A few of you have been kind enough to enquire how my bird-ringing training is coming along. That’s bird-banding if you are reading this in North America or Australia.
Well after gaining my T-permit (training permit) from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in April things got off to a pretty good start, particularly at the constant effort site (CES) but unfortunately illness in August and September meant I had to take a short break. However, since October things have picked up again.
The stars are of course the birds. The male Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula is a particular favourite of mine. In fact I really love this bird and it always gladdens my heart when I see one in the countryside, or rarely in my garden, so it is a real privilege to be able to hold one in my hand.
It’s still early days for me of course and it’ll probably take me a couple more years before I can apply for my C-permit.
As for the title of this post, it is a reference to the song of the male Bullfinch, part of which is thought to sound like a squeaky gate. Have a listen here although the relentless ‘chiffing’ of the Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita in the background makes it difficult. However, the critical note is right at the beginning at 00:02 and repeated again at 00:14.
Aphantopus hyperantus – female
Here’s another photograph from back in July, again from Morgans Hill. This time it’s the Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus.
This example is in full sun and therefore appears to be a rather pale brown, but at least that allows you to see the detail. The plumper body suggests this may be a female. However, when freshly emerged the colour is a much darker, velvety chocolate, verging on almost black in some instances. You can get a flavour of this in the example below that I photographed in July 2012 which I’m guessing may be a male. And a very handsome butterfly it is too with the contrast of the delicate white lace-like fringes to the wing edges.
Note the variation in the spots which are much more prominent on the specimen above.
Thymelicus lineola – female
Here’s a photo from Morgans Hill that I took back in July of a female Essex Skipper Thymelicus lineola. Followers in North America may recognise this butterfly as the European Skipper. It closely resembles our Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris which it is often found in company with, but that species lacks the black tips to its antenna.
Because of the similarities, it is often under-recorded and for this reason was not recognised as a separate species until 1889. As such it was the last British resident species to be described.
Last weekend I attended a workshop on Auchenorrhyncha hosted by Alan Stewart and Tristan Bantock, superbly organised by Mike Edwards of the British Entomological and Natural History Society (BENHS). More info about BENHS here and the Auchenorrhyncha Recording Scheme here.
Leafhoppers, planthoppers, froghoppers, treehoppers and cicadas are a sub-order of insects from the order Hemiptera that I know little about, despite the fact there are around 400 species in the UK. I’ve rarely seen or photographed any of them but I did get a photo of this red and black froghopper or ‘spittlebug’ Cercopis vulnerata earlier in the year at West Yatton Down. This should be an easy species for me to remember in future as it is our only red and black ‘spittlebug’ and our only ‘hopper in the family Cercopidae.
As a quick way of telling them apart, leafhoppers Cicadellidae have rows of spines on their rear legs (hind tibiae). Planthoppers Delphacidae have a large moveable thumb (spur) on their hind legs and froghoppers Cercopidae and Aphrophoridae have one or two stout spines on their rear legs.
We only have two treehoppers Membracidae and both have a backward extension of the pronotum (basically the back of the head is pointed like a spine). As for Cicadas, we only have one species, the New Forest Cicada Cicadetta montana which is very possibly extinct in Britain.
They are good indicators of site quality, particularly grassland, so I’ll be keeping a look out for them next year on Salisbury Plain.
Leptophyes punctatissima – female
This is probably our commonest bush-cricket, the Speckled Bush-cricket Leptophyes punctatissima is a small green cricket with a brown stripe down its back (admittedly it’s not very prominent on this particular specimen) and is covered in tiny black speckles. Crickets are easily distinguished from grasshoppers by their long antennae which can be easily twice as long as the body. In comparison grasshoppers have rather short antennae.
Polyommatus icarus – female
I’ve recently taken on the role of Entomology Sub-group leader for the Larkhill & Westdown Conservation Group. LWCG is one of three conservation groups that have access to some of the restricted areas of the Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) which is where I took this photograph of a female Common Blue Polyommatus icarus resting on Devils-bit Scabious Succisa pratensis.
Leucospis gigas – female
Earlier this year I enjoyed a short break on the Greek island of Kefalonia. I took quite a few photos of insects, many of which I have still to identify. Needing help I uploaded this image of a wasp to the Hymenopterists Forum on Facebook. Almost immediately Irenel E. Popescu came back suggesting it might belong to the Leucospidae, a small specialised group of ectoparasitoid wasps within the Chalcidoidea superfamily.
Using this as a starting point, and after a further trawl of images on the internet, I concluded that it was most likely the Parasitoid Wasp Leucospis gigas.
I found this splendid little chap in my garden. It’s an adult Hawthorn Shieldbug Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale a member of the Hemiptera an order of insects most often known as the true bugs. It will overwinter as an adult, often darkening before hibernation and will emerge again in the Spring.
The antennae in Hemiptera are typically five-segmented, although they can still be quite long, as can be seen in this photo.
Hemipterans have sucking/piercing mouthparts. The mandibles and maxillae are sheathed within a modified labium to form a ‘beak’ or ‘rostrum’ called a proboscis. This sharply pointed tube is capable of piercing plant tissues and is used to suck out the liquids – typically sap. When the proboscis is not being used it is folded flat against the underside of the body.
The young are called nymphs and resemble the adults to a degree although they are often mistaken as other insects.
Ashley Wood has produced a series of illustrations showing the life stages of a range of UK shield bugs, which is particularly useful for identifying the immature nymphs and the various instars.
Check it out here.
Recently I set off to look for the Ivy Bee Collettes hederae, no luck but as soon as I crossed the river I found this spectacular looking caterpillar. It’s the larva of the Vapourer Moth Orgyia antiqua which are sometimes called Rusty Tussock Moths. The males, which can sometimes be found flying during the day, are a rich chestnut brown colour and have two distinctive white spots on the wings. The female is unusual in that she is completely wingless and resembles an overweight furry grey grub. There’s more info and images here on the excellent UK Moths website.
Pararge aegeria – male
The Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria seems to be having a good year in Wiltshire. Whenever I’ve ventured near a patch of sun dappled woodland it’s magically appeared. Darting out to give me the once over before spiralling skywards for a honeydew top-up or returning to a favourite perch to soak up just a little more sunshine.
It’s always a welcome sight in my eyes but these adults will soon be gone as Autumn’s chill is upon us. This one looks to be a male.
It’s unusual as it is the only butterfly in Britain that can survive the winter as either a larva (caterpillar) or a pupa (chrysalis) before emerging again in the spring next year. Although it’s believed the caterpillars need to have reached their third instar (moult).
Get out and enjoy them while you still can.