I journeyed south recently on a voyage of familial connection. Also known as visiting Hertfordshire to see my parents and my grandmother. Whilst there, I embarked on a task that I hadn’t attempted for a long time – making a bird box. Fortunately my dad makes bird boxes quite often, so I was under his instruction. We used an old wooden pallet that my dad had rescued from being chucked away, cutting it down to size and joining it together with small nails, finally attaching a strip of material at the top so that the lid can opened in order to allow access for cleaning. And ta-da, a bird box was made! Whilst it is probably a tad too late to go up this year, I shall still keep it outdoors in order to let it weather and smell like the outdoors, so that hopefully it can be used next year.
A short walk around the local fields with dad and Toby resulted in hearing my first Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) of the year! Though I didn’t see it annoyingly, but I guess I can’t have everything. My dad was eagle-eyed, spotting a Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) swooping into a tree.
Continuing with Hertfordshire wildlife, there were a good number of insects around, though sadly no true bugs (Hemiptera) so I’m being cheeky and using the word ‘Bugs’ to describe invertebrates in general – because I wanted the 3Bs!
I counted over 100 7-spot Ladybirds (Coccinella 7-punctata) in my grandmother’s garden, so I wonder if this year will be an Invasion Of The Ladybirds year? I was talking to my mum about ladybirds and she was recalling a holiday when I was young. We were on a beach somewhere (likely Cornwall or Wales), and apparently the beach was absolutely covered in ladybirds! Sadly I don’t remember this so hopefully it will happen again soon, I would love to see it.
My first Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) of the year was seen in the front garden, resting on the paving between visits to flowers. I find these creatures fascinating to watch. They can often be mistaken for bees (and you can see why), hence why the genus name is Bombylius – similar to the genus name of bumblebees which is Bombus. By mimicking bees, they are able to get close in to the nests of solitary bees. The female coats her eggs in sand (presumably as camouflage) and flicks them into the nests. The bee-fly larvae hatch and feed on a larva of its host, eventually killing it! So despite their cute (ish) and fluffy appearance, they have a rather gruesome lifecycle! There’s some good information and identification tips on the BWARS website.
This day in Hertfordshire also proved to be good for butterflies. On the drive down from Cambridgeshire, I saw 7 Brimstone butterflies (Gonepteryx rhamni), the first of which was actually on Wimpole Estate land as I drove past, which was rather pleasing. Walking the dog around the fields provided my first two Commas (Polygonia c-album) on the year, one looking even more ragged than usual, as well as Small Tortoiseshells (Aglais urticae), Peacocks (Aglais io) and another Brimstone which very kindly rested long enough for me to take a photo! I only managed a couple of photos of the Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks as they spent most of the time flitting about in the battles for their territories. It was remarkable because I could actually hear the sound of them violently bashing into each other!
And so to the third B. I was fortunate enough to be invited, due to my voluntary work with the local Wildlife Trust, to a day learning about the bluebell survey and DNA barcoding of bluebells. This took place at the Sanger Institute on the Wellcome Trust’s Genome Campus, just south of Cambridge. There are more details about the survey and DNA barcoding on their website, so I will take you through my experience of the day. The photos below have their own captions describing the basics of the steps photographed.
Whilst my sample didn’t work, I have done successful PCR and DNA analysis when I was at university, so I wasn’t feeling too sad or left out! I haven’t got into too much detail regarding the exact process of breaking down the DNA, running the PCR or the DNA analysis, but if you would like me to, I can do so in a separate blog post – just let me know! I could also discuss the differences between British, Spanish and hybrid bluebells if you would like (Hyacinthoides non-scripta, H. hispanica and H. hispanica x non-scripta respectively).
A half hour walk in the grounds after the day’s work resulted in yet more 7-spot Ladybirds, as well as my first Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) of the year (no photo though sorry) and my first Snake’s Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris). I don’t know if it is a wild Snake’s Head Fritillary or a planted one, as they are quite rare in the wild. I’m hoping to hear back from Fran as to which it is – it would be thrilling if it were a wild one!
A last note, we had a bit of a surprise at work when a very dusty Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) appeared in the Ticket Office! It must have hibernated in there over winter, though how it got there in the first place is a mystery. After a bit of clean to removed the worst of the debris from it and a couple of photos, I released it next to one of the ponds.