Sunday, 28 April 2013

Salticus scenicus and why I need extension tubes.

Salticus scenicus, house wall Sunday 28th April 2013.

Scalticus scenicus better known as the Zebra spider or jumping spider is a common site on most house walls in the spring and summer.  3-4mm in length I find their silken nests in the smallest 4mm holes drilled in my bee log.  However I have always have difficulty photographing them.  They are pretty active, don't stay still for very long and are quite small.  That added to the fact that my macro lens has a depth of field of about 1mm at such short distances leads to photographs that are not as pleasing as I would like.  Indeed, a modern Point and shoot camera with a good macro button may well take a better image than my bit of expensive kit. However I want to get a bit closer and get their eyes in focus, it makes for a colourful and interesting shot.  So, I'm going to try and get closer extension tubes are to be ordered. Theses will not give me any greater depth of field but I should be able to get a lot closer to my quarry. Watch this space. 

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Red Mason Bees Osmia bicornis.

A full month later than their emergence last year but my Red Mason Bees are active. Only the males so far, the first emerging last saturday 20th April.  So far I haven't seen any females.  I'm also not sure how much food the males need. Their might be a bit of a problem in my garden as their are not that many flowers in it at present due to the cold March.  Still good to have them back, just needa good May to allow them to refill their nest holes.  The bee log that I mentioned and illustrated in an earlier article has now been on my wall for 3 years and is has full residency.  This means that the bees fight for available holes.  The less successful having to wander off and find pastures new.  

I also like the fact that the Bees re-use the available holes. This encourages parasites, in particular certain wasps to hang around in decent numbers adding to the interest. I'll let you know when the females are on the wing.  I attach a photograph of a rather cool male I picked up below the bee log and placed on the windowsill.  It only took a couple of minutes to warm up before it was buzzing once more around the holes. 

1st time out.  Osmia bicornis male emerging.  I watched this chap break through his clay seal. 27.04.2013

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Bit of a Fly, Tachina ursina and a bit of a Weevil, Barynotus obscurus

Barynotus obscurus - Carlton Garden, Nottinghamshire 21st April 2013  
Brushing up a few leaves in my back yard this Sunday morning and swept this little beast up. Not quite your run of the mill vine weevil but another species of broad nosed weevil Barynotus obscurus. Interesting facts about these beasts are that no known males have ever been found in the UK, they are parthenogenetic (asexual reproduction in which embryonic development occurs without fertilisation). Pretty common in most herbaceous lowland areas but never found in large numbers. I generally find the odd one in my Carlton garden most years but never several in a year. I suppose if you are parthenogenetic you don't need to go looking for a mate so don't need such high densities in order to survive. Interesting parthenogenesis also occurs in vertebrates, notably some species of lizard and fish but also in some birds.   

Tachina Ursina - Budby Heath April 20th 2013

I'm not that hot on flies but this chap caught my eye while out and about yesterday, Tachina ursina, don't think it has a common English name, not that I'm too bothered about that one.  If you like flies you'll probably learn the correct latin names and just be a little bored with stupid made up English names with no relevance to their lifestyle or habits. Don't know the lifestyle of this one but if it's anything like other Tachinid flies they usually lay their eggs on lepidopteran larvae.  The Maggot then eats the fat deposits of its host until its ready to pupate. Nice!


Saturday, 20 April 2013

On my Belly for Snakes, Oil and Wild Tigers!

A good day today, a saturday and the sun is shining, usual shop then out with the camera.  first stop trying to photograph my Grass Snakes mating.  So arrived at the spot set the tripod up got comfortable waited for half an hour, nothing not even a rustle in the grass.  However, a common shrew made an appearance as did a big Dog Fox that made me jump as it sneaked up on me to take a look at what I was doing.  However perseverance paid off as a big female grass snake appeared with a smallish male in tow.  I estimate the female at 4 going on 5 foot in length whilst the male might have made 18 inch to 2 foot.   However they refused to get in a good position for photographing. The best I could do is what you see,  the back of the female and the male sidled up by the side of her.  At least the photograph gives an impression of the relative sizes of the two snakes.  The little lad likes a big lady so to speak.  
Not the most exciting of photographs but shows two grass snakes making sweet music, Nottinghamshire April 2013. 
I also include a photograph taken on the same day of a nice little snake posing for the camera. This one was like a big bootlace, about 18 inch in length. 
Not the best photographs I have ever taken. Once I got home about 12ish I realised that my camera settings had been altered. I almost always photograph using aperture priority.  These were taken on some preset, probably landscape!  Note had to lie on my belly to get this shot. 

After a quick sandwich and adrink I wanted to make the most of the good spring weather so a trip to Budby Heath up sherwood way was in order.  The target, a yearly trip to see Oil Beetles, Meloe proscarabeus, My wife found them there a bout 3 years ago.  Below are a group of photographs showing a rather large female digging a hole in which to lay her eggs.  And guess what, I was lying on my belly again this time in the middle of a public footpath. Still I'm reasonably happy with photographs. 

Finally you can't go on Budby Heath in April or May without looking for one of my all time favourites, the Tiger Beetle, Cicindela campestris. Look for bare sand along the main paths, watch for insects flying up in front of you and follow the until they land.  Sneak up on them they're probably a Tiger Beetle avoiding your foot.  Also shown is a Tiger Beetle Larva, these bad boys eat ants that stray into their hole.  Fantastically designed, the head acts as a stopper.  To get them out I wiggle a bit of dried grass in the entrance to their hole, they can't resist coming to have a look. And guess what, I was on my belly when Photographing this larva. 
Tiger Beetle Larva, Budby Heath April 2013 

Adult Tiger Beetle, Budby Heath April 20th 2013

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Grass Snakes - Natrix natrix

At last I can get out and about.  Clear blue sky this morning in my part of Nottinghamshire. So after the weekly shop out with the camera.  I do a yearly search for one of my favourite animals the Grass snake, Natrix natrix.  If you look on the NBN network you'd be forgiven into thinking that these chaps are all over the place judging by the number of filled in grid references.  However here in Notts I'm not convinced they are that common as I know of only one or two spots that I could go and look for them with confidence.  Anyhow armed with camera I set off hoping I could find one basking in the early morning sun warming itself and still docile enough for me to get close enough to without it skidding off at speed never to be seen again. When looking for snakes they usually, 9 times out of 10, have clocked you before you eye them.  You usually hear the slither and then catch a glimpse of the tail disappearing.  Knowing where they are does give you the edge, you can creep up on them (sometimes) and fire away a few shots.  Well today I was in luck, spotted 4 including one rather large old girl that did scoot off rather fast.  These two in the photograph played ball, I settled down about 6 ft away from a warm spot and waited.  Sure enough a couple turned up oblivious to my presence.  Must have spent a good hour watching them do very little, kept me happy.  Also had the pleasure of a peacock butterfly settle in front of me photo attached. On the snake photo see if you can see both snakes.  There are definitely two there although one is a lot easier to spot then the other.  Other snake photographs from previous years are on my flickr site accessible from this blog.  

Two grass snakes taking in the rays - Nottinghamshire 13th April 2013.

Peacock Butterfly sunning itself Saturday 13th April 2013 - Spring at last 
Know that the weather is hopefully picking up I'll be out and about a lot more. Thanks for looking and please add a comment if you have found anything interesting or wish to add a little more to each blog. 

Friday, 12 April 2013

Spring - it's arrived!

April 10th, first frogspawn, 3 clumps,  absolutely fantastic dawn chorus and my first Bees of the year Andrena barbilabris a full month after I saw them last year.  I would hazard a guess that here in Nottinghamshire Spring is about 1 month behind schedule compared to the last few years.  Even the pussy willow in the Sallow tree is only just breaking through.

Not sure that this picture is suitable for younger readers, a bit of a get together in the back yard so to speak. But hey, it's nature and proof that spring is in the air! 

Monday, 1 April 2013

Yes I'm still here and still waiting for spring.

Crocus - the only bit of colour in my Nottinghamshire garden in late March. 
March a whole month when the temperature did not reach double figures here in my part of the East Midlands.  My parents live in the North West of Ireland and they have had their Daffodils out for at least two weeks.  I'm still awaiting my first bloom, my primroses are waiting, my crocus have been battered by the snow, which has been thawing slowly for the last nine days in my back garden. As for frogs in my little pool, well not a sign. Usually have several clumps of spawn by now.  I also had several species of Bee around this time last year, nothing so far.  I'm aware that we have cold weather in March and indeed in April, but the weather is usually variable, a bout of freezing weather followed by a little mild weather with rain to bring the frogs out followed by a bit more cold weather etc. This year it's just been a grind, can safely say the worst spring of my entire life,  being born in 1963 the met office will vouch for that one.  
I actually went for a walk around my local gravel pits this morning,  it was 3 degrees celsius.  For one silly momnet I thought I heard my first Willow Warbler, I stopped to listen but the distinctive sound was not repeated, must have been wishful thinking.