Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Red-tailed cuckoo bumblebee

It's very good for bumblebees up the Welcombe Hills at the moment. That's despite the rain. In the periods between the cloudbursts the bumblebees, ever industrious, return to the thistles and brambles. Mostly these creatures are fairly quiet but now and again loud buzzing  announces the arrival of a beastie. On this particular occasion the beastie was a Red-tailed cuckoo bumblebee and a whopper it was too. When it settled on Woolly Thistle flowers it showed its beauty as well as its size. As you can see from the pictures I took the shiny black body was topped by a bright red tail.
Cuckoo bumblebees are not 'true' bumblebees. They tend to mimic the colours of the true bumblebees who's nests they lay their eggs in but they don't collect pollen so have hairy back legs and they tend to have opaque wings. There are just 6 species of Cuckoo Bumblebee seen in this country.

True bumblebees have Queens and Workers who do collect pollen and so have bare patches on their hind legs called 'pollen baskets'. The male of the bumblebee though does not collect pollen but has shorter hairs on these legs than the Cuckoo bumblebee.
All that makes bumblebee identification difficult in the field.

That's why I started taking pictures of bees.
If you're interested in bumblebee identification then go to Bumblebee Conservation where there is an excellent guide including a short video to help.

Monday, 27 July 2015

What we could have seen yesterday if the sun had shone

It was sunny again today so I went out with the dogs with no little anticipation of seeing all the butterflies and bees we missed on yesterday's sodden nature walk. Well, this is what we could have seen. There's a little bit of information for each photograph but I'll let the images speak for themselves. I'm thinking of doing another walk next Sunday, 2nd August and if the sun shines there's a good chance of seeing all these and perhaps more. Post a message up and we'll see if there's much interest.

The Fritillary didn't disappoint. It's the same butterfly that I first spotted the other day - the chunk missing from the wing tells me that. This pic shows the length of the butterfly tongue.

The Comma. This image helps explain why it's called the Comma - on the underside of the wing close to the body on the right as we look at it is a white mark - just like the punctuation mark.

(Left and right) the Meadow Brown. Plenty of these still about. It's probably the most common butterfly .

(Left) the Green-veined White. Plenty of the Whites about. Often seen dancing in two and threes.

(Below) Large White. This one's caterpillars eat your cabbages...


The Gatekeeper.

My Collins Gem guide to insects says this is a Flesh Fly. Look at the size of those feet!

I have to do some work - the day job. That means no posting of the bumblebee pics in this blog. Maybe later.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Exciting spot of a Fritillary butterfly up the Welcombe Hills

Here's a good spot this morning . It looks like a Silver-Washed Fritillary and it was flying around the area near the Reservoir up the Welcombe Hills. I'd just been wondering whether or not to take a photograph of a Comma butterfly when I noticed this beauty glide ahead. At first I thought it was another Comma but its gliding made me think otherwise.  This one settled some 12 feet away and the slightly damaged rear wing at the top of the picture did from that distance make me think it was a Comma. Unfortunately it soon glided away and out of sight.
To positively identify the type of Fritillary you really need to see the underside but it wasn't obliging today. It wasn't until I got home and was able to look at the images on my computer that the identity could be confirmed.

I've posted some video of Fritillaries in Snitterfield Bushes where they are establish and the woodland is managed to make them successful. This is the first one I've seen here though. 

A good spot!

Friday, 17 July 2015

And here's a Gatekeeper from above and a Comma both seen today up the Welcombe Hills

Well, the Gatekeepers are out in force so it was easy to get a snap of the upper side of this neat little butterfly. It's thought the name 'Gatekeeper' comes from the many sightings near gates. Makes sense I suppose as you'll find it in the hedgerows on bramble.

The Comma is a remarkable butterfly. It overwinters attached to a twig and resembles a dead leaf. 

It appears to be a good year for our common butterflies so far. The Common Blue though seems to be slow to recover from recent wet springs. 
If you are thinking of joining me on the nature walk next weekend then butterflies and bumble bees will be on the agenda. By then the Woolley Thistles will be in flower. They are magnets for insects.
Also the plan is to find owl pellets and pull them apart to find what the owls ate and we'll check out the dead mens' toenails in the woods…. I can't wait.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Whites and the Gatekeepers are flying up the Welcombe Hills right now

The Small and Large White butterflies are the only butterflies in this country with official 'pest' status. So, not all butterflies are equal then. The problem with them is the damage their caterpillars do to our brassicas - hence the common name of Cabbage White.

The Green-veined White feeds on Hedge Garlic so isn't a pest. It's distinguished by the highlighted veins on the underside.

The Gatekeeper butterfly seems to be about. The underside is not dissimilar to some of the other Browns but the two white dots in the black spot and the white flecks are a giveaway. I'm confident of photographing the upper side soon and you will see what an attractive little butterfly it is.

Monday, 6 July 2015

I saw thistles decorated with Burnet moths and Skipper butterflies

A little while ago I pondered on the question, 'what is the point of stinging nettles?'. Well, they do support a lot of insect life including the Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies who lay their eggs on them. That alone in my mind justifies the nettle's existence. 

So, what of the thistle? Surely this weed has no purpose other than to spoil the meadow and pasture, graze the child's bare legs and stop us from plonking our bums on the grass. Well, if you wander in the Welcombe Hills check out the thistles where they stand head high, their flowers like purple shaving brushes.  My little friend the Small Skipper loves these as does our only day time moth the Burnet.

 The Woolley Thistles are nearly ready to flower. They should be flowering in time for the nature walk we have planned. I hope so.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

I saw a Buff-tailed bumblebee, a Comma butterfly and I had a think about brambles

Here's a Buff-tailed bumblebee feasting on one of the few early brambles flowers remaining in Clopton Field. If you go to Bumblebee Conservation's website the description of this bumble includes the tell-tale 'subtle buff line' above the tail which you can just see.

I was pleased to see a Comma butterfly today. Evolution has a created a fantastic insect that survives the winter because with wings folded it resembles a leaf. I caught this one with the sun lighting it's wings so the leaf effect isn't so apparent. However, you can se that the shape of the wings could mislead a predator.

Now, I've been using the terms 'bramble' and 'blackberry' fairly randomly. But I have noticed that the various forms differ in colour of flower (pink to white), size and shape of flower, and degrees of thorniness. They also flower at different times. A good time to look these up I reckon. I went to trusty W Keble Martin, The concise British flora in colour. There he simply states, 'there are nearly 400 species of Robus in this country. Say no more.

I saw Long-tailed Tits up the Welcombe Hills

Long-tailed Tits are common enough in gardens and up the Welcombe Hils. Like other members of the tit family they are busy little birds and seldom pause in their search for food as they work the hedgerows in parties. Their characteristic 'si-si-si'  is sometimes the only clue to their presence save for a fleeting glimpse of tail as they pass overhead between the trees.

I was lucky to be below a hawthorn tree in the Clopton Field next to the orchard when a flock of these tiny birds passed by singly and in groups. I took dozens of photos but only one or two caught it right as it kept moving this way and that.

If you are lucky to have these visit your garden feeders then you will have seen the black, white and pink plumage of the round body and long tail. You nay not have seen the pink rim of its eyes and the tiny beak in an otherwise featureless head.