Sunday, 12 August 2012

Mini-beasts, Dragons and Moths

A great weekend for me regarding insects, a couple of superb nights of moth trapping and then I managed to catch up with one of last years rare dragonfly species that I missed.

Over Saturday night I set my mv trap in the hope of catching some good moths for me to use as part of the mini-beasts walk I was booked in for at Darenth Country Park. A good haul overnight produced ruby tiger, privet hawk moth, marbled beauty, iron prominent, angle shades and the spectacle which were chosen to show the folks attending the event. I was a little overwhelmed when 60 people turned up! I managed to get the kids to rethink which insects were best out of moths and butterflies. Generally butterflies come on as the better loved but after showing them the group of moths caught overnight, moths then became the clear favourites, hurrah!

The mini-beasts event was totally exhausting but incredible, the kids in the party were superb, so much enthusiasm rushing about catching butterflies, grasshoppers, spiders, flies and bees, I was kept very busy trying to identify what I could. In true Olympic fashion I split the boys and girls into teams, with the girls scoring a point for every butterfly species and the boys for every grasshopper and cricket species. The girls romped home with 9 points to the boys 5 but it made it fun.

On getting home I had a call telling me about a southern migrant hawker at Cliffe which I duly went to see and I was glad I did because it was a cracking beastie.

The top photo is hawkers_comparison_resizeof the male southern migrant hawker at Cliffe and the bottom photo is of a male migrant hawker, taken in September a few years back.

On first glance they both look similar but the things to check are the colour of the eyes which in southern migrant hawker are a rich blue and the colour of segments 1 and 2. These are the segments immediately behind where the hindwings join the body. In southern hawker both segments are blue, in migrant hawker segment 1 has a set of yellow and brown markings.

Another id feature is the the difference in the markings on the side of the thorax, thin black lines in southern and broad lime/yellow stripes in migrant.










Another unexpected find was a number of small red-eyed damselflies.12_08_11_cliffe_small_red_eyed_damselfy_058Onto some of the other moths caught over the Friday night.

12_08_11_longfield_ crambus_perlella_warringtonellus_110

I haven’t noticed this form of Crambus perlella before it is called warrintonellus.













A great looking moth the grey dagger.12_08_11_longfield_grey_dagger_042I’ve been having a real problem identifying pugs this year, don’t know why just cannot do them at the moment, however this was one exception a nice v-pug.12_08_11_longfield_v_pug__026

This one got me thinking and another first for me, the dark form of willow beauty, f. rebeli


This next micro moth was another first for me, whilst common across southern Britain it has a local distribution, Catoptria falsella, what a little cracker.


Monday, 6 August 2012

Blubber and Fur

Last Saturday saw me down at Dungeness reasonably early taking a couple of hours out to look for marine mammals as I’d missed out on the National Whale and Dolphin Watch weekend over the 27th – 29th July. So I’d decided to complete my watch as a Kent Mammal Group activity and to be honest I wasn’t really expecting anyone else to turn up which was just as well as I spent the two hours alone, enjoying an exciting cetacean and seabird spectacle.


The watch started off well with 3 harbour porpoise being seen within 5 minutes of arriving, 2 of the animals were within 800 metres offshore and one could be seen with the naked eye. There was an obvious trickle of terns, common, arctic and sandwich moving west in the strong south westerly wind which was whipping the sea into a state 4/5. With lots of white water visible and troughs of up to 2 metres, this was hardly good conditions for trying to see the smallest cetacean in European waters being between 4.5-5.5 feet in length but at least it wasn’t raining.


Other notable birds included 2 black terns an arctic skua and an adult little gull still with a black head. Around 2km’s offshore a building, wheeling group of gannets had started to form and plunge dive, always an impressive sight and an indication of food below the waves which may also be attractive to cetaceans. Sure enough 3 harbour porpoises were there surging through the waves obviously feeding and chasing prey. At times the porpoise would be on the front side of a wave trough and you could see the whole animal just under the surface. In total I managed to see around 10 harbour porpoise and a very close grey seal.

On Sunday, Lisa and I went to a woodland area near to Aylesbury to help out with edible dormouse Glis glis monitoring. Mainly due to the spring and summer weather the numbers of glis being found in the provided nestboxes were down on previous years. Hopefully the majority of animals were safely hibernating the year through and would appear in 2013 rather than having moved into the surrounding houses were they are known to cause havoc by chewing through cables. We were told of one home where already this year 297 had been caught and killed!

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How can you do that to something so cute! Watch out for those teeth though as they bite back and they hang on, hence the need to wear gloves when handling.

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A superb set of whiskers helps this little beastie check out it’s surroundings at night as it wanders the canopy looking for beech nuts.

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This year the use of endoscopes made it easier to checkout the contents of the boxes for any snoozing dormice. As I approached one box and looked through the scope I said ‘ I’m not sure but I think there is a dormouse in here, probably worth taking down just to double check.’.


The box was duly taken down and emptied into a collecting bag. In the bottom were 8 mature dormice, it must have been a squash in there, just awesome!!


After a lot of box checking and data gathering it was back to the control hut for tea and cakes after a job well done.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

So Where Have I Been?

Well most recently, between 14th –21st May, I have been to Norway on a SAGA cruise. Actually i’m not quite eligible to officially join as a cruise guest just yet but I managed to get a place as part of an Organisation Cetacea (ORCA), survey team on the lookout for cetaceans. In fact SAGA and ORCA have built up a good relationship that allows ORCA survey teams aboard providing a welcome additional wildlife aspect to their cruises and giving ORCA much needed extra survey data. So both parties benefit.
The ship is called the Quest For Adventure and a good size vessel she is too.
Whilst we are there to survey for marine wildlife it is an important part of the role to get involved in other aspects of the cruise and ensure we engage with the other guests. So with best formal frocks and suits on, I’ll introduce the survey team. Me, Cheryl, Debbie and Steve, what a fine bunch.
So off to Norway but the weather conditions are not that good for cetaceans but we do manage to see a couple of harbour porpoises and a few puffins.
The first stop was Bergen , a major port for the support of the oil industry.
This ship looks like a seismic survey vessel, used for finding gas and oil fields, potentially not good news for cetaceans. In fact it’s an anchor handling tug, still looks very odd though.
Part of our role is to also help out being additional guides on excursions, which is good fun and allows us to see some of the local colour. The funicular railway gets you on your way to Mount Floyen .
The view from the top.
During World War II Bergen being occupied by the Germans hosted U-boats and you can still see the formidable old concrete pens in the harbour.
Next day saw us further north at the more picturesque village of Flam.
Certainly a more pastoral feel to the local farming practice leading to fields full of wild flowers, these being ladies smock.
Some of the more common garden birds
Marsh Tit
Pied Flycatcher
White Wagtail
There were also some cute local residents.
Some of the team got a bit stuck trying to get up close to a local waterfall.
The next day we were at Skjolden, the scenic Sognefjell Mountain pass and the Sognelfjord.
Some of the local reindeer.
The trip along the Sognelfjord gave us our first chance to see harbour porpoise in good calm conditions.
That days sunset was particularly special.
Our last day in Norway was at Stavangar, once again we were able to join in as additional escorts on some of the excursions. One of which went through the old part of the town which still has 130 preserved buildings from the late 1700s and mid 1800s.
The impressive Hafrsfjord monument ‘Swords in the Stone’ is thought to be where the viking king Harald I defeated the last of regional princes and started the unification of Norway.
Our last day at sea travelling back to Dover actually gave us an incredible sea state 1 which allowed us to record over 30 harbour porpoises and 7 minke whales. The sunset was superb and a fitting end to the trip.
A great trip and team, the crew of the Quest looked after us very well.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Adding Up and Keeping Count!

Recently I’ve been reading a book by Rodger McPhail called ‘The Private Life Of Adders’. To be honest it doesn’t take long to read but for someone like me that doesn’t know a lot about the life history of adders it is full of very useful information and a good introduction and I would recommend it as it is also full of great and surprising photos. One aspect of adder watching is trying to work out just how many individual adders you might be looking at and a study in the Wyre Forest in Worcestershire showed that adders posses unique head-patterns that can be broken down into 3 components. Eye lines, inverted V and the apex of the zig-zag.
So far I have made 3 trips to the adder site and I think I’ve seen 7 different male adders, which if true is the most I’ve ever seen in one area and quite exciting and the females aren’t even out yet!
The challenge is to try and get a photo of the back of the head which is easier said than done given that your average adder doesn’t want to be noticed let alone photographed and bits of grass and bees get in the way but that is all part of the challenge.
What do you think, there are certainly 4 different males below but do you reckon there are 7 different males here? Answers on a postcard.
March 18th.
Male 1 
Male 2 
This one will be easy to identify as long as the spring flower bee stays put!
Male 3 
Male 412_03_18_mh_016_male_1
March 8th
Male 5
26th February
Male 612_02_26_mh_056_male_5
Male 7