Sunday, 1 July 2018

Magnificent Moths

It's been a hot week here with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees C. For wildlife that has already had to endure a freezing winter this year it's a challenging time.

The local house martins have finally settled on their nests. They appear to be breeding very late this year but in large numbers- with the good weather set to continue it will hopefully be a good year for them.


House martins are such incredible fliers and it's so wonderful to watch them swooping around catching insects. They seem to enter their nests at incredible speeds too. It's not all plain-sailing for them though- when I was looking at the various nests under the eaves of houses I spotted a very odd looking house martin. 


This is actually a house sparrow so what is it doing in a martin nest? House sparrows will happily take over house martin nests(1). They will even sometimes attack the eggs and young house martins and harass the adults. The sparrows will even do this and choose not to use the nest themselves!

I was excited to spot this female stag beetle recently on the edge of a footpath. 



It's likely this individual was looking for somewhere to lay its eggs as that's why you usually see female stag beetles on the ground(2). Stag beetles spend much of their life underground, only emerging to breed in the summer. The adults will die off by the autumn.

The warm weather has seen lots of butterflies on the wing over the last few weeks. One of the most common species locally appears to be the meadow brown


The other species I've seen in large numbers is the large white


Both species appear to be doing well in the local area though I must say there appears to be less butterflies generally than in past years. 

The highlight of my week though has been spotting moths and I've seen some fantastic species.

Some are fairly plain looking but lovely in their own way. 


This species is riband wave, a species which is attracted to light. I found it on the edge of the window- I'd kept the light on in the hope of attracting some moths which clearly worked. There are several forms of this moth, part of it's natural variation, and this is the remutata form.


This is a similar species which I think is small fan-footed wave although there are quite a few 'wave' species which look alike. 

The next species is more impressive- a ghost moth which I found on a gate post whilst it was still light. 


Once they become adult moths, this species has no functioning mouthparts and therefore cannot feed(3). The males perform a swaying flight display at dusk which is presumably where the name comes from- I imagine it would be quite spooky. 

Another stunning moth I found was this white ermine moth


I found this individual on our shed after dusk which made it quite the challenge to take this photo. The pattern of the black spot varies greatly between individuals and this appears to have relatively few spots.

A find yesterday morning on a garden fence was this species:


This was a tricky species to identify but I think it's a sycamore moth. To a moth, wooden fence panels look like nooks and crannies in trees where they would normally rest up so in a suburban environment fences are actually a really good place to look for moths. 

As much as I'd love to have a moth trap, a torch and a keen eye is the next best thing! 


2: PTES: About stag beetles
3: Butterfly Conservation: Ghost Moth
4: Butterfly Conservation: White Ermine Moth

Sunday, 24 June 2018

June Nature News

Hello and welcome to this month's edition of Nature News, where I look at the wildlife and environment news from the local area and the UK as a whole.

Plastic Purge Continues

I've been reporting regularly about the reduction of single-use plastics and it's really pleasing to see progress keeps being made. Recently McDonald's announced they are going to replace their plastic straws with paper ones in the UK from September(1). The chain uses 1.8 million straws in the UK every day so this is a significant reduction. They are also trialling doing the same in other countries. McDonald's must be one of the biggest companies in regards to plastic straws in the world and if they can do something about it then it shows that anyone can.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has produced a report on curbing plastic and found that at least fifty countries are working to reduce plastic pollution(2). There's an incentive for developing countries to do it as plastic bags are causing floods by blocking drains and cattle are eating them. The report acknowledges that far more still needs to be done though and cautiously suggest plastic alternatives.

A high proportion of marine litter comes from fishing waste and the EU have announced new rules to reduce the amount of this(3). Producers of plastic fishing gear will now be required to cover the cost of waste collection, transport, treatment as well as awareness-raising measures.

Mammals in Decline
There have been regular reports on the state of the UK's wildlife and the latest one came from the Mammal Society and Natural England and it's bleak reading(4). Almost one in five British mammals are facing a high risk of extinction with the red squirrel, Scottish wildcat and grey long-eared bat listed as facing severe threats to their survival. Hedgehogs and water voles have seen their populations decline by 66% in the last twenty years. Even rabbit numbers are thought to have decreased somewhere between 24 and 48% in the last 25 years.

Water Vole

Licenses to Shoot Ravens
Following previous controversial licences to shoot buzzards, the environment secretary Michael Gove has issued licenses to shoot ravens in various parts of the UK included Wiltshire and Dorset(5). A shepherd from Dorset claims that ravens were killing a couple of lambs every day from the 9000 sheep he tends. It's accepted that ravens will kill and eat dying or dead lambs though as far as I can tell there is little evidence that they actually kill healthy ones. It would be easy for a shepherd to see ravens pecking at lambs and assume they were responsible for the deaths. 

Ravens are doing well but only after years being scarce. The RSPB are not arguing that such licenses are unnecessary- they try to stay in the good books of farmers- but are concerned at the lack of controls in place. They want Natural England to ensure non-lethal methods have been trialled first and a review of the application looking at the status of ravens locally. It seem that Natural England are only too willing to issue licenses to those who apply and don't appear to be ensuring effective controls are in place. 

Local News
A few quick local stories now. The RSPCA were called to help a muntjac deer which had somehow found its way to the sixth floor of Bournemouth's Madeira Road multi-storey car park(6). The small deer was obviously not used to this time of environment and couldn't find it's way to safety. You can see a clip of the deer below.

Also in Bournemouth, the start of the month saw a bloom of plankton at the start of the month(7). An algae called phaeocystis which often blooms after a period of strong sunlight and warm weather, together with nutrients building up in the sea. I visited the coast a little further along from Bournemouth and managed to see the latter stages of the bloom. 


Finally, the SSSI of Poole Harbour has been extended by 1,800 hectares(8). Poole Harbour is a hugely important site for wildlife, particularly waders and the extension of the area means the health of the harbour will be better protected.

That's all for today but I'll leave you with a plea to get in touch about what you've seen locally or further afield! Details below! See you soon.

1: BBC News: McDonald's to ditch plastic straws
2: BBC News: 50 nations 'curbing plastic pollution'
3: Circular Ocean: New EU rules to reduce marine litter
4: Mammal Society: British mammal's fight for survival
5: RSPB: A response to news that licenses have been granted to shoot ravens in England
6: Bournemouth Echo: Deer trapped on sixth floor of multi-storey car park in Bournemouth...
7: Bournemouth Echo: This is why the sea in Bournemouth is brown at the moment
8: Twitter: @NEDorsetHantsIOW

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Late Spring Sightings

It's been a warm few weeks here and much of the local wildlife has been busy in the process of breeding and raising young. I've seen plenty of fledgling birds lately such as this cute young robin.


The canada geese nursery looks to have had a successful year with many goslings still in the area. 




You can see the difference in some of the older goslings like the one at the front of the last picture- less fluffy and the black markings are starting to appear on the head. 

I managed to find what I think is the nest of a green woodpecker nearby. I kept hearing lots of noise at one tree and knew it was a nest but couldn't identify what species it belonged to. Then one day I saw a green woodpecker on the tree and saw some holes which look like woodpecker nests. With the sound on, you should be able to hear the noise in this clip.


This is what I think is probably this year's nest:


The cold winter and late spring has affected some local wildlife including the house martins. They arrived very late and are still in the process of building nests in the eaves of houses. I've yet to see any young poking out of them and I fear they may not produce any young this year. 


The BTO tagged another set of cuckoos this year and I was excited to see that one of them, Bowie, visited my patch two weeks ago. There are plenty of cuckoos not far away in the New Forest but I was surprised to see one so close to the town. Thanks to Bowie's visit a satellite view of my patch made a brief appearance on week 2 of Springwatch!

Bowie the Cuckoo (Source)
On 12th June Bowie left the UK to begin his long trip back to Africa and is well into France. You can follow his journey here.

I saw one of the Avon roe deer recently which looked absolutely stunning in it's summer coat. 


I've also seen plenty more insects this week such as this lovely blue-tailed damselfly.


I was particularly drawn to this individual due to it's bright pink thorax. The females of this species, of which this is one, have a variety of colour forms with this form known as "rufescens". 

I found several different species of longhorn beetles which are really distinctive insects.

Banded Longhorn Beetle
Spotted Longhorn Beetle

Stenurella melanura
There were lots of caterpillars out today too. Everywhere I looked there were these black ones:


These are probably alder leaf beetle larvae which means they are not technically caterpillars at all. A lot of people probably don't realise that all insects go through a similar metamorphosis to butterflies. This species was introduced to the UK in the 19th century but there were no records between 1946 and 2004. A colony appeared in Manchester in 2004 and then the species was found here in South Hampshire in 2014. 

I also saw small cinnabar moth caterpillars on lots of ragwort plants and on one plant they were quite well developed already. 


On a tree trunk there was a singular green caterpillar. 


This individual looked very vulnerable on the trunk as birds love to eat the green caterpillars. This is the larvae of a common quaker moth- this species flies in March and April so this individual will not become an adult moth the early spring next year. 

That's all for today but I shall be back next week with June's Nature News!

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Interesting Insects

The last few weeks have seen an explosion in the number and variety of insects around so today's post is an insect special!

Let's start off with a dragonfly, one I spotted sheltering in the long grass at the side of one of the lakes at Blashford.


This is a black-tailed skimmer, probably a female or an immature male due to the lack of clear anal appendages. This species was first recorded in the UK in 1934 but is now a common species. It is thought the creation of gravel pits is a factor in their increase as they like extensive open unvegetated areas. 

Like much of the UK, the most common dragonfly or damselfly species locally is the common blue damselfly


This species lives in a wide range of habitats from small ponds to rivers but is especially common around lakes and reservoirs. 

There are just two species of damselfly in the UK which have obviously coloured wings- they belong to the Calopteryx genus and are a type of damselfly known as demoiselles1


The more common of these two species is this one, the banded demoiselle. The spots on the wings start of as dark brown in immature males before developed into the black of adults. 

The other species is slightly less common, though is still fairly abundant and is the beautiful demoiselle


This similar species is generally only found in the west of the UK2.

I haven't seen that many moths yet this year but I did see one of the easiest to spot and identify, the cinnabar moth


As usual in nature, the bright markings are a warning to potential predators. They eat ragwort, a plant which is poisonous to mammals and unpleasant for birds to eat3.

Some moths are much harder to spot but if you look in the hedgerows and bushes you can spot all sorts of interesting species. 


This is a yellow-barred long-horn moth. This is a day-flying moth and you can tell from the pale tips to it's antennae that this individual is a female. Male antennae are actually twice as long as female antennae which seems ludacris- the antennae on males are four-times longer than the moth itself!


I am also discovering new insects I haven't seen before and they are endlessly fascinating. You might assume this species is some form of ladybird at first glance but when you more closely it doesn't seem to fit the bill. 


This is actually a red and black froghopper. Like the cinnabar moth, the markings highlight it's unpleasant taste to predators. This froghopper mainly gets its food from sucking the vegetable juices of grasses. It can both fly and jump up to 70 centimetres. 

A beetle next and this is a garden chafer.


I couldn't find much information about this beetle but I am intrigued by it's look- you don't see many insects with such different colored wing casing to the rest of the body. 

I'm seem a couple of interesting looking flies lately too. 


This fly belong to the genus Tenthredo and like many insects has the markings of a wasp despite being completely harmless. 


This one is of the genus Panorpa which means it's a type of scorpion fly. These are so called because the males have what looks like a scorpion tail but is actually claspers for mating- this individual is a female4. Scorpion flies scavenge dead insects are regularly steal food which is trapped in spider webs. Males are often killed by the females when they mate so they placate females with a present of a dead insect or a mass of saliva. 

To conclude, here are some recent photos of two more insects I've discussed on the blog before:

Swollen-thighed beetle

Roesel's bush cricket
That's all for today but there will be more next week with a focus on the larger wildlife I've seen lately.


Thanks also to Chris Brooks on ispotnature.org for confirming the identities of many of these species.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

May Nature News

It's time for this month's edition of nature news where I discuss the latest nature and environment stories from the local area and beyond.

Pesticides and Plastics

The EU has voted for further restrictions on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides(1). Three neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) will no longer be allowed for outdoor use. There is growing scientific evidence that these chemical are harmful to bees and other pollinators so a ban could have a really positive impact on their populations. Though this was an EU vote the UK voted for a ban and Defra say that the ban will remain in the UK after Brexit.

Meanwhile, the EU is about to launch it's plan to dramatically reduce the use of single-use plastic across the union(2). There's an extensive list of items the EU want to tackle which includes: cotton buds, forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks, plates, beverage stirrers and sticks for balloons. At the moment this is still at the draft stage but seems likely it will make it into EU law in the future.

With the UK leaving the EU though it's likely these new rules will only be put in place after we've left and so it's up to Environment secretary Michael Gove to follow Europe's example. Gove has regularly talked about this sort of legislation so hopefully this will indeed happen but nothing is guaranteed.

It's worth remembering why this sort of ban is needed. This month shocking images taken on the Isle of Rum were released showing red deer stags caught up in discarded fishing gear(3).


Plastic and other rubbish has negative effects wherever it ends up. Marine life ends up consuming plastics, from tiny plankton up to turtles and even whales and it can kill. Birds too are regularly found with alarming amounts of plastic in their stomachs or tangled in human rubbish. These images remind us that things that end up in the sea will likely end up on land sooner or later and therefore any animal can suffer because of it. Two red deer stags died after becoming tangled up in ropes. 

State of the World's Birds
A five year compendium of population data has revealed alarming results(4). One in eight bird species across the world are threatened with extinction, including once common species like puffins, snowy owls and turtle doves. At least 40% of bird species are in decline because of human activity. 

Of the 1,469 globally threatened species 74% of them are threatened primarily by farming. Logging, invasive species and hunting are also major threats- in the Mediterranean region alone an estimated 12-38 million individual birds are hunted every year. 

There is a tiny piece of good news amongst all this. BirdLife has reported that there are 25 species that would have gone extinct were in not for conservation efforts. Birds like the Guam Rail have been removed from the 'critically endangered' list. This shows that all hope is not lost but real efforts are needed to change the way humans behave to protect our birds and the rest of our wildlife too. 

National Parks
Environment secretary Michael Gove has announced a review into the country's natural landscapes with the potential for more national parks to be created in England(5).

On the face of it national parks are good for the area. They protect it from large-scale development and have stricter rules to protect wildlife and the local environment. Having witnessed the UK's newest national park, the New Forest, be created though I have mixed views. 

The New Forest has seen a real rise in visitor numbers in recent years and the creation of national park status is usually credited with this. But whilst more visitors might be good economically for the area it's not so good naturally. The New Forest is home to many ground-nesting birds whose numbers are falling quickly, like curlews, and it's thought that this is happening because they are increasingly being destroyed or disturbed by humans or dogs. Though evidence is limited, it appears that national park status has had a negative effect on a number of species. 

When the New Forest National Park was being proposed Ringwood kept being included and then excluded from the park and in the end was left outside the boundary. This left the town open to major development. Due to the national park status small developments inside the Forest are difficult to create and so larger ones at Ringwood and other boundary-towns are being created. They are still destroying habitats and I can't help but think it would have been better for the environment if developments could have been spread out more. 


Guess Who's Back
Some good news now with the chequered skipper butterfly returning to England through an introduction programme(6). The chequered skipper's numbers reduced in the 70s and after a drought in the summer of 1976 the species disappeared from England altogether (though it is still found in the Highlands of Scotland). Now Butterfly Conservation has released some in a forest in Nottinghamshire which were caught in Belgium. The reintroduction is more difficult than you might imagine as the team had to ensure the forest was a suitable habitat for the species, even planting specific food plants. 


Finally, the National Police Air Service based at Bournemouth Airport recently tweeted this great photo of a hare at the airport(7):


It's great to know that hares are thriving at the local airport and even better to know that people are looking out for them. 

Nature News will return in June, see you then.

1: Gov.uk: 'Further restrictions on neonicotinoids agreed'
2: The Guardian: 'Gove urged to follow Europe with ban on single-use plastics'
3: BBC News: 'Stags on Rum found tangled in discarded fishing gear'
4: The Guardian: 'One in eight bird species threatened with extinction, global study finds'
5: BBC News: 'England could have new national parks in Gove review'
6: The Guardian: 'Back from the brink: chequered skipper butterfly takes to English skies again'
7: Twitter: NPASBournemouth

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Charming Chicks

Over the last few weeks chicks have started to hatch and fledge in large numbers so today's post features lots of cute baby birds.

The Bournemouth peregrine falcons laid three eggs in the end and all three successfully hatched!


Getting clear shots of the three chicks is proving quite tricky at the moment as the adult is almost always brooding them. They appear to be doing really well with the adults bringing in regular and sizeable meals. These are an experienced pair who who have excellent hunting weather since the eggs hatched so I would expect these chicks to grow up healthily. 

Meanwhile the gosling nursery field has suddenly become full of goslings. The first I spotted were the greylag goslings. 


Within two days they were joined by around thirty canada geese goslings. 






Canada goslings are fairly well developed when they hatch with their eyes open and leave the nest within 1-2 days1. In many places they form these 'gang broods' where several broods come together- I think there must be at least three here. The advantages of this tactic are clear- a predator would likely wipe out one brood with just two adults to protect it. Here though any predator would face a whole load of adults and even if it caught some goslings the overall proportion would still be lower. It's definitely a case of safety in numbers.

Very close to my house last weekend I found this very young looking fledgling. 


It's difficult to confidently identify the species but I suspect that this is probably a starling. It still looks very much like a chick with it's downy feathers and that yellow mouth called a 'gape'2. The gape acts as a target for adult birds who feel an irresistible compulsion to put food in it. Gradually the gape flange, the outer parts of the mouth, will shrink and turn dull as the bird grows older. 

This individual cannot have fledged very long before I found it and was sat in the middle of a footpath. It was extremely vulnerable there so I gently ushered it into the bushes where it would be better protected from predators, especially the local cat population, and be further away from the road. 

Another recent bird sighting was this adult grey wagtail


As you can see this wagtail has a beak stuffed full of what appear to be caterpillars. The fact it is holding them rather than eating them suggests that it is about to take them to it's young in a nearby nest. According to the information I've found grey wagtails are supposed to eat aquatic creatures rather than caterpillars but the latter may be easier to catch and I don't suppose the chicks are too fussy. 

Grey wagtails nest alongside a fast moving river or stream with a clutch size of between 3-6 eggs. 

Finally for today, here's one of the many butterflies which has emerge in recent weeks. 


This is a speckled wood and it seems to be common for them to lose parts of their wing. The spots look like eyes to predators, mainly birds, which then aim for the wing margin3. They may end up damaging the wing but butterflies can manage with a fair bit of damage and their body remains completely intact.

That's all for today, see you soon.