounced that it was a Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). This isn’t actually an original native species to the UK, and was first seen here only in 2001 but has rapidly spread since. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust provides a link to an article written by Clive Hill with more information.

As well as the excitement from photographing my first bumblebee of the year, I was enthralled by her behaviour. I believe she must have literally just emerged from hibernation, as she was sitting very still in the sunlight for a good 10-15 minutes – bumblebees need to warm themselves up after emerging.

My next destination was up in Cambridgeshire where I headed to Fen Drayton Lakes. Before I even got there, I was thrilled – as Matt pointed out my first Brimstone butterfly on a roadside verge (whilst I was driving unfortunately so no photo) – a good sign of spring for sure! At the reserve itself, there was another Brimstone that fluttered away annoyingly quickly, Great Crested Grebes performing their courtship dance (too far away for a decent photo) and lovely small birds all over the place – including my first Bullfinches for a number of months and some Long-tailed Tits (always lovely birds to see). Record shots for both I’m afraid.

Now, a focus on Lepidoptera (as usual) – a wonderful group as I’m sure you’ll agree. In London, I received a call to rescue an animal in distress … admittedly it was from just outside my parents’ house, and by my mum. Nonetheless, my inner superhero burst out and I rushed to the rescue! It was a butterfly, a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) to be precise, resting in the road very close to one of the wheels of my mum’s car. I dashed forward and scooped it up, it needed safety! With a quick glance around to check the scene, I decided that our garden was probably the best spot for it and proceeded to gently release it into its new home. Phew, a good job well done!

But wait! Not all was well! The butterfly seemed to be struggling … what was wrong with it?! A closer inspection was needed and I peered closely, it seemed – oddly – that the very end part of its hind wings were stuck together! I knew I hadn’t touched those parts of the butterfly, so I am still wondering how it happened. Anyway, gently and with great care, I managed to separate the hind wings, hopefully with minimal damage. The butterfly definitely seemed happier (although, do butterflies feel happiness / emotions in general?), albeit that it was in bad condition from its hibernation.

Moth-trapping has of course been continuing in the garden. I’ve not caught a huge variety of species yet, or even large numbers of moths, but it is still better than when we were in the grip of winter! For the most part, they’re LBJs (little brown jobs) but actually, if you look closely you can see that even these LBJs have some intricate patterning! The last photo is of a leaf mine in a bramble plant over in the local park. You can see that one end of the mine is very thin, this is where the caterpillar hatched out of its egg and started munching. The mine gradually gets bigger and bigger, matching the caterpillar’s growth as it wanders around the inside of the leaf. This mine is caused by one of the micro-moths, likely to be Stigmella aurella I think.