Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A bird in the hand...

This is not going to be the blog update I had originally intended but, I just wanted to share this and then the 'other' one will be along very soon...

There's a regular circular walk that I take locally, it starts from home and follows footpaths, meadows and some arable land before crossing a small stream that links back to the house. Yesterday was a beautiful day here in the south of the U.K. and I'd been thoroughly enjoying this particular walk. I was only a short hop from home when distracted from watching a fox making its way across the corn field by a loud rustling and fluttering at ankle level.

It was in the low vegetation beside the footpath and I soon saw what was making all the noise...

It was this little fledgling that had somehow managed to injure itself. It was flapping violently but the resulting movement was just round and round in circles. It couldn't fly and kept falling on to its back, with its head at a very strange angle, almost flopping backwards over its back.

It seemed to be in a bad way and in need of some help. I waited around for a while to see if the parents were close-by or maybe calling it but there was no sign of them and this little one was really distressed. I decided to take it home and see if I could allow it to recover in peace and maybe even encourage it to eat; it was asking for food when I picked it up and I had no idea how long it had been there.

And so I emptied my camera bag and carefully placed the bird inside, then headed for home as quickly as possible without wishing to scare the little one. What to feed was the next problem. I settled it in a safe and quiet spot whilst I looked on the internet for some clues as to what species it might be. I narrowed it down to a couple of choices; that is, choices based on very little, as fledglings are very tricky to identify with any degree of certainty. Siskin was a possibility but I thought that a closer match was Yellowhammer.

If that was correct, then I really needed to double my efforts to try and ensure its survival-the yellowhammer has suffered a decline in recent years to the point where it has now become a red-listed (endangered) species.

I couldn't find any relevant advise on food for such a youngster but remembered that once before when I had a small fledgling, the local sanctuary advised me to feed it on small amounts of scrambled egg! Being the cordon bleu chef I undoubtedly am, I had some knocked up in no time. The bird didn't seem to be interested in feeding now though, I did my best to persuade it over the next few hours but it steadfastly refused to even try a tiny piece  of my offering. 

I suppose it must have been about 10pm when I returned it to its make-shift home for the night with a little food and dish of water and turned out the lights. I wasn't at all hopeful, it seemed so weak and its movements were worrying too. I fully expected to find this morning that it had passed away in the night but I had done all I could and maybe, it now needed to be left alone to recover?

At around 6am this morning I was steeling myself for the worst as I walked the short distance to where the birdie was housed. Miracle of miracles! Not only was it alive but looking much better and even making efforts to fly a little. When I switched the lights on, it began to chirp at me too. No more falling over, no more head tilting either. I offered food again but still it wasn't interested. I left it for a while and then decided that the best plan would be to return it to where I found it and release the little thing. It seemed ready somehow and much stronger today.

What happened next fills me with joy. I set the beautiful little creature on the ground right close to where I originally spotted it and didn't have to wait long for my reward. It sat for a while, had a quick look around and then took flight for a good distance into the midst of the corn crop...

(You'll need to visit the blog online to see this video)

Not a great video I know but if you look very hard and squint and use your can just about make out it's flight path into the crops. Well I managed to after several views anyhow.

I cribbed a few stills from the video and mashed them together as an animated GIF to allow you to see take-off in slow motion...

I can't tell you how good it feels to be able to give nature a hand in this way and it was such a treat to watch as this tiny bird returned to the wild in a much better state than when I found it.

Until the next time...

Friday, July 25, 2014

How time flies when you're having fun...

It all started a couple of weeks ago when I spent some time in very good company on Ashdown Forest, even stayed overnight, but since then I have struggled to find any time to update the blog for lots of reasons. However, now that I have, let's crack on shall we?

There's an old photographic maxim that says, 'If it's bright, give it more light' but even using that as my guide, the long, hot, sunny days we have been enjoying in the U.K. have been far from ideal for macro photography. I have been reduced to early mornings or evening time to get my pictures, hence my tally for each day has been way lower than usual.
That has not prevented me from observing and enjoying nature of course, there is plenty to tempt the eye at this time of year.

Cabbage Moth Eggs
Let me start with updating the story of the moth eggs pictured here-I found these in my moth trap one morning and eventually pinned down the ID to Mamestra brassica. At least I am reasonably sure just from the ova that's what they are? 
I was fully intending to keep and raise these through to pupating, to observe the larvae and to that end, they did emerge a few days later. But it happened to coincide with my trip to the High Weald and so I had to decide, should I take them with me or release them on a suitable food plant.

I settled on the latter option and so before I left, I found a nice quiet and secluded spot to return them to the wild. I do have other larvae that I am raising though and so I will be able to share those with you instead very soon.

Diaea dorsata 
When I came across this crab spider recently I suspected that it's huge abdomen was down to it being heavily gravid (or would just gravid have been enough- perhaps heavily gravid is tautology?) anyhow, I decided to keep watch as it was only in the garden.

Sure enough, a couple of days later she looked like this...

What she did next was to fold the leaf half over the eggs and seal them in. Unfortunately I didn't get to be around to witness that, I would have liked to get some photos really. And there she remained for almost three weeks, sitting guard over her brood, not even moving to feed as far as I could tell. Eventually the little spiderlings began to emerge and although they were little bigger than a pin-head at this stage, what they lacked in size, they made up for in cuteness...

Another interesting little spider, with a sputnik-shaped egg sac I found was this Paidiscura pallens...

Although this one can readily be found on a variety of trees and shrubs throughout the summer months, oak seems to be a favourite. Even without the   female spider as in my photograph, the distinctive egg sac is sign enough in itself of the spider's presence. It is an extremely small one though and often wrongly identified as a juvenile being just 1.5mm

Eriocampa ovata
Those egg sacs are quite odd looking aren't they but how about this strange critter that looks like it has a bad case of Eczema or Psoriasis? It is actually Eriocampa ovata or more commonly, an Alder Sawfly Larva. They grow to about 2 cm as a larva and are covered in this white powdery substance. It's easily rubbed off when the larvae are moving around and is lost altogether at the final instar stage, when they take on a pale green colour. Found on Alder from May-August with most records appearing to come from the south of the U.K.

Oh, go on then! As we seem to be doing oddities again; how about another type of sawfly larva?

Oak Slug Sawfly - Caliroa annulipes

I think this one is the Oak Slug Sawfly larva, I say 'think' because there are others...there are the Rose and also Pear Sawfly to consider. But as this one was found underneath an oak leaf, I am taking that as a clue. Doesn't make it conclusive though as they also use lime and other trees.

Meanwhile, in the garden, a new addition to the plants,' Liatris spicata' has been attracting the attention of several butterflies, bees, hoverflies and plant-bugs...

Also in the garden I spotted this little bug nymph...

Rhopalus subrufus
It is one of the Rhopalid bugs that turn up most years in the garden and is my first sighting of one for this year.

There is a photo of an adult bug on the excellent BRITISH BUGS Website that I took in the garden back in 2009 HERE

The only other thing of note from the garden would be to mention these odd looking caterpillars that I have been finding on the woundwort plants...

I haven't found an ID for these yet and am assuming that they are different instars of the same species.

Well I think that's more than enough to be going on with but I will be back just as soon as I can and hopefully with an answer to what has emerged from either or both of these egg species pictured below-unless of course, you have already guessed?

 Until the next time then...

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Wild spun-sugar...

When I discovered something whilst out walking in a local meadow, that at first glance you would be forgiven for thinking was wild spun-sugar, my interest was piqued.
Only small at around 5-7mm but beautifully formed, there seemed to be several of these miniature baskets adhered to both dock and sorrel plants.

Time for further investigation. I took some photographs and as I was wandering home, it dawned on me that I had actually seen something very similar a few years ago; but at that point, been unable to find an answer.
My research this time however soon provided a number of clues as to the identity of the creature that was responsible. To be 100% confident of the species would probably entail dissection, even so, I am reasonably happy that these enigmatic structures are actually the pupal cases of Hypera rumicis, a species of weevil.

Described as a pale-buff coloured weevil, with darker brown markings on the elytra (wing casing) of about 5mm in size. The weevil itself can be seen from late spring into summer, in areas that contain dock, or provide damp conditions.

If I didn't know better, I could make some kind of tenuous link with erstwhile England footballer David Beckham here; after all, world cup fever and all that? Lucky then that I do know better.
Whetted your appetite? Okay then, I'll elucidate-the intricate lattice-work of this cocoon, is sometimes referred to as a golden ball, or golden net ball (tenuous huh?) and is constructed by the larvae for its transformations. 

It resembles some of those made by caterpillars of moths. It's composed of loose threads, permitting the larva or pupa to be seen through the mesh.
Quite why nature has decided that this kind of protection from parasites is adequate escapes me; especially given that any movement in the leaf or stem the casing is attached to, seems to cause the larva inside to twitch and wriggle, drawing attention to itself.

I took a few shots of a larva beginning to make one of these fascinating creations...

I also managed a short video-well it wasn't that short actually, this is over half an hour's worth at its original timing. I have increased the speed to x8 to reduce the size for my blog and also...preventing boredom setting in.

The usual reminder here that videos don't show in the emailed version-you need to view this update directly on my BLOG

(The shiny-looking object bottom right is just my 'Plamp' to hold the plant steady)

A close up shot of this beautiful structure:

I don't know if this could be a similar, or even the same species but I found it recently on a birch leaf. Maybe it isn't a weevil at all?

That's about it for this update-I'll be back just as soon as time allows with another, my 137th I think..