Thursday, 31 July 2014

Rivers, Painted Ladies And The Winter Wood Arrives

Making the most of a rare No Fishermen Day on the river, I spent a warm and breezy morning looking for Water Voles along the two stretches of the Test where I do my surveys.

I sat for an hour on a bridge and waited for them to show. 
I watched a Kingfisher swoop down out of a nearby tree and dive for a fish into the water, rise up again, return to his perch and swoop once more. 
I watched the family of swans I first met six weeks ago when the babies were new paddling up the river. The silvery-grey cygnets all now much bigger.....

I watched a heron fly over....

And a Banded Demoiselle settled on a reed beside me....

A male pheasant wandered out from a side path and paused to consider whether or not I was dangerous....

The River was Still, and Peaceful and Beautiful and Serene....

But the Voles remained hidden. All I saw of them were a pile of poos on a tree stump sticking out of the water. They must still be there, they just didn't feel like popping out to say hello today :-)

In the afternoon I went to Magdalen to count butterflies. I saw my second Clouded Yellow and came within a hair's breadth of getting a photo....despite chasing it across the hill it got away. Next time...... I did get a shot of this perfect Painted Lady nectaring on scabious....

Painted Ladies are remarkable flutters. They are very strong flyers and migrate thousands of miles from North or Tropical Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East to arrive in the UK from late May onwards. They are found everywhere around the islands. They fly at altitudes of over 1000m often in very large numbers (26 million were recorded leaving the UK in the autumn of 2009). Some of them fly the entire distance, others are 2nd or 3rd generation broods hatched along the way. In a Painted Lady year it is possible to stand on the South Coast of the UK and watch these butterflies coming in from across the sea in vast numbers. What a sight that must be!

For years it was believed that all the adults who'd arrived in the Spring died in the UK during the autumn and winter, then in 2009 a massive project involving radar technology and hundreds of citizen science records from around the world established that the butterflies return to the continent once the autumn weather comes.

Here's what the study found:  

'Using data from 60 different study sites on the way, the study aimed to plot the migration route taken by painted ladies.
It found that it could take up to six successive generations for the species to complete a 9,000-mile (14,400km) round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle.
For each new generation, the butterflies must find plants for their caterpillars to eat, and that is thought to be behind their need to keep moving.
The journey is much longer than that undertaken by the famous Monarch butterfly, which migrates between Mexico and Canada. This tiny creature weighing less than a gram, with a brain the size of a pin head, and no opportunity to learn from older, experienced individuals, undertakes an epic intercontinental migration.'

They are special creatures and I always feel a thrill whenever I see them. Just imagine where the one in the pic above has come from and the sights it has seen.

Butterflies are doing well up on Magdalen Hill. There was a great variety to chose from today including Red Admirals...


Brown Argus (?)...

And female Chalkhill Blues...

The rich meadow-environment on this section of the reserve has a lot to do with it....

I also found this Robin's Pincushion Gall, which is formed by a tiny gall wasp, Dipoloepis rosae. The grub inside the gall feeds on the plant until spring when it emerges. They reproduce a-sexually and only a small number are male. Colourful things aren't they? They form on roses.

Robins Pincushion Gall

Back home, and yesterday I took part in the Big Butterfly Count where you spend 15 minutes counting the flutters in your garden. You can do it as often as you like between 19 July and 10 Aug and if you live in the UK I strongly encourage you to have a go. The data is really valuable to Butterfly Conservation and it's easy peasy to do.

I did two counts and saw a total of:
4 Gatekeepers
2 Small Skippers
2 Meadow Brown
2 Large White
1 Brimstone
3 Red Admiral
1 Large Skipper (who was sitting extremely proudly on his flower)
1 Speckled Wood
1 Small tortoiseshell


I was checking sallow (willow) for Purple Emperor Caterpillars in the garden yesterday afternoon (they have criptic markings so they look exactly like a leaf) when I found this twig....

Look at it Very Closely.

Can you see what it really is?

I'm pretty certain it's the caterpillar of the Scalloped Oak moth who has been visiting the Moth Box in recent days and you may remember looks like this.....

Scalloped Oaks (as their name suggest) like Oaks, but some moth larvae are less specific about their food plants than others, and sallow does seem to stand in for a good many species. There were lots of other interesting things in the tree, such as another Master Of Disguise.....

Did you spot it? I believe he is Dicranopalpus ramosus, a type of Harvestman (who isn't supposed to appear until mid August, but things seem to be running 3 weeks early this year).

I also found three different types of Gall, which I am in the (long) process of IDing, all in the Sallow...

Amazing what you can find when you look carefully enough isn't it? Isn't nature amazing. Each season has something new to offer.

And speaking of seasons, our Winter Wood Stock was delivered today. It smells lovely in the sitting room where a goodly amount of it is piled up against the wall ready for the first fire of Autumn. The nights are starting to creep in and there is crispness on the air after dark now, despite all this wonderful warm weather we're having. The year knows it's getting on. It's good to have seasons. I would really miss them if they weren't there....

However, I'm not wishing to usher winter in too fast, so I'll leave you with some shots of Things In Bloom And Growing in the garden....

Wishing you all a peaceful evening,

CT :-)

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

One For Leanne....

My blogging chum Leanne over at Today's Stuff thought up eleven questions for her readers to answer, and asked for eleven random facts about them. In the presence of  a vacuum of any wildlife-related things of note to record today, and because it represents a bit of a departure for me from my normal posts and I think it's good to do something a bit different from time to time, here are mine....

  • When I was young I had a really sweet tooth. Now I'd rather eat crisps. How does that happen?
  • I have more or less given up on wine because it was giving me a headache. Now I drink one glass of gin instead but I am very particular about how it should be made. I can't see the point of a single measure of gin- all you taste is the tonic. A generous slosh of London gin, topped up with a lot of tonic, eight ice cubes at least and a squirt of lime concentrate. Perfic.
  • I used to be a night owl and now I'd much rather be up bright and breezy with the sun and go to sleep early.
  • I am getting better at liking spiders. This is a conscious effort. However, when one dangled unexpectedly in front of me while I was driving last week I came very close to crashing the car and running screaming down the road.
  • I have recently grown my nails after a comment from a friend about why she keeps her nails long and painted.
  • I managed to sartorially embarrass L for the first time last week by wearing walking boots with my shorts. He rolled his eyes and said normal people wore flip flops with shorts. I think the expression was 'fashion disaster'. Is this a sign of things to come? In another year will I have a fashion-conscious teenager on my hands who will flatly refuse to be seen out with me unless I'm in Armani? Needless to say I shall continue to wear my walking boots with my shorts because that is pretty much a uniform if you're a conservation ecologist :-)
  • I value a sense of humour second only to kindness.
  • My life would seriously lack something if Ted and Pops weren't in it. They are little rays of sunshine to me every single day. Even when (as has just happened) Poppy sneezes on my foot.
  • I have this year discovered a love of water voles which I rather suspect will last my entire life.
  • Although I am quite a solitary soul, good friends are very important to me and I am blessed to count among them seven inspiring women. All are very different but all are good, wise, kind, funny, decent, caring and can be phoned at two in the morning in case of emergency. They are also prepared to don cocktail dresses, high heels and fluorescent pink feather boas and walk through the middle of the City of Bath to celebrate their friend's hen party, and then to take a freezing-cold open-top bus tour round the city the follwing day while nursing monster hangovers, for which I have photographic evidence :-)
  • All the members of my maternal family have a pale streak of hair that runs along the left side of our heads. We call it the 'Aitken Badger Streak.' In me it is currently blond, but one day I hope it goes silver.
And so on to Leanne's questions...

1.Which activities can make you lose track of time?
This will come as no surprise I am sure, but watching and photographing butterflies absorbs VAST amounts of my time in summer. During the winter it's writing- when I'm working on a book eight hours can whiz by in the blink of an eye.

2.Who is the funniest person you know?
My son, L, who has me in stitches most of the time. We have always used humour as a way to get through sticky moments and we find it in the same things. He has always been the Family Jester and is completely unconcerned about making a fool of himself as long as it makes people laugh. He almost always sees the funny side of any situation and when he's in a grump about something I can usually bring him out of it by making him laugh. His friends rely on him to cheer them up when they are feeling sad. It's a gift and I am very proud of him for using it well.

3. What small act of kindness were you shown that you will never forget?
My husband is the kindest person I know. He is always kind. He is kind in the face of other people's rudeness or cynicism, he is kind regardless of how tired/ stressed/ concerned/ preoccupied he is feeling. He always sees the good in other people and will put himself out to help others. I try very hard to be more like him but I am given to being irritated by people when I consider they are being stupid/ thoughtless/ annoying.

4. What can you do today that you couldn't do last year?
I can stand in a wood, listen to the birds singing and know what some of them are without seeing them (I am trying to get better at this). I can watch a butterfly in flight and tell which one it is without always needing to see it land. I can look at a river and know whether or not there are likely to be water voles living along it. I know where Purple Emperors are to be found and I now know what Maidenhair Spleenwort is. I can also run three miles without falling over in a heap at the end and requiring medical attention to get up again.

5. Who is your favourite literary heroine?
Tess of the D'Urbervilles. When she bumped off Alec I cheered. When Angel walked up the hill out of Winchester without her I cried.

6. Name three things that have made you smile this week?
1. Poppy running about like a mad thing sporting her new hair do and looking like a sheep who's been shorn by an incompetent shepherd.
2. L chirping cheerfully and unexpectedly late at night about the Ben Fogle book M was reading to send me to sleep, and waking me up in the process.
3. This picture, which ma sent me:

7. What is your favourite sound?
I'm a bit of a sucker for heavy rain falling outside or pattering against the window pain at night when you're tucked up safe and warm and dry in bed with the duvet curled around you. I also like listening to swallows chattering as they twist and turn through the sky overhead (as they are doing alot at present); owl's hooting (the baby tawnys here are familiarising themselves with their voices at the moment- they sound like rusty saws scraping across metal!); and song thrushes singing (although they've stopped in recent days). The strangest sound I heard recently was the Nightjars whirring over at ma's. She lives by a newly-restored heath in the New Forest and the male nightjars sing all night long during June/ July. They make the most unusual noise, like rolling your rs constantly at high volume, although it's nothing to the three burps and a whistle that the male woodcocks do when they are flying about looking for lady woodcocks to court! 
To deviate slightly from the question, my fav smell at the moment is the Nicotiana scent that washes over the house at dusk. Heavenly.

8. If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be and why?
When I was studying history at uni many moons ago I came across King Alfred The Great's eldest daughter Aethelflaed who lived in the 9th Century. She was quite a girl. She was lettered and learned, and when her elderly husband the King Of Mercia was too ill to lead his men into battle against the Vikings, she hopped on a horse and did it for him. That's my kind of woman.  

9. What did you want to be when you grew up?
 For Quite Some Time I knew I was going to be an International Show Jumper. When my parents failed to embrace that certainty with the same degree of unbridled joy I decided to be a vet instead. I was sure about that for years and years, even doing work experience at two different practices when I was 14. 
The vets at the first one thought it would be highly amusing if I were the one to hold the pot for an ejaculating ram. I braved it out. I also braved out the moment at the second practice when one of our hamsters clamped his teeth on the soft skin between my thumb and forefinger and bit right through it. The poor thing was having an injection which obviously hurt. I was tempted (in the midst of this excruciating pain) to swing him about in the air like a lasso in an attempt to dislodge him but I don't think it would have worked. As it was I screamed silently inside, prized his little jaws apart and went off to faint in the loo. 
I cried when a dog was brought in to be put to sleep because no-one wanted it. I am still a bit haunted by not saying yes when the vet asked if anyone at the practice could take her. I also found it incredibly hard when a litter of days-old puppies were brought in to have their tails docked and their dew-claws removed. They still had their eyes closed and their mewling when this was done to them was unbearable, as was the frantic calling of their mother in the room next door. The vet told me grimly afterward that he absolutely abhorred the practice but had had pups brought in with terrible infections because someone had done it at home with scissors.
I believed I'd be a vet right up until the reality of having to study sciences at A Level hit me, and then I decided I would be something else instead. A historian or a writer, or a herbalist. And now of course I am studying science at degree level instead. How does that work?

10. What do you see when you close your eyes?
That depends on what I've been looking at during the day :-)

11. Who was your favourite band or singer when you were sixteen?
D'you know, I don't really remember being sixteen. I remember being between nine and eleven and being certain that Adam from Adam And The Ants would one day marry me. My first record was 'do you really want to hurt me?' by Culture Club. swiftly followed by 'there must be an angel' by The Eurythmics.  

Thanks Leanne, I quite enjoyed that. Hope it's answered your questions :-)

Have a good day all. I am off to recce some bat surveying sites in preparation for the water-surveys I have to do in August, and tomorrow I am going water vole seeking. Happy Days....

CT :-)  

Monday, 28 July 2014

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, In The Forests Of The Night....

A cooler night last night, which was a relief for two reasons:

1. It meant we could all sleep (although L, who had been poorly yesterday and was therefore sleeping in our room, woke me up at 4 because he was thirsty, and then again at a smidgen before 6 because he was hungry, with the immortal words: I don't suppose you feel like getting up, mum, do you?).

2. There were fewer moths in the box this morning (184 as opposed to 400 on the previous outing, when there were also 91 different species as opposed to 66 today). This meant I could enjoy going through them at a leisurely pace, instead of resembling a deranged woman frantically scribbling moth names while at the same time attempting (and failing) to prevent a mass exodus from occurring.

I had cleared all the egg boxes bar one this morning, and found some new and interesting moths along the way, before I turned over the last one. Inadvertently, I had saved the best for last, because, sleeping right at the bottom of the last box was one of nature's most colourful creatures: The Garden Tiger Moth.

The black splodges on these moths vary so much that no two individuals are ever the same. They used to be common as common can be, but they have decreased significantly since the mid 1980s. This is thought to be partially due to spraying with pesticides and over-tidying of hedgesrows, both of which effectively remove the larval foodplants of nettle, docks and many common garden plants, but the larvae also don't cope well with mild, wet Januaries followed by cold Februaries, so if Climate Change does bring these kinds of conditions as a regular thing that isn't great news for this particular moth.

They are striking enough looking with their wings folded, but their real flash of brilliance comes when they get annoyed and flash their knickers. It's enough to make a bird think twice, and even I, who know they have this trick up their sleeves, still jumped and grabbed the camera when it happened on the kitchen table this morning......


There are only three other Tiger Moths that you will find in the UK: the Cream-Spot Tiger (now local rather than common), the Jersey Tiger (declining overall and extinct in Kent as a native moth) and the Wood Tiger (declining in certain areas such as the South East and Hampshire).

As well as the Tiger, there was a little moth in the box that I have wanted to see for ages. Mothy Friends around the country have been posting their pictures of this little chap for the last fortnight so I knew it was about, but as we've never had one here before I didn't know how likely it was to turn up. I very nearly missed it, because it is small and was very well camouflaged against the mottled grey background of the egg box it was perching on. I had to put it on my natty notebook to get the picture I wanted...

This one is slightly Tatty Round The Edges, but you get the idea of how pretty their markings are. It's a Marbled Beauty, and in the next picture you can see how tiny they are as it's sitting beside a 5p coin....

There were a number of other moths with evocative names gracing the box today. Take, for example, this delicate Bordered Beauty, which overwinters as an egg on its food plants of Sallow, Poplar and Hazel, all of which we have in abundance here...

It's cousin, the Dark Bordered Beauty, is a Red Data Book Species now only known in three separated areas in Scotland and Northern England.

Continuing the evocatively-named theme, there was also a moth in the box today whom I think has my favourite name: The Maiden's Blush...

Along with one who is rather unfortunately named: The Coxcomb Prominent. He doesn't look especially dandified to me- what do you think?

Coxcomb Prominent, or not, as the case may be :-)
Beside the Coxcomb was an equally fluffy-looking moth, the Drinker. One of these came in through the window the other night while M was reading the exploits of the adventurer Ben Fogle to me. For some reason the moth was strangely attracted to his ear. M wasn't all that pleased about this and I probably didn't help matters by falling about laughing as he attempted to swat it and it buzzed about, banging into the light and then re-doubling it's efforts to reach his ear....

The Drinker

Another Splash Of Colour was offered by the arrival of Canary-Shouldered-Thorns, four of whom were in the box this morning... 

And more elegance was offered by the Peacocks, both Normal and Sharp-Angled....

Sharp-Angled Peacock

I have struggled to tell them apart in the past so it was Really Jolly Decent of them to turn up together like this and make their differences obvious. From now on I will refer to this post :-)

Ruby Tigers are here in reasonable numbers. They never get any Better Tempered though...

Particularly when considered beside this genteel Scalloped Oak, who is a True Gentleman and never wobbles his wings at you in annoyance when you're trying to get a picture (or flashes his scarlet pants. He doesn't have scarlet pants actually, but you know what I mean....).

The amazingly shaped Pebble Hook-Tip is a similarly Peaceful Chap, quite happy to be tipped onto a blue spotty notebook and photographed....

There were a couple of Hawk Moths in the box today, the pink and green Elephant and the Grey but Enormous Poplar. L can't pick the Poplars up because they give him the heebie jeebies, which I can sort-of understand...

Beside the Poplar, the next moth looks positively diminutive, but makes up for the lack in stature with some Pretty Impressive markings (well, I think so anyway)....

Water Carpet
As does the next moth, which is called a Common Rustic. These moths vary in colour drastically. There were twenty of them in the box today, in an assortment of colour schemes ranging from very pale such as the one below, to so dark you could barely make out the markings. They all have those white crescents on the wings though, which helps with Ids.

Common Rustic
Beside the Common Rustics, this Lesser Treble bar was easy-peasy to identify (or perhaps not, given its similarity to its Big Brother, the Treble Bar)....

And continuing the Theme Of Confusion, the Cloaked Minor (below) looks a lot like the Rosy Minor minus the pink hue. It also comes in a range of colour tones, just to keep things exciting....

IDing moths is largely a matter of practice, possession of a good book and access to a useful web site, unless you're dealing with Dun-bars that is. They are relatively straight-forward thanks to the diagnostic central markings which can't really be confused with anything else. However, this central marking also comes in a range of colours from very pale to jet black, and there is also a dark brown form of the moth...


Among the eleven new species who were in the box this morning was another one I haven't had here before: the European Corn Borer. This moth gets its name from being a serious pest to Maize on the continent. It wasn't native here but has established itself in the Southern parts of the UK in recent years and in this country its larvae feed on Mugwort. I can't think where there is any mugwort locally, but there were two of these moths in the box so there must be some somewhere within reasonably flying distance...

European corn borer
Part of the allure of Mothing for me is the detective side of things (put academically I guess I mean research). Those powers were called upon two days ago to determine WHO exactly had nibbled their way through all my Lady's Smock flowers, the ones I have been carefully nurturing since finding a single plant in the late spring and growing on more babies off the basal leaf.

Lady's Smock is the food plant for the Orange Tip flutter, but they've all laid their eggs already, so WHO COULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS DEVASTATION ....?????

Oh yes, these little people, who look so small and innocent....

Small White Flutter Pillar
It's taken me THREE DAYS to find them all and transfer them to the Nasturtiums. I only hope the Lady's Smock will recover :-(

My Yellow Tail Moth Children are coming along nicely. They are continuing to munch their way through hawthorn leaves and have more or less all joined up now into one big group instead of the two smaller ones they hatched out into. Caterpillars usually do this for protection as it makes them look like one large creature to predators...

You can just about make out their poisonous hairs in the next shot. Even though the pillars are only a few mms in length the hairs are already in place so I won't be touching any of them any time soon....

I also found another empty dragonfly nymph case up by the pond today. That's six that I know of. I'm glad I found it because the water levels have dropped alarmingly and I was wondering if that would affect the nymphs. Apparently not! I love the eyes in this pic....


I've waffled on longer than I meant to- thanks for sticking with it to the bitter end (if you have). 
I'll leave you with a piccy of Poppy, who has had a rather severe hair cut because we discovered she's been harboring hundreds of grass seeds in her fur and we were worried they would work their way into her skin, as happened with M's parent's Springer who needed an op to get them out. She loved it and lay flat out on the picnic table while I snipped away with the scissors (because the clippers have broken). As a result, she looks quite a lot like a shorn sheep and I am embarrassed to take her out for walks because I'm quite sure someone will challenge me about what the hell has happened to my dog. But at least all the seed is out now and she can run about without getting hot.....

Wishing you all a peaceful evening,

CT :-)