The Small Blue and other Happenings…

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This photo makes me smile. This is last years cub whom we have watched growing up and going about her daily business everyday since she first came above ground in early April last year. Its lovely to see her briefly in daylight.

Three new species of butterfly have been seen in the meadows in the last few days. The most exciting of these is the Small Blue, a rare and declining red listed species that requires shelter and abundant Kidney Vetch. We had a little colony of them here last year but it was a poor year for Kidney Vetch and so I worried that not much egg laying had gone on and that they wouldn’t be reappearing this year. Therefore, the sighting of this single male is a very welcome sight. We have loads of Kidney Vetch now (I planted some more last Autumn) and so, as long as its not just one male that we have, hopefully they are on course for a productive year.

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Small Blue
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Brown Argus
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At the back of the hide pond I have planted Teasels, a native British plant with spiky flowerheads, beloved of Goldfinches.

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Teasels

The leaves form cups that capture pools of water:

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These pools of water remain for a considerable time – several days after a shower. While the grass and the earth become quite dry, the Teasel often still has a supply of water. This water has always been thought to have rejuvenating powers. In the 18th century, it was believed to remove freckles and it is apparently still being used as a soother for hayfevery itchy eyes.

Broomrape has become very noticeable in the meadows. These are a group of parasitic plants, with no chlorophyll, that feed off the roots of other plants. Some Broomrapes are very specific to a particular host, others are more generalists. We seem to have more than one species – there is this lovely yellow one growing prominently in a patch of red clover:

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And there is a purplish one, also seemingly growing in association with Clover:

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These are really interesting plants and I would love to be able to identify them more certainly. I have a plant key but somehow my eyes seem to glaze over as I try to use it. Several decades ago I got a Botany degree but there is little sign of that now – what a waste of taxpayers money.

The fourth dose of Turtle Dove feed has gone out onto the bare earth strip. Still not a sniff of a Turtle Dove but a largish flock of Linnets is there most of the time:

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I’ve put up 18 Linnets at one time as I’ve gone round. Also, the pair of Grey Partridge is there every day:

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In previous summers, we haven’t seen any Starlings. This year we have a little band of them here, maybe 8-10 birds, and they, too, have been using the strip:

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I have never seen a House Sparrow in the second meadow before, but here one is, standing on the strip:

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Last weekend, there was madness down at the pond as the Emperor dragonflies emerged. This weekend, its a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s parade comes the dustcart’. The empty shells of dragonfly nymphs clinging to reeds are waving disconsolately in the breeze:

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A quick estimate of emergences is up at about 100. We are now looking forward to seeing these dragonflies out and about around the meadows.

 

 

The Sequence of Emergence

I have spent the last two evenings in the pond:

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Last night, I photographed an entire sequence of dragonfly emergence and then emerged myself from the pond feeling triumphant. It was then that I realised that the camera was on a stupid setting and no photographs had in fact been taken. So I went back in this evening and this time had to sit in the water because the larva I was following hadn’t climbed very high.

This is what I got:

The Emperor larva climbs out of the water and wraps its arms around a reed:

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Cracks appear in the back of its shoulders:

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Once the dragonfly is dangling out backwards like this, there is a bit of a lull in the proceedings and onlookers might start to get a bit restless. But if you do get bored and don’t pay sufficient attention, frustratingly you might miss the next bit, because it happens really fast: the dragonfly bends forwards, clasps the head of its old husk and pulls the rest of its body out:

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Now that it has flipped over, the wings very quickly start pumping up:

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This is the point that I got out of the pond, but there was another emergence going on close by that was a bit further along:

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By the next morning, all the dragonflies had departed apart from one:

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Up to today, we estimate that there have already been 50 Emperor emergences across the two ponds. This evening there are many, many more going on as I type.

Dragonflies are such magnificent things and I am really enjoying getting to know them a bit better.

 

 

 

 

The Gentleman Badger

The male badger, that we call Scarface, knows that he is not allowed near the badger cubs and it has been very entertaining watching his internal conflict if he happens upon them as he trundles along the cliff path. He so wants to do the right thing that your heart can’t help but go out to him.

Last night, he was heading off as normal towards the hole under the fence, beyond which lie the peanuts, and he came unexpectedly upon a fox cub. He stopped dead in his tracks and, in a most gentlemanly way, waited for the fox cub to decide what it wanted to do first before he did anything further:

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These are screen shots from a video. By the time the camera took the next video, the cub had gone and Scarface was gingerly continuing on his way.

Varied and interesting insects are around at this most glorious time of year. Look at this fly:

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You may think that this is a most beautiful fly until you learn that its name is the Flesh Fly, at which point you might change your mind.

However, this wasp-mimic longhorn beetle – the Wasp Beetle (Clytra arietis) – really is a lovely thing:

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It was a wonderful day today in the most long-awaited time of year:

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Long may it continue.

 

 

Fox Cubs Appear

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Fox cubs have now appeared. As far as we can make out, there are three separate fox families: one with twins and two with just one cub each. Here are some more photos of them all from the trail cameras over the last week:

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And, my favourite, of a cub suckling:

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The 65th species of bird to be seen here made an appearance this week, a Mistle Thrush:

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And last night Emperor dragonflies started emerging from the wild pond. We counted about six emerging by 9pm. If this year follows the same pattern as last year,  tonight should see a lot more coming out.

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Mothing 2018

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Now that moth season 2018 is properly underway, a blog post about moths is long overdue. I ran the moth trap last night even though it got quite cold once the sun went down.

By morning, I had got a nice selection of interesting moths. This first one, a Sallow Kitten,  is a stunning moth with really distinctive markings and lovely furry legs. It also has what seems to be a monkey face rucksack on.

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This next moth is an insult to all the hours we have spent pulling up wheelbarrow loads of Ragwort over the years here because its the Cinnabar moth – a Ragwort specialist.

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The third one is the Muslin moth. I always think that this moth looks like its dressed up to go to the opera in its fur stole. And those wonderful antennae:

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Elsewhere in the meadows today, the Brimstone Butterfly caterpillars are beginning to hatch out on the Alder Buckthorn trees. These trees are still small and unable to support too much munching so I hope they are not stripped again like they were last year:

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I think this butterfly below is a Common Blue – the first of the year here. I am not completely sure it’s not a Holly Blue since they can look so similar unless you see the underside of their wings, which I didn’t. But a wonderful sight to see on a daisy whatever it is:

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I saw a different longhorn moth today. This one’s horns are nowhere near as long and are white tipped and such a metallic shine to the body: Nemophora cupriacella

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Finally, the wild bee box is pretty much now full:

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So its lucky that we now have a second one:

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The Nature Nerd

Today my list of chores has remained undone, the Royal Wedding has remained unwatched, the gardening will have to wait for another day – it was just so wonderful out in the meadows, that is where I have spent the day. Here are some of the things I have seen:

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This is a Red Mason Bee taken from below to show that they carry the pollen on their tummies rather than in pollen sacs on their legs which is what Honey Bees do. I had to be in a semi squat position to get to the right height for this photo and my leg muscles were screaming, so I was pleased when I finally managed to get a bee in focus.

Today there were two male Broad Bodied Chaser dragonflies at the new pond, leading to frequent noisy, aggressive pitch battles over the water. When they were not fighting, they were perched up next to each other waiting for a female. What absolutely magnificent creatures:

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Down at the wild pond, there was this delicate Damselfly:

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I know very little about Damselflies but I have looked this one up and I think it is a female Red-eyed Damselfly, although the book has her very much more green than this one is.

Also at the wild pond, several of these white moths are fluttering around in amongst the reeds:

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This is the Small China Mark moth – a male. Waterside vegetation is where he lives and his food plant is Duckweed – well, we have a lot of that.

Two butterflies put in their first appearance of the year today. The Wall is a species that is in huge decline and we have only seen a couple a year here, so it was lovely to see this male today. He was staking out a compost heap and was there all day awaiting a female.

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Here is the underside of the Wall’s wings:

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This Small Copper Butterfly is much more common, both here and generally:

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The Bird Ringer came by today because the Blue Tit babies in this nest were now big enough to be ringed:

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Ten baby birds in the nest are now sporting a lovely silver bangle and are safely back in the nest with the adults going back in carrying caterpillars:

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A fortnight ago I photographed this Cucumber Spider that had made a web within the leaf of a Wayfarer tree:

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Araniella cucurbitina or opisthographa

Well, things have moved on in this spider’s life. It has managed to catch itself bee in its web and is now building a nest for the next generation:

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I really don’t like spiders, but I am trying to get to know them and understand them more which may help. It hasn’t so far, though.

I talked about Green Longhorn Moths yesterday, but there was a mini swarm of seven of them on some Ivy today and I got some more pictures and they are so ridiculous they deserve another mention:

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While I was photographing the Longhorn swarm, this thing also passed through:

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Eeek – not in focus!

All I can say about this is that its a parasitic wasp, of which there are thousands of species. Things I don’t know and my books can’t help, such as this wasp, I put on ispotnature – a website run by the Open University where you can post your observations and there seem to be many knowledgeable people on it who identify it for you. Nothing so far this time, though.

If we were trying to support and encourage Wood Pigeons on the bare earth strip, then we would be so pleased with whats going on there:

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Although we are definitely not trying to encourage them, their presence on the strip might be what catches a Turtle Dove’s eye as it flies over. And it means that there is not a build up of feed from week to week which might bring disease. I sign off for now with another lovely shot of the Grey Partridge today:

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Marvellous May

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A photo taken in extremis, one handed, whilst grappling the dog to the ground with the other. There had been a great deal of snarling unpleasantness between fox cub and dog before I managed to throw myself onto the dog as the cub desperately tried to find the hole back onto the cliff. All ended well. And this was the first fox cub sighting of the year.

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A truly magnificent male Broad Bodied Chaser passing the time in the sun whilst waiting for a passing female.

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These horns are ridiculous. A Green Longhorn Moth. It was a breezy morning and the horns were being blown all around the place. Iridescent in the sunlight:

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We planted Alder Buckthorn trees last year to support Brimstone Butterflies who specialise on these trees for their caterpillars. This year they are looking slightly more leafy and resilient:

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Last year they were stripped of foliage by Brimstone caterpillars which was good but also not good because they hadn’t yet had a chance to establish themselves as trees. There are no caterpillars  this year, but if you look on the underside of the leaves:

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A tiny single Brimstone Butterfly egg

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Everything is just all so much later this year.

The news from the strip is that the third dosage of seed has now been applied. Wood pigeon, Stock Dove, Linnet and Grey Partridge are regular visitors:

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But the increased bird activity hasn’t escaped the notice of the Sparrowhawk:

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A grizzly discovery on the strip

The meadows are magnificent in their buttercup-edness at the moment:

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The Kidney Vetch is coming into flower, with the hope that the Small Blue Butterflies might not be far behind:

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And one particular Hawthorn bush has exquisite shades of pink in amongst the white blossom that might cause you to lose yourself in the wondrous beauty of it all and simply marvel at the magnificence of May:

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