Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Tuesday 30.6.20

All the action came after work, for me, when a drop in the blustery wind and the breaking through of the sun meant I went back to Castor Hanglands NNR to feed my addiction to Purple Emperors. After a couple of hours I had had two brief fly-pasts of their Imperial Majesties. But I got superb views of their much, much smaller iridescent purple companions in the oaks, Purple Hairstreaks. Each decent oak has dozens of individuals and they like to fly around battling each other in the evening, and posing wings open to bask in the late sun. Just like with Purple Emperors, the upper wings look dark brown until the angle is just right to reveal the glorious purple colours. One of the localised specialities of the Peterborough area is the terribly-named Black Hairstreak (which is brown with red and black spots). It is quite similar to the White-letter Hairstreak in appearance, but unlike that butterfly’s preference for Elm as a larval food plant, Black Hairstreak chooses Blackthorn. Also the pattern of the underwings is a little different, with extra spots on the forewings. They are largely restricted to selected sites between Peterborough and Oxford, and are very much June butterflies. Anyhow, I saw a slightly tattered, elderly individual Black Hairstreak flying around under the Purple Emperor/Hairstreak tree and land on some grass in the middle of the path.

Black Hairstreak, Castor Hanglands NNR, Cambs, 30.6.20
The other insect highlight was what initially looked like a white-bodied bee flying around, which I thought was odd. Eventually, it landed and I could see that it was a kind of insect-catching fly holding tightly to a smallish moth (perhaps a Timothy Tortrix). I am trying to get a name for this predator, so watch this space…
FLY UPDATE: I have heard from ecologist Rob Yaxley that this fly may be the dagger fly Empis tessalata. Apprently, it is only the males which are predatory, and catch other insects, then present them to the female, as a gift, prior to mating!

Predatory fly with captured tortrix moth, Castor Hanglands NNR, Cambs, 30.6.20
Also at Castor Hanglands, while looking for butterflies, I was croaked at by a Nightingale, presumably as the path went too near its nest or young. It briefly flitted into view, revealing its wonderfully full, reddish tail.
I left CHNNR, and headed north to Deeping Lakes LWT reserve for the last of the evening light. Two richly-coloured Icelandic-race Black-tailed Godwits were present (presumably on passage south, already). There were also three Little Ringed Plovers, and I could hear the purr of a Turtle Dove in the distance. The final highlight of the day was a Little Owl, perched in a favoured willow near the reserve.

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, Deeping Lakes LWT, 30.6.20

This is why they have long bills! Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, Deeping Lakes LWT, 30.6.20

Monday, June 29, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Monday 29.6.20

It was a very quiet wildlife again, today. The Long-tailed Tits were back once again in numbers, though. I wonder if they nested very close to our garden, as they seem to spend a lot of their day hanging out here. I have moved a few aquatic plants from our main pond to the ‘drinking pond’ to make it look more attractive (to us and to smaller wildlife), while not putting the birds off using it as a drinking and bathing pool.
Possibly the most interesting thing I found today was about moths. After a few enquiries on Twitter I have discovered where the website with the moths of Northamptonshire and Peterborough (we are lumped together in ‘vice county 32) for the purposes of recording wildlife etc) has been hiding recently. Anyhow, the website has moved and I have been able to access it again, which means I can once again see which moths have been recorded in my corner of VC32.
Anyhow the long and short of the matter is that the Varied Coronet I caught at the weekend was possibly the first in my ‘km square’ (actually a third of a square, as the rest is in neighbouring VC31 Huntingdonshire), this millennium.

Lockdown Diary: Sunday 28.6.20

Today, was a day of rest, compared to the hectic Saturday. The Long-tailed Tits were back in the garden in huge noisy numbers! The shallow ‘drinking pond’ is proving a hit with the locals, with House Sparrow, Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits visiting. And the cherries which fell in the high winds today, were gobbled up by the local Blackbirds.

Our garden ‘drinking pond’ (guarded by gnomes…), June 2020
In the afternoon, Eddie and I investigated the vegetated banks of the River Nene near the village of Cotterstock (west of Peterborough, just outside Oundle), after reports of Swallowtail butterfly there recently. No luck butterfly-wise, but there were plenty of displaying Banded Demoiselles, which are spectacular looking damselflies.

Lockdown Diary: Saturday 27.6.20

Today, was another garden ‘mothing’ day. My 125W MV bulb broke the other night, so I ran just one ‘Skinner’-type trap (basically a square-sided trap with two sloping perspex sheets on the top, as a sort of lobster-trap effect; egg boxes on the base for the moths to hide in). We had a few nice moths, including Varied Coronet, Herald (which looks like a dead leaf) and a very pretty ‘micro moth’ called Lozotaeniodes formosana.

Varied Coronet, our garden, Peterborough, 27.6.2

Lozotaeniodes formosana, our garden, Peterborough, 27.6.20
But the best moth (in my opinion) was the Buff-tip,the moth British moth which looks most like a snapped-off piece of twig!

Buff-tip, our garden, Peterborough, 27.6.20
Eddie and I continued the Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) theme later, with another visit to Castor Hanglands to look for Purple Emperor butterflies. It was pretty windy, but we still managed to see at least seven individuals. None came down to the path, but I was able to photograph a couple perched on their favoured tall trees.

Purple Emperor, on an oak, Castor Hanglands, Cambs, 27.6.20

Purple Emperor, on an Ash, Castor Hanglands, Cambs, 27.6.20
Purple Emperors spend most of the time high up in tall oaks (or Ashes etc), and they seem pretty territorial, guarding their favourite trees. If an ‘intruder’ came along, the sitting butterfly would head out and they would have a bit of a spiral bout before the original insect goes back to his favourite area. They even chased small birds (like tits and Chiffchaffs), amazingly!
The best birds were a fly-over Hobby and singing Garden Warblers galore.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Friday 26.6.20

One of the main reasons we bought our house, some 20 years ago, was that it has a decent-sized garden. Over the years, we have tweaked it here and there (mainly planting trees, digging ponds and occasionally mowing the lawn) and it is ‘managed’ a bit like a mini wildlife reserve. Something wildlife-related is always going on; and working at home during the pandemic has given me lots of opportunities to pop out there and see what the latest thing is.
Today, I popped out to have a poke around and almost straight away saw a juvenile Goldfinch, which was making its way toward the smallish puddle we call the ‘drinking pond’. This was the first proper pond I dug, many years ago, and was really intended as a glorified birdbath rather than a real wildlife pond. It is a bit shallow and does need regular top ups, especially during the summer. It serves its purpose well, though and birds do like to bathe and drink there (seemingly more than our larger, more heavily vegetated, deeper, proper wildlife pond).

Juvenile Goldfinch, our garden, Peterborough, 26.6.20
Anyhow, the young Goldfinch was making his way branch by branch though our cherry tree and occasionally flirting with the water, but then losing its nerve. After about 10 minutes of careful approach, it gave up and flew back over my head. I guess it will come for a drink/bathe a bit later.
Other birds in the garden included an adult Robin (the usual scruffy individual that follows me round) and a couple of Blackbirds; the female of the pair was eating some fallen cherries, and doign a spot of sunbathing. The previous owners grew lots of fruit in our garden (including cherries, some plums and apples, plus grape vines), and we have half a dozen fig trees, which at this time of year give the whole garden a lovely, gentle aroma.
Insect-wise, today’s highlight of my brief visit was the first Large Skipper butterfly this year. They tend to come every summer in very small numbers. This one was not hanging around for photography…
Later update. I just popped out again to see the sunny garden. I photographed a pretty little tiny fly on one of our Frogbit mini-lilypads. It is called Poecilobotrhus nobilitatus, if you are interested.

Poecilobotrhus nobilitatus, our garden, Peterborough, 26.6.20
Also, I saw our first Red Admiral and Comma butterflies of the year in the garden (too fleeting for photos). Plus the regular adult Robin did one of those spread-winged sunbathe things that some birds go in for in hot weather. I did manage a photo of that, though.

Sunbathing Robin, our garden, Peterborough, 26.6.20
Even later update: At lunchtime, I saw my first Common Darter (dragonfly) of the year, in our garden (which my dear wife Jo drew my attention to)

Common Darter, our garden, Peterborough, 26.6.20
But even more exciting was a mass invasion of Long-tailed Tits. Mostly rather scruffy looking juveniles, this noisy bunch must have numbered more than 20 individuals, and they hung around the garden for ages. At one stage seven of them came down, shyly, to have a drink in the ‘drinking pond’! These birds are utterly adorable, and we have never had anything like this number visiting before. Here are a few photos.

Juvenile Long-tailed Tits, visiting the ‘drinking pond’, our garden, Peterborough, 26.6.20

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Thursday 25.6.20

Ed and I got up at 4.30 this morning to ‘process’ the moths from the moth traps. It wasn’t the enormous catch I was hoping for on such a warm night. However, we did have about 50 species (and about 150 individuals). The best of the bunch were a single Privet Hawkmoth and a couple of Elephant Hawkmoths, which are very pretty. The Privet Hawk was very active when we arrived, and was flapping around waking up all the other moths; so we released it straight away. Here is one of the Elephants. Great moths.

Elephant Hawkmoth, our garden, Peterborough, Cambs, 25.6.20
Other moth highlights included a few Swallowtail Moths, a Knot Grass, and Meal Moth (which I don’t remember seeing before). But even more impressive was a huge brown longhorn beetle, which I think is the pine-loving species Arhopalus rusticus.

Arhopalus rusticus, our garden, Peterborough, Cambs, 25.6.20
Also, while we were sitting around enjoying the sun warming our bones, a dragonfly landed high up in one of our hazel trees, to ‘take the sun’. Dragonflies are rare in our garden these days, but his turned out to be a Black-tailed Skimmer, a species I have only seen once before in our garden (in 20-odd years!). So, there are indeed benefits to getting up absurdly early…

Black-tailed Skimmer, our garden, Peterborough, Cambs, 25.6.20

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Wednesday 24.6.20

Yesterday evening, Ed and I were back at Castor Hanglands NNR in our ongoing search for Purple Emperors (which only started on Monday). As we were thinking of giving up (having seen several White Admirals, which are nice but no emperors!), a Purple Emperor flew over the treetops and crossed our path, only to promptly disappear. Another try this evening, I think…
In our garden, I saw what I believe is a new juvenile Dunnock first thing, as well as a different juvenile Robin from the regular visitor. So, breeding still seems to be progressing nicely among the birds. Meadow Browns are the order of the day when it comes to garden butterflies, with a few hanging around.
I decided after several years of neglect, to completely empty our Belfast sink mini-pond/birdbath, add some fresh pond plants and a few bricks and sticks as refuges/escape routes for critters. What do you think?

Belfast sink min-pond, our garden, Peterborough, 24.6.20
At lunchtime, I went and had a pootle in the garden. The highlights were seeing four big Frogs at the pond, and even better, a female Banded Demoiselle hunting over the pond. It is only about the second or third time we have ever seen one of these lovey insects in the garden. And (would you believe?) it is the first dragonfly of any type I have seen in the garden this year.

Female Banded Demoiselle, our garden , Peterborough, 24.6.20

PS The bin me have emptied our garden bins!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Tuesday 23.6.20

I got up early this morning, to search a small green in Peterborough on which three giant Black Poplars stand. These mighty trees are hosts to the boring caterpillars of Hornet Moth, one of the great British insects; and I have found the newly emerged adults on a few occasions before, here. Hornet Moths are harmless Hornet mimics and are spectacular in yellow and black, with ‘clear’ wings.
Sadly, none were about today, so I popped up to Deeping Lakes LWT for a pootle. The highlights were seven Egyptian Geese, plus, best of all, the first tiny Common Tern chick of the year.
The east pit of this site has a colony of 30-40 Lesser Black-backed Gull nests. But it seems none of these have any chicks at all this year. I believe this is down to predation by Red Kites, which seem very efficient at swooping down into the colony to grab what they want without fear of retribution from the adult gulls. Some local birders dislike the gulls for their predatory nature, but here they are the ‘victims’.
Eventually, I suppose there is a balance between predation and breeding survival, but with people constantly altering the conditions of this big natural experiment, what the eventual outcome is is anyone’s guess.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Monday 22.6.20

In the early evening, Eddie and I went out to Castor Hanglands NNR (just west of Peterborough) to look for butterflies. We were hoping for the first emergence of Purple Emperors. No luck, today, but there were at least half a dozen White Admirals and lotw of Large Skipper butterflies around. The main bird treats were a few Jays, and several families of small birds flitting through the bushes, including Long-tailed Tits, Willow Warblers and Great Tits.
Also, we saw a quite high-flying red Kite carrying something int its talons. It was eating whatever it was in the manner of Hobby. And quite long wing feathers came helicoptering very slowly back down toward the ground. Somehow the kite had got hold of a fairly substantial bird as prey: road kill pigeon perhaps, or Pheasant?

Lockdown Diary: Sunday 21.6.20

I went birdwatching and butterfly-watching at a mixd woodland near home, today, called Southey Wood. There were not too many great birds to report (I was hoping a Crossbill or two may have taken a liking to the various conifers). But the butterflies were great. White Admirals and Silver-washed Fritillaries were the stars of the show.

White Admiral, Southey Woods, Cambs , 21.6.20

Silver-washed Fritillaries, Southey Woods, Cambs , 21.6.20

Lockdown Diary: Saturday 20.6.20

My son Eddie and I went on a bit of an insect-hunt today. We explored a flower meadow near Etton (just north of Etton), where there had been an explosion of Black-tailed Skimmer dragonflies, and also my first Common Blue (butterfly) of the season, there

Common Blue, Etton, Cambs, 20.6.20 (Mike Weedon) Then we went across to Bedford Purlieus, a lovely stretch of ancient woodland near the A47 (the main road to Leicester from Peterborough, and vice versa). This is the site where Dark Green Fritillaries first pioneered a colony a few years ago. A couple of weeks back there were one or two on the wing in the flower-rich meadow they love. Today, there were approaching 100 on the wing there! DGFs remind me of my first butterflying on the downs of Surrey, in my youth. Great butterflies!

Dark Green Fritillaries, Bedford Purlieus, Cambs, 20.6.20

Also there, were many Marbled White butterflies and lots of Emperor dragonflies working the meadows, plus this young Scarce Chaser dragonfly, which was unexpectedly away from water (I normally associate them with well vegetated ditches and slow rivers around here).

Scarce Chaser, Bedford Purlieus, Cambs, 20.6.20

Friday, June 19, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Friday 19.6.20

Another day with not a huge amount to report, wildlife-wise. My relatively open garden skies had me looking up, David Lindo-style. You can’t beat Swifts overhead, but a Buzzard gave it a go, its presence announced before I could see it by some of the local Lesser Black-backed Gulls (which presumably make something of a living finding scraps in people’s gardens…)

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Thursday 18.6.20

Firstly, for those who are caught up in the gripping plot line of Peterborough council’s bin collection, it turns out they are coming next week, after all… Spoilers!
This news encouraged me to go further with my light-gathering operations in the garden, cutting back more Elder and buddleia branches to reveal the sky and allow light onto our fruit trees. Give it a week or two (I tell myself) and the ugly bare ground that has been revealed will start bursting into green growth. I had a bit of a sit around in the garden after doing this heavy duty gardening, in the evening. My first reward was a pair of fly-over Rooks. They fly over every night on their way to roost, but the amount of ‘canopy’ in our garden has stopped me seeing the sky clearly enough to see them for many years!
The second reward for sitting quietly doing nothing was a female-type Blackcap appearing just above our pond, gently working its way through a Dogwood bush, looking for caterpillars etc. I haven’t had any evidence of Blackcaps in the garden for many weeks, so it felt very special watching this bird. I really like warblers, and have a particular fondness for Sylvia warblers (not that I am planning to go to Northumberland for the singing Asian Desert Warbler on Holy Island, you understand… ).

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Wednesday 17.6.20

Today was a day where I didn’t go beyond the garden for my wildlife fix. I popped out there at lunchtime and spent the whole time attacking a huge amount of brambles which have been smothering some of our fruit trees (figs, apples, and plums). Hazel suckers are causing similar problems so I removed some of the offenders, too. A Robin was my main companion, seeing what I revealed with my cutting and raking.
Every fourth Wednesday, the council ‘brown bin’ men come to empty our garden waste. So, I was hoping they would come soon, and I could stuff the bins with at least some of my bramble pile. But they never came… So, in the evening, I had to move the great pile to the side of the garden, again accompanied by the same Robin.
Eventually, all was moved off the lawn (well, to the side of the lawn), joining the already burgeoning ‘stick pile’ (actually one of two). So, I settled down with a beer and watched the newts in my newly revegetated pond, apparently laying eggs among the surface vegetation, rolling over to reveal their spotted, orange bellies.
A Blackbird started singing, then a Robin, then another couple of Blackbirds in the neighbourhood joined the evening chorus, and several more distant Robins joined in from distant gardens. Such a soothing chorus to enjoy as I surveyed my giant stick piles and gardening detritus!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Tuesday 16.6.20

A the weekend I acquired some Frogbit plants for our garden wildlife pond. I had been trying to clear some fo the duckweed from the surface for a while, and the addition of Frogbit (which look like small lily pads) has instantly made the surface of the pond much more attractive.
Also at the weekend, I found a pile of Spiked Water Milfoil which had been dragged out of a narrow fishing ‘lake’, as it annoys the fishermen (perhaps the fish hide in its subaqueous mass of leaves, or their hooks get caught in it). Anyhow, I took a couple of carrier bags of the stuff as it looked to be still alive, and introduced this to our pond.

Part of our pond (Peterborough), now with added Frogbit (the little lily pads) and Spiked Water Milfoil (under the surface). There is still a bit too much duckweed, and the other plants you will notice are Water Dock , Greater Spearwort and Pendulous Sedge.
The long and short of all this is that the Smooth Newts seem to love the changes to their aquatic environment, and are getting busy presumably laying eggs in among the new vegetation.
When I originally dug the pond in 2007, I stocked it with various native plants from friend’s garden wildlife ponds in Peterborough. But, people move house, ponds disappear, and evolve. Very few of the original plants I introduced have survived, and this is partly down to me letting too many leaves from surrounding trees accumulate in the bottom of the pond, subtly altering the chemistry and making it too nutrient rich. It probably needs a good dredge, but for the time being, I am attempting to oxygenate it and alter the ecology with what plants I can acquire.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Sunday 14.6.20

It was a relatively quiet day for me, wildlife-wise, today. The highlights were my first Marbled White butterfly of the year, near Etton, Cambs. And this obliging Barn Owl, one of six I saw hunting along the Deeping High Bank (the banks of the Welland) in south Lincolnshire.

Barn Owl, Deeping High Bank, near Crowland, Lincs, 14.6.20

Lockdown Diary: Saturday 13.6.20

There have been extraordinary numbers of singing Blyth’s Reed Warblers and Marsh Warblers in the country in the last week or two, including one or two at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire. So, I went to the closest the Peterborough area has to Wicken, Woodwalton Fen NNR, early on Saturday morning, to see what I could hear. Needless to say, I heard not rare warblers, but I was surprised to come across half a dozen singing Grasshopper Warblers, including this one, which I was able to photograph.

Grasshopper Warbler, Woodwalton Fen NNR, Cambs, 13.6.20
There were also really good numbers of Reed and Sedge Warblers about, busy raising families on the abundant insects in the fenland habitats, there.

Sedge Warbler, Woodwalton Fen NNR, Cambs 13.6.20
Other highlights included several Cuckoos, perhaps two hunting Barn Owls and insects such as Mother Shipton (a day-flying moth with the face of an old witch on each wing!), Four-spotted chaser and Scarce Chaser dragonflies.

Mother Shipton moth. Can you see the ‘witch faces’? Woodwalton Fen NNR, Cambs 13.6.20

Four-spotted Chaser, Woodwalton Fen NNR, Cambs 13.6.20

Scarce Chaser, Woodwalton Fen NNR, Cambs 13.6.20
In the afternoon, I took a trip up to Deeping Lakes LWT, where a Black tern had been reported. Such a lovely bird!

Black Tern, Deeping Lakes LWT, south Lincs, 13.6.20