Friday, 26 May 2017

Here be Dragons... and a couple of Damsels

Broad-bodied Chaser (female)

I always feel excited by the first sightings of dragonflies and damselflies. These insects are so dazzling and so colourful. They are somehow so alien, too, with their mysterious lives, delicate wings and vast eyeballs.

This Four-spotted Chaser in the photos below was seen at RSPB Minsmere last weekend...

If dragonflies can be hard to identify at times, damselflies (with a few exceptions) are often difficult to sort out with certainty, particularly since they can look so varied at different stages of their development. I am going to need some help with the one below. I shall post it on iSpot... and keep you posted, but please leave a comment if you know.

I suspect this is am ore common one. Again I will let you know when I find out.

And finally, to add a bit of fiery colour, here is a completely different insect, a Red-and-Black Froghopper. The photo was also taken last weekend at RSPB Minsmere.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

My BBC Springwatch SOS Wildflower Trough (3)

You can see from the photo above, taken this afternoon, just how my wild flower seedlings have grown. There are some buds, and I am keeping a watchful eye on these as it will be good to see the first flower. The trough is my response to the BBC Springwatch S.O.S. project to try to encourage pollinators into the garden. 

The insects, it appears, are not so impatient. I always enjoy seeing Marmalade Hoverflies in the garden. This is the first one I have seen in my trough. These insects are not only good pollinators but their larvae are also useful aphid-eaters.

The photo above shows a Ladybird, unfortunately a succinea Harlequin (Harmonia axyridis), on one of the shoots that is likely to produce the first flowers. It will eat the aphids, but it is not the most welcome of guests.

As I looked around the trough, I noticed a tight ball on the nasturtiums...

... and recognised these Garden Spider spiderlings as we have had clutches of them in the garden on previous years. They are orb-weavers, and the second part of their name, 'diadematus', reflects their jewel like appearance. I hope they won't eat too many of our butterflies, but I find it hard to be so concerned about the wasps and flies that will also make up their diet as they grow.

They dispersed later in the day, making their way over the trough and out into the big wide world.

My trough at the outset prior to wildflower seed-sowing

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A Grass Snake in the Water

Grass  Snake

On what was not the most promising day in terms of the weather (and yes, we nearly got soaked), we had a remarkable time in terms of the wildlife we were able to see at Carlton Marshes, one of the larger reserves in the care of Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

There were damselflies, dragonflies (just a few), butterflies and calling cuckoos - but it was the rare Fen Raft Spider who stole the show for us, followed by the sudden and unexpected appearance of this Grass Snake. We hardly ever see these reptiles, and to cap it all, David saw a second Grass Snake at Minsmere the following day.

I have certainly never seen a snake swimming in the water before. This one carried on swimming, with its head held high before disappearing a few seconds later - and that was the last we saw of it.

I have included this photo because it shows the beautiful setting of the reserve. Plans are afoot, as I mentioned in my last post, to extend this area of Suffolk Broadland and to improve visitor facilities.

The landscape is flat, broken up with dykes, ditches and watercourses of various kinds. The Netherlands are not far away to the east (though there are roughly 120 km of sea water between the two shores).

This was the view that we saw first, and just as the Fen Raft Spider had been almost like another piece of waterlogged reed, so the Grass Snake could have been another strand of water weed or piece of twig.

Those distinctive yellow and black collar marks stood out sufficiently, however, particularly when the snake was moving on the surface, making its way down the watercourse.

The image above shows just how well camouflaged these snakes can be. As you may have realised, the quick pictures we took have been cropped and enlarged for the sake of detail.

We felt very privileged to have the unexpected chance to watch this snake for a few seconds as it carried on swimming.

Grass Snakes are protected by law under the terms of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. They must not be killed, harmed, injured, sold or traded.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Arachnophobes, please look away... IUCN Red-listed Fen Raft Spider

I was thrilled to have my first (Suffolk) sighting of this extraordinary spider on Saturday.

The Fen Raft Spider was the subject of my winning ZSL poem on the theme of 'conservation', so I had been particularly keen to see one of these arachnids in real life.

I had attended a talk by Fen Raft expert, Dr Helen Smith, at the Norfolk Festival of Nature a couple of years ago, and had marvelled at the Fen Raft artwork of Sheila Tilmouth on that occasion - and now, at last, I have actually seen the spider for myself. 

The creature took some spotting, and it was largely thanks to assistance from the Suffolk Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers that we were able to locate it. Those white stripes show up well in these photos, but they were surprisingly difficult to spot in a whole area of reed and vegetation.

Many of you, like us, will have watched the feature on SWT Carlton Marshes nature reserve (and its Fen Raft spiders) on last week's edition of BBC Countryfile.

There are currently huge plans afoot to enlarge the nature reserve.

Carlton Marshes near Lowestoft, Suffolk Wildlife Trust

There had been some pond-dipping earlier in the afternoon: this pond spider was pretty small!

The cows were beautiful, but there was another surprise in store (next post here)...

Friday, 19 May 2017

Home Patch Sightings - 2017 Updated List

Redwing - first home patch sighting last January

I have been meaning to post an updated version of my home-patch sightings for some time. Some of you will know that I began this list when I was taking part in the Tree Following meme as many of the insects and birds were seen on or in the vicinity of my Silver Birch or small ornamental Cherry.

I have been taking a bit of a break from tree-following at present, having been through more than a twelve month cycle of postings. But I am very keen to keep up with my list of 'first' garden sightings here on my blog - so that I can keep a record of new arrivals like the Redwing in the photo above, who flew in for a brief spell some months ago when there were still some winter berries about.

When I began this list in 2014, I used resources like the RSPB bird identification pictures. These were very helpful, but the time came, particularly after the Garden Bioblitz, when I needed a bit more help, so signed up to iSpot and iRecord. If I see Ladybirds here I aim to log with them with the UK Ladybird Survey - but regulars readers will have 'heard' me say this many times! I would really like to brush up on my moth identification skills... and to that end I have just treated myself to a moth book.

'HP' in my list below is for 'home patch'. Dates with a green background are first sightings (when noted) in 2017.

Avian sightings - unlike the Big Garden Birdwatch, a bird seen clearly from the house or garden counts for my purposes. We have, for example, yet to see a Grey Heron landing in our home patch we have had several good sightings of these birds flying over in the direction of the local nature reserve, one road away. We have often heard the local Tawny Owl, but I am not counting 'birds heard' (but not seen) at present.

  • HPb1   Great Spotted Woodpecker
  • HPb2   Great tit
  • HPb3   Long-tailed Tit
  • HPb4   Blackbird  
  • HPb5   Song Thrush   
  • HPb6   Blue tit 
  • HPb7   Robin
  • HPb8   Magpie 
  • HPb9   Wood Pigeon
  • HPb10 Dunnock  
  • HPb11 Starling 
  • HPb12 Carrion Crow 
  • HPb13 Goldfinch
  • HPb14 Jay 
  • HPb15 Green Woodpecker
  • HPb16 Wren 
  • HPb17 Bullfinch [[19 January 2017] 
  • HPb18 Sparrowhawk
  • HPb19 Mallard
  • HPb20 House Sparrow 
  • HPb21 Chaffinch
  • HPb22 Grey Heron 
  • HPb23 Collared Dove 
  • HPb24 Coal tit
  • HPb25 Redwing [[20 January 2017] 

Mammal sightings
  • HPm1 (?Wood) Mouse
  • HPm2 Bat ... [first 2015 garden sighting 7 May 2015] [Apr/May 2015]  [[22 January 2017] 
  • HPm3 Shrew 
  • HPm4 Grey Squirrel  [Jan/Feb 2016] [Feb/Mar 2016] [Mar/Apr 2016] [Jul/Aug 2016] [2017]
  • HPm5 Stoat
  • HPm6 Hedgehog

Insect sightings
  • HPi1 Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly [March 2014] [[27 February 2017] 
  • HPi2 Buff-tailed Bumblebee [March 2014] [Jan/Feb 2016] [Mar/Apr 2016] [2017]
  • HPi3 Brimstone Butterfly [April 2014]
  • HPi4 7-spot Ladybird [April 2014] [Oct 2014] [Apr/May 2015] [Jul/Aug 2015] [Sept/Oct 2015] [Mar/Apr 2016]
  • HPi5 Skipper Butterfly [July 2014]
  • HPi6 Meadow Brown Butterfly [July 2014] [Jul/Aug 2015]
  • HPi7 Large White Butterfly [July 2014] [Jul/Aug 2016]
  • HPi8 14-spot Yellow Ladybirds [July 2014]
  • HPi9 Small White Butterfly [May 2014] [Apr/May 2015] [Sept/Oct 2015 - caterpillars]
  • HPi10 Orange tip Butterfly [May 2014]
  • HPi11 Harlequin ladybird  [May 2014] [October 2014] [Sept/Oct 2015]
  • HPi12 Garden Chafer (Phyllopertha horticola) [June 2014] [June/July 2016]
  • HPi13 Ruby-tail Wasp [June 2014] [May/June 2015] [May/June 2016] [[21May 2017] 
  • HPi14 Blackfly [June 2014
  • HPi15 Marmalade Hoverfly [July 2014] [Jul/Aug 2015] [Jul/Aug 2016]
  • HPi16 Shield bug [July 2014] [Apr/May 2015]
  • HPi17 Migrant Hawker dragonflies [July 2014]
  • HPi18 Unidentified Damselfly [August 2014] [[18 May 2017] 
  • HPi19 Comma butterfly [August 2014] [June/July 2016] [2017]
  • HPi20 Red Admiral butterfly [August 2014] [October 2014] [Jul/Aug 2015]
  • HPi21 Peacock butterfly [August 2014] [Jul/Aug 2015] [Nov/Dec 2015] 
  • HPi22 Green bottle flies [August 2014] [May/June 2015]
  • HPi23 Ants [August 2014] [Apr/May 2015]  [May/June 2015] [Jul/Aug 2015] [Sept/Oct 2015 ] [Jun/July 2016] [2017]
  • HPi24 Squashbug aka Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus [August 2014]
  • HPi25 Birch Shieldbug (late instar?) [September 2014]
  • HPi26 Lacewing [October 2014] [Sept/Oct 2015]
  • HPi27 Cereal Leaf Beetle [Apr/May 2015]
  • HPi28 Unidentified Moth [Nov/Dec 2014] [Feb/Mar 2015] [Jul/Aug 2015] [Sept/Oct 2015][Jan/Feb 2016] [June/July 2016] [2017]
  • HPi29 Rosemary Beetle [[Sept/Oct 2015] [May/June 2016 - four] [May 2017]
  • HPi30 Hawthorn Shieldbug [May/June 2015] 
  • HPi31 Forest Shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes) [Sept/Oct 2015] 
  • HPi32 Early Bumblebee [Mar/Apr 2016] 
  • HPi33 Species of Miridae [Mar/Apr 2016]  
  • HPi34 Cranefly [May/June 2016] 
  • HPi35 Crossocerus, wasps family Crabronidae [May/June 2016] 
  • HPi36 Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietis) [May/June 2016]
  • HPi37  Tree Bumblebee (Bombus (Pyrobombus) hypnorum) [May/June 2016] 
  • HPi38  Moth Least Black Arches (Nola confusalis) [May/June 2016] 
  • HPi39  Gatekeeper Butterfly [Jul/Aug 2016]
  • HPi40  Holly Blue Butterfly [Jul/Aug 2016]
  • HPi41  Painted Lady [2016]
  • HPi42 Dark Bush Cricket (nymph) [[18 May 2017]  
  • HPi43 Common Cockchafer  [[18 May 2017]  
  • HPi44 Scorpion Fly [May2017] [[23 May 2017] 


Insects on the Ceanothus

Just a quick post to say that it has been lovely to see insects making the most of the pollen on our Ceanothus. Honey bees and others have all been busy, as you can see from the bulging pollen baskets, sometimes known as sacs. I have no idea what the last insect might be...

STOP PRESS: I have only just seen that, serendipitously, the app for counting bees is being launched today, 19 May 2017. Do take a look at the Great British Bee Count site.
  • For more on bees, do take a look at these BUZZ pages (and perhaps especially the flip-the-pages book if you scroll down) from Val Littlewood at Pencil and Leaf.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Home Patch, with (SOS Springwatch) Wildflower Trough

It is lovely to see more insects appearing, and this is one of the creatures I saw this morning during a sunny spell before the cloud built up. Judging by the length of the antennae, it must, I think, be a juvenile Cricket (my thanks to Conehead54 for the helpful information that this is a Dark Bush-cricket nymph - just in case you missed this in the Comments below).

This ?ornamental Hawthorn is looking particularly colourful at the moment. It overhangs our garden, adding a splash of crimson and white.

Our Nasturtiums have sprouted and will hopefully produce some more bright colours. I always find myself a bit torn because I love the caterpillars that they attract, but there is a certain sense of sadness if the plants are eaten before they have reached their full potential!

The two photographs immediately above show how my wildflower trough is coming on. It would probably be best to thin the plants a bit, but I may leave them this year and see what happens. I am looking forward to the first flowers in the hope that pollinating insects will be attracted into our garden.

I see from my post here that on 10 April, just over a month ago, tiny green shoots were starting to appear. I wonder what the trough will look like in a month's time. I hope there will be some flowers long before then.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

More Butterflies at RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden

Some days ago we paid a return visit to Flatford RSPB Wildlife Garden, hoping that there would be some butterflies about. A couple of male Orange Tips flitted past us almost immediately, followed by a magnificent male Brimstone. 

We always find the bank to the right of the photo (behind the picnic table) a good place for insects, and once again this proved to be the case. 

A female Orange Tip - these proved easier to photograph than their males counterparts.

Sadly we failed to see any Holly Blues. Blue butterflies are among my favourites...

A Peacock in the Ceanothus

A bee on the Alliums.

There were several Cardinal Beetles about, including this one on one of the log piles.

You can see the small white comma on the outer wing above, giving these butterflies their name.

Before heading home, we wandered down to the bridge at Flatford.

Just as we were leaving we noticed this well camouflaged but iridescent beetle (below). We certainly seem to be on the cusp of 'insect season': there were dancing Mayflies in the Flatford garden and we had a Cockchafer banging on our window at home last night. I saw my first 2017 damselfly in the garden yesterday afternoon. Speaking of firsts, it has been lovely to hear the cuckoo on two occasions, but I have yet to see my first bat...