Friday 29 March 2019

Flowers, Insects and Fish at NT Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

The weather was set fare on Saturday so we took a picnic lunch to NT Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk.

It was good to see more signs of spring, including this Arum Lily and...

...these lovely primroses.

There were a number of 7-spot Ladybirds, mainly on the dry leaves. I guess some may have been emerging from their over-wintering layers.

Some were scuttling about or resting in the sunshine.

We ate our sandwiches by this flint churchyard wall where I noticed a Red Underwing (Catocala nupta) in 2016. Sadly we failed to find any moths this time.

This was the view over the wall, of which more in a moment.

I always enjoy seeing the Oxburgh Hangings, stitched by Mary Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick, but on this occasion the spring weather kept us largely out of doors (though we did visit the tea room and secondhand bookshop).

I noticed this log-bench by the path in the woodland area, and thought what a brilliant bit of recycling. I could do with one of these benches in our own garden!

We could see these beehives in the area near the orchard. If you don't keep bees or have space for a hive, you might like these Green&Blue bee-bricks, which I read about on Instagram - or you might prefer to place an insect hotel in your home patch: my hotels have certainly been taken over by some grateful residents.

We heard a lot of munching in the stream and wondered if there could be a Water Vole. We stood and waited, but nothing actually appeared.

However, in another part of the stream, we noticed quite a few fish. I guess they are Sticklebacks, but my fish knowledge is negligible. I wondered if one was preparing to lay (or 'fan') some eggs. Unfortunately my camera failed to cope well with the underwater conditions...

The scene above brought back memories of the tiny BBC Springwatch hero from RSPB Minsmere, Spineless Si!

It is always a joy to find a Bee-fly. I must add this record to the recording list.

The 'summer house' by the stream, designed along the lines of an original that was used by Sir Henry Paston-Bedingfeld and his friends and relations, draws me every time.

On this occasion the summer house was empty so we were able to take up residence for a few minutes!

It was soon time to head to tea room for a slice of lemon and lime cake.

We decided to pay a quick visit to the church next door. There are extraordinary pink terracotta carvings in the chantry chapel.

You will note from the signs above and below that the village uses a different spelling from Oxburgh Hall.

village sign

Light was fading and it was time to head for home.

The Oxburgh Hall sundial

Friday 22 March 2019

Ladybird, ladybird...

Just a quick post to add these 7-spot ladybirds to my blog. All three were photographed in our garden. We seem to have had quite a few this year, so I hope it bodes well. These sightings remind me that I must update my home patch list...

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.