Grafton Wood

Lovely day yesterday out and about at Grafton Wood, one of our favourite butterfly hunting spots. Forecast was for sunny spells in the morning so we headed over, hopeful of a good day’s butterfly spotting. The sunny spells were slow to materialise and for the first hour we hardly saw a butterfly. Nor did we see anyone else, it was as if everyone else knew the butterflies were having a day off! Eventually though the butterflies started to appear – a slightly dopey Common Blue was the first to pose for us.

After the initial dozy one, more blues arrived plus Green-Veined Whites and our first Painted Lady of the year.  All in all we tallied up 11 species – not bad after such an unpromising start.

The one butterfly we’d particularly hoped to see though, the Brown Hairstreak, eluded us. They are notoriously tricky to find and we’ve only ever seen one, right here at Grafton Wood in 2015. So it was no great surprise not to find one yesterday. We did however meet  a very helpful gentleman who gave us some top tips for spotting them and showed us some new areas of the wood to look for them in future.  So butterfly-wise we were very happy.

But Grafton Wood is buzzing with more than just butterflies, there are plenty of other insects to enjoy. We kept seeing beautiful big hornets – either Grafton has lots of them or we were being stalked by the same one everywhere we went.

There were lots of small moths flying about in the grass, but the mothy highlight was spotting a group of Buff Tip moth caterpillars that had almost stripped a young tree bare.

We also saw a few shieldbugs, including this nice specimen of a Forest Bug (Pentatoma rufipes).

In the sunnier periods we could hear crickets chirruping in the grass. We saw several of these particularly large ones, which turned out to be a new species for us  – the Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolour).

Grafton is also a great place to go for dragonflies and damselflies. Darters (like this female Common Darter (thanks to Neil for ID)) were reasonably common all over the wood.

We also saw several of the much larger Southern Hawker dragonflies, particularly around the small pond. They seemed to be inexhaustible though and never once did we see one land. Both of us spent ages trying to get a photo of one in flight over the pond; this blurry shot was the best we managed.

Damselflies were also common around the pond – again another new species for us – the White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes), which has, as the name suggests, white legs! (although to be honest the legs look more like pale blue to me)

I found one individual sitting on a flower, seemingly staring straight at me. It stayed so long and I spent so long trying to get the perfect photo, it ended up feeling like we were having a bit of a staring contest – if we were then he won!

One insect we’d been trying to get a photo of all summer, was a scorpion fly.  These are seriously weird looking insects, with a long beak like structure on the head and a scorpion style tail on the males. We’d seen lots of them at Trench Wood a few months ago, but then only the females which don’t have the scorpion bit. Grafton Wood however was buzzing with males. It still wasn’t easy to get a photo of the tail as the wings kept getting in the way, but here are our best efforts.

Final surprise of the day was a cheeky little deer face, peeking at us over the wheat field as we walked back to the car.

Grafton Wood has never disappointed us and this weekend was no exception.

Out and About – Lea Quarry, Wenlock Edge

One of the goals for 2017 was to see some new butterfly species. So yesterday we set out for Lea Quarry at Wenlock Edge, in search of the Wall butterfly. The excellent “Butterflies of the West Midlands” book recommended Lea Quarry as a hotspot for Walls in August, so off we went. As usual we nearly managed to get lost as soon as we left the carpark, thanks to someone removing an arrow sign from the path trail! Fortunately while we puzzled over which way to go, a very helpful butterfly spotter Roger (and his gorgeous Malamut dog), showed us the correct path and in fact led us straight to our targets.

Wenlock Edge is a narrow limestone escarpment and Lea Quarry is just as it sounds – a quarry.  From the path there are lovely views out over the Shropshire countryside.

The path runs along the Edge with the quarry to one side.

The butterflies congregated on a small rocky slope at the side of the path. The area may not have been very big, but it was full of butterflies – we counted 11 species. Most were common ones like Gatekeepers, Speckled Wood, Comma, Holly Blue, Meadow Browns and Whites.

There were a couple of large and fresh looking Peacocks which were jostling for position over the same flowers.

There was also one Small Heath, which was more unusual to us. It skulked about in the undergrowth a bit though and looked generally a bit tired, so we only managed this poor photo.

A Small Skipper was much more obliging, posing happily right in front of us.

Common Blues were reasonably common and the males were very blue! The poor female is of course the dowdier of the pair, but still very beautiful.

But the main attraction were the Walls. They’re medium sized butterflies and quite strikingly marked, yet were surprisingly difficult to spot unless they took off. They fly most when it’s sunny, so we were lucky the weather was kind to us and the sun shone down on the righteous! Roger pointed out our first ever one, but after that we were up and running.

We saw several basking on the bare rocks. Unfortunately they do have a tendency to take off as soon as you approach with a camera, but we did eventually get a few decent shots of them like this.

I did eventually manage to get a few photos of a Wall on a flower – only because I was trying to photograph something else and the Wall landed on the flower right next to me though – but hey, you take what you can get! I didn’t realise until I looked back at the photos, just how beautiful the undersides of the wings are too.

The stony bank was busy with insects of all kinds besides the butterflies. Common Blue damselflies were drifting about all over the place – even photobombing one of our Wall photos.

Chris also spotted this much larger Darter dragonfly (Common or Ruddy – I can never remember which is which?)

Bees and hoverflies were making the most of the summer flowers. The hoverflies were particularly numerous and included this striking Large Pied Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens).

We could hear grasshoppers/crickets almost constantly – chirruping away enthusiastically in the sunshine. It was towards the end of our visit though before we actually saw one, when it hopped out onto the path. The relatively short and thick antennae indicate it was a grasshopper rather than a cricket, and that’s about as far as my ID got. But thanks to Neil, it has now been identified as a male Meadow Grasshopper.

So the Wall takes our lifetime tally of butterflies to 43! Very happy with that, but already looking forward to adding to this. We’re probably too late to bag any other new ones this year, as we’d need to travel serious distances probably. But with a bit of luck next summer, we might manage to creep a bit closer to the magic total of 59 – the generally recognised number of British species. It’s almost certainly going to get harder and we’ll have to travel further, but it’s nice to have a goal and a great way to get out and about, so we’re not complaining.

30 Days Wild – Day 27 – Trench Wood

It’s Day 27 of 30 Days Wild and we’re back on the butterfly hunt, this time in beautiful Trench Wood, Worcestershire. Not looking for anything new as such, just hoping for sightings of some old favourites and Trench Wood never disappoints. The place was absolutely heaving with butterflies and insects of all sorts.

Most notable today were the ringlets – they were everywhere, we must have seen hundreds. I don’t think we’ve ever seen so many, every step we took seemed to scatter more off the path. It was lovely to see, as I’d been starting to worry that we’d not seen so many this year. There were mating pairs too (in one case a trio, with an overly enthusiastic extra male!) doing their thing in the sunshine.

Meadow Browns were also common, although not nearly as abundant as the ringlets.

There were plenty of skippers, most being Large like this one with its hooked antennae.

But there were also a few Small Skippers – distinguished by their orange tipped, clubbed antennae. This one is a male with a diagonal scent brand across the wing (thank you to Mike Williams on Facebook for confirming this).

Once again the White Admirals proved elusive. There were quite a few present, but as usual they refused to settle long enough for a decent photo – here’s my best but still poor effort.

The one we really went looking for today was the Silver-washed Fritillary and in this at least we were fairly successful. Initial sightings were just glimpses as they bombed past us, but eventually we tracked down a few more obliging ones. Chris got the best photos, not just because he is a better photographer, but because he is taller than me and they tended to land quite high!

Surprise “bag” of the day was a Purple Hairstreak. Chris spotted it and got just the one photo before it was off. A great find and addition to this year’s tally.

A variety of moths were out and about too. Some tiny ones like this Nettle Tap,

others slightly larger like this Clouded Border,

and others simply stunning like this Scarlet Tiger and Five Spot Burnet.

Damselflies, demoiselles and dragonflies were all fairly common around the pond. I think we saw both Beautiful and Banded demoiselles, azure and large red damselflies and these two splendid dragonflies. The top one is a female darter (either common or ruddy) and the blue one at the bottom is a male Emperor dragonfly.

There were of course bees and hoverflies everywhere, but there just wasn’t time to do those as well today – so many insects so little time! But there were a few other things that took our fancy. This Long-horned beetle was stunning, although we hadn’t noticed all the tiny beetles around it when we took the photo.

And finally I got a photo of a Scorpion Fly – I’ve been trying to get one of these for weeks now. Only trouble is, every single one we saw was a female, so none had the distinctive scorpion tail which only the males have. So the hunt goes on!

So all in all another fabulous day out and probably one of our most insect laden ones to date. Day 27 of 30 days wild and we’re still finding things that surprise and delight!

 

30 Days Wild – Day 11 – Demoiselles and Damsels

It’s Day 11 of 30 Days Wild and I was out and about in search of some of my favourite insects.  This wild June weather is starting to get a bit annoying though – the wind doesn’t seem to have stopped blowing here for days – not ideal especially when you’re trying to take photos of something as flighty and ephemeral as a dragonfly!

Windy weather aside, it was a lovely day and I headed out to one of my all time favourite places – The Knapp & Papermill Nature Reserve on the other side of the Malvern Hills. I know I visited this reserve last year for 30 Days Wild, but I just couldn’t resist going again.

I hoped to see one of my favourite insects, the Beautiful Demoiselle and also if I was really lucky maybe a kingfisher. Well I got one out of two!

The reserve has a stream (Leigh Brook) running through it and does get kingfishers, just not while I was there today. The wildlife trust has built a screen overlooking a suitable patch of the stream, so that if you’re lucky you can watch the kingfishers unseen.

Beyond the screen is the water surrounded by trees and a vertical bank the other side – ideal kingfisher habitat. But just because you’ve got everything a kingfisher might want, doesn’t mean they’re going to turn up on cue. It’s still a really nice spot to wait and relax, watching the brook flow by.

Fortunately I had more luck on the insect front. I spotted demoiselles and damselflies almost as soon as I set foot in the reserve. Even without the insects it would have been lovely though. As you enter there is a pool surrounded by gorgeous flag irises.

Further into the reserve there are little pathways going off the main track, taking you on your own magical mystery tours.

Up the second of these I tried, I found these orchids – they may only be the Common Spotted ones, but they are beautiful nonetheless.  I was happy to have found 2 or 3 orchids, but when I rejoined the main track, I came across a meadow absolutely full of them – even better!

As well as the meadows and the stream, the reserve has large areas of woodland and old orchards – all of which were full of birds – none of which would pose for the camera! A whole flock of long-tailed tits swooped into a tree right in front of me, there must have been at least a dozen and yet I still couldn’t get a better picture than this.

After 20 more minutes of fruitless birdwatching, I swapped back to the macro lens and concentrated on the insects. The Beautiful Demoiselles were flitting around like tropical birds – it still amazes me that you can get such beautiful insects as these in Britain. There seemed to be more males, although that may just be because they are flashier and easier to spot. The males have stunning blue wings with an emerald green body.

The females have more of a bronze colour to the wings, with a white spot near the end. I think last year we got better photos of both, but then it wasn’t so windy!

There were loads of them and I could have watched them all day. I did try and take some short video clips, but I don’t think they really capture them properly. The first clip just shows a male flexing his wings, but then a bright blue damselfly photo bombs in the top left corner!

Demoiselle & damsel

 

I’ve tried to be clever with the second clip as I accidentally discovered a slo-mo feature when I was reviewing the clips. So this one shows the same male taking off for a short flight and the flight bit is in theory slowed down so you can see his aerial acrobatics better. Think I may need to practice this technique a bit more though!

Demoiselle

 

Besided the demoiselles, I saw two species of damselfly. The bright blue ones were most numerous and turned out to be Azure Damselflies.

As I was heading back to the car, I spotted some Large Red Damselflies including this mating pair. The male is the one on the left and he has grasped the female on the right by her neck. They flew around the pond attached to each other like this for a few minutes while I watched. At some point the female will curl her body up and round to meet the male’s and then they will mate, but they didn’t get that far while I was spying on them!

I absolutely love this reserve, it is worth going to see the demoiselles alone, but there is so much more besides. It is tucked away in a small valley off an already off the beaten track road and always feels like such an oasis of calm.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 9 – Factory Fields

Day 9 of 30 Days Wild and it’s Friday night! As I was working again today, I needed something to do after work. As I’d already looked at some of the wildlife around my work (Clee Hill), I decided to meet up with Chris and we’d have a look around his workplace in Malvern instead. He works at a factory on a business park, which may not sound too promising, but actually has an amazing variety of wildlife. Chris often takes the camera to work and comes back with all sorts of exciting finds (gold crests, nesting woodpeckers, White Letter Hairstreak butterflies to name just a few).

Of course it was about 6pm by the time I got there – not ideal, but still plenty of wildlife around. The factory is set in large grounds, bordered by a small wood. There are several large mounds of excavated earth that have been left to go wild and look like great habitats.

The first thing we noticed in abundance was Harlequin ladybirds, both adults and larvae.  There were several colour morphs of the adults, including the two below. I know Harlequins are the bad boys of the ladybird world, but it’s hard not to like their cheery little bodies.

There were also lots of clumps of frothy cuckoo spit – the home of froghoppers. I don’t know which species as I didn’t want to destroy their home just to find out. The frothy mass acts not only as insulation/water retention, but hides them from predators as well.

Despite it being relatively late in the day, there were loads of bees about. The factory has lots of wild areas still, with brambles, wild roses, red dead nettles and assorted other wildflowers.  All were buzzing with bees.

The bees and ladybirds weren’t the only insects we found. Once you get your eye in, they are of course everywhere. Many of the wild roses had small beetles in the centre, as did the thistles (albeit different types of beetle).

There was a patch of large daisy like flowers, many of which had beautiful green bugs resting in them.

And at the less glamorous end of the insect spectrum you can always find aphids! They actually look much better and far more interesting viewed close up like this.

Lots of birds were audible in the woods nearby, but the only ones we saw well enough to get even half decent pics, were a wagtail and a thrush. The thrush didn’t turn round, so I’m not sure if it was a Mistle or a Song Thrush.

We did get a tantalising glimpse of some kind of bird of prey, just as we were leaving. We may not have got a photo, but it’s good to know that the fields around the factory support enough wildlife that they attract not just us, but a bird of prey too!

30 Days Wild – Day 4 – Garden Bioblitz Part 2

It’s day 4 of 30 Days Wild and I spent the morning taking more photos of the wildlife for our Garden Bioblitz. I’d started the bioblitz at about 09:30 yesterday, so I was trying to cram in as many more species as I could before 09:30 this morning. This wasn’t helped by the fact that my camera has packed in (I hope temporarily) so I was having to use Chris’s camera and swap lenses back and forth.

The day started at 04:30 to beat the birds to the contents of the moth trap. I had hoped for a good haul to boost my species tally, but the trap was fairly quiet – possibly because it had been quite windy last night. Still there were some nice moths including a few of these beautiful and distinctive Angle Shades – virtually impossible to mistake these for anything else, which I like in a moth!

Star of the moth show was the Elephant Hawkmoth making a timely debut for the year in our garden. I’ll never tire of these stunning moths with their bright pink bodies. If you were to make a toy moth, I reckon this would be it.

I put a specimen of each moth in the fridge (it does no harm but keeps them calm until  you can photograph them) and went back to bed for a couple of hours. 8 o’clock though and I was back up photographing said moths, then scouring the garden for more wildlife. I hadn’t managed to photograph any birds yesterday, so I topped up the feeders and waited expectantly to see what would show up. As usual the sparrows were the first to show, landing on last year’s teasels to check things out before heading to the bird table.

The starlings and jackdaws came next, followed by the blackbirds and pigeons.

There were several no shows for birds that normally frequent the garden – no sign of the robin, wren, collared doves, great tits or gold finches. A blue tit just appeared in the last minutes to scrape into the bioblitz total. For the last few days I’d been seeing a big black bird, bigger then the jackdaws, so was disappointed initially when it didn’t show for the camera. But then I downloaded the trail camera which had been running for the last couple of days and there he was – a carrion crow.

The trail cam also picked up a couple of hedgehogs – one of which looks like our old foster hedgehog Meadow – i.e. it was a big chunky looking hog!

There were of course bees in the garden, although being a busy bee myself chasing everything else around I didn’t actually manage to get that many photos of them. But here are two favourites – a Buff-tailed Bumblebee and a Common Carder Bee.

There was also this bumblebee mimicking hoverfly (Merodon equestris).

Our snails were also being sneeky and hiding away over the last 24 hours – several species that I know we get refused to show. Fortunately both the White Lipped (top) and Brown Lipped (below) appeared out of the Pendulous Sedge to get their photos taken.

I also found three species of slug including this large yellow one and the stripy ones which I think are Iberian slugs.

I spotted this tiny nymph of the Speckled Bush Cricket, when I saw its antennae poking over the edge of a buttercup. Unfortunately the buttercup was blowing about in the wind a bit – hence the less than perfect focussing!

While turning over stones, I disturbed loads of woodlice. The top one is a Common Striped Woodlouse and the ones below that are Common Rough Woodlice. The bottom pinky one may just be a variant of the latter, but I hoping it might be a 3rd species – just waiting for someone on i-Spot to confirm one way or another.

 

Beetles are the largest insect group in the world, so it would have been a bit weird if I hadn’t found any in the garden. My favourite Swollen-thighed beetle of course appeared, but so did this lovely shiny Black Clock Beetle.

This tiny carpet beetle was making the most of the flowers.

One group I’ve never really studied is the centipedes/millipedes. This beauty turned up under an old piece of wood. I’ve yet to work out the species though (suggestions gratefully received).

So that’s a selection of our bioblitz species for 2017. As always I ran out of time, so didn’t manage to root about in the pond, or look for ants, flies, grass moths and a host of other things. It was also a bit disappointing that no butterflies or shieldbugs or ladybirds appeared in the last 24 hours, but then that’s the way it goes. The bioblitz is just a snapshot of what you can find in the garden over a day. I love that it gets me looking for groups that I don’t normally study (easy to get in a bit of a rut with the bees and moths and butterflies and forget the others sometimes) – always good to broaden my wildlife horizons.

I’m still identifying photos and gradually uploading them to the i-Record website, so I won’t know the final tally for a while yet. So far I’ve only managed to load 32 species, which apparently puts me 10th on the bioblitz league table. Sounds good until I realised the person in the top spot at the moment has 167 species – I’ve got a way to go yet!

 

The Darling Bugs Of May

Apologies for the title, couldn’t resist a bad pun! After the quiet winter and early spring months, all the insects are suddenly emerging in May. It feels like our garden is gearing itself up again ready for the 30 Days Wild in June. Everywhere I look there is something buzzing (everywhere except the bee hotel I’ve put up which is of course silent!)

May wouldn’t be May with out the arrival of the May Bugs in the moth trap. These huge beetles can apparently be a pest for farmers, but I love seeing them. They are fascinating animals and I can still remember my amazement the first time I found one in the moth trap a few years ago. (Chris wasn’t so excited when I woke him up to show him my find!)

One of the areas particularly buzzing at the moment is a patch of poached egg flowers that I’d sown last year. I’d forgotten about them, but they all popped back again this year and look fantastic. I’d grown them originally as I’d read they were good for hoverflies – not sure about that but the bees love them!

Most of the bees are plain old honey bees (very welcome all the same of course).

There were also a few of these very small furrow bees Lasioglossum sp. It’s virtually impossible to get this one to species level without killing and examining it, which I’m not prepared to do, so it will have to remain a sp.

This next bee is one of the yellow faced bees – Hylaeus sp. Unfortunately since I didn’t manage to get a shot of its face, I also can’t identify this one to species. But since I’ve not recorded any other Hylaeus, I’ve counted this as bee species number 30 for the garden!

This next one did get identified to species (not by me but by a kind soul on facebook) as Osmia caerulescens – the Blue Mason Bee. This was also a new species for the garden, making 31 in total now over the last 2 years!

The bees weren’t the only ones enjoying a poached egg. This beetle (some kind of click beetle I think) spent a long time perusing the flowers.

This Hairy Shieldbug didn’t move much, just seemed to be using the flowers as a vantage point to survey the garden!

And of course my favourite – the Swollen Thighed Beetle had to get in on the act, displaying his fat thighs nicely.

The poached egg plants weren’t favoured by all the bees; some preferred other flowers like this Early Bumblebee on the alliums

and this Common Carder bee on a campion.

Somewhat inevitably the new bee hotel that I put up in the spring has been virtually ignored by all the bees. But at least it provided a resting place for this shieldbug.

The hoverflies were supposed to be interested in the poached egg flowers, but like most things in the garden, they never do what I expect! This little marmalade hoverfly preferred this small yellow flower to the slightly brash poached eggs.

This large fat bumblebee-mimicking hoverfly (Merodon equestris) preferred just to perch on the leg of the bird table. Even when I had to move the bird table to a different part of the garden, the hoverfly followed it over – no idea why?

After a very quiet spring moth-wise, May has finally brought an increase in their numbers to the moth trap. The moths of winter and early spring are generally fairly subdued looking, so it’s always nice when some of the more interesting species start emerging. I love this Pale Tussock with its lovely furry legs.

The Buff Tip is a regular visitor to our garden – it has the amazing ability to look just like a broken twig.

The hawkmoths are the biggest of our native species. Over the years we’ve had Elephants, Small Elephants, Eyed and Poplar Hawk-moths but never a Lime one. So I was thrilled when not one but two turned up last night!

With more moths emerging, more of their foes have emerged too. This beautiful but deadly (if you’re a moth of the wrong species) wasp Ichneumon stramentor parasitizes moth caterpillars.

As well as all of the above, there have been plenty of beetles, flies, caddis flies, daddy longlegs and other insects buzzing around this May, I just haven’t managed to take any photos of those. Something for another blog post maybe. But finally one of my favourite images from the month, a ladybird, even if it is a Harlequin rather than one of our native ones.

Miniature Marvels

Over the last few years, I’ve become fascinated (some may say slightly obsessed!) with the diversity of moths we get in our very ordinary garden. For the first few years of moth trapping I concentrated on the macro moths, which as their name suggests, tend to be the larger species. As a beginner, the macro moths were a) easier to identify as they were bigger and b) easier to photograph – also because they were bigger. But this year I started to realise that I was missing out on an awful lot of moths. There are about 800 species of macro moths and probably three times as many micro moths in the UK alone.

So I’ve started trying to identify the micro moths too. At first this felt like an impossible task as many of them are really just so damn small! But once I got into them, I started to appreciate their microscopic beauty. I still find most of them to be incredibly difficult to identify though and have relied heavily on iSpot and experts on Twitter and Facebook to help me. This year to date I’ve recorded 208 species of moth in the garden of which 58 have been micros. The real number of micros present in the garden is probably much higher, but my poor ID and photographic skills have limited the results so far.

I thought it was about time I did a blog post in praise of the miniature marvels that are the micro moths. So here’s a selection of my favourites – ones that I find particularly interesting or beautiful or significant in some other way.

So first up a micro that is probably the most abundant one in our garden, thanks to the presence of our apple tree – the Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana). This is actually an Australian species that was accidentally introduced to the UK and can be a pest in orchards. On one night alone in August I got 78 of these in the moth trap!

Next up another orchard pest species – the Codling Moth (Cydia pomonella). Its caterpillars feed on the apples and can ruin crops. It is such a problem that you can buy codling moth traps which use pheromones to lure the moths to their doom. As our apple tree produces way more fruit than we can eat anyway, we’re not too bothered by the presence of this moth. I’ve included it here, not because of its pest status, but because it is actually quite an attractive moth, with its coppery rear end!

codling-moth

While I’m on pest species, this next one is a Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner (Cameraria ohridella). The caterpillars do just what it says on the tin – they mine into the leaves of Horse Chestnut trees. The leaf mines themselves are not fatal to the trees, but they could allow diseases in which would have a greater impact. We don’t have any horse chestnut trees in the garden, nor any close by that I’m aware of; which may be why I only caught one of these this summer. They may not be a welcome addition to the UK fauna, but they are beautiful moths!

horse-chestnut-leaf-miner

Moving away from pests, the next species is one of a strikingly unusual group of moths – the Plume moths. This one is a Beautiful Plume (Amblyptilia acanthodactyla). They have modified wings that, when not in use, are folded away into the crossbars of these T shaped moths. They seem to be quite docile moths – this one was happy to sit on my hand to be photographed.

beautiful-plume

The Twenty-Plume Moth (Alucita hexadactyla) has similar feathery plumes for wings. Despite its name, it actually has 24 plumes – each of the 4 wing consisting of 6 plumes. They are strongly attracted to lights and we often find these indoors or on the outside of our glass door if we leave the light on.

Twenty plume moth

The next micro may not look very interesting, but it is a Scarce Cosmet (Mompha jurassicella). I got awfully excited about this one earlier in the year, when someone identified it for me and it turned out it was the first record for Malvern. It’s only a few millimetres long meaning it is easily overlooked, so I suspect lots of gardens around here have it too – but not all our neighbours go grovelling about in the grass looking for tiny invertebrates!

scarce-cosmet

The next one I’ve included is a day-flying micro – a Mint Moth (Pyrausta aurata). This cheery looking little moth seems to like all our herbs, not just the mint – it is particularly fond of the oregano and in the summer we have lots of them fluttering around the herb bed.

mint-moth

The Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella) is another migrant moth that each summer gets blown over from Europe. This year there were reports in the press of “plagues” of these little moths that were potentially going to “destroy our crops”! As far as I know nothing of the sort happened, but I did get quite a few in the moth trap.

Diamond Back moth

This next moth didn’t look that interesting when I first caught it, it was only when I looked at the photo close up that I could see just how beautifully it was coloured. That’s the problem with such small moths – the naked eye just can’t pick up the detail! It is a Cherry-Bark Moth (Enarmonia formosana).

cherry-bark-moth

The Chequered Fruit-Tree Tortrix (Pandemis corylana) I like for its mosaic crazy paving patterning. It’s also got quite a distinctive shape – broad and flat, unlike most of the other moths here.

chequered-fruit-tree-tortrix

This is one of the Orchard Ermine group (Yponomeuta sp.) There are several almost identical species of these gorgeous little white moths and they can only be reliably identified if you rear them from caterpillars -which of course I’ve not done!

ermine

This little beauty is one of the Caloptilia moths. They are very hard to identify so not sure which of several species it is. But I loved the brassy gold colouration and the way it seems to be standing on tiptoe on its front legs. This was another species whose beauty was only revealed with the camera zoomed right in.

caloptilia

The final micro of this selection is one that is not particularly attractive or distinctive, doesn’t have an interesting life history or pest status, but is stuck with one of the worst common names – the Dingy Dowd (Blastobasis adustella). I think it must be my desire to support the under-dog that makes me root for the poor Dingy Dowd!

dingy-dowd

 

Autumn Flower Power

The colours in the garden are gradually changing from the bright floral ones to the more subtle leafy ones. While we can appreciate the change in the dynamics in the garden, it can be a really tough time for the insects that are still around. The leaves may look fabulous, but they don’t provide the nectar and pollen that the bees and other insects need to keep them going. Fortunately as the other flowers fade away, one comes into its own – the strange sputnik-like blooms of ivy.

ivy-flower

I am a relative newcomer to the ivy fan club, having not really appreciated their contribution until this year. We’ve had ivy growing along the fence for a long time, but I’d never noticed any flowers. Turns out this wasn’t just my short-sightedness, but the fact that ivy doesn’t flower until it is mature. Young ivy leaves are markedly lobed like the ones below.

young-ivy

On mature stems the leaves lose their lobes and have a more undefined wavy edged shape, like the ones below. The flowers only occur where there are mature stems. So it may be that it is only this year that our ivy has been old enough to flower, rather than me being spectacularly unobservant!

shieldbug-on-ivy

The leaves themselves are of course hugely beneficial habitats for a host of species. Our ivy has lots of the shieldbugs (as above), which are well camouflaged and can hide amongst the foliage. The ivy in our garden is confined to our fence and the ground immediately below it. The ground cover provides refuge for our resident frogs and the occasional toad. In places where the ivy is more extensive, it can apparently be a really good roosting place for bats (my dream house would be a big old one, covered in ivy and home to flocks of bats!!)

Ivy is of huge benefit to autumn insects – when most other flowers have faded, the ivy provides much needed pollen and nectar. One insect has based its whole life cycle on it – the Ivy Bee (below) even times the emergence of the adult bees to coincide with the ivy flowering.

ivy-bee

The Ivy Bee may feed specifically in ivy, but lots of other bees make good use of it too. In my quest to photograph the Ivy Bees, I’ve seen lots of other bees making the most of the flowers. A large patch of ivy can be absolutely buzzing with honey bees like the one below.

honey-bee-on-ivy-2

This queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee was loaded up with pollen and may have been preparing to start a new colony.

bumblebee

Some autumn butterflies will also make use of the ivy to build up energy reserves so they can hibernate over the winter. For weeks now I’ve been seeing other peoples’ photos of Red Admirals feeding on the ivy, but although we’ve had them fluttering around ours, they always seemed to land on the neighbour’s side of the fence, so I couldn’t get a photo! Finally last weekend I spotted this one in the churchyard in Bodenham and after a bit of chasing it settled down and let me take some pics.

red-admiral

Our garden ivy gets a lot of wasps – probably more of them than the bees. They seem to like resting on the leaves in the sunshine, between bouts of feeding on the flowers.

wasp-on-ivy

wasp-v-vulgaris-on-ivy

Hoverflies are also abundant on our ivy – here are just a couple – top a brightly coloured Eupeodes sp. and bottom an Eristalis sp.

hoverfly-on-ivy-3

hoverfly-on-ivy-2

Many other insects will make use of the ivy too. It is apparently an important source of food for many moths, although I’ve yet to successfully photograph one on ours. At the less glamourous end of the insect spectrum – the flies also enjoy a nice bit of ivy. This was one of the more attractive ones (I’d call it a Green Bottle, but no idea what its proper name is?).

fly-on-ivy

Once the flowering has finished, the ivy produces berries that are a valuable source of food for garden birds. The ivy berries last much better than some other fruit, so can provide food right through the winter, when hawthorn and rowanberries are long gone. Now that I have ivy flowers in the garden, I will hopefully get some berries – with a bit of luck I’ll be able to get some trail cam footage later in the winter of birds eating them!

Some gardeners consider ivy to be a nuisance, but for me the pros far out weigh the cons and now that I’m finally looking at it properly – it really is a beautiful plant!

 

Awesome Autumn

Feeling the need to get out and about at the weekend before the days got too cold, I headed over to Bodenham in Herefordshire. This is the village I grew up in – there’s something very comforting about an autumnal walk around childhood haunts. The area has beautiful woods, lakes, a small river & a pretty village – all the ingredients for the perfect walk. This post is mainly and unashamedly a celebration of autumnal colours.

I started off in Queenswood Country Park. The trees were just starting to come into their full autumn glory. I’m not good on tree identification, but I really just loved the colours – it doesn’t really matter what the species are.

leaves-6

leaves-3

leaves-5

leaves-4

The leaves of course look great when you see them on a larger scale still on the trees. But they also look good if you focus in on just a few on the ground.

leaves-7

The trees weren’t the only plants turning colour – the ferns were looking splendid too, turning coppery gold in the sunshine.

ferns

ferns-3

The woods and hedgerows were bursting with berries and fruit of all colours, which was great to see, although the holly did make me feel like Christmas was on its way!

berries

red-white-berries

black-rowanberry

It may be late in the year, but there were still plenty of insects about. The ferns in the wood had several large hornets buzzing around (no need to panic, they were our normal hornets, not the dreaded Asian hornets). I’ve always rather liked hornets and if you don’t bother them, they don’t bother you!

hornet

There were also still a few bees around, like this Common Carder and a large Buff-tailed Bumblebee queen gathering pollen from the ivy.

carder-bee

bumblebee

The village has a lot of ivy and of course I couldn’t resist checking it for Ivy Bees. After chasing a lot of Honey Bees, I finally spotted a single Ivy Bee – good to know that this new British species has reached Bodenham (the record has been duly logged on iRecord for the Ivy Bee mapping project).

ivy-bee

The woods of course had lots of birds and squirrels rustling about in the canopy, all making a point of staying out of clear shot of the camera. Fortunately Bodenham Lakes have a bird hide, so I whiled away some time watching a large flock of Canada Geese, splashing about in the shallows.

canada-geese

Autumn is a photographers dream – I wish my photos did it justice. It also makes me wish that I could paint to capture the subtle ochres and tawny russets that epitomise this time of year for me.