Wednesday, 21 August 2019

BadgerCam in August

It has been a while since I went after the badgers with the trail cameras.  Badgers are quite hard work and rarely pose properly while facing in the right direction.  If I set up on a well-trodden trail in the woods they may well not show up at all on the night I choose.  This time I put two cameras on what looked like a busy trail fairly near the set.  Each camera had an auxiliary infrared LED so there was a fair bit of kit in a very congested small space.  The cameras are fixed focus and only focus well beyond about 2m which is a limitation as the badgers are often closer than that.  This one I think is fairly young and was happily wandering along the trail when it spotted the LED (to the right as we look at it), and then the camera. After sizing them up it turned around and wandered back the way it had come.  You can see how much the extra lighting improved the picture.

Being a badger is an itchy business.  I expect they have a lot of fleas and ticks, etc in their thick coats and they do spend a lot of time scratching.  It makes me itchy just to watch.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Return to Slipper Tarn

I made my annual August trip to see the dragonflies at Slipper Tarn in the Cragside Estate at Rothbury.  It is a small pool with black acidic water, sheltered on all side by tall trees.  It is home to common and southern hawkers and is the best place I know to see black darters (Sympetrum danae).  These are males in mature colouring.

This is an immature male.

And these are mature females.

The one mating pair I saw was a bit too high in the bushes.

There was a very friendly male southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea) on patrol at the north end of the pond in sunshine. He rested in good view several times.

He was also hovering from time to time so I could practice a few flight shots like this and the one at the top.

Male common hawkers (Aeshna juncea) are generally less sociable, as was this one.  I never saw it at rest.

I did see several female common hawkers ovipositing low down in the vegetation at the water's edge.

The first female dragonfly I saw when I arrived didn't allow a good view.  I managed only a couple of photos into the light and it flew away before I could move to a better position.  I think it was done with ovipositing and I assumed at the time that it was another common hawker.  But when I had a close look at the photos the eyes are green and there is a long ovipositor.  So it is a female golden-ringed dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii), only the second one I have seen, and the first I have seen in Northumberland.  The identification has been confirmed on the UK Dragonflies Facebook page and is a first record for the site.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

A walk round the pond - Week 33

At last.  My first decent view of a hawker this year.  I nearly missed this female migrant hawker (Aeshna mixta) as she was so well camouflaged against the blackthorn.

She flew around hunting and landed again close by.

I also saw a single male emperor patrolling the smaller pond in the hope that there might yet be females about.  I expect he is the last of the year.

There were dozens of common darters, many still young,

and ruddy darters, mostly mature.

The damselfly species are down to three with no azures this week (they disappeared after week 32 last year as well).

I spotted a silver Y moth, a species I quite often see in my garden as well.

Butterflies this week included peacock,


and painted lady.

There are several ant hills on the site, like this one.  They must be what attracted the family of green woodpeckers last year, although I haven't seen or heard any this year.

There are more Robin's pincushions.  It must be a good year for the wasp Diplolepsis rosae.

After the heavy rain of last weekend the water level in the ponds was as high as I have seen.  Definitely a day for wellies. The little grebes and the coots both have very young chicks on the pond. which must be second broods.  Small frogs were on the move, perhaps displaced by the rising water.

Next week I'm hoping for male migrant hawkers and any southern or common hawkers, and perhaps even a black darter.

Friday, 16 August 2019

White-letter hairstreak

I have been looking out for this butterfly for the past few weeks.  The best place to see it locally is in the car park outside the local nature reserve about a mile or so from here.  Elm is its only larval food plant so it suffered badly when Dutch elm disease spread across the country 40 years ago.  It survives on wych elm and fortunately there are two trees overhanging where visitors park their cars.

The butterflies spend most of their time high in the trees.  I think this is a female who ventured lower to find a place to lay her eggs.

The white letter in its name is W, hence Satyrium w-album.  The wing is in shadow here but it shows the W well.

The flight period only extends to early August so this brief sighting three days ago may have been my last chance until next year.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

The outlier

My poor mother is used to me getting distracted by dragonflies when we go for a walk.  This time we were going to see the walled garden at Wallington Hall in Northumberland when I spotted a dragonfly over the Garden Pond.  We could both see it was brown although it flew almost constantly and it was obviously a hawker.  Each time it landed it disappeared high into the trees out of view.  Eventually I got lucky and it landed in view.

It is a poor photo but good enough to confirm our identification as a brown hawker.  One other photo shows the dragonlfy had landed to eat a fly it had caught - you can make out the wings of its prey.

I tried a flight shot but it was very difficult in the light.  This was the only one worth keeping, just a record shot.

Brown hawkers are rare in Northumberland.  There are no previous records in iRecord (the national online recording system used by the British Dragonfly Society) since it began in 2009.  The BDS Atlas of Dragonflies in Britain and Ireland published in 2014 says:
In northern England it is on the edge of its current range in Northumberland with only isolated, mainly historical, records with little evidence of a breeding population.  The most recent are single records from Morpeth and Alnwick in 2003 and 2004 respectively.
The national distribution pattern is strange.  The brown hawker is found across the Midlands (Mum even has them in her garden) and the South and East but is absent from the South West and from most of Wales.  It is also not found in Scotland.  My record is shown on the map in the outline of the vice-county of South Northumberland at the top.

So this is the first local record for 15 years.  My guess is that a small local breeding population might exist but this could also be an exploring single male from farther south.  I'll try to get back in the next few days to have another look.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Sleeping rough

It is a short life but a happy one for male bumblebees - flying, drinking and chasing females.  One drawback is that when it is cold or wet or dark (like this past weekend) they have nowhere to live.  Once the males leave the nest they don't return so they have to sleep out.  They are often to be found sheltering and sleeping under flowers that give some protection from the elements, such as these globe thistles (Echinops).

When they are all wet and bedraggled it can be difficult to tell the species (or the sex).  This one is easy - a male red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius).

Another very wet red-tailed bumblebee.

And the one on the right here is a male white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), our yellowest bumblebee.  I am not sure about the others.

I think this is a male cuckoo bumblebee but I am not sure which species.

This cuckoo bee fell off a flower and landed on a leaf below.  It seemed too cold to fly back up but fortunately landed in the dry.

New queen bumblebees can return to their nest overnight while it is still functioning* but the nest only lasts for about four months and then the old queen and the workers all die.  So the new queens may also sleep out while they are building up their strength before hibernating.  I think these are new queens under the Echinops, probably buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris).

Another queen was hiding in a buddleia flower close by.

This queen found a drier spot under a leaf.

I was surprised to see a honey bee camping out when it had a warm dry hive to return to only 40m away.  It has very worn wings so may be near the end of its short life.

The bumblebee season is already coming to an end.  Soon all the queens will be hibernating and all the males and workers will be dead.

*Goulson D. Bumblebees: Their Behaviour and ecology (2003). Oxford University Press.