Monday, 21 April 2014

Easter hatchlings!

Hello everyone, hope you are all happy and well and having a happy Easter weekend. Sorry it's been a while since my last post, as usual, the excuse is me being a busy bee. So let me get straight to the point and start with some wonderful news! As I write this, the blue tit's eggs have started to hatch, ideal considering it's Easter. It started this morning when I woke up and checked on them to find this happening:

They both seem happy to see their new chick and are already eager to feed it, yet after all that struggle trying to break free from the egg, food is the last thing on the chick's mind I would imagine. As I continued to watch, number two made its entry:

As you can see it struggles quite a bit trying to remove the shell from its head, until mum pops in and assists by actually eating the shell. This is one way of replacing the calcium in her body used to lay the eggs I suppose.

I check back on them from time to time and my last check revealed that number 3 was here too.

So now it's a case of waiting and watching. I must admit, for new borns they seem quite active and are beginning to crawl around all over the place. It's also such a pleasure to watch considering we've had the box for 3 years now and this is the first time we've had something nesting in it.

On the subject of nest boxes, some of you may recall back in September last year whilst walking around Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Newbourne Springs site, I came across this nest box that had been taken over by Hornets (Vespa crabro).

Last years active Hornet nest in situ.
Well that was last year and as with all hives, winter has been and gone and so have the Hornets, leaving behind their amazing construction, which I saw still in place on the tree trunk last month. Which got me thinking, not many people have seen inside these amazing structures and as this one has been built inside a box, wouldn't it be great if I could turn it into a display hive to be used to educate people, especially as I now work for SWT as an Events & Education Volunteer. I spoke with my manager Angela and the reserve warden Andrew and we arranged to remove the box and replace it with a brand new one.

The box on the left before removal.
New box up to replace the old one.
 It was quite a simple task as the box wasn't too high up. Whilst this was being done, I actually heard my first Cuckoo of the year calling, such a nice sound for some, yet a dreaded sound for others as the call signals that it is the time when Cuckoos parasitise the nests of much smaller birds such as Warbler's or Dunnock's.

With the old hive removed and the replacement box in place I returned home to see what I could do with the hornets nest.

Much of the original outer hive has been destroyed by the winter weather.
Obviously, like this, people wouldn't be able to see much of the hive, I needed to remove the front panel from the bird box. Thankfully, the hornets had already helped me in doing this by creating the split down the front of the box. Some of you may have seen wasps sitting on fences or sheds during the summer, or even may have noticed strange patterns appearing on said objects. Wasps (Hornets are large wasps) create their nests by making paper mache from fence panels, etc. They find a suitable area and begin to scrap the wood off with their mandibles, they then take it back to the nest and add it to the structure. This is how the split would've been caused as well as the pale areas either side of the split. The wood has been constantly scraped away and used in the construction of the hive.

The box was in quite a rickety shape and this split meant I could remove the front panel without damaging the box further.

The lid and one side of the front panel removed.
A better angle showing the structure more clearly.
Removing the front panel showed the intricate design of the nest, the different levels of honeycomb structure, which at some point, each cell would have housed a developing hornet. It was at this point I was hoping to find a dead hornet which I could pin and display with the nest, but sadly, there were no remains inside.

I also wanted to keep the structure protected as things like this encourage people to touch and feel, which is a good thing, but unfortunately it doesn't do it any good as the structure is quite a fragile thing in itself. If people could poke and prod it, it won't last very long, so thanks to my Wifey's artwork in glass, I procured some pieces of her glass to front the box with. This would allow people to see the nest up close and keep the nest protected from prying fingers at the same time.

The finished (almost) article.
It would be good if I could display some pinned hornets with the box, but unfortunately, I don't have any. However, as nature lovers, we come across all sorts whilst we're out and about walking and I'm hoping one day that I might come across a dead hornet that I can use, if not, maybe you might come across one. If so, place it in a matchbox and get in contact with me using the comments box below. Please leave your email address in the comments box, don't worry, every comment has to be checked by me before it's published and I will not publish any details anywhere.

Less big bumbles of late.

How many of you have noticed that they're are not many big bumblebees around of late? Most of them will have started nest building by now and already this weekend I've spotted a few tiny little workers foraging for food.

So, as I sign off, I'll just leave you with this link to my YouTube page and even better, the hatching of the 5th blue tit.

Till next time, keep safe, keep smiling.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The birds and the bees.

Hello dear readers, I hope you're all happy and well. I have exciting news. Last time I left you with the news that Patty Blue, the resident blue tit, had started laying eggs, 3 in fact. Well I can now inform you that she has laid 9, possibly 10 eggs!

9, possibly 10 eggs all waiting to hatch.
All week long she has left the eggs unattended each and every day only to return at about 7pm each night to sit on them. Yet even then, she seems to get little rest and is waking up every couple of minutes to shuffle about or tend the eggs.

Even more exciting though is the news that as of yesterday, she has actually started to spend long periods during the day to sit on the eggs! This can mean only one thing, the eggs will soon be hatching!

So, watch this space, or subscribe to my YouTube channel and I will hopefully post footage as and when the exciting stuff starts to happen.

In other news

For those of you living in and around Lowestoft, a friend of mine reported yesterday (8th April) of seeing a pod of Porpoises around the end of the pier. So might be worth taking a look if your down that way.

Also reported being sighted was Swallows over Beccles as well as some other parts of the country. Looks like summer is on its way at last.

I recorded my first bat of the year over my garden too, a lonely common pip (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) passing over the garden one night. So it won't be long before everything gets in full swing we hope.

Mini-muncher news

All eggs have now hatched and they are happily consuming apple and pear leaves at an alarming rate. So much so, that since they hatched measuring ~2mm long, they are now ~8mm long in just 1 week and have already gone through their first instar. 

For those who do not know what an instar is, it's a point where an insect sheds it skin to enable it to grow. Some insects such as fleas have only 3 instars, yet some mayflies can have up to 40 instars. Emperors have around 7-8 instars (I think).

Raising these moths over the last year has allowed me to create what I like to think as an educational tool. As you may know, I work as an Education and Events Volunteer for Suffolk Wildlife Trust attend various events around the county. I know from experience kids love to see live creatures, but I also remember the WOW factor I got as a kid seeing all those pinned insects at the Natural History Museum in London many, many years ago. This year at a couple of events I'm attending, I hope to be taking along some of the caterpillars along with this:

The life cycle of the Emperor moth.
Using some of the old egg cases, cocoons, one of the male moths who died without extending his wings and a purchased female Emperor moth I created this display case to show the lifecycle of the moth. Lets hope the kids like it.

As for the min-munchers, there is still a way to go and as usual, I will keep you posted on all the developments.

Not all bees have stripes!

Yes, many of us have always considered bees to be black and yellow striped things that happily buzz along from flower to flower on long sunny days. However, this isn't always the case and whilst out walking on the heath one day, I came across such a bee in its death throws on the sandy soil. At first, I thought it was a mining bee, which are common on the heath and spend their time digging holes in the sand to lay their eggs. But as I was to find out this wasn't the case.

Like I said, the poor thing was in its death throws, unable to fly and just waving it legs in the air doing the dying fly dance. Once home I humanely helped the little (only 8mm long) fellow on its way and then set down to pinning it out for my collection. Whilst it was pinned I thought I would have a go at ID'ing it and wrongly (as I found out) ID'd it as and Andrena species. Thankfully, the wonderful, more experienced people on Facebook and the Hymenoptera recorder on iRecord said it looked more like a species of Sphecodes. These are a parasitic bee known as cuckoo bees because they lay there eggs in other bees nests. This species parasitises mining bees and the specimen I had found was a female, so it's possibly, this female got caught in the nest of a mining bee and was dispatched by the host. 

These Sphecodes are not easy to ID, but thankfully, Stuart Roberts of Bees Wasps and Ants Recording Society was kind enough to send me a key on Sphecodes and it turns out my little specimen is a Sphecodes monilicornis. This is a common species that parasitises mining bees of the species Lasioglossum fulvicorne and L fratellum. So it's likely by just finding this one specimen, I now know that one or both of the said mining bee are also present on the site.

S monilicornis a parasitic bee.
Also another first for the year was not one, but two different species of hoverfly. Again, social media came to the rescue when I had trouble ID'ing this little fellow, but Roger Morris, Hoverfly recorder set me straight with this Eristalis pertinax

E pertinax sitting happily on my finger.

Imagine having hairy eyes!
Remember, they may look like bees, they may sound like bees, but they are NOT bees. In fact, as their name suggests, they're flies and will not harm you in anyway whatsoever. Some do have little territories they like to patrol and if you stroll into these they will come up to you and check you out, but they won't harm you.

That's about all this time, got lots to do. But till... hold up. I was just about to sign off when I caught this for the first time on the bird cam. 

This is a REALLY good sign as it shows the male is good at providing for the family.

So, as I was about to say, till next time, keep safe, keep smiling.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

New beginnings!

Well hello and welcome to you my dear reader and another new follower to my blog who's name I only know as the Nutty Naturalist. Glad to have you aboard and I hope you enjoy the ride.

Well what a week, temperatures were starting to plunge and I was beginning to dread that maybe we were in for one of those surprise cold snaps, then come the weekend and beautiful glorious weather with temperatures in the high teens, excellent. Needless to say, the moth trap went out and I recorded my highest count of moths for the year so far with 109 moths of 13 different species. Two were new to me such as this Frosted Green (Polyploca ridens):

Frosted Green
The other moth was a Mullein (Shargacucullia verbasci), but it was a bit eager to get away and I couldn't get it settled. So rather than the poor thing beat itself senseless in a jar, released it before getting any decent pictures. Lets hope I get another one that isn't so fired up.

Of course, the trap not only traps moths, but it also managed to attract not one, but four Ichneumon wasps, possibly Ophinion sp, but as always so very hard to tell.

An Ichneumon wasp
There were also a couple of Lacewings:

One of the two lacewings, possibly Chrysopa pallens
The other non-moth guest to the trap was a beetle, a burying beetle called a Black Sexton Beetle (Nicrophorus humator). As it suggests, it likes to bury under small dead creatures such as mice, voles birds etc. Then once underneath, it creates a shaft and pulls the carcass down into the shaft, then lays its eggs on or near the body so that the emerging larvae are well provided for when they hatch. This beetle also emits a foul smelling stench of rotting flesh, which made photographing it an arduous task.

Nicrophorus humator and a little buddy.
Looking closely at the above photo, you will see not only the beetle, but on his right elytra at the top you will also see a small brown mite. These are common on some beetles and I've even seen them on bees. This beetle had about 6 of the little fellows on him hitching a ride, mainly clinging on underneath. They always give me a shudder when I see these. I remember once doing a bat survey on a barn and lying on the floor was a Violet ground beetle which was absolutely covered in mites. So much so, it could hardly move, poor thing.

Still on the subject of beetles, but a much prettier looking one was this couple I caught getting jiggy with it.
Love in the rain, the Rosemary beetle (Chrysolina americana)
As you can imagine, this beetle is found on the Rosemary plant and is a prolific pest to growers of not just rosemary, but lavender, thyme, sage and other related plants too. Even worse, it's not a native species either and it originated from southern Europe, only finding its way to the UK in the early 1990's. Now it's widespread across much of the UK. It's not so much the adult beetle that does the damage, more its larvae which just like to eat the plant itself and my poor rosemary really is looking the worse for wear.

The destructive larvae of the Rosemary beetle.
Yet, such beautiful colours.

Talking of larvae...

As you may remember, last time I showed you a picture of all my little Emperor moth eggs:
Lots and lots of eggs.
Well there was no way I was going to be able to feed an army of caterpillars that size, the sixty odd I had last year was hard enough to keep up with. So, some other willing and like-minded friends (Helen & Julian) had some and I kept some for myself. The rest I took to the heath and carefully placed them in various areas spread across the heathland.

As for the ones I kept myself, well they've hatched and at only a day old, they've wasted no time whatsoever in getting down to what a caterpillar doe best, eat!

Last time, some of you had trouble seeing the video link to my site (that was 'Blogger's' fault not mine) and again if you can't see the video above, then click this and the magic of the internet will whisk you straight there. the little mini munchers have started tucking into bramble leaves and fresh pear leaves, they seem to prefer the later however, as you will see in the above video.

That's not the only good news I have, Patty Blue the Blue tit has something she would like to share with you all:

3 little eggs as of the 1st April.
How exciting! What's even more amazing is that the nest is left unattended all day long with only the occasional visit to bring back more nesting material. Yet, I always imagined the eggs would needed to be kept warm and incubated. We'll just have to see what happens.

Don't forget dear reader, that you can check in on my YouTube channel at anytime to see any videos I've uploaded and feel free to leave any comments either here on the blog or on the channel.

That's it for now, I'll just leave you with one more image of the week, a Buff-tail Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) feeding on some gorse on the heath.
Nom nom nom...
Till next time dear reader, keep safe, keep smiling.