Saturday, 3 June 2017

Fire on the Marsh

It was with some shock that I received a text on Sunday 28 May telling me that there was a fire engine in the middle of the marsh. I wasn't able to get down to see what damage had been caused until the Wednesday, and found, to my relief, that very little damage had occurred.

The fire had almost literally been in the exact middle of the marsh and had damaged approximately 2 acres of grass land. At the time of writing, I do not know what had started the fire, but I was relieved at the relatively small amount of damage - it could have been so much worse!

I didn't stay for too long as my main reason for being down the patch was to do a butterfly transect before going into work later on. So I had to wait until my next day off on the Saturday before I could explore the affected area in more detail.

The plan for Saturday had been to do a bumblebee transect before going over to have a look. I arrived at the start point and had even written down my start time, when I noticed smoke coming from where the fire had been. So I ditched to transect and hurried over to assess what was happening before calling out the Fire Service.

As I arrived, I could see that there had been another fire and the affected area had grown considerably and now covered about a quarter of the marsh. I do not know if last weekend's fire had flared up again, or whether this was a second arson attack, but it was devastating to see. The thought of how much wildlife had been killed was dreadful and it was with a heavy heart that I started to have a look around to see if anything could be found.

There was still smoke rising in several places, but this was within the area that had already been burned and was unlikely to cause any further problems, but a denser patch of thicker smoke caught my attention in one corner and I could see some actual flames. Luckily, the fire had only just flared up again and I was able to stamp it out before it could spread any further.

An overhead kestrel was using the bare patch to its advantage and was hunting all around the patch. A number of bumblebees were seen heading into holes in the ground, so would seem to have escaped the flames, but the same couldn't be said for a grass snake that I found all curled up close to a dyke. I don't know if it was caught out by the fire, or whether it was already dead.

Dead grass snake

 
 
video
 
 




Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Monday Butterfly Transect

Although last week was wet and windy, the last few days the weather has dramatically improved to beautifully warm and sunny and seemed to be an ideal time for a butterfly transect. I set off with great anticipation and not a cloud in site. But how disappointing it was! I only had three butterflies through the whole walk - a single brimstone, a single speckled wood and a single green-veined white. I don't know why this should be as I had expected it to be a bumper year after such a mild winter. I did see a couple of holly blues and a lone peacock butterfly outside of the transect, but it was still worryingly quiet.

On a plus side, I have added two more species to the Patch list. Whilst walking along a board walk in Reffley Wood, I spotted a yellow pimpernel poking it's head through the gaps of the cross slats. I haven't noticed this species before, but now I have seen it I have found it in a number of places around the wood. The other was the meadow buttercup that is quite prolific around the margins of the Reffley Reservoir.

yellow pimpernel

After finishing the butterfly transect and having some lunch, I had intended having a go at some more sedges and grasses. I was making my way back to Osier Marsh, but it was so hot that I sought the shelter of a small copse next to the River Gaywood for another cup of tea. It was quite pleasant just sitting there in the shade and watching a speckled wood flying from nettle to nettle and basking in the small shafts of sunlight that were filtering through the trees. A group of hoverflies were buzzing around just out of my reach, guarding their small territories and challenging each other from time to time. A male blackcap was singing close by, hiding amongst the low and tangled foliage. I managed a couple of brief glimpses, but it was to well hidden to be able to enjoy it in the full.

I finished my cup of tea and decided that it was just too hot to continue. I am not normally one to complain about the sun, but I was feeling quite uncomfortable and decided to leave the grasses and sedges until the next time.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

24/05/16 to 28/09/13

This second week of my holiday didn't feel as good as the first week, but it was in fact one of those 'quietly successful' weeks. The seeds for what would unfold were sown in that first week when I sat down to have a go at some sedges and grasses around the Reffley Reservoir.

I had spotted a sedge growing on the very edge of the water and had decided to spend a day IDing these often ignored species. After a great struggle, I eventually ID'd the sedge as True Fox Sedge Carex vulpine and went home quite happy. It was a few days later that I came across a distribution map and realised that it doesn't occur in this part of the country. So I decided to go back on the Tuesday of the second week to work out what it actually was.

I picked a nice spot next to the inlet pipe for the reservoir and set myself up for some hard graft. I decided to start of trying to ID some rushes that were just in front of me and was pleased to find I keyed them out quite easily and that they were hard rush Juncus inflexus - duller and more glaucous than the soft sedge Juncus effusus that I had already recorded several years back.

After much procrastination, I found I couldn't put the task off any longer and so I started back on the sedge. It was another struggle and I kept coming back to my original ID, before realising that what I had was actually false fox sedge (Carex otrubae). It is very similar to true fox sedge, but this actually does occur in this area. It just couldn't be anything else!

Afterwards, I was reminded of a very useful publication on the flora of King's Lynn that I have and so I decided to check if false fox sedge has indeed been recorded on the exact location. And it wasn't. There was no mention of it at all. Frustratingly, I would have to go back yet again to have yet another go at it!

So I went back on the Thursday and armed myself with a list of sedges that do occur around the Reffley Reservoir. I set about procrastinating once again and surprised myself with a new flower for the site and for myself. It was a beaked hawks's-beard Crepsis versicaria, a common enough plant that I felt sure I would have recorded before, but hadn't! I refreshed my memory with the brooklime Veronica beccabunga that was growing in the inlet and the black medick Medicago lupulia growing on the bank. I even stopped for some lunch (and getting totally sprayed by the grass being chucked out the back of the mower that was present) before trying the sedge once again.

I looked at it and studied it over and over again. I went through all of the families of sedges and discounted each family one by one until I was just left with the one, which included both of the fox sedges. I went through each description and got it to the false fox sedge every time. A friend had turned up and assured me that false fox sedge was in the flora of King's Lynn, but I showed him the list I had copied to prove that it wasn't in it. Frustrated, we left and slowly made our way back home.

It was when I got back home that I went through the flora of King's Lynn once more, and I was right - false fox sedge wasn't there. Then I turned the page over. My friend had been quite right, the sedge is in the book and does occur around Reffley Reservoir. I had almost wasted a whole day trying to turn the sedge into something it wasn't just because I hadn't turned the page!

I did start to go down my Patch on the Friday and just as I was starting I received a text. It is the bane of my life that when I am on holiday, I will very often get a phone call from work to say someone has gone ill and could I come in. And this was what the text was. I was going to have to interrupt my holiday yet again and go to work. Out of three holidays that I have had this year, all three have been messed up in some way because of work.

So I had to wait until Saturday before I was able to go out. Looking at the weather, I decided that it would probably be my best chance of completing a butterfly transect. So that is what I did. I couldn't stay too long afterwards because I was going out later on and needed to get ready, but I was still able to get some good records. A dock bug Coreus marginatus found on Osier Marsh was another first for the site and myself, there were a number of flowers flowering for the first time this year and I managed a quick glimpse of a bullfinch.

dock bug

I decided that I would be better to do the transect in reverse, so I would end up closer to home when I finished. So I went on up into Reffley Wood and had an early lunch in my usual spot on a nice and comfortable bench. After lunch I made my way to where I was going to start the transect and decided to have another cup of tea before actually starting. As I was sat enjoying my cuppa, I spotted something flying around and I moved in for a closer look.

It soon settled and I nearly dismissed it as one of the cuckoo wasps, before remembering a recent article about blood bees. I had never heard of them before, but they too are parasitic and are so called because of their red abdomens. Realising that this could be one, I netted it for a closed inspection and it did indeed turn out to be a box-headed blood bee Sphelodes monilcornis. Once again, it was a first for the Patch and a first for myself.

And that was it. I finished the butterfly transect and my holiday. I spent all day Sunday recovering from Saturday night, but the weather had already turned and so it was so bad. All in all, I would have to say that this has probably been the best holiday where I have stayed at home that I have ever had (excluding having to work on Friday!)

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Mute Swan Update

The mute swan family have now left the nest, but unfortunately there is only a single chick that has hatched from the seven eggs that were laid.

25 May 2016

Contrary to earlier weather forecasts, Sunday was actually a nice day and I was able to get down to the patch to complete a butterfly transect, which was fairly uneventful with a couple of holly blues, a small white, large white, a couple of orange-tips and a few green-veined whites. A lone peacock butterfly was also noted outside of the transect.

I had a few more firsts for the year with the first flowering foxglove, scarlet pimpernel, red clover and star-of-Bethlehem. The first swollen-thighed beetles were seen sitting in the buttercups and a blue-tailed damselfly was seen at Reffley Reservoir.

A bit of excitement was had when a good candidate for garden warbler was heard on Osier Marsh. These shy birds sound very similar to a blackcap and like to hide in deep cover. I always think they sound a bit more 'flutey' than a blackcap and won't record them unless I have actually seen them to confirm their ID. And it was finally confirmed when it was eventually glimpsed for a brief moment as it moved between the deep cover.

I still haven't seen any dragonflies yet, but the damselfly numbers are building quite nicely on Reffley Reservoir. A count of 76 large red damselfies were noted, with 36 pairs actively mating. Thirty four azure damselflies were also counted, with 5 pairs mating and a single pair were actually ovipositing (laying eggs) in the vegetation.

I spent all day Monday identifying three new species found the day before. The first was quite easy and was a day flying moth called mother shipton. Apparently, it is named after an olde worlde Yorkshire witch who wore clothes of a similar pattern to the moth! The second two took much more time and I had to wait for one to be confirmed from an expert on line.

mother shipton moth.


A hoverfly was found as I was returning from the butterfly transect. I had first thought it was a wasp and stopped to check which species it was. On a closer inspection, it was clear this was one of the hoverfly 'wasp mimics', so I netted it for a closer inspection. When I tried to ID it, my guide gleefully informed me that it was one of the 'Difficult Five' and so it proved to be. Having gone around in circles for a few hours I decided to take some photo's of the important features and put it on a Facebook group that has some of the top hoverfly experts on it. I got my ID a few hours later from no one less than the actual author of the guide book I was using!
Chrysotoxum cautum

measuring the lengths of the antenna segments

Judging the size of the genital capsual

The third species I had found was another bee and I spent the vast bulk of Monday trying to sort it out. I could get as far as that it was one of the mason bees, but I couldn't pin down which species. I kept ending up at some really rare species that don't occur anywhere close to Norfolk and the ones that it was most likely to be didn't have the correct features of my bee. I was using the ID keys, but still couldn't get the right species and couldn't work out where I was going wrong, so tried some radically different choices in my selections, but still couldn't get anything close to what I had.

When you are not used to identifying a certain group of insects, it can be difficult to interpret what some of the id features are. Because of this, I spent most of Monday getting nowhere fast and it wasn't until mid-evening that I had my inspiration. I found the part where I was interpreting differently and this led straight to the correct species - a red-vented mason bee. As soon as I looked at the page I knew I had the correct one at long last. Even though I finally managed to get there, I still have to disagree with the part of the key I had to interpret differently!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

16th - 21st May 2016

The last time that I updated the list of all species that have been recorded for my patch, it stood at around 450 species. I was reminded recently that I had arrived at the 500 species in the middle of June 2015 and that I have added an average of 10 species a month when I reached 600 species. I have updated the list since that conversation and the Patch List Total now stands at 634, with a month still to go until the 500 anniversary. This now makes my average additions to the Patch List to just over 12 a month.

The fact that I finally got my moth trap working has given me the greatest number of additions. I bought the trap in 2013, but it had stopped working by the third time of use. I had tried a new light bulb and then a new battery, but neither of these worked. In the end, I decided that I had damaged the electrics when I accidentally attached the battery leads the wrong way round and so had to wait until 2015 and could afford to buy new electronics. This worked a treat and I managed to get the trap out on 5 occasions through the year.

Since 2014, I have been busy trying to identify hoverflies, which have probably been the second biggest number of species to be added to the overall list. A good fungi season provided another batch of new records and a small number of spiders have also been added. The end of last year saw the first publication of a book to ID bees for over a hundred years, and I have been eagerly been using it since march, adding a good number of bees.

This week has been the first week of a fortnights holiday and the weather has been relatively kind, enabling surveys to be undertaken each day bar the wet and windy Wednesday. I have even been able to find the time to buckle down to surveying the grasses and sedges of the area and have added a small number of these to the list. I have also added further numbers of bees and some more hoverflies.

In addition to the glut of new species, there have also been plenty of first for the year this week. This includes the first flowering cock's-foot grass and large-leaved timothy grass, the first cardinal beetle and small yellow underwing moth, the first fledged hedge accentors, the first Cercopis vulnerata, sand martin, flowering yellow iris, tree bumblebee worker, early bumblebee and flowering bird's-foot trefoil.

The mute swan nest that is on the Reffley Reservoir has seen some drama this week. I noticed the swan that had been sitting when I had passed by earlier was now standing to one side of the nest. Expecting to see one of the eggs hatching, I stopped to have a closer look through my binoculars. I could only see four of the seven eggs that I know are there, but I could also see something just to one side of the eggs. It was too dark to be a chick and I couldn't work out what it was. It didn't help that it wasn't moving and I struggled to work out what it actually was. Then, all of a sudden, I was shocked to realise what it was - an adder!

Up until this moment, I never knew that adders do occasionally swim. There was no other way it could have got into the nest, which is a good distance from the edge of the reservoir and any kind of dry passage. I have no idea why the adder was there and can only assume it was looking for chicks. A mute swan egg is surely to big for an adder to tackle? I was unable to stay and watch what would happen next, but the snake had gone and the swan was back sitting on the eggs the next day.

On Friday 20th, I noticed that both swans were now on the nest and that the sitting bird was fidgeting a lot. So I sat down to pour myself of cup of tea and wait to see I could confirm my suspicions. It wasn't very long before I had my answer when the swan stood up and I could see a newly hatched chick that was still wet from the egg.


mute swans just before the newly hatched chick was revealed.

 
Brimstone moth. A new species for the patch.

Mallard with chicks.




Sunday, 15 May 2016

Thursday 12 May 2016

The weather was much better than had been forecast and the sun was shining brightly in what was supposed to be an overcast day. It would have been a hot day, but the wind kept the temperature to being pleasantly warm. A butterfly transect was completed earlier in the week, so that left the day open for some hoverfly hunting and maybe a bee or two.

The day got off to a good start with the first flowering greater celandine, germander speedwell and cow parsley for the year, along with the first marmalade hoverfly for the season down between the hospital and Springwood. Further down the track a second hoverfly was caught in the sweep net which turned out to be a male Leucozona lucorum  - a first for the patch.

This years first Meridon equestris and Sphaerophoria scripta were caught on Osier Marsh. S scripta is very similar to several different species of hoverfly. All have similar markings which can vary depending on temperatures during development and the only way to confirm ID is to examine the male genetalia. Luckily, a male was caught and I was able to examine the shape and form of the genitals for the first time to confirm the species. Females can not be separated.

It has been wonderful to hear a cuckoo on a number of visits this year. It was first noted calling on 30th April and has been heard calling regularly since. This is one of the most iconic sounds of spring and any day spent in the countryside on a warm and sunny day with the cuckoo calling has to be one of life's greatest moments. This was sadly lacking in 2015 when there were only two records with a singing male heard on the 9th and 10th May!

I successfully ran an actinic moth trap on a small number of occasions in 2015 and had already recorded poplar hawkmoth, but I was stunned to come across a mating pair in the long grass next to the cycle path. They were quite exposed and it is surprising that they hadn't been spotted by any predator. I have been recording wildlife for thirty years now, and I have never seen anything like this before!


Mating poplar hawkmoths

A visit to Reffley Wood proved extremely productive and I managed to add a further 4 new species for the patch and another first for the year. A medium sized black hoverfly was netted just after entering the wood and ID'd as Cheilosia albitarsis. A little further along another hoverfly was spotted, but proved elusive and it wasn't until I was coming back out of the wood later that I managed to net it. A quick examination of it proved it was a species that I have wanted to see ever since I started to get interested in hoverflies a couple of years ago - Rhingia campestris. This is quite an easy one to ID due to its great big long 'beak' protruding from the front of its face!

Rhingia campestris

There is a sandy track that runs through the north-eastern edge of Reffley Wood. A bench is situated almost at the end of the track where I have spent many times watching a group of small bees busily buzzing about at this time of year. I had always suspected that they were some kind of mining bee and it wasn't until today that I have been able to get an ID on them. They are quite tricky to pin down and I can only say that this is a tentative ID until I can get them determined by someone much more experienced. But as far as I can tell, they are the sandpit mining bee Andrena barbilabris.

Female head and thorax
Female abdomen


Male