This was quite an exciting thing to see on the side of my shed – an Ichneumon wasp, recognisable by the frankly enormous spike on its rear end, longer than its own body in this case! Actually there are many species of Ichneumon wasp, not all so well endowed, but we can tell this is a female because that spike is actually an ovipositor used for laying eggs.

Some species – probably including this one, given its long ovipositor and like for crawling on my shed – use that long spike to drill into wood and lay an egg in a beetle within the wood. The larva then eats the beetle as it grows. They sense the position of the beetle with those long antennae and manage to pinpoint it from outside. It's hard to imagine that a delicate creature like this can bore through solid wood with that very fine needle, but apparently there is a concentration of metal at the end that makes it very hard. All in all a fascinating insect!

29. May 2011 · 2 comments · Categories: Birds

This is a rather poor picture of a Common crane in Norfolk. They do live wild in Norfolk (read the whole story of the increasing but still small numbers there since the seventies) but this one is at Pensthorpe so presumably captive in at least some sense. It's standing on one leg and stretching a wing which is why it looks a bit odd!

Update: According to Blackbird in the comments, this is actually a Demoiselle crane! And I think she's absolutely right, which just shows how careful you have to be when identifying things you're unfamiliar with.

28. May 2011 · 3 comments · Categories: Birds

On my bird feeder today was a Starling feeding its young progeny. If I'd seen the youngster on its own I probably wouldn't have guessed that it was a Starling at all and would have gone rushing off to look up the exotic new species I'd discovered (this happens a lot).

A Greylag goose specifically, which I learn is the ancestor of most domestic geese, though the RSPB seems a bit sniffy about the majority of them that you find in the UK, apparently being "semi-tame and uninspiring". I suppose that's what made them good as domestic animals.

It's been nearly two straight months with hardly a drop of rain in the South East – certainly here in Hertfordshire at UKNB HQ. But after many promising forecasts that came to nothing, finally we had a good downpour today, complete with sound and light effects.

Which made me wonder, where do all the slugs and snails go when it's so dry for so long? I suppose there was still some dew in the night, and the snails can hide in their shells for a while.

It's the time of year when damselflies are everywhere, even in my garden with no pond. The one above is a male Red-eyed damselfly that was just one amongst clouds of the things around a lake I recently visited in Norfolk. I had to study my picture closely to check that it wasn't a Small red-eyed damselfly, but I think that the shape and colour pattern of the tail is the giveaway, not to mention I don't remember it being tiny.

In the same walk-in aviary as the Ruff in my last post, were Bearded tits. Pipe down with the Bill Oddie jokes at the back there! And similarly, though this one is in captivity, they are native to Norfolk and may be seen in reed beds, though not by me on this occasion. They are quite rare, so if you want to see one I can recommend Pensthorpe, or checking out the locations listed against the recent photos on birdguides.com.

I sometimes take quite a while to figure out what I've photographed when I come back and examine all the shots, and this was a good case in point. It was actually in a walk-in aviary at Pensthorpe in Norfolk so if I'd had time to read the signs I'm sure my life would have been easier but I was in a rush.

I'm fairly sure it's a Ruff, which can be found in the UK (including Norfolk) but is a fairly rare migrant, stopping off here on its way from Scandinavia to Africa. I assume this is a female, but the male in breeding plumage is quite the sight to behold – Wikipedia has some good images. Another shot of the same bird below.


Another nicety from the UKNB tour of Norfolk: a Sedge warbler in the reeds at Cley Marshes Nature Reserve. There were lots of them in the reeds by the boardwalks to the hides, and they would often let you get to within just a few metres.

Faced with low light and dusky conditions that make for blurry photos? Use it to your advantage and let the long exposure times become a creative asset!

By zooming in whilst taking this shot of a tree I think I've transformed an otherwise dull picture into something quite dramatic. You also wouldn't know that it was actually getting quite gloomy, being 8:42pm a few days ago. I actually set the aperture to f20 to make sure of a long enough exposure to get the effect I was after, which was half a second in this case, at ISO 800. In retrospect I should have knocked the ISO down to 200 and used a larger aperture to get the same result but with less noise.