Archives for the month of: February, 2013

The Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea, is pretty awesome. Sort of midway between a bird, a spear, and brace of broken waking sticks. Their method of catching prey is great as well:

1: Stand around and wait for something to come near you.

2: If something comes near you, stab it with your face.

3: If suitably subdued, swallow.

4: If not suitably subdued, beat it against something/drown it in nearest water.

5: Swallow.

I imagine that, like me, most people imagine herons hanging about near water, catching fish and frogs and aquatic invertebrates. Maybe occasionally eating Great Crested Newts because Grey Herons pay no heed to conservation.

(I implore you to click on all the linked photos in today’s post. It is well worth it)

Of course, Grass Snakes tend to hang around near water as well, and so you’d assume they’d occasionally get snapped up. And they do.

What else hangs around near water and could fit down a heron’s neck? Ducklings? Yup. Please click the link and look at the picture and read the article. It is from that bastion of reliable and even-handed reporting, ‘The Sun’. I think my favourite quotes from the article are ‘its mother wailed in agony‘ (I’ve never seen a duck wail), and ‘Nature can be so cruel‘ (but most of the time it is a parade of relentless loveliness, of course). Well done ‘The Sun’, rock bottom is no obstacle to you. 

If photographs of ducklings being eaten don’t quite do it for you, here’s a full video:

So if herons sit about on the edge of water looking for fluffy adorable little birds to eat, do they ever occasionally snatch up that most adorable of grebes, the Dabchick? Well of course. And they fight over their bloodied corpses. 

And they’ll happily chow down on a Moorhen.

What else can be found near water? Rats? Yeah. They’ll happily eat rats. Delightfully, there is also an article from ‘The Sun’ about a heron eating a rat. The picture is oddly cropped and stretched, but that rat doesn’t look quite right to me. I’ve never seen a wild rat with that sort of pale patterning on the underside. The article also gives us a bit of information about Grey Herons, saying that ‘They usually go for mice‘ (of course, herons are notorious mice eaters) and that ‘Herons are popular in the UK‘ (?).

And if you want to see a whole rat-eating event in glorious technicolour then watch the video below:

I did find two pictures of Grey Herons eating small rodents. One picture, taken in the Netherlands, confidently identifies the meal as a Common Vole. The other picture seems to be of a vole as well, but I wouldn’t be confident about identifying the species.

I imagine that everybody in the entire world has seen the pictures of a Grey Heron catching, drowning and eating a rabbit. I won’t bore you with loads of details, in fact I will just direct you to Darren Naish’s post on the subject. I will also add another picture you probably won’t have seen of a heron with a rabbit. Clearly not incredibly unusual behaviour.

Now we get onto the weirder stuff. These are pictures that I didn’t expect to exist and feature prey species that I wouldn’t have expected at all. For example, a heron catching, drowning and eating a starling. I’d have imagined Starlings might have been a bit too wary, or nimble, for a heron to catch. Clearly not. 

Though they are sometimes nimble enough to escape:

 

This next species certainly isn’t nimble and would easily fit down a heron’s gullet; I just wouldn’t have assumed their path’s would cross. Heron eating a mole. Moles do occasionally come to the surface and wander about; I don’t know why. Is it a dispersal thing?

I suppose if you can eat a rabbit and you can eat a snake, a Weasel should present no obstacle. And it doesn’t appear to. Here is an entire sequence of pictures of a Grey Heron attempting to subdue a weasel. If I was a weasel being attacked by a heron, I’d play dead, let it start to swallow me, then I’d start clawing at the inside of its oesophagus. If I was a weasel I’d be king.

This last one surprised me the most – Grey Heron eating an Adder. How fascinating is that? Another pair of species that I wouldn’t have thought would overlapped that much – though Adders are our most widely distributed snake, and I have seen them in marshy habitat at Thorne Moor in Lincolnshire, so there is no good reason why herons shouldn’t catch and eat them. I wonder if herons can distinguish between Grass Snakes and Adders, and thus subdue and eat them in different ways?

In fact, I think it is quite interesting that Grey Herons often seem to use drowning when dealing with mammals and birds, a tactic they obviously don’t use when catching amphibians and fish. It seems to indicate that capturing a mammal isn’t just a one-off, opportunistic event, as clearly they have a strategy in place to deal with it.

Anyway, there you go. A post filled with small animals being horribly dispatched by a dispassionate broken-umbrella of a bird.

And if you know of any other weird animals being eaten by Grey Herons, please let me know. I had my fingers crossed that there would be a picture of a Grey Heron eating a kitten. I bet it’s happened though.

4 – The Blue Stag Beetle

In my home county of Yorkshire the only stag beetle I’ve ever seen is the Lesser Stag, Dorcus parallelipipedus. In 2011, in Derbyshire, Robert and I were lucky enough to come across another UK stag beetle, Sinodendron cylindricum, the ‘Rhinoceros Beetle’. Unfortunately I have never seen the ‘true’ Stag Beetle, Lucanus cervus, which occurs mainly in southern England.

However, our fair isles were once home to another species – the ‘Blue Stag Beetle’, Platycerus caraboides. The Blue Stag is an 8 – 14mm long dead-wood specialist, and is ‘Fairly flat. Male more slender than female, bluish metallic sheen, female greenish’ (Olsen, et al., 2001). It lacks the enlarged mandibles of the ‘true’ Stag Beetle; its mouthparts are more similar in shape to those of the Lesser Stag.

Blue Stag Beetle, courtesy of Wikipedia

There are only very few UK records for this species – possibly it was always very rare, or possibly the few records we know of were from relict populations sliding into extinction. Joy, who wrote what is essentially the definitive British work on coleoptera – A Practical Handbook of British Beetles – omitted the Blue Stag as ‘very rare and doubtfully British’ (Hodge & Jones, 1995). However, by 1970, the native status of the Blue Stag was described as ‘not… a doubtful case’ (Allen, 1970), presumably due to the unearthing of historical records. Indeed, in 1970, the Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation reported the discovery of two new specimens of the Blue Stag. The full extract is given below:

Mr. Jarvis writes that he possesses two carded (once pinned) specimens from the Adams collection, purchased long ago from the late A. Ford of Bournemouth and said by him to have been taken at Bristol. He believes that Ford derived this information from Adams’s catalogue or diary, but cannot be sure. It will be observed that the locality is not new, having been given by Stephens; the latter’s actual words, however, were “specimens have been taken by Mr. Waring of Bristol” — which is not quite explicit, though the locality is probably to be inferred. Adams was an early collector, and it seems distinctly possible that the above two specimens were actually taken by Waring, having survived passage through two or three (or even more) collections. In my notes (p. 203) on this extinct species I mentioned an old pair from Windsor as perhaps the only extant British specimens with a locality attached; so the existence of this Bristol pair — if the data can be assumed genuine — is of much interest, and tends to corroborate Stephens’s record.’ (Allen, 1970)

From this it can be seen that there were two records from Windsor, two possibly from Bristol, and the statement ‘I mentioned an old pair from Windsor as perhaps the only extant British specimens with a locality attached’, implies the existence of additional specimens lacking a locality – unfortunately an all-too-frequent occurrence with biological specimens.

An additional historical record comes from the annotations of Rev. F. W. Hope who, as an Oxford undergraduate from 1819 – 1822, collected beetles in Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire. Amongst these annotations were ‘notes about five species in Wytham Woods. These are of extreme interest, because they include two species now regarded as long extinct in Britain: the largest species of burying-beetle in Europe, Necrophorus germanicus, and a stag-beetle, Platycerus caraboides’ (Elton, 1966). So, in addition to the Bristol and Windsor records above, there are also records from Wytham, Oxfordshire.

I see no reason to doubt the native status of the Blue Stag; instead I shall focus on mourning its passing. It has been said that the Blue Stag might ‘be a good candidate for re-introduction to Britain’ (Savill, et al., 2010) an idea towards which I immediately warm, but, without knowing the reasons for its decline and extinction, a reintroduction attempt might well be doomed to failure. Dramatic gasp!

Also, if any readers out there can offer the opportunity to see a ‘proper’ Stag Beetle, then please contact me.

 

Allen, A. A.(1970) Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation, T. Buncle & Co. Ltd., Arbroath, Angus.

Elton, C. S. (1966) The Pattern of Animal Communities, Methuen and Co. Ltd., London.

Hodge, P.J. & Jones, R. A. (1995) New British Beetles: Species Not in Joy’s Practical Handbook, British Entomological & Natural History Society, Reading.

Olsen, L. H., Sunesen, J. & Pedersen, B. V. (2001) Small Woodland Creatures, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

On Monday, we went to Thwaite Gardens, in merry Cottingham. Thwaite, if you didn’t know, is an 18th century swear word to be directed at a petulant chimney sweep (or ballboy). I’m fairly sure that my membership there is largely wasted as I go about twice a year and have never seen anyone turned away at the gates for not being a member.

Aquatic fare was the aim of the day so we trudged aimedly with that aim in mind, with nets and wellies to aim at anything with fins. I’d noted how the streams in the north east had previously been resplendent with fish, so we made a beeline for that particular area (ironic, considering the lack of bees). We spent the past part of an hour merrily plunging nets at fish. The most common catches of the day were 3 spined sticklebacks and the aquatic snails Common Ram’s Horn Planorbis planorbis and Radix balthica (now known as the ‘The Stumpy Radix’). While I headed further along the streams to become mired in the steep-banked sides of the stream, James’ beckoned me forth with the aid of his phone. I struggled up the bank and sprinted to him. He had caught the day’s target species, a gorgeous ten-spined stickleback. 

Stickleback revealing the origins of its given name

Stickleback revealing the origins of its given name

Thriving in its natural habitat

I was surprisingly charmed by it, expecting it to be largely similar to its 3-spined kin, but it held its own. The head is a lot more blunted than it’s relatives, given an almost pike-like appearance from above. It also prefers to spend its time in thick vegetation, with James (if memory serves correct)  accidentally catching it while lazily wafting his net through some pond weed.

While taking it’s picture I stumbled upon a small pile of bones and scales on top of some railings.

Vomit of a sort

Vomit of a sort

Our best guess is it’s the remnants of a pellet left behind by a kingfisher, making it one of the most special piles of sick I’ve come across in my time.

We decided to trudge around the rest of the gardens before heading home. It was lucky we decided to do so, otherwise we wouldn’t have witnessed one of the most horrific things I’ve ever encountered.

While admiring the ducks and geese, seemingly largely of domestic origin, a domesticated mallard began to indulge one of the species’ bad habits, a spot of forced intercourse. This is a very common thing amongst mallards and many of the strange behaviours related to this can be read in more luxuriant detail here. Unfortunately for the female duck, the mallards are often followed by a goose that believes it is also a duck. The goose than made its own violent attempts on the female mallard, forcing its head under the water for a prolonged period of time. In some kind of divine attempt to make the world feel like a worthless, horrid place, the goose also happened to be domestic greylag/Swan goose hybrid. This might not inherently make things worse, but the awkward, tortured honks it gave triumphantly after the whole ordeal seemed confused and pained.

So to summarise – A greylag/swan goose hybrid with identity issues forcibly mated with  and attempted to drown a domesticated mallard. It was like being a fly on the wall at an abusive care home.

I’m fairly sure we’ll know if the mating was reproductively successful, as the moon will glow red and a darkness will envelope the planet for 40 days.

EDIT – This what scientists are speculating the offspring would look like if reproduction was successful.

Trust me, I asked science

Trust me, I asked science

I also had a fever dream where this was the end result, but I choose to believe anything just vile and abhorrent could actually exist

Proof that if there is a god, he isn't kind

Proof that if there is a god, he isn’t kind

 

3: Artemia salina, a brine shrimp or ‘Sea-Monkey’

Artemia salina is a species of brine shrimp; an aquatic crustacean. They are not closely allied to true shrimp; indeed, they are more closely related to Triops. Brine shrimps are found worldwide in inland saline waters – they quickly perish in fresh water, but can survive in up to 50% salt solutions. Apparently they can also survive for several days swimming about in silver nitrate – which is impressive, but I wonder how useful that is?

Much like TriopsA. salina can produce eggs that can survive the drying out of a body of water, remain dormant for years, and hatch when water returns.

According to the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, A. salina was ‘first observed by M. Schlosser, in the salt-pans at Lymington’ (Baird, 1852). In 1879 Edward King, mayor of Lymington, wrote:

In this notice of our Salterns, we must not overlook a curious little creature that was found in them; and which has never been seen elsewhere, except in some salt-lakes of Siberia. It was known as The Lymington Brine Shrimp, and was first noticed by a Dr. Maty, about 1740. It lived in the brine tanks only, where no other creature could have existed, the concentrated salt-water being sufficient to destroy every marine organism. It was supposed, by the salt-makers, to cause a clearing of the brine; and was carefully transported to those vats which seemed to be deficient. It was never found in the evaporating pans, connected with the sea; but only in the deep store pits, which held the concentrated solution just before boiling.’ (King, 1879)

According to Wikipedia, Schlosser (presumably the same person as the ‘Dr Maty’ mentioned by King?) made drawings and a report of A. salina in 1756, which formed the basis of a description by Linnaeus in 1758 – he named it Cancer salina.

Since I first wrote the first draft of this article I have been given permission to reproduce one of Schlosser’s original drawings on the blog:

Schlosser’s darwing of A. salina from 1756

Schlosser’s darwing of A. salina from 1756

Schlosser’s drawing of A. salina, from ‘Historical Notes on Artemia salina (L.)’ by Kuenen & Becking, permission granted by the Naturalis Biodiverisity Center, Leiden, Holland. Major props to them for letting me use it. I also thoroughly recommend reading the paper it accompanies: http://www.repository.naturalis.nl/document/150623

Amusingly, as can be seen in Schlosser’s drawing above, A. salina has been drawn with the requisite 11 pairs of legs. Linnaeus, either by accident or design, described it as only having ten pairs. Why? Perhaps he assumed it should fit in with the decapoda order of crustaceans? This error persisted in the relevant literature for at least half a century – frustrating considering it was correct in the very first observation.

I have been unable to find out anything specific about the extinction of A. salina, so instead I’ll go for conjecture and hearsay. There is a website about the Lymington salt industry (http://www.lymington.org/history/thesaltindustry.html) and about halfway down there is section called ‘The decline of the Industry’. This section states that ‘The last salt house closed in 1865 and within a few years nearly everything had gone, the boiling houses were removed and the salt-ponds filled up and levelled off for grazing’. Presumably when the salt-ponds went, A. salina went with them. As Lymington was the only place A. salina was known from in the UK, this constituted British extinction. Poignant.

I think I drove through Lymington once whilst in Hampshire; I saw my first, and indeed only, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Sabine’s gull only a couple of miles away from where A. salina used to live.

Baird, W. (1852) Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, Printed for the Society, sold at their house in Hanover Square.

King, E. (1879) Old times re-visited in the borough and parish of Lymington, Hants, Simpkins, London.

Friday

The temptation of the ring-necked duck at Tophill was too much for me, and the bizarre allure of a hybrid scaup x tufted duck was too much for James. So we headed out for a cloudy day. Before venturing forth to squint at distant ducks we decided to make a visit to a patch of a fellow leaguer. So we stumbled around Driffield’s Keld Pond for a couple of hours and helped her tot up some new species, the highlight of which was a calling willow tit. I also identified some lichens while James’ mentioned how he doesn’t trust me when I identify lichens. I don’t trust myself either but chicks dig lichenologists.

At Tophill we headed straight for D-res. Realistically there isn’t much to be said about it that hasn’t been said before. So google it and see pictures and more spirited descriptions.

Sunday

After finding out only the day before, I scrambled to make plans to attend an event being held the East Yorkshire Bat Group near Market Weighton. Luckily, Senor James was available to escort me across the county.

After meekly standing by a group of people in hard hats we mustered the courage to enquire if they were the bat people (I believed this involved us shuffling up and just saying “Bats?”). Whilst we waited for things to kick off we say some resplendent red kites knocking about, being massive and awesome.

I think it’s far to say we were rather giddy at the prospect of seeing bats close up. We weren’t disappointed. After half an hour of us randomly poking corners with torch light we heard through the clammy grapevine that one had been found. It was a myotis species, either brandt’s or whiskered.  While a shame it wasn’t identified to full species level it was more than enough to see any small mammal so close and for such a prolonged period of time.

Equally delightful was the spiders. Big chunky bastards at that. While we discussed what they could be a gentleman (whose name I didn’t catch) informed was that they were Meta menardi, the cave orbweaver. He knew this as he had introduced the spider into the cellars. Which was pleasing as its not often one gets to meet the person who introduces a species to an area while with the species in question. Apparently they are the only Meta menardi in East Yorkshire. They are also the size of an angry chestnut.

Meta menardi

The Herald

 

2: New Forest Cicada, Cicadetta montana

Cicadetta montana, Croatian specimen. Photo from Wikipedia.

Some readers might have spluttered their tea everywhere as they read the title of today’s post. I can almost hear the outraged comments… “New Forest Cicada, extinct!? How does he possibly know that!?”

Well, I don’t. Not for certain. But we are now entering the twentieth year since the last confirmed sighting. Either they are extinct, and my blog post is valid, or my post inspires such bloody-mindedness in one of our few readers that they go out and rediscover one purely to prove me wrong. Win-win really. Though a twenty-year gap without a sighting wouldn’t be unheard of for this species; the New Forest Cicada was ‘thought to be extinct in 1941 but was rediscovered in 1962’ (Daponte, 2004). Odd as it may seem, 1962 was also the year of its ‘recorded population peak of one hundred singing males’ (Maclean, 2010). Or possibly the reason it was rediscovered was because there were so many singing cicadas? This might raise the question as to why they hadn’t been detected in previous years – but there may be a good reason for this. The lifecycle of the New Forest Cicada doesn’t simply take place over a single year, as with many other insects. Instead, it has a ‘life cycle that extends over at least six to eight years, the majority of which is spent as an underground larva’ (Maclean, 2010). Some sources claim an even longer lifespan, saying that the larva of a cicada can ‘live subterraneanly for 3 to 17 years feeding on root sap’ (Daponte, 2004). Whilst not periodic, like some of the North American cicadas, presumably the New Forest Cicada would have years with large hatches and years with much smaller hatches – small enough, perhaps, to evade detection by observers in some years entirely?

The New Forest Cicada was apparently first discovered (in the UK) ‘in the year 1812, when it was captured in the New Forest by Mr. Dale. Curtis searched the same spot afterwards for several consecutive years without success’ (Buckton, 1890).

However, contrary to the above quote, George Samoulle wrote, in 1819, that ‘The only species known to inhabit this country was lately discovered by Mr. Daniel Bydder, near the New Forest’ (Samouelle, 1819). This is corroborated by Simon Wilkin who, in a footnote in the book; Sir Thomas Browne’s Works (Sir Thomas Browne is a name we shall certainly hear again in this series on extinct species – look forward to it!), recounts, with some slight bitterness, the discovery of the New Forest Cicada. The full extract is given below:

‘It is perfectly true that, till recently, no species of the true Linnæan Cicadæ, (Tettigonia, Fab.) had been discovered in Great Britain. About twenty years since, I had the pleasure of adding this classical and most interesting genus to the British Fauna. Having, about that time, engaged Mr. Daniel Bydder (a weaver in Spitalfields, and a very enthusiastic entomologist) to collect for me in the New Forest, Hampshire, I received from him thence many valuable insects from time to time, and at length, to my surprise and great satisfaction, a pair of cicadæ! Mr. John Curtis (since deservedly well known as the author of British Entomology) was then residing with me as draughtsman; and no doubt our united examinations were diligently bestoed to find the little stranger among the described species of the continent. I quite forget whether he bestowed a MS. name; probably not: as scarcely hoping that the first species discovered to be indigenous, would also prove to be peculiar to our country, and be distinguished by the national appellation of Cicada anglica. Yet so it has proved: Mr. Samouelle, I believe, first gave it that name; and Mr. Curtis has given an exquisite figure, and full description of it, in the 9th vol. of his British Entomology, No. 392. I cannot however speak in so high terms of his account of its original discovery. I cannot understand why he has thus dryly noticed it: “C. Anglica was first discovered in the New Forest, about twenty years ago.” I should have supposed that it might have given him some pleasure to attach to his narrative the name of an old friend, from whom he had received early and valuable assistance, and to whom he was indebted for his acquaintance with the art he has so long and so successfully pursued. At all events he ought to have recorded the name of the poor man by whose industry and perseverance the discovery was effected.’ (Wilkin, 1835)

I am left confused as to whom the ‘Mr Dale’ is, mentioned by Buckton. The most likely candidate must be James Charles Dale, famous entomologist, but I can find no other mention of him in connection to New Forest Cicadas. How odd.

It seems likely that the actual discoverer was ‘Mr. Daniel Bydder’ as mentioned in the two previous quotes. We are left without a specific date of discovery, but if it was thought of as discovered ‘lately’ in 1819, it can’t have been far earlier than that.

Now, the original article I wrote spluttered to a halt around here, as I was unable to secure a copy or even a look at possibly the most important document relating to New Forest Cicadas – Claude Morley’s The history of Cicadetta montana Scop in Britain, 1812-1940. Luckily, due to enormous generosity from an anonymous philanthropist, I have been able to peruse the document at my leisure. As such much of my conjecture above is rendered pointless, as Morley sheds ample light into the dark corners of my speculation. A lesser academic might rewrite those parts that are rendered obsolete, but I am determined to soldier on regardless.

Morley confirms the discoverer of the New Forest Cicada as being Daniel Bydder, and suggests the original date of discovery to have been ‘about 1812’ (Morley, 1941). This date is based on Curtis’ comment, from 1832, that the cicada had been discovered ‘about a score of years before’ (Morley, 1941). 1812 thus serves as the most reasonable estimate of the species’ discovery.

Pleasingly, Morley also addresses Buckton’s confusion over the original discoverer, attributing the mistake to a misreading of his notes. The ‘Mr Dale’ mystery is solved!

Morley then goes on to review every single record he knows for the New Forest Cicada from 1812 – 1940. Regular sightings and decent numbers typify the records up until the 1920’s, at which point the frequency of the sightings and abundance of cicadas seems to tail off somewhat. For the entirety of the 1930’s there were only three years with sightings. Two of these years comprised sightings of a single individual, whereas the third record concerned over a dozen individuals – all of which were collected. Morley finishes the report with the most recent record, that of a single individual that he himself found in June 1940, after devoting at least two months to the search. He concludes ‘At least we have the satisfaction of knowing that Cicadetta montana is not altogether extinct in Britain’ (Morley, 1941).

Despite Morley finding evidence of cicadas up until his time of writing in 1941, Morley’s review… led many authorities to assume yet another British rarity had passed into extinction’ (Grant, 1967). Twenty-two years would pass until the rediscovery of the New Forest Cicada in 1962; the last confirmed sighting was in 1993.

The word ‘confirmed’ is very important here, though, as there is an ‘unconfirmed’ report of a cicada singing and a possible ‘turret’ (a structure through which the cicada larva emerges) at an undisclosed location in the New Forest from 2000. That pretty much sums up as much history of the New Forest Cicada I can find –of course, as I mentioned at the beginning, the fact of its extinction is by no means certain. I think Maclean puts it better than I could – ‘its long life cycle, difficulty in detection and history of enigmatic appearances at new sites within the Forest means that declaration of its extinction in Britain may still be premature’ (Maclean, 2010). I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed on this one.

Plate from the 43rd volume of The Entomologist, 1910, showing New Forest specimens.

Plate from the 43rd volume of The Entomologist, 1910, showing New Forest specimens.

Additionally, anyone visiting the New Forest this summer should visit this website: http://www.newforestcicada.info/ and get hold of the smart phone app to help detect cicadas. That’s what all the kids are into now isn’t it? Apps?  I must also thank the website for furnishing me with some more specific information about the unconfirmed cicada record from 2000, and pointing me in the right direction for a few other sources I craved. I am fervently hoping their efforts are met with success.

Also look at this awesome sculpture of a New Forest Cicada I found whilst aimlessly browsing: http://wheniamgod.deviantart.com/art/Cicadetta-Montana-210570061. Someone should buy me it.

Buckton, G. B. (1890) Monograph of the British Cicadae or Tettigidae, Macmillan & Co, London.

Daponte, R. (2004) Wildlife and Conservation; Wildlife and its management in The New Forest, New Forest District, Education Section, Hampshire.

Grant, J. A. (1967) Proceedings of the Royal Entomological Society of London: Journal of Meetings, Volumes 31-36, Royal Entomological Society, London.

Maclean, N. (2010) Silent Summer: The State of Wildlife in Britain and Ireland, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Morley, C, (1941) The history of Cicadetta montana Scop in Britain, 1812-1940; The Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, N. Lloyd and Company, Ltd., Oxford

Samouelle, G. (1819) The entomologist’s useful compendium, T. Boys, London.

Wilkin, S. (1835) Sir Thomas Browne’s Work; Including his Life and Correspondence; Edited by Siimon Wilkin F.L.S., William Pickering, London.

I’ve been considering for a while writing a short series of blog posts about the extinct wildlife of the UK. Anyone interested in reading about British bears, wolves, boar, lynx, beavers and the like should prepare to be disappointed, as I’m probably going to start with less acknowledged groups such as moths and other wispy little things. I’ll probably get bored before I get as far as animals with bones and stuff.

Also, just so you’re aware, I’ll be eschewing my normal italics (I am James, I normally write in italics) because otherwise it would mess up all my lovely quotes. Anyway, here is No. 1 in my series:

 

1: The Spotted Sulphur

Spotted Sulphur, credit to ©entomart

Extinction is a sorry business. I mean, look at that moth. Gorgeous isn’t it? The Spotted Sulphur, Emmelia trabealis, was restricted to the Breckland of south Norfolk and north Suffolk. With a wingspan of 20 -22mm, it wasn’t a massive beastie, but its jazzy colouration is certainly a feast for the peepers. Its larval foodplant was (and presumably still is in the rest of its European range) Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, and it flew in a single generation from May – July.

The earliest UK record was at Margate, Kent in 1782, and this, along with other south-coast records, seem to imply that it used to occur as a migrant. Possibly it will do one day again in future – I suppose it depends on the abundance of European populations.

It was last recorded in Britain on the 25th June 1960, at Mildenhall in Suffolk. I don’t know specifically why it died out, but its ‘decline was probably due to afforestation and other land-use changes, but some of its habitat and foodplant still remains. One must note, however, that in Breckland it was at the extreme north-western limit of its range’ (Heath, 1983). Species at the extremes of their range are usually more vulnerable… Possibly some alteration in climate, coupled with the habitat destruction mentioned above, did in the Spotted Sulphur? Aha! I’ve just found a quote that seems to support my conjecture – ‘during the 1950s and 1960s… the climate again deteriorated. Several moths that had colonised southern England during the preceding period of favourable weather, now became extinct’ (Hawksworth, 2001). I bet I could have been a proper scientist.

 

 

Hawksworth, D. L. (2001) The Changing Wildlife of Great Britain and Ireland, Taylor & Francis Ltd., London.

Heath, J. (1983) The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland: Noctuidae (Cuculliinae to Hypeninae) and Agaristidae, Harley Books, Essex.

Earlier today I suddenly remembered that on the day when we saw the Quahog I was so elated I decided that the only way to celebrate appropriately was with a themed cake. Previous cakes I’ve decorated have been described as ‘intense’ and ‘viscerally unpleasant’. Anyway, below is a picture of the cake I decorated. It was dedicated to Lucy for the pivotal role she played in the finding of the Quahog, i.e. finding it.

Bitches Love Quahogs

At long last I have the internet. As such, I should complete my long overdue ‘Best of 2012’ post. 2012 was a crazy, rollercoaster ride of a year. Has there ever been a better year? Yes. 2011 was significantly better. Perhaps 2012 marked the beginning of an unstoppable decline which will reach rock bottom in 2021, when we plunge, screaming, into the sun. Fingers crossed.

Anyway, without further ado:

 

5. Alpine Newt

As anyone who as ever met me knows, I have a fondness for introduced species. They intrigue me. Whenever I see an introduced species I point at it and shout “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE, YOU IDIOT!”.  Alpine newt ticked a lot of boxes for me. Firstly, I could point and shout at it. Secondly, I had failed to see them the year before, so the tension and excitement had built to fever-pitch levels.  Thirdly, they’re a herp. And as any resident of the UK knows, we have, like, 1 native herp.

Alpine newt was a pleasing end to a solid day – a day which included (as far as I can remember) failing to see Black Grouse, seeing my first Yorkshire Red Squirrels, five Ravens,  loads of Red Grouse, and excellent company.

Alpine Newt

Alpine Newt

 

4. Golden Pheasant

Well, obviously it’s an introduced species, so see above for how much I like them. Additionally they’re rare, but not sad rare, which is a pleasing combination (a species dwindling to local extinction is usually sad, but with introduced species dying out you actually sort of regain something when they’ve gone. Purity). They are also absolutely gorgeous. What looks better than a Golden Pheasant? Not much.

The Golden Pheasant was one of the Wolfreton Triangle birds. Robert and I set off from Hull at some ungodly hour and arrived at Wolfreton shortly before dawn. I don’t remember how confident we felt but, knowing me, I was probably being incredibly negative about it. We drove round the Triangle twice before finding what looked like a decent spot to pull up. We waited a shortish length of time, and one came out into the road. It was more stunning than you can imagine.

Then, just to rub it in, we came back the next day and saw another one. I’ve met people who’ve been loads of times and never seen one, so I can now boast of my 100% success rate with them. I’m basically a Golden Pheasant whisperer.

Golden Pheasant

Golden Pheasant

 

3. Swallowtail

I don’t think a lot needs to be said about this one. Swallowtails are butterflies, all butterflies are great. Swallowtails are colourful, and they are the largest UK species. Biggest = Best. We had very good views at Strumpshaw, and saw plenty of them.

Going to go off at a tangent here, the UK Swallowtail is the same species as the one found in Europe, but is a different subspecies. It actually differs quite significantly from its European cousin. The European subspecies is a strong flier that lives in a variety of habitats and its larvae feed on members of the wild carrot family (if my memory serves me correctly – google it yourself, I can’t be bothered). Our Swallowtail is restricted to fenland, and the larvae only feed on Milk Parsley. They also aren’t as strong fliers. In the UK, Swallowtails are only found in Norfolk and Suffolk, but they used to be found in Cambridgeshire, and possibly existed throughout Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire before all the wetlands were drained. What an awesome thought. I wrote this off the top of my head so some or all of it could be made up.

Swallowtail

Swallowtail

 

2. His Grace, the Duke of Burgundy

I don’t know why I am so fond of His Grace. Possibly it’s because I like referring to it as His Grace, which makes me sound like a Victorian Aurelian. His Grace is at it the northern limit of its distribution here in Yorkshire, and I was desperate to see one. Unfortunately it is a lot more extinct than it used to be, with the Ellerburn and the Rievaulx populations both having gone the way of the Stephen’s Island Wren. A huge amount of research on my part found a possible site, and so on the 26th of May we went to check it out. It was a pleasing spot, with plenty of Red Grouse, my first North Yorkshire Cuckoo and Robert’s first Tree Pipit. We waited for the sun to rise and bathe the bank we were sat on in sweet sunshine. It obliged, and within half an hour the area was alive with Dingy Skippers and an obscene number of Duke of Burgundy. A small population of Duke of Burgundy could have only three or four adults on the wing – we must have seen close to twenty, if not more. Awesome. His Grace is the only UK member of the ‘metalmark’ family of butterflies.

His Grace

His Grace

 

1. Ocean Quahog

As time passes, I become more and more fond of molluscs. Last year we didn’t do a roundup of our top sightings, but if we had, then Freshwater Pearl Mussel might have won it. This year the Ocean Quahog just pips everything else to the post. I chose this sighting for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, I had found empty shells on the beach before, but never thought I would see a live specimen without going on a trawler or chartering a submarine. Secondly, they are awesome. The Ocean Quahog is the animal with the longest known lifespan, with a verified age of 507 years for one individual. The Quahog that Lucy found was probably older than me. It could have been alive when Steller’s Sea Cow still meandered aimlessly around the ocean. How awesome is that thought? Thirdly, seeing that Quahog made me realise that there were still wonders in the world and joy to be had. Well done Quahog. Well done.

Ocean Quahog (held by the cheapest hand-model I could afford)

Ocean Quahog (held by the cheapest hand-model I could afford)

 

 

“But James!” I imagine you screaming, “You haven’t mentioned any birds – didn’t you see a Roller and stuff this year?”

Well, dear reader, I have catered for you. Below you will find my top-five-totally-serious birds of 2012.

 

5. Lesser Whitethroat

Saw one of these. It was marginally less dull than I imagined. I didn’t get a picture, but the photograph below shows a typical view.

Typical view of a warbler.

Typical view of a Lesser Whitethroat.

 

 

4.  Marsh Warbler

One of these turned up on Castle Headland in Scarborough. It made some pretty weird noises and stood hidden in a bush for an hour. When I finally did see it, it was just a brown warbler. Exciting!  The photograph below shows a typical view.

Typical view of a Marsh Warbler.

Typical view of a Marsh Warbler.

 

 

3.  Greenish Warbler

Saw this one near Spurn. Thought I may as well whilst I was there. Very happy memories of this bird. I remember very clearly it dropping out of a hawthorn into view for the best part of a minute, allowing us to take in its salient features. It then fluttered back out of sight and I said “Seen it, let’s go” and walked off. The other twitchers must have thought I was a mercenary bastard. Typical view of a Greenish Warbler below.

Typical view of a Greenish Warbler.

Typical view of a Greenish Warbler.

 

 

2. Pallas’ Warbler

This was at Flamborough. It was in a hedge. It wasn’t that difficult to view. It looked like a Yellow-Browed Warbler. I hung about for half an hour until I could get a decent view of its rump. Then I left (I had forgotten to pay for parking so I did have to dash). Typical view of a Pallas’ Warbler below.

Typical view of a Pallas' Warbler.

Typical view of a Pallas’ Warbler.

 

 

1. Muscovy Duck

Just look at it. It looks like a Mallard that’s just been released from a burns unit.

 

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck

 

And that’s that! In all seriousness I must add a list of honourable mentions: Chinese Water Deer, Roller, Lesser White-Fronted Goose, Green Hairstreak, hybrid Barnacle x Red-Breasted Goose, Chalkhill Blue, Silver Studded Blue, White Admiral, Essex Skipper, Purple Hairstreak, Grayling, Coue’s Arctic Redpoll, Red-Backed Shrike, Wryneck, Long-Eared Owl, Bluethroat, Black-Winged Stilt, Nightingale, Cattle Egret, Citrine Wagtail, Red-Breasted Flycatcher and Sacred Ibis. There are probably at least as many species again that I thoroughly enjoyed seeing but this would eventually just degenerate into a list of several hundred species that nobody cares about.

To celebrate the first exciting month of patch league I felt a quick round up was in order, and is there a better way to show the progress so far than some colourful charts?  Of course there is isn’t.

January pie charts patch league 2013

January bar chart patch league 2013

I’m little disgusted by how well this is going, especially given how I’m now in 4th place. I slowed down a lot while the snow was about and I noticed most people had a predictable drop in activity around that time. Birds seem to be making the vast majority of peoples scores, but I’m imagining invertebrates will overtake once some warm sets in.

And there is also badges to dole out. I’m still planning on making actual badges (because why wouldn’t you?) but I will be putting them on each individual patch leaguers page. 3 people have already got 50 birds (which I foolishly thought would be difficult), 3 people have 100 species. I’m also considering the next badges to be made. My personal favourite will be the thief badge, which can be achieved by finding a species someone hasn’t found yet on their patch. 

Some rather special have shown up on peoples patches, with highlights being glaucous gull, ring necked parakeet, slavonian grebe and firecrest.

I imagine you are like “woah, how do i get in on this hot patch league pie chartaction?”. Well just click on the patch league link at the top, dummy.