Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Norfolk Hawker

Norfolk hawkers are one of the first dragonflies to emerge on the wing, between May and August. They are one of only two brown hawkers found in Europe, the other being the more common brown hawker. Norfolk hawkers stand out in areas crowded with other dragonflies because of the yellow triangle on their abdomen and very prominent green eyes. In Britain, this small hawker is rather scarce living in and around the wet areas of the Norfolk Broads. Here the waters are clean and unpolluted, with a rich covering of plants to rest on and space in which to hunt.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Swallowtail and Large Blue eggs

I've made a number of dedicated butterfly outings again this year. Along the way I've been able to photograph the eggs of a number of species, including two of our rarest butterflies.
The previous post related to the Swallowtail in Norfolk. During that same trip, hours before finding any actual butterflies, we came across the eggs of the Swallowtail. In Norfolk, the swallowtail lays its eggs on milk parsley as this is the sole food plant of the caterpillar in Norfolk.
The Large Blue is single brooded with adults flying from mid-June until late July. Eggs are laid on the young flower buds of Wild Thyme. The larvae subsequently burrow into the flower head to feed on the flowers and developing seeds. Females lay eggs on plants growing in a range of vegetation heights, but survival is best in short turf where the host ant M.sabuleti is most abundant. When the larvae are around 4 mm long they drop to the ground and wait to be found by foraging red ants, attracting them with sweet secretions from a special 'honey' gland. The larvae are picked up by the ant and placed below ground within the brood chamber. The larvae then feed on ant grubs to achieve most of their final body weight, hibernating deep within the ant's nest. The larvae pupate in early May within the nest and the newly emerging adults have to crawl up above ground before expanding their wings.

Swallowtail

Swallowtail butterflies are large, colorful butterflies that form the family Papilionidae. Swallowtails differ from all other butterflies in a number of anatomical traits. Most notably, their caterpillars possess a unique organ behind their heads, called the osmeterium. Normally hidden, this forked structure can be everted when the caterpillar is threatened, and emits smelly secretions containing terpenes. The adults are often tailed like the forked tail of some swallows, giving the insect its name. Photographed at Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Razorbill

Razorbills are pursuit divers that propel themselves through the water with their wings. They are capable of diving to 120m depth, but mostly forage nearer the surface. They spend most of their lives at sea, only arriving ashore to reproduce. During the prelaying period, they never spend a night in the nest, and even after the egg is laid, only one parent remains in the nest. This species is not particularly vocal, but a deep creaking 'urrr' is produced by breeding individuals.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Large Blue

Yesterday I went in search of the Large Blue. I first photographed the Large Blue this time last year. A return to the same site this year took a lot more effort to find any at all, but eventually 2 or 3 were seen, all very active either nectaring or laying. Photo opportunities were limited, especially when there was thyme between the butterfly and me, as potentially treading on the valuable eggs is a sacrifice not worth making for a photograph. It's early days still, and I'm sure more will emerge in the coming week, so a re-visit will have to be made. The species became extinct in the UK, and now exists again here thanks to a very successful reintroduction. The Large Blue caterpillar hatches on thyme buds and then tricks the ants into believing it is one of their own grubs. Ants then carry it underground to their nest where it feeds on the ant grubs for 10 months before pupating and emerging as a butterfly.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

List update

The last week or so has provided me with a number of new species to add to the list, taking the British total of species I've photographed to 567. Recently I've been leaving the lights on outside the house to watch the Foxes and Badgers that are now visiting daily, and this has attracted some new moths, such as the Pretty Chalk Carpet, and last night, the huge Fox Moth. Immediately after finding the Fox Moth, it landed, posed for photographs, then promptly started to lay eggs. A trip to Norfolk produced a few long overdue species, some of which I'd seen before but never photographed, and others that were new to me. Most notable was probably the Swallowtail butterfly, of which I saw two feeding amonth the Ragged Robin at Strumpshaw Fen. The Scarce Chaser was another addition from the same trip, along with the increasingly common, but until last week, un-photographed Tree Bumblebee. Pictures of most of these will be added to the blog sooner or later - it's very rare for me to post my photos chronologically or promptly!

Hawfinch

The Hawfinch is our largest Finch, up to 18cm and has a huge strong bill, it is large headed and bull necked. It is very shy. It is an uncommon British breeding resident with around 800 pairs. It occurs in deciduous woodland habitat throughout the country, however, although widely distributed, it is very localised, shy and difficult to observe. They are particularly attracted to stands of Hornbeams, Elm and Cherry. Their shy and retiring habits and lack of conspicuous song make it possible for people to live for years without discovering the presence of hawfinches. This one was photographed locally in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

Eyed Hawk Moth

I photographed this Eyed Hawk Moth last week in Norfolk. They are fairly well distributed throughout England and Wales, this species has a sombre, camouflaged appearance at rest, but if provoked, flashes the hindwings, which are decorated with intense blue and black 'eyes' on a pinkish background. The adults fly from May to July, inhabiting woodland and suburban localities. They're amazing looking moths, putting most butterflies to shame.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Marsh Fritillary

The Marsh Fritillary is threatened, not only in the UK but across Europe and is therefore, the object of much conservation effort. The wings of this beautiful butterfly are more brightly patterned than those of other fritillaries, with more heavily marked races being found in Scotland and Ireland. The larvae spin conspicuous webs that can easily be recorded in late summer. The Marsh Fritillary was once widespread in Britain and Ireland but has declined severely over the twentieth century, a decline mirrored throughout Europe. Its populations are highly volatile and the species probably requires extensive habitats or habitat networks for its long term survival. This individual was one of more than 600 recorded at Strawberry Banks in Gloucestershire that day, which I believe represents a British record.

Orange-tip

The Orange-tip is a distinctive spring butterfly. It is a medium sized butterfly which is often seen in gardens and along hedgerows and roadside verges especially in areas where water occurs. It is fairly Common throughout England Wales and Scotland but is absent from the far north of the British Isles. Male Orange-tips have white wings with vivid orange wing tips with a dark spot where the white and orange areas of the forewing meet. The distinctive males are usually seen continuously patrolling backward and forward along hedgerows searching for newly emerged females. They will often investigate anything white such as flower petals or pieces of paper.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Wild Boar

A Wild Boar piglet on a feeding foray in a stand of mature beech. This photo was taken a number of weeks ago, but this afternoon I enjoyed watching a group of three sows along with at least two litters of piglets feeding beneath the low canopy of the bracken. It was such a hot afternoon that when they reached a small pool of water, the adults simply led down in it to cool down. The piglets could barely keep their heads above the water but nevertheless they splashed about and cooled down in their own way.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hawfinch

I rarely convert wildlife photos to monochrome, and it seems particularly odd to do it with such a colourful bird as the Hawfinch, but I think it works here. Besides, I didn't like the colour of the nettles in the background :) The Hawfinch is UK's largest finch, it has a massive, powerful bill. Always shy and difficult to see, the hawfinch has become even more enigmatic in recent years with a decline in many of its traditional breeding areas. Numbers are hard to determine, however, as hawfinches are easily overlooked, especially in summer.

Red Fox

This fox has become a regular nightly garden visitor. I'm pretty sure it's a male. He eats any surplus bird seed that has been left over that day. There's also a Badger coming in nightly for the same reason, but it's a case of whoever gets there first gets the food. This was shot through the lounge window with lighting provided by the external light on the house - no flash, 1/20th sec handheld. He's only a couple of metres away, so a wide angle lens reduced camera shake.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Wood White

Despite living in the right place for Wood Whites, somehow they’d always managed to elude me each year. They seem to exist in very localised colonies. The Wood White is one of our daintiest butterflies with one of the slowest and delicate flights of all the British butterflies. When at rest, the rounded tips of the forewings provide one of the main distinguishing features between this butterfly and other “whites”. Adults always rest with their wings closed. In flight, the male can be distinguished from the female by a black spot at the tip of the forewings that is greatly reduced in the female.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hawfinch

There are lots of fledgling birds all over the forest at the moment, and lots of nests still being tended. This juvenile Hawfinch was photographed earlier this week. More to come from this individual, as well as some of the adult birds. Hawfinches are closely associated with oak-hornbeam high forest and mature beech, ash and elm woods, where a variety of trees and shrubs provide year-round feeding. Mature orchards and parkland are also used although heavily grazed woodland is usually avoided. They are largely absent from west Britain other than the Forest of Dean, which may reflect climate constraints.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Harvest Mouse

The harvest mouse Micromys minutus is the smallest British rodent and is highly inconspicuous to the human eye. It inhabits marginal habitats that are not always ideal, but it is adaptable, intelligent and highly opportunistic. Harvest mice are active both during the day and at night, although most activity occurs at dawn and dusk. Unlike the dormouse, they do not hibernate, but spend most of their time in winter underground. Throughout the world, the harvest mouse is most common in wetlands and long grass. They are thought to have become much scarcer in recent years and they require conservation plans to reverse the decline.

Common Buzzard

The Common Buzzard is a slow flier, and has little chance of catching its prey on the move. The usual tactics which it adopts is to perch motionless on a branch of a large tree, its markings being excellent camouflage, rendering it almost invisible. It is a patient bird, quite content to sit for hours at a time until a young rabbit, a rat or a mouse chances to pass beneath it. Then it will swoop down on to its unsuspecting prey.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Firecrest

The Firecrest shares the same habitat as its much more abundant cousin, the Goldcrest. The common firecrest feeds in trees, exploiting mainly the upper surface of branches in coniferous habitat and of leaves in deciduous trees. This is in contrast to the goldcrest, which frequently feeds on the undersides of branches and leaves. The Firecrest and Goldcrest are Britain's smallest birds, and while they share similar looks, they can be easily distinguished, most easily by comparing the eye stripe which looks much smarter on the Firecrest, with white stripe that its more common cousin lacks. This individual was photographed in the Forest of Dean.

Bohemian Waxwing

This photo dates back to December 2012. One of a small flock of Waxwings to temporarily inhabit the Forest of Dean that winter - at least for as long as there were still rowan berries for the picking. Considering there aren't many rowan trees for them to choose from here, it's not surprising they didn't stay particularly long. We're right on the edge of their range here, and I believe we only get irruptions in Britain when food availability is scarce in their breeding grounds of Russia and Finland. This photo was taken during my first ever sighting of a Waxwing, and at the time I was disappointed to see that my only views were going to be with a backdrop of a white industrial building. In retrospect, it wasn't so bad, with the white metal wall removing unwanted 'noise' from the picture, and almost giving them an oriental feel.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

I’ve made a few visits to a favourite spot for Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary in the Forest this week, but it’s taken until today to see any. It was a scorching afternoon, but the first half hour produced nothing but Common Blue and the odd Dingy Skipper. Just as I was about to move on to another site, a flash of orange passed in front of me – the first of maybe 10-15, all looking very fresh. This butterfly, like the Pearl-bordered Fritillary, gets its name from the series of “pearls” that run along the outside edge of the underside of the hindwing.

Mandarin Duck

The beautiful Mandarin Duck was introduced from the Far East, where it can still be found in China, Japan, Korea and parts of Russia. Britain has a number of feral populations, descended from escapees or deliberate releases. Mandarin ducks breed in densely wooded areas near shallow lakes, marshes or ponds. They nest in cavities in trees close to water during the spring. The diet of mandarin ducks changes seasonally; in the fall and winter, they mostly eat acorns and grains. In the spring, they mostly eat insects, snails, fish and aquatic plants. The male pictured here was photographed in the Forest of Dean. The female is dull in comparison, with a grey head, brown back and white eye-stripe, but still an attractive duck.

Tree Pipit

The Tree Pipit is a true summer visitor, with the first birds returning from sub-Saharan Africa in late March and the bulk of passage taking place from mid-April to mid-May. Here in the Forest of Dean is a really good place to see them, particularly shortly after their arrival when they perform their displays in order to attract a mate. From a low perch on the ground, or from the top of a tree, they will rise up and up, before spreading their wings and parachuting slowly back down, calling all the way back down. Tree Pipits are characteristically birds of heathland, forest clearings and young forestry plantations, with scattered trees and bushes usually a prerequisite.

Brown Hawker

Photographed at Woodwalton Fen, Cambs. The Brown Hawker is a large hawker dragonfly which is on the wing from the end of June through to September. It is a common dragonfly of well-vegetated canals, marshes and reedbeds as well as lakes and gravel pits. It can be spotted patrolling a regular hunting territory which it will defend aggressively against intruders. It can be found some distance from its breeding grounds, hawking woodland rides late into the evening. Hawkers are the largest and fastest flying dragonflies; they catch their insect-prey mid-air and can hover or fly backwards.