Blog Archives: Jude’s Nature Diaries

#WildWivenhoe Botany & Bug Walks: August – a tentative return to Lower Lodge

How we enjoyed our foray into the natural world with our Botany and Bug friends this weekend. The past few months have seemed long and difficult at times, and I think we all felt it was good to get back to a shade of ‘normality’ (whatever that will come to mean). So thank you to everyone who came along and supported us. ‘Social distance’ was no problem and we all saw lots. The small groups for an hour worked well and we look forward to arranging some more events soon. Our outings took place on two separate days, so the following report is a compilation of the ‘best bits’.

Our place of discovery was Lower Lodge, somewhere that is bounding with insect life and botanical interest. Important nectar sources at this time of year include Knapweed, Wild Carrot and Scabious. Many insects could be found enjoying these in the sunshine – butterflies such as Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Whites and even a Purple Hairstreak, as well as the rather smart Burnet moths,  both 5- and 6-spotted varieties, which are not as numerous as in some years, a probable result of the drought in April/May. One of their major food plants is Bird’s Foot Trefoil, a pretty, low-growing plant which suffered during the dry weather, thus not being there when the moths needed it. Another insect not to have done well this summer seems to be the Common Blue Butterfly which also depends on this particular flower.

Bees were out and about in force – Buff tailed Bumblebees, Leaf-cutter Bees (‘bum in the air’ trademark), plus tiny but charismatic Green-eyed Flower-bees. These can often be heard before being seen – their loud (for their size) buzz heralds their arrival, and then when they come into view their green eyes are distinctive.

Other insects seen were three kinds of ‘true bugs’ in various stages of development – an empty clutch of eggs plus ‘teenage’ versions of Dock Bug, Box Bug and Green Shield-bug.  All quite endearing little critters.  A Candy-striped Spider was enjoying her lunch under a Wild Carrot umbel, and we espied a large funnel web of a spider who was no doubt waiting in her lair to catch anything silly enough to land nearby.  A family of Buff-tip moth caterpillars were seen on one walk, but had mysteriously disappeared the following hour.  We wondered if a bird had had a good feed!

 

Lower Lodge, part of the Colne Nature Reserve, is a large area divided into patches of grass which are mown on rotation every three to four years allowing closely cropped patches (places of recreation for humans and their canine companions which also provide good ant-digging territories for Green Woodpeckers), plus areas of different levels of growth, all important for biodiversity. Other feathered friends seen and heard included Yellowhammer,  Whitethroat, Blackcap and Buzzard.

Oaks are an important feature of the landscape here – not only the statuesque mature ones, but also the many self-seeded saplings. Although we tend to revere oaks, when in the wrong place in the wrong quantities they are in effect ‘weeds’ and should be removed before becoming  too large and start to shade out important nectar plants.  Having said that an oak tree can be home to many kinds of insects, including  small flies, aphids and wasps. Often too small to be seen or identified with the naked eye, these creatures can easily be named by looking at the little ‘homes’ (galls) they organise for their larvae. These ‘gall-causers’ introduce a specific chemical into a tree, which carries out a damage-limitation exercise, creating these often remarkably designed growths. Oaks support over 50 gall-causing insects, and we chalked up quite a few different ones – Silk Button and Spangle galls on leaves, Marble galls (a source of tannin for ink and dyeing in days gone by) and Artichoke galls attached to branches, and Knopper galls on acorns.

 

We observed others on Wild Rose, including the familiar Robin’s Pincushion and the slightly  more unusual but delightful Sputnik gall.

Many more of the photos we have taken of wildlife on Lower Lodge over the past month can now be found on a new Gallery on our website – Wivenhoe’s Lower Lodge.

Talking of Oaks we would like to plug a book by our friend Dr James Canton ‘The Oak Papers’ – just published, it is a personal account of his encounter with an ancient tree, the Honywood Oak at Mark’s Hall estate. Excitingly it is being serialised on Radio 4 Book of the Week, this week .We are delighted that we were able to help in a small way and we get a mention!.  Whether we are immortalised by Radio 4 remains to be seen (heard) of course!

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Before we finish the report with details of future events, we just wanted to let you see some of the photos sent to us by nature-watchers now dotted all over UK and Europe. Please keep on sending your images: Poplar Hawk-moth in Spain…

Jersey Tiger moth in Islington…

… and touching stories:  a special Red Admiral which brought comfort to a sad lady and landed on her wedding ring.

A rather unusual photo from Wivenhoe (something not witnessed by us before) a Leaf cutter bee with piece of cut-leaf attached…

and a most amazing aphid which appears to be sitting on a disc.  As our friend in Brighton told us ‘It’s an aphid that’s been parasitized by a tiny wasp Discritulus planiceps. It lays its egg inside an aphid then changes into an adult in the disc under the aphid’s body. The aphid is then just a husk’.  Cracking! We would love to see one here, so whoever shows us our first one round Wivenhoe gets a free Bug & Botany walk!

Additional Photos: Belinda Bamber, Ro Inzani, Sue Minta, Val Appleyard

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We feel that, unless things go horribly wrong COVID-wise we will go ahead with socially distanced hour-long walks for the remainder of 2020.

So dates for your diary –

Sat  5th/Mon 7th September  10-11 and 11.30-12.30     Barrier Marsh, including walk along The Chase checking out the curious ant hills plus other stuff (see one our Lockdown Diaries for more details).

Sat 3/Mon 5 October 10-11 and 11.30-12.30           The University, looking at some of the interesting trees and (if last year is anything to go by) an incredible variety of fungi.

At the moment each walk will be limited to a maximum of 6 participants, so do please let us know if you would like to book a place.  Cost £5 per person please.

We are also thinking we may offer a few day-long walks in Wivenhoe or Suffolk Coast or the Naze areas.  I will be sending out a separate email with our thoughts soon…

Before we go, we would like to give a mention to ‘Wildsmiths Wildlife Services’- our friends Greg and Sarah Smith who are off on adventures to Scotland soon.  They hope to be arranging guided walks and talks on a beautiful Scottish island and will be writing regular blogs and reports.  If you would like to find out about what they get up to, please visit their website www.wildsmiths.co.uk.

So, if you have read thus far many thanks, and hope to hear from or see you soon!

Jude’s Nature Diary: Botany & Bugs (and more!) on your Doorstep – mid July

Here we are again!  Gradually returning to normal activities, with caution! As always we are indebted to all our Nature Watchers who have contributed musings and photos…it’s good to know that you are out there in this, at times, difficult world.

Thought we would start with plants for a change – and thanks to an eagle-eyed friend we have this wonderful picture of a Bee Orchid to show you. Growing in an area in north Wivenhoe, it has in recent years struggled to hang on in its former stronghold. We hope that management in this area can be improved to allow these rather amazing things to continue. Orchids are truly ‘odd’ in my view – their lifestyles, and looks make them unique in the plant world.  We have been helping to get a book about Orchids ready for production, so if anyone would like to know more about these wacky things, we can recommend the WILDGuides field guide which will be published soon. We can provide details of it if you are interested – just let us know.

We saw this other decidedly-odd plant when at Beth Chatto’s garden recently. Why is the plant Linaria triornithophora so named…where are the ‘three birds’? Well, peering through a camera revealed all when the unopened buds magically and mischievously mutated into budgies!

Whilst there we were entranced by this amazing critter, a Hummingbird Hawk-moth.  This little beastie had flown all the way from Europe to join us and she was mighty hungry – enjoying the nectar, sipping it with her long tongue.

Still in Beth Chattos – and why not, now that it is again open – we were also sent this lovely shot of a White Admiral, now fully re-established around us after local extinction in the 1950s. We even saw one flying around the unpromising surrounds of our Shipyard car park.

Birds are all around and we are pleased that it isn’t just us that likes Starlings – a nature lover in Wivenhoe told us about her lovely flock of baby Starlings visiting her garden and that she was kept busy refilling feeders and bird baths. She also had a Mr and Mrs Stag Beetle paying regular visits. Talking of stags, someone we know and love locally, although living near a known Stag Beetle hide-out had not actually ever seen any, but she told us about an exciting encounter recently whilst walking

‘…I saw something astonishing. Right in front of me was a stag beetle suspended in flight. I stood riveted while it flew around me coming within a foot of my face several times backwards and forwards, up and down, round and round for about 5 minutes. I was waiting for it to land but it didn’t and then, eventually, flew up higher and went over the top of the bushes. It was a beautiful specimen and I’m kicking myself for not having my phone with me to take a picture! Really amazing and thrilling.

Follow that…..

A couple of fellow nature addicts in Yorkshire have recently treated themselves to a new camera – with exciting results. Take a look at these close ups of Barn owl and a Spotted Flycatcher feeding her young. How we would love to still see flycatchers in Essex!

A rather unfortunate (headless!) Rose Chafer was discovered In Wivenhoe last week. Not sure what could have decapitated it, but Magpies are renowned for attacking our Stag Beetles.

And a beautiful Fox Moth caterpillar was seen in Dovercourt. These hairy beasties are beautiful, but hairy caterpillars in general aren’t good to handle as they can be irritating to sensitive skins.

Skippers are interesting little things – are they butterflies or moths? A bit of a mix of the two – though classed as butterflies. Here in Essex we have three, very similar looking species – the Essex ( which lives in all manner of counties!), Large and Small Skippers. How can you differentiate? Well, rule of thumb is that the ‘Large’ is bigger than the rest (no surprises there) and somewhat blotchy, but (to quote our Insect book), ‘the Essex Skipper (has a) rather grey underside and the antennal tip is black underneath and obviously clubbed, whereas in the Small Skipper it is more tapered and orange underneath’. Pictured is an Essex one (photoed in Sussex)!

A lovely picture-in-words was sent to us from our friend in Suffolk..

(today I have been) watching our marjoram trembling under an army of honey & bumble bees and hoverflies, plus some newly-minted red admirals and endless tortoiseshells. Before this, they had worked their way through our explosion of red poppies, elegant lavender, and then our purple carpet of thyme. On today’s river walk was a flat-bodied chaser, demoiselles & blue neon damselfly. On the hill, weld, knapweed, mallow & scabious created some colourful patches. Swifts screaming overhead added the final flourish.

Feels as if I was there!

Before we go we must draw your attention to a superb new book that has just been published. The Oak Papers by Dr James Canton (a good friend and fellow nature enthusiast) is a personal journey to discover the wonders of Oak. AND it is to be aired on Radio 4 as Book of the Week during the first week of August. Not to be missed!

As most of you will know we have decided to resume our Botany and Bug Walks (albeit in a minimal format), so it is likely that we will be concentrating from now on sending out an illustrated report from these. However, DO please keep sending us your contributions, and we will still do an occasional ‘Nature Newsletter’, continuing to ‘spread the word’.

As always, happy nature watching.

ADDITIONAL IMAGES by Val Appleyard, Patrick Eady, Andrea Williams, Sue Minta and Debbie Taylor.

Lockdown diary: Botany & Bugs (and more!) on your Doorstep – late June

Welcome to another edition of our Lockdown diaries. As always a huge thank you to everyone who has been in touch – it is a true pleasure to compile these nature notes and we are delighted that so many people are keen to join in.

We thought this time we would celebrate Love  – in the natural world that is!

Firstly a set of brilliant pictures from our friend in Brighton – these creatures (a species of shield-bug) are known as Parent Bugs and have got their English name from their rather endearing habit of protecting their eggs and young offspring. The first picture shows a Mummy and Daddy bug kind of ‘love’, followed by the love/care of a parent. In actual fact it is the females that guard their eggs and youngsters, whilst the male goes off having fun elsewhere. Most insects lay their eggs somewhere and just leave them to get on with it, so this is quite unusual behaviour.

Although ‘bug’ is often used as a general word for any kind of insect, ‘true bugs’ are one of the main Orders of insects, a defining character being that they have sucking mouthparts rather than jaws. Others of this type include Sloe Shield-bugs, spotted in Suffolk, whilst this rather handsome young Pied Shield-bug was snapped on a gardening glove just outside Wivenhoe.

Love has been apparent on many grasses and plants locally, in the form of mating hoverflies – this pair of Eupeodes luniger were seen enjoying the sun in our neighbour’s garden. And we couldn’t help but be charmed by these two splendid Rose Chafer beetles being close and intimate. Amazingly these are the first that Chris has ever seen in the mainland UK, though I am rather smug, having seen them on several occasions in Colchester.

Talking of beetles, we are pleased to report that Stag Beetles are still out and about, at least in our neck of the woods. This lovely lady Stag posed for a photo, grateful, having been recently rescued, whilst those other rather whacky beetles, Cockchafers, have been seen whizzing about in the churchyard. (Unfortunately we have room for only one SB photo this time, but thanks for all that have been sent in).

What else do insects love beside each other? Well sunshine is a must – it warms them to give energy, and it is a fact that the hotter the sun the faster creatures like butterflies and dragonflies can zoom about. This Common Blue Damselfly was snapped taking a break from zooming, just soaking up the rays, whilst this pair of Red Damsels  were having a romantic time of it.

A very rare Norfolk Hawker dragonfly was seen in north Wivenhoe – look at those eyes! Thank you to the nature-spotter-extraordinaire that sent this in!

And many thanks to the friend we met in some woods who had just found this Purple Emperor and kindly said we could use her photo.  What a stunning picture of an amazing creature.

Insects also love food and (sorry if you are eating your breakfast whilst reading this), but we couldn’t resist photoing this rather scarce fly Dryomyza anilis tucking into a tasty….well….you can see what it is! I’m certainly not offended by seeing an unfettered dog poo whilst out in the countryside (as long as not directly on a footpath). What does offend is poo in plastic bags left in bushes/hanging in trees/left by the wayside waiting for a Poo Fairy to pick up and take away presumably? A bagged ‘one’ is gonna take months to decompose, whilst those left to their own devices in the open air will biodegrade and disappear in quite a short time – thanks to nature’s waste disposal team (see above).

Sorry, I seem to have gone off the ‘love’ theme there!

Another popular source of food is aphids: ladybirds are mightily keen on them, thus they are every gardener’s friend. We are all familiar with the adult versions, but their other stages are equally interesting though perhaps not so well known.  A photo of a rather strange beetley thing was sent to us last week – this is a larval form of a ladybird (in this case a Harlequin). There are 55 species of ladybirds in UK, the larva of each having different patterning, allowing identification.

When they have eaten their fill as larvae they attach themselves to a handy stem (no need to hide away – the red-and-black warning coloration of this Harlequin is enough deterrent to keep most predators away) where they stay until metamorphosis has taken place and can emerge as fully fledged adults (in this case, a Seven-Spot Ladybird). Truly amazing, we think.

 

In the plant kingdom there is so much going on right now.  One particularly fascinating group of plants is the grasses – easy to ignore or think of as annoying weeds if they turn up in your flower bed, but so many are very beautiful, especially at this time of year when their ‘naughty bits’ are apparent – find a spike in full fertile flower, its scales parted revealing the pollen-filled anthers and the feathery stigmas (the female receptive structures) hoping to receive a wind-blown dose of pollen, and thus produce a new generation.

 

What else is happening?  Frogs are enjoying their wildlife ponds in some caring people’s gardens, and birds are often mentioned by our correspondents.  We had this inspiring summary from Yorkshire ‘Mating Kestrels, Greater Spotted Woodpecker feeding fledgling at back of house, also a Spotted Flycatcher feeding, a Wren nesting and feeding in the little ginnel next to the house, a Little Owl, 3 Stoat sightings, plenty of Curlews, Swifts screeching….’, with a pic of the woodpecker tucking into the fat balls. A friend in Wivenhoe said she had found Lockdown ‘a great learning time’ and was now beginning to recognise many more bird-calls.

 

Near Elmstead, a keen nature lover told us  that ‘I continue to hear several Common Whitethroats, one Lesser, a Willow Warbler, a couple of cock Yellowhammers, a couple of Blackcaps. I also saw a pair of Muntjac’.  We occasionally hear Muntjac from our flat, and have seen droppings not far from home (oh dear…sorry…..).

Other birds giving pleasure are the geese which fly over of an evening, and we are pleased to have seen a pair of swans in the shipyard dock recently, the previous pair with their friend the goose sorely missed in recent years.  The goose has continued to hang around and sometimes can be seen with a Greylag girlfriend (or two) in tow, and or over the other side of the river with his Canada geese pals.  Quite a social being.

To bring this edition to an end, we were sent this amazing photo of a tame Robin, showing his ‘love’ for this kind person.  😊

As always, hope you have enjoyed the read, and if you have only just joined us and would like to see some of the other Lockdown Diaries, here is the link https://www.chrisgibsonwildlife.co.uk/category/judes-nature-diaries/

We have been thinking about how/when to resume our walks and will be sending out an email with details shortly…all depending on the current government guidelines etc.

It goes without saying if you no longer wish to receive our ramblings, or know anyone who might like them, just let us know as adjustments to the mailing list can easily be made. Even though life is returning to normal, we would be  happy to continue these diaries if anyone cares to send in contributions from anywhere that you happen to find yourself –   photos, comments, observations or questions which Chris would be happy to try to answer.  Please let us know if you would be interested in continuing, or if you feel they have been now run their course.  Thank you.

Happy Nature watching.

ADDITIONAL IMAGES by Val Appleyard, Sarah Smith, Cathy Burns, Rob Johns, Leonie Henderson, Glyn Evans, Lorna Whitworth, Nel Mooy, Sue Minta, Patrick Eady, Angie Reid.

Lockdown diary: Botany & Bugs (and more!) on your Doorstep – mid June

Welcome to the latest instalment of our Lockdown Diaries. As always a big thank you to everybody who has been kind enough to get in touch  – we really couldn’t do it without you, as they say!

I must begin, however, with an apology. Chris had an unfortunate malfunction last time and misidentified a plant ☹. In case you didn’t notice, the ‘Bur Chervil’ flower seen on a local ‘green’ area ( currently a sickly shade of brown) was in fact ‘Knotted Hedge Parsley’.  But the good news is that this is actually less common than the Chervil, so a reason to celebrate! (As long as he doesn’t make a habit of it).

We had an uplifting email from our correspondent in Hadleigh, Suffolk, telling us about the Heath Spotted and Southern Marsh Orchids growing in his local wood, ‘a glorious exotic marvel’ as he poetically put it. In his garden he had ‘ Bees going nuts …. bumbles fighting over access to our flame red poppies, while honeys browsing over thyme & oxalis’. Love it.

We mentioned Stag Beetles last time, and thank you for your reports and sightings. We have had this fabulous picture of a very handsome male taken in a Wivenhoe garden, and had an interesting report from Suffolk  of ‘not one but 2 staggies emerging from the garden (one still had a thin layer of mud on her ‘head & shoulders’, having just tunnelled out of the earth). The other was clattering around in the air beside me, and the real novelty was that they were both female!’ A female Lesser Stag Beetle has been seen locally too. Let us know if any turn up where you are…

Following on from the Red-and-black bug theme in the last ‘Diary’ we had a smashing picture sent to us of a different insect which employs this colour-way –  the Red and Black Froghopper, friendly and totally harmless to us, although perhaps not to something that may try to eat it …

Other insects that you have seen include a Hornet (much maligned, but generally non-aggressive and harmless if left alone. Poking sticks into their nests not recommended however!). This photo was taken before it escaped from a greenhouse.

A couple of friends borrowed our little portable moth trap one evening and included in the catch the following morning was this stunning Eyed Hawkmoth. This creature tries to bamboozle any would-be predator by flashing it’s ‘eyes’, pretending it is a big beastie.

Another rather attractive, but it turns out not particularly welcome due to its predilection for Box bushes, moth was seen sunning itself, rather artistically-posed, in a local garden last weekend.

Demoiselles were seen flying in a Suffolk garden – these are stunning creatures – large damselflies in effect,  and in Frating these beautifully crafted little ‘pots’ were discovered, part of a Potter Wasp’s nest.

One of my favourite plants is White Bryony, with its beautifully  understated colours, and it is also much loved by a couple of not-so-common insects – this picture-winged fly and bee were seen on a plant on the edge of KGV last week.

Spiders are not everyone’s thing, we appreciate (we love them as you would expect due to their clever design, ingenuity and general usefulness), so look away now if you aren’t a fan. But  I  wanted to include this picture of a real beauty – a Crab Spider sitting hopefully on a Hydrangea waiting for a careless fly to land so she can have her dinner in a wildlife-friendly garden in Wivenhoe. Her colours perfectly blend with the petal.

Flies, as we know, are important pollinators, and although we appreciate they are all an important part of the ecosystem, some are definitely  more attractive than others. A particularly handsome family of flies are the ‘Hovers’, with which we are all familiar. All harmless, they generally use the natural ‘warning’ colours of yellow and black, thus mimicking the more ‘dangerous’ wasps and bees – giving them a certain amount of protection from predators. This particular one (a Helophilus species) was photographed in an Elmstead garden,  where the sender of the picture spends lots of time watching the goings on in and around his pond. It is a hotspot for dragonflies and damselflies, and he tells us a very entertaining story of how he rescued a dragonfly nymph from the jaws of a Sparrow, only for it then to scuttle off and hide in the undergrowth before emerging as a beautiful Broad-bodied Chaser some five hours later.

Slow Worms are out and about – this one was photographed in Dovercourt, and we have had sighting of one in Brighton, together with Common Lizards, Grass snakes and Common Newts in various parts of Essex.

As usual we keep an eye on birds from our window, their sights and sounds are a great joy.  We are still hearing Cuckoos, and we know that some of you have been delighted with seeing Buzzards so near us, over town. A local nature lover told us of his sightings of Little Owls, Common Whitethroats, Blackcaps and a Willow Warbler.  He was chatting with someone who has Barn Owls on his land who reported that the female hunts during the evening and the male overnight and early morning. Interesting division of labour. Before signing off, I must attach this amazing photo of a male Sparrowhawk having a bath on the South Coast.  What a stunning creature!

Here is a link to the latest email from Buglife which you may find of interest.  This important charity is one we like to support through sales of our cards etc.

Wishing you all a safe and measured emergence out of lockdown. And as always please keep in touch with any observations and pictures of nature in your world. Thank you.

ADDITIONAL IMAGES by Val Appleyard, Sue Minta, Jen Poyser, Martin Forth, Eric Strudwick, Andrea Williams, Sally Chandler, Roger Peak and John Goody.

Lockdown diary: Botany & Bugs (and more!) on your Doorstep – late May

Hello once again – hope you enjoy this, our fifth Lockdown Diary. Thanks to everyone who has been in touch with anecdotes, observations and photos.

Where to start?  Plants are all around, although of course many are suffering from the continued drought.  The Haymeadow on KGV is looking quite sparse in places.  Interestingly since it has been left to its own devices, bare patches are appearing where the grasses are not doing well due to the drought, but this is allowing space for annuals, e.g.  rare annual clovers,  and Sand Spurrey (see above) which normally would not have the opportunity to germinate.  All contributing to biodiversity –  the loss of which is a major concern of our time.

Some dear friends in Wivenhoe (who have an amazing garden), sent us a lovely olfactory picture: ‘Wisteria smells strongest with the sun on it, the honeysuckle only scented in the morning after the cold night air. An excuse to have our noses in flowers at all times of the day’. Delicious! A locally scarce plant, Knotted Hedge-parsley, was discovered on one of the grassy areas in Wivenhoe. Some interested folk are doing a survey of the (as it turns out quite a few) grassy areas in Wivenhoe. Until now all of them have just been mown regularly through the summer and left as short grassland, but it could be that with some thoughtful management at least some of these could have a new life – with some areas left unmown for certain periods of time new plants will emerge, creating a more interesting place for both human , and of course wildlife visitors. Watch this space for more information about this as the data are collected.

Birds are also very abundant.  We are rejoicing in so many House Martins this year, and Sparrows are more numerous around the Shipyard too. The drought must be making things hard for the House Martins to find mud for their nests (although there is abundant salty mud here on the estuary, they much prefer the salt-less variety). Anything we can do to provide water for birds right now is to be encouraged.

We were sent this amusing shot of a Sparrowhawk investigating a remote camera (you might need to look carefully!):

Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been seen in gardens, and a marauding bunch of Jackdaws were heard making a nuisance of themselves in lower Wivenhoe, before taking themselves off elsewhere. A fan of this newsletter sent in an entertaining story of birds in his garden, all of them interested in the mealworms he had put out….Robin followed by Blackbird followed by Magpie followed by Pigeon….

… and whilst not everyone’s favourite, pigeons have a certain charm, and friends in South Woodham Ferrers have sent in pictures of a mum and her (rather ugly) babies. She obviously loves them, however they look, as any good mother should!

Hedgehogs have been noisy in a local garden – our correspondent tells us that two large ones were in her feeding station ‘Lots of huffing as one had blocked the other in.  I had to take the lid off so that one of them could climb out.  Very noisy’

This tiny Grass snake was found in a local garden, and having been offered food (which it ignored) was released back to join the rest of its family.  This sized individual at this time of year is probably last year’s baby.

The section of the natural world that has been the most exciting (at least for us) this time is the insects. So many of you have sent in interesting information and pictures, thank you.   Very excitingly we have had our first reports of Stag Beetles in a Wivenhoe garden. Let us know if you find any – alive or dead! Wivenhoe is a nationally important area for these most odd creatures – their flight pattern is so awkward it is incredible that they ever actually get to where they want to go. And that after spending literally years underground chewing their way through dead wood before they emerge for only a few weeks at most this time of year. You couldn’t make it up really!

This smart 22-spot Ladybird was seen checking out a nature-watcher’s Kindle, whilst a mayfly was found on a garden wall, near a pond. These small creatures live as adults only for about a day. Their scientific Order name ‘Ephemeroptera’  has the same Greek root as  ‘ephemera’ meaning ‘short-lived or not to be preserved’. There are 51 species in UK and arequite difficult to identify to species level.

Say ‘Red and Black Bugs’ to Chris these days and he burst into a grin. The reason(s)?  Well a couple of weeks ago he came home with a photograph (below, left) of a very splendid bug indeed, seen near Ferry Marsh. We immediately recognised it from wildlife holidays abroad as an Ornate Shield Bug.  Our books said it was only a rare and recent arrival in the UK, and none of the online maps showed it had been found around here. We were pleased when it was confirmed by a national bug expert that this was the first sighting in Essex!

We sent photos to our nearest and dearest (not to boast you understand….) and daughter #2 responded by saying she too had seen unusual red-and-black bugs in her local churchyard in Dovercourt. Her photos (above, right) showed this to be a totally different insect,  but once more a first for Essex! This is the Fire-bug – again a common species in Europe, but only a rare visitor to UK. Chris discovered an interesting paper about it https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/55610-Pyrrhocoris-apterus.  I’m feeling a little left out as haven’t yet discovered a rarity!

Our friends on the south coast sent us a picture of a rather fine beetle which goes under the catchy name of Drilus flavescens. It is not yet found in Essex, but keep looking!  The male has these wonderful comb-like antennae.

Not so many butterflies around at the moment (known as the ‘June gap – the hiatus between the disappearance of spring broods and the emergence of the summer generations’  **), but some lovely moths have been found and photos sent to us – Small Yellow Underwing in Brighton, and Mother Shipton in Wrabness. This is a particularly interestingly patterned moth – on close inspection you can see that it looks rather like a witch with a big nose  ie Mother Shipton.

Following on from last time’s comments about the (in our opinion) over-zealous mowing of grassy areas and spraying of herbicides, we have some news.  Colchester Borough Council have said that ‘we  are starting to look at mowing regimes across the Borough and we will take the opportunity to look at how we could manage them differently’ ( we hope that means there may be less mowing in future rather than more!), but as yet Essex County Council have/will not confirm whether they use Glyphosates to spray the pavements, although they were quick to joyously say that they sprayed at least three times a year.  We will let you know of any developments.

Just to leave you with some lovely musings from a local nature fan   ‘I’ve been enchanted by the songs of Nightingales.  Everything in nature is so beautiful’.  Exactly.  If only everyone could see …we are the lucky ones.

Until next time – please keep in touch with us and let us know what you discover.

Jude and Chris 07503240387

**  This passage was quoted from a brilliant book ‘Wonderland – A Year of Britain’s Wildlife Day by Day’ by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss. A lovely present from daughter #1, it has an entry for each day of the year – highlighting a specific plant/animal/bird that would typically be found on that day.  Thoroughly recommended.

ADDITIONAL IMAGES BY Val Appleyard, Clive Dykes, Margie Finn, Mark Halladay, Leonie Henderson, Bradley Marnes, Sue Minta and Jen Poyser.

 

Lockdown diary: Botany & Bugs (and more!) on your Doorstep – mid May

Hope you are all coping with/enjoying Lockdown. Must confess it is the latter for us – the lack of having to be anywhere or do anything is refreshing.  Once again we have been delighted that so many of you have been in touch with your nature sightings, photos and stories, so thank you for your interest.  We have also been made aware of some of your concerns – more of which later.

One story we particularly liked was a Swallow rescue in France.  It wandered into our correspondent’s house, became entangled and distressed but, she said, after employing ‘tea towel and careful hands it was as good as new’. We love a happy ending 😊

Birds are very prevalent just now, and their song more audiologically ‘visible’ than I can ever remember, thanks to the welcome reduction in cars and aircraft.  We are very privileged to live high enough to have eye-to-eye encounters with Swifts which are circling all around and screaming in their frenzied manner.  It is incredible to think that these creatures set foot on land only during the breeding process – the rest of their lives they spend on the wing, eating, sleeping, migrating, feeding and mating, in no particular order!   House Martins are prospecting for suitable nest sites on the Shipyard, and many of you have told us of birds that you have encountered –  Nuthatch (Suffolk), Hoopoe (France), Great Spotted Woodpecker (Islington) and Wryneck (Wivenhoe), as well as Cuckoos and Nightingales.

Flowers too are all around – as one of our friends eloquently put it ‘Lovely to see & smell lilac & honeysuckle, while our garden is awash with columbine, cowslips, bluebells, forget-me-nots and early yellow & orange poppies.  Rosemary has been in flower for a while, and our first glorious salsify are out, as are our peonies.’ Great!  Chris has had an exciting week, discovering a nationally scarce plant locally in Wivenhoe, the Mousetail (below), and we have also had a report of this quite unassuming, but interesting-in-its-way flower in a village not too far away.  Its always of interest when something appears to be spreading – or has it always been there but we have never had the time to investigate before now?  Areas of St Mary’s churchyard are looking lovely with Wild Garlic, native Bluebells and Lesser Celandines. Thanks must go to Wild About Wivenhoe and the Woodcraft Folk for their efforts in getting the bulbs set.

We were heartened to hear of the No Mow May campaign https://www.gardensillustrated.com/feature/lawn-mowing-when-flowers-may/ (‘to transform your lawns into havens of biodiversity’) and would love it if Councils and gardeners generally could take inspiration from this.  Until a few days ago a playing area not far away from us had been left and was full of wild flowers, brilliant for bees and looking glorious (see picture at the top of the page), until a man with a large mower came along that is….

Our favourite flying jewels, butterflies, are  delighting us, and this year I have seen my first ever Green Hairstreaks. A Wivenhoe garden has had visits from ‘Holly Blue, Comma, Peacock, Brimstone and Orange-tip’.  Our nature-spotter also saw ‘Muslin and Mint-moths’.  We have been trying a spot of moth-trapping from our borrowed balcony – not a huge success, but it’s fun and we may well get more of a catch as the summer progresses. This Nut-tree Tussock was definitely having a bad ‘Lockdown hair’ moment when we released him unharmed from the trap on Saturday morning. We have been listening out for bats with our gizmo, but nothing detected as yet.

Other insects have been on your minds too – a really whacky nymph of the bug Issus coleoptratus was seen in Brighton, a collection of jostling Hairy Shield bugs, and Buff-tailed Bumble Bee in Wivenhoe, plus a Violet Carpenter Bee in France (which are occasional visitors to Britain).  We discovered a new-to-us ladybird last week – a Water Ladybird.  This isn’t particularly rare – we obviously hadn’t been looking in the right places before!  This one is a buff colour, but as the season progresses it will become redder.  Ladybirds aren’t bothered about disguising themselves in the way that many insects do, as they are poisonous and birds know not to eat anything coloured red and black.  Interestingly other, non-poisonous, insects adopt this colour-way too – they are in a way protected by the ‘reputation’ of the ladybird.

The Brown-tail moth lays its eggs in nests which are quite often seen on Hawthorn or Blackthorn, but recently an observant nature fan contacted us to say there was a nest on a local Oak sapling.  This is very unusual, to our knowledge, and we wonder why the moth chose to lay her eggs on the Oak as there was plenty of the supposed preferred plants nearby.  The caterpillars didn’t seem to be complaining though…

It is now dragonfly time and we have had some smashing photos sent to us, this one is a Scarce Chaser.

Other creatures have caught your eye – we have had a record of a Grass snake in Elmstead, and a local gang of Hedgehogs have been causing much interest to our friends who have a night-time camera set up in their garden.  Two males were seen pushing and shoving, the larger one edging the smaller nearer and nearer to their pond until it bull-dozed it in!  Luckily there were no little floating bodies in the morning, so the injured party must have managed to get out OK to live to fight another day (or night).  Another pond has a charming family of frogs.

Our newsletters are meant to be fun, happy and inspirational and a celebration of the natural world, but sometimes there are serious issues which we feel are worth airing.  A couple of concerns have been brought to light this month…:

First is the mowing of grasslands during May, as mentioned above.  Unless this is private land, it would generally be the local council responsible for mowing regimes. As per the link, not mowing at this flowerful time of year is of extreme benefit to pollinators, insects on which we all depend.

Secondly, the spraying of herbicides on our paths, which are under the jurisdiction of Essex County Council Highways.  I have been in touch with them to ask about their current policy  (and was told, rather proudly I felt, that they spray everywhere at least three times per year ) and to ask what substances they actually use for this (no answer on this point as yet).  As many of you know Wivenhoe Town and Colchester Borough Councils have banned the use of glyphosate (which a research arm of WHO states is ‘probably’ cancer-causing – the particles of which we certainly don’t want to inhale), and we are concerned in case we are all still being subjected to this toxic stuff, even though our councils have seen the sense to ban it.

If you feel moved to follow up either of these issues please contact the relevant body – WTC re Town council-managed grasslands (enquiries@wivenhoe.gov.uk), Colchester Borough Council re the grasslands they manage (www.colchester.gov.uk/contact/) or ECC re footpath spraying via their ‘Comments’ form on their website. www.essex.gov.uk or on twitter to  @essexhighways.  Copies of correspondence may be usefully sent to  Mark Cory (leader of CBC and instrumental in getting them to ban glyphosates cllr.mark.cory@colchester.gov.uk), Mark Goacher (Colchester Green Councillor,  cllr.mark.goacher@colchester.gov.uk), Julie Young (Wivenhoe County Councillor cllr.julie.young@essex.gov.uk), and our local councillor Glyn Evans cllrglyn.evans@wivenhoe.gov.uk.

That’s enough moaning!   Just to finish by saying Keep Well Everyone and hope we can meet up for a nature walk some sunny day!  We will let you know if and when this may be possible.  Please keep sending us your nature-sightings as well as your super photos and we will happily incorporate as many as we can into the next newsletter.

Happy Nature watching.

PS We are delighted to now have some fab ‘Bringing Nature To You’ bookmarks, a set of six, each of which highlights a specific aspect of nature.  If you would like some/a set let us know.  There is no charge, but any donations to Buglife gratefully received.

Photo credits: Andrea Williams (bugs),  Val Appleyard (Issus nymph), Helen Chambers (bumblebee), Anne Simcox (frogs), Glyn Evans (Scarce Chaser), Chris (the rest).

 

Lockdown diary: Botany & Bugs (and more!) on your Doorstep – late April

Here we still are, and hope you are all keeping well and coping with the restrictions on our day to day lives.  We are actually finding it quite liberating though we do miss physical contact with family and friends. Thanks to everyone who has sent in their observations and pictures of what nature is up to on their patch.  So much has captured your interest – one of our group was fascinated with the slugs he had in his compost bin (where they are welcome and doing what nature intended). He says  they were ‘little black things to four-inch monsters, and green mottled ones’. He also had six varieties of worm, plus bees, birds and shield bugs. That’s the wonder of nature, once you start looking there is so much to see.

Our friend in Brighton was intrigued to see ants dragging a large centipede into their lair, and a Wivenhoe correspondent found this rather odd-looking critter in her pond: a damselfly nymph. When you look at illustrations of these, they have three ‘tails’, but the surface tension would cause them to all appear to stick together when out of water (like wet hair sticks to your head). It is now safely back in the pond and they await an emergence of a lovely adult version.

Craneflies were snapped doing what comes naturally in France, where there were also lizards, frogs, butterflies and an owl. C’est la vie!

Lots of bees are going about their daily lives, doing their pollination job, and bringing us pleasure as they do so. A beautiful one with full ‘panniers’ was snapped in a sunny London garden, and this female Tawny Mining bee was seen in the Wivenhoe area. There are so many species of bee it isn’t easy to recognise them, but this one is quite distinctive with her red fluffy hair. A lovely description was sent in from a friend in Suffolk ‘…young bumblebees following their noisy passageways through the fields’. Brilliant!

Butterflies are a pure joy and we were lucky enough to spot several Green Hairstreaks in Cockaynes last week, and others of you have seen Orange-tips, Small Tortoiseshells and Green-veined Whites.

Birds are playing an important part in our lives at the moment (Chris is stacking up a list, not sure how many we are at….70 something I think), and we have been lucky enough to hear both Cuckoos and Nightingales from our flat, and to see (and hear) Swifts.  A sure sign that summer is on its way 😊. It seems there are a number of Nightingales in various places around Wivenhoe. I am sure the general quietness is making it much easier to pick the songs out at the moment – we have had reports of woodpeckers in Colchester and Skylarks in north Wivenhoe. A very observant friend in Brightlingsea saw two Ring Ouzels, and we have had reports of an interesting encounter between a Sparrowhawk and Starling in Elmstead. (The Sparrowhawk came off best that time, but they have hungry mouths to feed of course).

Flowers are a source of wonderment and enjoyment too, and thank you to a friend in Colchester who sent a picture of her Snake’s-head Fritillary. What a fabulous flower.  And our ‘identification service’ turned to garden trees when we were sent a photo from Sussex which turned out to be Box Elder (which is neither a ‘Box’, nor an ‘Elder’ but a Maple – that’s English names for you!).

Even mammals are putting in an appearance: we have seen one each of both Grey and Harbour Seals swimming along the river, and bats are out and about in the evenings. We hope to get out there with the detector at some time to see what we can pick up, and will let you know next time.

Just to leave you with an inspirational quote from a local nature-fan: ‘If nothing else in the world can keep you going, at least nature can’ ….

Photo credits: Sue Minta (damselfly nymph),  Val Appleyard (centipede), Ro Inzani (bumblebee), Caty Robey (craneflies), Glyn Evans (Tawny Mining-bee), Sandra Davies (Snake’s-head Fritillary), Chris (Green Hairstreak).

Lockdown diary: Botany & Bugs (and more!) on your Doorstep – early April

We are now well into April (Easter Monday in fact) and, having an afternoon indoors  (ha ha, what’s new… ), thought it was an ideal opportunity  to pen a nature update, compiled from our sightings and those sent in from you good folks. As a friend commented ‘Nature is my solace and salvation at the moment’ – couldn’t have put it better myself! Hope that the wonderful natural world is helping to bring you joy and calm at this most uncertain and unprecedented of times.

Lots seems to be happening – not only on the botany, bug and bird front, but also in the form of some amazing ‘natural phenomena’. Chris noticed a medium-sized bat fluttering past our window a few evenings ago (couldn’t be sure of species, but too big for the Common Pipistrelle) and the same night we were privileged to get a glimpse of an amazing ‘Pink’ moon – hope some of you saw it. The previous week we saw something totally new – and given we are avid sunset-watchers this was quite exciting! – a ‘sun pillar’ caused by the rays on ice-crystals in the atmosphere according to our Weather book.

So what has been happening in your patch? A beautiful Brimstone was photographed from a most unusual angle as it was being rescued in a pot from a greenhouse – these are stunning butterflies and the inspiration for part of a quote from another of our wildlife lovers  ‘ … so many butterflies, bright lime green, blue and other colours, and such a cover of wild flowers’. Paints a lovely picture, doesn’t it?

Other butterflies seen include Orange-tips (seen in Hadleigh, Suffolk and Wivenhoe) and Peacocks, and several of you have been noticing and reporting Bee-flies. One thing to look out for is the Dotted Bee-fly, so named because of its spotty wings. And whilst not usually known from around here, this has recently been seen in Colchester. We would be particularly interested if you see one (and can get a photo) to send us.

Spring flowers are delighting us at every turn, and thanks for reports of Colt’s-foot (from our correspondent in Yorkshire), as well as Stitchwort, Sallow catkins, and Violet.

Bird watching is always on the menu in our household and this year is no exception. In fact due to all this time we now have, Chris has been spending an inordinate amount of time looking out of the window and at the last count had spotted 57 species since Lockdown.  We are indebted to one of our group who let us know that she had had the pleasure of a Nightingale’s song to accompany her on her early morning exercise. So they are about, folks, we know of some in Suffolk, and do let us know if you have heard any, wherever you are. Other avian interest comes in the form of Swallows seen in Bradfield, plus House Martins in Wivenhoe. Chris was thrilled to spot a White-tailed Eagle from our flat the other afternoon. (It looked like a little speck to me ☹). Chiffchaffs have been heard in lots of places and Buzzards noted almost everywhere, seemingly more easily seen when the streets are not filled with the noise of cars and people.

As usual, when we are out we look out for insects that are enjoying a sunny spot, and Alexanders is a plant which seems a favourable fuelling station/place of refuge for many interesting beasties. Three that we observed last week were Ten-spot Ladybird (among at least eight types of ladybird), Umbellifer Longhorn beetle, and the hoverfly Eristalinus aeneus, very distinctive with its spotted eyes.

Our friend in Brighton saw and snapped this wonderful Mourning Bee in her garden, and we know that a local bee-fan has had White- or Buff-tailed Bumblebees taking a lot of interest in his disused compost bin.

Please keep sending us your reports by email or WhatsApp. Next on the list to look/ listen out for include Cuckoo and Swifts – but we are interested in anything you may have encountered.Keep safe and well and we look forward to resuming our nature walks when it is deemed safe to do so.  As a friend commented ‘Isn’t nature wonderful’ – yes, it is and we are the lucky ones in that we appreciate it.

Photo credits: Sue Minta (Dog-violet), Andrea Williams (Brimstone), Val Appleyard (Mourning Bee), Cathy Burns (Greater Stitchwort), Biological Records Centre (Dotted Bee-fly), Chris (the rest).

Lockdown diary: Botany & Bugs (and more!) on your Doorstep

‘Nature can be such a balm for troubled souls’ – wise words indeed from one of our Wildlife Lovers.  There has been much to trouble us in recent days and weeks, and it is now more important than ever to find solace and comfort where we can.  Where better than on our doorsteps,  in the form of a free, alternative ‘NHS’  – Natural Health Service.   We have been delighted with the response to our email, suggesting we all keep in touch in these dark days by sharing sightings of nature from our windows/gardens/ or where we happen to be on our ‘daily exercise sessions’ and thank you everyone who has been in touch.

Now March has come to an end it seemed an appropriate time to do a little blog, sharing some of your highlights and observations.  Some of the recipients of our emails are either temporarily, or permanently not in Wivenhoe, so we are especially pleased to be able to compare sightings from Yorkshire, London, Brighton, France, Suffolk as well as villages nearer to home.

We are glad to report that one of favourite critters, the bee fly, seems to be doing well.  Our respondents from Wivenhoe reported a number of visitations to their gardens, and  Bombylius major has also been seen in London, St Osyth and Brighton.   We have today heard about ‘Bee fly Watch 2020), a national recording scheme for these little wonders.  If you would like to take part, please check out this link.

Another of our group commented that ‘Watching butterflies and listening to Radio 3’ was calming, and these colourful insects are indeed a joy to behold.  Wivenhoe has seen Brimstones, Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks and a remarkably early Painted Lady.   A Red Admiral inspired admiration in France, and our Brighton contributor saw Commas and Small Tortoiseshells.

Other insects that you have told us about include Buff-tailed Bumblebees in Yorkshire, queen bees in Suffolk, and a Hummingbird Hawk-moth and Juniper Shield-bug  in Brighton.  We are unlikely to see that particular bug here in our part of Essex (although it does seem to be spreading our way – check out your Lawson’s Cypresses),  but the moth (a day-flyer) can be seen if you are lucky.  It is a fast-mover and imitates the action of a hummingbird, sipping nectar from flowers with its long ‘tongue’.

Spring flora is springing into action – Bluebells are beginning to bloom in our Old Cemetery: one of our many Reasons to Be Cheerful (see the thread on Wivenhoe Forum here for more of these!).

We, and several of you it seems, have noticed how wonderfully clear the skies are at the moment – the lack of vapour trails caused by aircraft enhances our outlook and sense of wellbeing.  ( As one of our group said, it is ‘strangely comforting’ without them). OUR planet has a chance to breathe again, albeit temporarily.

We know some of you have swift boxes/bug hotels and other special features in your gardens – let us know if you get any visitors. We are especially interested in your first sightings of Swallows and Swifts this year.  As yet we have no UK Swallow spots, but our couple in France have them there. And then there’s the first Nightingale and Cuckoo to arrive over the next month: the Cuckoo needs no introduction, but if you don’t know the beautiful  song of the Nightingale, here’s an example. Regularly heard around Grange Wood and near Boundary Road, Nightingales are also often heard closer to town when they first arrive, and maybe this year with fewer folk around and about, they will stay closer to us.

Please keep in touch and let us know what is going on, on your doorstep, by email or WhatsApp. And keep safe and well.

Photo credits: Sue Minta (Peacock, Bluebell), Val Appleyard (Juniper Shield-bug), Chris – the rest