Wednesday 30 May 2018

Wall Brown butterfly and Other Creatures at Carlton Marshes

Bank Holiday Monday seemed set fair (after colossal downpours in Dunwich on the Sunday afternoon), so we took a picnic to Carlton Marshes, a reserve in the care of Suffolk Wildlife Trust near Lowestoft, in the hope that there would be butterflies and dragonflies about. We did indeed see a few, but felt the numbers were low for this stage of the season.

We had barely arrived on the reserve before another visitor with binoculars asked if we had seen birds of prey. We caught glimpses of the Marsh Harriers, but it was this pair of kestrels who made their presence felt. As you can tell, they were some distance away from us when I took this record shot.

I took this photo of Cuckooflower because although we heard more than one Cuckoo, we failed to see any of these elusive summer visitors. I discovered later that the caterpillar we encountered, a Drinker Moth larva, is a favourite food of the Cuckoo.

These caterpillars spend the winter hibernating in a partially grown state. This one was stationary on its stem: most of its feeding will take place under cover of darkness.

We kept an eagle eye out for odonata. There were a number of brown dragonflies on the wing, and I suspect some may have been Norfolk Hawkers. We found this beautiful Chaser in our favourite part of the reserve... It looks a bit like a Scarce Chaser to me, but I'm not very sure.

The photos below show the damselflies we encountered around the dark dykes ... Most were Large Reds (Pyrrhosoma nymphula). My camera found it hard to focus when there was so much contrast between the sunlight and the dark water, not to mention the iridescence of the insects themselves.

Do the legs look red on this one, indicating Small Red? Not sure...

Large Red Damselfly

I believe the creature below is a male Azure Damselfly.

Blue or Azure? I'm not sure...
I wonder if anyone can identify this casing which is pretty much actual size...

I noticed silken threads above the casing, and have pinpointed these with orange lines in the photo below ... Do you think they are linked to it? I wondered if they were made by spiders, but odonata may be a more obvious guess.

Speaking of spiders, we checked the places (photo below) where we thought we might see a Fen Raft Spider, but our searching was not rewarded on this occasion ...


I did, however, see a tiny Green Orb Weaver spider on a bush ...

Sadly my camera failed to focus. It was about half the size shown above.

This is the path through our favourite part of the reserve. The new reeds were shimmering in the sunshine and it was still pretty damp underfoot in places.

There are plenty of watery habitats in this area ...

and plenty of logs for insects.

Reptiles haven't been forgotten: look at these reed piles, perhaps two metres across.

The wild flowers were spectacular, particularly the swathes of Ragged Robin and Meadow Buttercup.

Ragged Robin, close-up

We noticed this orchid, too.

Something moved, and there in a bush was a Reed Bunting. It was pretty camouflaged against the foliage.

Such a beautiful path!

We had noticed a pair of Mallards earlier in the day. They were still there when we passed by later on.

They blended in well with the light and shade.

And speaking of 'blending in', the bottle may well match those beautiful purple shades on the drake's speculum, but what a shame to find plastic rubbish dumped like this. It was over on the far side of the dyke and I guess one would have needed a net to remove it.

We noticed a young family of Moorhens enjoying the water.

It was soon time to head back for a thermos of tea, but there was a Kestrel to watch on the way.

This Red-headed Cardinal Beetle was hiding in the shade of the nettles.

There were some beautiful stalks of Pink Campion (below),

I'm not sure whether this is a particular kind (Common or Greater, perhaps?) of Bird's-foot-trefoil, but it was putting on a good show of bright yellow colour. The Common variety is a particularly valuable plant in the butterfly food chain.

The path to Oulton Broad was lined with a variety of purple Vetch ...

I always feel that pictures like the one below with a sail appearing in what seems to be the middle of the landscape represent a typical and tranquil East Anglian scene.

There were a good number of Starlings around the picnic area, and one or two Sparrows ...

Sadly I hardly managed to photograph any butterflies. Those that were about, the Orange Tips and Common Blues were pretty skittish. The Peacock below rested for a few moments.

Perhaps our best sighting of the day, though we didn't realise at the time, was a Wall Brown butterfly. We had been told that they were about, but we failed to see any in the area that had been recommended to us. However, we eventually saw a butterfly in the mud: assuming it was going to be Small Copper (I had seen a flash of orange), I grabbed my camera and took the picture below from a distance with my zoom.

It was only when we got home and uploaded our photos that I was able to see very clearly that the insect was indeed a Wall Brown, which I think may be a first sighting for me. Science suggests that this species may be the victim of climate change, which is perhaps why I have not seen these insects before.

I enlarged the photo, and while the quality is poor, it makes a good record shot. It also makes me want to see another Wall Brown, and next time I will hope to recognise it immediately.

Postscript: is it more usual to refer to this species as Wall or Wall Brown? Both terms seem to be used interchangeably on the web.

Friday 25 May 2018

Bush Cricket Nymph

Slightly enlarged

I saw a couple of tiny crickets in the garden today. I wondered why they didn't seem to jump. I guess this is because they are still nymphs. I understand there are a number of larval stages which involve moulting and the development of the wings. I'm wondering if these are Dark Bush Crickets, but I know virtually nothing about these insects, though I have just learned a new word!

The long antennae seemed to be in a spin in the photo above!

 The insect above favoured the woodbine while the one below had settled on the Euphorbia.

Thursday 24 May 2018

My First Mint Moth of 2018

I was delighted to find a Mint Moth (Pyrausta aurata) in the garden this morning. We have seen these small creatures here before, but only infrequently. Each forewing is about the size of a little fingernail, possibly smaller. The strange thing is that to my knowledge we do not have any mint or thyme, but I guess these herbs may grow in neighbouring gardens.  

I had to be quite patient while the moth rested on the underside of a nettle: you can just see it in the photo above. 

After a few minutes of fluttering around and landing once or twice in shady patches of undergrowth, it perched on a Daisy in full sunshine, allowing me a good view. 

You can just make out its proboscis in the photo above so perhaps our Daisies were acceptable as mint substitutes. You can also see the distinctive markings of the underwings and the narrow stripes on the abdomen. 

This shows the insect with its wings together. You can see a fringe around the edges.