Tuesday 21 July 2015

July roving records - Land East of the Railway Line

It was the last day for Royal Holloway student Mark on his work experience placement, so we had packed out the schedule with surveys. First thing in the morning was a reptile refugia check, over in Goat Meadow...

Young Grass Snake - Natrix natrix (video by Mark)

Its always nice to see such a young specimen, as it confirms that they are probably breeding successfully in this area. (Plus they are super cute!)
   Into Upper Picketts Wood, the Nuthatches were all calling noisily (a family had recently fledged from our large bat hibernation box, now due a good clean out I reckon!)

Lovely things.
  Next job on the list was a Dormouse box check. These have been mostly occupied by nesting Great Tits and Blue Tits...

After closely checking one particular box, we were surprised to find a tiny mammal hiding amongst a clutch of Blue Tit eggs...

Pygmy Shrew - Sorex minutus
(Photo by Mark. Other brands of freezer bag also available)

Pygmy Shrews are smaller than Common Shrews in body size, but with proportionately longer tails.This one was probably only occupying this nest which was long abandoned by the parent birds.
   Back to the office to catch up on entering data into iRecord, a really handy online database for the general recording work. It was then back out to the ponds in the afternoon for another habitat assessment, recording butterflies as we went...

Ringlet Butterfly -Aphantopus hyperantus 

Comma ButterflyPolygonia c-album

We carefully scanned the tree canopies for Purple Hairstreak Butterflies, Favonius quercus. The clue is in the second part of the scientific name, as their life cycle centres around mature Oak trees...

...a hint of fluttering wings?

After a while spent craning our necks and feeling strain on jaw muscles, we finally glimpsed some pale fluttering forms up high in the canopy. This is what they look like close up:

 Purple Hairstreak Butterfly - Favonius quercus

I found this female a couple of years ago at the base of an Oak in Horleyland Wood, she had possibly come down from the trees to seek out water on a very hot day.
  Over on the Powerline Ride, we noticed a bumblebee nest had been roughly dug out, most likely by a hungry Badger looking for some tasty bumblebee larvae...

A few worker bees were still coming and going, plus a couple of large queens were hanging about which are more easily identifiable...

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), queen

I've seen similar situations with wasp nests which have been dug out. Impressive stuff; Badgers must either have some immunity to stings or just very thick skin!
   On almost every piece of Hogweed (not the evil giant kind the tabloids have you worrying about...) there were Common Red Soldier Beetles in abundance. Its other name, the Hogweed Bonking Beetle is pretty apt....

Common Red Solider Beetle (Rhagonycha fulva) on Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)

Apparently these are taken as a sign that we are past the best of the beetle surveying season! I imagine a bunch of gloomy entomologists gathering in a pub to drown their sorrows once the first of the year is spotted.
  As we made our way over to the fish pond to carry out a habitat assessment, Blackcaps were singing all around. I like to think of their song as a nonesensical, whistling warble...

(Plus the sounds of a random jogger in the background)

We arrived at Pond 2 to carry out our habitat assessment, and Mark counted 3 Brown Hawker Dragonflies (Aeshna grandis) engrossed in their violent aerial battles.

Pond 2 - the fish pond

Here's an up-close pic of one which I found cold and sluggish in the grass a couple of years back...

Brown Hawker Dragonfly - Aeshna grandis

While we were watching, a big blue dragonfly crashed onto the scene and began vigorously chasing them... The typical hungry behaviour of the Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) caused the Browns to make a hasty retreat! 
  Despite the pond being heavily populated by Mirror Carp, plenty of dragonflies and damselflies breed here successfully, probably due to the large variety of pond vegetation providing underwater cover...

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)

Close-up: Blue-tailed Damselfly (Photo by Mark Melvin)

Azure Blue Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) with diagnostic bow-tie marking on 1st abdominal segment

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) male

But no Large Red Damselflies to be seen whatsoever!! It feels rather odd as these are normally in abundance here.
   We were also being watched over by some kind of Emerald Dragonfly, shooting past us on his territorial run, but with no chance of a good view, I'm still not sure whether this was a Brilliant Emerald or Downy Emerald.

Finally, a rather stunning lepidopteran of the moth-kind, hanging around the pond...

Herald Moth (Scoliopterix libatrix) Photo by Mark Melvin

Thanks to Mark for all of your help and enthusiasm these past few weeks. We hope to see you again sometime if you get a moment in your packed-out summer!

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