Monday 22 July 2013

Big Butterfly Count ~ at Sutton Hoo

I undertook the Big Butterfly Count at Sutton Hoo over the weekend. You give yourself 15 minutes and chart the maximum number of a species you see at any one time.

The photos immediately above and below show a (male) Gatekeeper, aka the Hedge Brown. This is not a large butterfly. I always look for the two little white spots on the forewing!

Total: 3

The butterfly below, a Small Heath, was not surprisingly very small!  

Total: 6

 You can see how dry the heathland is at Sutton Hoo at present.

This next butterfly (below) is a slightly ragged male Meadow Brown

Total: 8

And finally ... this lovely little creature below is (I believe) a Small Skipper.

Total: 2

Ladybird Alert ~ Four 7-Spots at Sutton Hoo

We set off to do the Big Butterfly Count at Sutton Hoo over the weekend, and although there were plenty of Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper butterflies about, our eyes were quickly diverted by the Ladybirds - the most I have seen in one place this year.

I was particularly interested in (and saddened to see) the 7-spot above, who seemed to have a damaged elytron and possibly a damaged wing underneath. I have not been able to work out quite what is going on, but I wonder whether the damage could be due to a mite (see the bulbous shape inside the elytron). As ever, I shall submit my sighting to the UK Ladybird Survey.  

Enlargement of Ladybird above

 The 7-spot below was walking over a clump of Lady's Bedstraw. It was a much paler colour than the first.

My third ladybird (although David could see others beyond the fence through his binoculars!), in the photo below, was also a 7-spot. I believe the green insect may be a Sulphur Beetle.  

And finally ... we noticed another 7-spot (below), making its way along a fence, near the long grass. 

The photo below, unlike the others, was not taken yesterday in the heatwave! It was a few taken months ago, during the long winter. I included it to show the Anglo-Saxon mound near the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial on this remarkable site ... and to remind us of the reason why many wildlife species have been late in making an appearance this summer! 

Saturday 20 July 2013

Wildflowers in Scotland ~ Sundew, Lousewort and Milkwort

We came across this patch of Sundew while walking across marshy ground in the Clearance village of Ceannebeinne near Durness in the north of Scotland. I am not sure that I had ever seen this fascinating plant before in the wild. It was certainly a case of blink and you'll miss it ... but I had my eyes wide open, checking for ticks!

Unsuspecting insects find themselves trapped in the Sundew's sticky liquid, produced by the plant to supplement its food intake in areas of poor soil.  

The site produced a number of small flowers, including this Marsh Lousewort below. The rather horrible name is apparently the result of a folkore belief that sheep who grazed on this plant would become infested by lice. 

The photo below shows the archaeologist (aka David) in his element, working out the alignment of abandoned crofts.

And finally ... and still from the same site ... one of my favourite Highland flowers, the tiny blue (probably Heath) Milkwort. The yellow flower may be related to Tormentil, but I am not sure!

Friday 19 July 2013

Beside the Sea ~ Jellyfish Sightings in Scotland

While we were in Scotland we saw jellyfish on two occasions. The jellyfish above was on the beach at Durness (24 June 2013).

The one below was at Chanonry Point (26 June 2013). It was part of a cluster of stranded jellyfish: in the evening light, we counted 56. 

Both photos (I believe) show the Moon Jellyfish, also known as Aurelia.

I shall record these sightings on the Marine Conservation Society site. Jellyfish are linked to Leatherback turtles in the food chain. These magnificent, but threatened, turtles make huge underwater journeys in search of these strange sea creatures.

The stings from some species of jellyfish can be dangerous, so it is important to treat these free-swimming marine animals with care.  

Postscript ... 5 August 2013: you may be interested in this BBC report.

Beautiful Birds ~ The Common Tern on the Cromarty Firth

We had never been to Foulis on the Cromarty Firth before. Unbeknown to us it proved to be not only a good place for tea and cake, but also an excellent site for the Common Tern. Can you see that raft-like structure some way out in the water? ...

This was where the Terns gathered.

You will find the slightly more de luxe model of raft here!

The raft, which you can see in its entirety below, serves as a suitable nesting place for these birds. We were there some two weeks ago when there were quite a few Common Tern about, but according to a report in today's BBC news (link here), 95 pairs have now been spotted off Foulis!

Thursday 18 July 2013

Butterflies and Moths ~ Burnet Moth at Carlton Marshes

My apologies for flitting about all over the place with my posts at the moment! I am interspersing my Scottish holiday photos with the wildlife I see around me here in Suffolk. It is proving to be a wonderful time for new sightings, not to mention warm sunshine (understatement!).

The Suffolk Wildlife Trust site at Carlton Marshes proved to be a good place for Burnet Moth sightings. We always used to enjoy seeing these dazzling creatures on the cliffs in Cardiganshire, so we are pleased to have found a more local habitat now that we live in East Anglia.

Unlike the Cinnabar Moth (another striking red species) which flies by night, the Six-Spot Burnet Moth is a day-flying insect. It does not always have six spots - I thought I counted more than six - and in some cases one spot will merge into another. These moths live in colonies, and we saw many pairs mating, like the ones above, as we scanned the long meadow grass.  

David striding out at Carlton Marshes ...

According to the Arkive site, wild thyme is one of the moth's favourite foods. I did not see any thyme, but the moths seemed quite content with thistle, a variety of purple vetch and bright yellow Bird's Foot Trefoil, this last flower being the one on which eggs are laid. 

I am intrigued by the little orange spots on the antennae of the moth in the photo below. At first I presumed they were pollen, but then I wondered if they might be a parasite. I would be grateful for any answers!  

I was interested to see this orange moth (below) heading towards the Burnet on its thistle. The new arrival turned out (I think) to be a Small Skipper. It looked like a moth to me, with its furry features, but I understand it is a butterfly. In any case it is a Lepidoptera along with other butterflies and moths.

Strangely, there is a creature called a 'Burnet Companion' ... but I have yet to see one of these moths. The orange insect below is the Skipper again.

Bird's Foot Trefoil, the plant on which Burnets lay their eggs

  • Previous post ... Bottlenose Dolphins in the Moray Firth here.

Seals and Cetaceans ~ Bottlenose Dolphins in the Moray Firth

There are few things as majestic as a dolphin fin as it slices effortlessly through the water! We arrived at our picnic place on the Moray Firth on our journey south from Durness two weeks ago to find a dearth of dolphins. We were told that it was due to the state of the tide, so we returned later that day and our patience was rewarded!

We watched the dolphins over two days, and while they were few in numbers compared to our sightings on previous occasions, we both felt that this was one of our best dolphin watches in terms of visibility, closeness to shore (remarkably close!), views of a calf ... and reasonably good weather. 
This photo shows the narrow width of the strait, so it is not surprising that the dolphins make the most of the currents when the tide is on the turn.

It is surprisingly difficult to get a photo of a dolphin's face in the air! By the time the creature has emerged, it is almost too late for a camera click ...

... so most of my photos show fins in various poses and combinations.

You can see the blow-hole in the picture above. I had never heard the blowing noise so clearly before. Perhaps we were lucky this time because the wind was still and the dolphins were so close to the shore.

This dolphin lifted a large strand of kelp!

With the tide about to come in, it was time for cruising along - with a spot of fishing and more acrobatics!

Dolphins in tandem, swimming along together.

You can make a splash without a blow-hole ...

... but I just love those blow-holes ...

... and those strong tails!

What a lovely way to spend the last night of a holiday!