Thursday, 21 July 2016

Butterflies and the 2016 Big Butterfly Count

David and I put aside fifteen minutes at the weekend to do a butterfly survey at Dunwich Heath for the Big Butterfly Count. The heather has been superb this year, and the Small Whites were certainly out in force, as you can see from our results above. 

If you would like to take part in the count, you will find the instructions here.


I keep checking our own garden for butterflies. We have had one or two Large and Small Whites. Sadly the Skippers we had last year have not reappeared although we have refrained from mowing a patch of the yellow flowers (a form of Hawkweed?) that attracted them in 2015. 

We saw few butterflies during our holiday along the Solway. I think we were just a bit early, given the chilly weather that we had at times. 

There was a good show of Meadow Browns at Castle Acre priory last weekend. There were also a couple of Small Tortoiseshells in the monks' herb garden. 

We saw a few Common Blues in a patch of heath at Dunwich some days ago.

NT Sutton Hoo has a few Small Coppers on the wing. They favoured sheltered lines of brushed-down grass in among the longer stems. 

To add a bit of colour, here is a selection of the butterfly photos I have taken so far this year. The occasional moth species may squeak in, too.

No butterflies here, but a photo to show you the setting (Castle Acre Priory, Norfolk) for the next six pics.

Small Tortoiseshell in the nettle patch (July) ...

... and on this thyme-like plant.

Travel-worn Small Tortoiseshell, at one with the old stone path

Another Small Tortoiseshell ...

... enjoying the monks' herb garden at Castle Acre

A Meadow brown, one of many
At this point we leave Castle Acre... and move to NT Sutton Hoo.

Small Copper in the long grass

A Large Skipper (I think this was at Sutton Hoo, but am not 100% sure)

Small Skipper
And moving on to other sites:

Red Admiral on yellow lichen

Painted Lady: I believe I have only seen one this season ...

... and here it is with its wings closed.
 The next two photos were taken on Dunwich Heath in rather dense area of vegetation.

Common Blue (I think) ...

... and with wings closed.
 And here is a butterfly in my garden ...

Small White

The next two photos were taken en route to Scotland (we took quite a detour though!) at Gibraltar Point near Skegness ...

The orange-spotted caterpillar of the Brown-tail moth (moth, not butterfly) ...

... and the tent from which it emerges.

The next photo shows a Peacock butterfly caterpillar. Look at those spines! This one was seen at Minsmere some weeks ago. 

 My final caterpillar is a Drinker Moth larva. I noticed it at Flatford Mill back in the spring.

The Big Butterfly Count is largely about ... butterflies, though it does include a couple of moths, the Silver Y and the colourful 6-spot Burnet, two species I want to cover in a future post.

I hope the inclusion of a couple of different moth species - in addition to the photos of lepidoptera in the larval stage - has not detracted from the butterflies in this post. I thought it would be fun to show a selection of my 2016 sightings to date. Some are little more than record shots, but they all add a little flourish to my personal observation list. I am no expert and, as ever, would be delighted to hear from anyone who can correct an ID!

I will leave you with a photo of the beautifully recreated monks' herb garden at Castle Acre, which was a haven for butterflies when we were there last Saturday.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Sand Wasps, Digger Wasps, the Ant-lion and the Bee-wolf

Suffolk boasts a number of sandy heathland and sand dune habitats. The photos below were taken at NT Sutton Hoo, above the river Deben near Woodbridge and at RSPB Minsmere on the Suffolk coast. The mounds at Sutton Hoo rise prominently above the skyline, but there are also a number of tiny mounds in the area that you could easily miss. These belong to a variety of burrowing insects including digger wasps.

The sandy soil around Minsmere and the adjoining heath above Dunwich is home to the Ant-lion and the Bee-wolf. Adult Ant-lions are not exactly spectacular: they look a bit like dull grey damselflies and are not often seen during the best hours of daylight, preferring the evening for their excursions on the wing. The larvae are the ones responsible for the name since they have soft bodies covered in bristles: they also have huge appetites for ants. They live in sandy pits, which they create and in which they sometimes play host to parasitic insects.

The Bee-wolf, on the other hand, is actually a solitary digger wasp. This insect preys on the worker Honey bee, but since the Bee-wolf needs a very particular habitat, I wonder how much of a threat it poses to the Honey bee population. It looks like a large wasp, but with rather short thick antennae.


My first photo (immediately below) was taken at Sutton Hoo in sandy soil. I do not have an exact ID for the insect to date, but I am pretty certain that it is a species of Digger Wasp ...

... for here it is doing what Digger Wasps do best.

The photo below shows ... a head in a hole. No prizes for guessing that!

The next photo was taken on the reserve at RSPB Minsmere along the sandy edge of the path that leads towards the sea from the Visitors' Centre.

Here we are back at NT Sutton Hoo again, where the brown insect - a weevil perhaps, possibly a larva of some sort - is climbing up the sandy wall of a large Digger Wasp/Sand Wasp hole. I am wondering if there is another insect slightly above it to the right in the hole within the hole. There was a lot of insect activity in the area.

 The following picture is of the same hole, and shows a wasp peering out of a crevice.

The hole below was about a couple of metres away from the large one above. This time you can see a different kind of insect, looking more like an ant; and yet it is in fact a solitary Red-banded Sand Wasp of the Ammophila family.

... and here it is ...

... digging away.

The photos that I took at Sutton Hoo were taken during a walk around the mounds. The photo below shows just how brown the long grass has become, despite the heavy rains in June. I find it sad to think that we are already about a month on from the longest day.

And finally, here is a photo of three friends who were quite happy to stand in our path until their pictures had been taken!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Ladybird Alert - Striped Ladybird, a first for me

We took a walk on the magnificent heath at Dunwich on the Suffolk coast (just above Minsmere) this afternoon, and I remembered that I had still to post a photo of a ladybird I saw there on my last visit, about a month ago, back in June.

The insect was quite large, about the size you would expect for a Harlequin, but (unless I am completely mistaken) this was no Harlequin. It was a Striped Ladybird, a variety I do not recall having seen before. It feeds on brown aphids of the genus Cinara, which frequent pine trees, particularly Scots Pine.

This ladybird was crawling over a wooden bench, as you can see. I seem to recall that there were some pine trees in the vicinity, but I do not think that they were Scots Pine (which I have seen in Scotland, along the shore of places like Loch Maree).

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Holiday 3: A Day on Walney Island

I had read that there was a Cumbrian Wildlife Trust nature reserve at South Walney, so after we had visited the ruins of Furness Abbey, we drove through Barrow and over the bridge in the photo above to Walney Island (which is the near side in the picture). It was a rather chilly day in June, and my photos testify to the fact that the sun was not much in evidence.

The island is not very large and we were soon on the reserve. I was thrilled to find Eider ducks in good numbers, including the pair in the photo above.

I gather that Walney Island pretty much marks the southern limit of Eider colonies on the west coast. Eiders are amber listed in terms of conservation, so the island is lucky to be able to boast 700 breeding pairs. The duck in the photo above is the female ...

... and this one is the male.

There are long expanses of shingle which provides a nesting area for various gulls, terns and other species such as the Ringed Plover. The Horned Poppy added a splash of sunshine to the scene.

Can you spot the Eider ducks nestling on the grass of the remains of the Walney Salt Works, which closed in 1909?

The lighthouse dominates the skyline.

Piel Castle lies across the water, and can be reached by boat. In 1487 Lambert Simnel landed on Piel Island. The castle dates from the 14th century.

The photo above shows the Eider colony on Walney Island.

In addition to long shingle beaches, there are large areas of saltmarsh.

The photo below helps to give a sense of scale and also a sense of 'the remote', which is something that strikes the visitor after the hustle and bustle of Barrow.

In a landscape that was predominantly grey, it was not only the Horned Poppy but also the tall spikes of Viper's Bugloss that added colour to the scene. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, but all too soon we were crossing the bridge back to the mainland for a drive through the Lakes to our rented holiday property near Cockermouth.