Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Palmate Newt 28th June 2011

Today I found a young Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus) in my Garden. This is the first time I have ever found a newt in my garden. I get lots of Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) which unfortunately the cats like playing with, but never a newt before. I know there are a few ponds nearby so they must be coming from these. I would like a pond but living in rented accommodation means that I'm not able to add one.

Lissotriton helveticus
I was able to entice this little newt into my garden by putting some cover down for it in a damp shady patch under a large tree. This cover came in the form of an old rubber bin lid which had seen better days.

Old rubber bin lid which has seen better days
It has been said that you cannot separate out immature smooth newt from immature palmate newt, but the following article on iSpot shows that you should be able to with relative ease: ispot.org.uk

The more observant of you might note the vast swathes of chickweed that I have let grow in this part of the garden. A common frog was hiding from the cats in this extensive green cover (which even the most observant of individual wouldn't be able to see in the photo).

I have found that if you can't afford to buy lots of plants for the garden then you might as well let the weeds grow a bit. Don't get me wrong I do carry out some weeding, but a monoculture of chickweed is better than barren soil for wildlife, even if it looks less tidy to some. I only let the chickweed take over in this shady patch, where it goes a little more unnoticed. I also have some wild Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenuim) growing in the garden, and these make a lovely substitution for bought plants.

When the weather has been dry like it was last spring, areas of bare soil in the garden got baked dry, but where there was extensive vegetative cover there was plenty of moisture left in the soil, and the insects were taking full advantage of this. Now that we are into summer and we have had some rainfall, areas like this are proving very useful refuges for amphibians too as the plants help retain the moisture from that rainfall. It only takes a few hours of sunlight in the middle of summer to dry out bare soil, even after a heavy shower or two.

I have been busy with other things lately (namely work and resting from work), but I did get over to Highgate Common again on Tuesday to help with the work party there. We cleared another large section of Bracken from the damp heathland in the north of the reserve. While waiting for all the other volunteers to arrive in the warden office car park we spotting a couple of interesting insects. There was a Broad-barred White moth (Hecatera bicolorata) on the brickwork of the warden's office, and also an Ichneumon wasp landed on the warden's pick-up truck. I believe that the wasp was Ichneumon sarcitorius but I haven't had that verified by an expert yet. I didn't have my camera with me at the time but I managed to make do with my phone. Luckily they both stuck around long enough so that I could play with the settings on the phone's camera.

Ichneumon sarcitorius?
Ichneumon sarcitorius?
Hecatera bicolorata
I think that they didn't turn out too badly in the end to say they were taken on a camera phone. The reason I think the wasp is Ichneumon sarcitorius is because the leg, antennae and thorax markings are the same as on  the picture here: natureconservationimaging.com

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Highgate Common 20th June 2011 part 2

Part 2

I continued to scan the bee beaches for signs of activity and managed to find a Sand Digger Wasp going in and out of a hole. I watched it for a while and realised that it was actually in the process of excavating its nesting hole. Each time it came out of the hole it would have a lot of sand in its mandibles. It would then fly off  a short distance to drop the sand. I even heard it drop a very small stone on the one drop off flight.

Ammophila sp.
Ammophila sp.
There were also some Nomada Sp. of Cuckoo Bee scouting around for other bee's nests to lay their eggs in (hence the name).

Nomada Sp.
Nomada Sp.
I didn't see much more activity so rather than looking at potential nest sites I switched to looking at nectar/pollen sources. The brambles were in flower and were a hive of activity. I couldn't keep up with the amount of bees and wasps coming and going.

I saw a Cuckoo bumblebee which was either Gypsy Cuckoo Bee (Bombus bohemicus) or Southern Cuckoo Bee (Bombus vestalis). Once again, as the name suggests these bees lay their eggs in the nests of other species. Vestalis lays its eggs in terrestris nests, whereas bohemicus takes over the nests of locurum. I think this was probably vestalis as I also took a photo of Bombus terrestris (second photo, also known as Buff-tailed Bumblebee). I don't know if Bombus locurum (White-tailed) occurs on Highgate or not though so I still can't rule out bohemicus. The two species are very similar - see the BWARS site for bohemicus and vestalis.

Bombus bohemicus/vestalis
Bombus terrestris
 I have been told that the smaller insect in the photo below could be a Common Spiny Digger Wasp Oxybelus uniglumis.

Bombus terrestris and Oxybelus uniglumis?
Apparently uniglumis is one of the fastest wasps around. See: www.natureconservationimaging.com

As I have probably mentioned before, bees and wasps are a speciality of Highgate with up to 139 species of aculeate hymenoptera occurring on the site. Aculeate roughly translates to  "with a sting" and so only covers those hymenoptera that posses a sting. As far as I can make out, the classification of hymenoptera is currently under review so this grouping may no longer be considered correct.

It has been well publicised that Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) have been undergoing a rapid decline in numbers recently. I did manage to see some over Highgate though, so at least some hives are still going. Not much is known about their decline, but some attribute it to new types of pesticides called neo-nicotinoids. These have already been banned in many countries as a result.

Apis mellifera
I saw another species of mining bee that I haven't seen before; it has been suggested that it could be Andrena (Simandrena) dorsata. This bee is quite obviously different to the grey and black mining bees that also occur on the site.

Andrena (Simandrena) dorsata?
Andrena (Simandrena) dorsata?
The following are not the best of photos, but they are my only photographic record of a Cerceris sp. of  digger wasp on Highgate so far, probably Cerceris rybyensis. These prey on mining bees like the one above. See: www.natureconservationimaging.com for more information (a fantastic website by the way).

Cerceris rybyensis?
Cerceris rybyensis?
Cerceris rybyensis?
I also managed to grab a photo of a type of carder bee (Bombus (Thoracobombus)) and one of my favourite bees - a Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus (Melanobombus) lapidarius).

Bombus (Melanobombus) lapidarius
Bombus (Thoracobombus)
Moving back to butterflies but with a bee type twist. Whilst taking photos of Large Skipper butterflies (Ochlodes sylvanus) I also managed to get a possible crabronid wasp in the same photo. Another two for one in the same day :)

Ochlodes sylvanus and possible crabronidae
Ochlodes sylvanus
Ochlodes sylvanus
The male Large Skipper can be told from the female by the black line in the middle of each forewing (first photo).

I also managed to take a photo of a rather odd looking fly, which was a type of Robber fly (Asilidae).


Monday, 20 June 2011

Highgate Common 20th June 2011 part 1

I'm going to be splitting this trip into two sections as it is quite long. Here is part 1, enjoy!

I went for another walk over Highgate Common this morning in search of the Longhorn Beetle (Agapanthea villosoviridescens) we found last week. However, trying to find one bug in a large area didn't turn out so well and I failed to re-find it. I decided instead to just go on a long walk across the Common and photograph whatever I came across instead.

I did find some butterflies in the same area. There was a Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus), Small Heath  (Coenonympha pamphilus) and some Ringlets (Aphantopus hyperantus) flying around.

Polyommatus icarus
Polyommatus icarus
Coenonympha pamphilus
Aphantopus hyperantus
There was also a species of Grasshopper present that I managed to photograph, but I haven't managed to ID it yet and a female Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum).

Enallagma cyathigerum
Unknown Grasshopper 

I also took the opportunity to photograph the Tree Pipits (Anthus trivialus) and Whitethroats (Sylvia communis) that we saw last week.

Anthus trivialus
Sylvia communis
I then went-a-wondering towards one of the small ponds on Highgate. However, just as I got there a dog decided to take a bath. The owner of the dog was also quite happy to let it drink the stagnant water, no wonder the dog started to have a coughing fit!

Despite this disturbance I did manage to get a photo of an Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella). There was some kind of large blue dragonfly patrolling the pond but it never landed for me to get a photo, thus I'm not sure of the species.

Coenagrion puella

The White Water-lilies (Nymphaea alba) were out in flower and I managed to grab a quick photo before said dog arrived on the seen.

Nymphaea alba
After the quick trip to the pond I decided to hunt down some bees again by visiting the "bee beaches" and natural bare soil to the north and west.

On visiting one of the bee beaches I was very pleased to see my first Bloody-nosed Beetles (Timarcha tenebricosa). I thought at first that I was seeing an oil beetle, but the realised on closer inspection that it I had caught two Bloody-nosed Beetles mating. Two for the price of one :)

Timarcha tenebricosa

Timarcha tenebricosa

I was hoping to see a black mining bee (andrena nigrospina) but it looks like I'll have to put in some more leg work on that one. I'm told it's still early in the year for them so hopefully further visits might be more fruitful.

Look out for part 2...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Garden 13th June 2011

I haven't been up to much recently as the weather hasn't been the best on my days off. I did go to Highgate Common again today to do some more volunteer work, but bracken clearing doesn't really mix that well with photography. We did see a longhorn beetle (Agapanthia villosoviridescens) which was a nice find, there was also a family of Common Whitethroats flitting around the heather, some Tree Pipits were doing their parachuting display flight and we saw a sand digger wasp.

I managed to get out in the garden yesterday and take a few photos. The light wasn't good but I did capture some resonable images of two species - Arge pagana a Rose sawfly and Bombus hypnorum, the Tree bumblebee.

The Tree bumblebee is a newcomer to these shores, having arrived from off the Continent in 2001.  It has since quickly spread north. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is interesting in mapping its progress across the UK, so if you see it you can report it to them here: http://www.bumblebeeconservation.org.uk/tree_bee.htm

It is easy to identify as it is the only species of bumblebee in the UK with a brown/ginger thorax, black abdomen and white tail. However, the individual I found was rather dark. 


Friday, 10 June 2011

Highgate Common 4th June 2011

Rebecca and I went for a trip over Highgate Common last weekend to take some photos of the insects there.

We didn't see as many insects as we would have liked as the weather took a turn for the worse after such a promising start. When we got up at about 11am (we were having a lazy day) it was hot and sunny, but when we were ready to go out it had clouded over and the wind had picked up. By the time we had finished our walk it was starting to rain.

The best location we found was a bare patch of ground on a footpath, which had obviously been kept clear of vegetation by the many visitors to the reserve over the last weeks, months and years. Despite this disturbance there were many holes in the ground which bees and wasps had dug to make their nests. Here we saw Grey Mining Bees and another bee of the genus Sphecodes.

I think what also made this area ideal for bees was that it was on a warm SSW facing slope. Many mining bees seem to really like warm sunny areas, maybe because it helps to keep the soil dry?
The wardens at Highgate have also created some "Bee Beaches" but they didn't seem to be a hive of activity when we visited. It could be because plants had started to grow in what should have been bare ground or it could simply be that we were unlucky not to see anything buzzing around at the time.

In and around the same area of the Common we also found a Garden Chafer climbing up some grass. I also managed to get it to climb up my hand so I could get a closer look.

A Buff-tailed Bumble Bee landed on the footpath looking a little worse for wear. Despite the picture I don't think they like making there nests in bare, sandy ground like the Grey Mining Bee.

A little way further on our walk and we spotted a day flying moth. This was a Six-spot Burnet moth. These closely resemble Cinnabar moths but as the name suggests they are more spotty. It decided it liked the look of my jeans so I had to get Rebecca to take the photo.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Thanks for reading, John.