The Insect Siren

I already knew that I was adored by Mosquitoes, Horse Flies and a host of other biting insects, but it turns out that I’m pretty popular with Pollen Beetles as well:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This sort of attention I could do without, but it serves me right for going out in a T shirt that makes me look like a giant Hawkweed. At least we have proved that it is the colour yellow that draws the Beetles in to the flowers, rather than smell or shape – so a scientific experiment, then, rather than a wardrobe miscalculation. The other one of us, wearing a shirt of muted greens and blues, had not a single Beetle on him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Quite a high tide – it has been a full moon

Down at the white cliffs, two of the young Kestrels have now fledged and are inexpertly flying around in the vicinity of the nest:

P1190570

IMG_2428

Talking to a fellow nature enthusiast that we met, there are another two still in the nest:

IMG_2417

There were also a pair of Ravens to be seen. Back in 2010, Ravens nested and successfully raised two young in the white cliffs around Dover for the first time in more than a century. There are now, I believe, several Raven nesting sites in the area, including one quite close to here:

P1190563

But there has been drama down at the white cliffs. The House Martin nest that I had been particularly watching now seems to have been attacked and is standing empty.

IMG_2474

But what bird is capable of robbing a nest on a sheer cliff like that? A quick search on the internet tells me that both Sparrowhawks and Great Spotted Woodpeckers would be able to do that- and of those two, Sparrowhawks have to be the prime suspects.

Having shut the gate between the meadows, we are now starting to see our Sparrowhawks again, rather than just the sorry piles of feathers that they leave as their calling cards:

Wildcamera
Female
Wildcamera
Male

The male is distinctive with white feathers on the back of his head:

Wildcamera

And so here he is again on the strip:

IMAG0197

IMAG0196

We have had some more much-needed rain in the week. The Wood Pigeons and Stock Doves always seem pretty waterproof, the water simply forming spheres on their feathers that then roll off. But what on earth had happened to this one? In all the years of looking at these birds on trail cameras, I haven’t seen one looking wet like this before.

Trail camera

It is always entertaining to see what state the Badgers manage to get themselves in when it rains:

Screenshot 2020-07-09 at 17.43.48

Although too early still to start this year’s cut of the meadows, we got the tractor out and cut the paths round the circumference.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMAG0837The cut field margins stop the hedgerows encroaching too enthusiastically into the meadows as well as making it much easier for us to walk around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
An enticing path through the meadow flowers

We operate a zero-tolerance policy for Ragwort and just about now, as the Ragwort clearly advertises itself by coming into flower, we go round with the Ragwort fork and dig it all up. Ragwort is an injurious weed and its toxins build up in the liver of grazing animals, especially dangerous if it is in hay and they can’t recognise and avoid it. Our cut grasses don’t go to animals but we are under a legal obligation to ensure that Ragwort seed from our land doesn’t spread to other people’s.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have been doing this now for five years and there is only a small amount growing now compared to before. However, Ragwort has many wildlife benefits – one of the most obvious being as the larval food plant for the beautiful Cinnabar Moth. We have been finding some of these caterpillars here this week:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I hadn’t noticed those hairs before

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have decided to delay the Ragwort-removal job for a couple of weeks to give the Cinnabars time to pupate – there is time before these plants start to go to seed. When the caterpillars are fully grown, they will leave the plant and pupate just below the surface of the soil until next spring.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
For now, our bright yellow Rag-Fork will remain hanging in the shed

Now that we are in July, an extra layer of richness is brought to the soundscape of the meadows with the song of Grasshoppers and Crickets. Shut your eyes and you are on a Mediterranean holiday. They are very much part of the ecosystem here but we have never put the necessary effort in to get to know them. There are 34 species of Orthoptera (Bush-crickets, Crickets and Grasshoppers) in the UK but we have no idea how many of those live here. With East Africa currently suffering the worst locust devastation for many generations, it seemed a very appropriate time to find out a little more about these animals.

We saw this Roesels’s Bush-cricket on a window, very distinctive with the yellow spots on the side of her thorax and the margin of the pronotum, just behind the head. She is a female with her sword-like ovipositor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I remembered that last year I had rescued a Roesel’s Bush-cricket from a spider web in a shed and I searched back for the photo:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is also a female with that ovipositor – but the big difference is that this one’s wings are really short.

There is a form, f. diluta, of this species that has the long wings and f. diluta usually makes up less than 1% of the population. This percentage can rise, however, in long hot summers or if the population density is getting high – that is, in conditions where it might be necessary to disperse.

Here is a very different Bush-cricket that we also saw this week, the Speckled Bush-cricket:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A female again, with that ovipositor

We were finding this all so interesting that we decided to do some sweeps of the grass with a net and see what we caught.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
What fun! (but we don’t get out much)

As well as the Roesel’s, we found Meadow Grasshoppers and Field Grasshoppers, although both of these come in many colour forms and identification proved to be a somewhat tricky business.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Meadow Grasshopper male. Chorthippus parallelus
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Field Grasshopper. Chorthippus brunneus
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Another female Roesel’s Bush-cricket, also with those long wings. Notice the white spines at the rear of her abdomen. We guess that they are used as anchors as she sticks the ovipositor into the ground.

The net also contained all sorts of other things – caterpillars, spiders, moths. We had never seen anything like these sweet little things before:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

These are different instars of the nymphs of the Tortoise Bug (Eurygaster testudinaria). We didn’t find an adult but it is perhaps slightly too early.

Here are a few other photos from this week in the meadows:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Marbled White on Teasel
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Goldfinch eating the flowers seeds
Trail camera
Scarface out and about in the light

One wet morning this week, the De Gallant was at anchor alongside the meadows.

IMG_2529

She was launched in 1916 and served as a Herring lugger in the North Sea until 1936. In recent times she has become a wind-powered cargo ship that also carries fare-paying passengers, who go along for the ride and also help crew the vessel. Last October, she sailed into Deal bringing produce all the way from the Caribbean that the people of the town had pre-ordered, powered only by the strength of the wind. We happened to see her arrival from the meadows as we were standing talking to the bird ringer:

IMG_3986

This week, the De Gallant stayed at anchor all morning. We used digiscoping to get these more detailed images of her:

IMG_1264

We thought she was getting ready to sail when we saw this bare-footed young man go along the bow sprit to grapple with the sails, but, in the end, she slid further along towards Deal with the tide and we lost sight of her.

IMG_1260

I mentioned earlier that the tides have been high this week because of the full moon. Late one warm evening, we watched it rise above France.

IMG_1235

It was completely magical.

 

 

 

One thought on “The Insect Siren

  1. Just noticed those pollen beatles were in your hair too. Changing the colour of your top is one thing, changing hair colour would be a bit more drastic…

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s