Category Archives: Entomology

Cooters, Anhingas and Hawks (Oh my!)

The sharp-eyed among you will be aware that I’ve not been around for a couple of weeks. That’s because between leaving my job as Senior Countryside Officer and starting my new Ecologist position, I went back to Florida for a family reunion for my Dad’s 75th birthday, with the aim of seeing a few species of bird that I’d not seen before. Well, I should know better. My search for Burrowing Owls, Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Florida Scrub Jay was a bust. To use birding lingo, I ‘Dipped Out’… But take heart, there really is no such thing as Dipping Out in Florida. In spite of the fact that I really didn’t go off-road looking for wildlife, I saw some amazing birds in and around my brother’s apartment in Port Saint Lucie, the stunning Lake Eola in Downtown Orlando, and Jonathan Dickinson State Park.  Here’s a selection of the birds I saw and photographed:

So, as you can see – no Burrowing Owls. I did manage to find a burrow, but by that time it was getting pretty hot and the owls were no doubt tucked away in the shade. It was brilliant walking around Bluefield Ranch Preserve (Not jam made from wildlife – this is just what they call a nature reserve in the States) and seeing the perches that have been erected near the burrows in order to encourage the owls. Slightly disheartened, on the way up to Yeehaw Junction to meet my other brother, I saw the best bird of my life, not 20 feet from the car. I didn’t get a photo, but here’s a pic shamelessly stolen from the internet of a Crested Caracara:

Crested Caracara (c) Creative Commons Wikipedia

Just goes to show, when one door opens, a Crested Caracara could fly in through the window. I did see lots more wildlife (of the non-avian variety): two species of anole lizards, two turtles and a lightning-fast (ergo no photo) non-native African Rainbow Lizard at my nephew’s school in Palm City.

Inverts were surprisingly thin on the ground, but I did bag a few photos of a couple of stunning butterflies, three dragonflies and a honey bee, as well as a nest of fire ants (scourge of my childhood).

Anyway, its lovely to be back in Britain – I’m really excited about spring (Technically it’s spring now – we just have to wait for seasonal lag to catch up – should take about 3-4 weeks).

Bring on the Bees!

You know, I remember my first bee of each year. That’s weird, right? The honey bee above was my first bee of 2015 – at Wightwick Manor in Wolverhampton on the 7th of March. In 2014 it was this Clarke’s Mining Bee on Brownhills Common on the 11th March:

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In 2013 it was a Buff Tailed Bumblebee queen at the Sister Dora Cemetery in Walsall. In 2012 it was Clarke’s Mining Bee at Shire Oak Park, and in 2011 a Honey Bee at Clayhanger Common. I know, I’m a freak.

I tend to get the entomological equivalent of restless leg syndrome by this time of year – mid February is when you can see the first bumblebees appear (usually buff tailed queens), and then the rest start to appear in March. In fact, there are quite a lot of pretty similar-looking bees that can be found on the wing in March, so in the interest of my everlong quest to demystify entomology for you, I’ve updated my Quick Guide to Red and Black Bees in Spring, which you can DOWNLOAD FREE using this LINK or click on the image below.

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I know they all look very similar at first glance, but trust me – you’ll get your eye in. It helps if you have a butterfly net (I’m going to do a field kit blog post very shortly!) and a Hand Lens as well as a few bug pots so that you can safely view the bees.  More blogs on bee-hunting for beginners soon!

Tasting the Wild in 2015

My year in review. (In photos!) I’ve had another amazing year – looking back, I’m not entirely sure how I’ve fit it all in!

Wild Encounters

From Chasing Violet Carpenter Bees in Andalucia, hunting for Eyed Ladybirds on Barr Beacon and moth trapping on heathlands around Walsall to mist netting for bats in woodlands, ringing birds (including our Peregrines which fledged four chicks!) and monitoring our amazing badgers, I’ve had another amazing year of wild encounters.

Wild in the Woods

I’ve also done lots of playing in the woods this year, and have concentrated on working on my fire craft skills (from just practicing lighting fires to experimenting with different tinders and kindlings). I’ve made a willow crayfish trap and learned some new basketry techniques, honed my corn dolly skills and bashed the heck out of some plants to make hapa zome flags. Culinary foraging has been limited to hedgerow berries and birch sap tapping this year, but I’m still reaping the benefits of my hedgerow vodka!

Travel

Kind of spent a ridiculous amount of my pocket money on travel this year, with a trip to Andalusia in March, followed by Edinburgh in May, the 5th annual Girls’ Birdwatching Trip (Norfolk), camping in the Derbyshire Dales and hiking from Ft William to Inverness. And I wonder why I have no money now that December is here! Highlights were definitely the seals at Blakeney Point and my first ever glimpse of the Aurora Borealis whilst camped on Loch Ness – amazing! (You can read the blog and see the videos of the hike across scotland here.) I’m planning on Florida, Cornwall and lots more camping in 2016!

Bats

Oh, the bats this year! I’ve been involved for a few years with the Herefordshire Mammal Group, doing mist netting and harp trapping surveys, and this year their project organisers helped BrumBats to undertake some woodland surveys of our own. With help from the Shropshire Bat Group, we surveyed Cuckoos Nook & the Dingle, Merrions Wood and Sutton Park. At BrumBats HQ we are very excited to get stuck into another season of study!  We also had a crazily busy year of bat care, and with this mild weather, are anticipating some winter grounded bats and (most likely) a very busy (and early) bat maternity season in 2016!

Space

The sun and the moon had amazing things in store this year – a total lunar eclipse, and a near-total solar eclipse. Both events had (uncharacteristically) clear skies. Over 600 people turned out on Barr Beacon for the solar eclipse. Amazing that so many people value natural phenomenon enough to come out and experience them together. The atmosphere was just incredible! I’m hoping to be in the USA for the total solar eclipse in August 2017.

Botanising

I had a fantastic summer, spending most of it undertaking botanical surveys of grasslands. I think we’re going to get a few new nature reserves out of it, and certainly some relaxed mowing regimes.

Becoming an Auntie again…

In January I became an auntie again – this time to a little girl – the enchanting Eleanor Hughes, whom I’ve got to spend time with twice this year (which is pretty good going seeing as she lives 3,500 miles away!). Can’t wait to see you in March, Elley!

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I hope that everyone has had a merry Christmas full of comfort and Joy, and I’m sending you wish-grenades for a prosperous, healthy and bright new year!

Thanks, as always, for reading. If there’s anything you’d like to see me cover in 2016, please let me know!

Morgan x

Getting Down and Dingy

I have a load of blog posts stock-piling, but I’ve been away the last two weekends, so this is a bit belated, but here you go…

One of the many awesome things I get to do is to work with local farmers, advising them on suitable projects and schemes to improve their farmland for biodiversity. This is John Adams, who owns College Farm and Lime Pits Farm (the fields that surround Park Lime Pits LNR in Walsall), and he takes part in Natural England’s Environmental Stewardship Scheme.
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As part of the stewardship agreement, certain parts of his fields are left for wildlife. This means wide, uncultivated margins for invertebrates, winter crops to provide seed for birds, and awesome special projects like this one – a Dingy Skipper habitat!

Dingy Skipper is a widespread but declining (and it has to be said, decidedly UN-dingy) butterfly, which relies on large areas of its larval foodplant, Bird’s Foot Trefoil. I was asked to head over to Lime Pits Farm to see how John’s two Trefoil plots are doing, and to search for any signs of Dingy Skippers (caterpillars, eggs, etc).

We are planning on rotational cuts to the area and the introduction of Yellow Rattle to compete with the dominant grasses. Alas, we found no sign of Dingy Skippers (yet!) but did find this moth caterpillar – any ID would be greatly appreciated!

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The Moth Diaries (pt 2)

More moth trapping – this time at Pelsall North Common.  A pretty good night, with a few stunning little moths!

Gold Spot moth was the blingiest (yes, it’s a word), and prettiest has to go to Ruby Tiger.  We had loads of True Lover’s Knot moths (gotta love the names!), along with a few Smoky Wainscots.

But the cutest, fluffiest, most adorable moth award has to go to this Drinker moth (I just wish they were the size of, say, Koalas) who hung around for most of the night, generally being adorable and looking like a miniature Mr Snuffleupagus.  We have more moths planned at Barr Beacon, and a return to Shire Oak next week.

The Moth Diaries

August and September mean moth season! The nights are once again short enough that it’s not too arduous to be out until a couple of hours after sunset, and it’s still warm enough that there are loads of moths on the wing. Moths can be found at any time of the year, but late summer is really peak season for moth trapping. This year we’re focusing on Shire Oak Park, Pelsall North Common and Barr Beacon, and we had our first night’s trapping at Shire Oak on Tuesday.

There were loads of moths, but in particular abundance were True Lover’s Knots. Quite a few new species for me, but my favourite has to be the Beautiful Yellow Underwing (below) – every bit as beautiful as it’s name suggests. The final list of moths is ongoing but I’ll publish it when the surveys are finished. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Moth traps vary and can be expensive kit to buy, but if you fancy having a go at moth trapping yourself, try hanging a white sheet in the garden around sunset, and placing a bright lamp/bulb next to it – Moths will land on the sheet!  As for how to identify them, you can pick up the book for around £12 or upload photos to ispot.

If you want to keep up with our moth surveys, follow my instagram and twitter feeds. Happy mothing!

 

Patch Listing: Stowlawn Wood

As I mentioned in my previous post about the new ‘Nature Friendly Zone’ created by Wolverhampton Council at the back of my house, I’ve started recording the wildlife that I see there.  Here are the lists so far…  In 2016 I’m going to ‘patch list’ the site properly, but I think it’s promising!

Grasses, Sedges & Rushes (13)

Yorkshire Fog     Cock’s Foot     False Oat Grass     Timothy Grass     Common Bent     Smooth Meadow Grass     Common Couch     Crested Dog’s Tail     Marsh Foxtail     Perennial Rye Grass     Creeping Bent     Sharp-Flowered Rush

Flowering Plants (26)

Broad-Leaved Dock     Dandelion     Common Knapweed     Ragwort     Meadow Buttercup     Red Clover     White Clover     Self-heal     Spear Thistle     Wild Carrot     Yarrow     Common Mouse Ear     Creeping Thistle     Creeping Buttercup     Creeping Cinquefoil     Bush Vetch     Cat’s Ear     Bird’s Foot Trefoil     Daisy     Ribwort Plantain     Greater Plantain     Black Medick     Ox Eye Daisy     Lady’s Bedstraw     Silverweed      Autumn Hawkbit

Invertebrates (18)

Hornet Mimic Hoverfly     Common Soldier Beetle     7-spot Ladybird A Leaf Cutter Bee     A Mining Bee     Small Tortoiseshell     Ringlet     Large Skipper    Gatekeeper     Red Tailed Bumblebee     Early Bumblebee     Buff Tailed Bumblebee     Small Skipper     6-Spot Burnet Moth     Tree Bumblebee     Meadow Brown     O. lurida (A flower beetle)    Vestal Cuckoo Bee

(My ‘best find’ so far is the Hornet Mimic – an amazing species that I unfortunately didn’t manage to photograph – you can see it pictured at the top of the page – taken on the Wyrley and Essington Canal in 2014.)

Vertebrates (5)

Red Fox     Sparrowhawk     Blackbird     Magpie     Wood Pigeon

Chive On

You might remember back in June 2012 I visited Pelsall North Common with @Bex_Cartwright where we recorded 9 species of Bumble Bee on a patch of chives that are thriving on the common as a remnant of the old cottages that were associated with the foundry there. This year I made sure to go back to see if the patch of culinary plants is still providing a food source for bees.  Here are a few of the pics I took…

I’m pleased to say that we re-recorded all of the species we found in 2012:

Red Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius)
Hill Cuckoo Bee (Bombus rupestris)
Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum)
White Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum)
Four-coloured Cuckoo Bee (Bombus sylvestris)
Buff Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)
Vestal Cuckoo Bee (Bombus vestalis)
Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)
Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum)

And added another three species:

Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum)
Field Cuckoo Bee (Bombus campestris)
Heath Bumble Bee (Bombus jonellus)

Pretty cool stuff if you ask me – so if you are looking for a great plant to have in the garden, you could do a lot worse than putting some chives in your herb patch!

One flew east, one flew west…

…one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

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Cuckoos, by the way, don’t have one.  A nest, that is.  They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, leaving their young to dispatch the host eggs and be reared by the unsuspecting, and remarkably doting host parents.  It is this tactic employed by a subspecies of Bumblebees called Psythrius, and the reason that we call them Cuckoo Bumblebees. Of the 24 species of UK Bumblebees, six of them are cuckoos.  They don’t have workers; just males and queens, as the queen will enter the nest of her ‘host’ (which she often looks very similar – this is an example of Wasmannian mimicry as opposed to the Batasian mimicry I’ve blogged about before).  The cuckoo queen will kill the host queen, lay her own eggs, and use the host workers to raise her brood for her!

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I taught a course last weekend on ‘Bumblebee Identification for beginners’ at the new Arboretum Visitors’ Centre in Walsall.  One of the first things we look at is how to tell whether you’re looking at a ‘True’ Bumblebee or not – as this helps in identifying the species. So how do you tell the difference between Cuckoo Bumblebees and True Bumblebees? It’s all in the legs.

If you take a look at the two similar photos below, and take a close look at the hind leg of these two similar bees – you’ll notice that the top bee’s hind leg has a shiny surface, and the bottom bee’s hind leg is dull and hairy.  This is the main feature to separate cuckoo bees from true: the top bee is the Red Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) and the bottom is the Red Tailed Cuckoo Bee (Bombus rupestris).

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Of course, you have to look pretty close (usually in a bug pot, and with a hand lens) to see this feature, so there are a couple of other features you can look out for.  The first is the wings, which on a cuckoo bee (As in Bombus campestris below) are often very dark compared to the true bumbles (look at the difference in the wings of B. rupestris and B. lapidarius above).

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Another key feature to look out for is the abdomen (This is a tricky one, but useful once you get your ‘eye in’).  Cuckoo bees tend to have a slightly ‘pulled-out’ appearance to their abdomen, as if someone has tugged on the end and separated the segments slightly.  You can often see the surface of the abdomen between bands of fur, whereas in true bumblebees you can usually only see fur.  Take a look:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hope this helps with your bee identification – We’ll start seeing more cuckoo bees shortly, so happy hunting!

The Small of the Wild (Part 1)

I had a microscopic adventure this week: a foray into the world of Ascomycetes fungi. Ascos (That’s what the cool kids call them – and I’m down with the kids, as you know!) are a type of small fungi that live on dead wood (or sometimes other fungi) and proliferate by expelling spores into the air (they are known as the ‘Spore Shooters’).

To study them, you really need a hand lens (although there are some large ascos like Scarlet Elf Cup and Witches Butter which are large – Elf Cups will feature in another blog post very soon!).  Delighted that I remembered to pack my hand lens and my camera with macro lens, I managed a few cool pics.  (Not all of these are Ascos, as some are fungi from different groups, and at least one is a slime mould (Which is apparently part fungi / part animal!!!).  It was an enthralling experience looking for organisms on a microscopic level – and of course I digressed into looking at beetles, slugs, snails, etc (below) I had my eyes opened to a completeley new taxonomic group!