, , , ,

Follow that Frit!

Who needs to jump in a taxi and have a car chase, when one can dash after butterflies on a nature reserve (and elsewhere)? Not me, that’s for sure!

The week began in Cambridge with a moth trap and Matt leaving for work, reminding to go through the moth trap before the wasps got it. I believe that my response just a grunted. I don’t really do communication when I’m still mostly asleep. Nonetheless, I managed to get up and go to the moth trap at a reasonable hour.

There were some absolute beauties in and around the trap – including my first (and second and third!) Swallow-tailed moths (Ourapteryx sambucaria). They really are gorgeous! I have been hoping to see one ever since I properly got into moths last year, particularly when my mother found one in the bathroom at their house. There was definitely some moth-jealousy going on that day (not helped by the fact that she had also recently seen two Jersey Tigers (Euplagia quadripunctaria) in the garden, and I hadn’t seen that species yet!).

A return to RSPB’s The Lodge was a lovely day out for me. Whilst Matt was busy doing his work stuff, I had a couple of meanders around the reserve – counting butterflies, watching wasps and generally having a nice time. I also met up with fellow AFON member, Lizzie Bruce, who has just started her new role as Warden for the Lodge. It was fabulous to finally meet her in person and we had a lovely chat about AFON, nature and, of course, the reserve.

I also took the opportunity to sit down and finish off working out my pan-species list! This is a list of all the species (across all taxon groups) that I have seen in the UK, from spiders to snakes, from lizards to leptidoptera. It has taken quite a while to go through all the groups, and I have to admit, I have left out bryozoans, mosses and lichens – because I honestly can’t remember which ones I have seen! So I am starting again with those. As of today (26/07/15) my list stands at 661 (661 = Common Toadflax, Linaria vulgaris), though I know that I have a couple of moths left to identify. In calculating my list, I have half-ticked off one of my 2015 Wildlife Resolutions! The other half being to set myself a target to reach by the end of 2015. It’s ok if I don’t reach the target, but the act of setting the target will tick off that resolution completely. Thus I am thinking that the 1k mark would be good one to aim for and break through. Can I reach 1000 species in the remaining 5 months? That’s around 15-16 species per week I think. You will just have to keep following my blog to find out!

Despite having ticked off the resolution to see 2 new butterfly species this year, and then seeing a couple more new species, I still wanted to try and see more. I am rather getting into this butterfly spotting lark! Though of course, to me, butterflies are basically moths, ha! I was tempted to try and see some hairstreaks species in some Cambridgeshire woodlands. We didn’t go to the reserve recommended by the local wildlife trust, but ended up stopping off at Gamlingay Wood on the commute home. It was such a wonderful stroll, examining flowers in the dappled sunlight and listening to the birdsong above.

Ambling down a woodland ride, I suddenly stopped. An orange butterfly! My inner pessimist said gloomily, “It’s probably a Comma” (not that there is anything wrong with a Comma of course). But wait, it had landed on a leaf some distance away … I quickly zoomed in with my camera, and then excitedly called to Matt: “It’s a Fritillary! And it’s not a Comma!!” With no butterfly guide to hand, I wasn’t sure of the species but luckily Matt knew it – a Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)! A lifer for me! And what a beautiful lifer to achieve! Such a large butterfly, and there were at least 6 of them flitting about and feeding on the bramble. At one point, two of them flew along the ride – one looping and circling around the other, a courtship ritual perhaps. I declare, I was so full of happiness then. There is something about butterflies, and in fact, nature as a whole, that enables me to forget my constant exhaustion and associated mild depression, which drag behind me every day.

Back at work and the rain had set in – just in time for a family activity at Lorton! Luckily the families who came along were up for heading out despite the weather. We didn’t have to go far, just across the track to the pond. Sheltering in the open barn, we dashed out every now and then to dip in the pond. The theme of the activity was dragonflies, so we were concentrating on the dragonfly and damselfly nymphs. However, we also caught a water stick insect (Ranatra linearis), which we don’t catch very often, and plenty of the usual suspects such as freshwater hoglouse (Asellus aquaticus) and whirligig beetle (Gyrinus substriatus). I made up a game off the hoof – each family had to replicate the movement of a dragon/damselfly nymph/adult, and the others had to guess what it was. It worked surprisingly well! Once we were thoroughly soaked through and pond dipped-out, we came in to dry off and for a cuppa, and some craft activities. Vicky had recently shown us a neat dragonfly craft activity and I showed the children (and parents) how to make it.

The kestrel chicks were unimpressed by the weather, spending the day fluffed up and huddling together, with only a couple of food drops from the parents! (NB, in the video you can only see two of the chicks, but there are still four) The kestrels can be viewed LIVE, but be quick if you want to watch them, I think they will fledge in the next week or so!

Kestrel chicks at Lorton

The kestrel chicks don't look impressed by today's rain! This weekend at Lorton, we will be celebrating birds with our Bird Bonzana Wild Weekend! If you can't join us, you can still celebrate our birds by watching the kestrels on our LIVE webcam, thanks to support from Dorset Tea!Bird Bonanza Wild Weekend: webcam: Megan

Posted by Dorset Wildlife Trust on Friday, 24 July 2015

The weekend dawned clear and sunny, blue skies above and sunshine filling the reserve. After the day before, it was a welcome weather change. During the quiet moments, I popped outside to watch the butterflies. The reserve as a whole is superb for butterflies, but even just by the centre there are a couple of excellent spots. A large buddleia bush by the picnic benches, and a sunny patch of bramble just by the lane. Again, the very act of observing these creatures and being outside filled me with joy. I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest. Particularly when a Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) landed on me – I hardly dared breathe! Fortunately for my lungs, it darted off again after a couple of moments.

Taking advantage of the sunshine, with the knowledge that more rain was on its way for Sunday, I headed over to Portland after work. I wanted to visit somewhere new, the Perryfields Quarry, a nature reserve owned by Butterfly Conservation. A small but sweet little reserve, it was full of flowers and flutterings. A bit of breeze swept across the reserve, so the butterflies were keeping a low-profile. I still spotted a fair few as they rested in the grasses. No new lifers, or even year ticks, but I was happy nonetheless as I wandered about and photographed them. I’m repeating myself, but gosh I love having my camera back!

As the evening started to draw to a close and the sun sunk lower in the sky, I made my way to my usual Portland hangout – the Portland Bird Observatory of course! I do so love to spend a bit of time there, discussing recent wildlife sightings with staff and visitors. As you may remember, last week’s venture there resulted in directions to see a Puss Moth caterpillar (Cerura vinula)! This week it was advice on a good nearby spot for seeing the Grayling butterfly (Hipparchia semele) – a species I still haven’t seen despite spending plenty of time in the quarries. I went down to the advised spot, the eastern cliffs of the Isle, just below the lighthouse. However a chill was setting in, so I didn’t have much luck. Mind you, I saw plenty of birds and flowers, so I can’t complain. More so as I was joined by local naturalist and good friend, Sean Foote, who is a very useful person to have around as he can identify lots of things – resulting in two new plant species to add to my pan species list! Maybe soon I’ll be able to add Grayling to the list, or maybe I’m destined to forever dip it (i.e. miss it).

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

, ,

If a tree falls in the forest …

This week has seen a lot of office work again as I try to get everything sorted for summer, and my big event at the event of July. I was lamenting time spent indoors at the beginning of the week when walking back to my car, when a beautiful Small Tortoiseshell butterfly landed on the steps in front of me. What a stunning specimen!

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

I was let out of the office on Wednesday for some summer tree identification. After some theory and samples in the morning at DWT’s HQ, we headed out to Thorncombe Woods near Dorchester. It’s a nice mix of conifers, hazel coppice and sycamores. It was a lot of un, and I think I’m more confident with tree ID from their leaves, though I do need to practice – quite difficult at Chesil Beach!!

We saw some fab wildlife at Brooklands before we left, and some dragonflies / damselflies at a pond in Thorncombe.

On Thursday, I took the new Chesil / Lorton trainee (Yup, there’s a new one! She’s called Nadine and she’s cool), to Lorton Meadows so she could see the other spot where she would be working. It was a glorious day, though a tad breezy – there weren’t as many butterflies as I hoped. However, our butterfly / Odonata species list was still impressive: Red Admiral, Marbled White, Small Skipper, Peacock, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Common Darter Dragonfly, Emperor Dragonfly, Broad-bodied Chaser Dragonfly and Blue-tailed Damselfly. Not bad for a quick walk! There may have been a couple of other species, but they didn’t stay still long enough to be photographed (I’m not good enough to ID most species in flight although I can do a couple now!).

My favourite photo from Lorton - an immature male Common Darter dragonfly, resting on the branch of an apple tree!

My favourite photo from Lorton – an immature male Common Darter dragonfly, resting on the branch of an apple tree!

A short (in comparison to other blog posts) but sweet blog post there about this week’s wildlife. In other news, my extra writing last week about the Ladybird app has since resulted in me being asked to become a tester for the new version of the app AND an Android tester for the Wildlife Trusts app (currently just available in Apple)!


Signals and mi-newt details

I know that every blog post, I say how amazing the last week has been and how I’ve seen so many cool species. This week is no exception and what a week it has been! There has been so much awesome stuff happen that this blog post would be ridiculously long if I were to mention everything, or even half of it! So it shall be a very slimmed down affair.

It started off with a visit to one of my favourite Dorset places – Brownsea island! It was just a super quick visit, but I saw a bird that I love which is the Black-Headed Gull, as it was among the first birds I learnt to identify at Chesil and I think that it is generally quite cute.

Black-headed Gull

Black-headed Gull

Crayfish training was rather surprising as there are more non-native species in the UK than I thought! However, the big baddy is the Signal Crayfish from America which is a really awful invasive species and our native White-clawed Crayfish is really suffering as a result.

White-clawed Crayfish (note the whiteness on the underside of its claw)

White-clawed Crayfish (note the whiteness on the underside of its claw)

It’s a combination of the American species acting as carriers for a disease that is fatal for our species, it is also bigger and breeds earlier, thus pushing out the native species. In addition, it’s practically impossible to remove the American species once it establishes itself in a river. Lastly, it is possible to spread the disease through human transmission – wellies and, I should think, leisure craft (e.g. kayaks).

It's me! For once, there were waders in my size and I jumped in. I didn't find any crayfish though.

It’s me! For once, there were waders in my size and I jumped in. I didn’t find any crayfish though.

From crayfish to amphibians, and even more awesomeness. After a theory session on ID on the different native and non-native species, we headed out to Powerstock Common Reserve and had a look for the species. We were particularly interested in Great Crested Newts (GCNs) as they’re a protected species and are also quite groovy animals. They’re relatively large, the largest of our newt species and the adults at unmistakable. The juveniles can have a bit of confusion with other species. SUPER COOL FACT: juvenile newts are called efts!

An eft! Not a great photo, but can you make out the gills at the back of the head?  Unknown whether smooth or palmate newt species.

An eft! Not a great photo, but can you make out the gills at the back of the head?
Unknown whether smooth or palmate newt species.

ID features for GCNs include: size (up t0 16cm!), colouring (black on back, orange on belly), pattern on throat (spotted), feet (stripy!) and the male has a large crest with a distinct dip (this may only be during the breeding season though).

I enjoyed the amphibians training day so much that I’m considering doing a species/group profile post on newts! For now, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation have got a new ID guide in PDF format which can be downloaded for free.

Great Crested Newt male (note the large crest on his back). He is next to another newt species (much smaller!)

Great Crested Newt male (note the large crest on his back). He is next to another newt species (much smaller!)


The last training of the week with Dorset Wildlife Trust was on Odonata – i.e. dragonflies and damselflies, of which there are far more species than of the amphibians! Again, a theory session in the morning was followed by a practical afternoon with a visit to Winfrith Nature Reserve. We were netting damselflies for ID, but you shouldn’t net dragonflies, so we were relying on them to rest for a little while in order to look at their ID features (body shape, colour, wing spots and patterning are the main ones).

I do believe one of the favourites of the day was the Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly, whose specific ID features are the last segments on the abdomen (though we would call it the tail). Segment 8 is half blue and half black, whilst segment 9 is blue with a distinctive black line one it (of 10 segments along the abdomen [tail]). You should be able to see it relatively easily in the photo (I would suggest opening up the photo separately in order to zoom).

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (note the end segments of the abdomen [tail])

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (note the end segments of the abdomen [tail])

In addition to the lovely creatures that were the focus of the training days, there were so many other amazing species seen from a variety of groups including (but not limited to): Hobby, Grey Wagtail and Lapwing (birds), Green-veined White and Dingy Skipper (butterflies), Cream-spot (ladybird), Bugle, Green-winged Orchid and Yellow Archangel (flowers). I shall finish off this post with nice photos of some of the mentioned species.

Grey Wagtail flitting about whilst we were finding crayfish. Really amazing to watch it.

Grey Wagtail flitting about whilst we were finding crayfish. Really amazing to watch it.

Dingy Skipper Butterfly. Although less bright and flashy than other butterflies, it is still a beauty.

Dingy Skipper Butterfly. Although less bright and flashy than other butterflies, it is still a beauty.

Cream-spot Ladybird. A favourite of mine as it was one of the first ladybird species that I properly identified.

Cream-spot Ladybird. A favourite of mine as it was one of the first ladybird species that I properly identified.

Yellow Archangel - look at that patterning!

Yellow Archangel – look at that patterning!