Saturday, 29 July 2017

Lively Longham

Earlier this week I visited Longham Lakes, the former gravel pits which are now reservoirs. (I wrote about my first visit to the site in December here.).  I was pleased to see there were plenty of young birds on the lakes including these strange looking chicks:

These odd looking birds are actually coot chicks. 

It's a hard life being a coot chick. Coots tend to have around nine hatchlings but most die within the first 10 days of hatching- and not usually through predation. Coots feed their young on tiny insects and shrimps which means an awful lot of effort to keep a large number of hatchlings happy. After about three days they start attacking the young that beg for food, usually going for the weaker ones. This either kills the chicks or eventually the chicks give up begging and starve to death. Most coots only raise two or three out of nine hatchlings. That's what you call a tough childhood. 

I also saw several groups of tufted duck ducklings. One had three young but there was also a large family with a ridiculous seventeen ducklings! 

Now I'd like to be able to tell you that these ducklings have a better chance than the coot young but that just wouldn't be right. The reasons these birds have so many young is because so many are predated on. Herons, foxes, birds of prey and fish will all happily take small ducklings. I suspect that the chance of all 17 of this making adulthood is very slim indeed.

I also got a couple of good shots of great crested grebes on the lakes too. 

I was lucky to visit Longham during the only period of sunshine we've really had this week, which meant it was ideal weather for seeing insects. 

Longham Lakes has become something of a dragonfly haven this year with several more unusual species being seen as well as the very unusual in the UK scarlet darter. I did spot several dragonflies during my visit but the only one I got a clear shot of was this black-tailed skimmer.

I was pleased to see how well the site is being managed for insects with beds of wildflowers most of the way around the lakes. This combined with the weather meant I saw twelve different species within the hour or so I was on the site. Most were species I see regularly such as large whites, red admirals, peacocks and common blues.

I did see several species that I haven't seen yet this year though. One was a clouded yellow but that species is such a fast flyer it's extremely tricky to get a photo of. The other I did get a really clear shot of, a painted lady

This is a migratory species that comes to the UK from North Africa- it can't cope with UK winters. It's one of the world's most widespread species being present on every continent except South America and Antarctica. It's also the only species of butterfly ever recorded in Iceland, which shows you just how far this species is able to migrate. 

I added another species of butterfly to my 2017 list the following day when in the New Forest with this small copper

This species lives in discrete colonies across the UK and there are usually 3 or 4 generations a year- this is likely a second generation adult. 

Not far from this spot I spotted a rosy footman moth

This is a nocturnal moth though it can be seen in the day on it's favoured woodland hedgerows. They are unique in that they are the only moth with a vivid pink colouring (on the edge of their wings).

Finally, one more butterfly today. It's a very common brimstone but I think this is probably the best photo of a butterfly I've ever taken. 

That's all for today but I'll hopefully be back here with a new post on Wednesday! See you then.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Fabulous Fawns

It's been a couple of months since I last saw any of the Avon roe deer herd. Yesterday I got a really clear view of one of the does.

She looks really healthy which is nice to see. What was even nicer to see were two fawns that she had alongside her. 

Most roe deer fawns are born in June so it's likely these fawns are somewhere between four-six weeks old. Roe deer usually have two fawns, one of each gender, which again probably fits here. The fawns seemed fairly confident, happy to allow their mother to walk a little way away from them. They also seem to be quick learners. I watched as the doe approached a tree and reached up to eat the leaves. One of the fawns followed her and did exactly the same thing. 

It was a delight to be able to watch these young deer for a few minutes and I hope I will see them again. 

There are still a few canada geese over on the nursery field but now all the goslings are close to looking like adults. 

There's a family of swans whose cygnets are rapidly growing up on the Avon too. 

Most of my other sightings this week were once again in the invertebrate world. As I was going through a wooden gate I spotted this stunning moth taking shelter on it. 

This is the magpie moth, which has become a personal favourite of mine. It has such a pleasing pattern to it. This is actually a fairly common moth which can be found in gardens. 

Another moth spot this week was this six-spot burnet moth on a thistle. 

You can clearly see the six red spots which give this species it's name. It's a day-flying moth and it's distinctive colour mark it out as toxic to predators- when it is attacked it emits a liquid which contains cyanide. 

I saw plenty of common insects in the same area like gatekeeper butterflies and common blue damselflies but I was found one species of damselfly which I didn't recognise. 

Sometimes you should guess at the names of species you don't recognise because you'll often be very close to the truth. This is a small red-eyed damselfly. Amazingly this species was first recorded in the UK in 1999 but since then it has spread over most of England. It's quite similar to the red-eyed damselfly but the distribution of the blue is different. 

That's all for today but I now have six weeks off for the summer holidays (the benefit of working in a school) so I hope to update a little more regularly. I'll be tweeting things I see most day on my Twitter feed.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Grassy Greats

This weekend I spent a lot of time crouching down in patches of long grass looking at invertebrates. With the breeding season coming to a close for birds and the high temperature meaning most creatures are spending little time out in the open, this is the time of year to go looking for minibeasts.

I've managed to spot another three butterfly species to add to my year list this week. The first of these is a common blue, seen here feeding on a thistle.

This is a female as it has the brown edges and orange spots on it's wings. Common blues apparently have two broods a year, the first flying in May and June, the second in August and September. But I saw this butterfly today, on 16th July which is between broods. Perhaps this year the second brood has come early thanks to the warm weather and maybe we could get a third brood too. 

Next up, a gorgeous gatekeeper

These butterflies prefer the warmer weather and so tend to stick to the South of the UK, though I suspect they may have travelled a little further North this year. The brown in the middle of the orange in this individual means it's a male. These butterflies are fairly similar to meadow browns, especially when their wings are closed, though gatekeepers tend to rest with their wings open unlike the meadow brown. 

My final new butterfly of the day is this somewhat darker species, the ringlet

This specimen is really faded- ringlets are usually dark all over with that dark colour in the centre of this butterfly usually going all over the wings. 

I've seen lots of speckled woods this year but I just thought this was an unusual angle for a photo:

I also saw a moth this week, a blood vein moth.

Although a little obscured by the grass it is an easy one to identify from the redish line that gives it its name. This is a night-flying moth so I did well to spot it during the day.

Onto some other invertebrates now. Perhaps the most underrated is the the simple fly so here are a couple I took photos of yesterday. 

The first is obviously a bluebottle and the second, rather scary looking one is a flesh fly, so called as it is known to lay eggs in the wounds of mammals. What an unpleasant life cycle that is!

Last week I shared photos of banded demoiselle damselflies but this week I saw a similar but less common species, the beautiful demoiselle

This is a female and is a different shade of green to the banded demoiselle. The beautiful demoiselles prefer fast-flowing water whilst the banded prefer slow. 

Apologies to any arachnophobes reading but this is a magnificent labyrinth spider

These spiders build a tunnel instead of a web to catch prey. They are really shy and usually disappear down their tunnels when humans come near so I was really lucky to get a photo of this one. 

Interestingly this next species is not a spider despite looking like one.

This is a harvestman, specifically Leiobunum rotundum. Like spiders, harvestmen are arachnids but they are not closely related to spiders. They don't produce silk nor have venom and unlike spiders their bodies are entirely one section. Harvestmen fossils were found in 400 million-year old rocks and they have changed very little since then. 

Also lurking the grass were loads of meadow grasshoppers

This is a female; males are entirely brown. It's the males that rub their legs against their wings to make the chirping 'song' to attract females- the grass was alive with this sound yesterday. 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Flying Ants and a Thrush That Pants

Before anything else I have to share this tweet I came home to on Thursday.

Yes, BBC Wildlife Magazine made me their Blogger of the Week! I was delighted to see this though I do feel the pressure to write something good today!

On Wednesday it was flying ant day. I was sat in the front room when suddenly there was a whole swarm of flying ants coming from the front lawn. Of course I grabbed my camera and had a closer look where I found a patch of lawn covered in ants.

Flying ants are young queens which leave their birth nests to go and form their own colonies. It happens in localised areas on the same day and no-one quite knows why. 

The ants have to be really active as they lose their wings after about 24 hours. The vast numbers are to deal with predators- many will get eaten. Indeed locally the house martins were having a real feast on this easy meal. 

In other insect news I added another butterfly to my 2017 list with this brimstone

Though most commonly found in Spring, this species can be seen on warm days throughout the year. This one is a female as it has the orange spots on it's wings and is less bright than males. Apparently there's a theory that the word "butterfly" comes from this species due to it's colour. 

Dragonfly and damselfly numbers have increased dramatically over the last few weeks. Particularly noticeable this weekend were the large numbers of  banded demoiselles

They are a beautiful species with a metallic shine to them. The females are green and the males are blue, with a darker patch on their wings which they use in an aerial dance to attract mates. They generally live on the edge of slow-moving rivers (like the local stretch of the Avon) or still water. 

One more magnificent insect for this week is this mayfly

Mayflies are tricky to identify as they all look so similar but this is probably a green drake (Ephemera danica). I found this one on the rail of a footbridge which crosses a small stream. Nymphs dig into the gravel where they collect fine organic material from the water. Once they mate the females fly upstream before descending onto the surface of the water laying up to 8300 eggs over several intervals. When their eggs supply is used they fall onto the surface where they will likely be eaten by a bird or a fish. 

It's been a few weeks since I last gave an update on the nursery of canada geese. Whilst numbers have inevitably fallen a little, it's looks to have been a successful year. The first photo is from a week ago whilst the second was yesterday. 

As you can see, it's now hard to tell the adults from the goslings- it's only size that is the giveaway in most cases. You can spot the occasional gosling there which were likely from a slightly later brood and haven't yet developed the black and white head and neck markings but they will do so very soon. 

One final bird this week is this young song thrush

This young thrush is displaying typical behaviour that blackbirds and thrushes do in hot weather called 'sunning'. No-one quite knows why they do this but the generally accepted theory is that it helps to maintain the bird's feathers. It's possible that the sunlight affects the preen-oil that the birds have, maybe helping it to synthesise vitamin D. This oil helps to keep the feathers flexible, hygienic and waterproof.

To stop themselves over-heating they gape and pant to lose the heat, like this bird is doing. The birds become really engrossed in this activity and are quite approachable when they are doing it. 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

A Butterfly Bonanza

Last weekend I went to Keyhaven- I often go to the Lymington end of the reserve but this was the first time I started at Keyhaven. It's right on the Solent coast and has lots of marshy areas so is a fantastic place to see waders.

There were a few lapwings around trying to feed. They are fairly dull coloured birds but they have a beautiful sheen to them when viewed from the right angle.

I saw the occasional oystercatcher like this one. It kind of looks like it has caught a crab but I've zoomed into the photo and I think it's probably just a lump of grass or seaweed

There were plenty of birds that you'd expect to see on most stretches of water at this time of year like little egrets and mallards with ducklings. 

Usually in this area you can expect to find a black-tailed godwit or two but I was delighted to spot a whole flock of them. 

I looked up what the collective noun for godwits is and found that there are several- "omniscence", "prayer" and "pantheon". I can't really decide which is the best. 

The path at Keyhaven runs right along the top of the sea wall and I was amazed to see a group of turnstones wandering around on the wall itself, right next to the path. 

Several of them had particularly striking plumage, like this one. 

This individual is in breeding plumage and will return to the greyer colour of the others once the breeding season is over. I wonder if this might be an adult and the greyer birds it's nearly grown-up young. 

After a wet week it's been quite a warm weekend and this combination seemed to be good for the local butterflies. I saw all of these species within about two miles yesterday. 

Small White
Meadow Brown
Speckled Wood


Here's a view of the underside of a comma where you can see the punctuation mark which gives it it's name:

Another excellent view of an insect this week came thanks to this hoverfly, Myathropa florea

This is probably a male and you can see it is feasting upon the nectar of this flower. This species of hoverfly look particularly bee-like at first glance and this is to make predators think it is a bee that has a sting when in reality it has no defence at all. 

Red soldier beetles are particularly populous in the local area at the moment with lots of flowers covered in them. 

These beetles should be particularly welcomed by gardeners as the adults eat aphids and the larvae feed on slugs and snails. It's the ideal insect for helping control numbers of garden pests. 

Here's one more insect that is well camouflaged. 

I was at a bit of a loss to what this was as I've never seen anything like it before. With a bit of research I have discovered it's a speckled bush cricket. It's a flightless species of cricket and has black speckles if you look really closely, hence the name. Despite being quite common it's relatively quiet song and it's colouring mean it is really hard to fun. I'm pleased I managed to spot it.

That's all for now but I'll be back as usual next week.