Author Archives: iago80

Whilst looking for a Stonechat

I’m in France – at my patch in the Corbieres in the South.

I realised – despite having been here almost a couple of weeks that I hadn’t seen any Stonechat yet. They breed here and normally just pop up on a bush in front of me. So, I decided one morning to go to a distant part of the patch where they are reliable: a large sometimes-sheep-grazed area of very scrubby garrigue.

As I walked along a dusty track just as the sun was hitting me in the horizontal – soon after dawn, I saw a bird perched up nicely in the distance.

When I raised my bins I could instantly see it was a bird I have hoped to find on the Patch for years; Woodchat Shrike. An adult female. It is honestly one of my favourite birds.

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Female Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator)

As I have never seen one here in 12 years of looking I kind of assumed it was a wandering loner or maybe a passage migrant. But then I saw a juvenile, another, and eventually three juveniles still occasionally being fed by the mother. My favourite bird is breeding on my patch. Delighted doesn’t cover it.

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Juvenile

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Juvenile with mother

I eventually also picked up the adult male on a telegraph pole in the distance.

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Male

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I just stood there for a bit watching them and feeling very happy. While I did so, a distant Hoopoe perched up on a wire as well.

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Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

Tawny Pipits and Woodlark occasionally popped up on bushes or flew around me. And then up-wind of me, a buck Roe Deer wandered right past me, only noticing me when it was very close before running off. Magical!

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Buck Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)

I walked back to the house feeling very happy. And there, right near the house was a family of Stonechat I had gone looking for.

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A young Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)

A first fly for London… nearly

Look at this lovely fly!

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You could almost dive into that swimming pool of aquamarine/turquoise, its colour is so deep and inviting. Long legs, great markings. Just all round stunner!

And, I found it on my garden shed.

As flies go, it wasn’t too tricky to identify. It is a pretty big member of the Dolichopodidae family as a start and I believe the biggest in the UK.

An expert informed me that it can be found inland near “algal dominated leaks”. I’m kind of hoping there are no algal dominated leaks near my house and shed, but hey.

I checked NBN Atlas and there were a lot of records, mostly around the coast, but none in London. I love the idea of finding a London first record on my shed. In reality, it probably isn’t a first for London and iRecord shows that there are a couple of other records, but it clearly isn’t really a common find locally.

Apparently this poor fly species came close to losing its name due to some scientific mix-up. I hope it gets to keep it as I think Liancalus virens is pretty cool and suits it.

A turquoise metallic jewel and another highlight for my lockdown list.

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Liancalus virens

Nature diary of a Nascent Pan-species Lister: 6 June 2020 (Fishers Green)

Got up very early on Saturday morning with a target of Nightingale, but was not successful. This is now multiple years in a row where I have tried, unsuccessfully, to hear Nightingale sing in London.

Highlights were my first calling Cuckoo for the year, views of singing Garden Warbler (one of six warbler species) and seeing the very young Black-headed Gull chicks on the Tern rafts (along with Common Tern also on nests).

Fishers Green is a lovely part of the Lee Valley water and woodland complex. I walked all around the Electricity Sub-station and some of the adjacent water bodies. A general observation was the amount of Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) present; it really was everywhere.

I had a few plant galls of interest including my first ‘Sputnik gall’ for the year on Rose caused by the wasp, Diplolepis nervosa; they really are fantastic galls.

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Sputnik gall (Diplolepis nervosa)

I recorded my first Italian Alder (Alnus cordata) – a non-native tree with noticeably more pointed leaves than our native alder – and the galls on it caused by mites, Acalitus brevitarsus and, seemingly, the angle gall Aceria nalepai (although the underside was a little confusing). This latter find is of real interest as A. nalepai is not recognised as causing galls on this particular host and I may return to collect some specimens for further examination.

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Possibly two different mite galls on Italian Alder (Alnus cordata)

Other finds of note included:

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Psyllopsis fraxini (agg) – an hemipteran causer of galls on Ash

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A caddisfly (Athripsodes cinereus)

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The Vapourer moth being its ridiculously showy self (Orgyia antiqua)

Nature diary of a nascent pan-species lister: 8 May 2020

A hot day in lockdown and my daily exercise took me on a quick circuit of some of Wanstead Flats. I only paused for any length of time around the Brick Pit Copse where I listened to, and eventually saw, a singing Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) which had been found earlier in the day by N. Croft; our first locally for the year.

On the rest of my walk, I only stopped briefly to photograph a few invertebrates with my phone. The list below is snapshot of the things I took time to observe; species I specifically identified and recorded. I didn’t make too many attempts with flies (although I did iRecord Lucilia sp – a greenbottle) or one or two other invertebrate groupings, and there are no plants recorded here (although I did spend a bit of time checking the leaves of Quercus (oak), Acer (maples), Prunus (blackthorn, cherry etc). So, 81 species identified and recorded – not too shabby for a relatively brisk walk.

Selected birds: 40
I recorded 40 species of bird on my walk. The Garden Warbler was the obvious highlight, followed by an unusually showy Lesser Whitethroat.

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Blurry shot of Garden Warbler

Accipiter nisus (Eurasian Sparrowhawk) – Only raptor seen on walk.

Alauda arvensis (Skylark) – only heard a couple of males singing.

Apus apus (Common Swift) – the breeding birds have been back a few days now.

Sylvia atricapilla (Blackcap) – seemingly everywhere.

Sylvia borin (Garden Warbler) – one singing.

Sylvia communis (Common Whitethroat) – also noticeably abundant this year.

Sylvia curraca (Lesser Whitethroat) – At least one, probably two singing.

Etc – 33 species of other bird commonly recorded locally also seen.

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Lesser Whitethroat

Coleoptera – beetles: 7
I recorded seven species of beetle on my walk, three of which were lifers (remember I am a pan-species newbie) and three more were firsts for the year:

Andrion regensteinense (A broad-nosed weevil) – life first. Found on Broom.

Cantharis rustica (A soldier beetle) – first for year. Saw a couple.

Harpalus rufipes (Strawberry seed beetle) – life first (I’ve never recorded before, anyhow).

Malachius bipustulatus (Malachite beetle) – first for year.

Perapion violeceum (A weevil) – life first and possibly first record locally.

Propylea quattuordecimpunctata (14-spot ladybird) – possibly the most frequently seen ladybird at the moment locally.

Prosternon tessellatum (Chequered click beetle) – first click beetle I have seen this year. A few around.

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Perapion violeceum – a rather tiny weevil

Hemiptera – true bugs: 3
Three species recorded with one new for the year. A bit poorer than I might have hoped for the bugs, to be honest.

Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus – Seemingly common in the local area. A small yellow and black flower bug.

Palomena prasina (common green shieldbug) – first for year for this shield bug.

Trioza remota – a tiny psyllid bug which galls oak leaves – the nymph resides in a depression on the underside of the leaf.

Hymenoptera – bees and wasps etc: 5
Four of the five recorded were identified by galls they cause. Other hymenoperans were on the wing, but few long enough for me to photograph and ID.

Andrena sp (likely ovatula) – very active pollinating in Broom.

Andricus curvator f. sexual – Causes distinctive swellings and twists on oak leaves. Very common locally.

Biorhiza pallida (Oak Apples Gall) – This wasp-caused gall is very common and one of the earliest to be seen in the season.

Neuroterus numismalis f. sexual (Oak blister gall / Silk button gall) – First for the year for me of this subtle gall.

Neuroterus quercusbaccarum f. sexual – seen many currant galls on oak catkins and leaves.

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Blister gall on oak caused by sexual generation of Neuroterus numismalis wasp

Lepidoptera – moths and butterflies: 11
Three life-first moths for me, with the hemlock moth (Agonopterix alstroemeriana) being a particular highlight.

Aglais io (Peacock) – saw at least three.

Agonopterix alstromeriana (Hemlock moth) – a lifer for me. Found on Blackthorn.

Anthocharis cardamines (Orange Tip) – several seen.

Celastrina argiolus (Holly blue) – very common at the moment.

Erannis defoliaria (Mottled umber) – a caterpillar and second time I have seen this species in larval form in a matter of weeks.

Eupsilia transversa (Satellite moth) – a black caterpillar I’ve not recorded before.

Lycaena phlaeas (Small Copper) – abundant at the moment.

Pararge aegeria (Speckled wood) – several seen.

Pieris rapae (Small White) – several seen.

Polyommatus icarus (Common blue) – First for year for me with a specimen on Wanstead Flats and in my garden.

Syndemis musculana – another new moth for me. This tortrix was on Hawthorn.

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Syndemis musculana

Selected Acari – mites: 10
All identified through the galls they cause on plants.

Aceria cerrea – This isn’t recognised on iRecord or much literature on British gall-causing mites as it was only recently refound in the UK. Causes galls on turkey oak.

Aceria macrochela – first for year. Causer of pustule growths along veins of field maple leaves.

Eriophyes prunispinosae/similis – first for year. Causer of pustule galls along leaf margin of blackthorn.

Etc – seven more mite-caused galls were identified, but all were galls I have recorded frequently elsewhere this year.

Aceria cerrea

Erinea patch on underside of Quercus cerris caused by Aceria cerrea

Aranae – spiders: 4
Four species actively recorded.

Mangora acalypha (A cricket bat spider) – First for year for me.

Pardosa sp. (A wolf spider) – Found on bramble.

Pisaura mirabilis (Nursery web spider) – Found on buttercup.

Xysticus sp. (A crab spider) – Found on buttercup.

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Pisaura mirabilis – the nursery web spider

Aceria ilicis: same, same, but different

Sometimes I am too accepting of things which should be challenged and investigated.

I regularly look at Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) leaves and notice the felt galls caused by the mite, Aceria ilicis. But someone on a social media gall group made me question more deeply what I have noticed before: we use the name Aceria ilicis to cover two quite different types of galls.

Type 1: the pimple gall

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Distinct raised bumps showing on upper side of leaf

The upperside of the leaf shows distinct raised bumps or pimples with corresponding cavities on the underside filled with rusty brown erinea (hairy patches or felt).

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Underside showing the rusty brown patches corresponding to the bumps on the upperside

When put under the microscope, these patches show themselves to be very dense patches of rusty brown, mostly tightly curled ‘hairs’.

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Two patches filling cavities either side of central leaf vein

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Under greater magnification

Type 2: the felty patch gall

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No distinct pimples on upperside

In ‘type 2’, the upperside of the afflicted leaf may show some general bulging, but there are no distinct ‘pimples’ as with ‘type 1’.

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The underside is comprehensively covered by darker brown erinea patches

Unlike in ‘type 1’, ‘type 2’ galls appear to be have darker brown erinea and to be quite extensively covered by felt patches.

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Sometimes extensively filling the sections between veins

When looked at under greater magnification, the erineum itself appears slightly different.

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Under greater magnification

The erineum is not only a different colour, but it appears to be growing less densely than in ‘type 1’ examples and the ‘hairs’ are less likely to be tightly curled.

Conclusions?

Without detailed study of the mites themselves – beyond my powers and powers of my microscope, I doubt a conclusion can be made.

However, I am not convinced by the argument that ‘type 2’ merely displays more mature and extensive galling. Even discounting differences in colour of the erinea patches, the lack of pimples in ‘type 2’ seems odd.

Could ‘type 1’ and ‘type 2’ be caused by different species of mite? Possibly.

One final interesting observation is that all the photos above, of ‘type 1’ and ‘type 2’ galls were taken from two leaves growing on the same tree host.

“The irrepressible joy and lightness of being a*”… pan-species lister

I wrote about my rather low bird lists for 2019 in another post. But in 2019, I also took the first baby steps on a new journey. The journey really has only just begun, but I have so far found it to be rather delighting; becoming a ‘pan-species lister’.

Simply put, pan species listing is recording all species of wild life forms (above bacteria – it generally begins with fungi and slime moulds). You can read more about the rules and practitioners here and an excellent blog by a “big lister” here. There are apparently two people in the UK with lists of over 10,000 species (to get to that kind of level you would effectively need to become a master of all ‘trades’, jack of none, if you get what I mean).

For me, the motivation is roughly three pronged:

  1. It is useful on days/weeks/months (read June/July) when there aren’t many exciting new birds to record
  2. Similar to the point above, it means that there is almost always something to see/identify/record to help build a list (a passion of mine) and help contribute to scientific knowledge by submitting records
  3. To fill some embarrassing gaps in my knowledge about certain groups; herbaceous plants for example (as I have a position of responsibility with a small wildlife charity and occasionally lead walks etc, this has been brought into sharp focus).

One day, I may attempt to go back through old photos and lists and add in things I have seen or identified before, but from the summer of 2019 I simply attempted to record new things that I saw. I got close to 600 species, of which 519 were recorded in the UK. This is not a big number by any means as the scope of things that could be added is vast, but… it was a start, and it was completed in a year when I had a few other… er… distractions.

It has also enabled me to create the mother of all spreadsheets. I am really rather childishly and boastfully proud of it: it has tabs for the different ‘orders’ of life form (e.g., Coleoptera (beetles), Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), birds etc) and then macros (formulae I have built into the sheets) link through to a totals page that adds everything up automatically by date, location, order etc. I think it is work of art, but not one I am willing to share publicly so I see it as the oiled machinery operating out of public sight and beneath the surface of my records and submissions.

To give a flavour of some of the things I recorded…

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I added European Hare (Lepus europaeus) to my French patch mammal list. And those blurry purple flowers are Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) a species I couldn’t name until this year.

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Black-veined White (Aporia crataegi) was another French patch tick, but also a world life tick for me – and what a stunner – I could watch these all day

Trochosa terricola

This wolf spider (Trochosa terricola) was one of many ‘lifers’ for me this year, found on my local patch on Wanstead Flat by David Carr: an amateur but expert arachnologist

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Imagine if I led a nature walk around my local patch and couldn’t tell people that this was Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

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Potentially one of my most important finds of 2019: I believe these galls on Holm Oak (Quercus ilicis) in Dorset are caused by the fly, Dryomyia lichtensteini. If I am correct, this may be a first formal record for the UK.

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Spotted Longhorn (Rutpela maculata) was a lifer for me and found in my local churchyard in Leytonstone

 

The ‘irrepressible joy and lightness of being… a communist’ was taken from the radical book, Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. It followed a description of the radical nature of St Francis of Assisi. As the patron saint of animals, this phrase seemed appropriate.

2019 review: crunching some small numbers

2019 was always going to be a lightweight year on the birding front. My son was born just a few weeks before the year started. I get out less often and for less time and rarely travel far beyond the patch as weekends are mainly a time to spend with family.

Nevertheless, I got out on the patch more than once a week on average (60 patch trips in total, albeit sometimes only for an hour or two), and a further 13 non-patch trips in the UK which included some element of birding. Of these 13, ten were within the London recording area. Only five of those London trips could be described as twitches (of which three were successful: Penduline Tit at Crossness in South East London, Great Reed Warbler also at Crossness, and Ring-necked Duck at Fishers Green in the Lea Valley).

Highlights

Overall my UK year list was the lowest in a decade (121 – I am embarrassed to even type it) and my patch year list (103) was third out of the five years I have been birding in the Wanstead area (more on that shortly). But here are the top six highlights of my UK birding:

    The very showy patch-tick drake Garganey on Jubilee on 31 March
    Hearing and seeing a Great Reed Warbler – first for London – at Crossness), only a year after life-ticking this species in Poland
    The long-staying Greenshank on Heronry was probably bird of the year for me (that is the wonderful strangeness of patch birding for you) – seeing it first on 5 September
    Putting a couple of patch bogeys to bed by seeing Green Sandpiper and Sedge Warbler this year (perhaps leaving Golden Plover, Jack Snipe and Woodlark as the three most commonly seen birds still not on my patch list)
    The Pied Flycatcher and Tree Pipit mini-influx this Autumn which included three Pied Fly in one day on 24 August
    Scoring three Canary Wharf ‘megas’ (two self-finds) with Reed Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, and Common Redstart.
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Great Reed Warbler, Crossness, London

I won’t dwell on the lowlights, although failing to get a Yellow Wagtail on the Patch this year has to be up there. Oh, and there was a disastrous dip – twitching what turned out to be a dirty Common Sandpiper (rather than a Spotted Sandpiper) and involved a lengthy journey on public transport twice after leaving my bag in a hide. At least it reminded me why I rarely twitch things.

Patch year comparison
I have now been birding on Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park for a five full years. I have seen 134 species of bird locally in that time with six new species added to my patch list in 2019. 2018 was my best year with 110 species recorded and this year I got 103 (which is just under my mean average, or third best and third worst as I put it to my patch colleagues when we were totting up our totals).

So far, there have been 84 species I have seen every year (a list which includes Firecrest and Common Redstart). There are 10 more birds which I have only missed once in the five years of birding the Patch: this list sadly now includes Yellow Wagtail, Redpoll, and Common Sandpiper after this year’s performance, but also incorporates: Garden Warbler (2018 gap), Pied Flycatcher (2018), Tree Pipit (2016), Yellow-legged Gull (2016), Peregrine (2015), Shelduck (2015), and Treecreeper (2015). So that takes me to total of 94 species which are at least 80% likely nailed-on each year (although doesn’t take into account whether any of these are declining in likelihood of being seen). I could probably add Little Owl to the list of birds I would really expect to see on an annual basis (despite the fact that I missed it in my first two years).

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Firecrest, Bush Wood – a species I have patch ticked every year I have been birding here

So… that takes me to 95 species I would expect to see each year and only needing five more unusual finds each year. It is in this territory where the motivation to keep working the patch exists: the unexpected! So, this year, that golden list included six patch ticks (Garganey, Mandarin, Green Sandpiper, Sedge Warbler, Greenshank, and Marsh Harrier), but also joined by the following birds which I had only seen on one or two other years: Yellowhammer, Caspian Gull, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Rook, and Wood Warbler.

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Mandarin, Wanstead Flats

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Garganey, Wanstead Flats

France
I managed four trips to my second patch in the South of France in 2019 (including right at the end of the year where I am as I finish writing this blog post). My French patch has a smaller list of more exotic birds (patch list is only 81 – it is tougher birding with some dense vegetation and no water bodies), although, interestingly, of the 10 new species I added this year to my list, several are commonly found back in ‘Patch 1’ in London. So, chronologically listed, the French patch newbies were: Mistle Thrush, Montagu’s Harrier, Wagtail sp (as the only wagtail I have ever seen flying over, despite being a distant, silent silhouette, it gets a slot of its own for the time being), Tawny Pipit, House Martin, Dartford Warbler, Red Kite, Tree Pipit, Northern Wheatear, and Garden Warbler.

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Dartford Warbler, Corbieres

The Montagu’s Harrier was an obvious highlight as was the large number of migratory Honey Buzzard I saw (somewhat un-doing my regular complaint that our French House is not on any migratory flight paths). Slowly building a picture of the avian wildlife of this remote valley in the Corbieres has been a joy.

2020

I can’t imagine time will be very much more plentiful for me in 2020, so I will need to think and act smart to make the most out of my birding. My two patches will definitely play a decent part of the whole picture next year, but I am determined that they do not take up quite such a high proportion of the whole as they did in 2019.

October spider walk: Wanstead Flats

On 13 October David Carr led the way with another spider field trip/survey on Wanstead Flats. This followed the very wet but successful trip on 27 July and a couple of solo visits he has made since. There were about nine of us: members of the Wren Wildlife & Conservation Group and the London Natural History Society.

Unfortunately, the day was another wet one as with the July visit, although it was luckily mainly just overcast and drizzly with one heavy shower. The focus of the visit was on the copses on the Flats (on this occasion, Long Wood and Coronation Copse) with a few spiders found nearby in the grassland, broom and scrub, and single specialist found on the margins of Angel/Bandstand Pond. David employed the methods of bush/tree beating, some sweep-netting, and some leaf-litter sorting. A number of the species mentioned below required microscopic examination for confirmation to species level.

The July visit had been tantalising with a find of an immature spider suspected to be Anyphaena numida, a nationally rare buzzing spider. Whilst we were not able to confirm that find, David had a confirmed adult male on a solo visit a few weeks later. And so we were delighted to find another on the October trip by beating the same oaks where he found a specimen before on his own. There are only three species of the Anyphaena genus found in the UK, with two of them being very rare and recent finds for the UK, and all three having been found locally by David. Whilst A. numida was undoubtedly the rarest find of the day (only a handful of specimens have been confirmed nationally), David also found a number of other scarce and interesting spiders.

After meeting and gathering in Centre Road car-park, we began the spider-search in Long Wood, aptly named as a long and narrow bisected copse running from east to west along the northerly part of the largest section of Wanstead Flats and dividing the Brick Pit fields to the north from the broom field grasslands to the south.

In the first round of tree-tappings and undergrowth sorting, David quickly picked up Harpactea hombergi, a small stripey-legged woodlouse hunting spider. With the exception of the very rare, H. rubicunda, H. hombergi is the only species in its genus likely to be found in the UK.

We also found the very common Amaurobius similis in this location, the lace-webbed spider. I learned that ‘similis’ part of its binomial refers to its similarity to the closely related A. fenestralis. The latter is more likely than the former to be found outside of buildings, but on this occasion we clearly happened across a ‘wild’ outdoor specimen.

Another common ‘domestic’ species found in this bit of woodland was the large house spider, Eratigena gigantea. A pale specimen was hiding in a crevice surrounded by leaf litter. We also found the false widow spider now almost ubiquitous in built-up areas in the South East; Steatoda nobilis.

In this environment we also came across one of the two species of pinkish goblin spiders, from the Oonops genus. David later confirmed that this was Oonops pulcher, a spider he had not previously recorded on Wanstead Flats.

It was no surprise to find the orbweb spider, Araneus diadematus (commonly called Garden Spider), on a web with its distinctive white cross-like shape on the abdomen. However, Anke Marsh, who had joined us for the day with her daughter, was particularly thrilled to find a lifer, Agalanatea redii, another orbweb spider on Broom just south of Long Wood (it was a also a lifer for me, but as a arachno-newbie, that is not a great surprise).

Agalenatea redii

Agalenatea redii (an orb weaver spider)

Just outside of the wooded areas we also found a chunky wolf spider that David identified for us as Trochosa terricola and the commonly-found nursery web spider, Pisaura mirabilis.

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Trochosa terricola (a wolf spider)

As the rain started again we went back into a wooded area to the east of the gap in Long Wood. This was where David had found Anyphaena numida a few weeks earlier and on the first few taps of the oak, we had an adult male. It is worth noting that there have still been fewer than 20 confirmed finds of this species in the UK.

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Anyphaena numida (a rare buzzing spider)

David also got a likely immature Philodromus praedatus (one of the tricky running crab spiders) from the oak in the same location (Philodromus dispar was also recorded on the day, although I appear not to have been paying attention at that point as I have no photos of it). We also got to study one of the larger money spiders (Linyphiidae), which seems somewhat misnamed as Lepthyphantes minutus considering it is at least two or three times the size of an average expected money spider.

Another interesting find nearby, and another new species for the local area, was Megalepthyphantes sp. near collinus. This species has still to be fully studied and properly named in science (hence it is just a species similar to/“near” M. collinus) and has just a double digit set of records in the UK, all in the South East. David actually found and confirmed male and female specimens of this enigmatic species.

Heavy rain then temporarily stopped play and the small party of spider hunters adjourned to a nearby cafe for a spot of lunch. A little later when the rain was slightly less of an impediment to arachno-detecting, we went back to a different copse; known locally as Coronation Copse. David focused on sorting through the top layers of loose leaf litter. It was a productive method in a productive location.

Another linyphid appeared almost straight away: Microneta viaria, and things just got better from there. A chunky looking ground spider turned out to be Haplodrassus silvestris, a woodland native that is not often recorded and has apparently been in decline, so lovely to find in a semi-urban site. This was another first for our location.

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Haplodrassus silvestris (a ground spider)

Next out of the leaf-litter was one of the ant-mimic spiders, Phrurolithus festivus. And then something truly extraordinary came fell out of the plastic soil sieve. Another linyphid/money spider, a male with extraordinary boxing-glove-like pedipalps, and an even more extraordinary thin stalk-like protuberance on its head which is where the male’s eyes are situated. The spider’s name is Walckenaeria acuminata. There are a range of species in this genus, but surely none are quite as strange as this particular species.

Walckenaeria acuminata

Walckenaeria acuminata (a money spider)

We also found another wolf spider, but did not identify it to species level, so it remains Pardosa sp. in our records.

David and I then bid farewell to the last of our spider-finding team, Anke and her daughter, and made our way down to the swampy circle that used to be a small lake, called Angel. Sifting through the litter there did not seem to prove very productive until one small spider fell through the sieve. It was the last spider David found for the day and was not only new for the local area, but also a nationally scarce spider: a member of the Theridiidae (or ‘tangle web’) spiders, called Robertus arundineti.

Overall, it proved to be another great day of spider finds, yet again showing Wanstead Flats to be a fantastic location. I am sure we will organise further surveys/field trips in the future, so please do keep an eye out.

Spider key

Corbieres garden watch: butterflies

The birds of the Corbieres are a bit different from East London (I don’t often see a Griffon Vulture sail over the house or a Bee-eater perch on a telegraph pole in Leytonstone), but the butterflies are just another world. I don’t especially mean the different species, although there are many different species from those I find in London, but the diversity and the sheer quantity is just a world away.

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There were probably over 100 butterflies In the grassy area within the frame of this shot

We hear increasingly about the decline of butterfly numbers and I have certainly been taken aback by a seeming paucity of butterflies on the wing recently. I can stand in prime  habitat locally and sometimes not see any butterflies at all for a minute or two. In the Corbieres, they are everywhere. Every step I took on the land would send several flapping away to safety. I am not massively used to it because I don’t often visit in June or July and so found it almost breathtaking on this most recent trip.

I have recorded 43 species of butterfly within a short walk of the house and I expect, if I broaden my visits across Spring and Summer dates, I should hit 50 without too much bother; there was certainly a lot of underlap from a trip in August a couple of years ago.

On this trip, some species were everywhere: Meadow Brown (also probably the commonest summer butterfly back in Wanstead), Iberian Marbled White, Southern Gatekeeper, Silver-washed Fritillary, and Grayling were almost ubiquitous.

Iberian Marbled White

Iberian Marbled White (Melanargia lachesis)

Wall brown

Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera)

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Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)

Grayling

Grayling (Hipparchia semele)

The area benefits from many of the butterflies you would expect to find in France as well as being in a strange geographical comma that extends a number of Iberian semi-endemics into this sliver of Southern France. The False Ilex Hairstreak is a good example of this.

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False Ilex Hairstreak (Satyrium esculi)

A highlight for me was finally seeing Black-veined White. Their wings look like slices of translucent ivory or mother-of-pearl.

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Black-veined White (Aporia crategi)

The blues gave me some ID challenges, but were fun such as this Escher’s Blue

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Escher’s Blue (Polyommatus escheri)

I have pasted in my full patch list below in case of interest.

Brown Argus
Chalkhill Blue
Provence Chalk-hill Blue
Silver-studded Blue
Amanda’s Blue
Escher’s Blue
Common Blue
Long-tailed Blue
False Ilex
Blue-spot Hairstreak
Green Hairstreak
Spanish Purple Hairstreak
Two-tailed Pasha
Southern White Admiral
Painted Lady
Spotted Fritillary
Silver-washed Fritillary
False Grayling
Small Heath
Striped Grayling
Grayling
Tree Grayling
Great Banded Grayling
Wall Brown
Large Wall Brown
Large Tortoiseshell
Red Admiral
Dusky Heath
Speckled Wood
Meadow Brown
Iberian Marbled White
Spanish Gatekeeper
Southern Gatekeeper
Clouded Yellow
Berger’s Clouded Yellow
Cleopatra
Brimstone
Wood White
Black-veined White
Scarce Swallowtail
Small Skipper
Southern Marbled Skipper
Silver-spotted Skipper
Silver-washed Fritillary

Silver-washed Fritillary – upperside

Corbieres Garden Watch: Birds

I normally walk reasonably lengthy distances birding my second patch in the Corbieres region (reminder: think limestone hills and out-crops, medieval villages, scrubby, largely evergreen hillsides, and the beginning ripples of the Pyrenees) in the South of France. On this trip, given the extreme heat (we are a couple of hours drive from the record-breaking areas of 45-46 degree centigrade, but it was still 39 degrees when we arrived in France), and the fact that I now have a small baby, meant that I was a lot less mobile. This, in turn, meant most of my birding was done later in the morning in the shade from the house and sat on the patio looking west down the valley.

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My wife and son and the cypress mentioned in this post

Late June / early July is hardly peak time for passerine song, but three male Nightingale sang for brief periods daily (and nightly) within ear-shot of the house (I counted three more territories elsewhere on the land). Woodlark were not doing the big circling song-flights that I love watching in the Spring, but one or two would occasionally pop up and down for a brief burst and their stubby shapes were regular sights being flushed as we drove to-and-from the house down the 2km track. A new singer for me on the patch was Tawny Pipit; whilst common in the local region, it has eluded me hyper-locally until now.

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Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris)

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Classic Tawny Pipit territory – where I found it

Our other key songster, Melodious Warbler, was another daily regular, but was only heard in brief snippets of song once or twice. Our two most common warblers, Western Subalpine Warbler and, the year-round-resident, Sardinian Warbler, were both extra noticeable this year, but mostly not in song. Plenty of successful breeding evidence from both was noted, and family groups of Subalpine Warbler occasionally moved up and down the garden cypress tree with the juvenile birds having their catches supplemented. Common Whitethroat, Blackcap and Chiffchaff were much less prevalent but recorded nearby. I got one view, once, of a silent juvenile (or just dull female?) Dartford Warbler.

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Juv Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)

That garden cypress tree proved a productive focal point for finches. The local Greenfinch and vocal Goldfinch flock used it, as did an occasional Serin. A Linnet flock of six birds preferred the ground in the scrubby meadow behind the house, and Chaffinch song was heard daily, but they seemed less inclined to come close to the house. Cirl Bunting sang a couple of times near the house, and slightly further up the hill I was pleased to connect with Rock Bunting, albeit disproving my own theory that they only showed up during winter months when the mountains were too snowy and ice-covered.

A row of cypress trees a few metres to the left of our big garden tree housed nesting Firecrest. Amongst the other visitors to the tree during the week, a highlight was Crested Tit which watched me from the top of the tree as I took its photo whilst sat in a deckchair (easy birding!).

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Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus)

Black Redstart continued to perform as one of the most reliable ‘garden’ birds and a fledgling bird, still with oversize-wide bill, hopped around on our patio as I watched it from the kitchen. There were also a pair of semi-fledged Great Tit still being fed by their parents on the floor, only partially covered by undergrowth, right next to the barn and Blue Tits also seem to have had a successful year.

In the spirit of ‘why go to the birds, when the birds can come to me’, Turtle Dove flew over once, but was heard burbling away somewhere nearby more frequently. Also largely invisible, but regularly audible was Cuckoo. Great Spotted Woodpecker – not a common bird at all in the scrub land – was heard one day from our nearest pines.

Two years ago I photographed a single colony of 33 Bee-eater fly over the house. I certainly didn’t get a repeat of that, but never have I so consistently seen and heard Bee-eaters around the house. Every day I would hear their calls, and eventually I even stopped scanning the hillsides to see them perched up of swooping up and down. As we drove out on a couple of trips, they perched tantalisingly close on telegraph wires, making me curse the fact I didn’t have my camera handy.

Our local breeding Raven were less of a feature of this trip than almost any I had made before, although I occasionally heard their calls distantly and watched a pair on one of the valley stone outcrops one evening. Jays were the only other corvid on the trip garden list.

Raptor watching was patchy at first and then, at times, truly excellent:Watching six Griffon Vulture kettling over the house was a patch-record and a highlight for me.
Short-toed Eagle, as usual for the summer months was the most commonly seen raptor; mostly sailing over silently, but on a rare walk to the top of our local hill (Mont Major at 541m above sea level), a pair made an absolute racket as they flew past together.
Frustratingly, I fluffed the ID of a suspected Booted Eagle which I saw briefly before it disappeared over a hill: shape and brief view of colouration looked good but my impression of size was that it was noticeably bigger than Short-toed Eagle.
A pair of noisy Peregrine appeared briefly (a rare sight over the patch).
I also got one view of a Kestrel flying purposefully past the house carrying prey.
The patch highlight of the trip was undoubtedly good views of a young Montagu’s Harrier our main ruin on the land. I noticed it almost static in the air some distance away, but it then scythed around the curved contours of the hillsides (a first for me here, although I once had a pair a few miles away over a field).

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Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus)

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Underside plumage in transition it seems – reds still visible

On my walk to the top of the hill, I got good views of Crag Martin and Common Swift (I have had Alpine Swift here in the past). Whilst not very exciting for readers, I recorded my first ever House Martin on the French Patch this trip, a small flock passing high over head and hawking with the Swifts. House Martin and Swallows are teeming in the local villages a few miles away, but neither seem to be seen over this wild and remote valley, which is where the wild things are (Crag Martin in this case), so this was a welcome sighting. As with buses, I saw them almost every day after that, so perhaps the local village populations are hunting further afield now.

Whilst not seen from my ‘garden watch’ location, Meadow Pipits and Red-legged Partridge were flushed by the car along the track within the patch boundaries and Hoopoe flew over the car about a mile from our track. The best local (off-patch) sighting of the trip was probably a circling White Stork near the Medieval village of Lagrasse – this is the closest I have seen this species to the Patch and raises the chances that I will hopefully get one one day from the House. Straying from birds, I finally added Hare to my patch mammal list, joining at least two bat species, Stoat, Wild Boar, and Roe Deer (unfortunately I have only experienced Red Deer from the tales of the hunters takings from around (or illegally on) our land).

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Juv European Hare (Lepus europaeus)

Considering I barely left the garden, and we were largely being baked by the sun, this was still some enjoyable birding and this hopefully gives a sense to any readers of what can be found with minimal effort in the Corbieres. The butterflies probably outperformed the birds this trip, but I will save that for a separate trip report.

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The scene of most of my observations

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