Monday, 21 May 2018

The bilberry bumblebee

This is a bee I have been hoping to see for the past couple of years.  I eventually found one in Harwood Forest in Northumberland where I was doing my walk for the BTO Breeding Bird Survey.  It is a queen Bombus monticola, the bilberry bumblebee.  It is quite unmistakeable with its bright pink/orange tail.

Bombus monticola is found mainly in upland habitats but, despite its name, is not limited to bilberry.  This one was feeding on gorse.

I'll keep my eyes open on the next visit next month to look for more of these beautiful bees. 

Saturday, 19 May 2018

A walk round the pond - week 20

The season is progressing quickly after the recent warm weather.  This week there were dozens of large red damselflies including many mating pairs.

The common blue damselflies

and azure damselflies now have mature colouration.

There was another new species this week, the blue-tailed damselfly.  This is a mature male.

I think these are immature males.  Note the two-coloured wing spots.

Female blue-tailed damselflies come in five different colours.  I have seen all five at the pond in previous years so I'll try to find them again in coming weeks.

There were a lot more four-spotted chasers than last week, doing what chasers do - chasing and resting.  They are easier to photograph when they rest.

I can now see that the little grebes have four chicks.

It is interesting that they return to the nest.  The chicks are not yet able to fly or to feed themselves but they know to dive at the first sign of danger.

The Canada goslings are growing fast.

There are still eight of them but it is difficult to get them all in the same frame.  Here are seven.

Other birds I saw included coots and moorhens.  I don't know what this was all about but the moorhen came out the winner.

I saw a nomad cuckoo bee as I was leaving.  I am not sure which species it is as the tricoloured ones aren't so easy to separate.

I also saw this little beast which is probably a parasitic wasp of some kind.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Snipe nest

This is the 13th year that I have counted birds for the BTO Breeding Bird Survey on a km square in Northumberland near Wark Forest.  Despite the title, the survey looks for the presence of birds in the breeding season, rather than evidence of breeding, but I do occasionally stumble across a nest.  In the past I have seen meadow pipit and curlew nests and this time I flushed a snipe when I was almost on top of it.  The bird sat tight until  I was a metre away, relying on its camouflage.  I expect if I had been a couple of metres either side I would have walked straight past without it moving.  I took the opportunity of taking a few photos before walking on.  This is the nest from 0.5m so you can see how well it is hidden.

There were four beautifully camouflaged eggs.

I heard the tick-tock call of a snipe from the nest area once I had moved 100m or so away so I am sure the bird happily resumed incubation.  I heard another bird drumming in the sky a few 100 metres farther on.  You can hear both the tick-tock and the drumming here.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

A new BBS square

I have been counting birds on a 1km square for the BTO Breeding Birds Survey (BBS) since 2006 and for this year I have taken on a second square.  My first square is 1km of unimproved grassland and bog with no trees or shrubs and the commonest birds are meadow pipit, skylark and curlew.  The new one couldn't be more different as it is all forest.

The two 1km transects are broken down into 200m sections and birds are counted in zones <25m, 25-100m, and >100m on two visits, one in May and one in June.

Although the transects mainly run along the tracks through the forest, with many tall trees on either side, there are areas where timber has been harvested or there is new plantation so there are some long distance views as well.

In other places the view is very limited and birds are mostly identified by their calls or song.

My first square has yielded a total of 29 species over 12 years, with an average of 11 per year (and probably about 9 per visit).  My new square has been surveyed three times in the past 12 years with a total 44 species -  21 per year (including 0 skylarks and 0 curlews).

The commonest birds in the new square on yesterday's visit were chaffinch, woodpigeon and mistle thrush.  Other highlights were cuckoo (several), jay, siskin, crossbill, redpoll, red grouse, willow warbler and chiffchaff.

Here is a very distant shot of a redpoll, a bird I usually see only in the winter.

And a siskin.

At the end of the first transect a more familiar bird was waiting.

The BBS also records mammals.  Near the end of the first transect this young roe buck popped out in front of me.

Because I was downwind and standing still he couldn't quite make me out and advanced down the track several times, sniffing the air.  It is a very remote spot so perhaps he had never seen a person before.  Eventually he lost interest and wandered off.

I'll be back for a second visit next month.  The latest BBS annual report - for 2017 - has just been published.  It, and all previous reports, can be accessed here.

Monday, 14 May 2018

My own chocolate bees

In recent weeks when I have been passing Ovingham, 15 miles away, I have stopped several times to see the bees in the wall, both Andrena scotica and Nomada marshamella.  Now the bees have come to see me.  In recent days I have found at least a dozen bees inside the dining room on the French windows.  I think they come in when the doors are open as they explore holes in the wall outside but I also think they are living in the wall of the house so it is possible they are getting in from the inside.  All those I have seen are female Andrena scotica, or chocolate mining bees.

Two bees were dead before I found them.  Here are a couple of  a close-ups of the scopa, the pollen brush on the bees' hind legs, showing the characteristic black and white hairs.  Although they are a bit dusty they show no pollen grains so I think these bees had not started foraging.

The good news for these bees is that I haven't seen their cuckoo bee, Nomada marshamella, so far.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

A walk round the pond - week 19

This caught me by surprise.  I was busy trying to identify immature damselflies (more below) when I suddenly spotted (no pun intended) my first dragonfly of the year.  It is a recently emerged four-spotted chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) and was hanging in the sun a metre or so from the water's edge.  While I was was watching it flew a few metres away into a silver birch.

Several minutes later it flew down to a thistle.

I was on my way out when I saw the chaser and as I left I saw several more.  I expect there will be many more by next week as this is probably the most numerous dragonfly on the pond.  

There were lots of large red damselflies this week but very few were flying.  They were sitting in the sun and sheltering from the strong breeze.  These are males in mature colouring with red shoulder stripes.

This is an immature female.

There were also lots of teneral (newly emerged) damselflies.  They are weak fliers but have very little colour which gives them good camouflage.

I am not sure what this one was up to.

This is an immature male common blue damselfly.

This is an immature male azure damselfly, the third new species in a week.

Birds I saw and heard included swift, swallow, house martin, all flying over the pond and lesser whitethroat, chiffchaff and willow warbler.  The Canada geese still have eight goslings.

It is difficult to count them when they are on land but easier on the water.

The other big news is about the little grebes.  Their nest is on a pile of pondweed in the reeds but it is not very hidden.

If I get a bit too close the sitting grebe pulls a lot of pondweed from the edge of the nest to cover the eggs.  If I get closer it will hop into the water.  Closer still and it will dive and the nest looks empty.  Because of all this I generally stay far enough away to avoid causing any alarm.  This time I could see the bird on the nest so I stayed out of the way. Later, round the other side, I peered through the reeds and could see this.

Looking closer I could see two grebes.

Looking even closer I could see this.

Looking back at one of the earlier photos it is clear there are two chicks, although I didn't notice at the time.  I was carrying two cameras so I didn't have room for binoculars.

The BTO website says that little grebes generally have 4-6 eggs so there may be more chicks to come.  Perhaps the fact that the birds stayed at the nest meant that other eggs were still unhatched.  I'll see what the situation is next week.