Wednesday, 29 July 2015

28th July - Sometimes You're The Windshield

After the rain on Sunday came the wind, and quite a strong wind varying from the north west, to a westerly.  Totally unseasonable more like October than the the middle of the Summer.  Temperatures haven't been much better struggling to get into the high teens.  From my office window there have been sightings of a single Red Kite once again over the garden early afternoon, and a Sparrowhawk skimming the tree tops along Lymington Bottom, I can also see plenty of House Martins high in the sky, around and over the roof tops.  

Regardless of the weather I was determined to get out later in the afternoon with the objective of looking for Roe Deer in Old Down, they should have started the rutting season by now and I was interested to see if my latest toy would work.

As I stepped out into the garden late in the afternoon I was greeted by some pleasant sunshine, so despite the still fresh breeze,, any sheltered spot had the potential to be warm.

As I mentioned previously there have been plenty of Goldfinches and Greenfinches in the garden using the feeders, and as I set off there was a group of Greenfinches in the conifers, obviously waiting for me to leave.

It was quiet walking along Brislands past the recreation ground for the first time in quite awhile.  Up to lately there has always been a a Song Thrush singing or Robins since the start of the tear, but today there was a stony silence.

As I passed the Gradwell turn I could see a pink haze in the distance that belonged to a large patch of Rosebay Willowherb.  This tall flower has now replaced the foxglove as the dominant flowering plant around the area.

A little further along a male Blackbird was on the road with a bill full of insects and worms that was more than likely destined for yet another brood.  Blackbirds have been busy with probably as many as three broods, maybe more since March.

The sun was intermittent now, and as I walked down the main path into the woods I was surprised to see butterflies along the path.  Mostly Whites there was also a few Meadow Browns.  One large White settled on one of the leaves as the clouds once more rolled over the sun.

My original plan had been to walk around the woods, but with butterflies about and the skies clearing and revealing more sunshine I decided to change the plan and walk the areas where there was the potential for some butterflies.

This change of plan took me down the Kitwood path where I hoped I might find White Admiral, however after the rush along the main path, this area was completely devoid of literally anything.

Coming out into the field the sky was full of hirundines.  I could see Swallows and house martins but with there having been a significant movement of Sand martins recently scanned the birds in the hope of finding one which would have been the first of the year.

There were plenty of stubby tailed individuals with what appeared to be chest bands that were worth checking but on a closer look they turned out to be juvenile Swallows.

The attraction to these birds was the ripened Barley that looked quite stunning in the sunshine and the distant clouds and trees.

I was crossing the field to spend sometime in the flower meadow at the corner of Kitwood.  there was still a fresh breeze but a lot more sunshine now so I was hopeful of finding something interesting.

Stepping over the style I could see plenty of Meadow Browns flying, and also settled on the Knapweed flower heads.

Other immediately obvious butterflies were several Small Whites.

I walked through the grass and flowers, and came across a dragonfly that while it never properly stopped allowing clear identification, from the colour I suspected that it was a Southern Hawker.

With a little bit more searching I managed to find a Small Skipper again on the flower heads.

And hiding amongst the grass a Green-veined White.

Butterflies have a habit of appearing here, and from no where this Peacock flew in, and settled to nectar on the flower heads.  I got down low in the grass to get a different perspective on an often photographed butterfly.

Whilst there were many butterflies, mainly Meadow Browns there were by far plenty more bees.  Dominant were the Red-tailed Bumblebees, and again I got down low to photograph this large one making its way through the knapweed.  Bumblebees feed on nectar, using their long hairy tongues to lap up the liquid; the proboscis (you can just it visible here as a red line in amongst the flower petals)  is folded under the head during flight.

Bumblebees have round bodies covered in soft hair which are long branched setae, called pile, making them appear and feel fuzzy.  They forage using colour and spatial relationships to identify flowers to feed from.

What I was hoping for here in the meadow was some Common Blues and Small Coppers, all seen here in previous years.  I was able to find any, and this maybe because the kidney vetch and birds foot trefoil that has grown here in previous years is absent this year.  It may still be a little early for the second brood of Coppers, we shall just have to wait and see.

I left the meadow and headed towards Swelling Hill Pond, over the lawn on the opposite side of from the pond there was yet another concentration of young Swallows.  They were swooping low over the grass and around the old nissen huts.

On the pond there was little of note, just this Moorhen hiding amongst the Iris leaves.

I wanted to head back into the wood, but before I did I walked along the edge of the field where the sun was warming up the brambles and knapweed.  Once again there were plenty of Meadow Browns, but I was pleased to see a single Marbled White fly past me even though it would not stop for the photograph, would this be the last one this year?

I turned back into the wood where I was greeted by a singing Chiffchaff, the first bird song I have heard today.  The bramble once again was lit up by the sun, and there were plenty of butterflies about.  I was looking for anything that wasn't brown, and quickly found a Small Skipper.

And then an Essex Skipper complete with black clubs!

The butterflies were then joined by a dragonfly, that circled around over the bramble and them came out over the grass and started to stop very briefly on the grass and then flying off deflecting the grass as if looking to disturb anything that may have settled on it.  I have seen this behaviour last year conducted by the same species.

It then fortunately settled on a bramble branch and i was able to get in close, it was a Southern Hawker, the same species I suspected was flying around the meadow.

i was able to get in really close, and focused on the head.  The major part of the head of a dragonfly is the frons, or forehead, which includes a pair of antennae; a pair of large compound eyes, and three simple eyes, the use of which is not clear.

In this close up you can see the segments of the compound eye, and the antennae.  A compound eye may consist of thousands of individual photoreceptor units or ommatidia. The image seen is a combination of inputs from the numerous individual "eye units", which are located on a convex surface, thus pointing in slightly different directions. Compared with simple eyes, compound eyes possess a very large view angle, and can detect fast movement and, in some cases, the polarisation of light.  Because the individual lenses are so small, the effects of diffraction impose a limit on the possible resolution that can be obtained. This can only be countered by increasing lens size and number. To see with a resolution comparable to our simple eyes, humans would require very large compound eyes, around 11 m in radius.

In this view you can see the area where the mouth parts are.  The mouth parts are extremely strong and are made up of the labrum, mandible, and labium.  Behind the head are a pair of plates that allow the head to turn like a neck, and connect the head to the Thorax.  

The thorax houses the locomotive organs, which are mainly the wings, and also the appendages.  There are three segments to the thorax, each of which bears a pair of legs.  The two rear segments also carry the wings.

Up close a completely fascinating animal.

Leaving butterflies and the dragonflies I turned down the west path.  I had with me what is known as a Buttolo Blatter, a rubber bulb that when squeezed gives off a sound extremely close to that a Roe Deer would make.  The hope was that if there were any deer about they would show themselves.  Unfortunately it had no effect what so ever and I didn't see a single deer!

Walking along the path the Foxglove blooms have all gone, and all that is left are tall green spikes.  That isn't to say that they do not look as good.  With the sun on them they still definitely look spectacular.

At the bottom of the path the sun was lighting up a clump of Bracken, and sitting on one frond was a Comma.

And that was about it, I made my way back home via the Gradwell footpath.  There were a few Chiffchaffs calling,and more meadow Browns but nothing to attract the attention of the camera.

It looks like I have missed out on White Admiral this year, my fears of the opening up of the trees and bushes in the area having proved right.  I am also a little concerned about the Small Copper too, but there is still time.  

It was good today to get in close on some of the insects to reveal some of the parts that you don't always get the chance to see.

Monday, 27 July 2015

26th July - Daylight Deals a Bad Hand

It just seems that when I have had the opportunity to get out around Four Marks the weather has played a really bad hand.  This week I was in Germany where the weather was very hot, and I was treated to a spectacular thunderstorm Wednesday evening.  When I returned to the UK and the possibility of a walk on Friday it just rained continually all day.  It hasn't all been bad news and true to my 2015 commitment I have been getting out and about around Hampshire and surrounding areas, the full details of these trips over the last few weeks can be seen here.  Some really good butterflies over the last two weeks.

Back at home the garden feeders have become busy with Goldfinch and Greenfinch families making their way through the sunflower seeds at a rapid rate.  The mealworms have now been stopped as those feeding on them have disappeared from the garden. 

I did put the moth trap out Saturday night in the hope that I could get to it before the rain came, but this did not work out.  There were a few moths present, One of which was a first for the year, an Early Thorn.

As well as the Early Thorn there were two Poplar Hawk Moths, always a treat to see.

There are some indications that there might be some settled weather about this week so hopefully I can have something a little more interesting to report on.

Friday, 17 July 2015

17th July - And There They Saw a Rock

The week has been extremely muggy and overcast, the kind of conditions that seem to exhaust you even though you are not doing anything.  It was then with a sigh of relief that the forecast was for thunderstorms last night that would clear out the still humid weather, and bring in more fresher weather.  \Thunderstorms and still conditions are also very good for moths in the summer, and as a result I decided to put the trap out.

The storms went through around 9.00pm last night, and there was some lightning and showers of heavy rain.  There was still some dampness in the air first thing in the morning as I stepped out to look into the trap. My hopes were proved to have come true, there was a lot of moths present, not least nine Elephant Hawk Moths my highest count for the garden.  Here are eight of them, the ninth was found later under one of the egg boxes after I had released all these.

Included in the catch were several first for the year, and two or maybe three new moths for the garden, there was also one moth that has proved difficult to identify, lets start with this one.

While resembling some of the Dark Arches that were present it was smaller and with more rounded wings.  It seems to have faded quite a bit, and the markings are not distinct, but the best I can think of is that this is a Rustic that has faded a little.

This is a Dark Arches, and you can see the different shapes of the moth from above the wings are sharper pointed, and from the side there is a definite hump that is not present in the Rustic.

A first for the year was this Grey or Dark Dagger, both have lovely dark dagger like markings on the wings, and it is impossible to tell apart with out examining the genitalia, which I did not bother to do.  Apparently the larvae or caterpillars are distinctly different.

As well as the Elephant Hawk Moths, there was a single Pine Hawk-Moth, the first for the year.

A medium sized Hawk-Moth, similar in size to the Elephants it is a fairly nondescript greyish member of the Hawk-Moths, this species is restricted in Britain to the south and east, 
It inhabits coniferous woodland, where it flies in a single generation during May and June, so this individual is quite late in the season

The larva, which is rather more colourful than the moth, feeds on the needles of Scots Pine, a small clump of which can be found at the top of Lymington Rise

Yet another first for the year, a Swallow-tailed moth.  A spectacular species and one of our largest Geometrids, this is however reasonably common in Britain but being strictly nocturnal and having quite a short emergence period in July, it is not often encountered by the non-moth enthusiast.

The larvae feed on a number of trees and shrubs, but prefer ivy of which there is quite a bit in the garden.

This individual seems to have faded a little, and of course settled on a cream wall!

Now for the firsts, the dubious one to start with, this is definitely a Footman, but is it a common or Buff Footman?  The common has the dark grey markings to the top of the head.  While the Buff Footman has a paler folded wings and creamy yellow on the head, and it is this that makes me think this is a Buff Footman.

With the next two I had no problem identifying them.  First was yet another green moth.  Last year I caught Small Emeralds, but today I had a much bigger green moth, this time a Large Emerald.  As you can imagine from the name this is the largest of the 'emeralds', with a wingspan of up to 3 centimetres, and one which is common throughout most of Britain. 

It inhabits woods, heaths and moors, and flies at night in June and July, when it is easily attracted by light.  It can be further distinguished by the butterfly-like resting position with the wings spread and at an angle as if ready to take off.

Last but not least was the night's star of the show for me, and I nearly missed it.  As I started to put away the egg boxes I could see that one was wet from the rain so I decided to leave it out to dry.  When I picked it up to put in a sunny place to dry I noticed a moth superbly camouflaged on the grey box.  I was able to get it off to get a better view

This is the Lobster Moth, and yes it bares no resemblance whatsoever to a Lobster.  It gets it's name from the remarkable crustacean-like appearance of the caterpillar. It is not a common moth, and I am very pleased to have seen one at last.  It can be found in the southern part of Britain, occupying woodland habitats where the caterpillars feed on beech and oak.

When at rest the head is tucked down and the antennae curled around with the front legs splayed out in front.  However when alert the antennae perk up like big ears and you can see the lovely big eyes and furry head, which give it an adorable look

Then the antennae droop and its just "so fluffy!"

The Blackbirds and Sparrows continue to entertain in the garden, and once again this morning the Red Kite drifted over, scouring the gardens below for the odd terrier or two(!).

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

14th July - I Dream In Colour

We have been away over the weekend, the details of which can be found here, but since last Friday there have been some interesting events.  On Thursday there was a pile of feathers on the lawn, and a little bit of flesh, indicating that one of the House Sparrows had fallen.  The numbers of House Sparrows and Blackbirds in the garden has increased to quite large numbers, and with the introduction of the mealworms it has also attracted the local Sparrowhawk.

This was confirmed on Friday morning when I came into the kitchen to see a male Sparrowhawk sitting on the bird bath.  On seeing me it was off, but it is now clear the garden has become a bird feeder all the way up to the apex predator.

It is though amusing to see the Blackbirds and House Sparrows feeding on the worms.  The Blackbirds clearly gathering them to feed a brood somewhere close, as they take as many as they can.  Just recently a female has appeared up to now it was just males that were collecting them to feed juvenile fledged birds.  I watched this female gather up the worms and head off to the nest 5 times within the space of 10 minutes.

Anything is seen as a threat to take the worms away, even this Collared Dove that arrived happy only to eat the fallen seed from the feeders.

The House Sparrows perform a smash and grab approach, confident that the Blackbird is pre-occupied with trying to get as many worms in its beak to be concerned about them dropping in.

It is only the female Sparrows that collect the worms and take them off, the male will drop in, but only to eat for themselves.

There have been at least three juvenile Blackbirds, and they will feed from the basket, or take them from the grass when they escape, but when the adults appear they will beg to be fed.  Sometimes they go to the wrong adult, and get chased off for their mistake. 

Another Juvenile appeared by the bird bath, a Robin.  It has been quite shy but this morning I managed to get it to feed on worms I threw down close to it, early days but we never know we might be able to get it to come closer.

As I have said there have been several male Blackbirds about, all collecting the worms and feeding the young.  This one though looks the most worn out, and is probably very grateful for the easy pickings the mealworms afford.

When the mealworms ran out I was sorting out the moth trap, so you would not be surprised that I had some onlookers that had to be moved on.  The conditions overnight were ideal, overcast, humid with a little misty rain.  It proved to be correct and the trap was busy this morning.  Of the larger moths there were seven Elephant Hawk-moths, and two Privet Hawk-moths.  It was though the smaller types that provided the mornings interest with four new moths for the garden, and several firsts for the year.

This Buff Arches was a first this year.

It is a fairly common moth in southern Britain, but a lovely marked and coloured moth.

Other firsts for the year were this Coronet.

And this similar Dot Moth.

The micro moths can prove to be difficult, but some can be easily identified by colour, this is the V Pug, a small moth about a centimetre across but quite a vivid green.

Now for the new moths, this one only seems to have a Latin name, the Udea Prunalis.  Another common small moth that can normally be found around Blackthorn, plenty of which can be seen around here.

Another micro moth but with a striking pattern is this one, the Crambus Pascuella.

Flying from June to August, the adults are on the wing at night, when they are attracted to light, but are easily disturbed during the day from their grassy resting-places.

The next is a little larger, but one of those moths that can be confused with similar species.  From the wavy patterns on the wings this is I think a Brussels Lace.

And finally the best moth caught over night, and again a new one for the garden, a Green Silver-lines.

One of the very few British green moths, this species is fairly common in wooded areas over much of England and Wales.  The larvae feed on oak and birch.

At lunch-time I was treated to another first when not just one but two Red Kites were over the garden.  At one time one came very low over me scanning the ground all the time, they seem to be getting a lot bolder.

They drifted around the area for some time, often together.

A blurred TV aerial adds a little more urban scenery to the presence of these beautiful birds of prey.

The overcast and humid conditions have proved to be ideal for the hunting House Martins, they now have young to feed in the nest on the house, and these conditions must have come at the right time.

By the late afternoon the heavy overcast conditions were lifting, the clouds were higher and there were patches of blue sky about that let through some sunshine.  These conditions were a lot more hopeful than earlier in the day, so I decided to set off for a walk around Old Down and the fields.

A Chiffchaff and the Song Thrush was singing as I headed along Brislands, and a few butterflies on the wing lifted the spirit, one of which was a gatekeeper.  I turned into Gradwell Lane and came across a Comma butterfly the first for awhile, and one of this year's emerging adults.

I could hear the chatter of Swallows above me, and as I turned onto the footpath I could seen many birds flying low over the barley field.  The Swallows were collecting in th4 Hawthorns trees on the edge of the field, and the numbers were definitely swelled by lots of newly fledged juvenile birds.  As I walked towards the trees all the Swallows went up, and I estimate there must have been at least over 50 birds present.  They were flying around the trees, and then low out over the barley.  As they came over the trees they would hang in the breeze, giving me once again the opportunity to try and get a picture.

These are juvenile birds, easily separated from the adults by the remains of the yellow flanges on the bill, and the lack of credible tail streamers.  For the record I was not aware this one was chasing insects.  It is difficult to get the colour in the monochrome conditions, but I was pleased with these two attempts.

Even at this young age the agility and flying skills were immediately evident.

As I watched the Swallows Meadow Browns, Ringlets and a few Marbled Whites were flushed from the grass by the side of the hedgerow.

I turned back and headed into Old Down.  Whilst there were patches of sunshine about it was still quite dull and muggy.  Butterflies would fly up as I walked along the path, but these were always the commoner species, and typically the browns.  I turned down the Kitwood path in the hope that maybe there was a fritillary or even a White Admiral about, but there was no such luck.

I decided to cross the field to the meadow in the hope that there could be something there.  As I walked I could sense the cloud building up again once more, and away to the west it was looking quite dark.  From the path I flushed a pair of Skylark, and several white butterflies flew past me.

The meadow was still and quiet until I ventured of the path a short way.  This flushed the Meadow Browns, and once one was on the wing it seemed to encourage other out as well.  I could only find Ringlets and Meadow Browns though in amongst the grass and on the thistles and knapweed.

Just as I was about to leave a Small White appeared on the flower of a knapweed, and made a welcome break from the brown images that were fluttering about.

The walk towards the pond was quiet apart from yet another Song Thrush in song at the top of a tree.  If the amount of singing birds is an indicator of breeding success this year then they should have had a good year.  I have heard Song Thrush singing in the morning from home almost every day since late November.

I turned to check the cut lawn close by, and a rather tired looking male Pied Wagtail scampered across searching for small insects.

I walked around the pond in search of dragon and damselflies, but there was nothing about, then headed back into Old Down.  On the main path a Red Admiral stood out with its striking red markings in the yellow grass as it rested on a leaf.

Again along the main path it was Ringlets and Meadow Browns flushed from the grass, but at the crossroads I came across some small orange skippers.  These always warrant closer inspection, and I did find some Small Skippers, but also a pair of Essex Skippers which are slightly smaller and with the black clubs on the end of the antennae.

A little further on I finally managed to get a Gatekeeper to sit with its wings open to show the lovely orange markings.

As I made my way along the main path towards Brislands I could hear the calls of both the young Kestrels, and the mews of distant Buzzards.  Out on the lane I picked up a Buzzard flying towards me, high and heading in the direction of the wood.  As it came over I could just make out that it was carrying prey, and from the tail it was probably a rat.

A little further on another large bird of prey approached, the Red Kite again, and one of the birds that was over the garden earlier.  It drifted over with that relaxed wing beat that seems to require hardly any effort.

By now the dark clouds were giving up a miserly rain, not heavy but the sort of rain that had the potential to soak you. Fortunately I was not too far from home.  As I came around the corner in Lymington Rise, movement on the lawn.  For the first time this year it was a Green Woodpecker.  There has not been any sign or sound of young about, maybe they were later this year.

I tried to get a little closer while at the same time shielding the lens from the drizzle.  However it flushed and flew up into the tree where I suspect it has a nest.

As I mentioned earlier these conditions suit the House Martins, and there were plenty flying above the houses as I reached home, but then in amongst the smaller and stocky Martins was a much slimmer bird.  I had hoped the conditions might produce one, and here it was a Swift.

It is amazing how difficult it is to see them here when there are plenty in Alton, and they can easily be seen from Ropley to Winchester along the A31.  By July I have usually given up on them so it was nice to see this one today.

An interesting day, which for a mid summer July day delivered some good stuff despite the weather conditions.