Sunday, 26 June 2016

Always a good day when you learn something new about nature

The Safari was a bit disappointed to find so little in the moth trap this morning after recent double whammy NFGs, just 10 individuals, almost half of those were Heart & Darts, of only six species. Riband Wave was the only one new for the year.
Mid-afternoon we were able to meet up with BD to have a look for White Letter Hairstreak butterflies on Patch 1, they'd been reported from a reserve in the nest town so while it was 'early' for them it was worth a look. We heard two Chiffchaffs in the main area of the park and had a look at the bottom lake but other than lots of litter, Duckweed and lots of Poecilobothrus nobilitatus flies dancing there was nothing there. At the butterfly zone there were several Large Skippers and a few Meadow Browns, the first we've seen this year, and a couple of very fresh smart looking Speckled Woods. The butterflies were mostly inactive hiding away as the sunshine turned minute by minute to more cloudy conditions.
With no sign of the White Letter Hairstreaks and the top of their favourite tree being shaken round quite madly by the increasing wind we decided to have a look at what else was on offer then wander down to the rough field.
BD pointed out something we've never heard of before, Sycamore Leaf Aphids spread themselves remarkably evenly across the underside of the leaf, usually we think of aphids as all bunched together at the tip of a plant.
Flitting around the grass nearby and generally refusing to stay still was this colourful Sawfly, Tenthredo sp?
We also found a bee that had made a grave mistake!
Not much nectar there mate!
It had probably got caught out by the sudden much cooler, cloudier and windier weather. 
Down at the far end of tthe field BD showed us something else we've not seen bef ore or certainly not noticed if we have seen it before. After looking at a few Yellow Meadow Ants' nests, one of which was huge, maybe about 3 feet (1m) across, he found some Ragwort plants being sucked by aphids white Black Ants in attendance milking them for their honeydew. A closer look revealed the ants had build their nest around the base of the plant, all the better to defend their 'herd'.
The whole base of the plant is completely encrusted with the ants nest
He also found us the first of this year's Grasshoppers and we showed him the local plant specialty Ploughman's Spikenard although it'll be another week before it comes into flower. As in previous years it was sad and upsetting to see wheelbarrow loads of garden rubbish tipped here, as usual mostly all over the big patch of Birds-foot Trefoil smothering most of it so not so many Common Blue butterflies this year - Yet another reason why basic education about the natural history, ecological relationships and what can be found in your local area is so vital.
With no butterflies on the wing now we walked back through the park to the car as a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew past us, the first sighting we've had here since their nesting tree was felled. It flew across the field and landed in the trees at the edge of the park where a Sparrowhawk immediately attacked it and it was lucky to escape - an amazing sequence of events to witness. Going through the wooded edge of the field BD spotted some weird looking fungi growing out of an old felled tree stump.

Later identified by the world famous and font of all knowledge woodland and beyond AB @HesistantWeasel - well if he isn't world famous he should be - as emerging Dead Mens Fingers. The Council's budget cuts have made it necessary to do much less grass cutting and the lower area of the park is no longer a cutting priority and has been left - it looks great, lots of different colours and textures of grass flowing like waves in the gentle breeze under the trees. There were even some kids enjoying playing in it!
Mostly Yorkshire Fog
Just needs a more flowers to make it that little bit more exciting, but after decades of being scalping twice a week through the summer there's probably precious few taller species left in the turf.

From Patch 1 we drove a couple of minutes up the road to a site we've only visited a couple of times before. It has - or at least had - Common Lizards but the area they were last seen in is now perhaps too well vegetated, if they are still there hopefully they'll have been able to move somewhere more suitable. Seeing the Common Lizards would have brilliant but they weren't what we were hoping for, that was something altogether rarer and harder to find and probably hasn't been at this site for tens of the best part of a hundred years - well you can dream! What we were after was a Grass Snake! Earlier in the week PT had told us one had been seen at a pond near here and the lad that found it had somehow tried to drown it??? That pond is very isolated so was the ID good, where had it come from, how many are there, are they anywhere else nearby - questions questions. Apparently the ID was correct but the other questions still stand...was it a pet someone had released - where do you get and how could you keep a pet Grass Snake, maybe they didn't like the smell? Anyway we didn't find it, the weather was against us as it stayed cold and cloudy and the sun didn't come out to encourage any that might be there to bask. The pond had a family of Coots and a family of Moorhens as well as a sinister looking Heron - not good news for any nearby Grass Snakes! It was the longest of long shots and of course we were unsuccessful, but it's a site that warrants closer and more regular inspection. 
In the grassy area we found a Meadow Brown that was far more accommodating than those at Patch 1.
And a Nursery Web Spider 
By the pond as we walked through the bankside vegetation we disturbed many Blue Tailed Damselflies and some bright blue ones all of which that stayed still long enough to ID were Azure Damselflies.
From there we went the couple of hundred yards to where the Grass Snake was seen and had a quick look round but the most exciting thing to be seen in the pond was a bicycle wheel.
All good things come to an end as did our time and we turned for Base Camp after a very enjoyable coupla-three hours out on safari not seeing what we hoped we'd see but seeing other wondrous stuff instead.
Where to next? We'll be out n about on safari somewhere tomorrow - but where, that the $64,000 question and probably weather dependent.
In the meantime let us know who's not slithering around in your outback.

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