Friday, 23 June 2017

Day Glow Meadow

With mission 'Emperor's Emerging' now behind me, it's been on to mission 'Meadow'. The two lower fields at Tyntesfield have been reseeded with wildflowers over the last year. It will take some time before the flowers re-assert themselves over the grasses, but like any meadow they are still a spectacle to behold and one I wished to document.

The recent gusty turn in the weather slightly blew my dreams away, certainly for aerial photography. However, this meteorological hostility was as nothing to the unromantic and brutal horse-fly assault I have been repeatedly subjecting myself too. I am a huge fan of Laurie Lee's evocative coming of age memoir 'Cider With Rosie', but all I can imagine is that you'd have to be anaesthetised with a great deal of cider before contemplating doing anything with Rosie in this meadow. Then there's the ticks... and the hay fever..., but I do understand nature has no obligation to be kind to me and at least it has the unwitting grace to be aesthetically rewarding.

Also some happy snappy snaps below of a glorious glow-worm and other garden grubs.

Meadow grass in Toggles Field at sunset

Fly dancing in the sunlight

Meadow grasses and Ox-eye Daisies

Toggles meadow and a miraculous Emperor Dragonfly

One of many kinds of meadow grass heavy with seed

Birdsfoot trefoil. I was seeking Yellow Rattle, this illuminated my ignorance.

Very close Birdsfoot trefoil

Tyntesfield House from 30m in the air

A glow
A Glow-worm

The same Glow-worm still glowing

Glow-worm glowing

A Damselfly at Backwell Lake

Cinnabar moth caterpillar

Ladybird pupa transforming on my tadpole tank

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Nocturnal Dragonfly Explosion

'Dragonfly Week' at the Kitchen Garden Pond proved to be a spectacular event once again. I witnessed over 50 Emperor Dragonflies emerging. After 2 years underwater they shed their skins one last time, sprout wings and take to the air. All the action was at night, favourably warm overnight temperatures allowing the dragonflies to hatch in darkness and then fly away in the very early morning light.

I was on stakeout over consecutive nights, filming for the National Trust and, on one of the nights, with the BBC's One Show. Prior to that, I had been monitoring the pond for several days and keeping an obsessive eye on the weather to try and predict when the hatch would occur. Happily, I got it right and we saw and filmed some truly tremendous dragonfly action.

Newly emerged Emperor Dragonfly

Tyntesfield's walled garden pond, possibly the centre of the universe.

An underwater eye on the action.

Temperature chart, peaking perfectly for night-time dragonfly hatching.

Emerging Emperor Dragonfly, resting while the legs harden.

"Sticky", fell off his Iris into the pond, was relocated to a stick to dry off and departed successfully.

A Broad-bodied Chaser exuvia (empty larval case) - head end only, from a nearby pond.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Pond preparations

Like over-wintering pond life, I've been down deep and out of sight, but not without much unseen industry. Over the next 10 days I'll be filming and photographing the emergence of Emperor Dragonflies from Tyntesfield's kitchen garden pond. The pond frog will seek to wreak his revenge on the dragonfly larvae pictured below attacking his foot. 

Damselflies are already out and about and, whilst on pond filming business, I stumbled on a fox cub lolling about outside its den. A bit of a chocolate box picture, I realise now that's a photographic pitfall you escape when concentrating on bugs and weirdos. In the words of Milton Jones, "my bugbear are the insect mammal crosses"....

Fox cub getting a whiff of me upwind (schoolboy error)

Large Red Damselfly

Azure Damselfly

Frog with foot attacked by dragonfly nymph

Dragonfly nymph bitten off more than he can chew

Damselfly squadron

Friday, 21 October 2016

Ladybird Larvae Like Lime Lice

Following my chance encounter with Harlequin Ladybirds hatching, the subject of my last post, I have quickly found a new tunnel of learning to run down. I returned to the Lime tree where I had previously discovered both adult Ladybirds and pupae, determined to expand my survey. This time I found that every single one of the Lime trees on Tyntesfield's lower drive was hosting many hundreds, probably thousands of Ladybirds. With a minimal amount of extra scrutiny I was able to find not only adults and pupae, but also lots of larvae still active. 

As I was taking pictures of a larva on a leaf I became aware of a host of smaller residents - lots of fast moving tiny termite like creatures. These I now know to be Barkflies, a relatively recent (2003) renaming from Barklice in an attempt to improve their image. It certainly worked for me, I found watching them compelling as they whizzed around and interacted with one another in their micro-colony. They are the outdoor version of Booklice, not regarded as pests and, I assume, a tasty snack for a voracious Ladybird larva.

On today's gloriously sunny morning I went out to photograph the scenery, but found myself drawn back to the Ladybird Limes. The last couple of pictures show several stages of the transition from larva to adult. Next for me is to find out how long the process takes. I bought a leafed twig home with me several days ago with a couple of larvae on, but they have yet to start the transition. Camera shy perhaps.

Part of the joy of writing this blog is researching the things I observe and the glorious fact every creature has a fanbase. Here is a link for the Biological Records Centre: Barkfly subsection. It is a fine, fine thing and I give my respect and gratitude.

Harlequin Ladybird Larva  (note tiny bug at bottom)

Harlequin Ladybird Larva

Barkfly (formerly Barklice). 

A whole colony of Barkflies were living on this single leaf

A winged Barkfly, either an adult of those above or possibly a different species.

Strangely inquisitive for 3mm long insects, this was possibly the first time they'd encountered a human. Note the filaments of webbing made by the Barkfly to create a protective net over their colony.

Harlequin Ladybird larva on Lime leaf

Larva on leaf

Harlequin Ladybird adult on leaf. Not responsible for holes.

Ladybird larva and empty pupa.

All four stages. Larva (left), pupa (bottom), empty pupal case (right) and adult (top).

Closer of above. Note how larva (far left)  has lost his bristles (except the anchors at the back) as the pupa forms.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Killer Harlequin Craze

I took a gaggle of five and six year olds on a Tyntesfield nature ramble this weekend. I was supposed to be the knowledgable one, but as ever it was new discoveries that struck me most. On the leaves at the base of a single Lime tree on the lower drive, we discovered hundreds and hundreds of Ladybird larvae in their pupal cases. Some had hatched and left empty cases, but many remained sealed. One adult ladybird was yellow and looked a lot like a pine nut. This was one that had just hatched, the spots coming through some time later.

I'd been wanting to find some pupae to film and photograph. Without finding one in the summer, I've now discovered legion. I will check the other trees along the drive to see if they are carrying the same burden. These are Harlequin ladybirds, non-native and apparently flourishing. My reference sources tell me Ladybirds emerge as adults in August before hibernating from autumn through the winter. The fact the Harlequins are hatching now in mid October in large numbers, would appear to mean they have a longer feeding and breeding season. I can't compare this to our native species without the facts at my disposal, but if their prey species (aphids and other bugs including ladybirds) are living longer due to milder autumns, then the Harlequins would appear to be making the most of it.

I took a couple of leaves home with pupae on and took the photographs below. The adult ladybird was the one seen earlier when yellow. You can see a translucence to its wing cases which I imagine disappears as it hardens and matures.

Before the ladybird pictures are some floral entries and a Cranefly unhappily stuck in a spider web. I find the Ivy flowers spectacular, modest from a distance, but highly impressive close up and a valuable source of food for many insects. This bush was a-buzz with bees, hornets and a very few wasps. To my personal vexation, someone from the National Trust had hung wasp traps from the bush. I would argue that putting traps on a natural food source is not a particularly smart way of keeping wasps away from your nearby cafe.

Ivy flower. An important source of late nectar for bees and others

Parsley very close up

Lavender looking woolly

A Cranefly. In trouble.

Cranefly in web. Wishing for shorter legs. Probably.

Ladybird pupae on Lime leaf (right hand one hatched)

Empty pupal case of Ladybird (Harlequin).

Unhatched Ladybird pupa

Ladybird pupae. Empty shell in foreground.

Rear end of Ladybird pupa.

Recently hatched Harlequin Ladybird. Yellow at first, the spots are now developing.

Recently hatched Ladybird, soon off to hibernate.