Well, I initially wrote a post about 2 weeks ago and, not having got round to posting it, now with spring moving on so fast it is nearly all out of date. However, I will try to provide a quick summary as I have had some pretty great wildlife experiences over the past couple of weeks which it would be a shame not to mention.
The first wildlife highlight was that I finally managed to photograph (albeit not brilliantly, but still …) two insects that have long eluded me – a green tiger beetle and a bee fly. I have been fascinated by both of these creatures for many years, I guess partly because they just look fantastic but also probably as a consequence of my love of the slightly gruesome. Green tiger beetle larvae are fearsome predators that dig tiny pitfall traps and lie in wait at the bottom of them, ready to seize anything unlucky enough to fall in with their strong mandibles and drag it down into their burrow. This might include spiders, ants, caterpillars or other small invertebrates. If you are lucky enough to find one of these miniature pitfall traps, it is sometimes possible to lure out the ferocious resident with a piece of grass. I have never managed to spot one of the burrows without assistance and even the adults tend to remain tantalisingly out of reach, an occasional fleeting glimpse of green out of the corner of an eye. I was delighted therefore to finally locate one of these formidable little beetles as it landed on the track in front of me during my weekly butterfly transect a couple of weeks ago.
Stealth and determination paid off with the result being these pics, not the clearest of images but it is still easy to appreciate what a stunning creature the green tiger beetle is – just check out the size of his jaws!
I was particularly impressed when he sensed me creeping up on him with the camera and, instead of darting off at lightning speed, he turned to face me as if to say ‘Yeah, you want some then…?’.
I always assumed that bee flies were so named because they looked somewhere between a bee and a fly but apparently it is because their larvae parasitise the nests of solitary bees. They do this by first depositing their eggs in or near the burrow of a solitary bee or wasp. Upon hatching the larvae then parasitise the larvae of the host insect. The adults are however predominantly nectar feeders which is why I managed to photograph this one feeding on cowslips on Juniper Hill.
I have been anxiously awaiting the emergence of the first Duke of Burgundy butterfly on Rudge Hill and finally the first male was seen last week by a local butterfly ecologist. I managed to find time to nip up to the site and bag a quick look at him but unfortunately haven’t yet managed to get a decent photograph – watch this space. In the meantime here he is:
I have had some great adder days over the past couple of weeks with a few notable highlights. During a few hours reptile surveying my colleague and I found 9 adders in perhaps 4 hectares of grassland including several not previously photographed and, very excitingly, my first juvenile – see pic below. From his brown colouring and the fact that his eye is a bit opaque I would guess that he is about to slough.
This has made my year as the presence of juveniles looking in apparently good health is confirmation that adders are managing to breed successfully on the site. With such long-lived animals (up to 30 years) it is possible for adders to remain on a site for many years after they have actually become functionally extinct so evidence of successful reproduction is really encouraging. Then last week I found my first slough which was in good enough condition that we could identify the adder that had shed it, an individual named Octopus Head, not surprisingly named because the markings on the back of his head look a bit like a four-legged octopus – a quadrapus?
For the past two days we have been running a reptile training course and yesterday, all the trepidation of hoping to find reptiles in less than ideal conditions evaporated when, within the course of an hour we found 3 slow worms, a grass snake that spent some 20 minutes gliding calmly about in the open a few feet in front of its rapt audience of 16 people and finally a pair of courting adders, something none of us had ever seen before.
All in all a pretty exciting couple of weeks and plenty more to come with spring now in full swing!