Sunday, 30 July 2017

As regular as clockwork

I could almost set my watch by the fox coming to the back door every evening.  The first one arrives at 9.30pm and sometimes stays until all the food has gone.  Recently I have been putting out dog biscuits as well.  Sometimes these are eaten first and sometimes it's the peanuts.

I read that it is possible to identify individual foxes from the shape of the marks on the muzzle.  The youngster in the two photos above is usually the first to arrive but there is a bigger lighter-coloured regular as well.  I usually just watch rather than photographing them but I'll try to get a few more photos to see if I can identify them all.  I might use video rather than still photos as it often seems clearer in the very low light.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

It's a bee-eater, Jim, but not as we know it

At this time of year the turnover in each beehive is around 1000 bees per day, i.e. 1000 bees die and another 1000 emerge to join the workforce.  I have seven hives in the garden so that's a lot of dead bees each day.  Many are old foragers who die away from the hive but some also die inside.  They are dealt with by undertaker bees - part of the large force of house bees.  Some of the dead bees are carried away but many are just thrown out of the entrance and end up on the ground in front of the hives.  Dead bees are a source of protein and are recycled by a variety of scavengers and predators.  I often see great tits outside the hives, mostly collecting dead bees but probably a few live ones as well.  I haven't seen this creature there before.  It is a common shrew and was repeatedly dashing out from cover to search amongst the gravel on the path below the hives.

Shrews have to eat more than twice their body weight every day and are almost constantly active, although they are not often seen in the daytime.  This one is doing a good job in recycling the dead bees.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

How many spots on a burnet moth?

I'll start with the easy one.  This is a burnet moth with six spots on each fore-wing so it is a six-spot burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae).  It is common throughout the British Isles, so it is no surprise to see it here.

This one looks to me like a burnet moth with five spots, so I wondered if it might be a five-spot burnet moth (Zygaena trifolii).

However, I then read that the five-spot burnet moth is found in the south of England, in Wales and in the Isle of Man. So perhaps it isn't.  Then I read further that it has been spreading north in recent years and is now found in Scotland. So perhaps it is.  Then I read about the narrow-bordered five-spot burnet moth (Zygaena lonicerae) which is common across England and Wales and the Scottish Borders.  It has a longer and more pointed forewing than Zygaena trifolii and a narrower black border on the hind-wing but both are tricky when you don't have the two side by side.  Here is a glimpse of the black border but I don't know if it is narrow or not.

I found this six-spot with crumpled wings.  I don't know if it was newly emerged and the wings weren't yet fully expanded or if it had a wing deformity.

And this one was one of three types of insect interested in the same flower.

Like cinnabar moths, burnet moths are aposematic, that is they have warning colouration to deter predators.  Burnet moths emit a liquid containing cyanide if attacked so the birds know to leave them alone.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

What do foxes like to eat?

If you are vegetarian look away now.  The answer is pretty much anything (except Maltesers).  This fox couldn't believe its luck and managed to carry off both rabbits in one go.  I think several foxes visit my garden each night but there is an obvious advantage to being first in.

This one was pleased to have a squirrel.

Most nights it is just peanuts.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Striking gold again

In the BDS Dragonfly Week I travelled to RSPB Geltsdale in Cumbria in the hope of seeing a golden-ringed dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii).  It was a long hot dusty walk in from the car but as soon as I reached Howgill Beck I saw a male patrolling the stream.  He settled for only a couple of seconds, just long enough for me to take three shots.  I think he has some kind of insect in his mouth and so had been hunting.

I saw two more but neither of them settled so I didn't get a photo to match last year's pictures of the female.

On the way to Geltsdale I visited Muckle Moss.  The first time I went there I fell through the floating bog and was very lucky to get out again.  This time I was more careful and carried a stick and only one camera.  There were several male common hawkers (Aeshna juncea) patrolling and fighting but I never saw one at rest.

One of them obviously broke off from the fighting for long enough to mate as I also saw one ovipositing female.

I was pleased to get away from Muckle Moss unscathed this time.  It is a magical place but is quite a challenge. Walking across the floating unstable bog is hard work and the dragonflies seem to fly ceaselessly.  There are quite a few stunted trees around but I have never seen a dragonfly at rest there.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Another walk round the pond

My latest visit to Banks' Pond gave my best view yet of a female emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator).  When I first saw her she was ovipositing on the pondweed out in the middle of the pond.  I watched and willed her to come closer but after a few minutes she went off zooming around to catch something to eat.  After a few minutes, however, she returned and landed less than 5m away.  I was wearing wellies so I could wade into the reeds to get even closer and watch for several minutes.

Several times she was approached by amorous but rather overoptimistic male azure damselflies.

The emperor's season is almost at an end but other dragonflies are only just getting started.  I saw my first common hawker of the year.  This one is a male.  (Correction.  It is a rare blue form female.  See Alan's comments below.)

There were also lots of new common darters

and the first ruddy darter I have seen this year.

A good find was a male banded demoiselle, the third I have seen here but the first passable photo.

And to finish off a brown hare.  Not quite as close as one I saw a year ago to the day but lovely to see.

So, quite a good morning and much more to look forward to as the summer progresses.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Bee of the week - Fork-tailed flower bee

This is the fork-tailed flower bee (Anthophora furcata).  It is a fairly widespread bee but isn't common and is inconspicuous so it probably gets overlooked.  It looks a bit like a small brown bumblebee.  The male has a yellow face.

The female fork-tailed flower bee makes her nest in a hole in rotten wood.  She has reddish hairs at the base of her proboscis and on her tail.

This female has pollen in the scopa (pollen brush) on her hind legs.

This photo isn't very good but it does show her very long tongue.

This isn't an easy bee to photograph as it flies so quickly and buries its head in the flowers.  Like other flower bees it makes a loud buzz as it flies.  You can read a BWARS information leaflet on Anthophora furcata here.