As my last post didn’t really seem the place for some nice pics of wildlife I seem to have accumulated rather a lot from the last few weeks so I thought I’d share some of them with you. A couple of weeks ago I spent the day on Blackmoor Reserve in Somerset looking at reptile habitat and the day produced some unexpected bonuses. The first of these was herb Paris, a plant that I have always wanted to see but somehow never come across before.
Soon after this we spotted a black oil beetle in the middle of the path. This wouldn’t have meant much to me before Buglife launched a campaign to survey oil beetles and start to address their drastic declines. However, I have been looking out for these fascinating insects on my sites for the last year or two and never been lucky enough to find one. Then last autumn I learned that rugged oil beetle had been recorded on one of my sites and that some follow-up surveying was required. Unfortunately rugged oil-beetles happen to be active at night on winter evenings and I am ashamed to say that the prospect of searching 20 hectares of grassland, woodland and scrub in the dark for a small black beetle defeated me in 2014 and I never made it up to the site to have a look. However, in 2015 I am determined to be less lame and get out there and do some serious searching. This new-found determination is not least a consequence of finding this black oil beetle in Somerset, a far more sensible species that is active in the daytime during the spring!
Back in the Cotswolds, the orchids are generally a bit later than usual but the butterfly orchids are already putting on a fantastic show. We have greater and lesser butterfly orchids on the NNR, the key difference being that the pollinia in the lesser are parallel to one another whereas in the greater they are divergent. You do need to be a bit nerdy and get quite personal with these plants to tell the difference but once you’ve looked at a few of each you can get it nailed. The one in the picture is a greater butterfly orchid, with a close-up in which you can just about see the pollinia looking slightly splayed.
On closer inspection I noticed that one of the orchids had an occupant, just visible in the top pic and shown better below. My brain struggles to retain Latin names these days but weirdly this beetle is one of the few whose name I can remember. I think it has stuck because the beetle itself is so distinctive, having such enormous thighs. I realise that there is bound to be a proper entymological term for beetle thighs but I’m afraid I don’t know what it is so thighs will have to do.
Having just done a quick search to check my spelling I see that this beetle does actually have several English names so I can’t quite imagine what made me succeed in committing the Latin to memory. Anyway, meet the false oil-beetle, swollen-thigh beetle, or thick-legged flower beetle, it’s a mystery how they come up with some of these names!
Onto some other insects now, namely butterflies. Things seem to be generally fairly quiet on the butterfly front and I’m not quite sure why that is. It may be that I haven’t managed to get out in great conditions or just that they are having a bit of a slow start like much of our other wildlife this spring. Still, there are plenty of common blues about on the Cotswold grasslands and, perhaps because they are one of the commoner species of blue the beauty of these dapper little butterflies may sometimes go unappreciated. I was pleased therefore to get a good look at the one below last week on Juniper Hill during an overcast spell when he was opening his wings to capture as much warmth as possible.
Juniper Hill is a lovely little site that was suffering from many years with a lack of management until some 4 years ago when we managed to get some grazing animals on it and started clearing back some of the scrub. The site is just starting to turn a corner with all sorts of wild flowers popping up in places previously just dominated by tor grass so it’s a joy to walk across the common at the moment and see how effective the management is being, especially with the beautiful sound of a tree pipit singing away from the top of one of the many whitebeams whilst blackcaps bubble away noisily in the woods below. Pictured below are a couple of the floral highlights.