4 September 2011

Trench Wood - More Butterflies

At this time of year at Trench Wood the rides are lined with Scabious in full flower and the insects flock to the abundant flower heads to feed, especially the butterflies, Hoverflies and Bees.

You also get the occasional Hornet patrolling from flowerhead to flowerhead, a giant amongst the other flies and even the largest bumblebees but they don't often stop for more than a second and I didn't manage to catch one on camera

Hoverfly - Volucella inanis

This was the largest Hoverfly I saw and it is an impressive creature but it's not our largest Hoverfly which is the closely related Volucella zonaria which mimics a Hornet. They are mainly a southern species but have been seen in these parts and I always live in hope of catching sight of one but am so far unsuccessful.

Brown Argus - Aricia agestis

There were still a few of these about but not as many as 3 weks ago and there were very few Common Blues. I saw one Meadow Brown and no Gatekeepers

Red Admiral - Vanessa atalanta

The larger colourful Butterflies were the ones on show like this Red Admiral in typical pose

Painted Lady - Vanessa cardui

And this Painted Lady. I only saw the one and it didn't let me get too close but it was nice to see especially when you consider that it had migrated from Africa. This is the first Painted Lady I have seen this year and the numbers in Britain do fluctuate Year on Year. 
2009 was a bumper year with 12,700 sightings registered on the Butterfly Conservation Migration Watch web page but only 528 in 2010. This year it is so far under 400 so it is probably an even worse year. This does appear to be the usual cycle however with a bumper year followed by poor years so it is not necessarily something to be concerned about

 Comma - Polygonia c-album

By far the most abundant butterfly I saw was the Comma. Here you can see the difference in colouration between its open and closed wings. When closed it is drab brown and shaped a bit like a dead Oak leaf. Great camouflage.

 Comma - Polygonia c-album

With wings open it couldn't be more different. The Commas around at the moment will be recently emerged specimens which will feed for the next few weeks before hibernating until next spring. The ones I saw were all very bright and with undamaged wings which will contrast with the early spring Commas which are usually a bit battered and faded.

Brimstone - Gonepteryx rhamni

The brimstone is another butterfly busy feeding on nectar before settling down to hibernate under evergreen leaves such as Ivy.

 Brimstone - Gonepteryx rhamni

They are known to favour purple plants and this is borne out by these two photos.

Small Copper - Lycaena phlaeas

I don't see a lot of Small Coppers and when I do see the odd one it usually flies off pretty quickly. This one was unusually cooperative and stayed basking in the sun.

Speckled Wood - Pararge aegeria

This Speckled Wood was also very obliging allowing me to get quite close and posing for the camera

16 August 2011

Butterflies - Browns and Blues

I thought I would show a small selection of some the butterflies that are around at the moment concentrating on Browns and Blues.

Ringlet - Aphantopus hyperantus

The Ringlet has to be the brownest of the Browns. In flight it just looks brown and when it lands it still looks brown. But that is not to say it is dull especially when in full sun light  when its rings almost glow.

Ringlet - Aphantopus hyperantus

Even when it opens its wings it is still the same colour!

Meadow Brown -Maniola jurtina

I see quite a lot of these and also the Gatekeeper and used to get confused by the two as they seem quite similar at first. The Meadow Brown is a bit bigger than the Gatekeeper and its upper wings  have less orange  but knowing that and seeing one in isolation doesn't always help especially as you can get a lot of variation between individuals....

Gatekeeper - Pyronia tithonus

...however there is one tell tale identification feature. The Gatekeeper has two small dots inside the "eye spot" on the wing tips whereas the Meadow Brown has one. Simple.

You now just have to get close enough to see it...but not too close if you are getting a bit long-sighted like me!

Gatekeeper - Pyronia tithonus

The helpful Gatekeeper even has the two spots on its upper wings as well , so it doesn't matter how it decides to perch.
There are of course other tell tale differences but the two spots is a great confirmation.

Brown Argus - Aricia agestis

This is where it gets confusing. This (obviously) brown butterfly is a actually a Blue!

What we are talking about here is related families of butterflies of different species which get grouped together under the name "Browns" or "Blues" (or "Whites", "Hairstreaks" etc). The Brown Argus being closely related to the Common Blue (below) and other "Blues".

In fact the female Common Blue does look very similar to this but the brown wings have a blue iridescence mixed in whereas the Argus wings do not have any hint of blue, although the abdomen may do.

Common Blue - Polyommatus icarus (Male)

The Blues are small colourful, dainty butterflies with an almost metallic sheen to the wings. And I have great difficulty getting a decent picture. I tend to use flash with my Macro photography to help freeze movement and to add  light to often dull inaccessible places where insects live but using flash on these never quite seems to work right because of the reflective nature of their wings and the colours often become washed out.

So natural light (as above) is the way to go if possible.

Common Blue - Polyommatus icarus

The Blues mainly have under-wings like these with orange and black spots in very similar looking patterns.
If I had got a picture of the Brown Argus at rest like this it would have looked very similar at first glance.

I am no expert but I think that this is a male because of the blue tinges near the body.

Brown Hairstreak -  Thecla betulae

This is another "Brown" that is more closely related to a "Blue". It is also quite scarce and I was both  lucky and surprised to see it at Trench Wood, Worcestershire. Worcestershire is one of the few places in the country where these occur but their stronghold is a few miles away in Grafton Wood. I hadn't realised that they occur in Trench Wood.

I was only able to get this one shot before it flew off and it was quite overcast and breezy so it was quite a low shutter speed and it isn't the sharpest picture but good enough for an ID shot and quite an unexpected thrill.

The "trouble" with Brown Hairstreaks is that they spend most of their time high up in trees so even if they are about you don't always get a good view of them.

Small Copper - Lycaena phlaeas

Well copper is sort of Brown! But again this is more of a hairstreak.

I don't see many of these where I usually visit but I took a trip to Hartlebury Common (Worcestershire) and they were quite common but also very active and I spent more time chasing than photographing and still  didn't manage to get any shots with its wings open.

6 August 2011

Garden Hoverflies

I don't know about your garden but at the moment mine seems to be awash with Hoverflies and by far the most abundant is the Marmalade Fly - Episyrphus balteatus.

There seems to be a lot more this year than normal and I guess not everyone  finds them as interesting as I do but it is worth remembering that they are completely harmless and they are not wasps despite their appearance.

They seem quite unfazed by humans and even curious, often hovering near to you for a closer look but they do not have sting or bite so no need to swat them. A gentle wave of the arm is all that is needed to "move them on"  if they are are annoying you.

They are, in fact, doing a great job as pollinators and in my garden they are particularly interested in the vegetable patch where the runner beans are in full flower.

Marmalade Fly - Episyrphus balteatus

Marmalade Fly - Episyrphus balteatus

Resting on the Grape Vine.

Marmalade Fly - Episyrphus balteatus

Marmalade Fly - Episyrphus balteatus
The other irresistible thing about this Hoverfly is to try to take pictures of it in flight because it is so obliging and with a little bit of patience and trial and error it isn't too difficult to achieve.

The Marmalade Fly may be the most abundant Hoverfly in the garden but it is not the only one . There are over 250 species of Hoverfly in the UK but maybe only 40 of these are "common" and many of these will be unlikely to turn up in your garden.

Here are a few that did visit this weekend

Scaeva pyrastri on "Fox and Cubs" flower

Quite a large dark hoverfly typically seen in mid summer visiting flowers though not in great numbers. Sometimes called Pied Hoverfly.


Euopedes species
This is a much smaller hoverfly than the Pied and together there would be no mistaking them but in isolation they can be confusing, especially when you are first setting out to start differentiating and identifying the different hoverflies you see. To make things even more difficult some species (like this one) can have a wide variety of forms with different amounts of black and yellow.


Euopedes species - in flight

These are a bit more flighty than the Marmalade Fly and a bit harder to get an in-flight shot. To be honest I think this was more luck than judgement. I was probably trying to get a shot of it on the plant and it moved! Just luckily got it in focus.

Sphaerophoria scripta

This is a small slender hoverfly so easily distinguished from many others.  Not that common but not rare either and I usually spot the odd one at this time of year. This is a female which is a little smaller than the male. See below.

Sphaerophoria scripta - Male

This male was not in the garden but at Grove Hill. One of the ID features for a scripta male is that the abdomen is so long that it extends far beyond the folded wingtips. Even though the wings are not folded here it is quite obvious that the abdomen is much longer.

22 June 2011

Male and Female

It is not always possible to tell if an insect is Male or Female but in some cases with a bit of "insider" knowledge and knowing what to look for it isn't too hard.

Large Skipper Butterfly

Large Skipper - Ochledes venata - Male

This one is quite subtle but the giveaway is the black "streak" mark on each forewing which indicates it is a male. Note the lack of this on the female below.

Large Skipper - Ochledes venata - Female

Scorpion Fly

Scorpion Fly - Male

With the Scorpion Fly you need to look at the tail which gives it its name. The male has a bulbous turned up tail like a scorpion whilst the female (below) doesn't.

Scorpion Fly - Female

Longhorn Fairy Moth - Nemophora degeerella

Longhorn Fairy Moth - Nemophora degeerella -Male

Can you guess what it is yet? Yes the distinguishing feature of this male is its unfeasibly large antennae. To be fair the Female (below) has pretty large antennae for its size, but not in the same league

Longhorn Fairy Moth - Nemophora degeerella -Female

21 June 2011

Recent Selection

I've been a bit busy lately and whilst I have managed to get out and about a bit I have not had time to sort out my pictures and make any blog entries so I am going to offer up a bit of a  random selection

Common Spotted Orchid 
This was at Knapp and Papermill NR amongst thousands (?) more in the wild flower meadows there but I have also seen huge numbers of them at Oversley Wood and Trench Wood. I don't remember seeing so many last year so maybe it is a good year for them. 


Forest Shieldbug Nymph - Pentatoma rufipes

Shieldbugs go through a number of phases (instars) on there way to adulthood, and often look very different from the Adults even when in the final Instars.I think this is probably a late Instar and compare it to this Adult from a previous post. You will need to scroll down the page)


Common Earwig - Forficula auricularia

They aren't unusual or rare but I don't see many Earwigs. Probably because they are primarily nocturnal and usually keep hidden away in the leaf litter or under things. Anyway this one looked like it was having a day out and feeding on top of an umbellifer


Snail Killing Fly - Sciomyzidae ?

I struggled to identify this distinctive fly but I think I have narrowed it down to the so called Snail Killing Flies. I couldn't find out much but, if like me, you are wondering how this small thing kills snails well I think it is actually the larvae of the fly that does the damage as it parisitises the snails.


Bombus Pascuorum - Common Carder Bee

I'm not 100% on the ID, I keep thinking it can't be that hard to get grips with Bumblebee iD but they do vary quite a bit and  they also move about so quickly and you usually need to see Head / tail, Front / Back of the bee to confirm iD. Anway I am trying and what I can confirm is that this is a social Bumblebee and it is a Female because it has a Pollen Basket.

And that really is what is so striking about this picture. Look how full the Pollen Basket is. What a size! Time to go back home for a rest if you ask me , this has been a very busy Bee


Leaf Rolling Weevil - Apoderus coryli

I just like these Beetles, they are such an odd shape ( and easy to spot!)

Bagworm Moth - Psychidae

Moth?? you say. Well the larvae or Pupa of  of a Psychid moth.Within the shell of twigs will be a silken Pupa from which will emerge either a winged male or possible a grub like female which may not even leave its "shell" but extend its abdomen to mate. There are a number of different species and  they cover themselves in various bits of  plant bits / sand / debris.

They are very easy to overlook as there are often bits of fallen twig etc on leaves but once you see one of these you will start to notice more because you know what you are looking at.



I am also spotting a lot of these. Might be the time of year or, as above, maybe I've got my eye in.

7 June 2011

Cardinal Beetle

I only featured the Cardinal Beetle in my last post but I saw a couple of interesting ones at Knapp and Papermill NR at the weekend.

Cardinal Beetle - Pyrochroa serraticornis

Ok so not the finest specimen with a strangely bent antennae but this picture is purely for reference against the next picture.....

Cardinal Beetle - Pyrochroa serraticornis

I managed to catch him (?) at the moment of take off which gives a rare insight into a beetles anatomy. Looks like one of those "Transformers" toys.
The (red) wing cases are called Elytra and they are hardened modified forewings which protect the softer membranous Hind flight wings.

The Elytra are held open in flight whilst the hindwings do all the work. If you have ever seen a beetle in fight you will know how ungainly and unaerodynamic they look and from this picture you can understand why. But I suppose as a secondary means of mobility it does the trick.



Cardinal Beetle - Pyrochroa coccinea

In my last post I mentioned that there is a black headed version of the Cardinal Beetle but I had not managed to spot one. Well I have now.

I was alerted to the noisy ungainly flight of a Beetle and whilst it is hard to tell what sort of beetle in flight it was clearly Red and of a size which could only really be a Cardinal Beetle and he landed close by and at about waist height so I wasn't going to turn down the opportunity to get a picture even though I had seen and photographed others that day.

I was busy lining up the shot and getting focus etc and had probably even taken a shot or two before it suddenly dawned on me that it had a black head!! A real lightbulb moment.

Cardinal Beetle - Pyrochroa coccinea

And he generously posed for me, showing off his spectacular antennae.

22 May 2011

Beetles and Bugs

Cardinal Beetle - Pyrochroa serraticornis

One of my favourites. Brilliant distinctive colouring and I also like the large serrated antenna. There is another form with a black head rather than scarlet but I've not come across one yet.  Typically seen in the adult form between May and July

Green Tortoise Beetle - Cassida viridis

One for Monica, she likes these. A male and female presumably!  Easiest to spot at this time of year when they are mating as usually they are well camouflaged when pulled down tightly against leaves.

Black and Red Froghopper - Cercopis vulnerata

These are EVERYWHERE at Trench Wood at the moment. Must have seen 30 before I had left the car park. 

Froghopper nymph - aphrophora salicina

Froghoppers are also referred to as Spittle Bugs because it is they that are responsible for Cuckoo Spit on plants.  The nymphs produce the froth which completely hides them from predators and also tastes bad so  puts off predators. As you see a lot of Cuckoo spit but not the nymphs I guess the strategy works. However I suppose if you wanted to go poking around in it you would find the nymphs.

Froghopper nymph - aphrophora salicina

 To save you having to go poking about in the horrible froth to satisfy your curiosity, this is one I prepared earlier showing the back end of the nymph poking out. 

Incidentally if you are wondering WHY it is called Cuckoo Spit it is because in the past it was thought to have been produced by Cuckoos who arrived on migration at the same time the froth started to appear. Just coincidence.

There are many species of Froghopper nymph that produce the froth (though not the Black and Red Froghopper above) and if you are wondering what the Adults typically look like see my previous post here for an example.

Horned Treehopper - Centrotus cornutus

I found another of these, at Trench Wood this time. This angle shows off its horns well