Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Another nice Spider find.

Having found a nice Jumping Spider (Marpissa muscosa) in the past couple of weeks, it was quite a pleasant surprise to find yet another 'arachnid lifer' yesterday, while visiting relatives, just outside of Cambridge.

We spent the day yesterday, as I say, in a small village just outside of Cambridge, to deliver presents to good ol' Auntie Flo. The same Auntie Flo who has a pond and garden full of wildlife, without even trying! We took her out to Scotsdales garden centre for a look around, which is where we found our 'new' spider.

Quick tip:
carry an emergency pot with you EVERYWHERE. Especially Garden Centres - you never know what may have hitched a lift in the roots of foreign plants.

Usual story; Shell & Auntie Flo looking around plants & flowers whilst Archie and I search through the soil in the pots of exotic plants, or checking for leafminers. It was when we were inspecting the Cacti collection that...BINGO!...Spiders! An impressive Cactus about 2-3ft high was home to half a dozen separate spiders, all guarding their own webs, waiting for their next meal.
Now, remember that quick tip?? So did Archie, but I had let the side down a little! I wasn't completely guilty of committing the cardinal sin, I had a few pots. In my coat. In the boot of the car. Archie's gave the order: "Dad, RUN! Let's go! Mum: you stay with Flo, me and Dad will find you later!"

Anyway, armed with pots and trying to avoid both, Cactus spikes and weird looks from passing shoppers, I managed to pot one for a closer look.

The find was a cracking, tiny Uloborus plumipes a Feather-legged Orb Weaver, AKA the Garden Centre Spider. Yes - honestly!
From what I've read about the species since, plumipes is one of two Uloborus species known in the UK, the other being walckenaerius. It is not venomous and kills its prey, basically by crushing it with layers and layers of silk web. Native to the Mediterranean, south-east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, it found it's way around the world by catching lifts in potted plants, eventually reaching the UK in the early 1990's. Originating from warmer climates, it has no chance of surviving a British winter unless of course, it spends it inside a nice greenhouse or exotic plant glasshouse.
plumipes builds a purposely untidy web with loose strands fraying in places and retains a slightly odd resting position of tucking in tight with only the front two legs extended forward. That, along with shape of its abdomen, general colour and web design, gives a perfect end result of a piece of old leaf litter or debris stuck in an old abandoned cobweb. After a little more research, it turns out that it has been recorded in almost every garden centre inside Camdridgeshire, as well as surrounding counties. So, if it's one you want to see - there's your best chance!
A matter of millimetres in length, this little beauty is actually a welcome addition to the glasshouse it occupies as it's a great controller of Whitefly and other tiny invertebrates such as mites and gnats.

No awards here for the few shots I managed, but good enough to admire this cracking little arachnid:

Uloborus plumipes - Typical resting position
 A few more:

Leg 'feathers' just about visible here, along with 'messy' web strands

dangling from my hand, controlling descent from spinners with rear two legs

resting position viewed from underside

Far more detailed close ups of the species can be found on the eurospiders website HERE.

Very happy with the find, team Kerr happy again!

Friday, 6 November 2015

Life and death on Staines Moor

This post may seem a bit on the morbid side but we all love nature and it's just the way it goes.

 I was almost deterred by the rain today but glad I made the effort. Stanwell Moor was alive with Blue & Great Tit flocks, to the back drop of the sound of a 20+ strong flock of Long-tailed Tits, and a lone Cetti's Warbler to boot. A few Goldcrests had 'befriended' 2 Chiffchaffs and all 5 were persistently chased off by the Long-tailed Tits.
I was just about passed the burnt out car when I spooked a female Marsh Harrier from deep in the thicket, by the waters edge to my right. It clattered through the dense growth away from me and didn't go far, but landed on the wrong side a tree for a better look. We both froze for a short while, it was obviously reluctant to leave the area but after maybe a minute, it took flight to the North over the paddock.
I must admit, I've not seen or known a Marsh Harrier to be in such dense undergrowth and practically paddling (yes - I know. The clue is in the name!) so was curious as to what it did not want to leave behind. Managed to tread through a mini nettle forest, over half a fence then under a tree, and found what it was doing down there; Breakfast!

Moorhen was on the menu:

I hunkered down for a further 20mins hoping she would return but to no avail. I left the carcass in a position that I could remember, so I could check again on my way back. Low and behold, it had been moved and more flesh had been taken so maybe she did return? Who knows?

Onto Staines Moor and greeted by a male Kingfisher, bold as brass and very vocal!
Nothing out of the ordinary today; Goldcrests, Greenfinches, Green Woodpeckers and 2 Kestrels. Fieldfares and a few Redwings now settling in for the winter and a Coal Tit along the old railway - a great patch bird!
A(/the) Short-eared Owl got up from the grass and spent a good time hunting over the Eastern side. After a good recce in the NW corner and along the old railway, I curved round the check the NE corner but all was very quiet by this time
What I did find however, was a pellet from the Short-eared Owl:

Not sure if this is a "normal" reaction or not, but I put it straight in my bag to have a good look at when I got home...much to Shell's dismay I think. It did stink quite a bit actually. Whoops!

Que CSI Staines Moor!

Once pulled apart and rinsed off, it was quite interesting to see what 'our' Shortie has been feeding on, on the moor. I didn't save each individual small bone. There were thin ribs, and tiny leg bones, none of which I could get a definitive ID from, on the kitchen side at home!
Then BINGO! two skulls, both with teeth in good enough condition to examine and one with the lower jaw still attached:

Straight to the books and comparing skulls left me two viable options; Bank Vole or Field Vole. A slight difference in size left the possibility of one of each, but inspecting the teeth under an eye piece
answered it for sure: Both Field Vole of slightly different ages.

Here's an image showing the teeth, the clearer criss-cross shape throughout, of the Field Vole, compared to the less-jagged, more rounded teeth of Water Voles.
Zoomed in further if it helps:

Very educational and satisfying to come to a solid conclusion. I just can't help myself really and can't stand NOT knowing what something is - as far as the natural world is concerned, that is.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

First trip to Tice's by Archie Kerr

On Sunday we tried to go to Tice's but the road was closed and the diverted traffic took us miles away and my Dad got angry because we spent 2hrs driving around for nothing!

But today we took a different route and we finally got there. At Tice's Meadow we found lots of different things even 2 Grass Snakes and millions of Slow Worms - one of them was pregnant!

Pregnant Slow Worm

The first things that we saw were a few Butterflies like Red Admiral, Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Common Blue and Meadow Brown. We tried to catch the Harvestmen spiders but they were really good at escaping into the long grass. There were lots of Grasshoppers and Crickets, we saw Roesel's and Dark Bush Crickets.

We found a red beetle and I said it kind of looked like a red Shieldbug mixed with a ladybird but Dad said it was a Poplar Leaf Beetle.

Poplar Leaf Beetle

When we moved on a bit further, Dad found a Sawfly that was bright orange, it was a Turnip Sawfly:
Turnip Sawfly

When we was looking under the metal sheets were we found the Grass Snake and Slow Worms, we found a stunning but stinky Violet Ground Beetle. It had a poo in our pot and it absolutely stunk! (note to self: NEVER smell a Violet Ground Beetle!)

stinky Violet Ground Beetle :)

Dads friends say there are loads of beautiful Wasp Spiders at Tice's Meadow and we found loads. The most common place you see them are in little openings in long grass, down low to the ground. They are extremely fast at wrapping their prey up, it take only seconds!

Wasp Spider

When we got to the mound Dad introduced me to Rich who was birding through his scope and he showed me around where all the Wasp Spiders were around the mound. He showed me under some more metal sheets were we found another Grass Snake and I even held a Slow Worm!

After a few minutes, Army Rich from the Army showed up and he gave me a Grasshopper that stayed on my watch for ages!

Then Rich let me use his scope to look at the pond where there were millions of Canada Geese. Rich also showed me Lapwing, Jackdaws and my first Green Sandpiper. In the field across the road there was a man who was using dummy Wood Pigeons to lure the real birds down so he could shoot them for bird pie.
After that it started raining and we had to pick Mum up from work so it was time to leave. It was my first trip to Tice's Meadow and I thought Rich and Army Rich knew more about birds than Dad does. I really enjoyed it and cant wait to go back again.

Hope you enjoyed this blog and I'll see you in the next one. Bye!!!!!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Inverterbrate overload on Staines Moor

I made a couple of trips last week, to the patch (Staines Moor SSSI), joined on one occasion by fellow natural history enthusiast, Steve Minhinnick, with the main target of insects in mind.

As is usually the case when I am out 'doing my thing', I see everything flying around me and think to myself - if we could instantly identify everything we see on a typical walk, we must see literally thousands of different creatures everytime. Probably a few hundred different species of Diptera alone! An impossible gift that would take away all the fun anyway, so back to the real world..

The two days were very different in what the weather was doing and, as should be expected, provided very different results but probably NOT how you'd think.
On the first visit, the weather was overcast, blustery, mild at best and producing occasional short, sharp showers. Not ideal for seeing much on the wing, but very good for getting closer looks at anything that's trying to shelter from the elements.
I wont repeat the Lepidoptera findings of the day, including the find-of-the-day, a RED-TIPPED CLEARWING, as it's already in my previous blog, which you can find here.

What really grabbed my attention that day, was the almost biblical numbers of 7-Spot Ladybirds. It was such a pleasant surprise to see a native Ladybird doing so well, the 7-Spot to Harlequin ratio that day must've been 20-1, if not more. Fantastic!

7 Spot Ladybird - Coccinella septempunctata

a deformed 7 Spot Ladybird - Coccinella septempunctata

Amongst the healthy 7-Spot population, I also found a 10-spot Ladybird and a handful of 14-Spots, at different life stages. Of the very few Harlequins I did see, only one was a larva.

10 Spot Ladybird - Adalia decempunctata

Harlequin Ladybird larva - Harmonia axyridis

14 Spot ladybird larva - Propylea quattuordecimpunctata

14 Spot ladybird - Propylea quattuordecimpunctata

I was particularly happy to find this next one, as it's something that I've wanted to find for a little while and have only ever seen in their adult form. Many of you have seen Lacewings before and they often visit moth traps everywhere but, as larvae, they are absolutely relentless and voracious predators! The aphids they prey on, have no chance.

(Apologies now for photo quality - wind swept foliage, small subject matter and mediocre camera!)

Larva of Brown Lacewing species. (POSS Micromus variegatus)

Larva of Brown Lacewing species. (POSS Micromus variegatus)

Dotted around at the moment, are lots and lots of complex looking, funnel web-esq spider webs. The owners of these webs spend most of the time hiding inside the 'funnel', running out at lightning speed, only to catch whatever unsuspecting prey item has stumbled upon it. If you're lucky enough to see the spider, I think you'll agree that is an impressive beastie:

Labyrinth Spider - Agelena labyrinthica

The last thing a lot of insects see, before the inevitable:

Labyrinth Spider - Agelena labyrinthica

This next pic, is of something that when I first saw it, I just had no idea what it was, or what had happened? It took a reply from someone at a university in the U.S to clarify and so, now I know!
Here's an aphid that has been parasitized, most likely by a Braconid Wasp species:

On the brighter of the two days, myself and Steve were treated to amazing views of Broad-bodied Chaser - Libellula depressa, both male & female. Seen in the morning sun, it was ideal as they were fairly calm and rather happy to sit and bask.

(female) Broad-bodied Chaser - Libellula depressa

(male) Broad-bodied Chaser - Libellula depressa

If you check the leaves of Willow trees at the moment, there's a good chance you'll find small colonies of the diminutive and rather smart looking, Willow Flea Beetle - Crepidodera aurata.
Although they can, and do, reach pest proportions, as a beetle I think they're great little things:

Willow Flea Beetle - Crepidodera aurata

Along the boardwalk joining Stanwell moor to Staines moor itself, is usually a good spot to see (sometimes dozens of) Noon Flies - Mesembrina meridiana. They often bask on the wooden handrails and lay their eggs in cow pats, so Staines moor with its free roaming cattle, is ideal. The larvae of this fly are interesting, they are carnivorous and feed on the larvae of other Fly species, within the cow pat.

Noon Fly - Mesembrina meridiana

A few bugs were also noted, one of which was new to me and definitely played hard to get, staying deep within the tall nettles:

Nettle Groundbug - Heterogaster urticae
Couple of others:

Alder Spittlebug - Aphrophora alni

Red Bug - Deraeocoris ruber

Diptera is a fascinating order and one I love. HOWEVER, the order is VAST and complex so I am only familiar with a fraction of what is out there to be found, so as well as the Noon Fly, I managed a closer look at some others.

The Dagger Flies. Not for the squeamish. They hunt other flies and use their long proboscis to stab their prey, to kill and then feed on.

Dagger Fly - Empis sp

Dagger Fly - Empis sp

This little fly is pretty neat, Poecilobothrus nobilitatus. The male (pictured below) puts on a display dance using the white tips to its wings, to impress a female. Only up close do you start to see the wonderful colours on some of these flies.

Poecilobothrus nobilitatus
Very common and frequently seen is Episyrphus balteatus, probably best known as the Marmalade Hoverfly. Common but always a pleasure to see.

Marmalade Hoverfly - Episyrphus balteatus

Similar in behaviour to the Dagger flies, are Snipe flies. A lot of the 'Snipes' feed on blood and are also predatory to other insects. The larvae are also predatory to other larvae, again, much like the Dagger flies. The colours on this are somewhat exaggerated due to flash but it helps show the intricate beauty as well.

Little Snipe Fly - Chrysopilus asiliformis:

Little Snipe Fly - Chrysopilus asiliformis
 This was an interesting find and the first of its kind that I've ever seen. It's a Dark-winged fungus gnat - a member of the Sciaridae family. As the name suggests, they are pests of mushrooms and more than 600 species are known over Europe.

Dark-winged fungus gnat - Sciara Species

Quite how I noticed this next one, I do not know?! It is tiny! I didn't take a specimen so the closest I can get from photos alone, is that this is a Pachygaster species of Soldier Fly.

Soldier fly - Pachygaster sp

Soldier fly - Pachygaster sp

Another bizarre looking insect of our world and I'm sure, the idea behind a few horrow film writers, the Scorpion Fly:

Scorpion Fly - Panorpa sp

A nice selection of Spiders on Staines Moor itself, including possibly the biggest Crab Spider I've ever seen! No tiny flies or aphids were going to do for this one - a Honeybee was dinner! Check it out:
Crab Spider - Misumena vatia

...and a couple of other little beauties:

Four-spotted Orb Weaver - Araneus quadratus

Neoscona adianta - Neoscona adianta

All in all, a decent couple of days bug-ing.