More burning heathlands

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Spring migrants are again winging their way across Britain. this year my first swallow was seen on April 8, usually it is a few days earlier. my first willow warbler singing was April 1. chiff chaff was March 18. sadly lots of migrants have been shot whilst migrating across the Mediterranean islands, a vote to keep it going was obviously corrupted. If the slaughter continues then we will see less and less birds here and everywhere as a result. Cyprus, Malta and Corfu are some of the worse offenders. It is mainly illegal but the law is not enforced, so most people get away with it.All bird species are shot from hides or trapped using lime,nets,singing male birds, drugged or poisoned baits. There are a number of on-line petitions which anyone can sign for there is a huge number of other important topics. Petitions work,I sign hundreds every year, you could too. They are all easy to find and once you sign up for one, they all just come in , but it is seriously good stuff.It is about trying to save nature.

the picture above, is of red kites in Dorset, not migrants but residents. Many people still seem to think that we do not have resident red Kites in the county but we do. And a few  are breeding. These are from mid Dorset.

 

 

 

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This ground beetle,(Agonum) genus has over twenty similar species. this specimen was on a dead fox, possibly hunting for flies or other invertebrates attracted by the carrion smell.

 

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Tall vantage points are essential. for small birds that advertise their presence by song. meadow pipits sing whilst flying and put on a great show now as they display to females. Dartford warblers and stonechats also need these advantage posts but unfortunately the Eco fascists , those who think they know how to preserve the heath, cut them all down as they think that all the shrubs and bushes should be low to the ground. This is wrong as most birds that are forced to nest low to the ground are predated on by snakes, foxes or stoats. In reality one should leave gorse at different heights, but with the majority lower to the ground to bush out and thicken, but leaving many straggly old gorse also and many more in-between. The pipit was replaced by the stonechat, as they both competed over the only taller gorse in the area.the birds need to through their voices out to the females and other males, without them they may not function properly,and breeding will be down.

 

 

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The Jack snipe is hiding in a patch of burned heath, intoxicated by fumes it was unable to fly for a long time. It fly off later after the skies cleared of smoke.

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A female adder emerges from a sea of darkness. Unless she is rescued and moved to unburned suitable habitat she will be easy game for a hunting buzzard,crows or magpies. If she stays then she will not feed as the small mammals have been burned or will die also from lack of food.I moved her away along with other reptiles. The day town common burned down two weeks ago was horrible. One of my favourite wildlife spots

 

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A birds nest and contents destroyed.

 

 

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this is what the scene looked like afterwards

 

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And dead reptiles such as this adder succumbed. A great many people helped in re-locating reptiles and the fire brigade put the fire out before it hit houses.

 

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One adder sloughed its skin, the first completely whole skin,undamaged that i have found. the individual responsible was nowhere to be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Autumn spiders

Many species of spiders are far more noticeable at this time of year. there is a good reason for this. The most obvious spiders are the web builders of the family Araneidae;comprising of the large orb web builders such as ;Araneus diadematus or common garden cross spider. these are the most common spiders one will encounter in Uk. The specimens seen and reported by people are females often full of eggs.These spiders are an annual event.The females mate on maturity in autumn and lay their eggs usually one or two egg sacks and then they die. The egg sacks hatch in late spring time and the spiderlings are not very noticeable unless seen hatching, there can be up to two hundred per egg sack. they disperse by ballooning.Many species of spider do this to get around. the spider releases gossamer silk into the air often by standing on its head or pointing the abdomen to the sky and waiting for a breeze the animals shoots out the liquid silk which on contact with the air hardens into visible silk.The breeze catches the silk and the spiders lets out more, on doing so it is picked up as the wind carries the silk high into the air. the spider is flying basically and can reach great heights before coming back down to earth.Spiders need to do this to get as far away from their siblings as possible to prevent inbreeding. Many species of invertebrates need to do this , but not many produce silk and fly in this way.the smaller the spider the higher one can travel. money spiders, members of the Linyphia family are often tiny and do it en mass in their millions. When the Araneids get bigger, they are then more noticeable, hence the many reports of plagues of huge web making spiders every autumn.

DSC03846A. diadematus (above)is the most common in town and country but other species occur also such as A .quadratus or four spotted orb weaver, below.

DSC00581Another smaller species is Agalenatia redii, which is common in field,woodlands and heathlands. It is smaller and very variable.

DSC01693There are many great spider species in the Uk. what is not often known about spiders habits is the fact that they sometimes drink sugar solutions put out to capture night flying moths.When sugaring for moths recently with friends of mine, on local heathland, we were intrigued to witness several spider and harvestman species taking the mixture of black treacle and beer.

DSC03155This specimen was taking the solution among three species of spider and three species of harvestmen.

DSC03847DSC03848One can see the treacle as shiny dark area on tree.

 

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True Bugs

True bugs are defined by having sucking mouth parts instead of jaws, so technically most of the insects that people call bugs are not bugs at all but other types of insects or other invertebrates, it is basically a lazy,modern American term.Bugs are mainly small insects that suck plant or animal fluids.Here are a few of the thousands of types we can find in all types of habitats.

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A mixture of the same species, the common green shieldbug(Palomena praasina),like most bugs they like to congregate together at certain times of year.

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Here one of the above meets another common species the rhombus shield bug(verlusia rhombea)

DSC03304This is a nymph bug of a carnivorous species. It has overpowered a poisonous beetle,the ladybird and is sucking it dry.

DSC02760The scorpion fly(Panorpa species) is a fly, not a bug but has similar mouth parts for the same reason.There are three similar species in Britain, and all are predators orscavengers on other invertebrates. The males sport a telson like tail end.It has taken a cleg, one of the many species of horseflies.

 

DSC02758I have always liked the colours of leaves of plants that are orange,pink or other subtle shades. A leaf of the broad leaved dock has a juvenile short winged conehead(concephalus dorsalis).

DSC02755This one is another bug, this time a Mirid or capsid bug. there are many types of these very small but pretty insects that usually visit flowers feeding on pollen and small insects.

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This nymph bug is the same species as the one eating a ladybird, but this time it has learned how to suck eggs, the eggs of the buff tip moth have been found and the bug is lifting the egg to insert its proboscis into the soft underside of the egg where it is penetrable.

DSC02722The smallest of plant bugs lives on clovers and other leguminous plants on short sword.It is only a millimetre in length.There are many other tiny species that live on various other plants.Some are much smaller than this, some are nearly microscopic to look at.

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The pollen takers

Insects and pollen and nectar go hand in hand.Plants use insects to pollinate themselves as well as other means, many plants only use insects or use wind dispersal of pollen.Most flowering plants use insects of some sort to take pollen from one male plant or part of, to a female flower at another; this is how plants pro-create. If flowers are not pollinated then the plants will not usually bear fruit. All the fruit and veg we eat and other animals eat are from plants that have flowers that need to be pollinated.the main insects which do that are most types of insects and not just bees, but ants,butterflies,moths,beetles,bugs,spiders, in fact any invertebrate that visits flowers will pay a part in pollination.that is why insects are so important to us as humans and all other life on earth.Unfortunately the majority of humans do not understand this crucial part of nature.Many insects throughout the world are dying off in their trillions because of the use of pesticides and herbicides used on commercial plants for all manner of production; this has a devastating effect onus,wildlife and the environment.The knock-on effects of this are very serious and de-pleats bio-diversity.Here in Britain we have lost possibly half of all our pollinating insects as well as the plants they depend on. This must not be able to continue if we want a bio-diverse earth and if we as humans want to be healthy. One of the major problems in Britain is the silly damaging habits of the many.The cutting of grass along roadside verges is pointless, costly ,polluting,ugly and is wrong. we are obliged to create wildlife habitats not destroy them.It is bad enough most people destroying what they call weeds ! and mowing grass into lawns. There seems to be no place for wildlife in most gardens.The equation is simple. No wildlife means no humans ! Why do people not get it? Below are a few photos of pollinating insects in beautiful flowers.

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The Himalayan balsam is a very attractive but invasive plant;but like all of the so called alien plants we now have here in Britain, they all do a good job with insects and pollination. A plant bug hides inside the large colourful flower.

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A small be leaves a flower of the clustered bellflower now flowering in Purbeck. this tear there are more plants than i have ever seen.

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Ants are very important pollinators and fennel is attractive to all manner of Hymenoptera.

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A capsid bug takes pollen from a trefoil flower

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Here is an unusual morph of afemale common blue butterfly nectering on hawkweed flowers

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A wild honey bee has more than it bargained for as its face is totally covered in pollen from the common mallow flower.

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A pair of meadow brown butterflies copulating. I like the subtle sexual dimorphism

DSC00947Above is the bee wolf wasp pollinating sea holly.

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Under the Oak bark

It is vitally important for dead wood to hang around, especially as standing trees. these days so much dead wood or dying trees are removed in the wake of namby pamby health and safety laws and regulations. we risk losing many of our very important insects,birds and bats and fungi due to the removal or trees,branches, trunks,roots or just logs on the ground, especially oak. Many species of animals depend on dead and dying trees foe their survival and many species are very rare or on the brink of extinction. In Europe many iconic insect species have gone and now as Britain takes on more European laws we are heading in the same direction. some of the oldest trees we have are oaks and many of these now only remain in parks and stately homes. I have seen many dead trees removed along with the important ecosystems they support. some species still exist and the New forest is the last home to many rare or endangered species of beetles and moths and flies. A search of the bases of oaks sometimes yield typical evidence of goat moths (Cossus cossus). this large moth as a larvae consumes oak timber by boring into the base of the trunk. the holes can be seen with frass(excrement) in piles at the entrances and pupal cases can be found. Here is a dead specimen with hosts, flies as larvae about to pupate alongside. The fly is an endangered species.

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The goat moth is uncommon but a much less common moth species is the waved black (Parascotia fuliginaria). the larvae of this small mottled brown species feed on fungi under the bark.

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This caterpillar was not parasitized but the one below was.

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A small elephant hawk moth(Deilephila porcellus) was eaten by a small predator possibly a ground beetle.This uncommon moth is rarely seen, but occasionally visits moth lamps.It is mainly coastal in distribution and feeds on bedstraws

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This is the main month for butterflies and it has been a good year for them so far with last year being great for many species(the previous three years were very bad for many species) so hopefully the ideal weather conditions this summer will produce masses of abundant species. A variation of the ringlet ( Aphantopus hyperantus) ) was seen at Martin down nature reserve a few days ago , I call it the starry ringlet ! as it has tiny white star like speckles instead of the usual small eyelets.

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also a strange marked common blue female .

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Most smaller birds have fledged many young and some are incubating their third broods by now although only a few species have time to do this. Starlings (sturnus vulgaris)usually have one brood and the young remain with the family group for the rest of the summer. The numbers of these colonial species have plumeted over recent decades but i think that their numbers are increasing again in some areas and in some areas they have remained stable for a long time. I see then nearly everyday around Bournemouth areas and some places such as christchurch and mudeford and Hengestbury, they are tame and can be hand fed at food outlets

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The parents beg whilst the fledglings wait.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mini weevils

with over 1200 weevil species in Northern Europe identification of individuals can be very tricky. In Britain there have been over 420 species recorded.Some of the overlooked species are tiny such as the two following species from the Apion genus.

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A.frumentarium is only 2mm long and lives on docks and sorrels.It is usually this bright red orange colour.

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This is A.pomonae it lives on low growing composites.

A young boy on the promenade on Bournemouth beach front found a little strand of debris in a drying out gutter under the cliff and wondered what it was . i snatched it from him and took a closer look.There were three midge larvae cocooned in a droplet of water clinging to a plant root. Midges usually have aquatic larvae and are usually predatory or feed on other organic matter such as fungi, moulds or other insects in rotting wood or soil.

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Some spring butterflies are busy doing their stuff such as the orange tip(Anthocharis cardamines) as a larvae it feeds on crucifers (cabbage family) they love the cuckoo flower.

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orange tipThe underside is very camouflaged. Another white butterfly is the green veined white(Pieris napi) here feeding on gorse flowers.

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A nights moth trapping with a UV lamp in the New forest with entomologist friends, only provided three species but included many great prominant(peridea anceps) moths.

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The warbler and the buck

My nearest part of the heathland is vibrant with life today as the warm sun bathed the dry heather in a warm glow.Seven grass snakes basked on the moss and drab coloured sand lizards emerged .A young roe buck grazed the ling.Many young bucks are still in velvet whilst many old bucks are now free and clean. Nearby a male Dartford warbler scolded for fear of its nest being disturbed.

DSC00794The warblers suffered badly during the winter last year but this mild one seemed to save them and now I see the half the normal levels in prime heathland habitats.

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Unfortunately much heathland management by the conservation bodies actually is detrimental to the very existence of this species, as heather and gorse is cut too low for them to sing from. There must be a variety of all sizes of gorse to suit all animals.

One of our most beautiful insects surely must be the little ruby tailed wasp(chrisis ignita).They are parasitic on solitary mason bees and can be seen mainly around old wooden fences or logs or walls. They are very lively in the warm sun and are very difficult to photograph when active.

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A quick look into some calcareous woodland slopes yielded this magnificent plant, the herb Paris(Paris quadrifolia), is now a rare plant.where it occurs, it usually grows in carpets across the woodland floor along with dogs mercury.

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The snake and the scorpion

snake flies are odd creatures. They are Predators as adult and larvae. and have an elongated neck that moves around. The larvae lives in rotting wood feeding on a different variety of smaller organisms, the adult looks look like a lacewing but solid and brown with an articulated neck.Underneath the larvae is a small pseudo scorpion.Both were six foot up in an old oak in the New forest.

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There are just three species of snake flies, and twenty seven known species of pseudo scorpions. They are arachnids like spiders,mites,harvestmen and true scorpions, but lack a telson, but they possess venom glands and inject it with their pincers or palps.They also have silk glands but do not spin webs like spiders.

 

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The cronk and the Pini.

The Cronk, or raven as it is better known, (corvus corax) is now a common bird, and I am rarely out and about without hearing the typical cronk cronk sound of the call.They have a varied vocabulary and are very intelligent birds. Yesterday I heard a new sound emitting from one of a pair that have two nests in high monterey pines on Purbeck.The sound was a “What “repeated a few times with long intervals. Ravens are early nester’s and the chicks usually fledge before May.It is then that hobby falcons often take over the nest to rear their young.The ravens do not seem to mind this as they abandon the nest until next breeding season where they add sticks and other debris to the construction.

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On one of the pines within the group was a rare fungus Phellinus pini.

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This huge old veteran birch is a rare site to see, and it is possibly over a hundred years old. There are many good old trees dotted around that are not registered and so it takes people to find them and have them logged into the data base.

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Many large old trees are being destroyed by land owners without the knowledge from authorities. Even hedges are being pulled up and destroyed or badly cut. Dorset is one of the worse counties for neat hedges and especially on Purbeck, where the wrong kind of cutting equipment is more often used than not.This can result in badly damaged hedgerows and effects the wildlife that need the hedge.This is a prime example of a badly cat hedge.

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The odd thing about it, is that it is on a local wildlife trust reserve where there were doormouse boxes put into the hedge.I also see many hedges being cut now at this time of year when birds are starting to nest!I see all kinds of land mismanagement over recent years, some by landowners or conservation bodies that should know better.

I found this rove beetle (Staphalina caesareus ) under the raven trees.

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And a lovely spider , The fence post orb weever( Nuctenia umbratica) in another place.

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The witch and the eft

Newts, often called efts among many other things were one such group of animals that were poory understood in the past.They were thought to be the spawn of witches in the middle ages and to touch one would turn you to stone or you would lose your lover ! such silly superstitions thankfully rarely occur these days. This dead common newt(Lissotriton vulgaris) was snatched by a bird and tossed around its pond, yet was not eaten.

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The Witch hazel has a lovely scent and has been in flower for about a month.

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The relatively mild winter has allowed lots of fungus to fruit out of their usual time of year. The common helvella or white saddle(Helvella crispa ) is an odd shaped fungi and may not be shaped like a typical mushroom and may be overlooked much of the time.

DSC09600whilst the common ink cap (Coprinus atramentaria) is common and to be found on wood especially if buried in the ground.

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The fungi has surrounded a bumble bee nest box in the garden of the Bournemouth natural Science society.

One of my favourite passerine birds is the tiny long tailed tit. When I was a kid, I called them “Lolly pops,” as they are just a little ball on a stick.

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This one was killed by a car in the New forest.

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