September 23, 2017

Common Red Soldier Beetle (Rhagonycha fulva)

Having finally managed to acquire the macro lens I’ve been wanting for over a year, I find I am too busy to use it. I shouldn’t grumble really because my time is being otherwise engaged by the recent arrival of number two son, Samuel James, alongside the already busy schedule dictated to some extent by number one son and budding naturalist, Joe. The rest of my time is taken up with a frankly unrealistic workload, but when one is self employed one has to take the chances when they present themselves.

Having got the Sigma 150mm Macro, generally regarded as a bug hunter’s lens, I find myself even more drawn to the invertebrate world. Having created a series of interesting habitats in the garden over the past few years, now is the time for them to pay me back.

Habitat number one has been easily created and is already pretty rewarding; I’ve left a pretty substantial swathe of grass un-mown directly next to my vegetable patch this year and over the past couple of weeks, it’s been heavily populated by these attractive insects. This species is one of a number of Soldier Beetles (Cantharidae) and most likely to be the one which gave the genus this title, their red colour being thought to resemble the red coats historically worn by the British Army into battle.

Common Red Soldier Beetles are extremely valuable to gardeners as the larvae predate slugs and snails, a character trait which is highly prized by us organic gardening types. The adults themselves are also predatory of other insects which visit the umbellifers they so often frequent.Indeed I’ve been familiar with them for many years and had rather actually assumed them to be a kind of flower beetle, because they also eat the pollen and drink nectar, so it was particularly satisfying to find out that they also really relish aphids!

 

Blue Tit fledgeling (Cyanistes caeruleus)

As I mentioned in my video post at the beginning of May about the Robins, we’ve had plenty of nests in the garden this year. It’s been a few weeks now so here’s an update of their progress:

  • The Starlings successfully fledged from the nest above our bedroom window about four days ago
  • The Moorhens chicks who’d only just fledged at the beginning of the month are roving about more, though there would appear to be only three of five remaining
  • The Blackbirds have incubated four chicks in the lean-to shed, they’re getting quite big now (more from them another day)
  • The House Sparrows who nest under the tiles above Joe’s window are now bringing their fledgelings to feed in the garden
  • Next door’s Swallows still seem to be building their nest and rather excitingly a pair have been casually renovating on of the old nests in our coal shed so fingers crossed they decide to stay

This little Blue Tit (below) is from a nest in the box in our larger Yew tree, they fledged on Friday and have been noisily haranguing their parents to bring food to their various ‘secret’ locations all over the weekend whilst I’ve been gardening. I also found another Blue Tit nest this weekend in the stonework of the wall around our side garden and today the two of the chicks from that later brood were squeezed into the entrance hole chirping madly at anything which passed, including Joe and me.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

When we first moved in, these birds nested in our ramshackle coal shed for a couple of years, then after a particularly bad year in which many more than usual didn’t make it back over the Sahara, we’ve been a little bereft. Hundreds of them and their close relative the House Martins (Delichon urbicum), still frequent our airspace and this year there’s even been a little more interest in our outbuildings. Next door’s car port has a nest though and the messy side garden we keep our hens in has proved a useful area for gathering straw and feathers with which to do much of the construction.

They do look a little ungainly on the ground, having such short legs and feet better adapted to perching than waddling around. I was quite pleased to get these shots as they don’t hang about for long due to the fact that as well as being a very busy time for them, the hens do get a little territorial about their garden, the more dominant ones liking to chase any intruder in a terrific show of chicken ferocity. Of course the Swallows just casually spring into the air and zoom off, sometimes doing a couple of circuits just above hen head height as if to prove a point.

European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

No doubt the imminent arrival of our second son, hopefully over the next few days, has softened my outlook on this species. Yes they’re non-native, indeed a highly invasive species and as such extremely problematic to our ecosystem, but for the past couple of weeks this little rabbit and its siblings have been a great source of amusement.

Each morning they’re up bright and early, well, before us anyway, and mostly engaged in one of a number of different variations on the general theme of dashing from one part of the front garden to another, whilst showing a naive disregard for any kind of safety protocol.

Earlier in the week Joe and I managed to creep to within three feet of one of them as it blissfully nibbled the lawn. Bearing in mind the average silent sneaking skills of a toddler, you’ll see why I question these young rabbits absolute dedication to their own health and safety.

The fact that there were six playmates a fortnight ago and only three now, would appear to bear out my concerns.

Nesting Robins (Erithacus rubecula)

So far this year we’ve been having a bit of a bumper year for nests.

Starlings have returned to last years penthouse suite above our bedroom window, the Moorhens who share our hen’s food successfully incubated 5 eggs, Blackbirds are again nesting in my lean to shed, House Sparrows are nesting in both our roof and that of our closest neighbour and the neighbours on the other side have Swallows building a nest in their car port. Its safe to say that spring has most definitely sprung.

Pride of place in this nest-a-thon must go to the robins though who thoughtfully built their nest at just below eye height in the ivy which holds our coal shed together. Here’s a short edit of some footage I shot with my DSLR and Camcorder, which would be much better if the lighting was consistent throughout :)
A Robin's Nest in the Ivy

Slime Mould (Reticularia lycoperdon)

A very odd species which looked exactly like the expanding foam used in cavity wall insulation oozing from the bark of a very old and recently dead perry pear tree.

Thanks to user Fenwickfield at iSpot I now know that this is Slime Mould Reticularia lycoperdon previously classified as Enteridium lycoperdon. Slime Moulds are a strange class of amoeboid protozoa, previously thought to be fungi but now known to be Myxomycota, which are organisms which prey on microbial food webs. This particular species is a bacterial predator and usually very tiny and unlikely to be seen, but this particular stage of it’s life cycle is a fruiting body known as a sporangium. This is a globular formation which swells up to around 50-80mm (this was near to the top end of that scale), whereupon it hardens and then eventually splits to release brown mass of spores.

I’ll try to return and take a few more pictures to illustrate more fully.

Even More Daffodils!

A last few images of the locally abundant Wild Daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus). It’s been a particularly excellent year for this species around here, the unusually harsh couple of winters seems to agree with them. This particular lot are extremely close to our house in Newent and utterly irresistible to toddlers!

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Betty Daw’s Wood and Gwen and Vera’s Fields

Two local Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust nature reserves within the Golden Triangle are looking truly spectacular at the moment, carpeted as they are with the Wild Daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) for which this area used to be famous. This coming weekend is ‘Daffodil Weekend’ in neighbouring Oxenhall so if you’re local, or live within striking distance of the northern part of the Forest of Dean, you should definitely check these reserves out for yourself.

Firstly Gwen and Vera’s Fields, two historic small daffodil meadows:

Then the more substantial Betty Daw’s wood SSSI, an ancient Sessile Oak (Quercus petrea) woodland:

This last photo also features some Cuckoo Flowers (Cardamine Pratensis) which suddenly seems to be appearing in all the hedgerows. Along with the daffs, I consider this to be a terrific harbinger of spring as it’s a major larval foodplant for the Orange Tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines). Fingers crossed they’ll be on the wing soon, as the striking males bring some much needed butterfly colour to these here parts.

Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus)

I’ve just been contacted by the non-profit group Strangford Lough and Lecale Partnership to ask if they can feature one of my pictures on some of their promotional material.

Taken on a trip to the Farne Islands off the Northumbrian coast last Summer. I particularly like this one because it reminds me of those clichéd balanced pebble pictures, beloved of health spas and self help books.

Wild Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus)

A timely and seasonal species, opening just in time for Saint David’s Day.

In addition to its significance as a welcome harbinger of spring, its also both the national flower of Wales, where I’ve lived for over half of my life and the county flower of Gloucestershire, where I live now. So it’s a really important species for me.

Locally there are some spectacular concentrations of these plants, although they grow in nothing like the numbers present in relatively recent history. In the early 20th century the wild daffodils which flower in and around Newent attracted visitors to this area each spring. Special trains were laid on from Gloucester, and the flowers were gathered by local schoolchildren and sent by rail to London hospitals.