Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Last offering of the year...

 We travelled back up the River Soar and moored at Millers Bridge near Pillings Lock Marina. It's a lovely spot that we've stayed at loads of times in the past. We had a couple of visitors, one of which was only my second moth of the trip, another Micro moth, a Garden Rose Tortrix (Acleris variegana). A bit ironic that our travels around the countryside only turned up 2 moths...a house moth & a garden moth!

Garden Rose Tortrix
I rememeber years ago being on a birding trip in Norfolk when I popped into a tiny village Post Office and overhead the Postmistress & another customer discussing the identification of Micro moths. I came out chuckling about sad people in anoraks... .

Our second visitor was a Green Lacewing of which there are between 14 &18 species in the UK depending on which website you look at. Lacewings live for about 10 months & are good for the garden as they eat aphids. They readily go into houses, & apparently boats, in the Autumn. As usual there are a lot of similar species but I think this one is the Com
mon Green Lacewing (Chrysoperla carnea) as it had dull pink patches on the body & this species turns pink in the Autumn for hibernation.

Common Green Lacewing

We moved down the canal a short distance & moored outside the marina for a spot of polishing. Whislt taking a short break I spotted a dragonfly land in a bush next to Muriel. It was a Migrant Hawker & it stayed there for about half an hour sunbathing.

Migrant Hawker (mature male)

A Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)came to feed on the same bush & also stayed for a while.

Red Admiral

We're now back in Exmouth for the winter where I'll be doing lots of birding & wildlife spotting! I may even decide to start a blog..........

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Fradley Junction Nature Reserve

We moored at Fradley Junction, beside which is a small nature reserve. It has a very posh hide, but unfortunately, not many birds.....at least whilst I was there anyway!

I wandered around for about an hour and a half & my birdlist consisted of:
Great Crested Grebe
Black Headed Gull
Canada Geese
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Sparrow Hawk (brief fly past)

Hurtling Moorhen

Canada Goose


I was surprised to see a Blue Tit disappear into a box which I think is actually a bat box. Normally they like boxes with holes at the front, of which there were quite a few. Maybe they were already taken!

Bad photo of a Blue Tit leaving a bat box

In addition, another shield bug landed on M's hull. This one is a Juniper Shield Bug

Juniper Shield Bug

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Visitors on the Caldon Canal

It's been a while since I last blogged, largely due to the fact that we didn't have a signal for a week. We went up the Caldon Canal from Etruria junction in Stoke-on-Trent to Froghall & back again. During that time I didn't really do much plant spotting but did spend some time trying to identify various bugs that visited Muriel.

Our first visitor was a Hawthorn Shield Bug which turned up in the rear canopy one morning.

Hawthorn Shield Bug
 That was followed by a White Shouldered House Moth inside the boat. It's the first moth I've seen all trip.

White Shouldered House Moth
 A new spider turned up in the canopy which I think is a species of Drassodes, possibly Drassodes Iapidosus. There are apparently several similar species so I'm not entirely sure. They are nocturnal hunters & their prey includes other spiders.

Drassodes (lapidosus?)
& again
A stonefly landed on the hull whilst we were moored up. It looks very much like Leuctra fusca, one of a number known as needle flies due to the way they tightly fold the wings. There are several similar species, but this one is quite common in streams & lakes. Although we were on the canal, we were very close to a fast flowing stream.

Stone Fly, possibly Leuctra fusca
We've had several visits from tiny Moth Flies, in fact there's one sitting in my bug pot on the table as I type. They are true flies & are called Moth Flies due to their hairy appearance. As usual, there are apparently quite a few similar species which can only be told apart by disecting the genitalia! Well, I'll not be going that far.....it may be Pericoma fulignosa, or it may not! I do know that it hurtled around the bug pot when I caught it, making it difficult to get a photo. They like decaying matter & are often found near sewage works & in drains. I hope the few we've had visit are just that, visitors, & not living in the downpipe!

Moth Fly

& again

My final offering is an as yet unidentified Caddis Fly. I took some photos when it first visited, then released it. We put the canopy down, moved on, & then when we put the canopy up at our next mooring, there it was again! Took a few more photos. There are lots of different Caddis Flies & most of them are identified by counting the number of spurs on the legs. That's why I took more photos, as none of the first batch had enough leg-focusing! I'm still trying to sort it out.....

Caddis Fly - top

Caddis Fly - bottom

Caddis Fly - side
Caddis Fly - front

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Horsetail & Weevil

We spent a night above Lock 55 near Hassell Green, a very small village South of Wheelock in Cheshire. There was an unmown verge with lots of plants including Greater & Ribwort Plantain, Red Clover, Common Nettles & buttercups (unidentified!). The hedge was mainly the usual Hawthorn, with a few horsetails at the base. I've found them at quite a few locations & have tried several times to figure out which ones they are. I've never succeeded. I tried again here, and although it doesn't entirely fit with the description in my Collins Guide, I think it's a Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense). It mostly fits apart from the fact that the book says that the Wood Horsetail is the only one with sub-branch. This only had one or 2 & looking on the web I found reference to the Field Horsetail having sub-branches but not regular ones like the Wood variety.

Horsetails are really interesting as they are considered to be 'living fossils'. They are the only living genus of the class Equisetopsida which for over a hundred million years was much more diverse and dominated the understory of the late Paleozoic forests, as well as producing trees of up to 30 metres in height.

Stem sheath shorter than first node on branches

One of a few sub branches

Cross-section of main stem

4 angled branch cross-section

I also found my second weevil species of the trip, an Apion pomonae, which is even tinier than the Pea Weevil  found before.

Apion pomonae

A speedy weevil.....most of my photos were rear views

Friday, 7 October 2011


We spent a night above the Top Flash on the Shropshire Union (Middlewich Branch), which is near a place called Clive Green.

It was a lovely rural mooring & we spent the afternoon being over-flown by buzzards. I counted six at one point, although there could have been more as my view was partially obscured by trees.

Juvenile buzzard (adults have a black terminal band on the tail)

Darker morph juvenile
I also found another Pea Weevil.............typical, of all the bugs in the world, I found one of the few I've already managed to find & identify so far!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Anatomy of a wasp.....

We moored a short distance above Cholmondeston Lock on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire. Whilst cleaning the windows, I spotted what I thought was a fly on the hatch door. I caught it in my pot, took some photos & then spent most of the day trying to figure out what it was!

I'm really a beginner when it comes to insect anatomy, however it didn't take too long flicking through my insect guide to decide that it was probably some sort of Ichneumons wasp, a large group of parasitic wasps whose larvae live in or on the young stages of other insects. It most closely resembled the picture of a male Amblyteles armatorius, although mine had a more stripey abdomen.

According to the book, wasps from this family should have a thick edge to the forewing and a prominent stigma, which this one seemed to have:

Forewing showing thickened edge & stigma
Amblyteles armatorius should have a yellow or cream scutellum i.e the large plate at the rear of the thorax, and a 'hind yellow trochanter', the trochanter being the segment of the leg between the large femur & the small coxa, which attaches the leg to the thorax. It clearly has a yellow scutellum, and as far as I can make out the trochanter on the hind leg is yellow.

Yellow scutellum & yellow hind trochanter

I then spent ages looking on the web to see if I could find anything closer to this wasp & discovered a website which had a photo of a female Amblyteles armatorius which looks just like this. So as long as that was correctly identified, then  that's probably what this is! However, there are apparently several similar species, so I could be wrong!

In common with a lot of other insects, wasps have not only the large compound eyes, but also simple eyes in the middle of their head called ocelli, usually 3 of them arranged in a triangle. It's thought that they can just detect variations in light intensity.

Compound eyes & 3 ocelli
 Whilst watching the wasp it did a fair amount of grooming, possibly as it had been tangled up in a bit of web when I first found it.

Grooming antennae whilst doing the splits!

After being much photographed, she finally made her escape from the pot!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Audlem, Cheshire

We spent a couple of nights just North of Audlem at another lovely rural mooring with fantastic views across the countryside to a lake & the River Weaver. There was a bit of a shelf in the canal so Simon put out an old boat trailer wheel to keep us from crunching against the side. He's only just put it out when we had a surprise visitor

A bedraggled visitor...

an unknown variety of mouse!

His fur looked a bit matted at the rear, not sure if it was just water or if he'd picked up some diesel or something similar in the canal. Simon pulled up the wheel on it's rope to let the mouse off on the verge, but it bolted & fell off into the canal. Vera's dinner bowl was then used to rescue it! After being deposited on the grass it burrrowed down in a big tuft & we left it to it.

Had a couple of feathered visitors:

Goldfinch on the opposite side of the canal
 A crow a few yards up the bank from M

Amongst the grass and nettles were a few plants, including Yarrow & Field Bindweed.

Field Bindweed

There was also a vetch which I pondered over for ages trying to identify. It had some features that fitted Common Vetch best, & others that were more like Bush Vetch. I think it was the Bush as the flowers were in groups of 4.

Bush Vetch