Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Sitges butterflies

On a recent trip to Sitges, 20 miles south of Barcelona, without too much effort on our part we enjoyed some fine butterfly encounters.

How convenient it was that this southern Speckled Wood’s (Pararge aegeria aegeria) territory was by the hotel pool. This subspecies differs from the Northern P. aegeria tircis, the variation is in the ground colour, a rich orange unlike the yellow buff ground colour of my local Speckled Wood.

Familiar with the behaviour of the Speckled Wood, I was certain it would stick around & it provided great views from a variety of angles. It displayed the customary aggressive nature seeing off all incoming insects with verve.

A wonderful Sitges sighting was this Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) on Spanish flag, Lantana camara. A maximum of 4 on this shrub which grows in ornamental borders dotted along the sea front.

The moth is named after its resemblance to a hummingbird, with its rapid hovering motion, using its long proboscis as it feeds on the nectar of flowers, fond of plants with plentiful nectar. At one point we noted 5 moths on the shrub and an audible hum could be heard as their wings beat so fast.

Hummingbird hawk-moths are day-flyers preferring bright sunlight, but may also be seen at dawn and dusk and rarely at night. They are reported to trap-line, i.e. return to the same flower beds at approximately the same time each day.

The moths have a broad brown, white-spotted abdomen, brown forewings with black wavy lines across them and orange hindwings with a black edge & a fan-tail of setae at the end.They have a wingspan of 40-50 mm. Hawkmoths are capable of flying ay over 50km/h & are some of the fastest flying insects.

These Long-Tailed Blue (Lampides boeticus) were a familiar sight in Sitges. Apparently its an extremely rare migrant to the British Isles. Although it is continuously-brooded on the continent, it cannot survive UK winters.

The butterfly has a pair of "tails" together with an eye spot where the tails meet the wings. When at rest, the butterfly rotates the hindwings causing the tails to move, diverting predators from the other parts of the body. The butterfly has a jerky and rapid flight and is a strong flyer, they didn’t settle for long.

Whilst in Sitges we also enjoyed a birding trip to the Lleida Steppes, more about that in my next post.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

North Cave Wetlands II

I almost forgot about the remaining sightings from our weekend visit to North Cave. The dragonflies were about in good numbers & the small ponds provided great opportunities to observe the insects darting back and forth.

I'd appreciate any feedback on these ID's. This one's definitely a female as the vulvar scale is visible in side profile & I think its a Common Darter.

A male Common Darter (yellow stripes on legs)
Initially I thought these were male Common Hawker, but I think they're more likely Migrant Hawker, due to the yellow triangle on segment two & the reduced antehumeral stripe.

Plenty of Small Tortoiseshell 12+, 6 Speckled Wood along the paths, 5 Large Whites, 1 Small Skipper.

Lots of birds on the lakes & margins, hundreds of noisy & often airborne Lapwing, Curlew, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Pink Footed Geese, Canada Geese, Goldfinch. Little Brown Job also visited the reserve recently, but unlike Paul we somehow managed to come away without any pics of the birds, too much excitement earlier in the day maybe? Anyway its a good excuse for a return visit methinks.

Monday, 14 September 2009

North Cave Wetlands, Deer

At the weekend we paid a visit to North Cave Wetlands, a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve in the East Riding of Yorkshire. As the name suggests a series of wetland habitats are the dominant features, but it was a wooded path that provided the backdrop to our best sighting of the day. This pair of Roe Deer.

They looked as if they were out for a weekend stroll, chatting about this and that.

We remained still & after a short while the deer the deer spotted us and sought out an alternative route through the hedgerow, bounding off into an adjacent wheat field & into nearby woodland.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Askham Bog

On our recent trip to Askham Bog, as well as the Water vole sighting there was plenty of interesting colourful vegetation. Here's a few snapshots. I especially like the ruby berries and red tinged leaves of the Guelder Rose, Viburnum opulus at the moment.

Arching purple panicles of the Common Reed.

Waterside reflections

10 x Speckled Wood butterflies, a few occasionally landed on the boardwalk.

One or two small parasol like cap & stem fungi growing near the boardwalk.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Water Vole

Earlier today we enjoyed our first ever visit to Askham Bog YWT Reserve. Two miles SW of York, its an ancient relict fen, with a one mile boardwalk route through the reserve.

To our left we heard a loud rustle in the vegetation at the waters edge. Having read on one of the information boards that Roe Deer are often seen in the area we stood still & silent in anticipation of a deer. The noise continued but no deer appeared. I crept along the boardwalk walking far enough to gain an unobscured view of the far bank whereby I noticed a much smaller mammal. Initially I thought it was a rat but this was more rounded and didn't have the ears or the tail of a rat.

It was a Water Vole, Arvicola terrestris. We'd never seen one before & luckily managed to observe it for a good few minutes.

They eat grasses & waterside vegetation. Their most important predators are mink and stoats.

After a couple of minutes it swam over to the near bank.

When it reached the near bankside it lowered its head below water level & its head became covered in weed. You can just make it out in the next two shots.

The Water Vole returned to the far bank and removed the pondweed in a flash, too quick for me to capture anyway.

It disappeared underwater with a 'plop' which Ive subsequently read is characteristic of Water Voles. What a fantastic discovery. The Mammal Society have more information about these wonderful creatures.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Blacktoft Sands RSPB

We visited Blacktoft Sands RSPB reserve earlier in the week. Its the largest tidal reedbed in England and is located on the Humber Estuary. Views from the hides overlooking the lagoons provided some real treats. Andrea has kindly offered her photos to illustrate our finds.

Early on in our visit this Water Rail appeared from out of the reeds & quickly flew across to conceal itself amongst the vegetation on the opposite bank. We've spotted Water Rails on two other occasions, one at Fairburn Ings on a cold and icy afternoon and the other at Rutland Water, neither occasion were we able to get a pic so I suppose you can consider this a photo first.

Then from the same hide we had our first of many sightings of Marsh Harriers ! We watched three birds at one stage!!! A friendly birder pointed out the initial bird and once we'd got used to their flight behaviour we spotted them from each of the hides we visited.

Lots more sightings of the three Marsh Harriers

Back on terra firma, I'd never seen Snipe before and here are two on an island in the lagoon, three others fed in the shallows on another pond. Wonderful looking waders. The distinctive stripe extending down over the eye accentuates the length of the beak & gives them a fascinating slightly out of proportion look.

I've just noticed that Paul was at Blacktoft Sands earlier today & has some lovely pics over at his blog Little Brown Job.

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