Monday, 18 May 2020

14th-17th May - Stuff with wings and crawly things

Recent walks around local lanes have provided me with sightings of some day flying moths and butterflies galore. Also encountered were the caterpillars of two moth species.
Life cycle of a moth (from Lewington's Butterfly guide)

First up is a Drinker moth caterpillar.  The adult moth is a rather drab looking brown affair, while the large caterpillar is a stunning beastie. Drinker moths are so named because of the caterpillar's habit of drinking dew drops.
Drinker moth caterpillar
Close up

Lesser yellow underwing Caterpillar

Cinnabar moths are very distinctive with the gaudy red and black colouring providing a warning to potential predators that they are poisonous.
Cinnarbar moth

The first Wall brown butterfly of the year for me was a welcome sight. A common butterfly in my youth, sadly rare these days.
Wall brown

In recent days I've been delighting in several large gatherings of the green longhorn moth. Watching them dancing in the sunlight has been a real pleasure, the metallic greens and burnished bronzes only visible close up. The females have extremely long antennae (often as long as the rest of the body).
Green longhorn moth

Look at those antennae

13th-May - A tail of two Blackbirds

Many of you have no doubt been witnessing the industrious efforts of your resident Blackbirds trying to cram as much food as possible into the ever expectant beaks of their young.
     I've been enjoying watching the pair that use our garden. The male of this pair is most distinctive having lost his tail, probably as a result of of a close encounter with felis catus (the domestic moggy). Despite lacking this most useful of appendages he is still able to feed his hungry brood.
The tailless male

The Female of this pair is lacking none of her appendages, but possibly lacking in common sense. I watched her looking into our open back door the other day and was surprised to see her boldly hop into the kitchen. I entered slowly scanning the room. No sign, then I heard a commotion in the front room and there she was flying around and landing all over the place. A few ornaments were knocked to the ground. I managed to get her back in the kitchen and grab her as she tried to bash herself senseless against the window. As I held her I could feel her heart beating strongly obviously scared. It was great to release her back into the garden unharmed.
    All that was left for me to do was to clean up the several small presents she'd left around the house.
Sat on the chair

Flying around

Enjoying the view

Inspecting the (burnt) oven gloves

Monday, 11 May 2020

8th-9th May - A compendium of curiosities

Lichens, mosses and most fungi have always been an enigma to me. I have never felt the need to learn their names or how to identify them, however I always like to look at and am fascinated by them.
Lichen covered stone head carving, Baconsthorpe Church

I stumbled upon this strange maple leaf. It was the only one affected among hundreds. I am unable to decide if it's a rust fungus or the eggs of a mite, both of which will parasitise the maple (Acer) family.
Rust or mite eggs on a maple leaf

Close up

I'm fairly certain that this pretty little fungus is known as Turkeytail.
Turkeytail fungus

The greatest of curiosities is the moon. A full moon has been brightening up our skies for the last few nights. Controller of the tides and possibly also ourselves (our bodies are made up of 60% water), the moon may influence us in more ways than we know. Police forces around the world can provide figures that show murder rates go up during a full moon. The ancients were also well aware of the moon's effect, giving rise to the terms lunatic and lunacy among others.
The full moon

5th-7th May - Wild flower medley

The hedgerows in May improve by the day. Here are a few of my favourites seen on recent rambles.
Wood avens
Wood avens is known by many names. Others include: Colewort, Herb Bennet & St Benedict's herb. The latter two names probably arose from the medieval Latin name Herba Benedicta meaning the blessed herb. It was widely used in herbal medicine at this time. Today it is still used by herbalists to treat a wide range of conditions including gout, diarrhoea, heart disease & ulcers.

Herb robert
Herb robert is a delicate pink wild geranium is thought to be named after the 11th century French saint Abbot Robert of Molesme. In days gone by its leaves were used to make a tea that boosted the immune system or were rubbed on the skin as an insect repellent.

Red campion
Red campion is also known as Adder's flower. Herbalists of yore would use its seeds to treat snakebites.

A carpet of Red campion

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

3rd-4th May - The merits of patch watching

The start of May is a peak time for the migration of birds, and in normal times I would be on the coast in search of them. The lockdown has put a stop to this, but it means my patch (the village) is getting a lot more attention. Easy to see species at the coast are elevated to heart thumping levels here in the village.
   On the 3rd of May having finished on the allotment and about to stroll to the castle I looked up and was amazed to see a Short-eared owl flying low south then gaining height and heading west as a Crow started to mob it.
   Arriving at the Castle amid swarms of St Mark's flies I observed one different looking fly. Closer inspection revealed an Alder fly, its delicate lace like wings stunning when viewed close up. Alder flies are typically found near to water.  This is no surprise as they spend two years of their lives as nymphs underwater, emerging as adults at this time of year to mate and lay eggs on aquatic vegetation. The adult flies only live for a few days.
Alder fly
   Also down by the Castle I discovered a new flower for me. Nestled in the cracks and crevices of the walls the Rue-leaved saxifrage had made its home.
Rue-leaved saxifrage
   The 4th of May started and ended well. On awaking at 6am the first birds I saw as I opened the front door were two Arctic terns flying south over the cottage.  Three Common swifts lingering over the street and two Grey herons heading west were the other avian highlights of the day.
   The good ending came at 9.30pm with the sights and sounds of three Tawny owls perched on telegraph poles opposite the cottage.
Sun burst through the clouds

27th April-2nd May - Tri-milchi

May has arrived. The Anglo-Saxons called this month Tri-milchi, the month when better weather and an extra flush of grass enabled cows to be milked three times a day.
   Let's take a step back to the end of April. On the 27th a shouty 'PSIT' call alerted my attention to a Yellow wagtail flying over Castle Road. On the 28th I observed my first Swift of the year, very high going west over the village - surely a harbinger of their mass arrival and the air around our village streets vibrating with the Swift's loud screeches.
   A moth trap ran on the 2nd May proved to be rather fruitless. The night was warm and cloudy (ideal conditions) when I set it up, however by 10pm the clouds had cleared and it felt distinctly chilly. The results were only 6 moths of 4 species: Hebrew character x3, Muslin moth x1, Pebble prominent x1 and Poplar hawkmoth x1.
Poplar hawk-moth
Close up of Poplar hawk-moth wing
Pebble prominent
Muslin moth

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

26th April - An evening ramble to Bodham church

This is one of our favourite walks from the front door - a circular wander that takes you down country lanes through arable fields and a thin strip of woodland. We left the house as dusk was descending.
Dusk descending
Insect and bird life were largely absent, the only bird of note being the distinctive silhouette of a hovering Kestrel.
    Mammals however were emerging from their lying up places. We saw two different Red foxes: the first a large grizzled and greying old dog fox, then a much more svelte and younger vixen. Three Brown hares were next to reveal themselves, moving around having left their forms. (A form is a shallow scrape made in the ground.)
    Then we saw three species of deer in good numbers: 4x Roe, 4x Muntjac and 2x Chinese water deer. One mixed group of species was unusual 2x Roe and 1 each of Muntjac and Chinese water deer all within a few feet of each other feeding happily. This provided a great opportunity to observe the features that differentiate the species.
A poor record shot of a Roe deer
   Out of all the deer to be seen locally my personal favourite is the Chinese water deer. The male of this species sports a large pair of tusks protruding from his upper mouth (should have been called the sabre toothed deer).  These are instead of antlers and used in the same way to impress or fight with if necessary. Despite these fearsome gnashers they do look friendly with their shiny, button like black eyes and nose plus large rounded ears which cause a teddy bear like appearance.
   Chinese water deer were first introduced to the UK in 1929 after escaping from Whipsnade Zoo. Later escapes and deliberate releases saw their numbers begin to increase steadily with the greatest numbers in East Anglia due to the abundance of their favoured wet and marshy habitat. They are in sharp decline in their native China and it's now thought that the UK has over 10% of the world population.
Bodham church (taken in daytime)

24th April - A white arse at last

Every spring most birdwatchers look forward to reacquainting themselves with certain species which have been absent during the winter months.  The first Chiffchaff, the first Swallow heralds the sunnier months and longer days to come.
   For me personally my favourite herald is the Wheatear.  A fairly common passage migrant along our now out of bounds coastline, they are much harder to find in inland areas.  Walking to the castle carefully scanning the surrounding fields finally paid off with a sighting of 2 male Wheatears.  The large size, bold upright stance and richly coloured underparts all pointed to them being of the Greenland race. I spent some time drinking in the views of these lovely birds.
A Greenland Wheatear (picture from Collins Bird Guide)
     The name Wheatear has nothing to do with wheat or indeed ears. It is actually a corruption of the old English 'whit ers' or white arse which refers to the prominent colouring of the bird's rump and tail feathers.
Curled fern frond 
       Other notable sightings on the walk included: Sand martin x14, Blackcap x2, Common whitethroat x4, Mistle thrush and a Red admiral butterfly.
Red admiral

23rd April - Another Tawny encounter

A lovely sunny evening prompted a stroll around the local lanes. The golden yellow blaze of oil seed rape is dominating many fields and its distinctive aroma filled our nostrils for the majority of our walk.
Oil seed rape field 

The field edges and hedgerows were buzzing with insect life while Skylarks filled the air with their joyous songs.
Hairy shield bug

Yellow-legged nomad bee

The highlight of the walk came in the woodland strip near Tuppeney Grove. We had both stopped to observe a female Chaffinch sat calling, when completely unseen by us a Tawny owl flew from its daytime roosting spot about a metre away from the Chaffinch.  I had a rough idea where the Tawny had landed further down the lane.  It was now time to let other birds do the work of finding it for us.  Most birds have an inbuilt fear of owls and upon locating one they will scold and sometimes mob them, and so it was the case on this occasion: Great tit, Blackbird and Chaffinch all started alarm calling in the same small patch of the woods.  A careful scan (with binoculars) of the area soon had us looking at a lovely Tawny owl. The Tawny was equally interested in us staring down at us with those big black forward facing eyes.

Friday, 24 April 2020

22nd April - The first Small copper

A couple of hours spent on the allotment wasn't as productive as it should have been as I spent at least half my time looking at butterflies and birds.  Butterflies that graced the plot included Red admiral, Brimstone, Comma, Holly blue and a lovely Small copper - the first of year for me and one of my personal favourites.
Holly blue
Small copper

Overhead in a cloudless blue sky a regular stream of raptors provided extra distractions to actual work: Common buzzard, Red kites, Kestrels and a single Sparrowhawk were seen.

A large hatch of St Mark's flies has also occurred over the last few days.  They have a distinctive profile when flying with long legs dangling beneath their black bodies.  They are so called as the adults usually emerge around St Marks day 25th April.
St Mark's fly

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

20th April - A tour of the castle

A nice warm sunny day induced me to stir my stumps and have a walk to and around the castle.  On the way down there are now several territories of both Common whitethroat and Blackcaps, and for the first time this year a Lesser whitethroat was heard.  Many tadpoles were evident in the castle moat as were a colony of Green dock beetles at the edge of the mere. I counted 18 in total.
Green dock beetle

The castle beckons
   Down by the castle moat I noticed the delicate pink blooms of Lady's smock also known as cuckoo flower, as it tends to flower at about the same time as the cuckoo's arrival.  In days gone by it was thought that the picking of it would result in a thunderstorm.  It is also the main larval food plant for the Orange-tip butterfly.
Lady's smock or cuckoo flower
    Walking back from the castle a flash of red flew past me at speed and landed in the grass 5 metres ahead of me.  After a few minutes searching I finally found a lovely Ruby Tiger moth, one of the day flying moths.
Ruby-tiger moth
  Another sighting of note was 2 Red deer hinds. Out of the 4 species of deer to be seen in and around the village, they are by far the rarest and most elusive.
Water droplets on a Mute swan feather

Sunset at the castle