Thursday, 30 April 2015

Butterflies & Hoverflies

Spent most of today at Rainham Marshes, never added any new species to my year list, even though there were at least three additions there yesterday! Oh well, it was great to sit and chat with Dave Cornwall and later with Mark Vale, I picked both their brains on butterflies, of which a number of different species were seen today including Orange-tip, Green-veined White, Holly Blue & Speckled Wood.

Robin giving it some

Orange-tip male
H. pendulus is the only Helophilus with the hind tibiae extensively pale - they are usually yellow on the basal two-thirds. The face has a black stripe like H. hybridus and the abdominal markings are much like female hybridus, though pendulus averages smaller and yellower in colour.

This is our most frequent Helophilus, a widespread and common species found in variety of habitats, but especially lushly-vegetated places where pools, ditches or other wet areas are present. The rat-tailed larvae have been found in ditches and other shallow water, also wet manure and wet sawdust.
Helophilus pendulus Common Tiger Hoverfly
Speckled Wood

another Robin


Saturday, 25 April 2015

Garden wildlife

A few from my garden taken on Thursday when the sun shone bright.

A female Anthophora plumipes Hairy-footed Flower-bee. One of our largest solitary bees, and one of the commonest bees of flowery gardens in spring. The beige males fly rapidly around flower beds hovering and darting periodically, their yellow faces usually quite obvious. The mid tarsi have a fringe of very long hairs that arise from all 5 tarsal segments. Typical females are very different-looking to males, jet-black except from the orange hairs on the hind tibiae.
A. plumipes is widespread and locally common over much of southern Britain, especially within urban areas. It is also frequent along the coast (especially soft-rock cliffs), in quarries and on chalk downland. Nesting usually takes place in vertical, sunny faces, such as cliffs, quarry sides, old walls and soft mortar of younger walls. Large nesting aggregations can develop over time. Females are often reported indoors, possibly where nesting occurs close to windows or in chimneys

A wide variety of flowers are visited, especially those with deeper flowers such as lamiates (dead-nettles, Ground-ivy), legumes (Common Gorse, bird's-foot trefoils), comfreys, lungworts and spring shrubs such as sallows, Blackthorn, cherries, plums and apples. Males emerge before females, usually in early March. Females can persist into June.

Submit your sightings to BWARS

Find more information on Steven Falk's excellent Flickr site.

female Anthophora plumipes Hairy-footed Flower-bee

Epistrophe eligans - A distinctive, medium-sized hoverfly that can attain great abundance for a short period of mid spring - typically peaking when the Hawthorn is in blossom. The males can be conspicuous as they hover in loose swarms in rides and clearings. It can turn up far away from woods too. Both sexes occasionally have an extra orange band on tergite 3. The larvae are aphidophagous on a range of trees and shrubs, less often herbaceous species.
Epistrophe eligans

Eupeodes luniger - Our most frequent Eupeodes, with a pronounced spring peak (usually featuring darker individuals that have probably overwintered as pupae) plus further peaks of abundance in summer.

Eupeodes luniger

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Chasing year ticks!

Great day yesterday on the marshes, I started early before 7am, well early for me! at the landfill and surrounding areas. Had a Swift go over the landfill early on, steady numbers of swallows also moving north. Finally after five attempts I caught up with the Corn Bunting, pretty sure it is the only one there and sings very occasionally! On the Thames a Sandwich Tern with 50+ common and 2 arctics. On the reserve 2 Hobbies were over Wennington and thanks to Mark Vale's directions for the Lesser Whitethroat. Five species added to my personal Rainham year list today.

The Linnet gorse colony are still busy, looks like this one is building a mega nest!

The Cetti's Warbler opposite the Linnet colony, shows very well at times and after a number of attempts this is my best image to date, still not great though!
On top of the landfill site the Skylarks and Meadow Pipits are excellent value, their song flights are brilliant. I particularly like watching the pipits as they gain height singing as they go and then parachute back down to earth.
Skylark in full song
There were also two Wheatears on the top at times showing quite well as they use the fence posts as a lookout.

I spent an hour or more at the top and finally caught up with the elusive Corn Bunting, to see the bunting walk west from the Wennington (serin) Mound after a short distance along the path, turn left through the new-ish walk-through the fence and cross the road, following the path up the grassed-over eastern end of the landfill. When you reach the top, pause for a moment to enjoy the amazing view of the reserve and river; I had the Corn Bunting a short distance further on, as the path starts to descend towards the road on the south side of the landfill. It only sings and shows briefly and has been heard on the north side too. Thanks to Dominic Mitchell for the directions.

This Little Grebe is incubating eggs about 3 foot from the boardwalk. It could of course suffer some disturbance as people stop and take photos, but I'm sure as long as people don't camp out right beside it, it will be fine. After all they chose the spot and just maybe having us humans passing by so closely gives them a little protection from would be predators, well at least while the reserve is open!
Bombus humilis - Brown-banded Carder-bee. I photographed this bee behind the Butts Hide and thanks to Martin Harvey for the confirming it's ID. Peter said 'Yes. Absolutely 100% certainty would require microscopical examination of the tergite structure of the sides of the tergites towards the upper end of the abdomen, to rule out Bombus muscorum, but muscorum does not occur this far east from the Essex coast.'
The Brown-banded Carder Bee Bombus humilis has declined sharply in the UK over the last forty years or so, mainly because it needs large areas of grassland rich in flowers, especially vetches, clovers and trefoils for feeding. The queens also need tussocky grass containing mouse nests in which they found their colonies, raking in moss and fine grass leaves. Heavy grazing, “improvement” of pastures, encroachment of scrub and the use of herbicides have all taken their toll on humilis and other specialist bees such as the Shrill Carder Bumblebee Bombus sylvarum. Nowadays Bombus humilis is mainly restricted to dry coastal grasslands, but is also common on Salisbury Plain. It is often associated with brownfield sites such as the grasslands of the Thames Gateway, especially where these are extensive and have a continuous succession of flowers.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron


Marsh Frog
Cream-spot Tiger Moth caterpillar - This moth caterpillar grows to about 65mm and is fairly common in open habitat in southern parts of the British Isles. When fully grown in the early spring it may be found basking in the sun on grasses and herbaceous plants during the day. The brown head helps identify it from other hairy caterpillars. Nearly tripped over this big beast near the Ken Barrett hide!
 A number of butterflies about today despite the cool breeze including this Speckled Wood.

male Blackcap in the woodland

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Larking about on the landfill

Spent early morning on the landfill site at Rainham. The skylarks and Meadow Pipits are fantastic both displaying like mad currently. So here are a few of the skylarks.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Early morning visit

Parked up in the small car park above Aveley Bay soon after 06.30, sun was already shining and there was a light north-easterly. Almost immediately it was obvious that Whitethroats had arrived since my last visit on Monday with three or four singing including song flights. Sedge Warblers were doing exactly the same but from the reedbeds. I explored west of the serin mound and then along to behind the Purfleet Hide and back to the car park by 09.00. Only added Whitethroat for the year but had a great early morning walk.
Linnets still in the gorse


A wren also on the gorse

distant Whitethroat

even more distant Sedge Warbler

Lapwing was closer!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Rainham Marshes

Walked the seawall from RSPB's visitor Centre to the landfill site and back. At least three Willow Warblers singing, four Sedge Warblers and seven Cetti's Warblers. Added to this Chiffchaff, Wren, Dunnock and the sounds of Lapwing and Redshank made for a pleasant walk. In the field in front of the serin mound were four Wheatears two males and two females, while a fifth male showed well on the landfill trail. Skylark and Meadow Pipits were in fall song as I stopped to take in the views from the top of the landfill. Out on the river there were 18 noisy Common Terns feeding just off Aveley Bay.

Wheatear male

Wheatear male

Meadow Pipit

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Rainham Marshes

Spent the day on the marshes, started off foggy, could hardly see Kent across the river. It lifted before midday and became warm and sunny. Never added any new species for the year but had a great day. Highlights were a weasel on the seawall that showed brilliantly on the seawall until it realised I was stood beside it, and of course my camera was still in the bag, amateurish mistake! Jim on the family pond-dipping activity had a Great Silver Diving Beetle an impressively large beastie, I did take some pictures but wasn't happy with them, so they got binned. The Spoonbill had moved from the target pools to in front of Butts Hide but remained distant, a single Little Ringed Plover also showed from Butts Hide. A Sedge Warbler was singing and showing well at times along the southern boardwalk and just a single Swallow was seen today.


Peacock loads of these today



Carrion Crow

distant Spoonbill

distant Spoonbill

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Zebra Spider

A few of these on the garden fence today, the zebra spider, Salticus scenicus, is a common and widespread jumping spider and quite small 5-7 millimeters. Like other jumping spiders, it doesn't build a web. It uses its four pairs of large eyes to locate prey and it’s jumping ability to pounce and capture it. I noticed this one on the wall of my garden shed. It had already pounced and caught the fly and is now moving its prey back to its lair, presumably to devour it!

Tricky to get a sharp image as they were always on the move!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Nursery-web spider (Pisaura mirabilis)

Had lots of these in my garden today must have been twenty at least and just like me they seemed to be enjoying today's sunshine.

The nursery-web spider Pisaura mirabilis is the only member of the Pisaura genus in Britain. The abdomen is slender and tapering and there is a light stripe along the middle of the carapace. The colour is variable, and may be grey, yellowish-orange or dark brown. Although males are generally similar in appearance to females, they tend to be darker, with more noticeable markings and have smaller abdomens.
Size - Male length: 10-13 mm; Female length: 12-15 mm.