The Large Heath – Butterfly No. 46!

We headed off again on Saturday in search of our next butterfly species – the Large Heath. Whixall Moss is a peat bog on the English/Welsh border and the only place anywhere near us where we might see this increasingly rare butterfly. The bog has the beautiful Llangollen canal running along one side of it. We had to stop and wait for the bridge over the canal to be hand-winched back down as a narrow boat passed through.

We’d seen reports a mere 4 days before of sightings of upwards of 30 Large Heaths at Whixall Moss, so we’d set off with high hopes of nailing this one easily. These hopes were slightly dampened almost as soon as we left the carpark when we met an exhausted looking lady (carrying her even more exhausted little dog) who’d been searching in the scorching heat for 5 hours and not seen a single one. Undeterred (while slightly deterred to be honest) we carried on, following the walk described in the Butterflies of the West Midlands book.

We’d been walking for about an hour and a half and it was starting to look as if we’d draw a blank, although we had seen lots of other lovely wildlife. But then finally, just as we were about to head back, I spotted a butterfly dancing about the path. Initially I wasn’t sure what it was as it didn’t look like I’d expected. Turns out the Large Heath would struggle to pass the trade description law – it is actually really small! It was a raggedy little specimen and it insisted on hiding behind bits of grass, but at least we’d found one. It proved to be the only one we saw that day, but after a 2 hour drive and an hour and a half walk, we were grateful just to have found one. So here it is – our one and only Large Heath.

It looks a bit like a Meadow Brown but smaller and with spots like a Ringlet.

Whixall Moss is also well known for its population of White-faced dragonflies. Despite taking lots of dragonfly photos, none of them turned out to be white-faced. But we did get a new one for us – the Black Darter. Here is a male (top) and female (bottom).

There were blue and red damselflies everywhere and love seemed to be in the air for many of them, including this mating pair of Azure ones.

Aside from the whirring of insect wings in the air, there was the chirping of grasshoppers in the undergrowth. This one hopped obligingly onto the path in front of me.

The final insect of the day was a day flying moth and a new one for me – the Common Heath. As the Large Heath wasn’t particularly large, so the Common Heath didn’t seem to be particularly common, but I did manage to chase one down to get a photo.

As we’d walked along the path, something had scared up a pair of ground nesting birds. They took to the air for a few minutes until the danger had passed. We didn’t know what they were at first, but working on our usual principle of snapping anything that moves, we took some photos. Turned out they were lapwings.

A bit further on and we found more of them – this time looking a bit more relaxed, nesting by a pooled area. Lapwings have suffered major declines in the UK in recent years, so it’s always nice to go somewhere that has them.

So it was a long hot day at Whixall Moss, but the success of seeing the Large Heath and the bonus of the lapwings, made it all worthwhile. Butterfly species no. 46 ticked off the list – only another dozen or so to go!

Ivy Stakeout

As stakeouts go, this may not have been the most action packed and I doubt they’ll make a movie of this one; but the end result for me was all the excitement I needed! We’d been seeing loads of posts on social media about Ivy Bees (Colletes hederae). This species of bee was only discovered in Britain in 2001, when they were spotted in Dorset. Since then they’ve been spreading north and have reached as far as Staffordshire.  They forage pretty much exclusively on ivy flowers, so the adults emerge in time to match the ivy flowering in September.

As usual bee envy set in and we (well mainly I) wanted to see them too. There is a very large stand of ivy down the road from us, so when Chris went for a walk with his camera last weekend, he was under instruction to look out for ivy bees. And much to my delight, he found them! Of course now I knew they were in Malvern, I wanted to spot one in our garden too.  So this is how I came to be staking out the ivy in our garden today. It’s not a huge patch of ivy like the one down the road, but it is flowering, so I sat down to wait.

Since I wasn’t immediately inundated with the desired bees, I spent time observing the other insects. There was a surprising amount around considering it is now technically autumn. This grasshopper may have been missing one back leg, but it was making the most of the sunshine, sitting on top of one of the solar panels for the pond pumps.

grasshopper-on-solar-panel

There were also a few Green Shieldbug nymphs, of varying stages, meandering about the leaves at my feet, with at least one adult visible but out of photographic range.

shieldbug-nymph

shieldbug-nymph-2

I got a bit excited when I spotted something on the ivy flowers, but it turned out to be just a Common Wasp.

wasp-v-vulgaris-on-ivy

One of my favourite hoverflies clearly wanted in on the photo shoot too – this is Helophilus pendulus, which is sometimes known as The Footballer because his stripy thorax is supposed to look a bit like a football shirt!

hoverfly

There were quite a few bees about – such as this rather tatty looking Common Carder (top) and slightly fresher looking Honey Bee (bottom)

carder-bee

honey-bee

I was about to give up for the day, when a single bee landed next to the ivy.  It didn’t hang about long, so I didn’t get the chance for many photos, but at least I got enough to confirm it was an Ivy Bee – my stakeout had paid off!

ivy-bee-7

Although I was very pleased to have got a pic of our Ivy Bee, the photos Chris took last weekend were loads better, not least because they show the bees actually on the ivy! So here are a couple of my favourites.

ivy-bee-media-2

ivy-bee-media

The Bees, Wasp & Ant Recording Society (BWARS) have got a mapping project going to record the spread of the Ivy Bees, so our sightings both in the garden and down the road have been duly logged. If anyone else spots these distinctive bees, do please record them as well, so that they can build up a better picture of the current distribution. http://www.bwars.com/content/colletes-hederae-mapping-project