Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Yellow Wagtails breed locally & economy of effort

Well, hello again! I hope no-one was holding their breath for the next blog post. Gone blue you say? Yikes! Inhale and here I am with a short update and to let you know that for the time being I can be found on Twitter rather than Blogger (link over there, in the left sidebar).

For much of the summer, health issues have been severely limiting. However, nearly 3 weeks ago now, on a short little wander not far from home, I came upon what turned out to be 2 nesting pairs of Yellow Wagtails. After weeks of barely being able to walk 15 minutes around the block, I was greeted by life and chirps and flits and beaks full of insects. It was utterly delightful and completely transforming! I have been keeping an eye on them ever since and last weekend the first nestlings fledged.

On days when the clouds were low, the Swallows and House Martins would buzz past the perched Wagtails, skimming the tops of the crop. A pair of Dunnocks had also chosen to breed amongst the legumes and the speckly youngsters joined the Wagtails forming a kind of bird crèche. In an adjacent pasture, there are freshly fledged Yellowhammer, Linnets and Goldfinches, all full of bluster and squabbles and swoops for food.

My health remains pretty restrictive but I’m hoping that the economy of effort required with Twitter will keep you and me connected.




Monday, 20 June 2016

Bee Orchids & a medley of moths

I may well have been a monosyllabic zombie with all the get up and go of a desiccated slug for the past month, but in my more lucid moments, I have temporarily vacated the sofa. My sorties have been short and sweet but there’s always something interesting to find at this time of year, even if all you do is walk a few metres along an unkept verge. So, without further ado and minimal accompanying words because that would require thought, here are a few bits and pieces from around Hemel & Bovingdon in the last few weeks.

Firstly, a new-to-me moth, found back at the wildflower verge along the A41 Boxmoor/Bourne End exit.

Unfortunately (for all involved) it’s one of those that requires dissection of its nether regions in order to determine exact species. However, I found it on Ox-eye Daisy and didn’t notice any Tansy in the vicinity, so I’m opting for an ID of Broad-blotch Drill (Dichrorampha alpinana) (foodplant: Ox-eye Daisy) rather the alternative Narrow-blotch Drill (Dichrorampha flavidorsana) (foodplant: Tansy). Either way, I liked it.

Next up, 37 Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera), in 3 discrete groups (5 + 21 +11), also at the A41 site. I’d be hard pressed to name another plant that brings me as much pleasure as this little orchid. Aesthetically, it’s perfect. Temperamentally, it’s irresistibly capricious. One year, it’ll arrive in dozens, sometimes hundreds; another year, not a single spike will erupt from the earth at that same location. It’s unpredictable and it's beautiful and that makes the triumph of finding one all the sweeter.

Yesterday, whilst counting the Bee Orchids, my first Marbled White of the year fluttered in to say hello.

Back at the beginning of June, on a sunny afternoon at Dellfield Meadow, Westbrook Hay, I counted 11 Grass Rivulet moths (Perizoma albulata) in the lower quadrant above the carpark. I don’t know its current status in Herts but a couple of years ago, it was considered rare and I was chuffed to find even one in this meadow. I’m so pleased the colony is doing well.

    Marbled White
    Grass Rivulet

Finally, I have a soft spot for the Yellow-barred Longhorn moth (Nemophora degeerella). The larvae feed on leaf litter, and little (or large!) swarms of them seem to be pretty common along woodland paths and, well, in my garden (currently). At the end of last week, there were a couple of clouds at the Brickworks, probably totalling more than 50 moths (only the one female). Of all the Adelidae species, I find these the most fairy-like and enchanting to watch.

Yellow-barred Longhorn moth. Left: male (loooong antennae); Right: female (short antennae)

Friday, 10 June 2016

Small Blue eggs & pretty things in ugly places

A41 Bourne End/Boxmoor turn-off: Some of you may remember that, last summer, I went in search of Wally (aka Small Blue caterpillars). This year, I took it back a stage - still squinting at Kidney Vetch flowers - but this time hoping to find the minuscule butterfly eggs. It was actually a lot easier than I expected. At less than about 0.5mm in diameter, the eggs are surprisingly conspicuous.

See!...not going to miss this little chap, tucked away

Many of the flowers had multiple eggs laid within them, here 2 are visible

The scale of the ruler is mm, suggesting the egg is approx 0.5mm diameter

This egg had already hatched - all that was left was the outer rim/shell (like a tyre), the centre was hollow/empty

For anyone curious about the context of this A41 Small Blue colony, I've put together a few images below. The main photograph was taken from the A4251, looking down onto the eastbound embankment: this is south facing and rich in Kidney Vetch (all the clumps of yellow). Top right, is the view along the top of the embankment and, bottom right, is the view from the side of the A41, up the embankment.

Nature does have a habit of thriving in these most ugly and dangerous of places. Today, surrounded by reinforced concrete, bad graffiti and the roar of traffic, 2 Bee Orchids bloomed (the first I’ve seen this season). With them, numerous Pyramidal and Common Spotted Orchids. Salad Burnet & Ox-eye Daisies galore; Grass Vetchling, Red & White Clover, Yellow Rattle, Scabious sp, Meadow Buttercups, Poppies, Common Mouse-ear, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Wild Marjoram and numerous grasses including the irresistible Quaking-grass. The list, of course, goes on…and exceeds my mental and botanical capabilities.

Over on the westbound slip road, the big, bold and simple beauty of the Ox-eye Daisies mingled with the delicate and elaborate artistry that is Quaking-grass. I wish I’d had the energy today to really capture the scene, either in words or pictures but, for now, it’s just a couple of close-ups…daisies dancing with grasses.

Oh, nearly forgot, Small Blue butterfly count today: 27 eastbound embankment; 7 westbound slip road. Total = 34

Sunday, 29 May 2016

GSWs: In the shade of the Oak

Hemel (BMT): I have tried and failed to muster up an opening with a pinch of pizazz. Instead, I shall jump straight in with the reality that the last 9 days have been largely a sedate affair (or perhaps more accurately, a stationary affair, as I’ve barely moved). Selecting highs and lows from the week seems like an easy way to carry my thoughts, so let’s go with that. The obvious low which has dominated, is the fact that my energy levels remain near rock bottom (it's attributed to ME/CFS, a condition - for those not in the know - where particular biological processes essentially fail to work properly. Recent findings suggest that the underlying pathology is significant impairments in cellular function but the cause and treatment are speculative and the duration of debilitation can be anything from months to a lifetime). Anyway, for the moment, even contemplating the (hilly) ~600 metre walk to the Small Blue butterflies has felt beyond me, although I may just give it a go tomorrow.

The definite high of the week was being able to return to the nesting Great Spotted Woodpeckers. A bit of sneaky parking reduced the walking distance to around 150 metres. The nest site was such that I was able to set up my gear (including handy camping seat) out of sight of the Woodpeckers and watch/film them without causing any intrusion or disturbance. I couldn’t manage more than about an hour but even in that time the parents were bringing food to the intensely demanding young almost every 10-15 minutes.

Pa (left), Ma (right)

The nestlings never shut up (evidenced in the video!)….which is how I found their home in the first place. Squeak, squeak, squawk, squawk, rising above the sound of nearby traffic. I wish I was as adept at finding interesting caterpillars as ma and pa woodpecker, and I did note that the female was ringed although couldn't read the code, unfortunately. The light was extremely awkward (harshly backlit) but, quite honestly, I would have been happy with any record of this wholly absorbing scene. I was transported into their world of vitality and bonding and the striving for life. I loved how the young were cradled safely within the limb of a mature, ostensibly healthy Oak: the tree providing complete shade, protection and rooted solidity; the woodland around them their larder.

[The video is best viewed in 4K: press play then click on the cog, bottom right, and select 2160p4K quality. In the last scene, it's the female that exits from the nest hole, taking out the rubbish]