30. June 2010 · 2 comments · Categories: News, Plants

The BBC reports on the continuing decline of hay meadows in the UK, which are generally being replaced with silage fields. The latter is a field in which a few specific grass species are cultivated then mown and fermented to provide a wet feed for cattle in the winter. This is cheaper and easier than the traditional practice of mowing and drying hay, which requires a sustained spell of fine weather and more intensive labour. Hay fields though are traditionally extremely species rich, full of many grass varieties, wild flowers, bees, butterflies, beetles etc. and this change of farming practice is having a major knock-on effect.

The article describes how some action is being taken to protect remaining hay fields, but it seems unlikely that the trend will be reversed.


Recently I have noticed the following naturey things.

  • Whereas a few weeks ago there were loads of Ladybird larvae crawling around my rose bush, now many of them have turned to pupae. The picture above is an example, out of which will crawl the fully formed Ladybird. If you're lucky you can find a plant covered in every stage of the Ladybird lifecycle all at once.
  • Around dusk this evening the air around the silver birch tree in the garden was swarming with large beasties. I found one on the ground briefly (it might have been emerging from the soil) and it looked like a chafer beetle. I'm amazed that any creature can move through the hard-baked soil at the moment! From a distance you might assume they were large bumble bees, but there's something distinctive about flying beetles – a certain heaviness that is apparent even from a distance. If you've ever seen Stag beetles flying around the hedgerows (I did just once) that's a real treat – they're huge, clumsy and noisy!
  • The grass has stopped growing due to the lack of rain, which is saving me from mowing the lawn, but it's providing an opportunity for other plants to spring up from amidst the sward.


This little critter (probably only 16mm across the full leg-span) has been crawling around our bedroom ceiling for the last couple of weeks. I don't mind when they're small and cute, and this one actually looked like it had the wide, forward-curving legs of a crab spider. However on closer inspection it just looks like the classic house spider Tegeneria duellica (as per previous examples found in the house) which confused me. But maybe it's not? That leg splay just doesn't look how I'd expect. Maybe the young ones look like this. What say you all?

The BBC reports that a fern thought to be extinct for the last 60 years has been discovered on Ascension, a British overseas territory that comprises a small volcanic island in the South Atlantic. The story is notable on two counts: it gives me a chance for a very weak pun in the title; it's amazing the lengths that botanists went to having found the plant – scrambling up rock faces to drip feed them.


I assume that these are the ubiquitous Three-spined stickleback. I was just pleased to get a sharp photo of them in the water, as this usually proves to be exceptionally difficult for some reason.


The Zebra spider is my favourite of all spiders. It's only small – the one above is as big as I've seen them and its body is only about 8mm long – but it's extremely characterful. Playful even! They usually stop to look up at you as demonstrated above and will sometimes jump onto your finger if offered.

These are jumping spiders that hunt by roaming around and pouncing on prey. You can see that two of the eyes are very large and point straightforward to give them the excellent binocular vision required for accurate pouncing. They can even pounce when on vertical surfaces, since they always use a line of silk as a rope to anchor themselves. This enables them to 'undo' their jump on any surface, by reeling themselves in to try again.

22. June 2010 · 1 comment · Categories: Birds


I've seen a great deal of these young Blue tits around recently. To start with I had to check that were in fact Blue tits, since they're mostly grey and yellow, without the classic blue and white on the head. The two pictures on the RSPB Blue tit page (click the "1" and "2" links to flick between them) show the official differences quite clearly. Below is a picture of my own of an adult to compare. The juveniles also seem smaller and thinner than the adults, but maybe that's just because it's hot and they're not plumped up.



OK, so it's not a great angle, being a rear shot of a Hoverfly against a seemingly black background. Actually it just looks black because the beast itself was in a very bright shaft of sunlight so the camera has exposed for that and the shady trees in the background have come out super dark as a result.

I stood for perhaps 15 minutes pointing a very heavy 400mm lens at this quite large Hoverfly, trying to get a good shot of it in flight. However since it moves from spot to spot relatively quickly, and because I was manually focussing, it took a lot of trial and error and patience to get a reasonably sharp, well exposed image. I'll try again sometime, hoping for a better angle. In my favour was that they do tend to keep returning to approximately the same location.

I believe I also saw it mating, though I only recognised it after a mention on Springwatch of how flies mate by clinging together and doing the dirty as they fall to the ground. I will never get a photograph of that, I think it's safe to say. Not by standing in a wood anyway.


A small family of Green finches booted off the resident sparrows from the sunflower heart feeder today and seeing as there are only two parking spaces they indulged in a bit of mid-air refuelling for those that couldn't land. I assume that the bird in flight is a youngster – it certainly looks more speckled and drab overall, and it makes sense for the parents to be feeding it still if it only recently fledged.

Finches are in general distinguished by their big, powerful bills, ideal for crushing seeds and the like (though they're getting an easy ride from these sunflower hearts). This next picture shows a particularly good example of just how chunky that bill is. Personally I wouldn't mess with that finch on the left!



A nice angle on a dragonfly resting – but what kind of dragonfly? With reference to a couple of internet sources, my best attempts is a fresh female Black-tailed skimmer or possibly a female Scarce chaser (but they're not known in Hertfordshire it seems, so that's very unlikely). Are there any dragonfly experts out there that would care to help in identifying this example? I appreciate that this angle makes it a bit tough as it doesn't give a good look at the markings of the back or the wings.