Tuesday, 23 June 2020

23rd June - Crawly but not creepy

It's been a scorching day here in Baconsthorpe. The hottest day of the year so far with the mercury topping 27 degrees. Great weather for insects and other mini beasts! Here's a selection seen down the allotment.

The recently built and erected bug hotel has lots of vacancies

Scorpion fly


Yellow-tail moth caterpillar

Ladybird nymph

Cucumber spider

Ichneumon fly sp

Peacock butterfly caterpillar

22nd June - The Thick-thighed beetle

The gardeners among you may have noticed in the last few weeks a vivid green beetle visiting your flowers. The Thick-thighed beetle seems to be having a great year. I'm seeing them in good numbers everywhere I go.

Thick-thighed beetle 

A beetle of many names, it is also called the swollen-thighed beetle and the false oil beetle. Only the male of the species has the enlarged upper legs while the ladies are much more svelte in that department.

Female (thin legs)

Often seen nectaring on open flowers like cornflower, these beetles are important pollinators. Adults can be seen all through spring and summer on bright days, so keep a look out for them over the coming weeks.

Male on Dog rose

Monday, 15 June 2020

13th June - The flying gemstone

The imperial jeweller Carl Fabergé produced some of the most stunningly beautiful objects ever seen by mankind. I think even he would struggle to match the exquisite beauty of the Ruby-tailed wasp. With an emerald green body and a ruby red tail it really is an absolute gem to see.
   There are several species of this solitary wasp in the UK. All look very similar and as they are barely 10mm long and constantly on the move they can be hard to observe.
   Ruby-tailed wasps are also known as Cuckoo wasps. This is down to their habit of laying its eggs in the nests of other solitary bee and wasp species. Once the eggs hatch into larvae they feed on the newborn of the host species.
   I'd seen a few Ruby-tailed wasps this last month but it wasn't until this Saturday that I finally managed to photograph one in the back garden. The photos don't really do it justice, much nicer in the flesh.
Ruby-tailed wasp

What a gem
Close up

11th June - Moth trap #2

I hauled out the moth trap for another go at seeing some of our nocturnal nature. Sadly once again the weather changed quite dramatically overnight so the catch was very small.
   What wasn't small was the Privet hawk-moth I found within. These stunning moths are the UK's largest breeding species with a wingspan of 9-12cm and are brightly marked with a red and black abdomen and pink and black striped underwings.
Privet hawk-moth
Wings fully open
Look at that eye

Also of note was a White ermine moth which possesses one of the fluffiest heads you're ever likely to see. The name arises from its similar appearance to the ermine robes worn by royalty.
White ermine moth

Details of the feathered antenna

A Common emerald moth provided another splash of colour...
Common emerald

...while the Clouded border is always nice to see.
Clouded border

When running a moth trap it is necessary to get up just before daybreak to pot up any moths that haven't made it into the trap but have settled nearby otherwise the local birds soon learn about the fly-through takeaway on their doorstep. So I was up at 3.30am and, having saved many lives from hungry beaks, took a walk to the castle as the day unfolded around me. Beautiful pastel colours lit the sky as the sun slowly made its way up, while several Skylarks sung from on high and a ghostly Barn owl slowly quartered fields near the castle, and a Weasel broke cover to reveal himself fleetingly.
3.50am heading to the castle

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

9th June - In search of the Rosy pastor

Now that lockdown restrictions have eased I've been able to travel that little bit further for my flora and fauna fix. The 9th was a lovely sunny evening and when I heard news of a Rose-coloured starling at Cley I decided to go take a look.
   The Rose-coloured starling (Pastor roseus) also known as the Rosy pastor is a bird of Asia and far Eastern Europe.  Usually only a few make it to our shores every year. Every now and then however an irruption of this species occurs.
Breeding range of the Rose-coloured starling (from Collins Bird Guide)
Causes of these irruptions are not fully understood, but it is thought there is a likely link with population changes in the Locust, its main food source.
   Up to 75 birds have been recorded in the last week the length and breadth of Britain so keep your eyes peeled.
The star of the show (stock image)
Painting of Rosy pastors by H. Goodchild
We had lovely views of the Rosy pastor feeding on fat balls in one of the coast road gardens. After fully taking in its plumage features we decided to have a walk around Cley NWT reserve, heading down east bank then along the beach and along west bank where the car was parked.
   We saw three Marsh harriers, a male, a female and a juvenile, gliding effortlessly over the golden reed heads and surrounding grazing marshes causing panic amongst the breeding wader population. Several times we witnessed Avocets, Oystercatchers and Lapwings take to the sky to drive the Harriers away from fluffy chicks hiding in the vegetation.
   From the reed beds there was a constant chunter as masses of Sedge warblers were singing, along with the occasional explosion of the Cetti's warbler, and the gentle ping pings of Bearded reedlings. Along the shoreline we were treated to close views of both Sandwich and Little terns fishing close inshore.
   All in all a delightful evening.
The shoreline in the setting sun

Friday, 5 June 2020

2nd June - Does the Cuckoo spit?

June is upon us and the days are increasingly longer, providing more time for countryside walks. On a walk to the castle my musical accompaniment was that of Skylarks, Song thrushes and the enchanting melodic tunes of the Blackbird, while my nostrils were pleasantly assaulted by the heady perfume of flowering Honeysuckle. On the way down I noted Sheep's sorrel and Dog rose in flower.
Sheep's sorrel

Also of note was the first Cuckoo spit of the year. This strange foam seems to be on many plants and grass at this time of year. Is it really the result of a phlegmy cuckoo? Well no. Cuckoo spit is basically plant sap that has been ingested by the larva within. It forces air into the sap and then squeezes the aerated bubbly foam out of its bottom. In the middle of the foamy mass you would find a Froghopper nymph - the larva of the adult Froghopper aka spittlebug. Froghoppers have extraordinary jumping abilities helping them evade predators. The nymph however cannot jump so the foam protects it and keeps it moist.

Cuckoo spit
Close up of the foamy bottom bubbles 
Mute swan reflections

Down by the castle mere two Mute swans drifted serenely while all around them a mixed flock of Swallows, House and Sand martins swooped low over the water picking up emerging insects. Also joining the feeding frenzy were three Daubenton's bats and several Pipistrelle bats. An entertaining end to the day.

Sunset at the castle

29th May - Oak apple day

The 29th of May is known by many names including most commonly: Oak apple day & Royal Oak day. Less well known are Shick-shack day and Arbour day.

So what's it about? Formerly a bank holiday in England to commemorate the restoration of the English monarchy, its origins lie in Charles II's escape from the parliamentarians by hiding in the Boscobel oak.

Oak apples

Taking an evening walk down Church Lane I was able to find several examples of oak apples without much effort.

Are they apples? The answer is no - they are in fact a type of gall. The female oak gall wasp lays her egg in the leaf buds of an oak. As the wasp egg develops into a larvae it releases chemicals that interact with the oak causing a gall to develop. The gall now provides both protection and food for the developing wasp.

Oak apples

In folklore, oak apples were used in divination. To discover if a child was bewitched three oak apples would be placed in a basin of water under the child's cradle. If they floated all was well, if they sank the child was believed to be bewitched.

Oak apple with exit hole visible