Thursday, 31 October 2013

First for Suffolk

Well, what a storm that was. I hope everyone is still here and didn't get blown away with things. I prepared for the onslaught of the storm by propping my garden fence so that it wouldn't get blown over by the winds. It worked, I'm glad to say, however the front garden fence, which was a low fence and didn't need propping (I felt) got blown down instead. Typical. But on the whole, if all I lost was a couple of fence panels, then I was indeed lucky. If you also have lost some fence panels during the storm, can I please urge you and your neighbours to please think about replacing the broken panel with a hedgehog friendly panel. You only need to leave a small gap no less than 4" high at the bottom of the replacement panel. This will allow greater freedom of movement for our prickly friends who will do wonders in your garden getting rid of all those pests who like to munch on your prize Dahlia's. Remember, these little fellows have had a hard time since the 70's with their populations falling from 35 million to just 1 million. Isn't it better to show further generations WHAT a hedgehog is instead of EXPLAINING what a hedgehog looked like?

Still amazed to see that many trees still have their leaves even after all that wind which reached ~80mph in Suffolk. However, some trees were toppled or suffered damage that may see them being chopped down for safety's sake.

More Harlequin ladybirds (Harmonia axydris) have been landing on my front windows this week looking for a place to hibernate the winter. The Ma-in-law contacted me to say her friend in the Luton area had 100's on the ceiling in her bedroom and wanted to know what to do with them. In these instances, the best thing to do is just scoop them up with a dustpan and release them back outside and then block the route they used to get in your house. This will also help with your fuel bills as you'll also put a stop to the heat that's escaping your house, which is most probably the way they found the hole in the first place!

Still insects are on the move and even as I write this blog (Wednesday) a Peacock butterfly (Inachis io) is banging against my living room window. It's quite sunny out there at the moment and you would never have thought that just 2 days ago, the UK had had a significant storm. You may remember my last blog last week where I mentioned I kept finding crickets on my front door. Well guess what? Yes, another one has turned up today, but this one is a Rosel's Bush-cricket (Metrioptera roeseli).
Rosel's Bush-cricket happily placed in back garden. 
So, I'm now wondering just how far the word has spread in the bush cricket world about my little haven where they can spend winter. We will soon see.

STOP THE PRESS! 

EXCITING NEWS JUST IN!!!!!

At the weekend, I brought some wood in from the wood store at the back of the garden for the fire. I had only just lit the fire and placed a log on to it, then a small bug jumped off of the log and onto the hearth. I knew straight away that this little (about 7mm long) thing looked like a shield bug, but was a bit different. Unfortunately, I never had a vial to hand and he was quick off the blocks so hard to capture by hand alone. He eventually scurried into a crack around the fireplace. However, next day, I spotted him again near the mantle piece and as soon as I moved towards it, it spotted me and dove into a crack in the tile surround, drat! The day after that, we had a pesky cluster fly in the house. They fly slowly, keep flying in front of you and are just a general nuisance. My wife grabbed a towel to try and whip it and after several attempts, I thought I saw it land on the window. I pointed it out to the wife and she said, that don't look like a fly. Straight away I knew what it was, I pulled the vial I had been keeping for this moment from my pocket and potted the little fellow. 

I noted straight away that it was a Hemiptera, which is ancient Greek for 'half-wing' as many have forewings that are hardened at the base and soft at the tips. Hemiptera are known as 'True bugs' and include the genre Shield bugs, which I thought it was at first. However, I noticed this one didn't have the pronounced 'shoulders' that is usually found with shield bugs and looking at my shield bug guide, I couldn't find the species I had in my hand.

So, with the help of some tissue to keep the insect still enough to get a photo (a trick taught to me by the very knowledgeable Martin Harvey) I got a couple of quick pics with my iPhone and then set it free. After all, that's what it had been trying to do the last few days.
The, as yet (read on), unidentified bug. 
We then had my niece and nephew round for a couple of days and things were busy and didn't think much more about it. That was until the kids went back home (relief) and I got time to post the pictures to iSpot and the Amateur Entomologist's Society Facebook page. Martin Harvey (again) who is heavily involved with both sites immediately came forth with a comment saying that this looked quite interesting and it could be a species known as Rhyparochromus vulgaris, a recent visitor to the UK and only recorded in London. Martin pointed me in the direction of the British Bugs website and the link to the species he thought it was. I no longer had the specimen, but I did have the photos and looking at the link, I knew straight away that that was the species. Yet, I still sent the photos to Dr Tristan Bantock who is the organiser of the Shieldbug and allies recording scheme and he responded immediately to say that he was happy to confirm from the photos that the insect was indeed Rhyparochromus vulgaris and was a first for Suffolk!

Without further a due, I informed my local Biological Records Centre of the sighting who were very happy to accept the record. 

I would also like to say a big thank you to Martin Harvey at this point for his help in identifying this insect and pointing me in the right direction, very much appreciated. 

So it just goes to show that the wildlife is there just waiting for us to record it. Who knows what else is out there? After all, it was just pure chance I stumbled across this little insect, but I'm glad I did.

Don't forget!

This Saturday, weather permitting, volunteer work party at Purdis Heath 10am-3pm or come and go as you please. Bring work gloves, packed lunch, sturdy footwear and suitable outdoor clothing and a smile. Meet like-minded people and do something positive for the environment. We meet in the lay-by in Bucklesham Rd opposite the Trinity Showground at 10am. You can read more about the whys and wherefores on my previous blog here. I look forward to seeing you there.

Please, if you're not sure about the weather, please contact the volunteer organiser Julian on 07910 170609

A short one this week as I've got lots to do. But keep your eye out for those elusive spots!

Take care

Friday, 25 October 2013

An invasion of friendly forces are heading this way.

Hello everyone, good to blog to you again. Well, dare I say it, I think that autumn may finally be here. How did I come to this random conclusion? I've noticed the leaves on trees changing colour of late, not always a sign of autumn, but a good pointer. The leaves on my 'mile a minute' creeper in the garden also went a deep lovely red, followed by a mass exodus to the ground (someones gotta clear it up and I don't think the cat will be doing it). But my last piece of compelling evidence must be the arrival of the beautiful coloured Fieldfare (Turdis pilaris) and the even more beautiful Waxwing (Bombycilla garulus). These birds usually make the UK a winter retreat when food supplies in Northern Europe begin to dwindle and the first sightings of Waxwings are starting to come in from the Shetland & Orkney isles. It won't be long before they start making their way down the east coast and more inland in the search of berries, especially Rowan berries, and fallen fruits.

Now, if you don't have any fruit or berry trees in your garden, there might another way of attracting these lovely birds closer to home. I'm trying out my new Waxwing/Fieldfare feeder that I knocked up over the weekend for the measly sum of £2.

Waxwing/Fieldfare feeder

A piece of dowelling from your hardware store
Firstly, go to your local hardware store and buy a piece dowelling like the one above. Not too thick otherwise you won't get your apples on it.
Then, using a drill, or find someone who knows how to use a drill, drill 4 alternating holes through it so it looks like the picture above. Again, don't make the holes to big otherwise your dowelling might snap.

Drilling a hole in the dowelling. Be careful with electric tools please.
Next, you want 2 nice apples, buy English if you can. Cut each one in half cross-ways, and core like below.
Sliced cross-ways and de-cored.
Find a nail, stick, or something that you can place in the bottom hole and thread your first half a apple on to your dowelling, skin side down. Make sure the apple sits firmly on you nail/stick and then repeat the process as you move up the stick until all drilled holes now support half a apple.
Then place the bottom end firmly into the ground. You might need to tie a couple of canes to it to give it some support.
Waxwings, your food awaits you!
There you have it, a Waxwing feeder for a couple of quid. Now all we need to find out is if it works, so watch this space. Alternatively, if you fancy trying the same thing out, let me know how you got on.

Another little project

I don't know about you, but we have a tumble dryer, and tumble dryers have lint filters, a fine mesh that catches the lint blown off your laundry in the drying process. Now I've always thought, as I clean the filter out from time to time, that surely this lint can be put to good use instead of going in the bin? But clothing is so cheap nowadays, no-ones going to start recycling it into clothes again, are they. So what other uses could it be used for instead of landfill? 
looking at its lovely softness and the way it mats together, I reckon this would make great nesting material for birds. So, instead of throwing all my lint in the bin, I've decided to start collecting it ready for next spring, then using a cheap wire whisk, I can hang it up in the garden for the birds to take what they need for nest building. 
Free bedding for birdies.

That's the plan anyway, will let you know if it works next year.

Previously, on the blog

My last blog was a small plea for a moment of your time, just to send an email to Suffolk County Council in support of a green lane in Mellis, Suffolk that is under threat from 4x4's and off-roading motorbikes. I would like to thank all of those who sent emails, including Steve Hallam (thanks Steve). I got an email back from the person concerned with the situation to say that my concerns were being taken seriously and would be passed on to all those involved in the decision making process. So please, if you haven't sent an email yet, please do so now. Each one is read and considered and you can read about the situation here. Emails need to be submitted by Nov 2nd, so no time like the present to get yours sent off.

Wildlife knocking on my door

Yes, the other day, whilst doing my general cleaning duties. I came across a Speckled Bush-cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima) sitting on my front door. I thought nothing of it except to put it in a pot and get some photos of it, which it greatly obliged me.
Speckled Bush-cricket cleaning his tarsi (feet).

Here, the palps can be clearly seen. These are the four finger like appendages around the mouth
and are just that. They hold food in place whilst they nibble away./

The large curved projection at the rear is the 'ovipositor' and is used to
pierce plant stems or the ground so eggs can be laid. It is not used as a stinger.
After these photos were taken, I placed it in my garden amongst the foliage so it remained camouflaged and hidden. Then once again yesterday, I spotted three ladybirds land on my front windows all at the same time. I went outside to ID them (Harlequins unfortunately) and as I came back in, what should be on my front door, yes, another Speckled Bush-cricket, but this time a male. I done no more and placed it straight out back in the same place I released the female. Lets hope they meet up and I get a nice population of bush crickets next year.

Stag hunting

Don't panic, I haven't bought myself a gun (perish the thought) and decided to go out killing things for fun. Believe me people do, just google 'Rebecca Francis' (Graphic image warning if you do) and you'll see the someone posing by lying down next to a giraffe she shot just for fun. I kid you not.

Anyway, away from such negativity and onto my pursuits of positivity. It's autumn and around this time of year, deer begin the rut. A time when the testosterone levels in the males gets quite high and the need to mate reaches fever pitch. However, in deer, the females (doe's) are all protected by a single alpha male, who has earned that right by fighting off the previous alpha male and it is now the time that the alpha male has to fight off other contenders who want to mate with his females. The rut has begun. These battles can be quite spectacular with males charging towards each other to lock antlers with a sickening crash. The battles can be over in seconds, or can last several minutes with the defeated making a hasty retreat to fight another day, or, in worse case scenarios, retreating to find a nice place to lay down and die, so horrific the wounds can be from battle.

My intended place for going to see these dramatic battles was going to be Minsmere on the north east Suffolk coast, but on my way, I remember seeing the red deer (Cervus elaphus) next door at Dunwich during last years bat surveys that I helped with. So, I thought I'd pop into Dunwich first to see what was about and I'm glad I did. As I drove down the approach road, I spotted several doe's in the fields nearby and after finding somewhere safe to park, got out to have a look. As soon as I got out of the car I could hear the eerie sounds that I knew to be the stags barking. It's kind of like a drawn out bellow to warn off other contenders and attract doe's. A bit like drunks who come out of nightclubs/pubs with their shirts off, making guttural sounds. Trouble is, most humans who do that, really do not have the physique to match the action. So with the promising sounds emanating from the heather and gorse around me, the odds looked promising and with camera in hand I set off in the direction of the barks. 

Doe's grazing in the fields whilst out of sight, stags bark.

Now it is important to remember that deer of any species (particularly the larger ones) are wild animals regardless how used to human presence they are. Even in the London parks such as Richmond Park, you can get quite close to the deer. However, when the stags are in rut, they need to be given wide berths and you need to be aware of where you are in relation to them. Make sure you are never between a stag and doe's as you may be considered as a rival and before you know it, you could have a very beefed up testosterone fuelled male charging at you. Also make sure you never get between to stags either. If they decide they are going to rut, you being in the way will not put them off, you will not be an obstacle and you will either get trampled or tossed to the side with a swish of some very sharp antlers. Although I've often heard it said that several people have been killed by getting in the way of deer ruts, I cannot find any actual evidence of this happening. However, I didn't want to be the first statistic on the list, so was very careful and aware of my surroundings at all times. After much trekking in the direction of the barks, I eventually came across one male busy chasing a female across a field. As soon as my shutter clicked, he stopped and looked right at me. He was a good distance off, yet he held me in his stare and weighed up the decision of was I a threat or not.
Not the best shot but I didn't want to get any closer.
I must say, even though he was some way off, I still felt very nervous when he just stared at me not knowing what decision he was going to take. It was only for 30 seconds, but it felt a lot longer. Eventually, he realised I was not a bother and carried on chasing his doe's off into the wood.

Barks were still coming from various directions and I trailed off to follow another stag's calls coming from one of those directions. It wasn't long before I came across another group of Red Deer grazing with an out of sight stag barking away close by. I stood behind a gorse bush and waited for a bit, mainly because to go forward would have been foolish as the path went in between a group of doe's on the left and the out of sight (but close) barking stag on the right. So I waited to see what would happen. The females could see me but were not afraid of my presence so made no alarm calls. After a little while, a doe came down a path on the right closely followed by a stag and from my position behind the gorse bush, I got my shot.
Again, nothing much to right home about as I was not close enough.
Again, the shutter clicked and they both looked directly at me. Again, I wasn't as close as I would like to be. They were the last ones I got photo's of and as I couldn't go forward I had no choice but to return to my car. Looking at the map on my phone, I could see I'd walked over 3 miles and was no longer on Dunwich Heath, but was on Westleton Heath next door. As I made my way back to the car, I heard a chirpy sweet tune from the hedgerow beside me  and caught this little fella singing his heart out.
A nice end to a nice morning.

I didn't get the shots I came I enjoyed it all the same.

Till next time dear friends, take care

Sunday, 20 October 2013

A few moments of your time please.

Hello dear followers and a warm welcome to my new followers who joined me this week, very glad to have you aboard and pleased that you like my blog enough to follow me, thank you.

Last time, I left you in the knowledge that I had been cursed (supposedly) by a Devil's Coach Horse (Ocypus olens) and that I had lopped the top of my finger off, a bit dramatic really, just a deep slice if truth be known. However, earlier in the year I did have a very close call with the same finger when trying to hold a small piece of wood under a circular saw. The wood was so small, that my hand was under the saw, so I couldn't really see what I was doing, and yes, you know what happened next. Thankfully, I was able to keep everything in place with some well placed plasters and lots of tight bandaging. Enough so, that it re-attached itself, although it's never felt the same since. My wife commented after my recent parcel opening mishap, that if I had completely lost the tip of my finger in the first accident, the knife would've most probably missed me in the second accident! There's sympathy for you.

Anyhoo, enough about my trials and tribulations, on with the blog which is very short this time as it is more of a very important appeal that needs your help.

A moment of your time please.

Earlier this week, author Melissa Harrison (@M_Z_Harrison) tweeted me asking if I had time to send a quick email to help save a green lane in Suffolk? I looked at the link Melissa sent along with the tweet, you can see it here

As you can see, it explains how beautiful this lane is with stickleback streams and ancient medieval sites near by and how it is much enjoyed by everyone from dog walkers and ramblers to horse riders as well, oh and drivers of 4x4's! Yes, off roaders who love to churn up the countryside in pursuit of..., well, just churning up the countryside. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not painting all 4x4 owners with the same brush as I too have a 4x4. However, I have never felt the need to go ripping up the local rural areas to see what my vehicle is capable of, if I want to travel along a river, I'll use my kayak, if I find myself looking at a muddy hill to get over, I might start thinking, I'm lost and I'm obviously not meant to be here otherwise they would've put a road here. But no, some not so conscientious 4x4 drivers have decided to use this lovely piece of countryside as their own to do with as they please, not good. However, the County Council have placed an Experimental Traffic Restriction Order on the lane preventing the 4x4 and off-road motorbikes from using it. The council have also spent money on the lane repairing the damage that has been done through their use. But the time has come where the officials have to contemplate on whether the Experimental TRO should remain in place or not and this is where you come in. Please go to the link and PLEASE send an email to the address at the bottom to give your thoughts as to why this TRO should not be lifted. 

Why should you do this?

Because even as you read this, 4x4 and other off-road groups are doing the same thing but in favour of having the TRO removed so they can carry on their pursuits. 

If the TRO is lifted, the money (our taxes) spent on repairing the damage would be wasted.

The safety aspect. Wherever machinery is involved, there is a heightened risk of accidents happening. Would you be happy to put you or your loved ones into that type of environment?

But here's the main reason why I feel the TRO should be kept in place. Please look at the Google map image below:

Dam Lane marked in Red, River in Blue.
OK, you've had a good look at the map above, now look at what surrounds Dam Lane in every direction. Fields, nothing but agricultural fields, wildlife barren deserts with no wild flowers, hedgerows, meadows or anything of value to wildlife. Nothing but the green corridor that is Dam Lane and it is these green corridors that are so important to wildlife. These are the last remnants of flourishing ecosystems that exist. These are the places that bees and hoverflies go to to seek wild flowers for nectar and pollen, where butterflies and moths lay their eggs for caterpillars to hatch and grow fat. This is the place where the Blue tit's hunt those caterpillars to feed their young. This is the last place left where the bats hunt at night after all the hedgerows were ripped up after the war to make way for bigger fields and machinery. 

If we let 4x4's continue to rip up this lane, then we continue the demise of our wild places. We add to the extinction of the wildlife around us. We will have nothing left to show younger generations when it comes to educating them about the outdoors. If you don't believe me then please read the State of Nature report and see the figures for yourself, it makes grim reading.

An email will take no more than 5 minutes of your time and will probably have much, much longer lasting effects. BUT PLEASE ACT NOW BECAUSE THE DEADLINE IS NOVEMBER 2ND!!!


Friday, 18 October 2013

I've been cursed!!!

Hello dear follower, hope all is well in your world and you're making the most of this unseasonable weather in what should be a chilly autumn. As the temperature was set for the high teens and sunny, with the prospect of it being a complete washout for  the weekend I thought I'd go for a wander round my local patch, Purdis Heath, and I'm glad I did as I came across several species I really wouldn't expect to see by now. They included a Migrant Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna mixta) which was hawking for flies around one of the big oaks there. It was then joined by a lovely big Hornet (Vespa crabro). I watched these two for several minutes before they flew off for new hunting grounds. There were plenty of insects buzzing around, yet everything seemed to be in too much of a rush to get a proper ID on them, including what I think was a sawfly, could of been an ichneumon wasp, which landed on my hand whilst I was wandering. But I will never know, as it flew off before I could get a good look at it or even get a photo. It looked nice whatever it was.

I was hoping to chance upon some late season hoverflies, but alas, although there were plenty of flies about, I didn't get to see any, although, that doesn't mean they're not there. I saw another couple of Fox moth (Macrothylacia rubi) caterpillars busy looking for somewhere to spend the winter. 

Furry & Foxy

I also got buzzed by a Comma Butterfly (Polygonia c-album) which also seemed in a hectic rush to get somewhere fast. Maybe looking for a last chance of mating, who knows. 

One thing that there was in abundance was mushrooms, or fungi to be more precise.

March of the mushrooms.
Again, I'm no fungi expert, so won't even try to identify some of these. But here's one I know for sure and it's such an impressive fungi, I took lots of photos of it. It is of course what must be the most represented mushroom in kids fairytales, it's the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria). I will tell you now, there's a reason for its lovely red colour, IT'S POISONOUS! So don't go thinking, ooh, I'll stick that in the frying pan when I get home. Not a good idea.

Looking just splendid amongst the autumnal leaf litter.

It's bright red colouring is a warning, don't eat me.


This is how they are often depicted in kids books. Yet these ones
haven't bloomed fully.
Not a lot of people realise this, but the mushroom is only the flowering part of the fungi. Beneath the leaf litter in the ground, delicate strands of the fungi called mycelium spread. They have been known to spread for very long distances too. In fact, in one case in America, over 3.5 miles, making it the biggest thing to have ever lived and yet it all began from a single microscopic spore.
Getting up close.
Also, it's good to go out with a small mirror if you're intent on looking for mushrooms. By placing it on the ground beneath the mushroom, you get to see the fantastic gill structure underneath.

The gills of a Fly agaric.

This one didn't need a mirror as it stood quite proud.

Get out and go see them now, they won't last for long.
Another mushroom I came across was this little beauty:

It almost looks like it was placed there.
If my niece was with me, I'm sure she would've told me that fairies had placed it there.
So dainty.
Of course, I could just fill this blog up with endless photos of mushrooms, believe me, I took hundreds (photos, not mushrooms). However, I have other things to share with you.

It being such a splendid day and no rain forecast for the night, I thought I'd get the moth trap out. I was unable to do this last week due to the bad weather we were having. Needless to say, moths were caught and I ended up with only 31 moths of 14 different species. Of these 14 species, 5 were new for me this year. They included two new quakers, a Red-line (Agrochola lota) and a Yellow-line (A macilenta) a Streak (Chesias legatella), Barred Sallow (Xanthia aurago) and last but not least, a Green-brindled Crescent (Allophyes oxyacanthae). These 5 new species took me to 300 species of Lepidoptera on the Garden Moth Challenge, Woohoo!!! There were also to other non-moth species, but I'll save them to the end.

Amateur Entomologist's Society Exhibition and Trade Fair

As you all know, last week I spoke of this exhibition in Kempton. I had never been before, but was advised to go. It didn't start till 11am which meant that I didn't have to get out too early to make it as Kempton Race course is only 2.5hrs away from me. The day was nice and pleasant and although I was expecting a nice relaxed quiet affair with plenty to see and buy, nothing expected me for what I got. My first inkling came as I drove into the car park at 10:55hrs and I noticed a queue at the door. As I drove around the car park it became apparent that this wasn't an ordinary queue, it went on and on and on and on. Needless to say, by the time I had found somewhere to park, get out of the car and join the queue, I must've been 400-500yards back. By the time it started moving, another 200 yds joined behind me.

And it just kept growing.
Wow, this thing was popular and eventually I got to the gate and paid my £4 entrance fee (£1 for under 16's), which is very reasonable considering the outrageous charges events charge nowadays. As I walked inside from the quiet queue I was amazed at the sight that greeted me. People, lots of them, everywhere. It was a sudden crescendo of noise of people talking, chattering, bargaining with stall holders. I really wasn't prepared for this. Looking at the first trader in front of me I could see nothing but pinned insects from all over the world, mainly butterflies and beetles. He was flanked by traders in front and behind hime selling live insects such as tarantulas, stick insects and millipedes. 
Busy, busy, busy.
There were people selling entomological equipment such as the wonderful Henshaw's (pictured above) to people selling pinned insects,
Just a small selection of what was on offer.
to others selling live spiders...
Each container holds a tarantula.
live millipedes...

African Giant Millipedes
and snails.

Giant Land Snails
There really was something for everyone and although I wasn't sure what I wanted, being befuddled by the shear enormity of it all, after all, there was nearly 130 tables showing their wares. I must say, the pinned insects did draw me in, as I'm always fascinated by museum collections of insects from around the world, and non more so than large beetles. I've always had a soft spot for our native and largest beetle the stag beetle, but some of the beetles I saw here made a stag beetle look like a ladybird.

Pinned Rhino Beetles and yes, they are £2.95 each!
To give some idea of scale, the beetles above are 6-7 inches long, so you can imagine what my thoughts were. In case you didn't want to buy pinned insects, you could buy them unpinned, sealed in cellophane wrapped cards for pennies, well a pound or two, but you know what I mean.

Some packets had 10 beetles in for £1, Bargain???
Some of these packets had around 10 beetles in for about £1 - £1.50, these are ideal for people like me who are just getting into pinning insects as it allows you to buy a cheap job lot to practice setting with. But be warned, these are not the best kept of stock and you will find out when you get home that some are missing limbs and feet, etc. I also bumped into Sally-Ann Spence of Minibeast Mayhem (you may remember from the Oxford Natural History Museum trip). Sally-Ann advised me to stick all my purchases in the freezer for a day when I got home. This would help kill off the dreaded museum beetle. A little bug that loves to munch away on museum specimens and you don't realise until you pick up your collection one day and watch all the heads fall off.   

In case you didn't believe me.
It wasn't all just about selling insects, alive or dead. There were artists there including the legend Richard Lewington who's the Lepidopterist artist for some identification guides and he's even done a set of stamps too.
There were entomological/naturalist suppliers as well from Watkins & Doncaster, DJ Henshaw's and others.
GT Vision showing their wonderful microscopes
And if it was more technical equipment you was after, that was on show too. Upstairs was a more sedate affair, with books, wildlife plants and displays by AES members.

One display showed these beautiful Atlas moths emerging

A newly emerged Atlas Moth.
There were also displays from the junior members of the AES, the Bug Club.

The life cycle of the Indian Moon Moth by Layla
and from a school too. There were many other displays which were all of great interest and very well presented with prizes and certificates at the end.
A display by the bug club of a school (every school should have one).
Although the place was packed and the canteen run out of food within a couple of hours, they actually contemplated selling me frozen carrot cake at one point with the manager struggling to put the cake slice in it. He then, with his bare hands squeezed the centre of the cake in the middle before saying, 'yeah it's still a bit frozen'. I declined and bought a Mars bar instead.

All in all, the photos above are only a very small smidging of what happened on the day as it would be impossible to post it all here. But would I go again? Would I recommend it to anyone? Yes and yes again. In fact I can't wait till next year.

Back to the moth trap

The non-moths that were in the trap this morning was one of my favourites, an Ichneumon wasp by the latin name of Ophion obscuratus. In the photo below, you can clearly see the three black eyes on top of the head as well as the two normal eyes on each side. The three eyes on the top of the head are called 'ocelli' and are known as simple eyes. This means that they're not used for vision. So, if they're eyes but they're not being used for vision, then what are they being used for? They're used as a type of navigation by sensing light only, the insect's brain can measure its pitch and roll as it flies through the air by how much light each ocelli is picking up. But what about the other two eyes? The main eyes on the side of the head are not simple eye cells like the ocelli, they're known as compound eyes and are used in a completely different way, i.e. to see objects, landmarks, prey, etc. It is thought that the compound eye cannot react fast enough for the insect's brain to work out how it's flying, compared to the ocelli. So there you go, five eyes are better than two.
Ophion obscuratus. Note the three ocelli on top of the head.
Whilst looking in the moth trap, I looked up to see this wonderful creature walking across my patio.

Ocypus olens
It is a rove beetle known as a Devil's Coach Horse (Ocypus olens). Its elytra, the hard wing coverings that are common on beetles, are shrunk exposing the abdomen. It does have wings, but they are rarely, if ever used for flight because, like the name suggests, it likes to rove. It's main diet consists of woodlice and earthworms and any carrion it comes across to, so always good to wash your hands if you come across one, although saying that, it wouldn't be that good an idea to pick one up as they can give quite a bite. If you ever come across one, they're about 1 inch long, and disturb it, you'll see it open its mandibles and also raise its abdomen, a bit like a scorpion. This is a defence stance and it'll also release a foul smelling odour from the white scent glands at the tip of its abdomen. In days of old, it was considered a bad omen if one of these raised its tail at you, it was considered to be cursing you. I'm not one for old wives tales as this little fellow was not happy with me taking his photo and tried several times to bite me as well as curse me. Although saying that, a couple of hours after, the postie arrived with a parcel and whilst trying to open it, I nigh on lopped the top of my finger off! Cursed or coincidence, who knows!

I curse thee damn naturalist, may the top of your finger fall off!

Till next time friends!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Mushrooms and butterflies

Hi everyone, how's it going? Well, we're into October and the summer sun is still trying to hold on giving us some lovely weather to go out and about in. It has seen me wandering around my local patch Purdis Heath, just looking to see what I could find. As my camera is still away being given a good clean up, I nicked the wifey's camera to capture anything I should find on my wanderings.

Mushrooms!

The first thing that was pretty evident to me were mushrooms, or fungi to be precise. They seemed to be popping up everywhere I looked. Now the only way to get good fungi photos is to get down to there level. It's no good kneeling down to get a pic, you really have to get down and dirty if you want good shots. But not too dirty though, make sure there's no dog poo around before you get prone, the last thing you want to do is go home smelling and looking like doo-doo! 

There are many different types of fungi, some are edible, and some not, so I must say here UNLESS YOU ARE 110% CERTAIN OF WHAT THE FUNGI IS, DON'T EAT IT! Even if you see some (and you will see some) that's been nibbled, it doesn't mean that it's safe to eat. Animals have completely different digestive systems to us humans and the things that affect us, do not affect animals and visa-versa. One example are the berries of the Yew tree, dangerous for human consumption, yet Blackbirds and Thrushes can eat the berries with impunity.

Like I say, they were everywhere I looked from under trees, bushes and bracken to the wide open spaces of the heath.
Under bracken

Out in the open

Each one looked amazing.
Some were small.
Some were tiny.
Others stood proud with subtle hues of delicate colour.
Others were large and twisted, yet looked amazing.
Yes, there were fungi to be seen everywhere you looked, even on the stumps of birch that had been cut down by the work parties had bracket fungus growing on them.

Bracket fungi.
Needless to say, the best ones I found were off the beaten track and usually involved me crawling around on all fours. At one point, whilst crawling out from under a tree who's branches swept low down to about a foot off the ground, two dogs rummaging through the undergrowth chanced upon me. One was a boxer and looked completely confused as it knew that there was no path here so what was I doing here and why was I on all fours? It's owners walked by on the path about 50 meters from me totally oblivious to what their dog had found. Eventually, the boxer dog followed his friend, who didn't even glance at me, and run off to chase their owners.

One thing I must point out, is that if you do pick mushrooms to eat or do whatever with, don't do it from this site as Purdis Heath is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and removal of anything is an offence.

If crawling around on all fours is not your thing, then there's plenty to find at a more suitable height as well including these wonderfully named galls I found smothering some of the oak trees here.

Silk-button Spangled Gall
Each one of these beautiful looking galls is created by a wasp that injects its egg into the leaf of the tree. As I understand it, as the egg develops, it changes the hormones in the leaf which causes the tree to create these wonderful shapes around the egg. Then come autumn , the leaf falls to the ground taking the galls with it, which continue to increase in size even though the leaf is no longer connected to the tree. The eggs will spend the winter in amongst the leaf litter, where the decaying vegetation ensures the temperature hardly ever gets to freezing point. If you own a garden composter, you will know how warm it gets if you put your hand inside. Well it's the same in the leaf litter on the ground. Then, come spring, the new wasps will emerge from the galls to start the process all over again.

If you look carefully whilst on your walks, you will notice there are many different types of galls. In fact, I do believe there's an identification book for galls as well.

Working hard

Of course, it's not all about crawling around on all fours you know. My wifey snapped me this week deep in thought and concentration.
My thinking pose
However, there was a good reason for me being in this position and it was all in the name of nature. The night previously, I had set the moth trap up and as I had done so I noticed what looked like frass (caterpillar poo) on the floor under my buddleia bush. So, I gave the floor a sweep and went to bed. Come the morning after going through the trap, of which I caught 78 moths of 19 species, I noticed fresh frass. So, I knew roughly the position of the caterpillar, I just needed to find it. Judging by the size of the frass, I knew the caterpillar was going to be a fair size and should be easy-ish to find, but I also knew that it could be well camouflaged. In the end, it took me a good 30 minutes to find the culprit, but at least I found him, and yes, he was camouflaged in the best way possible, as a 2.5" long stick.

Can you see it?
This caterpillar is the larvae of a Peppered Moth (Biston betularia), the adults are something I trap regularly during the summer months. So it's good to know that they find my garden a suitable habitat to let their young grow up.

Talking of caterpillars and going back to Purdis Heath, I came across this beauty which is something I've never had in my moth trap, even though the site is only a few minutes away from where I live.

The larvae of a Fox Moth (Macrothylacia rubi)
This caterpillar was 2.5 - 3" long and as you can see, quite furry. This fur is a protective measure and in some caterpillars it is an irritant. I actually found a caterpillar in my garden last week where this form of defence may have actually saved its life.

Looking the worse for ware.
 I found it crawling along my deck chairs and at first began to think that it was some species of sawfly larvae. In fact, when I posted it to various entomology based social media sites, several others said the same. That was until Neil Prince from the Amateur Entomology Society said it looked like a Nut-tree Tussock Moth (Colocasia coryli) but without the hair. Upon further checking, it turned out he was correct, the caterpillar had lost all of its hair and judging by the scab in the mid region (you can just see the lump on the other side in the photo), it'd been mauled by a bird. Whether the hairs were ejected by the caterpillar to irritate the bird, we don't know. But one thing for certain, is that it wasn't being attacked by anything when I found it. Lets hope it'll make it through the winter.

A Good Reason To Get Involved

Again, as I am always pointing out, there's something out there for everyone to get involved in and if you're wondering if your input actually makes a difference, read on.

Back in the 80's and 90's, Purdis Heath was awash with Silver Studded Blue (Plebejus argus) butterflies (SSB) I kid you not. The figures were in the hundreds and thousands. However, in 2010, the peak count for these butterflies were less than 10, yes, less than 10 butterflies. Something was wrong and something needed to be done pronto. That's when Matt Berry and Butterfly Conservation stepped in to start making habitat improvements, improvements that are still continuing to this day with the help of volunteers who give up their time on a Saturday morning to help chop, lop and saw down encroaching deciduous trees that are destroying the heathland habitat favoured by SSB's.

The following figures show how that work is beginning to pay off:

Peak counts for SSB's

2010 = <10
2011 =   10
2012 =   17
2013 =   44

So already we are beginning to see an improvement in population numbers, but we are a long way from saying the population is safe and more work needs to be done. This is where YOU can help.

The work parties are due to begin on the first Saturday of the month beginning on November 2nd up until March 2014. The work involves cutting down small trees and saplings with bow saws and loppers and using the chopped down material to build habitation piles and dead hedges which benefit other wildlife such as hedgehogs and viviparous lizards which occupy the site.

We meet up at 10am in the lay-by on Bucklesham road opposite the Trimley Showground (Enter this Grid ref: TM212423 into www.streetmap.co.uk)

Meet where the arrow is.
We usually finish by 3pm, but you are welcome to come and go as you please. You don't need to bring anything except some proper outdoor winter weather clothing, stout boots and a packed lunch, although tea and biscuits will be provided. If you have your own work gloves, please bring them as supplies are limited.

Obviously, the weather plays a huge part and if conditions are significantly bad, it may be cancelled so please give the volunteer site warden Julian Dowding a call beforehand on 07910 170609.

It's a great way to get involved in helping nature and meeting like-minded people at the same time. Don't worry if you can't do heavy manual work, do to injury at the moment, I can't either, so I'll just be walking around with loppers doing some light work. Every little helps and the more helping the more gets done and hopefully come summer next year, you'll get to see more of these wonderful looking creatures:
Male Silver-studded Blue underside

And from above

The female
Again, the female from above.
So, you've got plenty of time to get ready and clear your diary for the first event on Saturday 2nd November, I'll be there and I hope to see you there too.

A BIG thank you to Matt Berry of Butterfly Conservation for the info and amazing photos of the SSB's, much appreciated.

Next time...

I'm off to the Amateur Entomology Society Fair at Kempton this Saturday, so next time I'll tell you all about it.

But till then, take care.