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.

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.

Beautiful Pea-Green Moths

The end of the annual Garden Moth Scheme is nigh, so I’ve been checking my moth records ready to submit them to the scheme coordinator. I’ve posted previously about the autumn colours of moths – how the various Sallows mimic piles of dead leaves etc. But looking at the moth list from the last few weeks, the colour that stood out was green. When people think of moths, they don’t tend to picture green ones, but there are some stunning ones out there. So this week’s blog is in praise of the beautiful pea-green (and other verdant shades) moths I’ve found in the garden.

I’ll start though with my most rubbish photo – the Green Pug. I’ve caught these several times, but all the Pug moths tend to be really flighty and as soon as you open the collecting pot, they fly off. So despite repeated efforts this shot through the plastic pot is the best I’ve managed for a Green Pug. You can at least see that it is green and, if you’re into moths, you’d see that it is the typical pug shape.

green-pug

There’s a whole group of moths called the Emeralds – a great name for these gorgeous green moths.  We’re lucky to get at least three species in the garden. The palest green one is the Light Emerald (a name that does what it says on the tin!) This is the largest of the emeralds we get here and has reddish tips to the end of its wings (although this one has lost one where something’s taken a bite out of it).

light-emerald

Next up is the Small Emerald, which is the brightest green of the three. For some reason the best photo I could find of this one was of it sitting on my fingers. (not to self, get manicure before posting photos of scruffy finger nails!)

small-emerald

The third one is a Common Emerald which didn’t actually put in an appearance in the garden this year (perhaps it’s not that common?), but we’ve had it previously. Confusingly it is smaller than the Small Emerald!

common-emerald

From a “Common” moth that didn’t appear this year to a “Scarce” moth that did – the Scarce Silver Lines. This is a stunning moth with pales lines across a green background that are presumably intended to resemble veins on a leaf.

scarce-silver-lines

The Red-Green Carpet moth below is quite common in our garden right now. These carpet moths have nothing to do with the ones that eat your carpets indoors. They are definitely outdoor moths and are named because the patterning supposedly reminded the Victorians of their intricate carpets.

red-green-carpet

The base colour of the Green-brindled Crescent is a fairly dull mottled brown. But is has areas of metallic green scales (close up below) that shimmer in the right light to give it a beautiful green sheen. There have been a few of these in the trap recently, the new ones almost glitter green, but later in the season they lose the green scales and become much duller.

green-brindled-crescent

moth-scales

I have saved my favourite to last – the absolutely stunning Merveille du Jour. I love everything about these moths – their marvellous (or should that be mervellous – sorry!!) name, their fabulous colours and even the fact that they tend to be really docile and patient while I try and take photos. This gorgeous moth mimics lichens on tree branches, which means I’ve spent an awful lot of time trying to get the perfect shot of one doing just that. The following are by no means perfect, but they do at least hopefully show what I’m on about.

Merveille du Jour moths

 

merveille-du-jour

merveille

There are lots of other green moths out there, so hopefully I can add to this collection as the years go by. There is even one called the Scarce Merveille du Jour – I can but dream!!

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.

 

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