Thursday, 31 May 2012

Home Patch (16): Bees and Hoverflies on the Ceanothus

I stood by the Ceanothus for a few minutes, taking pictures of the flying insects that landed on it. There were more species than the ones shown below, but a number of insects - notably the hoverflies - were too fast for me.

I think the photos immediately above and below show a visitation from a Honey Bee, Apis Mellifera.
I wonder whether you knew that Bumblebees, like the one above, used to be known as Humblebees ... this was news to me.
The creature above is a Hoverfly. Unlike bees and wasps, it only has one pair of wings, and so is a true fly. This one has proved difficult to identify: Britain boasts some 270 known species. I suspect this is a female, because in males the eyes are close together, and you can make out a gap (with wide Vertex) in the photo above.

I am wondering whether the bee in the photos immediately above and below is Bombus hypnorum. It certainly has the foxy-red thorax, black abdomen and white tail. I have included the photo above to show the tail. It was a highly active insect and had no wish to pose for the camera! You can see from the yellow sac just how much pollen was being collected. I don't think it was stripy enough for a Carder Bee.

Above: a Honey Bee, full frontal, hard at work ...
Below: the Honey Bee, end on!

Home Patch (15): Ladybird Alert

7-spot Ladybird
I was amused (and delighted) to see this 7-spot Ladybird prospecting for a new home in the ladybird house in our new garden. I wonder what it made of its plastic 'cousin'.
Pine Ladybird (Exochomus 4-pustulatus) ... I think

I noticed what I believe is a Pine Ladybird (Exochomus 4-pustulatus) just behind the ladybird house. It is only the second one I have seen of this variety, with its phlange and red comma fore-spots. You can see my previous sighting here.

I am about to log the two new sightings on the UK Ladybird Survey site here (and you may like to do the same if you find Ladybirds).

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Nature Reserve Notes (4): Round Up of Sightings for May 2012

Photo Medley for May 2012 (a day early!)

Nature Reserve Notes: a list of species recognised (or discovered!). I saw many more insects and plants that I have not (yet) identified. I am only listing each species once unless I see several at a time or unless I see an unusual specimen.

1] Grey Squirrel, 13 May 2012

1] Moorhen, 13 May 2012
2] Jay, 13 May 2012
3] Dunnock, 13 May 2012 ~ Total 3
4] Wood pigeon, 13 May 2012


1] Lily Beetle, 13 May 2012

1] 7-spot Ladybird, 13 May 2012 ~ Total 37! 
2] 14-spot Ladybirds, 13 May 2012 ~ Total 2
3] Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis succinea, 13 May 2012
4] Unusual 7-spot (possibly damaged), 27 May 2012

1] Buff-tailed Bumblebee, 13 May 2012
2] A kind of ?Carpenter bee (on a wooden post with bore holes), 13 May 2012

1] Holly Blue Butterfly, 13 May 2012
2] Orange-tip Butterfly, 13 May 2012
3] Gatekeeper, Small Heath*, 27 May 2012 ~ Total 2
4] Green Hairstreak, 27 May 2012

*My thanks to the Kirkstall Creatures Great and Small blog for setting me on the right track here!

1] A green Brown-lipped Snail, 13 May 2012
2] Slug, 13 May 2012

1] Alkanet, 13 May 2012
2] Forget-me-not, 13 May 2012
3] Stinging nettles, 13 May 2012
4] Blackberry brambles, 13 May 2012

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Home Patch (14): Butterflies

Red Admiral, seen 24 May 2012
Male Orange Tip on a Pansy, seen 26 May 2012
I had already seen a male Orange Tip in the garden, but this was my first Red Admiral. I expect there will be plenty more when the Buddleia comes into flower! I also caught a glimpse of a small blue butterfly, probably a Holly Blue, but it didn't hang about.

Home Patch Butterflies ... to date (I am only counting pretty definite sightings)

Nature Reserve Notes (3): Damaged Ladybird

We encountered this battered-looking Ladybird on our walk through our local nature reserve last Sunday. I thought it could be a 7-spot, but the blotchy spots and what appears to be damage to the elytra made it hard to be sure. Neither photo shows off the markings of the pronotum very well.

I wondered whether it had been damaged by a parasitic wasp, but once again, this is only speculation on my part. Unlike other ladybirds I have seen that appear to have been affected in this way, this one was active and was not prepared to wait around for a decent photograph!

POSTSCRIPT: I have now had learned that it is indeed a 7-spot and that 'it could be a genetic mutation that causes this [strange marking] or frost damage.'

As usual I have logged this sighting with the UK Ladybird Survey, and if you find ladybirds in the UK, you might like to do the same. You can read about Dr Helen Roy and her ladybird work here.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Nature Reserve Notes (3): Not Gatekeepers, Query Small Heath

I thought these two butterflies, both seen in the meadow with the Green Hairstreak of the previous post, were both Gatekeepers. Now that I have enlarged my photos a little, I am not so sure ...

... However, thanks to the Kirkstall Creatures Great and Small blog, I now think they are Small Heath butterflies (and a first for me!). Thank you. 

Nature Reserve Notes (2): Green Hairstreak

We only had a short time so we decided to take a stroll along the paths of our local nature reserve. Last time we explored the pond and the wooded paths so on this occasion we headed in the direction of the butterfly meadow. It was not long before I caught a fleeting glimpse of this small Green Hairstreak, Callophrys rubi.

Green Hairstreaks are brown on the upper side of their wings, the side that is only seen in flight as these butterflies invariably perch with their wings closed, displaying the vivid green underside you see above. 

The iridescent green is not comprised of colour pigment. It is, in fact, structural colour, caused by interference effects. For more on iridescence, you might care to click here.

Seasonal First (3): Red Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly, seen 19 May 2011 at WWT Llanelli ... here

The photo is a cheat as I took it last year, but I saw my first red Damselfly of 2012 this afternoon ... in the local Sainsbury car park!

I had just got out of the car and it nearly flew into me. Sadly it flew off as quickly as it had arrived, so I know it was red in colour, but that is about all. I am guessing it was a Large Red. This is not only a late first of the season, but also my first Damselfly sighting since moving to Suffolk last October. I see I spotted my first Damselfly of 2011 on 21 April, so I am way behind with sightings this year.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Ladybird Alert (10): All Kinds at Kenilworth Castle

We visited Kenilworth Castle a couple of years ago when the reconstructed Elizabethan garden was almost in place but still under wraps, so we were keen to see how things had developed.

The flower gardens were looking beautiful and had been planted with flowers that would have been popular in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Some of these, e.g. the strawberry flower and the rose, are depicted on Elizabethan needlework and had special meanings. Our eyes, however, were soon diverted from the flora and foliage by the activity of Ladybirds.
We counted one hundred and forty-nine 7-spot Ladybirds (Coccinella 7-punctata), like the one above. Some were on grass but many were scuttling about on roses, small evergreen shrubs and leaves. 

I wondered whether this one above was laying eggs, but I can't be sure. You can see a selection of pictures of Ladybird eggs here.

These 7-spots above appeared to be mating.

These were some of the flowers in the new garden, so there was plenty of choice when it came to Ladybird habitat.

We saw five 2-spots (Adalia 2-punctata) like the one above, but some were too difficult to photograph easily as they were buried in between leaves. Some were extremely small and made me realise that a pair of glasses would have been helpful!   

My thanks to David for taking the picture above of another 2-spot ...
... and another. As you can see, there is also a 7-spot in the lower right-hand corner of the photo.

I noticed two Ladybirds like the one above. I wondered if they were Pine Ladybirds - or a melanic (black) form of the 2-spot (Adalia 2-punctata) since the markings were in the form of spots rather than commas - but I have it on good authority that they were 'one of the melanic forms of the Harlequin ladybird', like H. axyridis spectabilis. It was hard to tell with any sense of certainty whether these ladybirds had the telltale phlange around the base of the elytra that might have suggested an ID of Pine Ladybird. The one in the photo above was climbing along a wooden garden post. 
I encountered three 14-spot Ladybirds (Propylea 14-punctata) in the Elizabethan garden. They were small and pretty active, walking along leaves and over flowers ... and often disappearing just as I tried to click the shutter!

The seven-spot in the photograph above particularly caught my eye because it had what at first seemed to be an extra spot, the one with the 'halo' round it. I have no idea whether it is an extra spot or whether, perhaps, it could be an injury. I am wondering whether this ladybird was injected with an egg of the parasitic wasp, Dinocampus coccinellae. My reasons are as follows ...

  • The ladybird was pretty still on a warm day when most ladybirds we saw were active. Perhaps it had been paralyzed by the venom from the parasitic wasp.
  • It looks as though there is something underneath it at the front, which could be the wiry cocoon of the wasp.
  • It also looks (to my eye) as though there is something emerging from the rear of the ladybird, and while it could be an egg, it might be a yellow wasp larva. 

I have no idea whether the ladybird in the photo above had fallen victim to attack, but the subject is a fascinating, if unpleasant, one. A large proportion of ladybirds who encounter the parasitic wasp in this way fail to survive. It is believed that some kind of 'brain-washing' may be involved, due to chemical processes, because it has been noted that the ladybird appears in some instances to show protective behaviour towards the alien larva.

Scientist, Jacques Brodeur of the Department of Biological Science at the University of Montreal in Canada, has been studying this phenomenon and the ways in which the 'host' ladybird is affected by such an invasion. Observations have appeared in the Royal Society journal, Biology Letters.

You might like to read more on the BBC site here or  on a series of excellent National Geographic pages, starting here.

We also saw at least two (above and below) large multi-spotted ladybirds. I take these to be Harlequins (H. axyridis succinea). This was not good news for the native ladybirds.

As usual I shall be logging these Kenilworth sightings with the UK Ladybird Survey, and if you find ladybirds in the UK, I would encourage you to do the same. You can read about Dr Helen Roy and her ladybird work here. There was an excellent feature about it in The Times last weekend.

Seasonal First (2): Moon Jellyfish

There were a few jellyfish about of the Aurelia aurita species (also known as moon jelly, moon jellyfish, common jellyfish or saucer jelly). They were floating in the shallows. I believe they have a sting of sorts. You can read more about these Ulmaridae here.
The upper side, showing the four rings (the gonads)
The underside of a different one
Underside close-up
I'm intrigued to know whether this one had been bashed about in the waves ... or if there is another explanation.
Perhaps there is more than one jellyfish in the photo above. The Marine Conservation Society offers good advice on health and safety when it comes to jellyfish around the UK.

P.S. 20 May 2012: an update: 

'they all look like moon to me. The one pictured upside may not be, I can’t really properly see it’s characteristic rings, but it probably is a moon….'
Dr. Peter Richardson, Biodiversity Programme Manager, MCS

    Wednesday, 23 May 2012

    Seasonal First (1): Pied Flycatcher ... and Tadpoles

    We have just returned from a long weekend in Wales, where we enjoyed watching a pair of Pied Flycatchers. They didn't hang about for long although there was a fair amount of coming and going around the nestbox. We kept a very low profile and a good distance ... I apologise for the quality of this record shot ... but there they are! 

    I took the following photo a year ago, and posted it on 30 May 2011 ...

    You can see my other 2011 Pied Flycatcher photos here and here ...
    I also saw my first tadpoles on Saturday. Most were a good size, but had not started to show their legs.

    Last year's 'First Tadpole of the Season' photos (20 April - much earlier!) are here
    I am still waiting to see Sand Martins this year, but have now seen Swifts, Swallows and House Martins. I noticed my first yellow butterfly yesterday, but it didn't come close enough for me to see it properly. I guess it was a male Brimstone. I also saw my first 2012 jellyfish, which will feature in a different post.

    Thursday, 17 May 2012

    Home Patch (13): Robin and Greenfinch Again

    I have not seen any new bird species in my home patch today ... thus far ... but one of the resident Robins was hopping about.

    The Greenfinch was back ...

    ... and so was this bandy-legged Blackbird (somehow reminding me more of a Chough, in terms of his awkward camera pose!)

    ... but it was soon time to face me head on, and show off that tasty morsel of what I think was a snail, shell and all!

    There were also four Swifts flying high overhead. This one swooped a bit lower than the other 34 or so ...

    Tuesday, 15 May 2012

    Home Patch (12): Avian Visitors Old and New

    The Chaffinch seems to prefer this red Acer to the green trees ... for camouflage perhaps?
    This somewhat Leucistic female Blackbird was back on her patch this evening.
    At least I'm assuming it was the same one, but perhaps not. What do you think? The earlier photo is here. [P.S. Later: I now begin to think it may be a different bird without so much white]. 

    The new visitors today were three Swifts, who flew over the garden a couple of times, bringing my Home Patch Bird Species total to 21.

    • Cuckoo ... heard but not seen on 9 May 2012!  RED Conservation status
    • Mallard ... these flew past without landing
    • Swift ... three flew overhead today, without landing. AMBER Conservation status (do read this work by a YOUNG RSPB campaigner!). You might also care to read this from Wild Up North.

    Monday, 14 May 2012

    Ladybird Alert (10): Harlequin, 14-spot ... and thirty-seven 7-spots!

    In my previous post, I mentioned our walk through a local nature reserve. These are the Ladybirds we encountered. The 7-spots (all thirty-seven of them) were too numerous to photograph on this occasion as we had walked a fair way and needed to get back. The top photograph shows a Harlequin Ladybird. The others are native to the UK. I particularly like the last photo!

    As ever, I shall send these sighting-records in to be counted. You can find details of ...
    • the UK Ladybird Survey here
    • the Harlequin Ladybird Survey here
    Incidentally, if you would like to read my earlier post about the other creatures we saw on our walk in the nature reserve, this link here will take you to the page. 

    I take this to be the HARLEQUIN LADYBIRD, Harmonia axyridis succinea © David Gill 2012

    7-spot, Coccinella 7-punctata, of sorts?

    14-spot Ladybird - these Ladybirds are very small and are not Harlequins
    Propylea 14-punctata

    As above ... a second one
    I note that Professor P. Brain, who is based near our previous home in South Wales, also recorded a Propylea 14-punctata this weekend.

    I love the Ladybird's 'composition' here . . . One of the thirty-seven 7-spots we saw yesterday!