Alderton Hill & Dumbleton

This weekend we enjoyed a lovely walk over Alderton Hill to Dumbleton and back. There were plenty of butterflies, including many Marbled Whites and these, easier to photograph, Large Skippers hanging out on brambles next to a field of uncut wild grass. The Ragwort flowers were covered in Red Soldier Beetles, mostly busy making baby beetles. This Robin’s Pincushion, on a wild rose in the hedge, is caused by the larvae of a small gall wasp (Diplolepis rosae), which secrete a chemical that causes the rose bud to grow abnormally. Each gall contains many larvae living in separate compartments inside the gall. Birding-wise, I was happy to see a little owl and my first spotted flycatcher this summer.

Pellucid Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens, #517)

The Pellucid or Large Pied Hoverfly is one of the largest UK hoverflies, looking a little like a bumblebee and very fast-flying. With its white band round the body and black spots on the wings it is quite a striking insect. The adults feed on nectar from flowers, but lay their eggs in the underground nests of social wasps, like the Common or German Wasp. On hatching the larvae drop to the bottom of the wasps nest where they live on dead insects and unhatched wasp larvae, emerging as adults the following summer.

The Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua, #516)

I found this funky-looking caterpillar yesterday morning. It is from The Vapourer aka the Rusty Tussock Moth (Orgyia antiqua). The caterpillar looks a bit scary with its long hairs and red & yellow spots, but actually the hairs on this species are not irritating (to people at least). They are usually in birch or hazel trees, or other deciduous shrubs, but this one was in one of the flower beds. The moth is fairly dull,;chocolate brown with a white spot on each wing, but interesting in that, like the Winter Moth, the female is flightless.

Cream-spot Ladybird

After seeing my first 10-spot ladybird last month, I found my first Cream-spot Ladybird Calvia quatuordecimguttata, #515). As mentioned in an earlier blog it seems a very good ladybird year, as there are a lot of ladybird larvae and pupae all over the garden. This Cream-spotted Ladybird was in the Hazel trees I planted a few years back and am trying to coppice. There’s no shortage of aphids in there, so plenty of food.

#515 Cream-spot Ladybird (Calvia quatuordecimguttata)

#515 Cream-spot Ladybird (Calvia quatuordecimguttata)

Bugs are Back

While there’s many less insects around than this time last year, a bit of sunshine helps. Birch Catkin Bugs are plentiful, but this Deraeocoris flavilinea flower bug is one I only found once last year. This flower bug is a relatively newly arrived non-native species that was first recorded in UK in 1996, but it seems finds our gardens to its liking and has spread to much of the country..

I added a couple of new species for the list in the last week or so. The first is a Broad Centurion (Chloromyia formosa, #508) soldier fly that was attracted to the yellow front door. The other a new ladybird, the 10-spot Ladybird (Adalia decempunctata, #512), which comes in regular black spots on red, but also various other colours including this dark brown & cream combination. There seem a lot of ladybird larvae around this year (as well as lots of aphids), so maybe it’s going to be a good ladybird year.

In Search of the Roman Villa

I had been meaning to go looking for the ruined Roman villa near Winchcombe for ages, and finally got around to it on Sunday. The villa is hidden deep in the woods up the valley from Sudeley Castl. There’s not much to see of the old walls especially with the vegetation so high, but a section of mosaic can be seen kept under a low roof canopy and protected by plastic sheeting. Pretty low-key compared to most Roman ruins in UK!

Aside from the local archaeology there were plenty of flowers to be seen. I found this pure-white albino pyramidal orchid among the common spotted, bee and purple pyramidal orchids in some very lovely wildflower meadows. Wood Vetch (.Vicia sylvatica) was a nice find; something of a local specialty along the Cotswold scarp.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui, #513)

Having not seen any butterflies at all in the garden for the last 4 weeks - more or less the whole of June - there’s finally some warm summer weather and a few of them about again: Red Admiral, Ringlet and my first Painted Lady butterflies. Painted Ladies seemed scarce last year and I didn’t see any in the garden all summer, but apparently there is a bit of an influx this year. These migrants arrive from Africa in varying numbers each year, sometimes making it as far as the Arctic Circle. Making a 9000 mile round trip, they actually migrate twice as far as the more famous migratory Monarch butterflies in North America. The caterpillars feed on thistles, and then as it’s too cold for them to over-winter in Northern Europe, the new generation of butterflies make the return trip to Africa in the autumn, flying at an altitude of up to 3000 feet. This individual is pretty faded, so it’s probably one of the new arrivals.

#513 Painted Lady Butterfly

#513 Painted Lady Butterfly

Bredon Hill & Cleeve Hill

Thanks to some really lovely weather this weekend, I had a couple of beautiful walks up the local hills enjoying the butterflies and wild flowers. I was very happy to find Bee Orchids on Cleeve Hill and many Pyramidal Orchids on Bredon Hill. No photos, but a calling Quail at the top of Bredon Hill was also a good find.

Brightly Coloured Beetles

The stripy Rosemary Beetle (Chrysolina americana, #509) is (yet) another imported garden pest. Native to the Mdditerranean region (despite its Latin name), it didn’t arrive in UK until the 1990’s, but has now spread quite far from the London area where it initially colonised. I didn’t see any in the garden last summer, but this week there are a few of them munching the flowers on the lavender. I didn’t see them on the nearby lavender, which seems to be dying anyway - but probably not for beetle-related reasons. The beetles are very smart with their green & purple stripes, so I don’t begrudge them some lavender flowers - perhaps that will change though if they reach epidemic numbers.

The other colourful beetle is a Nettle Weevil (Phyllobius pomaceus), which I couldn’t resist posting even though it was not in the garden. They do lose their colour, becoming almost black, but this one was a particularly bright one on a bright sunny day by the River Severn near Ashleworth Ham Nature Reserve.

Two Ticks

I have seen Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula, #507) in the garden previously, but not since I started the list. So it was good to have a pair of them turn up and stop long enough for me to get a photo of the female. Surprisingly, according to BTO Garden Birdwatch data, there is a peak in bullfinches visiting gardens during June, so these were bang on cue. Sightings then drop right down through the late summer and autumn, and pick up a little in the winter and spring; June though is the top month.

The other tick is a tick, in this case courtesy of the cat. I believe it is a Hedgehog Tick (Ixodes hexagonus, #506), which is the commonest tick picked up by cats. It’s certainly a hard tick from that family. This big white one is likely full of blood; cat or hedgehog. I’m looking forward to seeing the hedgehog sometime; there are some around the village but as our garden is surrounded by walls, access is a bit of a problem..

Fairy Ring Mushroom (#505)

I don’t get many fungi in the garden, so it was a pleasant surprise to find a crop of what I believe were Fairy Ring Mushrooms (Marasmius oreades) popping up out of the lawn this weekend. I suppose the damp conditions are better for fungi than the dry heat of last summer. I would be pretty happy to have fairy rings in my lawn, so hopefully the mushrooms find the place to their liking.

505 Fairy Ring Mushroom.jpg

A Yellow New Year

Celebrating a year of my site with some yellow.

I was wondering what these plants were that were appearing in my rather small 1 meter square “wild meadow”. Now they’re in flower I can see they are Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor, #502), which germinated very well from a few seeds I found in my pocket after a walk in the Cotswolds last autumn, dropped on the ground and then forgot about. Yellow Rattle is an interesting plant as it is a partial parasite of grasses, its roots attaching to those of the grass and taking a big cut of the water and nutrients the grass has absorbed. This is very beneficial as it stunts the grass, keeping it low and enabling other meadow flowers also to thrive.

The small yellow/orange fly with spotted wings is Meiosimyza decempunctata (#485), so named because of the 10 spots on its wings. Its larvae live among the dead leaves on the ground. The other yellow fly is a Large Rose Sawfly (Arge pagana, #217); the first I’ve seen this year. Not surprisingly is was in my climbing rose.

500 Species - Azure Damselfly

I was hoping to reach 500 with something special, so here we have a female Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) that was hiding up in the flower bed this evening. In just short of a year I’m half way to reaching 1000 species. This is my first dragonfly in the garden this year, and my fourth species since I started the list. Azure Dragonfly is one of those dragonflies that’s often found away from water in hedges and woodland rides, and is probably the commonest of the blue damselflies in UK.

#500 Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

#500 Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Nature Walk at Greystones Farm

This was my first visit of the season around the reserve at Greystones. Spring seems always a bit slow to arrive up there, but the meadows were starting to come alive. The Cow Parsley was in full bloom on the Iron Age ramparts; meanwhile orchids (Spotted, Southern Marsh and Early Marsh) were all in bloom, as were some nice patches of blue Vipers Bugloss. It was a bit windy, but even so very few butterflies and dragonflies to be seen.

Not a Bee - Narcissus Bulb Fly

It looks like a bumble bee, but the face and antennae are not quite right; in fact it is a type of hoverfly. The Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris, #495) is another non-native garden pest, this time a long-term one, imported (no doubt with foreign bulbs) around 200 years ago, it lays its eggs on the dying leaves of daffodils and other bulbs, where its larvae burrow down to feed on the inside of the bulb. This one was in and among my daffs. Usually there is only one larva per bulb, but as it lives in the bulb for a year it has plenty of time to eat the heart of the bulb, including the developing flower bud. The emerging adults only live for a week or two, during May/June. Its bee-like appearance is thought to be a deterrent to would-be predators.

#495 Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris)

#495 Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris)

New Moths

Here’s a couple of new moths in the garden over the weekend. The Yellow-faced Bell (Notocelia cynosbatella) is a common micro-moth in UK, its caterpillars feeding on rose leaves. It’s thought that the moth is coloured to be camouflaged like bird poo.

Brown and bit nondescript, the other moth is a female Bee Moth (Aphomia sociella), a parasite of bees and wasps. Between all the bee flies, nomad bees, parasitic wasps and now the bee moth, it seems that bee’s nests attract a lot of unwelcome attention! The Bee Moth usually lays its eggs in an above-ground bumble bee’s nest, where on hatching its larvae live in the nest. They have some beneficial effect eating waste and debris around the nest, but also consume eggs and larvae of the host.

May Bugs

Finally a few new bugs in the garden these last few days. Tipula vernalis is a cranefly that emerges in the spring, unlike many of the Genus that appear in numbers in the late summer and autumn. Common Flower Bug (Anthocoris nemorum) was new to the list, as was a hoverfly Syrphus ribesii (separated from the very similar Syrphus vitripennis by leg colour). Representing the insectivores, the first Harlequin Ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis) were back, as was a Turf-running Spider ( Philodromus cespitum) and Brown Lacewing (Micromus variegatus) - all seen for the first time this year. Moths are not yet plentiful, so this Common Pug moth (Eupithecia vulgata) was a welcome addition to the list.

Finally a true “May Bug”, the Common Cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha), that was found legs-in-the-air by friends on their bathroom floor. These big bugs were formerly very common in UK and regarded as a pest (the larvae particularly), but insecticides in the 1960’s decimated the population. They are now making something of a comeback, so hopefully I’ll find one on my own patch one day.

Away from the bugs, the skies now have Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and the first Common Pipistrelle bats. A hunting Hobby (Falco Subbuteo) was new for the garden - I’ll be happy if it sticks around; the local hirundines less so.

Nomad Bees Afoot

After previous fun and games trying to get photos of nomad bees in the garden, this Flavous Nomad Bee (Nomada flava, #463) obligingly landed on my foot. With its wings folded you can’t see the red on its back very well, but the dark red plastic-looking marks on its thorax show nicely. The other nomad bee - new to the list - is Marsham’s Nomad Bee (Nomada marshamella, #481) with its black and yellow striped abdomen, the first yellow stripe having a black break through the middle. The pattern of yellow dots on the head is also distinctive. Both these bees are parasites of Andrena sp. mining bees.

Colour-changing Spider - Misumena vatia

This is a cool but freaky-looking spider that’s caught itself a big meal. The White Crab Spider (Misumena vatia, #480) can change its colour depending on the flower it is on. It hides on the flower pouncing on any unsuspecting insect and grabbing it with its strong front legs. It may not be able to do blue - not that it seems to have mattered much in this case - but like a chameleon it can change its colour from white to yellow or green in order to blend in. In the US it is called the Golden Rod Spider as it’s commonly found, coloured yellow, on Golden Rod later in the summer when this in flower and covered in pollinating insects. It’s not such a common species in UK, only found in the South of England, so I’m happy to have found one in my garden.

#480 Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia)

#480 Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia)