Thursday, 22 June 2017

June 22nd Mousehold Heath

Bug hunting at Mousehold Heath
There was a bit of a thunderstorm this morning and the sky remained overcast afterwards. Not the kind of weather to join a group at Mousehold Heath this afternoon to look for insects, but thankfully the rain held out in the end. This was a guided walk led by butterfly expert Andy Brazil, who, along with his friend, were also very good with other insects, too. They were armed with nets, pots and magnifying glasses and looked like professional bug hunters from another era just with modern equipment.

The wildflower patch
Our walk took us from Zak's car park to the closed off field near the golf course on the other side of the road. This field has been managed with wildflower borders along either end of a playing field. Now it is in bloom and just look at it! It is absolutely beautiful with a wide mix of wildflowers such as ox-eyed daisies, scabious, trefoils and many others, creating a mini landscape of blues, whites, greens and yellows. It is quite a contrast to the busy road running alongside it on the other side of the fence.

Essex Skipper
Meadow brown butterflies were everywhere in these tiny pockets of wildflower and were chasing each other in spiralling aerial dances. Tiny blurs of orange fluttering over the various colours of the field betrayed the presence of large and Essex skippers, while the brighter orange of commas were seen in the bramble patches nearby as they sat on the leaves to sun themselves. We also saw a small tortoiseshell doing the same in the middle of the field.

Large Skipper
Meadow Brown
Small Tortoiseshell
Soldier Beetle
It is amazing what you can find if you look carefully enough. Our group were finding all sorts of things hidden in the grass and on the leaves of other plants. The two professional bug hunters leading the group were doing their best in catching them and educating us about what they caught. The captured creatures were passed around the group, giving each of us a closer look. I learnt things I never knew before, such as sexing a fly. Apparently, if their eyes are close together, it is a male and if there is a gap between them, it is a female.

A young Ladybird emerging from it's pupa

A freshly emerged fly (it's wings are not dried out yet)
Burnet Moth Pupa

Sawfly Larva
So what were the main highlights? Well, for me, it had to be the sawfly larvae feeding on the tall stems of grass. They look just like caterpillars, but have more legs (in which most of them are fake) and the head looks slightly different. We also found a hornet hoverfly (a perfect mimicry of a hornet), marmalade hoverflies (which are migrants from France), thick-thighed flower beetles and plenty of moths, grasshoppers and crickets.

Marmalade Hoverfly
Hornet Hoverfly
Oak Bush-cricket
Long-winged Cone-head
Meadow Grasshopper
Brown Silver-lines
Buff-tailed Bumblebee
Thick-thighed Flower Beetle
Bank Vole freeing itself from Bramble thorns
On the way back, we came across this vole trying to free itself from the thorns of a bramble patch. It appeared to be impaled and was trying to wiggle and gnaw it's way to freedom. It looked painful, but thankfully it escaped after a couple of minutes of struggle. I was so glad it was ok as I was never going to risk my hand from being mauled by the vole in attempt to rescuing it myself.

White-letter Hairstreak egg
While the group disbanded when we returned to the car park, a few of us remained a little while longer, discussing about wildlife with Andy. Meanwhile, the group's other bug hunter was busy searching the elm trees nearby. We were then called over when he found something very interesting attached to part of a twig on one of the trees. Now, if you look very carefully in this photo, can you see a tiny green disc in the centre of this twig? Believe it or not, that is an egg of a white-letter hairstreak butterfly! How on earth he saw that is beyond me, but according to him, this egg was laid fairly recently as they are normally much blacker in colour. What an incredible thing to find!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

June 21st Strumpshaw Fen

White Admiral
It was another nice, sunny day at Strumpshaw, perfect weather for butterflies. Though I did see a few swallowtails flying around the front of Reception Hide (including one that nearly flew inside!), I was unable to get any photos of them. Besides, I was more interested in seeing the second most requested butterfly on the reserve, the white admiral. During my morning walk, I spent most of it staring at bramble patches along the woodland trail, waiting for one to show up. I was in luck as one did eventually come down from the canopy to feed from the nectar-rich bramble flowers. There were many other butterflies and other insects swarming over the brambles, too, including my first ringlets and common darters of the year.

Red Admiral
Large Skipper
Meadow Brown
Common Darter
Mating Azure Damselflies
Female Azure Damselfly
Some kind of Jewel Wasp?
Common Spotted Orchid
Walking back to the Reception Hide to start my shift, I noticed something small dash passed in front of me and into the area where the common twayblades are. I stepped closer and I saw it again. It was a weasel! Though it was still rather quick and moving around a lot, I somehow managed to get a few photos of it. A bit blurry for sure, but these are my very first photos of one. If you were following my blog last year, you may remember that I was doing the Strumpshaw 40 challenge, in which I was finding and photographing the 40 species to celebrate 40 years of the reserve and that the weasel was the one that I failed in getting a photo of. So, despite the poor quality, I have finally completed the challenge over a year later!

This weasel was a lot of fun to watch as it appeared as if it was playing amongst the tall grass. Of course, it was actually on the hunt for it's next meal. I watched it bound out of sight into the grass, only to reappear again a moment later with it's head popping out of a hole right in front of me! It clearly had found a tunnel entrance of a rodent in the grass and the hole metres from my feet was the other end. It saw me and ducked back down into the hole. I pursed my lips together and made a squeaking sound, imitating a mouse and it was enough to entice the weasel back for another quick peek.

At Reception Hide, I was spotting some great things for everyone. It all started with a cuckoo sitting on one side of a V-shaped stump. It blended in so well with the stump that no one noticed it until I pointed it out. It moved around from perch to perch before finally moving on completely. Next, was the swallowtails fluttering past the hide, then a couple of kingfishers showed up, but only one stayed long enough to pose for a few photos on it's favourite new perching tree (I'm just going to call it the kingfisher tree from now on). I also had a brief glimpse of an otter, appearing from nowhere and disappeared behind the islands. Despite scaring up the ducks that were also behind these reedy islands, we could not see it reappear again. It had vanished altogether. Marsh harriers, buzzards, swallows, a little grebe, emperor dragonflies, reed warblers and jays were also seen today.
Grey Heron
Stock Doves
Tufted Duck
Little Grebe
Emperor Dragonfly