Saturday, 26 January 2013

My Harbour Porpoise

DSCN4158 (1) by Lamia textor
Harbour Porpoise Lower Jaw bones with Ivory teeth
One of my all time favourite spots on Earth is Benone Strand on the North Coast of Ireland. Miles of sandy beach backed by dunes (Ulster Wildlife Trust) and basalt cliffs.  At many times of the year including summer you can have the whole beach to yourself.  This October I shared it with my wife a dead sheep and a couple of huge Ravens getting stuck into what meat was left on the carcass, classic Raven feeding activity, they really are an impressive animal.  Insect fauna on Benone is also pretty good.  The rare bee Colletes floralis can easily be found in high summer as can Grayling and Dark Green Fritillary butterflies (see my flickr site for images).  However a couple of summers ago whilst looking for Bembidion pallidipenne, a beetle associated with bare sand and freshwater, I stumbled across the bleached remains of  an incomplete skeleton of a Harbour Porpoise.  I bagged all the bones I could find, brought them back to England and stuck them in the attic. I'm now in the process of trying to put them in some sort of order,  I've lightly glues the teeth back into the jaw using a water soluble glue, nothing permanent just in case I have made a mistake.  Their teeth are a strange shape ideally suite to cut through fish, the tips of the teeth being flattened into a sharp cutting edge. The difficult bit of the reconstruction is deciding the order of vertebrae and ribs and I will have to admit to putting it back in the attic once or twice well beat.  Sadly the skull is missing, however still gives me something to do in winter.  If you want to see Harbour Porpoise I strongly recommend Portrush Harbour in August.     

Monday, 21 January 2013

Alien Life in a Suburban Garden

gasteruption by Lamia textor
Got a bit of a "snow day", you know where everyone in the world apart from teachers manage to get into work irrespective of the weather. Well before you agree, I'm a teacher and I was in school this morning at 7.30am, having walked for 40 minutes to get there, only to be told that the school was closed. Can't say I'm too sad, didn't have any classes today filled with keen biologists, mostly a day trying my damndest to instil a positive work ethic in my D/C borderline maths class and get them through their GCSE. However following on from Lego man (the solitary wasp Cerceris rybyensis) of this weekends post, I show an image I took a year or so ago of the wasp Gasteruption jaculator. You might not agree but I think this fantastic looking parasitic wasp reminds me of the Aliens of the the film of that name. It has a similar crouched posture and slightly humped looking back. Their life history is also pretty impressive. In my garden they home in on the mud sealed holes of the solitary bee Osmia bicornis (Red Mason Bee). They crawl over and around the holes occupied by the larvae of the Bee's feeling with their antenna at each hole in order to determine whether to lay an egg in the hole or not. I don't know how they decide which hole is right to oviposit in, but once selected they insert their ovipositor into the hole and crouch on their hind legs in order to penetrate the hole as deeply as possible. I'm presuming they lay an egg on a reasonably well developed larvae, which the subsequent grub then proceeds to devour. Get yourself Red Mason Bees and I'm sure you'll get these Bad boys girls.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Winter Ramblings of a Bored Beetler by Lamia textor
Polyommatus icarus, note how spots on some run and coalasce. 
I'll be honest, I've not got a lot to write about this week, I've spent most of the time walking to and from work in the snow. Roll on spring. However it does give me time to sit at the desk and go through a few beetles that I haven't put a name to. Usually the little black or brown jobs that didn't catch the eye immediately when captured. This winter I've spent several nights working through my Scolytidae (Bark beetles). I've always found these a little tricky as so many similar looking species exist, the available keys are pretty old. If new keys exist they aren't readily available. However I'm having a go and so far have been able to put a name to a few. The European Elm Bark Beetle Scolytus multistriatus to name but one.

Given from my earlier blog that you may already know that I've been studying and collecting insects for 40 years the winter weather has also given me time to go back and reminisce about previous years collecting. Looking back I think that I must have a slightly OCD type character. I get one or two year obsessions when I have to find something, study something and I'm afraid usually collect it. This goes back to my teenage years and my first insect OCD interaction over the butterfly Polyommatus icarus (The Common Blue). I was 18 at the time, around about 1981, into the usual lads activities like chasing girls down town and playing Rugby on a Saturday for the local Club Paviours. However most evenings during the summer months I would head either to the Colliery Slag heap or down to the Netherfield/Colwick Railway Sidings, a large brown field site. Here I would capture every single Common Blue I saw, Give it a quick examination for underside spotting and either keep or let go. I just had to find Common Blues that had different spotting patterns to the norm. Now here's the bit that might make one or two people wince a little, I collected over 150 specimens. I often used to question such profligacy, but my father always used to say "take it" they won't be here in a few years. He was of course right. There are no Common Blues where I used to roam as a teenager, there is however a B&Q a Tesco Home Plus, Macdonalds, Morrisons and one or two other nondescript sheds on the site, the remainder is a car auction space, a massive slab of tarmac. I'm no longer that catch it sort of bloke, primarily because there is, in my opinion, more pressure on wild spaces than 40 years ago. There are less brown field sites on which to wander, the green or yellow field sites around me are just too boring to wander through. Just a few weeks now until insect life starts to show itself again, I can't wait!

Give it a few weeks I'll hopefully be writing about 2013 sightings. A bit of feedback would be nice. It's really difficult to know whether I'm boring the pants of people who read these blogs or giving at least a little interest to one or two out there. I've pretty broad shoulders so constructive criticisms accepted.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Lego Man!

Solitary wasp - Cerceris rybyensis by Lamia textor
Going through a few old pictures on  my Flickr site. This one always reminds me of a little lego man.  It's actually the solitary wasp Cerceris rybyensis.     This chap at Wollaton Park Notts and another colony I discovered at Holme Pierrepont in 2011 represent first records for the county. If you want to see them in Nottinghamshire the best place is wollaton park, you should see them on the hard path around the haha behind the hall.  August appears the best month for these fine wasps.   

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Bee Log - get one up on your house wall now.

Easy to make, fantastic to watch and attracts not only solitary bees but also associated parasitic wasps. Also making a home are several species of solitary wasp. This log is  positioned outside my back door and has given me so much pleasure over the last couple of years.   

Bee log, Carlton Nottinghamshire, all large holes are now 
filled with clay from last years Red Mason Bees.

Gasteruption jaculator. by Lamia textor
Gasteruption jaculator visiting my bee log. Carlton, Nottinghamshire 
How to build your own Bee Log. 
Get yourself a decent size log, mine has a diameter of 60cm.  The difficult bit is getting someone with a chain saw to saw a bit of about 12cm in depth.  Once you have the log get a selection of drill bits any size between 2mm and 10mm.  Drill holes in what I would consider a random looking pattern.  Attach to south or south west facing wall before the end of March. Go on give it a go there's still time to get one up.  

The large holes, 8-10mm are good for Red Mason Bee, Osmia bicornis. I also have smaller bees, I think they are Osmia caerulea.  Also using the log are Male Hairy footed Flower Anthophora plumipes these bees use it as a roost. Bee Parasites include the fantastic Gasteruption jaculator, and the wasps Sapyga quequinpunctata and Jewel wasp Chrysis ignata.  

Nottinghamshire Longhorn Beetles (Cerambycidae)

Clytus arietus - Wasp Beetle by Lamia textor
The Wasp Beetle Clytus arietus Sherwood Forest Nottinghamshire

One of the main intentions of this blog is to try to get people to go out and have a look for some of the beetles that I have found in Nottinghamshire.  It's aimed at those naturalists who generally know their birds, have a good idea of what butterfly they're looking at and probably take notice of most things that fly and buzz past them in the summer but can't put a species name to them.  So where to start with beetles, I'd probably say showy ones that like sitting on flowers, the majority of which can be identified using a photograph.  Therefore my first few beetle blogs have concentrated on Longhorn beetles of the family Cerambycidae. About 60 species of the worlds 20,000 odd species can be considered British. Of these I would say that approximately 20 occur in Nottinghamshire, I say approximately as species are found new to the county, some rare species may no longer be in the county.   These range in size from the conspicuous Musk Beetle (Aromia moschata) average size about 30mm to the inconspicuous Plum beetle, Tetrops praeustus at around 4-5mm.   Most have the characteristic Long antenna that give them their distinctive look and most visit flowers at some time of their brief lives. The table below lists the species I have so far encountered in Nottinghamshire together with when and where the best place in the county is to see them.  I will in the near future be adding more detailed notes on several of the species listed below. I would also be interested in receiving information on other sites for these species and if you are aware of other species being found in the county.  Apologies for lack of Common names, they don't exist for many and in all honesty, if you get into beetles you don't need them or use them.  Illustrated identification guides were published in British Wildlife Magazine August and October 2007 editions, these may still be available from the publishers.   

Latin Name Best Months to findWhere to find Visits Flowers
Rhagium bifasciatum April/MayPine Woods Sherwood Forest
Rhagium mordax April/MayPine woods, North Notts. 
Stenocorus meridianusJuneAsh Woods Along the Trent, Treswell WoodYes
Grammoptera ruficornisApril/MayAlmost ubiquitous - on Hawthorn blossom Yes
Leptura quadrifasciataJune/JulyTrent Valley, Holme Pierrepont, Shelford, Sherwood F.Yes
Paracorymbia fulvaJulyToton Sidings (Notts Derbys border)Yes
Rutpela maculataJune/JulySherwood Forest, infrequent in trent Vally woods. Yes
Stenurella melanuraNot sure where, found one on dog daisy in Carlton Notts.Yes
Asemum striatumApril/MayPine Woods Sherwood Forest, early morning on logs 
Arhopalus rusticusAugust/SeptemberAt Moth trap lights Sherwood Forest
Aromia moschataJuly/AugustTrent Valley, Holme Pierrepont, Attenborough NR. Yes
Pyrrhidium sanguineumApril?
Phymatodes testaceusJulySherwood Forest, Difficult - it's nocturnal 
Poecilium alniMayOn freshly cut Oak, Sherwood Forest 
Clytus arietusMay/JuneCommon, Easily seen at Sherwood Forest on cut Oak Yes
Anaglyptus mysticusMay/JuneHawthorn Blossom Trent Valley Yes
Agapanthia villosoviridescensJuneOn Hogweed or thistle stems - Holme PierrepontYes
Leiopus nebulosusJune/JulySherwood Forest. 
Saperda scalarisJuneOn Logs Sherwood Forest. Quite Scarce so difficult to find
Stenostola dubia Wellow Wood (I have not seen this one) 
Phytoeica cylindricaApril/MayStems Cow Parsley, Trent Valley Along River Shelford Yes
Tetrops praeustus May/JuneHawthorn Bloosom, Shelford, Holme Pierrepont Yes

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

On The Hunt in 2013

Jewel Beetle - Agrilus biguttatus  by Lamia textor
Agrilus biguttatus Sherwood Forest Nottinghamshire June 2011
Each year I set myself the task of finding an interesting beetle that I haven't seen before in the county.  The search usually begins by leafing through a copy of Carr (1916) "The Invertebrate Fauna of Nottinghamshire", an indispensable guide for any half serious coleopterist in the county.  The book contains thousands of entries detailing the whereabouts of everything ever found in the county that lacked a backbone from bivalves to butterflies.  I find a beetle in the book that some Nottinghamshire clergyman found c19th century and has remained unrecorded for the best part of a hundred years. I then spend the best part of the summer trying to find it again.  Notable triumphs include rediscovery of Aromia moschata along the Trent, discovery of oil beetles on Budby Heath and of one of the Nottinghamshire jewel beetles Agrilus angustulus.  However for all the successes many of my yearly searches have proved fruitless or result in partial success.  I looked for the impressive jewel beetle Agrilus biguttatus in and around Sherwood Forest for several years, I'd worked out the trees it infested but couldn't find it. It took Trevor Pendleton of Eakring Birds to send me an email to inform me of a large emergence whilst I was at work. One minor panic later and apologies to all at work that I had to leave early and I'd seen them in all their beauty.  If any of you birders out there get the same feeling as me for a new bird then I can certainly understand the thrill you get. 

As for this year it's the little black scarab beetle Trox scaber that gets my attention.  It's not a beetle you can hunt but more one you can entrap.  It loves Owls nests or in particular the bones and crap you can find in raptors nests.  I have already tried to find it in previous years. I've made false nests in holes in trees furnished them with bones from the butchers, but to date no Trox , although plenty of beetles of other types including no shortage of burying beetles.  2013 is going to be the year I find it. Possibly!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Student Cleanliness and associated beetle fauna.

I've just dropped my lad off back at University, where he handed me another tubed beetle he had found in his student hovel. Now I'm pretty sure most of you may have seen the odd beetle hanging around your house, a ladybird or two or perhaps a carpet beetle of the genus Anthrenus. I for one regularly find the odd larva, the distinctive "woolly bears" in odd places around the house, usually going nowhere up a wall. Try looking at one under a microscope, if you give it a bit of a prod, it'll raise protective hairs, reminds me of a porcupine in defensive posture. The adults are often to be found trying to escape on your windowsills attracted by sunlight in early summer, apparently they need to feed on flowers before reproducing.   I also once had an infestation of the beetle Ptinus fur in the attic, but I've never let on to my wife about why they were there,  feeding on fishing groundbait I'd left for a couple of years. However I have never, in any house I have lived in found Dermestid beetles or other beetle types that live on feed on our human detritus. However my 20 year old son currently studying at the University of Sheffield regularly pots a beetle or two for me to identify.  His first year halls of residence had a reasonably healthy population of Dermestes lardarius, whilst his new accommodation has so far yielded another beetle associated with man, Attegenus pellio. My initial thoughts were old buildings with established populations, but that can't be the case as Endcliffe Village in Sheffield is newbuild. Is it down to lack of student cleanliness, my son lives with nine other lads "n" lasses and I have to say their house is a complete tip, just right for a few beetles to find nourishment. Might be worth a research project, the relationship between student numbers per house, cleanliness and degree of beetle infestation.

One to Look Out For in 2013 - The Berberis Sawfly

Berberis Sawfly Larva by Lamia textor
     Berberis Sawfly Larva Carlton, Notts, September 2012

The Berberis sawfly Arge berberidis is a new addition to the list of UK sawflies being discovered in Essex in 2002. However since that date it has spread quite rapidly northwards and westwards reaching as far north as Yorkshire and west into Wales.  I first noticed them in Nottinghamshire in 2011, when I noticed several adults sitting on my only specimen of Berberis in my garden, note they also feed on Mahonia. Since then it has been quite easy to find the larvae on the same plant, I'm sure many others have alos discovered them but if not, if you or your neighbour has Berberis or Mahonia plants check the leaves spring and autumn they appear in May and September on my plant.  They don't cause a lot of damage, look pretty and in my opinion are a nice addition to my garden fauna. What do you think?

Friday, 4 January 2013

Leptura quadrifasciata

Leptura quadrifasciata by Lamia textor
 Leptura quadrifasciata Skylarks Nature Reserve, Home  Pierrepont, Notts, July 2011

This fine insect probably rates as one of my favourite beetles, variable in size 11-20mm, readily  takes to the wing and often found feeding boldly on any suitable plant, thier favourites appear to be Thistles and Hogweed depending on their availibility.  Best place, Skylarks Nature Reserve, Holme Pierrepont, The woods around Shelford by the River Trent, also good number up in Sherwood Forest, look for flowers and if they are around they will be feeding on them.   Be careful as they are easily disturbed and will fly rather quickly at times.  

Thursday, 3 January 2013

How it all began

DSC_0057_02 by Lamia textor
Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) Gedling June 1973,   Stenus bimaculatus Shelford December 2012

Here we are in 2013 and a milestone awaits, I hopefully make 50. That means that I have been collecting and studying insects for exactly 40 years. How do I know, well a data label sits on a tatty Meadow Brown "Gedling, Notts, June 1973" My first insect collected when I was 9 years old, and I've still got it. I can remember an afternoon out with my Dad over on the Gedling Colliery spoil heap (we call 'em slag heaps here in Notts), there were hundreds of Browns around in those days and my dad took a couple of Browns and protected them by folding a slither of paper into a triangle. Once home I tried to pin them out on a sheet of balsa using one of my mums dress making pins. What a mess. However, the tatty specimen illustrated started me on a lifelong hobby. I no longer take butterflies but rather take photographs of them. However I still insect hunt now 40 years later. The picture of the Staphylinid beetle Stenus guttala found in flood refuse by the River Trent marks 40 years worth of collecting.

The purpose of this Blog

Quite a difficult question to answer. I have always found my love for insects and wildlife in general lends itself to individual pursuit. You don't need someone to help you look at a bird, find a beetle, photograph a flower, in fact people often get in the way, block your light, disturb something you've just spotted or generally distract you from the purpose of your walk.  On the subject of walking, I've walked with many friends for years in most of this countries national parks and it never fails to disappoint me that I can't quite walk out the purpose of the activity.  I've walked in the most atrocious weather, glasses steamed up ready to throw myself of the top of the next peak losing the will to live but my friends appear as happy as Larry. I can't do it anymore, I'm a fair weather naturalist, by that I mean I don't go out in the rain, cold I can cope with, heat I can cope with but rain it beats me. 

So the purpose of this blog, inform anyone interested of what they might encounter in Nottinghamshire this summer. Put odd snippets of information on key visible species on the blog, mainly beetles (coleoptera) and wasps (hymenoptera) but also other interesting animals and plants. I'll also probably ramble on a bit about the odd patch of land I find interesting, anything of an interesting nature hitting the news. Finally instead of my hobby being an individual pursuit, I wish to share it with anyone that cares, or is interested. A few sites I regularly look at an excellent local website and Mark Telfer's ( beetle and general natural history site. One day perhaps my sites may be as useful and interesting as theirs. But then one step at a time, a follower would be nice in the first instance.   

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Bullhead (Cottus gobio) - River Trent Notts.

Bullhead (Cottus gobio) - River Trent Notts. by Lamia textor

Definitely not  a beetle but a cracking little beast a Bullhead, just shows how clean the River Trent has become these days. Forty years ago if you turned a stone over in the Trent you would only have found leeches and tubifex, a sure sign of pollution.  This one was found at Shelford by turning over some of the marginal stones.

No bullheads were harmed in the making of this Blog!
Well there goes my first attempt at Blogging.  Not convinced that anyone has read a single word of what I have written.  Still unsure how to link to other sites without appearing a little cheeky.  Not sure how to get my blog viewed by others but I'll keep going.  Any tips appreciated.  I'll try adding more information in the next couple of days, hopefully it might lead to one or two people thinking it's interesting enough to keep an eye on.

Aromia moschata The Musk Beetle

Aromia moschata by Lamia textor
Aromia moschata, Holme Pierrepont Notts June 2011

Aromia moschata, probably one of the most impressive insects you'll encounter walking along the River Trent in late summer. Some large beetles are in excess of 30mm.  Generally green in colour they have a reasonably pleasant smell of musk.   Old gravel workings with willow is the place to look, the larva spend their lives tunnelling and extracting nutrients from the sapwood. Try thistle heads, any umbelliferous plants still in flower or trunks of smallish willow at the end of July or beginning of August if you fancy taking a look at one.  Attenborough nature reserve is pretty good for them as is the Skylarks Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust reserve at Holme Pierrepont.  Remember to look after them, they are a nationally scarce insect. I would however be very happy if you could let me know if you find them anywhere else in the county, I'm aware of Misson in North Nottinghamshire, but that's about it. 

Aromia - Holme Pierrepont Nottinghamshire

Phytoeica cylindrica

Here goes then, almost a complete novice at this so all backgrounds, pictures etc. will hopefully improve as I get better.  First published photograph is of a small longhorn beetle Phytoeica cylindrica, sorry no common English name.  Quite an interesting beetle that I only came across in April 2011 when my son found one on cow parsley.  This finding was apparently the first Nottinghamshire record for this or last century. If you wander around the Shelford area along the River Trent in April and May look closely on the stems of cow parsley, they're pretty easy to see once you get your eye in. I would go as far as to say check cow parsley out anywhere in the county and please let me know if you see one and where you see it. 

New Year.

Happy New Year and welcome to my very first ever blog.  This blog aims to inform, educate and hopefully give you all an insight into my area of the world and in particular the insects that I find throughout the coming year.  Who is the blog aimed at?  Well anyone with an interest in natural history, anyone who wishes to share their knowledge or experiences with me, whether that be local wildlife or UK wildlife in general.  My own particular interest is the insects I find in and around the River Trent, Nottinghamshire UK. The blog will regularly cover individual species with habitat notes, hopefully decent photographs (Lamia textor on Flickr) and importantly where you can go and find these fascinating insects.