184/366 Eggs-citing!

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Though I set off on yesterday’s walk clad in a rain jacket, the first day of July brightened up and turned into a day full of butterflies, with sightings of my first Gatekeepers of the year, a couple of second-brood Holly blues and more than 20 second-brood Small whites, as well as seven other species. But the highlight for me was watching two Commas egg-laying on nettles, and then taking a look at their tiny eggs, which I’d not seen previously.

200702 commas egglaying (1)

The butterflies were fluttering around, checking out nettle plants growing alongside the footpath I was walking and, when they found a plant to their liking, they would alight briefly on a leaf, lay a single egg, then flutter off again.

At less than 1mm tall, these eggs are tiny, and I would never have spotted them unless I’d seen them being laid. They’re pale green in colour, with 10 or 11 white ribs running vertically up the sides.

According to Peter Eeles’s Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies, each female Comma will lay about 250 eggs, usually on the upper side of a leaf, in a sheltered, sunny position. The eggs will gradually change colour to yellow and, in two or three weeks, to grey, before the little caterpillars hatch. Eggs-citing!

200702 commas egglaying (5)

Comma showing the distinctive marking that gave it its name

183/366 It’s a Burnet’s life

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My new favourite field has a healthy population of Burnet moths, some of which are 6-spot Burnets (Zygaena filipendulae) and the others could either be 5-spot Burnets (Zygaena trifolii) or Narrow-bordered 5-spot Burnets (Zygaena lonicerae) – it’s almost impossible to tell these latter two species apart. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to see almost every part of their life cycle – only the eggs have eluded me.

200701 1 5spot and 6spot

A 5-spot above, a 6-spot below

200701 2 6spot burnets

6-spot Burnets mating

Today I spotted this larva, looking very close to pupating, and, nearby, a very fresh-looking cocoon.

200701 5 6spot burnet

A freshly emerged 6-spot Burnet moth

200701 6 5spot burnet

A pristine 5-spot Burnet moth

200701 7 5spot burnet dead n ants

Death is always sad to see but, in this case, the moth will support the life cycle of other creatures.

 

182/366 Flowering rush

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200630 flowering rush

When I see the grasses and sedges and rushes that grow in and around rivers and ponds, canals, ditches and wetlands, I don’t expect to see such gorgeous flowers as these. This is the umbel-shaped flower of Flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus), hence the umbellatus epithet. According to the eFloras website, Butomus is from the Greek bous, meaning cow, and femno, meaning to cut, which refers to the belief that the sharp leaves would cut the mouths of cattle. Fortunately, no cattle are at risk from this particular Flowering rush plant, which is growing at Cardiff Bay wetlands reserve.

181/366 Spot the beetle

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This Spotted longhorn (Rutpela maculata) was happily minding its own business, feeding on the umbellifer flowers growing along the edge of a woodland ride, as is its wont, when …

200629 spotted longhorn (1)

Incoming!

200629 spotted longhorn (2)

And so the necessity of life as a beetle takes over, the need to reproduce, to continue the species. Lunch might have to wait.

200629 spotted longhorn (3)

180/366 Poplar fluff

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I’m not good at tree identification but I think this is most likely a Hybrid Black-poplar (Populus x Canadensis agg). It’s growing in a local park alongside the river – they like wet landscapes, and are frequently planted in parks and gardens but have also become naturalised in much of Britain.

200628 hybrid black-poplar (1)

What caught my attention with this tree was not the leaves or the bark or the shape but its seed fluff, which is so abundant at the moment that it’s covering the nearby path like snow in summer.

Poplar trees are dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female trees, and you can tell this one is a female because it’s producing the seeds, with all that fabulous white fluff attached.

179/366 Bob bob bobbin’

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As the song goes …
‘When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along, along
There’ll be no more sobbin’ when he starts throbbin’ his old sweet song….’
~ Harry Woods, ‘When the red red robin comes bob bob bobbin’ along’, 1926

200627 robin (1)200627 robin (2)

Woods was writing about an American Robin (Turdus migratorius), which is a very different bird from the British Robin (Erithacus rubecula), but the bobbing still applies. And this juvenile Robin, which is just moulting into its adult plumage, was bobbing very well for me during yesterday’s exercise walk.

200627 robin (3)200627 robin (4)

178/366 Essex skippers

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I’ve been melting in this week’s heatwave but it’s been a wonderful week for butterflies: on Monday, a long-lost Small heath, on Wednesday my first Painted Lady of the year, and yesterday two Essex skippers.

200626 essex skipper (1)

I went early to Grangemoor Park to avoid the worst of the heat but it was already roasting, and the skippers, Large and Small, were scooting around the grasses and wildflowers so rapidly that I couldn’t get many photos. Then, along one path, two skippers flew up, one disappeared but the other found a perch and stayed there, most patiently, while I quietly edged my way around in front of it to check what I suspected from the rear view. And, bingo, black-tipped antennae – an Essex skipper.

200626 essex skipper (2)

A second path, an almost perfect repeat performance, a second Essex skipper. I do find these gorgeous little skippers will remain on a perch when they find one to their liking, which is extremely convenient for getting photos to confirm their identities.

177/366 A Small heath and a Painted lady

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As well as the Great crested grebes I wrote about yesterday (and many other birds, of course), I also found a little treasure on Monday’s Cardiff Bay walk, a Small heath butterfly. These are common butterflies in many parts of Britain but, for some unknown reason, they are now rare in my part of south Wales. In almost five years of looking, this is the first I’ve found, and Monday’s find is only the third confirmed local record in ten years. Sadly, I only managed a couple of not-very-good photos so I’ll need to try to re-find it.

200625 small heath

Yesterday’s walk, in the meadows next to a local woodland, also produced a treasure. As well as many other butterflies (Meadow browns and Ringlets, Large and Small skippers, a couple each of Commas and Red admirals, a Speckled wood and a few flyby white species), I saw my first Painted lady of 2020. I love both the top and side markings of this beautiful creature.

200625 painted lady (1)200625 painted lady (2)

176/366 Breeding grebes

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Monday’s walk was a delight, my first of the new-fangled socially distanced walks with a friend. As well as each other’s good company, we enjoyed a lovely wander around part of Cardiff Bay, including the wetlands reserve. There is always an abundance of Great crested grebes in the waters around the reserve and this day we also spotted two pairs breeding.

200624 great crested grebes (1)

One pair was perhaps making a second attempt, as this is late in the season to begin their breeding cycle. While one bird brooded their single (so far) egg, the other was keeping itself busy gathering extra materials to add to the nest.

200624 great crested grebes (2)

We then noticed another pair of grebes that already had two chicks (birders commonly call them ‘humbugs’ because of their striped colouring) and, while the two little ones sheltered on one adult’s back, the other went fishing for sprats for its offspring. It was wonderful to watch them.

200624 great crested grebes (3)

175/366 Offspring

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As opportunity and luck have allowed, I’ve been taking photos of this year’s juvenile birds. This first photo, of one of a couple of young Pied wagtails, was taken about a month ago, on a walk alongside the River Ely. The two fledglings looked very young, quite exposed and vulnerable, and the parents were nowhere to be seen. I only saw the young birds this one time.

200623 1 juv pied wagtail

Juvenile Blackcaps look like the female of the species, which also wears a brown cap, as opposed to the black cap atop the males’ heads.

200623 2 juv blackcap

Blue tit young are very cute, following along in the trees and bushes behind their parents, constantly peeping for food and learning to forage by watching the adults as they gather tiny insects to feed their noisy offspring.

200623 3 juv blue tit

Long-tailed tit chicks are probably the cutest of the common young birds, I think. This one kept poking its head into that curly leaf below it, searching for tiny insects. Sadly, the photos I tried to capture of that were all blurry.

200623 4 juv long-tailed tit