May Bee Appearing on Ivy near You

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I know our native evergreen climbing ivy can be a pain in a garden, but at this time of year when it’s flowering it is a magnet to a wide variety of late-flying insects. To one particular little bee that has set up residency here in Great Britain in recent years, it is vital.

October 6th

It’s always exciting to see a ‘new-to-you (or me)  species on your own patch and this week I had my first sightings of a little solitary bee I have only recently become aware of. It is commonly named the Ivy bee, as its emergence is set to coincide with the flowering time of yes, you guessed, the common but invaluable to late flying insects Ivy or Hedera helix, on which it feeds.

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4/10/16-First ever sighting of an Ivy bee-Colletes hederae

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Ivy bees are found in Austria, Belgium, Channel Islands, Croatia, Cyprus,France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland and are recent arrivals in Great Britain, but spreading and establishing fast.

BWARS – The Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society has been mapping the spread of the Ivy bee since its discovery in Britain 15 years ago. They say:

Colletes hederae was recorded as new to Britain in 2001 when Ian Cross discovered specimens at Langton Matravers in Dorset. Since then, the bee has spread across much of southern England (as far north as Shropshire, Staffordshire & Norfolk) and into south Wales. It is now extremely plentiful in some coastal localities, and increasingly, inland. Peak activity matches the flowering period of its key pollen forage plant, Ivy (Hedera helix), and the species is on the wing from early September until early November. This makes it the last solitary bee species to emerge each year. 

Where to find them

161006-rosrc-ivy-bee-2Ivy bees like patches of flowering ivy in sunny spots, often in gardens.They look like small honeybees but have an orange-yellow striped abdomen and a furry ginger thorax, so they are quite noticeable as they bustle over the green balls of ivy blossom. If there is a nest site nearby you may see several of them on the flowers at any one time.

161006-rosrc-ivy-bee-4Ivy bee lifecycle

Unlike the larger honeybee, which is a social insect and has queens, drones and workers, the ivy bee is solitary. They are mining bees and after mating, a female Ivy bee digs out a burrow in loose earth or sand, and creates underground chambers. She then lays several eggs which she stocks with pollen to provide food for the larvae when they hatch. Although each female ivy bee digs her own burrow, tens or even hundreds of females nest close together in colonies, usually on sandy banks.

As with many insects, the mating process may be a brutal affair. Male bees wait by the burrows for females to return, then ambush them. Many males may attempt to mate with a single female in their quest to sire the next generation, forming a writhing mass – or mating ball. The female dies a few weeks after mating and laying her eggs, but the larvae pupate and become adults, staying underground until autumn, emerging to repeat the cycle.

 

 

 

Catchers, a Duck and Divers

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September 10th-A brilliant day for birds continued….

As the tide began to return to the shore, every exposed rock in Penrhyn Bay was occupied by beady-eyed Cormorants.

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Black-headed gulls also waited.

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It seemed Rhos Point was the place to be for seabirds and waders today. In the time I have lived here I have never seen as many here all at once. I got there an hour or so before high tide, which is one of the best times to get close views of the birds waiting for their evening meal to be delivered. But as  there were also such a large number of terns and gulls swimming on the sea’s surface and flying low over it, there must have been fish there drawing them in, perhaps a shoal of small fish, sprats or whitebait¹.

The tideline at Rhos Point was crowded with Herring Gulls, Black-headed gulls and Sandwich Terns. A woman arrived with two dogs and stood and watched as they chased along close to the water’s edge, sending many of the birds skywards. I will resist having a rant about that, but it troubles me that people think it’s OK to allow their dogs to do that.

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Whilst waiting to see if the upped birds would return and re-settle I scanned along the sea edge to see what else might be waiting there. There were a whole host of Oystercatchers, trickier to see when their bright orange-red bills are tucked away whilst they rest. A few little Turnstones were dotted amongst them and then a larger bird at the back of this group, fast asleep with its head tucked well down – a duck for sure, maybe a female Red-breasted Merganser? Identifying ducks is not one of my strong points even when I have a good view of them.

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Standing in the shallow water were a good number of Redshanks

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and more Black-headed gulls.

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A few Sandwich Terns were in amongst this group of Redshank, Turnstones & black-headed gulls.

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I found only one Ringed Plover, although there could well have been more.

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A large number of Sandwich Terns occupied a finger of exposed rocks with a few Oystercatchers and gulls, with many more gulls bobbing around on the surrounding sea.

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The Sandwich Terns, here in large number today were noisy and excitable, with groups taking off and settling again in spots a few metres away along the shoreline. Some will remain here for the autumn and winter, but others will move on.

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Their association with Black-headed Gulls is one I’ve seen many times.

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There’s usually a crow or two waiting for the tide’s incoming feeding opportunities too.

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Amongst the multitude of gulls swimming around were several Red-throated Divers – difficult to keep in sight as they dive frequently and disappear just as you think you may have one in focus, but a man close by with a brilliant telescope patiently located them and let me have a close-up look. Still not easy as you can’t predict where they’re going to pop up again, but I managed a couple of spots – what an exciting treat. At one point I thought I may have got lucky with a view of a group of six birds, also swimming and frequently diving and disappearing beneath the surface, but they turned out to be Razorbills, not quite as ‘special’, but still lovely to see.

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They separated and mostly stayed too far out to see well without the aid of binoculars or a telescope, but as the tide progressed inwards, so also did one of the birds, allowing me a much better view of it.

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As I watched the razorbill, the duck also took to the water.

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I’m fairly confident it was  a female Red-breasted Merganser. (The female Goosander looks similar but brown colour of head extends around neck leaving just a white chin). On this bird the white of the throat seems to extend down the front of the neck.

¹ Whitebait is a collective term for the immature fry of fish, typically between 25 and 50 millimetres long. Such young fish often travel together in schools along the coast, and move into estuaries and sometimes up rivers.

 

A Brilliant Day for Birds

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September 10th – Little Orme, Rhiwledyn Nature Reserve

Taking the old cliff path around to Angel Bay, I disturbed a beautiful fresh(ly) Painted Lady butterfly. It circuited round a bit before settling on a stony patch, pressing its wings tightly against small sun-warmed limestone rocks.

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A small crowd of people gathered on the cliff edge above Angel Bay looked promising; maybe there was something exciting to see down there? But alas, no. They were simply chatting and the beach was empty. This convinced me that as I suspected, female seals don’t give birth to their pups here; if they did they would surely be here by now. There were seals here, but only two, both swimming lazily around in the water. On this cool, misty-damp morning I suspect it was warmer in the water than out. One was hanging in the water with just its face above the water, showing off a lovely set of whiskers.

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Another was simply cruising around peacefully.

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There is a thriving breeding population of Cormorants here on the Little Orme, so there is never a shortage of these brilliant birds to see, especially around their nesting site on the cliffs further around the headland. At this time of year and through the winter months, their numbers are boosted greatly and the steeply sloping cliff face that forms one side of Angel Bay is punctuated with a multitude of black dots and dashes. This is now Cormorant Central; the volume and frequency of arrivals and departures of birds rivalling that of aeroplanes into and out of a busy airport.

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I wonder how they work out their perching places? Do early arrivals get the prime spots and do they now have their own patch, or is it up for grabs if they leave to fish for lunch? Do they stick to family or colony groups?

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Whilst pondering on the whys and wherefores of Cormorant society, I was distracted by two little shapes down in the Bay – definitely birds but I was, of course, on the wrong side to see them properly. It’s not uncommon to get the occasional Guillemot or Razorbill here once the breeding season is over, so I didn’t really think further than that. Winter-plumaged Red-throated Divers didn’t enter my head at the time, but that is what they were. Birds we get around this coast during the autumn and winter, but most often much further out that you need powerful optical assistance to spot.

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I must get back into the habit of taking binoculars out with me instead of relying on my camera’s zoom; sometimes it’s not enough. In this instance a glimpse and a snapshot was all I got anyway; these birds are for once aptly named as they do dive – a lot, reappearing nowhere near where they went under. I walked around to the other side of the rocky hump on the Penrhyn Bay side of the headland as from there you get good uninterrupted views of a wide expanse of sea. Birds fly low past here, keeping close in to the cliff, so some good views of whatever is travelling by; mostly Herring gulls and a few Black-headed gulls today.

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Black-headed gullLarus ridibundus

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There was a Cormorant swimming around on the sea’s surface, giving a good view of the strong hooked beak.

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A small black and white bird bobbed into view and this really was a Razorbill Alca torda. It was a good way out to sea, but close enough that I could see, through the camera lens, that it was in the process of changing from summer to winter plumage. The plumage of the throat and sides of the neck change from black to white in the winter – the side of this one’s head is still a mix of the two.

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It was in no hurry to move away and intent on having a good grooming session.

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Members of the Auk family, to which both Razorbills and Puffins belong, look a little like penguins, although they are not closely related. The next few images show some of the similarities between them; species of both have black-and-white colours, an upright posture and share some of their habits.

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160910-lorc27a-razor-bill

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‘bye ‘bye little Razorbill, thank you for the photographs. Have a good winter.

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160910-lorc31a-large-white-bfly-caterpillar

Now a perfect example of how my mind skips around. Although tuned into ‘bird mode’, I spotted a wild cabbage plant and thought ‘maybe there’ll be a Large White butterfly’s caterpillar on those leaves’. And there was, so a gap in my  last-but-one post can be filled in!

I was watching the Razorbill et al for a good half an hour, maybe more, then walked back around the cliff to have a last look around Angel Bay. The seals had gone, but the movement of a smallish bird on the cliff edge caught my eye. Rock Pipit came to mind, but no, it was a much lovelier Northern Wheatear. It was either waiting for the weather to improve or taking in some food before continuing on his long migration back to warmer climes; perhaps both.

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Northern WheatearOenanthe oenanthe

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I’m not certain whether this was a male or female as when males are in their winter plumage both sexes appear similar. I’m edging towards male as there seems to be a slate-grey patch remaining at the top of the wing. The bird’s common name of ‘Wheatear’ has nothing to do with its food preferences or its ears, but refers to its white rump (i.e white a**e)!

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More people arrived at the cliff edge and my bird flew away, down onto the big rocks on the beach.

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I began heading in the general direction of the ‘way out’, but hearing a Stonechat nearby diverted to see if I could find it. They’re one of my favourite birds and are often obliging in terms of appearing in the open. I wasn’t disappointed; as I passed by one perched up on top of a bramble, within whose tangled depths a pair have regularly nested.

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At first I thought this was an adult female , but as I got a closer look I could see it still has a speckled head, so it’s probably a juvenile of this year’s brood.

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Robins were out singing all around the site today, but more wary now of being seen than when they sing in the spring. The one I finally got close enough to photograph was perched on a bracken frond keeping a beady eye out for movements on the ground below, ready to pounce.

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160910-lorc41arobin-on-bracken

 

 

Grey Seals on the rocks

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In UK waters Grey Seals breed during the autumn. Although the entire breeding season spans approximately 8 weeks, individual females will spend 18-20 days ashore, during which time they each bear and suckle one pup. Towards the end of lactation they come into oestrus, as soon as 16 days after giving birth, and are mated.

August 28th

Another windy day on the headland of the Little Orme, but sunny too and the tide was out. Perfect conditions for seeing Grey Seals hauled out on the small pebbly beach of Angel Bay.

160826-LORC57-Looking onto Angel Bay

Angel Bay is an inlet on the Little Orme’s Headland on the North Wales Coast. Known locally as Angel Bay, on Ordnance Survey maps it is named in Welsh as Porth Dyniewaid.

Spotting one a short distance offshore in Penrhyn Bay was encouraging. The seal was suspended in the water with just it head above the surface facing towards the shore. They do this often and I’m sure they are ‘people watching’, as curious about us as we are about them.

160826-LORC32-Grey seal floating head above water

There were boys in the bay, enjoying themselves greatly by jumping off rocks into the calm sea. I’m sure they were unaware of the seals not far away from them, hidden from their view as they were by an outcrop of rock . Unwilling to risk venturing ashore as they would normally have done, some were making the best of small islands of rock uncovered by the low tide, hauling out their bulky bodies to enjoy the warmth of the sun. Unfortunately there wasn’t room for all of them and some were left to drift around keeping a watchful eye out for a space to become available. Grey Seals are the largest breeding seals we have in the UK and those on view were definitely large, quite possibly pregnant females as they do congregate at traditional pupping sites in the autumn.

160826-LORC30-Grey seals basking on small rocks

One had secured a rock of her own. She was rather beautiful, wearing a mantle of silvery grey velvet.

160826-LORC27-Grey seal basking on small rocks

These three were more sociable and had left room for another.

160826-LORC31a-Grey seasl basking on small rocks

After a bit of heaving and hauling the smaller one squeezed in, but there was no room left for more boarders.

160826-LORC38-5 Grey seals

There are nine seals in this picture – 6 on rocks and three swimming around hopefully.

160826-LORC37-7 Grey seals

The driver of one of the jet boats that take out sightseers from Llandudno pier spotted the seals and pulled in so people could have a closer look and take photographs of the seals. He must have passed the info on to other drivers as another boatload arrived a few minutes later. Then another who was a bit more intrusive and that I felt got a little too close. As I said before, seals are naturally curious themselves and are probably used to being observed from the clifftop, so they didn’t seem too bothered by the boats.

160826-LORC41-Boat approaching seals

As the boat was leaving I took a short video as it is unusual to see the seals awake and moving, although they still weren’t doing much. Perhaps because they were rather put out about their lack of space the seals were quite vocal too, although most of the noise here was made by the departing boat & the wind!

An hour or so later the smaller rock had been taken over by a much larger seal; poor thing looks like she’s about to burst!

160826-LORC43-One large (pregnant) seal left

 

Of Cabbages and Butterflies

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In these days of declining numbers of many, if not most of our butterfly species, I wonder if we will ever be persuaded to look more fondly, or at least a little more appreciatively upon our more common White ones? Might it have helped if those early entymologists and pioneer collectors had bestowed them with pretty common names, rather than the functional ones of Large or Small Whites?

160807-LTLORME (45)-Large White female nectaring

160807-LTLORME (36)-Large White flyingThe truth is, probably not. The butterflies downfall from our grace, supposing they were once in that state, coincided with our cultivation of cabbages and other related members of the brassiceae family for our own consumption. Plants that contain the stuff essential to the health and well-being of these butterflies’ larvae, as decreed by their evolution. The plants became abundant and readily accessible to the opportunistic butterflies and why would they not take advantage? They dared to invade our space though and became a serious pest, even an enemy. This is why many of us have grown up still calling both Large and Small Whites ‘Cabbage Whites’, especially if our parents grew our family’s veg. And why school cabbage often had a boiled green caterpillar in it.

Large White butterfly (male)

Large White butterfly (male)

In 1717 James Petiver published the first book devoted exclusively to British butterflies, entitled Papilionum Brittaniae Icones. In it  Petiver gave English names to a number of species, some that he made up himself. Others were taken from existing common useage, including Pieris rapis (brassicae), which he called the ‘Great White Cabbage Butterfly’ and/or the ‘Great Female Cabbage Butterfly’.

August 7th

160807-LTLORME (43)-Large White front view2016 has not been the best year for butterflies in general and my collection of species photographed so far had several gaps in it compared to last year’s, two of which were reserved for the Large and Small White. A walk on the Little Orme today filled one of those gaps. I was walking around the base of the cliffs, mostly looking up as I had spotted a Raven perched on a ledge and was trying to get close without disturbing it. It flew off of course, but below where it had been was a large bramble bush smothered in late blossom. Only as I got close to it did I realise it was attracting a crowd of White butterflies; so well camouflaged against the pale flowers in bright sunlight that I hadn’t noticed them.

Most of the butterflies were females, newly emerged, in need of food and clearly available to male interest. It took a few minutes for me to realise why there were so many here and where they had come from: until I spotted one fluttering around the leaf of a Wild Cabbage plant in fact! I couldn’t believe it had taken me till now to make such an obvious connection; the amount of times I have seen White butterflies here before, have noticed (and blogged about) the abundance of Wild Cabbage plants …… Oh well, I got there in the end!

160807-LTLORME (34)-Wild Cabbage plant

The Wild Cabbage (Brassica oleracea), sometimes known as Sea Cabbage,  is regarded as scarce by botanists as it is found in only 100 x 10km squares in the UK.  The Little Orme and Great Orme in North Wales and the Gower Peninsular in South Wales are strongholds of the plant. Where it does occur, the plant is found on maritime cliffs, usually of limestone or chalk, typically growing on or near to cliff tops or cliff bases, often on ledges containing other mixed herb communities.

160807-LTLORME (62)-Large White (f) nectaring on bramble

The Large White Pieris brassicae is a strong-flying butterfly. It is indeed large; males have a wingspan of up to 63mm & females of up to 70mm. Both have bright white wings with black tips to the forewings that extend down the wing edges. Females have two large black spots and a dash on both sides of each forewing that are absent from the upper surface of the males. The 160807-LTLORME (37a)-Lage White nectaring on brambleundersides are creamy-yellow.

In the British Isles the Large White is double brooded and females lay eggs any time from March to October. Most are laid during July and August when the numbers of resident butterflies may be increased significantly by migrants arriving from Europe. This also happens to coincide with maturing brassica crops.

Plants and insects have evolved together: plants needed butterflies for pollination and in return plants provided foliage for their caterpillars. The plants chosen as egg-laying sites by the Large White typically contain mustard oil glucosides, whose primary function when subsequently eaten by the larvae, is to make them distasteful to predators such as birds and protect them from attack. The preferred larval food plants are primarily various Crucifers, but they will also use Wild Mignonette and in parks and gardens Nasturtiums may be targeted.

August 26th

Back on the Little Orme to see if I could find Large White eggs and/or caterpillars on any of the plants around the bramble bush.

The butterflies avoid putting too many eggs on one plant to prevent the caterpillars running out of food and it took me a while to find an intact leaf that had an egg cluster beneath it. I only managed to find one caterpillar in a very early stage of its development, and as Small Whites also use the plants I can’t be sure which species it belongs to.

I finally found a well-grown Large White caterpillar on 10th September on a Wild cabbage leaf on an exposed part of the cliff directly overlooking the sea. It was a sunny day but with a chilly breeze and it wasn’t moving much. Clearly confident nothing would try to eat it.

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160826-LORC85-Wild cabbage plants on cliff

The Butterfly’s Status as a Pest species

In the present day, areas such as Great Britain, P. brassicae are now less threatening as pests because of natural and chemical control reasons. However, it is still considered a pest in other European countries, in China, India, Nepal, and Russia.

The most susceptible crops to P. brassicae damage in areas in Europe include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Kohlrabi, rape, swede, and turnip. The attacks to crops tend to be localised, but can lead to 100% crop loss in a certain area. In addition, because of its strong inclination to migrate, adults may infest new areas that were previously free from attack.   It is estimated to cause over 40% yield loss annually on different crop vegetables in India and Turkey.

 

 

 

A Secluded Spot for Sunbathers

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“The perfect spot for sunbathing, in a peaceful woodland edge location, offers privacy and safety in which to relax or indulge in some leisurely grooming  preening. No charge for use of facilities”. 

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This summer this ideal location, set conveniently for me just a few metres from my kitchen and bedroom windows, has been a popular spot with some of the local birds, particularly some of the younger ones.They come to make the most of this sheltered sun-trap to sunbathe, also known as ‘sunning’ in application to birds. Sunning birds may become so absorbed in the activity that they are easily approached, which can make them vulnerable to predators. They are safer here; there is no easy access to this spot from any angle, although a savvy Sparrowhawk may possibly be able to make a strike if it got its timing right so as not to cast a shadow.

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Dunnock and Blackbird sunning together

Most commonly we see Blackbirds and sometimes Robins sunning in gardens , but other species indulge too in slightly different ways.

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Sunbathing Blackbirds are a fairly common sight in parks and gardens

To begin sunning, birds orient themselves to expose the maximum amount of their plumage to the sun. The classic sunning posture is thus: head and body feathers are fluffed up and out and depending on available space and/or sense of security felt, one or both wings are held out from the body with feathers spread; the tail is sometimes fanned out too. The bird may keep the same position throughout a sunning session, or it may change positions to expose different parts of its body to the sun.

160718-KW (6)-Blackbird wing feathers

Sunning is often a precursor to preening, vital to a bird’s feather maintenance, and in this instance it is thought this has two effects; one is that the sun’s heat helps to spread preening oil across the feathers. The other is that it drives out parasites from within the plumage that can then be more easily dislodged as the bird preens.

Sunning and Preening demonstrated by a Dunnock

I’m fairly sure this session was more concerned with pest control than anything else.

Firstly, adopt the sunning pose: fluff out feathers and spread tail and wing feathers. Well, alright just the tail feathers will do for now.

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Secondly, begin preening with any particularly itchy spots caused by unwelcome hitchhikers.

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Pay attention to armpits

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Some areas such as the head and around the eyes and bill can only be serviced by extending and lifting the leg and having a good old scratch.

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It helps to have a flexible neck.

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That will have to do for now, it’s getting a bit shady here.Time to go.

160701-KW (28)-Young dunnock

The young Robin in the following sequence of images seems to be similarly afflicted with ‘lumps’ apparent on its neck.

160713-KW (7)-Young robin sunning

160713-KW (19)-Robin preening

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The head and neck are areas birds are unable to reach with their bills and have to scratch with a foot.

160713-KW (10)-Robin preening-with ticks

The other side needs attention too.

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160713-KW (33)-robin preening

It looks as though the bird’s frantic scratching has created a bald spot. And is that another lump under its eye?

160713-KW (22)-Robin preening

During sunning sessions birds often have their bills open. This is because the warmth of the sun raises their body temperature and as they can’t release heat by perspiration, they have to regulate it some other way, so will gape and sometimes pant in order to lose heat.

160617-KW (1)-Robin 'sunning'

To sum up, no-one knows for certain the reasons birds sunbathe, although several theories have been proposed.

  • To maintain the bird’s feathers in good condition. Exactly how sunning assists with this is not known, despite being widely studied. All birds have a gland on the rump, called an oil gland. The ‘preen-oil’ that this gland produces helps to keep the feathers flexible and hygienic. As preening usually occurs directly after sunning, it has been suggested that the sun affects the preen-oil in the feathers in some beneficial manner, or that it helps to synthesize the Vitamin D  and helping to regulate it’s temperature.
  • The heat from the sun may stimulate activity in parasites within the feathers, making them more accessible when the bird starts to preen.
  • Birds also make use of the sun’s heat to increase their body temperature or prevent heat loss. This form of ‘sunning’ is also used when the bird dries itself after bathing.
  • They do it simply because they enjoy it.
160803-KW (12)-Wren sunbathing 2

A tiny Wren enjoying a quick sunbathe on a laurel leaf

 

 

 

 

 

More Signs of Summer Passing

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August 3rd

Did I mention the strong west wind that was pushing the rain clouds across the mountains towards us? Only once I’d left the shelter of the trees to continue upwards did I realise how strong it was, with sustained gusts forcing the long grasses and wildflowers to bend to its will.

160805-Bryn Euryn (78a)-View

The grassy edges of the lower summit are full of wildflowers. On the exposed side there is mostly Knapweed, with touches of Ragwort and a white umbellifer I think is Upright Hedge Parsley. There was more Red Bartsia, just one plant as far as I could see, but a better one to see properly than the one lower down. On the other side, sheltered by a belt of Blackthorn, the red berries of Lords and Ladies, Cuckoo Pint if you prefer or plain old Wild Arum.

I didn’t take this exposed path to the summit today, but ‘turned left’ to continue into the sheltered hollow where I thought there may be more insect activity.

160805-Bryn Euryn (84a)-Summit Trail

A  wasp clung on to a lone Hogweed flowerhead swaying in the wind amidst a sea of waving long grass.

160805-Bryn Euryn (103)-Hogweed in a sea of grass

There was a sizeable patch of  the umbellifer that may be Upright Hedge Parsley amongst dry  long grass, but as I photographed the flower it was visited only by a single, quite faded Sun Fly hoverfly.

There were a few Meadow Brown butterflies doing what they do – suddenly flying up in front of you from where they had been basking on the warm earth of the track and heading into the safety of the grass. There were a couple of Gatekeepers too, sheltering from the wind to bask low in the brambles. The one  I photographed had a wing-tip missing; maybe a narrow escape from a predator, but such damage can be one of the hazards of territorial scraps and of frequenting thorny brambles.

And just for some colour, Rosebay willowherb, which I always think is quite out of context here, even if it does look pretty. Today at least it was giving nectar to a few little bumblebees.

160805-Bryn Euryn (94)-Rosebay willowherb flower

From the summit the views are always spectacular and today you could clearly see the low clouds skimming the tops of the higher Carneddau mountains to the west and heading our way.

160805-Bryn Euryn (101)-Incoming weather

The effect on the seascape was strangely beautiful too. Looking to what is roughly the south-east across Colwyn Bay, the  distant hills were obscured by a mist hazeand although the sea appears to be flat calm; the wind was rippling back the surface, giving it texture, while the moving clouds created dynamic areas of light and shade. Mesmerising.

160805-Bryn Euryn (99)-View-Colwyn Bay

160805-Bryn Euryn (102)-Shaded sea

Back to earth I headed across the hilltop to make my way back down the other side. Mushrooms continue to pop up from the short turf and are still being nibbled. I’ve done a bit of research and from their shape I think they are a species of Boletus. This one was encircled by another of my favourite wildflowers of late summer, the lovely and semi-parasitic Eyebright. There are two variations here – plants with flowers blotched wih purple and others the more usual white with yellow centres.

160805-Bryn Euryn (110a)-Mushroom with Eyebright-Euphrasia micrantha

Further down the slope where Knapweed grows in the longer grass, there were a few nectaring insects. A Common Carder bumblebee, a male Red-tailed Bumblebee and a few hoverflies. There was also a badly-damaged Burnet moth that had somehow managed to haul itself up a flower stem to feed, despite having lost at least half of all of its wings.

As I reached the bottom of the hill I stopped by a patch of Hogweed growing right on the edge of the woodland. The clouds finally cleared the way for some sun to shine through, which encouraged out a little flush of hoverflies. There was a lovely fresh female Myathropa florea – mentioned in a previous post as having the memorable and distinguishing ‘batman logo’ marking on its thorax. It was extremely mobile, but clearly hungry and from a distance I managed to get some images showing it from several angles.

Then a treat to end the walk – a petite and dainty hoverfly with black and white markings, another new-to-me species.

160805-Bryn Euryn (184)-Leucozona on Hogweed

This insect was tiny, highly mobile and flying frequently between adjacent flowerheads, so my photo opportunities were few and some of the images I did get were a bit blurry. I’m not sure if its a Leucozona glaucia or similar looking Leucozona laternaria. My book tells me the former are ‘abundant’ in this part of the country and the latter more so here than further east.

If you are interested in finding out more about Eyebright, I have posted more info and pictures of it in my new blog which will be dedicated mostly to wild flora in their habitats, called, funnily enough ‘where the wildflowers are’.

 

 

Signs of Summer Passing

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Historically August can be quite a wet month and is statistically less likely to have long spells of sunny holiday weather than July. This August of 2016 is certainly following the trend.

August is the traditional month for the harvest in the British Isles, which is the reason it became the main school holiday month. In the past village children were recruited to help with the then labour-intensive process and the first general Education Acts drawn up in Victorian times, providing general primary education for all, took this into account. Even the youngest child could play a useful role in keeping the pigeons and crows away from the gleanings (spilt grains). 

060712-Cornfield & Poppies

August 5th

Finally, this mid-afternoon, having waited patiently all day for an interval of more than half-an-hour without signs of imminent rain, I seized my moment and headed for the hill. Not confident the break in the rain would last long, I didn’t linger on the pathway up through the woods, only stopping to photograph a Sycamore leaf afflicted with Tar-Spot fungus …..

160805-Bryn Euryn (1)-Sycamore leaf with tar fungus

…. and those of a shrubby plant I don’t recognise, well-patterned by leaf mines.

160805-Bryn Euryn (10)-leaves with leaf mines

A quick look over the fence on the wood’s edge didn’t look too promising; the Carneddau mountains to the west were veiled heavily by approaching rain clouds.

160805-Bryn Euryn (7)

Incoming rain

I reached the Woodland Trail in record time for me,  again stopping only briefly by the big bramble to note any activity on the late flush of newly-opening flowers. Just a male Tree bumblebee and a Meadow Brown butterfly. (It’s fairly easy to spot male bumblebees as they have no pollen baskets and no real purpose other than to eat to stay alive for as long as possible, so they don’t rush about like workers).

I had reached the line of used-to-be-coppiced Hazels when the rain arrived. Fortunately the foliage of the tree canopy is so dense there that hardly a drop got through, so I was kept dry even minus a waterproof. The Hazels here produce few nuts; perhaps because they know their efforts will be squandered by Grey Squirrels; they take them while still green, have a quick nibble to reach the soft kernel inside, then cast them to the ground when they are done.

160805-Bryn Euryn-Hazelnuts (not ripe)

160805-Bryn Euryn (18)-ground littered with hazelnuts

I waited until I could no longer hear rain on the tree leaves and carried on walking, noting how surprisingly green and fresh-looking the greenery was for this time of year.

160805-Bryn Euryn (23)-steps up to field

However, despite the greenery there are sure signs that this summer is past its peak. In Adder’s Field the Burnet roses are bearing fruits; the hips already dark red although not yet as dark as they will become. The Wild onion flowers are coming to an end and they too are producing fruits;  tiny bulbils which will sprout in situ, then drop to the ground and produce roots ready to grow into a new plant.

Stretched vertically between the rose stems was the tightly woven web-tent of a Nursery-web Spider. Peering down to its base I tracked down the weaver to where she was hiding, only some of her legs properly visible. These spiders are quite big and clumsy-looking yet produce such surprisingly fine web fabric; it’s like a piece of silk organza. (Arachnaphobes maybe scroll down quickly now!)

160805-Bryn Euryn (40b)-Nursery web spider160805-Bryn Euryn (40a)-Nursery web spider on web

The Wild clematis, or Old-man’s Beard as it will become, is in flower too, another signaller of the slide into Autumn.

160805-Bryn Euryn (34)-Wild clematis flowers

On the opposite side of the field the swathe of Hemp Agrimony is in full flower and after the rain, the warming sunshine was drawing out a crowd of insects, literally buzzing with excitement at the abundance of nectar and pollen on offer.

160805-Bryn Euryn (60)-stand of Hemp Agrimony

Again, takers were mostly male bumblebees with a few hoverflies and butterflies.

160805-Bryn Euryn (62a)-Gatekeeper

Sightings of Gatekeeper butterflies were top of my wish-list for today. I had already seen a few flying about in the last few days, but was pleased to find my first photographable one of this year. Its tiny size was emphasized by  the proximity of a large Red Admiral on a neighbouring flower.

160805-Bryn Euryn (61)-Red Admiral front view

Nearby, ragwort was also working to attract pollinators. A damaged 6-spot Burnet had taken respite on a flowerhead and was still there hours later when I passed it on my way home. There were more male bumblebees, hoverflies and a tiny black-and-white striped bee.

At the top end of the field a patch of umbellifers – tall Hogweed amongst  shorter Upright Hedge Parsley.

160805-Bryn Euryn-Umbellifers

In previous years I have found a few stems of Red bartsia in flower amongst the long grass at this end of the field; this year there is a significantly larger patch of this interesting semi-parasitic plant.

160805-Bryn Euryn (73)-Red Bartsia-Odontites vernus

Given a week or two to finish ripening, a good crop of berries on the Rowan tree should keep the blackbirds going for a while.

160805-Bryn Euryn (74)-Rowan tree

Break here to sit on my favourite rock (still slightly damp), have a drink of water, eat a peach and scribble down notes before heading up towards the summit.

Click for more info within this blog about:  Nursery Web Spider : Gatekeeper butterfly

 

Butterflies of the Great Orme

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July 14th – Great Orme

The great bulk of the west face of the Great Orme rises steeply from the shore of the Irish Sea; its scarred and fissured face testament to centuries of the relentless onslaught of invading weather fronts. Glancing upwards from its base it looks intimidating, barren save for a few patches of eroded grass and seemingly hostile as habitat for anything save the odd nimble Kashmiri goat. However, as in the best tradition of myths, legends and fairystories, looks can be deceptive and here-upon, not too far away, lies a magical kingdom populated by tiny beautiful creatures.

160714-Gt Orme 3-West Beach-Cliff face & toll house

The toll house on Marine Drive marks the beginning (or end) of the cliff path

The creatures take the form of butterflies. Two diverse species have evolved and adapted themselves to survival in this unlikely place and have been recognised and classified as ‘sub-species’. Both are ‘dwarf races’ and considered to be endemic to the site. One is a variant of the rare Silver-studded Blue, classified as Plejebus argus ssp. Caernensis and the other a variant of Hipparchia semele (Grayling), classified as (ssp.Thyone).

The ‘butterfly kingdom’ is accessed by following a narrow stony path along a ledge cut about a third of the way up the cliff, which is indicated on the photograph as a line of wire netting that both marks its edge and keeps in the goats. (I parked on Marine Drive and walked up to begin the path at the Toll House, but if you are coming down from the other direction, the other end is waymarked to your left.)

The day was sunny but windy, conditions which bring out the butterflies but often keeps them low to the ground or amongst long grass stems. I wasn’t expecting to start seeing the little Silver-studded Blues as easily as I did, but there on a patch of red valerian below the ‘dangerous cliffs’ sign I spotted my first ones. Most were looking rather worn and a bit tatty, but I was happy to see them at all.

160714-Gt Orme 23-West Shore-Silver-studded Blues

First sight of a worn and battered individual

First sight of a worn and battered individual

As I watched I spotted a pair coupled together who were then joined by two others with another fresher-looking male also heading their way. Unlike their cousins, the Common Blues, these smaller butterflies don’t zoom away at speed just as you’re about to press the shutter button, but flutter gently from place to place, tending not to fly any distance away. They seem to bask quite frequently.

The Silver-studded Blue gets its name from the light blue reflective scales found on the underside of most adults and which are quite visible when light reflects off them. 

160714-Gt Orme 96-West Shore-Silver-studded Blues mating

An enlarged view – a fresh female showing silvery scales mating with a rather worn male

The uppersides of males are a glorious blue with a dark border. Females’ uppersides are browner with a row of orange spots; in this sub-species they also have a variable flush of blue that extends over the hindwings and the base of the forewings. Undersides are brown-grey with black spots, a row of orange spots, and small greenish flecks on the outer margin. Males are similar to the Common Blue, which lacks greenish spots.

A less-worn female with orange spots on hindwing borders still visible

A less-worn female with orange spots on hindwing borders still visible

The Silver-studded Blue is a Priority BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) species. Generally they are found in close-knit colonies, most containing less than a thousand adults. Here on the Orme numbers fluctuate but may rise to a thousand or more. Today I met a warden and an assistant on the path that were assessing current numbers – in one spot alone they had counted 130 individuals, so despite the recent inclement weather, they appear to be doing OK.

The number of Graylings I saw also took me by surprise as in other locations I’ve been delighted to come across the occasional one; along this path I encountered a good few patrolling the path. I’m always hesitant to give a number as I have no idea how many times I might have seen the same one as it circumnavigated a territory.

160714-Gt Orme 50a-West Shore-Grayling

Hipparchia semele ssp. Thyone (Thompson, 1944)

H. semele ssp. Thyone flies earlier than is usual with other races of Grayling, being on the wing towards the third week in June, and disappearing by the end of July.

160714-Gt Orme 57a-West Shore-Grayling

I am not practised enough to be able to recognise subtle differences between species & sub-species of butterflies and have no desire to catch any to compare them, so I have taken points from Mr Thompson’s comparisons:

Hipparchia semele ssp. Thyone

♂ Strikingly smaller than any other British race of semele. Coloration is more uniform than in typical semele, with the pale areas more ochreous. Forewing spots are smaller than in other races, with the lower of the two frequently absent. Underside coloration duller and less contrasting than in the type, with the white areas of hindwings tinged with ochre. ♀ Also smaller than other races. Spots are smaller than in normal specimens.

The special butterflies were not alone here. In  a small sheltered quarried out area at the side of the track more red valerian was attracting some larger visitors. I was most thrilled to see a Small Tortoishell, only the second I’ve seen this year and the first to stay put long enough to photograph.

There was a Red Admiral there too, a few Meadow Browns and a single Dark Green Fritillary that was repeatedly chased away by Graylings.

Cinnabar Moth

Cinnabar Moth

Another first sighting for this year was a Cinnabar Moth. I was musing just the other day about why I rarely see the adult moths when the distinctive yellow and black caterpillars are so numerous at this time of year; perhaps they don’t over-winter well? It was tricky to get even this less-than-brilliant image as the poor thing was fighting against the wind trying to stay on the cliff edge.

Jackdaw

Jackdaw

Wildflowers of the day:

Other insects

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things Bright and Beautiful

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July 3rd – Bryn Euryn

Adder’s Field

Frothy sunshine-yellow Lady’s Bedstraw brightens the grass and on this warm sunny day scents the air with the delicate fragrance of fresh-cut hay.

160703-Bryn Euryn (19)-Lady's Bedstraw

160703-Bryn Euryn-Lady's Bedstraw

Lady’s Bedstraw-Galium verum; Welsh-Briwydd felen

Flowering: June to September

Medieval legend has it that the Virgin Mary lay on a bed of Lady’s Bedstraw in the stable of the inn in Bethlehem, as the donkeys had eaten all the other fodder. It is from this legend that the common name for the plant was taken, and also led to the belief that a woman lying on Lady’s Bedstraw would have a safe and easy childbirth.

Lady’s Bedstraw is a plant of dry grassland, dry banks, downs and old established sand-dunes.  On warm sunny days the air surrounding the frothy yellow flowerheads is deliciously fragranced with the scent of lightly perfumed fresh hay. Lady’s bedstraw is a food source for the huge Elephant hawk-moth caterpillar, then is favoured by the adult moths as a rich source of nectar. The migrant Humming-bird Hawk Moths are attracted to it too.

Lady’s Bedstraw was once one of the most useful of the meadow flowers; it was commonly used as a ‘strewing herb’, a natural form of air-freshening and for stuffing mattresses.  In the north of England the yellow flowers were once used to curdle milk, giving rise to several associated names such as cheese rennet and cheese renning. The leaves and stems yield a yellow dye and the roots a red dye; it was said that when cattle feed on it, it reddens their bones.

Lady’s Bedstraw contains the chemical coumarin, used in the drug dicouramol, which will prevent the blood clotting. In herbal medicine it was claimed the herb was a remedy for for urinary diseases, epilepsy and gout.

Keeled garlic, whose flowers attract Common Blue butterflies and the long stand of Hemp Agrimony on the woodland edge are in bud.

There are tiny acorns on the Oaks; stalked ones on the Pedunculate Oaks and tight-to-the-twig ones on the Sessile Oaks.

Summit Cliffs

Up here on the near-summit rocky cliffs I spot a single lovely Grayling. It settles on a warmed rock close by and I manage to catch it before it folds away the orange markings on its upper wings.

Grayling --Ana

Grayling –Hipparchia semele

160703-46-Bryn Euryn-Grayling on my shoeI am fascinated by the butterfly’s cryptic camouflage, its ability to melt into the rocks it settles on to bask. If I take my eyes off it I have to wait until it flits off again to relocate it. Unless it lands on my shoe!

160703-46-Bryn Euryn-Grayling on summit cliffs 6

Eyebright with purple leaves

Eyebright with purple leaves

I was keen to get a good number of shots of this obliging subject, as in this location at least their appearances are not always predictable.This year I’ve had a few sightings, last year none at all. After a few minutes of following it from rock to rock I realised the butterfly had no immediate plans to go far, so I relaxed a little and sat for a while on a patch of grass.

There’s a whole other realm cuched down in these often- dry grassy-rocky areas. In the little patch where I chose to sit Common Milkwort was growing through Wild Thyme in a rocky crevice and nearby the tiny yellow dots of a creeping Hop Trefoil marked its presence, punctuated with taller purple-leaved Eyebright.

Wild thyme, Common milkwort & Hop trefoil

Wild thyme, Common milkwort & Hop trefoil

I spotted a bright yellow-green beetle scurrying through the vegetation, thinking this must appear to him to be a veritable jungle. I had wondered what Sulphur beetles got up to when not gorging on hogweed.

Sulphur beetle scurrying through short grass

Sulphur beetle scurrying through the jungle of short grass and thatch

Downland slope

There were large mushroom-like fungi growing amongst the grass here. Many were clearly being eaten by something – voles, mice? Maybe even slugs or snails.

160703-55-Bryn Euryn-Mushroom, lady's bedstraw, salad burnet going to seed

Mushroom-type fungus, partly eaten. Amongst Lady’s Bedstraw & Salad Burnet seedheads

Then, further down the slope, the very thing I had been crossing my fingers hoping to see- a flash of orange that was a Dark Green Fritillary taking off vertically from a Common Orchid.

160703-108-Bryn Euryn-46-Dk Green Fritillary leaving Common Orchid

160703-55-Bryn Euryn-Dk Green Fritillary underside

Dark Green Fritillary-Argynnis aglaja

There is a small colony of these lovely fritillaries here; the most I’ve ever seen at the same time in a season was 10-12. That year the Knapweed and Scabious they prefer to nectar on, were more fully in flower than now . Thus far I have seen only two at the same time. Today there was just the one. I hope there are a few more to come. The butterfly returned to nectar on one of a few Knapweed flowers fully opened. It shared the space with a chunky insect I am trying to find the identity of.

160703-Bryn Euryn-Dk Green Fritillary & fly on knapweed 1

160703-Bryn Euryn-Knapweed with sicus ferrugineus

A thick-headed fly-Sicus ferrugineus

The fritillaries are large, fast flying and tricky to approach. Sensibly they have also based themselves within a particularly brambly, steep and uneven part of the hill that restricts access. That means grabbing images as and when you can – but I like that, it keeps them ‘real’, so you see the butterfly as I did – mostly through a grass curtain.

160703-Bryn Euryn-Dk Green Fritillary & fly on knapweed 3

160703-46-Bryn Euryn-Dk Green Fritillary 1

160703-46-Bryn Euryn-Dk Green Fritillary on Knapweed 1

From the Fritillary patch to the bramble patch and sightings of Small Heath, a couple of Ringlets, a Large Skipper, Speckled Woods and hoverflies.

And to finish with a flourish, one of my favourite beetles, Strangalia maculata.

Strangalia maculata

Strangalia maculata