Saturday, 13 August 2016

It's been a critters and blisters kind of day.....

As of August 21st I will be the volunteer butterfly transect walker for two sites for the Herts and Middlesex branch of the Butterfly Conservation Society. It's quite a privilege to follow on in the footsteps of Alison Shipley, our ex Conservation Officer for the Borough, and who covered the transects for many years, before moving to happily married pastures new.
After having some initial training from Paul Busby next weekend, I will cover both Lake Farm and Cranford Park. Paul has already emailed me the transect maps, so today I decided to walk them both, time the transects and find out how many Fitbit steps I clocked up on each site.
Sounds good ? Yes. Except I decided to break in my new light weight walking shoes for the stroll around Lake Farm.....
I used to visit Lake Farm very regularly, but when the new school was built I sort of lost faith in seeing any wildlife there. During construction there was hardly any of the regular birds (Skylarks, Stonechats, Meadow Pipits, Linnets etc) around, and over the last year I have been there just a few times.
 Today I was pleasantly surprised to see and hear Green Woodpeckers, Sparrowhawk, Skylark, Linnets, Red Kite and hundreds of Goldfinches.....
A 'charm' of juvenile and adult Goldfinches
 I tried not to get too distracted by the birds, and instead concentrated on the transect map with it's different 'zones' and counting butterflies. Unfortunately this morning was cloudy with quite a cool wind (very different from the weather this afternoon) and my count was very low.
female Meadow Brown

very tatty female Meadow Brown
Very fresh 2nd generation female Speckled Wood
So, in figures, my Lake Farm practise transect. All 8 zones covered.
Start time: 0925
Finish time: 1030
Fitbit steps: 5483
Species seen: 2/3
Meadow Browns: 10 (5 seen in zone 1)
Speckled Wood: 1 (also seen in zone 1)
Mystery butterfly: small and pale. Flushed from brambles where it had been resting with wings closed. Fluttered up to branches of tree behind brambles. Too quick for me to get my bins out of my rucksack.
My new walking shoes were fairly comfortable, however whilst walking back to Hayes Town I could feel the balls of both of my feet starting to ache and rub. A quick shopping trip for blister plasters and padded gel ball-of-foot cushions then I popped back home to have a look at my feet and decide what to do next. Thankfully no visible blisters, but both balls of my feet were bright red and sore to touch.
I decided (probably unwisely) to chuck on my old lightweight trainers, with thin socks, and go to Cranford Park to practise the transect route there.....
Yvonne and the lovely Janey joined me for the first zone around the orchard, and my feet complained the whole way round. They left me as I begun the second zone of the transect through Cranford Woods where sadly I found this dead Shrew on the woodland path (coincidentally the same path where I found a dead young Hedgehog a couple of weeks ago)

and as I reached the start of zone 3, I knew I was not going to make it the whole way round. My feet were crying out with pain. Standing still was ok, but walking was becoming more and more painful and uncomfortable. So I reluctantly decided to abandon my Cranford Park practise run transect.
Cranford Park figures: 2 zones covered out of the total 9
Start time: 1230
Finish time: 1240
Fitbit steps: 1403
Species seen: 1
Speckled Wood: 2 seen in zone 1
I'm gutted I couldn't compete the practise transect, but I'm on volunteer duty at Maple Lodge NR tomorrow and really felt I couldn't let them down on short notice, so rather than make my feet worse I decided to head for two patches where I knew I'd at least see butterflies and hoverflies with no walking around involved.
On the way there I checked on a fungi that I found emerging a couple of weeks.
These are the aptly named 'Dead Mans Fingers'.....

They are on the same log as last year, though last autumn they were sprouting out from the side of the log rather than the top. I'll keep checking these as they get larger and thicken up.
At the back of the Stables Block, where the M4 runs, there's great expanses of scrub that are ideal for critter spotting.....
Dock Bug
Common Green Shield Bug instar - ie juvenile
As the clouds parted and the sun finally came out, so the Buddleia bushes became alive...
Red Admiral

Red Admiral

tatty Summer form female Comma

male Green-veined White

tatty female Green-veined White - I think...
Also tempted to the buddleia were my first Volucella zonaria, the Hornet mimic hoverfly, of the year. This is Britains largest hoverfly, nearly 2cm long, but as with all hovers, completely harmless....

As you leave the Stable Block arch going towards the bypass under the M4, there is our compost heap on the left hand side. A good spread of Creeping Yellow Cress has emerged next to it and it was attracting a lot of hovers. At least two species, Melanostoma and Myathopa, were both present in good numbers....
Edited thanks to Nicola G - syrita pipiens
Myathropa florea male
and female..
At the end of the bypass are the green metal gates. They are overhung by trees, which is the only reason I can explain for the numbers of Harlequin larvae, pupae and adults I found on the gates this afternoon.
Harlequin Ladybird larvae

Harlequin Ladybird larvae

Harlequin Ladybird pupae

Harlequin Ladybird newly emerged adult - note spots are still emerging..

Harlequin Ladybird adult - strrrreeeetch..

Harlequin Ladybird with underwing still out..
 When I spotted this one I wasn't sure what to make of it at first. The wings are crumpled in a way that made me think it had literally just emerged, but the ladybird has all it's spots already (it normally takes a few hours for the spots to emerge as you can see from one of the photos I posted above)....
I posted the photo above and the two below to the Ladybirds of UK Facebook page, and apparently it's not uncommon to see this sort of damage to a ladybird that has emerged during bad weather. When adults emerge they have to pump their wing cases to full size. The new wing cases only remain flexible for a short time, so if the newly emerged ladybird is blown about by strong winds or pressed against something hard, this type of deformity can happen....

Many thanks to the Ladybird experts - Paul Brothers (who will hopefully be getting his book published soon), Nicola Garnham (who is also a complete fanatic about hoverflies), Paul McCullough and Richard Comont - for all of their help and comments.
Today wasn't completely in vain. My feet may be suffering but I think I'll be ok for tomorrows volunteer session at Maple Lodge NR.
Doing these two new butterfly transects looks like they are going to be fun, but as proven today, sometimes just standing still and watching the wildlife around you is just as rewarding.
Lastly, for those that read my blog posts every weekend, don't forget I have a Facebook page too. Link is below.....

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