Thursday, 15 March 2012

August on Alyesbeare Common

Another post that just never seemed to happen at the time. I've still not been out and about much, I just don't seem to be able to shift this cold, so a good excuse to get around to posting this I suppose.

I visited Alyesbeare Common in the first week of August last year, it was a lovely sunny day and I was hoping to see my first ever Emerald Damselflies, Lestes sponsa.  I do realise that this it a very widespread  and fairly common species over much of the country but it is a bit more scarce in this region. I probably had seen it before when I lived in the Midlands but I didn't note what species it was. Anyhow, I definitely hadn't photographed them before. They appear quite dull from a bit of a distance but close up they are surprisingly colourful.

The metallic green and powder blue male is gorgeous ( in his own way)...but up close...
(Look away Martha)...



The female is metallic green all over. 
Best to enlarge this to get the full effect of the colour.

Female Southern Hawker, usually much trickier to get near to than the males.

There were also scores of Graylings on the wing. I remember I was trying to follow pairs of them to see the mating ritual when they eventually land, with the male showing off the upper side of his wings. As I was following one pair through the heather I just happened to look down and I'd put my trainer clad foot down about a centimetre away from a big, (and very fortunately for me) sleeping female Adder. Instead of striking at my leg she slid off. I was so close to inadvertently stepping straight on her I remember feeling a bit shaken. I gave up trying to follow the amorous butterflies and relaxed with a bit of pony therapy instead (reputed (by me) to be almost as good as puppy therapy). Here's some photos of the Graylings, probably the only one of the 54 species I saw last year not to have made it onto here...until now.

 Usual View...Yawn ;-)

 I was lucky enough to actually see the upper wings a few times although my photographic efforts leave a bit to be desired. It was a 'blink and you'll miss it ' kind of situation though.

Another one for my growing 'on the hand' list.


 Pony therapy!
Exmoor ponies are used to control the vegetation on the reserve and soothe victims of close encounters of the anguine kind!

This is Saw-wort, serratoula tincoria which was as far as I recall, a new plant for me. Probably just been overlooking it for years.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Heath Potter Wasp and Weevil Hunting Wasp

I just remembered I've a few things from the summer that I never got around to putting on here and seeing as I'm feeling a bit under the weather today, it would be a good time to rectify this.

I've always been fascinated by insects, there are just so many out there waiting to be noticed. They are so easily overlooked but can be very rewarding given a closer look. Some are incredibly beautiful (well I think so) and some pretty gruesome, most being both of these things at the same time!

Until last June I'd never seen a Potter Wasp or one of their pots but had always wanted to, so when I heard from Dave L that there were some not that far away on the edge of Dartmoor I went over there to see them. They are very picky about the weather, they like it good and sunny, so I only managed to see them on two occasions due to the very changeable summer weather we had. Fortunately though John Walters a naturalist who is studying the wasps was on site both times and was able to show us the location of some pots which had just been built and I was able to see the wasps bringing in prey items. I also saw the female wasps collecting mud from their favoured 'quarry' though I wasn't lucky enough to see a pot actually being built. Dave lives much nearer to the site and was able to visit almost daily for about a fortnight I think. He saw several pots being built and got some superb video footage of it which I was able to watch later. To see more about these fascinating wasps take a look at John's website.

Here's John in action. You can just see him crouched behind the bush left of centre.
He watches the wasp fly over from the 'quarry' area and marks where he loses site of it with a piece of white paper. He then searches that spot for the beginnings of a nest and if there isn't any sign of one hides in that spot and does the same thing again. Sometimes it takes several stages as the wasps can build their nest hundreds of metres from where they collect the mud.

Female Potter Wasp (Eumenes coarctatus)

Here she is, mining. Look at that impossibly narrow waist!

She collects a ball of mud, rolling it between her front legs... so.

 Finished pot

This pot has been filled with paralysed caterpillars ( I think Dave counted over 30 into one pot) and sealed up.

This pot has been built with mud from two different 'quarry sites'

 Wasp at the nest

Incoming with a caterpillar.
 My camera wasn't quite up to the challenge of catching these very quick insects in flight. Here's how it should be done...

© Dave Land 2011
 Camera envy or what!?

On a hot and sunny day in July ( yes, there was at least one!) I was looking for butterflies along the beaches below Beer Head/Hooken Cliffs when I noticed another wasp I haven't seen before. They were very active in the hot weather and very obvious in flight as they looked massive! They aren't though, it's just that they are flying carrying a weevil that's bigger than they are!  They were Cerceris arenaria also known as the Weevil Hunting Wasp, for obvious reasons.

In the eroded cliff face the remains of last years nests were visible as collections of  empty weevil exoskeletons, all very macabre.

Weevil Hunting Wasp

Here's one flying in complete with paralysed weevil undercarriage!
I don't know how they can fly carrying that! ...In fact they were often having a lot of trouble and crash landing to take a breather before struggling on with their massive cargo.

It's a very tight squeeze to get into the burrow...Poor weevil. What a way to go!

This weevil wasn't fully paralysed and struggled as it was being dragged into a burrow, the wasp lost its grip and the weevil fell to the ground. It soon stopped moving as the venom took effect though. Interestingly the wasp didn't come back for it and no other wasp picked it up. They like 'em live and kicking! Horrible!

A video of  fore mentioned life or death struggle. Or more accurately, death or death struggle for the doomed weevil. 

I Ran For A Bird!

I don't run for birds, in fact I don't run, period! So I don't know what came over me yesterday...when I did just that, could it have been..... desperation?

This is the north wall at Pagham Harbour. Last Monday ( Feb 27th) Bun and I spent five and a half miserable hours here, it was dull and grey but there were lots of birds around, unfortunately the one we wanted to see, the Paddyfield Warbler wasn't. This picture was taken yesterday and as you can see the weather was much nicer, wall to wall sunshine and fluffy white clouds. There was just one small problem, it was blowing a hoolie! I was hoping the met office were exaggerating as usual, but on this occasion they weren't.
There was very little in the way of bird activity but we were hopeful as the Paddyfield Warbler had been seen just an hour before we'd arrived. Two and a half hours later I was getting a bit fed up and was having a  rest  sulk on 'bench three' when I just happened to glance up and noticed Bun was beckoning me. He was near 'bench four'...a whole 100m or so away!! I started walking......then I remembered the truly hideous Great Spotted Cuckoo incident....I started to panic.. there was nothing else for it, I had to do it ...I RAN! It was worth it  though because when Bun told me where he'd seen it I soon picked it up making its way through the very bottom of the reeds and it even came right out to the front and showed well for a few seconds before flying over to the next clump of reeds where I lost it but Bun and  one other lucky birder saw it again. Brief views but definitely better than last weeks!! 

  The bird was seen at the base of the reeds on the far side of the channel. The exact same place as the sighting three hours earlier..

 Still, mustn't grumble, at least we saw it. These guys had been watching the exact same spot for about half an hour or so and had just wandered off when Bun went over for a look.
 I don't know if it showed again on the day, we left as soon as we'd seen it coz it was bloomin' cold! Needless to say the wind had dropped today and the bird was showing well, and even singing! 

Bun was especially happy (can you tell?) because Paddyfield Warbler was his 400th bird (BOU...whatever that means ;-)) It was only my 340th. In the background on the right you can see a bench with our scopes and Bun's rucksack on it which I just abandoned in my erm?....oh yes, desperation!

I didn't get chance for a photo of the 'little blighter' as the bird is affectionately known and I wont be doing a painting either, I mean, I just don't think I could adequately portray its stunning beauty! There was a large flock of Brent Geese in the area and as we were leaving I looked at them in a distant field through my bins and was surprised to see them all walking around really quickly in a big circle. They looked very comical, I don't know why they were doing this, it's not something I've seen before. Anyone know what it's all about?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

On This Day...

 On March 4th 2008 the weather couldn't have been more different from today's dull, dreary, sogginess. The mild and sunny conditions had brought several butterflies out of hibernation and when I got a call from Steve saying that Bun had found a Large Tortoiseshell in his garden I don't think I'd ever moved so fast...even though at the time I didn't know where Bun's garden was!! A lucky few early arrivals got to see this rare beauty as it sunned itself on the trunk of an apple tree. All too soon it was warm enough to take to the the wing and was gone forever. A memorable day... good job Bun had popped home in his lunch break to drop off some bird food... or it wouldn't have been seen at all!!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Something I've Been Meaning To Do.

On the 23rd of October a drake American Wigeon was found on the Exe Estuary, a potential lifer for me but being the laid back type of twitcher that I am, I thought I'd wait 133 days before going to see it and 'what do you know', it was showing well, only a hundred yards or so from the car on Exminster Marshes and within digiscoping distance. Easy! A lovely quintet of Barnacle Geese were a nice bonus too! ;-)

The first time I tried to get a photo they all spooked at something. 
I like the resultant photo though. Can you see the American Wigeon in it?


No? That's because he's not in it, he was bringing up the rear, like so.

He showed himself eventually. 
He's almost impossible to pick out if you can't see his head, which most of the time you cant!

Bonus Barnacles.

A race against time late this afternoon when news broke of a Stone Curlew on Seaton Marshes. I'd got less than an hour before I needed to leave for work but couldn't  resist going along. I managed to get a nice view and a pretty ropey photo before running back to the car and home. Interestingly it was in exactly the same spot as the last Stone Curlew we had on patch almost five years ago. Coincidence?  I believe the bird was colour-ringed (it didn't show its legs while I was there) so we'll probably soon know. 

Stone Curlew twitch..featuring some minor naughtiness! ;-)

 Stone Curlew?.....Cow pat?