Friday, July 23, 2004

Insects at Barnack Hills and Holes

My generous friend Brian "The Natural" Stone took me out to Barnack Hills and Holes NNR this sunny lunchtime. Boy, was it heaving with Marbled Whites and particularly Six-spot Burnets. The highlight for me, though was Chalkhill Blue. Here are some snaps from the trip.

Male Chalkhill Blue greeting a hovering hoverfly, Barnack Hills and Holes, 23.7.04.

Male Chalkhill Blue, Barnack Hills and Holes, 23.7.04.

Six-spot Burnet with female Chalkhill Blue, Barnack Hills and Holes, 23.7.04.

Six-spot Burnet, Barnack Hills and Holes, 23.7.04.

Meadow Brown,Barnack Hills and Holes, 23.7.04.

Pretty 'fly for a white guy

After picking up a local (PBC area) tick on wednesday lunchtime of Clouded Yellow at Maxey pits (sorry no photos), I found a Green-veined White in the garden in the evening – a garden tick.
Our Peterborough garden butterfly list now stands at 17 species:
Small White
Large White
Green-veined White
Speckled Wood
Meadow Brown
Holly Blue
Common Blue
Brown Argus
Small Tortoiseshell
Red Admiral
Painted Lady
Essex Skipper

Green-veined White, our garden, Peterborough, 21.7.04.

Some back-up action, an estivating snail, our garden, Peterborough, 21.7.04.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Cinnabar moth (adult)

At last, with a bit of good finding from my daughter, I managed to find an adult Cinnabar moth which would hang around long enough to snap. Note its more delicate build reflected in weaker flight than the superficially similar burnets (see other recent postings), and the thin, flimsy, unclubbed antennae (excuse the poor pic, it was getting dark).
Incidentally, the hungry caterpillars, having eaten most of the leaves and flowers on the original plant, have now spread from two plants to lots of ragworts in the garden.

Cinnabar moth, our garden, Peterborough, 20.7.04.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Ruddy Ducks and UK White-headed Ducks

A rebel without a clue, the Ruddy Duck was introduced in innocence from North America to the UK and has done well. They are not exactly abundant, but the numbers have reached a state that they have wandered over to Spain and bred with the threatened White-headed Duck, compromising the gene pool. The result? Ruddy Ducks will be exterminated from Europe (especially the UK).
Enjoy them while you can.
There have been quite a few White-headed Ducks in the UK this year. Some argue for wild origin, others that they have escaped. Either way they may potentially breed with Ruddy Ducks in the UK (as they are the main stifftails they will meet). Result? Sexually-capable hybrid birds in our population which could potentially go to Spain and compromise the gene pool still further.
The horrible logical conclusion is surely that as long as there is a significant Ruddy Duck population over here, White-headed Ducks found in the UK, whether wild or not, should be exterminated.

The handsome drake, Welland Bank Pits, Lincs, 17.7.04.

The less handsome, though no less charming, female, Welland Bank Pits, Lincs, 17.7.04.

Goodbye, stifftail...

Garden Gallery

Here is a bit of the stuff that's living in our garden in Peterborough. The garden is a fair size for one attached to a house reasonably near the centre of the city, measuring c150feet (at the longest) by about 50feet. We have two main gardening principles which are:
a. Leave/create a decent-sized lawn space for play and lying about
b. Leave the rest for wildlife
There are some modifications to these plans, especially that we have a few fruit trees (apple, plum and fig) which we harvest to a certain extent, and that we have put in getting on for 100 saplings to make a 'native' hedge. One day, we will get a pond, but not until the children are a bit older and less likely to drown.
Here is some of the stuff we have in our garden.

A hoverfly (Episyrphus sp.) on a chicory flower, July 2004.

We have seen/heard 70 species of bird from the garden, but have relatively few mammals on the list. Red Foxes are regular (judging by their droppings, and the odd baby hedgehog ripped to pieces on the lawn), but rarely seen. This one came to some food put out for the birds and is taken on full zoom (not digiscoped!) from the kitchen, July 2004.

Hedgehog on compost heap, July 2004.

Dandelion clock and aphid, June 2004.

Aphids on rhubarb flowers, June 2004.

Leafcutter bees love a particular field maple in the garden, helping themselves to bits of the leaves. One day, I will catch one nibbling, and photograph it for this website, July 2004.

This Comma butterfly was basking on a tiny hazel sapling, no more than 18inches tall, which my daughter has as her "favourite tree". My official favourite tree is a wee hazel nearby, which though at least three years old is only a foot high (a natural bonsai hazel!). July 2004.

The Cinnabar caterpillars are getting fatter and bigger on the ragworts (note the poo!), July 2004.

One of our roses, July 2004.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Star Pit

Not one of the most pretty places around, but a local hotspot for rarities (if you are into gulls that is...), Star Pit is a new Wildlife Trust reserve at Dogsthorpe rubbish tip. The shallow lake has recently been drained, apparently to increase the salinity so that the rare brackish-loving water beetles will be in their element.
The beauty of the place is that it's very easy to get to (being on the A47 on the way east out of Peterborough) and you can give the water and mud a quick once-over and see everything in a quick space of time. If you have more time on your hands, however, the reward is a chance to work through many of the thousands of gulls that live on the tip as they come to bathe and loaf.
Star Pit is probably the best site around Peterborough to check for Caspian Gulls, which are regularly picked out by local gull freak and birdfinder par excellence, Kevin DuRose (whom I cheekily call 'Pinky'). Here is a second-summer Casp I crudely digiscoped at the weekend. Check out the huge bill with little gonydeal action, plus the long wings and I'm sure those wing patterns are right if only I could the find crucial literature lying around...

Caspian Gull, Star Pit, Peterborough, 18.7.04 (it's the bird in the foreground, the other is a first-summer Lesser Black-back).

A couple of Little Egrets are living at the pit,too at the moment. One has been around for a week or two, and the other (perhaps a juvenile) arrived on saturday (17.7.04). The first bird is rather intolerant of the newcomer, and this is my action shot to prove it.

Little Egret aggression, Star Pit, Peterborough, 17.7.04 (the longer-term resident is in the foreground seeing off the newcomer, and if you look carefully its bill is wide open, screaming abuse!).

Time for some light relief from these digiscoped images. There were a few insects on the wing on saturday at Star Pit, including this tasty Six-spot Burnet moth. Compare this beast with the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnets I 'shot' at Swaddywell last week. Of course, when I say 'tasty', I don't recommend munching them as (if I recall correctly from the words of wisdom of my eccentric, moth-loving organic chemistry teacher, Doc Allen, way back in t'old days at school) they are crammed full of cyanide (or something similar), hence the bright warning colours. Somehow (is it an instinctive reaction to the colours, or something learnt?) I have always found these insects strangely sinister and dangerous-looking, but I still love them. Ho hum, the schizophrenic dualities of the wandering naturalist...

Six-spot Burnet, Star Pit, Peterborough, 17.7.04.

It's shiny, it excites the eye... Six-spot Burnet, Star Pit, Peterborough, 17.7.04.

Ant Damsel Bug

I was sat in the garden enjoying the sun on saturday (17.7.04) and a lttle ant came wondering along the bench at speed toward me. It was an odd-looking beast, like no ant I'd seen before. The reason soon became clear, it wasn't an ant but a bug doing a fair impersonation of an ant.
After a bit of questioning and a request through the Yahoo group of Britsh_insects, I got an ID of this weird beast. It is the nymph of the Ant Damsel Bug Aptus mirmicoides, a predatory insect which has ant-like young, though the adults look like 'normal' bugs.

The nymph of the aptly-named Ant Damsel Bug, Peterborough, 17.7.04.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Small Copper

When you hear that someone has seen an adult male Red-footed Falcon on one of your local patches, not five-minutes drive from work, you have to give it a go at lunchtime. So it was off to Dogsthorpe Star Pit we headed. Yes, there was the odd Kestrel, but other than some odd-looking gulls, not much else bird-wise on offer. Brian Stone once more gave Katie and I a lift and we bumped into the hemi-mythical birdfinder Kevin "Pinky" DuRose.
There should always be something for an obsessive snapper to take at such events, and so it turned out with the appearance, just as we were leaving, of a Small Copper. This beautiful butterfly made me a bit nostalgic for my youth, watching the Surrey North Downs at Happy Valley and Farthing Downs. We used to see this butt a lot then, but it doesn't seem to be very common around Peterborough. It lingered just long enough for a couple of shots. As always, please enjoy.

Small Copper, Dogsthorpe Star Pit, Peterborough, 14.7.04.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Insects in Fermyn Woods

There are a few nearly-local places that can lure me away from the Peterborough Bird Club area – Fermyn Woods is one of them. For those who don't know, the PBC area is a cross-shape around the city of Peterborough, wherein all my most significant lists are kept. Check out: Peterborough Bird Club
Fermyn Woods, on the other hand, is just outside The Area (on the far side of the pretty town of Oundle) and is renowned for its butterflies, especially Purple Emperors. So, on saturday (10.7.04), I took my daughter to check out the site. We bumped into some butterfly-watchers who showed us one or two Purple Emperors, but the weather was cool and the butterflies were resting, still and largely out of sight. I was sent some photos on Monday from one of the people we met, featuring a nice (though tatty) male Purple Emperor feeding on a large pile of sodden-to-bursting nappies, kindly left to decorate the wood.
On the way back, the weather improved and we managed to see a few nice butterflies, the best photos of which I enclose below. In total (despite cool weather) we saw Purple Emperor, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Comma, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Speckled Wood, Purple Hairstreak, Green-veined White, Small White and Large White butterflies – not a bad haul.

Gatekeeper, Fermyn Woods, 10.7.04. My first of the year of this insect.

Large White, Fermyn Woods, 10.7.04.

Green-veined White, Fermyn Woods, 10.7.04.

Large Skipper, Fermyn Woods, 10.7.04. I love this species and make no apology for posting another photo of one.

A 'bloodsucker' beetle, Fermyn Woods, 10.7.04.

Pollen beetles by the dozen – count them!. Fermyn Woods, 10.7.04.

Swaddywell insects

My friend Brian "The Natural Stone" Stone (the Stone) took Katie "Bogbumper" Fuller and I out to the new private nature reserve at Swaddywell, no more than 3-4 miles from our office here in Bretton, Peterborough (thanks, Brian). We did a spot of insecting, and these are some of the best things we saw (see pics below).
Other insects on the wing included lots of Small Tortoiseshells, Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns, and the odd Essex Skipper and Small Heath and Small White. There were also Emperor, Four-spotted Chaser and Black-tailed Skimmer dragonflies and the odd Turtle Dove, Kestrel and Green Woodpecker doing the rounds.

These two Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet moths (I think?) were in a rather frisky, matey mood. Swaddywell, 13.7.04.

Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet. Swaddywell, 13.7.04.

Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet. Swaddywell, 13.7.04.

Small Skipper (note the pale undersides to the tips of the antennae). And check out those pollen beetles, trying to hide from the public – they are everywhere at the moment. Swaddywell, 13.7.04.

A longhorn beetle which appeared to want to eat this stem. Swaddywell, 13.7.04. Species unknown – any ideas?.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Turtle Dove

I've been playing with digiscoping, and here is one of my efforts, a Turtle Dove at Dogsthorpe Star Pit, Peterborough. The light was low and I had no adapter, so I'm reasonably pleased with the effort...

Turtle Dove, Peterborough, 9.7.04.

Hornets' nest, Part 2...

So, I went back to Grimeshaw Wood, Bretton, Peterborough on saturday (10.7.04) for a bit of hornetting. The only thing was, as I was setting up near the nest, the heavens opened and I stood getting drenched in a storm for 20 minutes (like a fool). After seeking solace in my nearby office and drying a little, I went back for more. Here are some of my 'better' images (hardly the definitive gallery) – better than the last hornet post that is...

Two Hornets (one coming out, one going in), Grimeshaw Wood, Peterborough, 10.7.04.

A Hornet flies in, Grimeshaw Wood, Peterborough, 10.7.04.

A quick pause before entry, Grimeshaw Wood, Peterborough, 10.7.04.

Hornet, Grimeshaw Wood, Peterborough, 10.7.04. I like the way you can see the little ocelli in this photo.

Marbled Whites

On Sunday (11.7.04), I took advantage of a window of opportunity and ventured up to Barnack Hills and Holes NNR. The grasslands of this disused limestone quarry site are fabulous for wildflowers and have some butterflies that are very scarce elsewhere around here – especially Chalkhill Blue and Marbled White.
It is the latter's flight period at the moment and there were loads of them on the wing when I arrived at c1pm. By 1.30pm there was not a butterfly in flight, as the air had suddenly gone cold with the threat of rain. During the warmer period, there were lots of opportunities to photograph them feeding (especially on scabious and knapweed) with their wings open. Once it was cold, the wings are folded allowing leisurely photography of the underside (despite low light).
I also managed to bump into some good back-up butterflies (including a smaller golden skipper 'workshop') and some gorgeous flowers.
The highlights are below:

Marbled White, Barnack Hills and Holes, 11.7.04.

Marbled White, Barnack Hills and Holes, 11.7.04.

Marbled White, Barnack Hills and Holes, 11.7.04. This insect seems to have some yellow bits from one flower already stuck to its proboscis.

Two Marbled Whites, Barnack Hills and Holes, 11.7.04. As the air cooled, the insects became lethargic and these two settled very close together.

Marbled White, Barnack Hills and Holes, 11.7.04. Underside shot – nice, eh?

Small Skipper, Barnack Hills and Holes, 11.7.04. Note the orangey tips to the antennae (black in Essex Skipper, see below).

Small Skipper, Barnack Hills and Holes, 11.7.04. Irresistible close-up of head.

Essex Skipper, Barnack Hills and Holes, 11.7.04. Note black-tipped antennae.

Essex Skipper, Barnack Hills and Holes, 11.7.04. Close-up of above.

Pyramidal orchid, Barnack Hills and Holes, 11.7.04.

Broomrape – surely one of the most unpleasant names for any living thing (in the same league as Cockchafer, I always think). Barnack Hills and Holes, 11.7.04.

After the above, have a seat on a Robin's pincushion (a gall on a rose). Barnack Hills and Holes, 11.7.04.