Archives for the month of: August, 2012

Greetings traveller!

Here’s a picture for you to enjoy:

River Cooter?

No, I haven’t been in Florida! Ha! Ha ha! This picture was taken in East Yorkshire today. Most feral terrapins are Red-Eared or Yellow Bellied Sliders, with the occasional European Pond Terrapin thrown in for good measure (Though I’ve only seen Red-Eared before. Aww.) This one, however, is none of those rascals. Debate on birdforum seems to have narrowed it down to a Pseudemys sp., probably Pseudemys concinna – a ‘River Cooter’.

Good fun eh?

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Hello! I have several blog posts that I really should get up here as soon as possible, but I’ve decided on today’s post for two reasons. A) It concerns an amazing discovery that Robert and I have made, and B) Each blog post is, obviously, a painstaking labour of love, and they cannot be posted until absolutely perfect. They are like exquisite works of art.

 

Anyway, on with our amazing discovery.

Over the past year or so, Robert and I have spent a decent amount of time in ‘the field’ (also sometimes ‘on the moor’ and ‘amongst the wetlands’ etc.,). During this time we have acquainted ourselves competently with the great majority of British birds, excluding northern and southern specialities (Ptarmigan, Cirl Bunting etc.,) and those that don’t really exist (Spotted Crake, Black Grouse etc.,). One group of birds that we have come to enjoy and appreciate are the so-called ‘Birds of Prey’, a group often sadly overlooked by other birdwatchers who are too busy photographing pipits  and staring dreamily at warblers. 

One subset of BOP (Birds Of Prey) that I am particularly fond of are the falcons, represented in the UK by four breeding species. These four species, in size order from smallest to largest, are the Merlin, Kestrel, Hobby and Peregrine. Robert and I, however, are amassing evidence for the existence of a fifth breeding falcon – at least the same size and possibly larger than the Peregrine.

I cannot remember, unfortunately, when we were first confronted with the evidence for this bird. I do know, however, that it can be seen around East Yorkshire (with a coastal bias) and on the southern edge of the North York Moors with reasonable regularity; more common than Merlin or Hobby, less common than Kestrel, and with a similar abundance to Peregrine. 

They are most often seen from a moving vehicle – possibly they are less bothered by cars than by people? Or does a car allow you to pass through more suitable habitat more quickly? – and are usually seen against the sky. When viewed against the sky (where the colours of the plumage are washed out) the bird in silhouette is uncannily similar to a Peregrine, with long, broad, pointed wings and a relatively short tail. Generally, at this point, one of us will call out ‘Peregrine!’. At this point, the bird will almost always do two things. Firstly, it will drop down much lower so its markings and colouration are more visible, and secondly it will begin to hover like a Kestrel. Closer inspection of the colours and markings will reveal them to be uncannily similar to those of the Kestrel; plumage is mainly light chestnut brown with blackish spots on the upperside and buff with narrow blackish streaks on the underside; the remiges are also blackish. At this point we would usually say something along the lines of  ‘Oh, Kestrel’, and claim that the lack of reference made it look much larger. 

Well, after many such sightings we realised that it couldn’t be us at fault, perfect as we are, and so we theorised we were repeatedly encountering an as-yet undiscovered falcon, which we christened the ‘Buff Kestrel’.  (Buff as in ‘very strong or having defined muscles; hot’, not as in ‘a yellowish-beige colour’). Below is a drawing of a Buff Kestrel I created to allow other birders to look out for their own; it is placed next to a female Peregrine for scale, though the Buff Kestrel can sometimes be larger.

Buff Kestrel on the left; female Peregrine on the right

So I would encourage all birders to be on the lookout for this proposed species. Of course, the next stage will be to obtain photographic evidence (with some sort of suitable scale to differentiate it from Kestrel) and then a type specimen – though how to manage that is beyond me – perhaps someone will come across one as road-kill one day? If so please leave a comment here. 

 

Ahoy hoy! Recently, on the Glorious Twelfth if my memory serves me correctly, Bobbo and I went on an adventure into darkest Lincolnshire with four species in mind. The four species in question were (in order of of what I thought our likelihood of seeing them was) Essex Skipper, Grayling, Purple Hairstreak & Brown Hairstreak. Three of these could, in theory, be found at Chamber’s Farm Wood not far from Lincoln, whereas Grayling could, apparently, be found in North Lincolnshire at a place no-one had ever heard of called Risby Warren. 
 
We arrived at Chamber’s Farm Wood at about half seven, parked up near the visitor’s centre, and availed ourselves of a map. We spent a few minutes matching up the directions I had gleaned from the internet with the map, and decided to have a quick look around the butterfly garden before moving onto the main area of the wood. The garden was densely planted with flowers and the like, and I imagine that once that day warmed up it would have been bustling with butterflies – it was still early and just starting to get warm. We heard a Green Woodpecker calling in the distance, and Robert claimed that every small bird flying over was a possible Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. As we got down to the bottom of the garden a greyish butterfly flew over Robert’s head and onto a lower branch of an apple tree. Robert gave it a look through his binos and pronounced it a Purple Hairstreak, a new species for us both. Unfortunately all my attempted photos came out so poorly that I feel physically ill to look at them, so hopefully one of Robert’s is better and he will put it on here soon.
 
We drove down to the main car park and immediately spotted six or seven dragonflies darting around. Robert deftly netted one like the star he is,and identified it as a Migrant Hawker, my first for the year. We gave the surrounding oaks a scan and spotted a butterfly resting on a leaf; oddly, it turned out to be a Ringlet – do they often bask in trees? We set off down a path lined with oaks, spotted several delightful galls as we went; Knopper Galls, Marble Galls, Spangle Galls, Silk Button Galls & Artichoke Galls (pictures to be added later).

Artichoke Gall

Spangle & Silk Button Galls

Other butterflies were seen as well, including Small Skipper, Peacock, Meadow Brown, Large White, Green-Veined White, Comma, Gatekeeper & Speckled Wood. 
 
Eventually we made our way to a spot where the path split into three, a place known, for some reason, as ‘fiveways’. This spot was meant to be the best place for seeing Brown Hairstreaks. We walked up and down the nearby path for a few hours, seeing quite a few more Purple Hairstreak (hopefully Robert will add his delightfully coy photo of one) and had quite a few frustrating views of   what may have been Brown Hairstreaks dropping down from the canopy and then disappearing into the shadows of the trees. I remain of the opinion that we were seeing Brown Hairstreaks, and indeed probably had about ten sightings, but without a stationary view of one I don’t want to include it as a definite sighting. 
Purple Hairstreak
 
However, whilst scanning the tops of the trees for hairstreaks, I made the discovery of the century –  a White Admiral flitting around the top of an Oak. An absolutely gorgeous butterfly with a large wingspan and a delightful gliding flight. We didn’t manage to get a photo of this individual, but I believe Robert managed to obtain a picture of one we saw later on.
 
There were another couple of people looking for Brown Hairstreak as well, and at one point they called us over to show us an Essex Skipper, our third new butterfly of the day. The Essex Skipper is a subtle delight, differing from the Small Skipper in a few tiny ways, the most obvious being the dark tips to the antennae which are brown in the Small Skipper. I think, once again, that Robert may have a picture of this species to add on here. Another butterfly seen in this area was a Brimstone, possibly my favourite British butterfly, and another for the day list.
 

This is almost definitely an Essex Skipper

We gave up on Brown Hairstreak eventually, and set off to our next site of the day: Risby Warren. Neither of us had ever heard of Risby Warren before, and it turned out to be a very odd habitat. Grayling are generally a coastal species, favouring sand dunes and salt marshy areas, and inland colonies are quite uncommon. Risby Warren is an SSSI comprised of a sort of heathy sand duney habitat, which apparently has a lot in common with the Breckland habitat of Norfolk and Suffolk. Anyway, we arrived at Risby Warren and went for an explore, quickly seeing a few new butterflies for the day in the form of Small Heath, a single beautiful Brown Argus and copious numbers of Small Copper.
 

Brown Argus

Unfortunately, me and Robert had a falling out about whose beard maintenance regime was best, and we decided to split up and search for Grayling independently. Robert walked along the top of the reserve, whilst I walked through the middle. I didn’t have much luck with Grayling, truth be told, but I did see three Buzzards and hear a Green Woodpecker, as well as finding a couple of Buzzard feathers. Robert then rang to tell me that he was “99% certain” he had just seen a Grayling. I screamed at the sky and clawed at my eyes with rage and disappointment – but then an idea occurred to me “Robert?”, I asked, “Can you still see the Grayling?” thinking I might be able to dash over and see it. “No” Robert replied, “I threw pebbles at it until it went away because I hate you and everything you stand for”. I hollered at the sky once more, and rent at my clothes. Eventually I calmed myself, and admitted to Robert that his beard system was the best I’d ever heard. He took my apology stoically, and said that if we were to meet up, he’d find me a Grayling. 
 
He was as good as his words, only twenty minutes later we were reunited and looked in amazement at the camouflage of the Grayling, the largest of the ‘brown’ butterflies. In fact, when I first saw it in flight, I found it oddly reminiscent of a faded Painted Lady. Hopefully Robert has a photo to add here. 
 

I’m 90% sure there is a grayling in this photo

As we walked back to the car, we saw a cracking moth, the Archer’s Dart, sat just outside a rabbit hole. A nicely patterned moth and another new one for both of us..
 
We then went home, revelling in our success, and lamenting the fact that it would be unlikely we’d ever see so many new butterflies in a single day again. 
 
 
POSTSCRIPT:
 
The subsequent day I ventured back into Lincolnshire with my parents and saw my first Sputnik gall by the side of the Ancholme, a gall I have been on the lookout for for at least 5 years. It grows on Dog Rose, generally on the undersides of the leaves, and is caused by the wasp Diplolepis nervosa.

Sputnik Gall

 
Additionally, I also saw several butterfly species that I hadn’t seen the day before, in the form of Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Common Blue and Holly Blue. That means that during four days I saw, I think, 22 species of butterfly (this includes my Dark Green Fritillary at Fen Bog on the 10th)

Hello! I am working on an update post that will cover all the stuff I’ve not bothered to post recently, but today’s post is about my lovely day today.

Last night the weather forecast claimed it was going to be a cloudy, balmy night, with temperatures not dropping below 14 degrees, so I decided to set up my portable moth trap at Fen Bog. (Portable moth trap? Yes, portable moth trap. All will be explained in a future post that explains the past)

I dropped the trap off, had a quick walk around the reserve, spotted a Fritillary (presumably Dark Green) and an Adder. I then came home and went to sleep.

I got back to Fen Bog  at about 5.00 am and checked the trap. Unfortunately the weather forecast had been catastrophically wrong and there were few moths to enjoy, the majority of the catch comprising of Northern Spinach. There were however two moths that were particularly nice to see:

Antler Moth

Garden Tiger

After releasing the moths, I decided to go for a walk down a path that I hadn’t explored before. As I wandered along, I spotted a Jay, a Snipe, a Roe Deer, as well as a large patch of Heath-Spotted Orchids. Before long  the path became quite muddy and wet (Almost…boggy? LOL) but the difficulty of the terrain was made up for by the sharpness of my eyes, which spotted these little beauties:

Round-Leaved Sundew

As I haven’t been updating the blog as often as I should, you are probably unaware that I have been making a special effort this year to identify plants. It has been slow, thirsty work, but I have identified about 100 plants this year, which isn’t really that impressive. Anyway, the Round-Leaved Sundew has to be by far my favourite plant of the year so far. what’s not to love? It’s a plant that eats animals. This isn’t a horror film plant, this is real life.

After a few hours the sun came out in force, and I had another frustratingly brief view of a Fritillary (once again, presumably Dark Green). I flipped over a railway sleeper and found a Toad underneath and a Common Lizard clinging to the side; this encouraged me to turn over more of the sleepers, and I was soon rewarded by this delightfully surprising beast:

Great Crested Newt

A quick google finds no mention of Great Crested Newt at Fen Bog, so it may be worth dropping the YWT an email to let them know, just in case they were considering building an airport or testing nuclear weapons on the reserve.

As I continued with my perambulations, I spotted an odd looking fly on a reed. On closer inspection the fly appeared to be sadly deceased, and partially covered with a fungus of some sort:

Fly fungus

I think it’s quite likely that the fungus is Entomophthora muscae, a fungus that infects flies. What a treat for me.

I only saw two dragonflies whilst I was there, but luckily both were new species for me. To celebrate, I decided to take slightly out of focus pictures of them.

Common Hawker

Black Darter

 Seeing those  two dragonflies leaves me with only one Yorkshire species of Odonata left to see – Variable Damselfly.  (“What about Small Red-eye?”  I hear you ask. Patience, all will become clear.)

As I head back to my car, ready to go home for a shower, I was distracted by a lovely female Adder on the path:

Adder

I love Adders. I could happily see a dozen Adders a day and just never get bored of them. Snakes in general, in fact, are awesome.

All in all, pretty successful trip, even if the mothing was poor.

 

EDIT: Just thought I’d add that I had a little seawatch this evening, highlights being an Arctic Skua and two Bonxies, as well as lots of views of the Peregrines swooping around the cliffs.