Friday, 15 March 2019

Leaf-miners are Larvae!

There has been much media coverage today for the school strike by young people against climate change. I have been thinking back to those balmy, if 'unnatural', February days when sightings of early butterflies graced the pages of @twitter, and I began to wish that I had a 2019 butterfly photo of my own to share. We visited NT Wicken Fen, a renowned site for biodiversity, but any lurking butterflies eluded me.

Since then we have been battered by Storm Gareth, which comes and goes in pulses, bearing a chill wind in its wake at times. What, I wonder, has become of those early butterflies?

I checked the garden this morning for signs of a return to spring, and found a 7-spot Ladybird but few other signs of insect life. I was about to come indoors when a rather scruffy bramble caught my attention, and I noticed the leaf-miner trail in the photo above. I knew virtually nothing about the creatures who make these so it seemed a good moment to learn (so please let me know if any of the text that follows needs a tweak!).

I discovered that these insects are larvae, a thought that had not previously crossed my mind. Furthermore, it turns out that these ones are lepidopteran larvae. OK, so there are no bright-winged butterflies for me to photograph and enjoy this morning, but there is the excitement of discovering that the small miners who leave a corridor-trail (known, it seems as a 'gallery', patterned with 'frass') will become moths, probably Stigmella aurella (and here for Suffolk sightings) or a similar Stigmella species. 

The adult moth, while not without a certain charm, is not the most exciting creature in terms of appearance. The wingspan of this species of Nepticulidae is less than a centimetre. The fact that these insects are part of the Nepticulidae family indicates that they have eye-caps over their eyes. We quite often see Mint Moths in our garden, but I cannot recall seeing a leaf mine moth, such as the Golden Pigmy, when they are on the wing in May. Photos of the larval stage can be seen here.

Those of you who follow my blog may know that I like to contribute data to insect recording surveys. I see there is a rather comprehensive Leaf-miner Moth Recording scheme here

Many of my UK readers will be aware that Butterfly Conservation have just launched a new awareness initiative in the face of a serious decline called #MothsMatter. It seeks to show us why moths matter as pollinators and as an important element in the food chain. Many of us admire these insects for their variety and beauty.

Here at home we have a dedicated wildlife patch in our garden. We also have a few self-seeded Buddleia butterfly-bushes (including one growing up through out tarmac drive!). I have three insect hotels. There is a ready supply of water, and while a slab by the french window may not be the ideal space for a bramble, I see no reason why the larvae should be disturbed.

I had a couple of moths on the outside of my window last night: here's to a summer ahead of knowledge, wonder, conservation ... and moths.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

NT Ickworth with its Rotunda, Ducks, Wildflowers... and Sheep

We had a lovely visit to NT Ickworth earlier this week. There were plenty of ducks about...

Some were upside down while others were more stream-lined!

 We were pleased to see a good number of Tufted Ducks...

 and a few Coots.

The Moorhen below was about to make its way through the newly-planted box hedge towards the lake. The scent of young box was wonderful!

 The photo below shows our first view of the classical Rotunda through the trees...

I decided I would keep an eye out for early wildflowers, starting with [1] Daisy.

[2] Groundsel

[3] Chickweed

[4] Dog's Mercury

[5] Red Dead Nettle

[6] Primrose (plus what I think are the two-tone leaves of Yellow Archangel).

 [7] Comfrey, I think...

[8] Aconite

[9] Snowdrop [update: correction - Conehead54 tells me this is Spring Snowflake. Please see comments below]

[10] Wild Arum (not yet in flower)...

I'm not very good at identifying blossom: do let me know if you recognise the species below. [Update: please see comments below - Conehead54 tells me this is a Viburnum.]

There were some fine catkins dangling in the shadowed sunshine. 

There were also quite a few logs lying about, some covered in moss. A pile like this makes the perfect des res for insects. 

We emerged from the woodland area and walked through the parkland towards the church and walled garden, passing the sheep. Apparently it will be another two weeks or so until they lamb. Like fellow blogger, The Quiet Walker, I find sheep so photogenic...

I noticed a couple of queen bees on the wing, but failed to photograph them. One touched down in the woody area in the photo below, and disappeared. The little acorn cup reminded me of a rather charming couple of lines by an American 19th century poet:

‘… the pride of the forest was folded up
In the narrow space of its little cup!’

This Grey Squirrel was rather camouflaged in among the branches. It caught our attention when it moved...

  This is the view of the lake...

 ... and this is the view from the other side, looking back towards the church

 ... and the rotunda.

There are two churches, one (the parish church) dedicated to St Leonard by the entrance to the park and the second, dedicated to St Mary, inside the grounds. St Mary's has some beautiful flint-work.

We have often seen good numbers of ladybirds in this area, but, perhaps on account of the cooler weather, we failed to see any yesterday.

It was time for a cup of tea so we headed back to the area around the Rotunda for Earl Grey and (in my case) a slice of coffee cake.

I particularly like the fact that there is a mini-rotunda carved on the frieze!

We bought a pot of daffodils on our way out to add an extra splash of colour to our garden at home.


Friday, 1 March 2019

First Homepatch Woodpecker of the Season

I apologise for the quality of these record shots, but they were taken yesterday (our first grey day after the beautiful sunshine) through glass and from a distance, with my zoom extended to its limit. I am posting them, however, because it was a joy to see this Great Spotted Woodpecker from my window, the first one I have seen in 2019. 

And just because I think these birds are so beautiful, here's one I took earlier a couple of years ago...

Monday, 25 February 2019

NT Wicken Fen

We have visited Wicken Fen nature reserve in Cambridgeshire many times, but I don't think we have ever found the reserve as busy as it was last Saturday. It was, of course, half-term. It was also what I might describe as an exceptionally warm summer-in-spring day. Some (the agile ones) climbed the new temporary viewing tower and were able, for a few moments at least, to look beyond the crowded boardwalks to the expansive reed beds and wide skies that are such a feature of this area.

Perhaps with so many visitors about it was not surprising that we failed to see many birds. However we watched a Marsh harrier in the distance; and were treated to some lovely views of a Kestrel, as you can see in the photos below.

The small boat, the Mayfly, that is used for boat trips up the lode a bit later in the season was still in dock...

As I peered into a watercourse where we have seen Grass Snakes and Caddisfly larvae in summer, I noticed this rather fine (?duck) feather...

The windpump is such an iconic feature of this reserve, and those who follow my blog will know that I can never resist a shot or two...

We very rarely see Sparrows in our home patch so it is always a joy to hear their song when we walk down towards the Fenman's Cottage in Wicken.

Quite a few Sparrows were sporting their bird ringing bling...

Well, you know I find the wind pump an irresistible subject...

I felt the picture below represented the sense of 'winter into spring'...

Catkins have been in evidence for some weeks now, but this was my first 2019 sighting of Pussy Willow...

Yet more views of the wind pump...

... and the Kestrel.

I believe the tree below is an Alder, sporting its catkins and (false) cones...

Our last visit had been in November. Such a lot of work had taken place on the reserve since then. We don't ever remember seeing this pool area so clearly. You can see where reeds have been harvested.

I took my sketch book but that was as far I got: one of these days I will try to catch those sails in pen and ink...

There are some beautiful little signs around the reserve, like this one ...

... and this one on a wooden seat in an area where you can sit and watch dragonflies in the summer.

The area which forms the Butterfly Trail in summer is always one of my favourite parts of the reserve, and this area is also signed appropriately...

We noticed on our November visit that the path around the Butterfly Trail area of the woodland walk was receiving attention. This time the path had been smoothed out and, ramp apart, felt much safer for those of us who use walking sticks.

A huge amount of work had been done on the trees and bushes in this area: take a look at my photo below. I gather this is all part of good husbandry and conservation. I will watch this space with interest in the months to come to see what transformations take place.

We so enjoy looking out for species such as the Brown Argus on this part of the reserve. It is my favourite spot for doing the annual butterfly counts. You can read about the Wicken Fen Butterfly Trail here. A list of (named) butterflies seen in the area can be found here.

Like most people, I feel strongly that the next generation should be given every opportunity to enjoy nature and to learn the names of species for, surely, we care most about the things we know. Like Robert Macfarlane, Margaret Atwood, Mark Cocker and others, I feel sad that so many nature words were removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary to make space for words that fitted the zeitgeist of our scientific and technological age. We need technology, but we also need biodiversity and literature to help us appreciate nature. During our time on the nature reserve, we spoke to members of one all-age party who were enjoying a checklist of wildlife (reminiscent of the popular I-spy books), ticking off the features and creatures they encountered, and listening out for the call that would identify a particular bird. I was impressed.

Having read a post on Jim's Birding Blog about visitors to the Brecks, I began to wonder on that busy Saturday, and this was February and not August, about the effect of the human footprint on the rare creatures (some brought to light during Chris Packham's Bioblitz in 2018) who live on the reserve.

I am still wondering...

We headed back to the entrance for a pot of Earl Grey (David and Caroline), a cheese scone (David) and a gingerbread sheep (guess who!). It was lovely to be able to drink our tea outside in such balmy conditions.

We listened to the Sparrows and watched them watching us...

We love the changing light and the way it affects the landscape. The sun was low by this stage of the day...

I have just found this site which gives quite a good summary of the reserve. And if you like facts and figures, this site might also be of interest!

It was time to leave the fen to its night-time creatures and head for home.