Monday, 26 June 2017

Summer Open day at Maple Lodge NR

Sunday I was back at Maple Lodge NR (link to their website here ) volunteering again for a new open day to add to their annual events, this time it was the Summer Open Day.
My job was to position myself at the infamous Comma Corner, find lots of interesting critters to show the parties of visitors that were being guided around the reserve by other volunteers and point them out and talk about them. I done a similar thing last August for the Insect Open Day and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Sunday I also had my extra pair of eyes, my little helper, Stella. She alone found a Ruddy Darter (possibly first of the year for the reserve) and a stripped wagwort plant full of Cinnabar moth caterpillars.
I didn't take as many photos as I would normally do on a day out, I spent more time chatting to the visitors, and some of my hoverfly photos aren't as sharp as I would have liked them, but all in all a very successful day.
Here are just a few of my offerings that I was able to share with the visitors....
Yellow and Black Longhorn

Green Shieldbug 1st instar nymphs

Nursery spider with egg sac

Harlequin predated by another spider (enoplognatha sp)
Thick-legged Flower Beetle (male)

Cinnabar moth caterpillars - these gorge themselves on ragwort before eventually dropping to the ground, burrowing in the soil where they will pupate and spend the winter before emerging as the beautiful black and red day flying moth

Peacock butterfly caterpillar
 As to be expected there were plenty of butterflies on the wing. The most prolific at Comma Corner being the obvious Comma and the delightful Ringlets.
Ringlets are very common but not to me. I don't get them on my home patch and the only other one I've ever seen was at RSPB Rainham, so I was in my element spotting these beauties. They feed on bramble and thistle flowers, of which Comma Corner has plenty of both. In flight both sexes are dark brown (compared to the light underwing flashes of the Meadow Brown). The one below is a male with the upper 'eye' spots being fairly small. The females upper 'eye' spots are larger.

copulating Ringlets

female Ringlet close up
and of course we mustn't forget the Comma.....

underwing showing the white mark on the lower wing which gives the butterfly its 'Comma' name
Other butterflies included a Small Tortoiseshell and both male and female Brimstone, which wouldn't settle for a photo call, and the Meadow Browns below. It's very hard to sex Meadow Browns when they sit with their wings closed but generally if the orange patch on the upper wing is dull it's likely to be a male....

The one below is a female with brighter orange patches. She is also flicking her abdomen to indicate she doesn't want to be mated with....
It's the equivalent of a woman saying to a man 'not tonight I've got a headache'.....
There were a few Green-veined Whites around too, but they weren't being quite as obliging, and my shot below was taken in a hurry before it took off again....
Stella found the first Large Skipper for me, and I found another after she'd gone to grab me a coffee. I managed to get open wing and closed wing shots. This is a male Large Skipper with the dark sex band line clear across his upper wing.

We had several sightings of Red Admiral too. They are incredibly hard to sex but some females have a white spot on the orange-red band on the forewing, which I think you can just see on the photo below...
Below is the underwing of the Red Admiral, a palette of beautiful colours almost like a stained glass window..

There were hundreds of damselflies around, mainly Common Blue and Blue-tailed but there were probably some Azure ones too....

The brambles were attracting lots of hoverflies but every time I saw one interesting I was talking to visitors and my camera wasn't to hand. However I got three poor shots of three species.....
Volucella pellucens aka Great Pied Hoverfly

Eristalis sp.

Episyrphus balteatus aka the Marmalade Fly
Also at Comma Corner I found a hoverfly pupa but bizarrely, despite showing every visitor my little 'blob of jelly' I failed to take any photos of it for myself.
There were several Harlequin pupae on the nettles, with lots of empty cases too. But it wasn't all bad news as there were several 7-spot pupae too and quite a few adults in the meadow.
Just past Comma Corner on the left hand side was one Brimstone butterfly larva that was visible and it was fun watching the visitors trying to spot it. It was so well camouflaged that my camera had difficulty picking it out too....
At the end of the day all the moths that had been trapped the night before, were released. There were too many for me to photograph so I picked my favourite three....
Ghost moth

Poplar Hawk moth

Buff Tip moth

 I had a great time. Once you get me talking about my favourite subjects, you cannot shut me up, so I was probably well suited to the Open Day.
And it was nice to see my good friends John and Therese Cass, plus Steve and Gab come along to show their support.
Lastly Stella - huge thanks, you were a massive help

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Highest butterfly count of the year at Cranford Park

I spent an hour this morning looking for the Little Owls in the oaks by the Information Centre. I heard an adult calling several times, but could not locate it. However thanks to Lynne and Lorraine I was able to briefly see a juvenile fairly deep inside the nest hole. The tree I have always suspected as being the nest tree, and is now confirmed, is a short distance from the oaks and both Lynne and Lorraine have seen an adult at the nest hole several times recently. I suspect the owlets will be outside within the next week.
With temperatures set to soar this afternoon I decided to do an early UKBMS butterfly transect.
It paid off as I wasn't too hot and I made sure I had plenty of water with me.
The count was a huge success. I spotted 84 butterflies in 95 minutes, plus one rather beautiful moth.
So todays tally.....
84 butterflies / 8 species
Small Skipper x 1 (first of the year)
Large Skipper x 2
Green-veined White x 5
Red Admiral x 1
Comma x 4
Speckled Wood x 9
Small Heath x 7
and todays success story...
Meadow Brown x 55 !!!!!
Yup, 55 Meadow Browns and 51 of them were just seen by walking along the grass paths in the large meadow area. These fairly large brown butterflies are nearly always seen flying low and slow through the long grasses.
Meadow Brown

Small Heath

Red Admiral - front view

Red Admiral - back view


Large Skipper - female

Small Skipper
plus this beautiful Magpie Moth below.
No my photo is not upside down, it was settled under a leaf.....
Not too many ladybirds were about. I counted just five Harlequins and three 7-spots

7-spot ladybird
And if you ever wondered what a Harlequin ladybird looks like when it first emerges from its pupa shell, here's one I had in my possession last week. They are bright yellow at first, and it can take hours for them to colour up (sorry about the photo quality - picture taken with my iPhone)....
and yes, I did name it Sian. I had collected three pupae and named them after work colleagues. Two emerged as Harlequins and one sadly 'leaked' yellow liquid after a few days and failed to emerge.
I now have another three pupae in a breathable pot at home, and I'm fairly confident two are 7-spots and one is a Harlequin.
Although butterflies like the hot dry weather we had today, hoverflies don't like too much heat. Therefore I only saw three species today. All IDs under the photos...
Epistrophe grossulariae
Epistrophe grossulariae in flight
Myathropa florea - note the 'batman' symbol on the thorax

Scaeva pyrastri - white strips instead of yellow

Scaeva pyrastri
The heat also meant most birds were sheltering. The Common Whitethroats in the Headland area have fledged their young. There was a lot of calling and birds flying around, but none were settling for a photo call. The sounds of Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers could be heard in Cranford Woods but again, none wanted to pose for a photo. Two distant Common Buzzards flew over the woods 'mewing'. Several Swifts also soared over. There were lots of Chiffchaffs, Wrens, Blackbirds, Robins and Blackcaps singing all over the park but most were tucked deep in the shadier areas.
Absolutely no bird photos today at all.
So I had to make do with photographing yet another obliging Black and Yellow Longhorn (Rutpela maculate) that was very handily at my eye level.....

Sadly todays blog post ends with the upsetting news that my friends dog, Jasper, passed away earlier today.
He was a good companion to Sue, and often accompanied Sue and I on little bird watching trips to Cranford Park and Lake Farm. He earned his nickname 'the bird-dog' as he always stayed on the paths, never disturbing the wildlife, and only occasionally become impatient with us if we were taking too long watching or photographing birds.

Sue and Jasper - June 2014
RIP Jasper. You will be sorely missed.