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Snake-eyes

European snake-eyed lizard, Ophisops elegens

Ophisops elegens

Ultimately the combination of heat and wind made photographing insects in Cyprus rather tricky so I turned my attention to some of the lizards.

Pictured above is the European snake-eyed lizard Ophisops elegens and very pretty it is too. A characteristic feature of Ophisops species is their lack of separate eyelids. Instead, the eye is covered by a transparent ‘spectacle’ similar to that of snakes, giving rise to this species’ common name and which gives this lizard something of a ‘staring’ expression.

Also fairly common were these Schreiber’s fringe-fingered lizards Acanthodactylus schreiberi which are on the IUCN red list of threatened species. Listed as Endangered because of a serious population decline, estimated to be more than 50% over the last 12 years. For example in nearby Turkey it is now very rare. The fringe of pointed scales along their long, agile toes allows them to run easily across loose, hot sand.

In Cyprus the subspecies syriacus is still locally common and I would often see them scuttling across the bare ground in front of me.

Acanthodactylus schreiberi

Acanthodactylus schreiberi

Swallowtail

European Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio machaon

Papilio machaon

I’m back from Cyprus now but while I was there this was one of the butterflies I was keen to photograph, the  European Swallowtail Papilio machaon. This is the subspecies syriacus. I was lucky enough to get this shot early one morning while walking along the cliffs of Kapparis. The colour of the grass in the background will give you some idea of how hot it was.

We get them here in England and I’ve previously written about them in a post about one I photographed in Kefalonia here but our native subspecies britannicus remains a rarity and is confined to the fens of east Norfolk.

However, in some years we do get a few migrants from the continent. This subspecies gorganus is less fussy and will use many kinds of Umbellifer, such as Wild Carrot daucus carota, as the larval food plant. In 2013 there were many sightings in Hampshire, Sussex and Kent including some evidence of egg-laying. In April 2014 a specimen was photographed near Winchester, Hampshire which suggests that some specimens may have successfully over-wintered. More info here.

So the continental species may well become more common in future.

Eastern Bath White

Eastern Bath White, Pontia edusa

Pontia edusa

I’m in south east Cyprus endeavouring to photograph butterflies. It’s not proving easy due to the combination of clear blue skies and an almost constant breeze. The warmth of the sun means they are rather flighty, even at first light and they don’t settle anywhere for long. The bright conditions give rather harsh shadows and the light winds means the vegetation is swaying about like a Brit with too much Keo on board which makes sharpness a challenge. As I said, not easy.

However, yesterday morning while walking along the cliffs near Kapparis there were a few welcome clouds sliding in off the sea and for a brief moment while a white wisp made it momentarily overcast I got this image of an Eastern Bath White Pontia Edusa. According to Butterflies of Cyprus Makris, 2003, this is a very common butterfly found throughout the island.

Vernal stars

Wood Anenome, Anemone nemorosa

Anemone nemorosa

Stretching on red spindle stems through still sleepy foliage to find the warmth of the vernal sun, this has got to be one of my favourite Spring flowers. The Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa is a splendid sight when its tiny stars form a white carpet on a woodland floor.

The six white petals (technically its sepals) are sometimes streaked with just the slightest hint of purple-pink and can be softly shaded with lavender on the reverse. A delicate blue version Anemone appennina is sometimes grown in gardens and often becomes naturalised which may account for the odd colour variation.

It’s found flowering as early as March, but Spring appears to have been a little late this year so enjoy them while you can. These were photographed at West Woods, near Marlborough, Wiltshire.

Black Oil Beetle

Black Oil beetle, Meloe proscarabaeus, male

Meloe proscarabaeus – male

The Black oil beetle Meloe proscarabaeus is a beetle that I’ve looked for on Salisbury Plain before but not found until just recently. It gets its name from its habit of secreting droplets of ‘oil’ from its knee joints when roughly handled. This contains the odourless and colourless toxic chemical compound cantharidin which can cause blistering.

There used to be eight species in the UK but sadly three of them are now considered extinct. In fact two of our remaining five, the short-necked oil beetle Meloe brevicollis, last recorded in 1948, and the Mediterranean oil beetle Meloe mediterraneus, last recorded in 1906, were also thought to be extinct but were recently rediscovered by amateur entomologists in Devon.

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Bee mimic

Volucella bombylans – male

Volucella bombylans – male

The hover-fly Volucella bombylans, male pictured above, uses Batesian Mimicry to imitate the Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus Lapidarius. Batesian mimicry is where a palatable or harmless species has evolved to imitate the warning signals of a harmful or inedible species. In this instance a stinging bumblebee. It is named after the English naturalist and explorer Henry Walter Bates (1825-1892).

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The Pellucid hoverfly

Pellucid hoverfly, Volucella pellucens – female

Volucella pellucens – female

Here’s a photo of one of our largest flies, the Pellucid or Large Pied-hoverfly Volucella pellucens that I took back on the 8 July 2012 in Marlborough while I was in the middle of a RiverFly survey on the River Og. Pellucid means transparent or translucent and in this instance refers to the ivory-white band across the abdomen, which if caught in the right light enables you to see through its middle. This and the dark spot on each wing makes this species quite easy to identify in the field.

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Seen your first butterfly yet?

Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta

Vanessa atalanta

As I left the office for lunch the other day (Wednesday 28 January) I saw my first butterfly of 2015, a rather tatty Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta similar to this one I photographed last year. This took me by surprise momentarily as it was quite a cold day. It was fluttering around inside the glass canopy that covers the Holly-lined pathway that leads to the entrance of the building and that I suspect was the reason. The combination of the low winter sun and the shelter from the icy wind had warmed it sufficiently to have woken it from its slumber.

The Red Admiral is predominantly a summer migrant that most often arrives in the UK in May and June but a small population do overwinter in the south of Britain and therefore this butterfly is also considered a resident. Unfortunately this hibernation strategy is a risk as many individuals will not survive our winter unless conditions are mild.

However, global warming may help it to become more firmly established as a resident species in the future.

Have you seen your first butterfly of 2015 yet?

 

Last post

Mint moth, pyrausta aurata

Pyrausta aurata

I used to live in what is now called Royal Wootton Bassett. It was just plain old Wootton Bassett when I lived there. But then that was before we were flying back union jack covered coffins from Iraq and Afghanistan. Thankfully most of our troops are back home now.

On sunny days in July I’d often find this tiny moth in my equally tiny courtyard garden basking in the sun. When I had to move home, there it was again in my new garden near Marlborough. Now much as though it would have cheered me no end to imagine it had followed me, perhaps hidden amongst my many books, there had to be a common connection. After giving it some thought I came to the conclusion that it was either attracted to mint or marjoram, or both. Read more

Squeaky gate

Bullfinch, Pyrrhula pyrrhula, male

Pyrrhula pyrrhula

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.

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