Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Isn't it typical

The nicest day for a week, a Greenish Warbler at Whitley Bay and a Bonaparte's Gull at Whitburn but I have to go to work for an all day meeting! 
A quick check before work showed an increase to 76 Greenfinch in the stubble field and 2 species within 30 metres of the house, neither which have actually been in the garden yet but both must soon get on my garden list - they were a Grey Squirrel on the farmhouse wall again and a Speckled Wood on the path nearby both early morning.
Last night I decided to leave putting the trap out until tonight but I still saw one moth this morning - a Setaceous Hebrew Character which was on the front windowsill.

Setaceous Hebrew Character on my windowsill

Why the name Setaceous Hebrew Character you may ask? - well maybe not but I'll ask on your behalf. Apparently setaceous means bristly and refers to the bristly ridge behind the head. The hebrew character refers to the black mark on the wing which resembles the Hebrew 12th character of the alphabet, 'Lamed'  - so there you go. The Victorians knew how to give species proper names.

Monday, 30 August 2010

A nice Kite day

The wind has dropped but its cold and overcast, surprising its not raining considering its a Bank holiday.  A short walk through the woods, doing a circular loop  over the fell was very quiet. For a change I dropped down and over the overgrown bridge near Brass Castle and through the conifers.

Bridge over the South Burn

There was quite a scent from the Honeysuckle all along the path with most plants still with flowers and a good berry crop.

Honeysuckle flowers and berries

Many of them attracted Red-tailed and Carder Bumble Bees and several species of hoverfly including Eristalis horticola. 

The Hoverfly Eristalis horticola

A good flock of 60 Greenfinch were in the stubble field but were very flighty, presumably this flock has already been found by the local Sparrowhawks. I saw one of the latter over the fell a little later but that one was content to be gently soaring off at height to Sacriston. Single Blackcap and Chiffchaff were also in the hedge, both feeding on the numerous flies along it, despite the lack of sun. The rather cool conditions meant the only butterfly I saw was a single Green-veined White that was perched up on a Creeping Thistle and presumably in a stupor because of the temperature. It certainly wasn't feeding
Green-veined White

35 Linnet were counted on the telegraph wires and a few Meadow Pipit were flushed out of the Heather. Whilst scanning the skies for any movement of birds, I saw the Sparrowhawk and a little later a much larger bird of prey over the small plantations near Daisy Hill. It turned out to be a Red Kite, presumably one of Gateshead's birds. It was an adult bird (or sub-adult) but I couldn't see any wing-tags and the first I've had over the Fell for a couple of years.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

More wind, lots of it

A Strong wind, from the north together with heavy rain showers did nothing do tempt me outdoors but after a couple of hours of feeling guilty I bravely left the house. Wasn't out  long of course before one of the heaviest showers of the day sent me scurrying back. I got as far as the entrance to the woods via the hedgerow at the top field but most things had better sense and remained hidden.  A young Rabbit running out from under the hedge got my attention more because instead of running away from me actually made a bee-line for me. The reason became obvious as a Weasel, a male by the size of it,  came charging after it. A quick right turn, back into the hedge by both of them, neither to be seen again and that was it. A Wood Pigeon was seen flying a little further on, carrying twigs up into one of the oak trees. This species often has  three broods a year so it's not too late to start nesting, in fact I've seen young in the nest in mid-winter. A couple of butterflies, single Green-veined White and Speckled Wood, trying to soak that up the little bit of sunshine were the only other things I managed to see before I gave up for the day.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

High winds, low Counts

Put the moth trap out as usual on a Friday night and the result this morning was the lowest count for many weeks with only 42 moths of 16 species. Not surprising as the temperature had dropped to a chilly 7 degrees C. and the wind was quite blustery, so much so that I checked the trap in the shelter of the Greenhouse. 4 Gold Spots was a good count considering the low numbers and there was also a migrant Silver Y. Even though there is a strong North-westerly wind, things are on the move for as well as the Silver Y, there was a Red Admiral with a few Peacocks on the Buddlesjas. Also  I counted 12 Meadow Pipits fly over in half an hour. There was not one Swallow, House Martin or Swift over the house this morning, the first time there hasn't been any, probably since early April,  apart from during very heavy rain. Autumn's here alright.

Gold Spot - 1 of 4 last night
Silver Y - A close relative but a migrant

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Reasons not to cut the lawn No.26

I hate cutting the lawn, in fact I dislike lawns full stop. However being a good resident I always cut it before I get wrong off my dear wife or the neighbours.  It was only 8 days ago since I last cut it, it wasn't bad but as soon as I started I knew I shouldn't. The thing was lifting with insects, and I ended up going so slow I think people were beginning to think I was sporting an injury. Its only a small lawn 10 x 4 metres which I normally take no more than 5 minutes to cut with the rotary. Today, with me stopping to get my camera and then taking the odd snapshot it was more like 40 minutes.  There were spiders, especially Harvestmen, running for cover  everywhere. Dozens of Grass-moths were flitting about, every one I managed to identify being Agriphila tristella which is a very common species. Normally said to be nocturnal, I find this moth easy to flush from tall vegetation and short vegetation in my lawn's case,   during the day in the summer months. 

Agriphila tristella

What was more surprising was the number of grasshoppers, with about 20 of them jumping out of the way, many leaping vertically and landing on the walls of the house.  They all turned out to be Field Grasshoppers (Chorthippus brunneus), in various states of maturity.

Field Grasshoppers clinging to the walls of the house
after leaping to safety from the lawn

Now grasshoppers are not the easiest to identify and the Field Grasshopper is quite similar to its relative the Meadow Grasshopper  but can be identified by the shape of the plate behind the back of head and the hairiness of the underparts. And the cruncher, Field grasshoppers prefer shorter grass than Meadow Grasshoppers - see I knew I didn't need to cut the lawn.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Trying for waders again

With quite a few waders around in the county at the moment I thought if any are going to turn up at the Tribley farm ponds then its going to be now, though I must be honest I think it past it's best for these now. Never the less, off I set early morning in what was the warmest for a good few days. Optimism  improved at the hedgerow to the north of the woods held several butterflies including 2 Speckled Wood and several Walls and a fine Lesser Whitethroat popped out and performed very well until I reached for my camera when off it flew.

It was obvious not all the Swallows moved though yesterday as I counted 33 on the telegraph wires in the village as I passed through.

33 Swallow were still on the wires

I reached the farm ponds and scanned the edges but knew I was going to be out of luck with anything new. I did count 27 Curlew, 4 Common Snipe, 7 Teal, 2 Grey Heron and a pair of Reed Bunting but there were no passage waders.

One of the Common Snipe leaving the pond

The stubble field which had been Oilseed Rape is now a mass of Field Pansy and a robust specimen of Bugloss (Anchusa arvensis) which is now quite a rare arable plant.

Bugloss - now a rare arable weed

 It was too early in the day for Dragonflies but did find a single resting Common Darter.

Common Darter

I came back through the South Burn Woods and waited a while by the Brass Castle Pond as there were a few birds flitting around. These turned out to be a family party of Chaffinch and 2-3 Chiffchaff, all juveniles but one still managing to do a bit of song. This warbler is named after it call which is not quite right and the Germans have done better as they call it the 'Zilpzalp' which is much closer. As I watched them flit around, the bird of the day appeared. A Spotted Flycatcher, an adult by the looks of it, started to do as it's name suggests, catch flies. It did a few sorties over the Phragmities before deciding to fly off.  Just around the corner there were some more Speckled Woods, sunning themselves in the autumn sun.

Speckled Wood 

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Blowing in the wind

After all the rain yesterday,  the sun got out at times today but it was very blustery.  There was a noticeable, if light,  passage of Swallows flying south and 2 single Common Swifts also passed through. Around 40 House Martins, the most over the house for very many weeks seemed to be content to stay and feed and noticeably they all appeared to be juveniles. I could not see one adult amongst them.
In the garden the buddlejas held a good collection of butterflies with Small, Large and Green-veined White, Peacock, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell plus 2 Silver Y moths, They were doing an amazing job hanging onto the flowers in the wind making it impossible to photograph them.

Managed to get round to identifying the hoverfly in the fridge from the other day. It is Platycheirus clypeatus, a common species,  but most abundantly in damp grassland including pond, stream and ditch margins. They also visit a wide range of flowers including sedges and grasses

Monday, 23 August 2010

Various Sallows

A nice Willow Tit in the garden this morning, this is the third time this month and I presume its the same bird as I have never had one actually in the garden before these records.

The moth trap had 82 individuals of 42 species which wasn't too bad considering the temperature dropped overnight. Included in the count were three Sallow, all quite different from each other in this very variable autumn species.

3 very different moths but the same species - The Sallow

Saturday, 21 August 2010

They like their lilies

Had the moth trap out overnight and caught 148 moths of 35 species including 3 new for the year. These were Dusky Thorn, Lempke's Gold Spot and Brown-spot Pinion, the latter was my earliest ever, usually first appearing the last few days of the month or the first week in September. There were four nice 'pair' amongst the catch with Swallow Prominent & Lesser Swallow Prominent, Gold Spot & Lempke's Gold Spot and the micros moths Blastobasis adustella & lacticolella and Agriphila straminella & tristella.

Dusky Thorn

Brown-spot Pinion

The Oriental Lilies Lillium orientalis in the garden are now attracting dozens of hoverflies with six species noted on them this morning, the currently ubiquitous Episyrphus balteatus, Syrphus ribesii, Eupeodes luniger, Melangyna umbellatarum, the furry bee mimic Eristalis intricaryus and a small as yet unidentified species which I have managed to catch. I've popped the latter in the fridge for the time being and when I get a change will examine it properly under the microscope.

Last night, a little after midnight I was checking the trap and the lilies were then playing host to a good number of  moths, more than even the buddlejas so I think I'll be planting more next year.  I could hear three, perhaps four, Tawny Owls hooting,  a Red Fox and 2 Oyster-catchers flew over.

Friday, 20 August 2010

In between the showers

More wind and rain so just a little toddle over the fell in between the showers. The cock Stonechat still about and nice views of a Green Woodpecker bounding over Daisy Hill. 2 family parties of Mistle Thrush were spread along the  telegraph wires and I did manage to see the Dipper on the South Burn again with a family party of Willow Tit close by. Quick snatches  of both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff song,  show that there are still some of the warblers around and they haven't all left yet unlike the Common Swifts.
A few Small and Green-veined White plus 2 Peacocks on the garden Buddlejas at home were joined by a very fresh looking Comma. The Hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus, sometimes called the marmalade hoverfly is increasing steadily in the garden with probably well over 20 present, most on the late-flowering Lilies. As well as the residents ones, they are also migratory, and at this time can form dense swarms, which may cause panic among people for its resemblance to wasps.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Everything's purple and rosy

The fell is at it's best at the moment with the purple of the Heather and Purple Moor-grass inter-mingled with spots of yellow, blue and white of other wild flowers.

Heather, Common Toadflax and Harebells

Though early morning a crowd of 20 noisy people could be heard some distance away. I thought they may be doing some conservation task or other but on closer inspection they were all carrying plastic containers already brimming with Blackberries. It looks like its going to be a good year for berries in general with the Rowan trees laden with red fruits and the Bilberries have got a good crop too. Even the couple of wild(-ish) Plum trees in the woods are now full of purple fruits that the wasps have yet to find.

2 separate Green Woodpeckers were calling and a  male Stonechat chacked just by the far car park. There was  no sign of his mate but like my Dunnocks I know them having three broods in a year so she may be brooding. Though it had been light for several hours, a Tawny Owl hooted on a couple of occasions and reminded me to try again to get a photo of the one that's been roosting in the wood. I was as quiet as I could be but there was no sign or it or of any small birds mobbing it. About 50 metres away a got a  very brief view of an owl I had obviously flushed ahead of me. But even with this briefest of views it did not seem right for Tawny Owl, though difficult to say why I am sure it was a Long-Eared Owl.

Usually I put the moth trap out every other night to give the ones I catch a chance to feed in case I catch them again. But yesterday I took my moths with me and released them in a small wood by the fell so I could trap again last night. 89 moths of 24 species with a Barred Chestnut my first of the year and only my 4th ever for the garden. 

Barred Chestnut - 4th for the garden

The Butterbur moth is quite a local species and as its name suggests it's food-plant is Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) and it rarely leaves that habitat. It is quite similar but larger and lacks the pinkish hues of its close and common relative the Rosy Rustic. The only one I have ever had was caught using a torch and net in a huge patch of it's food-plant, here in Chester-le-Street,  despite before and after placing an actinic trap in the same patch. Quite jealous of Stuart's Butterbur he caught in his Northumberland garden the other day as I reckon there's no chance of one appearing in my garden trap as the closest Petasites is well over a mile away. However the excitement is still there when next to a Rosy Rustic on the egg box in the trap is a much larger Rosy Rustic look alike.  I hadn't appreciated the size range of this species with 28-45mm, 34-50mm and 30-46mm  all being given as wingspans in the literature.

Two Rosy Rustics showing their variability in size.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Looking for waders

Put the trap out last night but the moth numbers were a bit down with 89 moths of 25 species and nothing even new for the year.

Its been several years since I visited Tribley farm ponds which are the other side of the Cong Burn. I remember they used to be quite good for waders having seen Common, Green and Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Greenshank and others in the past but its a long time since I heard any reports from there at all. So armed with my new enthusiasm off I trekked. Past the old Waldridge Tavern, now all boarded up, through the Cong Burn Woods and I was there. I was surprised how much vegetation there was around the pond, as last time it was just water standing in a hollow in the field. Now it has a typical wet marsh/pond flora. But there was a shortage of waders. 20 Curlew were feeding in the  adjacent stubble but after a good search the result was a single feeding Common Snipe. About a dozen hirundines were feeding over it including 2 Sand Martin. I walked down to the water's edge hoping for some dragonflies and managed a single Southern Hawker. Some nice plants were present including masses of Marsh Cudweed and Marsh Yellow-cress. A covey of 14 Grey Partridge were flushed and a Yellow Wagtail flew over which was very nice as I had already seen its two commoner relatives on the way over.

Tribley farm pond

Walked back through Cong Burn Woods where I got a few sightings of 1-2 Common Hawker but no sign, not surprisingly, of Hawfinch, which I have seen here in the past. Lots of ferns including some fine Hard Shield-fern in the darker, wettest parts.

Hard Shield-fern

 Typically in August the woods were quiet with only the odd juvenile Chiffchaff flitting about, 2 family parties of Long-tailed Tit and the occasional snatch of a Robin's autumnal song. A few Wall and a single Meadow Brown butterfly were seen in the open glades before I was back among the heather on the fell. This area is very good for the hoverfly Leuconza glauca and the Wild Angelica had many of them. Then once again, it went very overcast, About 30 Swallows flew overhead of the inevitable rain which waited until I was about in the middle of the fell before it started.

The hoverfly Leuconza glauca 
So I beat a hasty retreat and headed home. Only Snipe and Curlew on the wader count but the Yellow Wagtail was nice surprise.


Monday, 16 August 2010

An autumn feel

After the big hatching of Green-veined Whites last week it appears it's now the turn of Small White with at least 12 in the garden late afternoon, in fact there were 2 on the buddleja at 06:50hrs despite the rather cool overcast conditions. Also 2 each of Large White and Peacock later on.

Birds - Like the moths of the past week, there is now an early autumn feel with about 10 Meadow Pipits flying south over the house today. There have been several adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls around all summer and 1-2 juveniles in the last couple of days. One was food begging off it's presumed parents on the road outside early morning. I know they breed on the factory rooftops a few miles away in Birtley,  so I wonder if it's one of those birds or are they now breeding closer? The Dunnocks in my garden I do know where they nest and perhaps unusual for this species  I believe mine are monogamous. What I take to be the male has become very  bold and frequently torments the cat. His mate, yes I thinks it is the same bird,  has started to line its third nest of the season having raised 4, then 2 young already this year.

Dennis the Dunnock in the garden.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Owls, mice & men

The local Tawny Owls in the wood nearby were very vociferous last night, the pair duetting loudly for some time. It was so loud at times that I was asked by my dear wife 'if I could not tell my friends to keep quiet as there are people trying to sleep?'  I  went into the garden to see how close they were and to make sure the rain guard on the moth trap was ok when 3 rather happy men coming back from the pub walked by. On hearing the owls they started to try and copy them and I left 2 Tawnies and 3 drunks trying to out twit-twooo each other. 'You did that on purpose ' I was told on my return.

Emptied the moth-trap in the early hours hoping to beat the wasps which are rather common and aggressive at the moment. 183 moths of 37 moths including 6 of one of my favorite moths, the Mouse Moth. Quite common and definitely rather dull looking it is rather mouse like in that it has the habit of scuttling away on foot when disturbed rather than flying. I think they have a certain character about them.

Mouse Moth

 Five species of yellow underwing (Large, Lesser, Least, Broad-bordered and Lesser Broad-bordered), 2 migrant Silver Y and a few micro moths amongst the haul including Agapeta hamana  which is just beginning to get called by an English name the Hook-marked Straw Moth. It feeds on thistles.

Hook-marked Straw Moth Agapeta hamana

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Day after the rain

Put the moth trap out last night despite it still raining (yesterday was horrid with rain all day and force 6 NW'erlies) as Friday Night is Garden Moth Night. Put the cover over to protect the bulb but I feel it always reduces the catch. 87 moths of 27 species but this may have been as much to do with the weather as the bulb cover. A Rosy Minor was my first of the year.

Rosy Minor - the first of the year

A Grey Squirrel on the wall of the farmhouse which is less than 100 metres away so I suspect it won't be long before they find the bird feeders in the garden. A Wood Mouse has already found our garden as it ran across the patio and under a rose bush at lunchtime. Then the little tinker decided that there was no danger from the the pathetic cat indoors and wandered onto the lawn and started to smarten himself up.

Wood Mouse on the lawn

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Its cold and wet, it must be summer

Put the moth trap out overnight in the garden and I guess the result was about average 139 moths of 36 species. The best being 2 Thorns - Canary-shouldered and Purple and a Ruby Tiger. The first of the year of two Rustics - Six-striped and Flounced show, worryingly its the start of autumn.

Purple Thorn

Birds - A Great-spotted Woodpecker was calling from the top of the tree in the adjacent paddock and a Green Woodpecker was heard calling from the nearby woods as I sorted the moths. Popped along with my camera after it stopped raining to see if the Tawny Owl was roosting in the same tree again as yesterday. The good news was that it was, the bad news was that it was even higher and more concealed than yesterday. The few shots went straight in the trash. Wrong about the Common Swifts - several juveniles still around after the rain

Flowers - Went into Chester-le-Street in this afternoon. There is a good population of Greater Burnet-Saxifrage (Pimpinella major) on the road from the train station into town that is increasing each year. This is quite a local species in the north-east. So if you are in the town and like wild flowers its worth popping in to look though it'll be past its best soon.

Greater Burnet-Saxifrage 

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

My very very first posting

Well here I am, my first of hopefully regular postings.  The idea will be an update on the Natural History happenings I wander around where I live at Waldridge, Chester-le Street, County Durham.

So,  spent the morning (after it stopped raining - I am a wimp after all) with a little look in the garden, followed by a circular route through South Burn Wood and over Waldridge Fell.

Birds - Not surprising, the wood in august was rather quiet, a Willow Tit and a recently fledged brood of Wrens were the best on the way through until just as I was about to exit 3 Crossbill flew over calling. Still several warblers around on Waldridge Fell with Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat noted, many of them being juveniles. 2 Common Swift flew over,  these could be my last of the year. A male Stonechat chacked away, perhaps the female is attempting another brood? and 3 Bullfinch were feeding in a Rowan tree. Checked the burn and saw 1 of the Dippers that bred here earlier this year  (for the first time?) but I reckon it was an adult bird.  Back through the woods and lots of chattering from Blackbirds etc led me straight to a roosting Tawny Owl.

Mammals - A nice Stoat chasing some small rodent on Waldridge Lane and 2 Roe Deer stood very still as I pass through Fell Edge wood . A quick view of a Bank Vole on the fell was the last of todays mammals

Reptiles - An Adder by Wanister Bog and a Common Lizard surprisingly along one of the main paths on the fell. It's several years since I've seen either here. The County Council are doing some conservation work around the bog so I wonder if they have be chased off.

Butterflies - A couple of Peacock butterflies on the buddleja and several Green-veined Whites floating about in the garden. Seems to have been a good hatching of  Green-veined Whites with them everywhere at the moment, easily outnumbering the Large & Small Whites put together. 8 Peacocks on some brambles and 2 Wall, 2 Small Skipper, a Meadow Brown  and 2 Common Blue made up the butterfly count.


Moths - With the threat of rain last night I did not put my trap out. Should have as the heavy stuff was not until early this morning. Flushed a Silver-ground Carpets and a few Shaded Broad-bar from the Bracken as I walked over the fell.

Shaded Broad-bar  

Bees - The little  colony of Mining Bees busy as ever in the garden, I spent many hours setting about identifying them including catching one of them for a better look.  They are  Colletes succinctus - no english name I'm afraid. They are the common cousin of the Northern Colletes Bee that the RSPB is currently surveying in the machair in the Hebrides.

Miner Bee Colletes succinctus

Dragonflies - A Southern Hawker buzzed me followed by a second a little further down the track in the wood and 2 Common Darters on the fell.

Hoverflies - A noticeable increase in the Marmalade hoverfly - Episyrphus balteatus with 9 on the poppies in the garden and many more in the wood and on the fell.

The hoverfly Platycheirus albimanus  

Flora - The small patch of Yellow Loosestrife Lysimachia vulgaris by Waldridge Lane was in flower as well as the now quite abundant Whorled Loosestrife Lysimachia verticalis which until recently I took to be the same species but appears to have been an overlooked garden escape. The little bog in the wood appears to be coming along well with much Lesser Spearwort, Common Valerian and Marsh Bedstraw in flower and still a few Common Spotted Orchids.