Saturday, 30 April 2011

Only one moth but here's nothing to panic about

Spent an hour on the fell after emptying the moth trap this morning whose contents consisted of a single moth, a Shuttle-shaped Dart. The minimum temperature last night was 7.3C but seemed colder. The numbers always drop off round about now and the same day in previous years only produced.
2010 - 8 moths of 6 species
2009 - 4 moths of 4 species
2008 - 1 moth  of 1 species
2007 - 3 moths of 3 species
2006 - 2 moths of 2 species
2005 - 3 moths of 2 species

So there's nothing to panic about.

Anyway, back to the fell and despite the wind which was keeping most things down I did manage to bag a few things. There is a lot more Willow Warbler singing today, which would make me think obviously there has been an increase in numbers but I found two individuals nest building so I wonder if they are just singing more now they have paired up? Single Grasshopper Warbler singing behind the village still and a Lesser Whitethroat there at last. I got another year tick earlier in the day when 3 Swift were over the railway station in town when I passed there earlier on a message together with half a dozen House Martin. There were two more Swift were over the fell as I wandered later.

Common Swift -  the first of the year 
Quite a few butterflies were on the wing but they were keeping low and usually I only saw them when I flushed them. The short grass on the top of the old tip was very productive and had my first Dingy Skipper of the year plus the usual common species.

Dingy Skipper

The adjacent fell gave me another one with Wall Brown 

Wall Brown 
and a had some brief views of a Green Hairstreak. This one was right by the road at Waldridge Lane not where I've had them before. I hung around a while but never saw it again.  Green Tiger Beetles were out in force on the paths, 10+ Common Heath moths  and the commonest Bumblebee out at the moment is the Common Carder.

Green Tiger Beetle
Notched up a few more common plants in flower to boost the list with Rowan, Red Horse-ChestnutMeadow Buttercup, Black Medick, Three-nerved Sandwort and Bird's-foot Trefoil.

Three-nerved Sandwort in the South Burn Woods

To update the lists they now stand at
Birds - 97
Butterflies -12
Hoverflies - 8
Flowers - 145

Friday, 29 April 2011

Garden escapes

There was a wedding going on in London. I tried to be a good lad and watch and managed a little but the call to go outside was too much. I thought about doing some stuff in the garden but decided to go further afield instead. As it happens much of the time was still spent looking at garden plants, only these were escapes.
I decided to head off in a different direction today. Walked through Hermitage Woods, across the fields to the A167 opposite the Oval. Along to just before the Chester Moor pub and turned left and along the woodland walk. I hadn't realised  how far this landscaped area now stretches so I headed south adjacent to the main east coast railway line  right the way along to behind Plawsworth. Then back along the A167 and along Beaney Lane and the new road to where I started.  That was better than sitting in front of the telly.

Another Garden Warbler, this one in the Hermitage woods was the best bird of the day and butterflies in that cold wind and drizzle were non-existent. At the start of the walk there were a few small hoverflies, certainly one of the Platycheirus. Both males and females were present. They seemed to be  closest to P. immarginatus but that species is now thought to only occur at the coast in brackish pools. These are inland by a small woodland edge marsh and that species is notorious for being misidentified. It may be they are just P. clypeatus but are quite different to the ones that appear in the garden and nearby dry hedgerows. No doubt it is best to just call them Platycheirus species.

Unidentified Platycheirus hoverfly.
A Ladys-mantle was nearby but it turned out to be the garden one Alchemilla mollis, with another garden escape in flower further along the track, Wall-spray (Cotoneaster horizontlis). 


The next thing of interest was some Red Campion, the little clump has some white flowers amongst the reds. These were pink in the bud but opened up white. With the short sepal teeth identical to the adjacent plants I reckon it is just a white Red Campion.

White Red Campion
The woodland walk is still in it's infancy and mainly grassland at the moment. The shorter grass by the paths held a few things worth looking at with both Germander and Thyme-leaved Speedwell and Dove's-foot Cranesbill and another garden escape Green Alkanet

Thyme-leaved Speedwell
Dove's-foot Cranesbill
On the way back, I headed along Beaney Lane. Despite this road having much more traffic these days it is a pleasant spot. Several Yellow Hammers and Common Whitethroats were singing along here and I heard both Nuthatch and Grey Partridge.

Yellowhammer along Beaney Lane

 The large field has been sown with spring cereal this year and so is too high to host the usual flock of Golden Plover that are often here in spring. Another garden escape was in flower here, Leopard's-bane.

A few other commoner plants were also noted in flower during the day, some which I may have missed earlier
White Clover, Sticky Mouse-ear, Creeping Buttercup and  Sessile Oak. Last night I keyed out a few willows from the twigs I had gathered. I managed to identify Grey Willow, Goat Willow, Eared Willow and the hybrids between the latter two Salix x capreola 

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Bit better than I thought

It went down to 1.2C overnight so when I checked the moth trap this morning it was as bad as I expected .... Nothing. Absolutely zero moths. Both Cuckoo and Great spotted Woodpecker calling in the distance were little compensation. With a light but cold northerly and quite a bit of cloud I had little hope for seeing anything today.
After breakfast, a few little jobs in the garden were to be done but stopped when I noticed a moth on one of the windows. A Treble-bar moth, a very early one but which?  It looked a little on the large size but the bar looked more like Lesser, which is the only one I've had here. So I potted it up and checked it thoroughly which in the case of these moths means looking at their 'bits'. It was a male Lesser Treble-bar and beat my earliest by 15 days so another early record breaker. It's been a funny start to the year with so many species being very early.

Lesser Treble-bar
So off onto the fell and a few things flying around but not a lot and it was getting dark at times as some big grey clouds hid the sun for too much of the time. But I did get a pleasant surprise to find a Small Copper almost hiding in the bracken, only my second ever April one.

Small Copper hiding
Nothing new on the bird front, the Swifts and Lesser Whitethroats, in particular, should be here any day now but Lesser Redpolls flew over several times and I suspect they are going to breed again this year after 1-2 years absence. Spent some time watching the hoverflies amongst the Bilberry and several Helophilus pendulus were out,

Helophilus pendulus on Billberry

Also out were a good few Platycheirus albimanus. This is the small black Hoverfly with the big brush like front feet. Very common but it was new for the year as was a Green Tiger Beetle that scurried across the path.

Green Tiger Beetle

A quick check of Wanister Bog for anything new and I managed to find some flowering Heath Woodrush (Luzula multiflora).

Heath Woodrush

So all in all, the day was better than I thought first thing this morning.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Warblers and Bumblebees of the garden variety

Not very warm today, in fact it didn't really get sunny until the afternoon and that northerly wind was still a bit cold. Again 3C overnight so I gave the trap a miss again. It's forecast the same tonight but I think I better give it a try.
So this morning was spent wandering around the fell with a jumper and fleece on. A few butterflies were on the wing today, so better than yesterday, but only Orange-tipsSmall Whites and Peacocks.

Female Orange tip on it's favoured flower, Cuckoo-flower

A few more hoverflies were in the sheltered spots and I picked up two new for the year,  Melanostoma mellinum and one of the Sphaerophoria species, a  rather short bodied one. I also picked up my final Bumble Bee of the six common ones, Bombus hortorum, the Small Garden Bumblebee.
There has been an influx of Garden Warblers overnight as I had six individuals singing on my walk about and spent a wee while trying to get a few photos of them and some Blackcaps.

Garden Warbler 

Flora wise, I also found a couple new ones for the year, with a mass of Marsh Horsetail by the pit pool and a fair size clump of  Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon ssp. argentium) nearby under the hedge. This is the garden escape form which is increasing dramatically in the wild and is starting to becoming a nuisance. The wild variety used to occurs in Lumley Woods many years ago but I believe it's extinct there now.

Yellow Archangel

On the fell Bitter Vetch, that acid loving legume was in flower making it three new ones. I also picked a few sprigs of some of the willows and will have a go (unsuccessfully, probably) at identifying them later.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A Royal homage

A big change in the weather with the temperature about 14C for most of the day, a bit on the blowy side and with cloudy skies and the sun failing to poke through. A walk along the hedgerows and fell did not produce a single butterfly so I thought I'd spend some time in the woods. Royal Fern is the UK's largest and is a very attractive, stately fern that prefers damp, boggy conditions.  It is deciduous, growing up to two metres tall when soil conditions are good but the deeply divided fronds are frost sensitive, not appearing until late April and May. It is very rare in the north-east, in fact so rare that there is only one site in County Durham where it still grows wild and its here at Waldridge where two plants are hanging on. So I went to pay my homage. The fronds were just beginning to unfurl.

Royal Fern not much at the moment but a good one all the same.
A slow walk through the South Burn wood birches was rather quiet,  several Blackcaps etc were singing but nothing new, though yesterday's Garden Warbler was just as elusive and a Lesser Redpoll flew over. A few more flowers gave themselves up here Common Vetch and Red Campion.  Apart from swarms of St. Mark's Flies and a few bumblebees, the only thing flying were a few hoverflies, all Drone Flys except for one Helophilus pendulus which was my first of the year.

Red Campion
I continued through and crossed Waldridge Lane with some self sown Oilseed Rape on the roadside, into the other part of the wood, usually called Felledge Wood for obvious reasons. Though it is the same wood, bisected by the lane, it is very different, being much wetter and consists mainly of Alder on boggy steep sided banks.

Greater Tussock-sedge in Felledge Wood
 Different flowers in here were Large Bittercress, Wood Speedwell, Greater Tussock-sedge (Carex paniculata) and Wood Horsetail.

Large Bittercress

I ventured out and had a look on Wanister Bog. With the cattle on during the winter churning up the soil, the wettest part looked white from a distance due to the masses of Hare's-tail and Common Cotton-grass and Bog-bean. I don't think I've even seen so much here before.

Masses of Cotton-grasses and Bogbean  at Wanister
There is a very good showing of Marsh Violet too and I added Common Sedge (Carex niger) to today's flower list. And a single windswept Common Heath moth
Marsh Violet
Went back into the woods and came out at the south end and continued along the stream to East Scroggs. At least two Cuckoos were calling here and one was being chased by Meadow Pipits and landed on the wires some distance away where it was still being mobbed by them.

Cuckoo and Meadow Pipits on wires in the distance
 Checking one of the ponds, a Common Snipe that I surprised flew off or it surprised me to tell the truth. The ponds here are thick with Bog Pondweed (Potamogeton polygonifolius) and they look very good for Dragonflies which I haven't really checked them for in the past. Jack Snipes in the winter yes, but not Dragonflies in the summer. So I've added it to the things to do later, as my Dragonfly list for Waldridge is not that good. A small tree in the hedgerow looked good for Black Poplar but the lack of a balsam scent and hairless young leaves showed it to be a hybrid Populus x euramericana. It's a female tree, so not the usual hybrid as that is a male clone. I believe there was (still is?) a true native tree in this same area many years ago.

Back over Daisy Hill, but the grassy area here was as disappointing as usual though a Lapwing was sitting on eggs here and certainly made it obvious it didn't want me anywhere near.

My lists for the year now stand at

Birds - 95
Mammals- 7
Moths - 35
Butterflies -9
Hoverflies - 3
Dragonflies - 1
Flowers - 124

Monday, 25 April 2011

Confined to the bog (not Wanister)

Bad case of the dodgy tummy on Sunday morning left it being too dangerous to wander far away from the bog.  And I don't mean a wetland that accumulates acidic peat, often with mosses such as that at Wanister bog on the fell.
So yesterday and today has been spent no further than the garden.
A bit of sky watching yesterday did produce both several sighting of Sparrowhawk and a Common Buzzard plus 1-2 fly-over Great spotted Woodpeckers. No Swifts yet but it can't be long. The usual invertebrate suspects were flying around the garden but a bit of therapeutic weeding got me two new flowers for the year in the form of Wall Speedwell and Smooth-stalked Meadow-grass, plus the first flowers on the Horse Chestnut in the paddock.

There were several Eristalis tenax hoverflies in the garden 
This Eristalis tenax was more inquisitive than most
I put the trap out overnight, 5.2C minimum temperature but a very poor night with just 5 moths of 4 species. Single Powdered Quaker, Common Quaker and Double-striped Pug and 2 Brindled Pug were very disappointing.

An unringed White Stork had been seen about 5 miles away and heading towards Chester-le-Street so a bit more skywatching this morning but needless to say, it didn't come this way. In fact it did a U-turn and headed NE, turning up at Cresswell on the Northumberland coast. A couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a Lapwing were the best things I saw looking upwards.

Felt a little better late afternoon and bravely stepped away from the house and through the woods and checked the scrub behind the village. Another Grasshopper Warbler singing there and my first Garden Warbler of the year. I briefly saw (and heard) a Common Shrew here, dashing from one piece of Gorse to another and a Jay flew through. There were good numbers of Speckled Wood butterflies and the hoverfly Eristalis tenax again and a few more plants were added - Broom, Beech, Ribwort Plantain, Male Fern, Lady Fern, Field Horsetail and Hare's-tail Cotton-grass. 

Common Carder Bee feeding on the Gorse

Fertile fronds of Field Horsetail

Field Woodrush or Good Friday-grass - bang on schedule

Some nice patches of Marsh Marigold at Brass Castle Pond.

Walking back along the track from Waldridge Lane through the South Burn Woods, another Garden Warbler was singing. I managed to get a couple of quick shots as it poked it's head out before diving back into cover.

Garden Warbler showed itself briefly in South Burn Woods

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Today I'll spend a day in the garden - so it rained

A minimum temperature 6.0C, only a little early morning mist but it didn't improve the overnight moth count much.  15 moths of 7 species consisting of -

Common Pug (Eupithecia vulgata) 1
Brindled Pug (Eupithecia abbreviata) 1
Shuttle-shaped Dart (Agrotis puta) 4
Powdered Quaker (Orthosia gracilis) 1
Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) 3
Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta) 1
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) 4

Powdered Quake

Also 1 Black Sexton Beetle (Nicrophorus humator), which I took a photo of thinking it was a Dor Beetle at first until I checked properly.

Black Sexton Beetle appeared in the moth trap

 I was very warm  by mid morning so I spent most of the day in the garden pottering around.  A couple of Peacocks and Small White butterflies visited,

Peacock on the garden fence

the Bee-Flys and Tawny Mining Bees were still active

Tawny Mining Bee still active
and the Wood Mouse did a balancing act across the wooden lawn edging as we sat on the lawn, quite oblivious to us. At least two fly-overs by the local Sparrow-hawk  kept the birds quiet though a Great spotted Woodpecker was vocal most of the rest of the time. Then more typical of the British bank holiday weather, it rained.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Cuckoos and Cuckoo flowers

Minimum temperature 5.3 but foggy and very poor visibility so the overnight moth count was only 10 moths of 6 species consisting of -

Common Pug (Eupithecia vulgata) 1
Brindled Pug (Eupithecia abbreviata) 2
Powdered Quaker (Orthosia gracilis) 1
Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) 1
Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta) 2
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) 3

plus a Green Lacewing (Chrysopa carnea) and a Red Wasp (Vespula rufa)

Green Lacewing
Red Wasp, similar to the Common with the black anchor face marking but
has narrow yellow thoracic markings and variable amount of red on the thorax.
This species is much more docile than the Common Wasp,
which I'm pleased with, as I  frequently get stung when I open the moth trap.

The fog lifted about lunchtime and it was 20C but the sun could only break through occasionally. A couple of hours on the fell was very productive starting with a fine cock Redstart singing on the edge of Hermitage Woods. Walking through South Burn woods, the Greater Stitchwort is putting on a grand show.

Greater Stitchwort - masses in South Burn Wood
Crossing Waldridge Lane, a Cuckoo was calling at the south end of Felledge Woods and a Grasshopper Warbler was reeling by Wanister Hill, presumably a different bird from three days ago. Good numbers of the commoner warblers are about and several Swallow flew north overhead.
Much of the time was spent unsuccessfully trying to get a photo of the Green Hairstreaks, I saw four again but no where close enough for a photo. Plenty of Orange-tips, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshell about and a single Orange Underwing moth together with my first Common Heath moths of the year. No sightings of Emperor moth though. It seems a very good year for both Bee-fly and Tawny Mining Bee but I'm  still looking for my first Oil Beetle. As I walked past Brass Castle pond I saw my first Dragonfly of the year, a Large Red Damselfly. I had another on the fell later.

Large Red Damselfly on Gorse on the Fell
Walking along towards Brass Castle you have to walk through clouds of black flies. These are St. Mark's Fly (Bibio marci), so called because the adults usually emerge around St. Mark's Day, 25th April.

St. Mark's Fly, 3 days early
For spring flowering plants, these are one of the best pollinators around. A couple of Hoverflies were also around on the Hedge Garlic, the Drone Fly Eristalis tenax and one that was new for me here at Waldridge, Chrysotoxum arcuatum.

The Hoverfly Chrysotoxum arcuatum 

Earlier, doing a bit weeding in the garden I got a flower (and garden) year tick, in the form on Common Corn-salad.

Common Corn-salad  - an inconspicuous annual weed in my garden
 I added another one for the year in my first Waldridge Lady's-smock or Cuckoo-flower, the latter name more appropriate today with in coinciding with my first Cuckoo.


Not a bad little day

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Waldridge Hairstreaks

A unpleasant start to the morning with a mist at dawn still as thick when I left for work. The temperature overnight again dropped to 3C as expected so I left the moth trap off last night.
The sun must have got out at sometime as it was warm and it was shining through the little haze it hadn't managed to burn off when I returned from work.  As it was still warmish and there were several reports elsewhere I went looking for Green Hairstreaks on the fell.  Surprisingly it did not take me long to find one and eventually got four. Often I have to work very hard to see them. Unfortunately they were very active and I could not get them to stay still long enough for anything decent in the way of a photo. With it being late and the air temperature cooling they disappeared as quickly as I found them. It must have been their last flurry of the day, so I disappeared too and will try again tomorrow. Tomorrow is day 1 of 17 days off work.

Green Hairstreak - a record shot  

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A bit of botanising

With the lack of cloud cover, the temperature dropped down to 3.1C overnight. Only 12 moths but 9 species so not too bad, especially as four of them were new for the year, ie Red-green Carpet, Common and Currant Pug and Shuttle-shaped Dart. The totals in the trap were -

Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata) 1
Currant Pug (Eupithecia assimilata) 1
Common Pug (Eupithecia vulgata) 1
Shuttle-shaped Dart (Agrotis puta) 1
Pine Beauty (Panolis flammea) 2
Small Quaker (Orthosia cruda) 2
Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) 2
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) 1
Oak Nycteoline (Nycteola revayana) 1

Common Pug

Shuttle-shaped Pug

I did a bit of botanising on the fell later and turned up quite a few new ones in flower because of the effort. That effort being getting down on my hands and knees and getting back up again and again and again. Oh my bones. Many were a bit on the early side. Flowering plants of Greater Stitchwort, Barren Strawberry, Wild Strawberry, Tormentil, Wavy Bittercress, Bugle, Holly, Great and Field Woodrush, Bush Vetch, Gooseberry, Germander Speedwell and Heath Bedstraw were noted. Also, the grasses Sweet Vernal and Barren Brome. A total of 15 new ones.

Wild Strawberry

Good number of butterflies were on the wing, particularly Orange-tip and at least 4 Speckled Wood. In Sunderland this morning I saw a Painted Lady, a good record as not many have been seen this year so far but hopefully this may be a sign of things to come. Checking the bumblebees, I probably should have seen one before but I did see my first Common Carder Bee queen of the year.

Nothing new on the bird front but still two (or two more) Wheatear were present near the village and there appears to be several more Blackcaps around.

Male Wheatear  

My OFFH yearlists currently at stand at

Birds - 92
Mammals - 6
Moths - 34
Butterflies -8
Bumblebees - 5
Flowers - 101