How close are the eyes?

Marmalade hoverfly (c) Duncan Hutt

Marmalade hoverfly (c) Duncan Hutt

There are over 280 species of hoverfly in the UK.  Last week Duncan attended a training day on their identification although it’s only ever going to be a brief introduction in one day.  There seems to be one species of the 280 with an English name, and this, the marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus), was hanging around on cranesbill flowers in the garden this afternoon.

At Dukesfield, just south of Hexham, there were a few more species feeding on hogweeds but most of them turned out to be the very common Eristalis pertinax.  This is a large ‘bee-mimic’ hoverfly which is relatively easy to tell from its close relatives as it has yellow front and middle feet!  There were both male and females of this hoverfly clearly demonstrating the key difference between the genders; the separation of the eyes.  In most hoverflies the eyes meet on the male whereas the eyes of females are separated.

Male Eristalis pertinax (c) Duncan Hutt

Male Eristalis pertinax (c) Duncan Hutt

Female Eristalis pertinax (c) Duncan Hutt

Female Eristalis pertinax (c) Duncan Hutt

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Spiders and Flies

Ringlet (c) Duncan Hutt

Ringlet (c) Duncan Hutt

Meadow brown (c) Duncan Hutt

Meadow brown (c) Duncan Hutt

At this time of year, on warm sunny days, meadows take on a feeling of laziness, epitomised by the slow flapping flight of meadow brown butterflies.  Ringlets also flutter slowly in and over the tall grasses while small skippers are a little more frantic in their flight to find nectar or a mate.  The fields by the River Pont in Stamfordam were alive with these as well as some second brood green-veined whites and a few large whites too.  A stand of marsh and spear thistles provided a great nectar source for the meadow browns and ringlets.  These two grassland species can be a little problematic to tell apart, particularly in flight.  The slightly larger meadow browns tend to have a bit of an orange flash although in some specimens this orange is very dark; ringlets have a pale border around the wings which is usually visible even in flight on younger specimens at least.  Once they stop to feed the differences are more obvious with a set of eyes on the brown wings of the ringlet and a one large eye on the orange forewing of meadow browns.

Nursery web spider (c) Duncan Hutt

Nursery web spider (c) Duncan Hutt

Nursery web spider's nursery web (c) Duncan Hutt

Nursery web spider’s nursery web (c) Duncan Hutt

Elsewhere in the field were some tent type constructions of a nursery web spider, the spider itself was nestled at the base of its home.  The female spider will have carried her batch of eggs around for some time and then constructed this tent into which her tiny offspring have been released.  The baby spiders will stay in this guarded nursery until they are large enough to venture into the outside world; she will stay with them until they have all departed.

Scorpion fly, (Panorpa sp) (c) Duncan Hutt

Scorpion fly, (Panorpa sp) (c) Duncan Hutt

Other creatures in the meadow included a female scorpion fly, some narrow bordered five-spot burnet moths and, by the river, large red damselflies and a newly emerged common darter. The large red damselflies were vying for territories along the slow flowing river; the common darter was lying in wait for an easy meal.

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Beetle on a dock leaf

Female dock leaf beetle (Gastrophysa viridula) (c) Duncan Hutt

Swollen female dock leaf beetle (Gastrophysa viridula) (c) Duncan Hutt

Normal sized dock leaf beetle (c) Duncan Hutt

Normal sized dock leaf beetle (c) Duncan Hutt

The dock leaf beetle (Gastrophysa viridula) does exactly as its English name suggests and are found on docks and related plant species, often in damp areas.  These beetles are fairly common and widespread and are a shiny metallic green, often looking golden and sometimes bluish.  Perhaps the most distinctive feature is the fact that the females get an extremely swollen abdomen full of eggs just before laying.  The beetles are only about 5mm long and they tend to drop off if threatened although the swollen females sit tight.

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A tiger in the hills

Above Old Rookland (c) Sally Hutt

Above Old Rookland (c) Sally Hutt

Small heath butterflies (c) Duncan Hutt

Small heath butterflies (c) Duncan Hutt

As you travel up the Coquet past Rothbury the land suddenly changes at Alwinton from rolling productive countryside to steep-sided grassy hills split by deep V-shaped valleys. This sharp edge of hills can be followed from here to the north around the Cheviots. About 3km north-east from Alwinton along this hill edge is the tiny community of Biddlestone and it was from here we struck out on a walk to get two more hills for Sally’s ’50 hills challenge’.

The first top was Gills Law climbed across rough damp grassy land grazed with sheep and cattle. The song of skylark accompanied us on the walk and small heath butterflies flitted up from the path just in front of us.

Old Rookland (c) Duncan Hutt

Old Rookland (c) Duncan Hutt

Wood tiger (Parasemia plantaginis) (c) Duncan Hutt

Wood tiger (Parasemia plantaginis) (c) Duncan Hutt

We dropped from Gills Law down past the abandoned and ruined farmstead at Old Rookland, then down over Rookland Sike before climbing steeply up Silverton Hill. The northern face of this hill was swathed in a carpet of heather with bilberry and the occasional hard fern. It was here that a strikingly coloured wood tiger moth (Parasemia plantaginis) flew past, perching moments later in the vegetation. This is a slightly misnamed species preferring moorland, heathland and scattered trees rather than woodland.

Hard fern (Blechnum spicant) (c) Sally Hutt

Hard fern (Blechnum spicant) (c) Sally Hutt

From Silverton Hill it was an easy walk back to our start point near to the rather unusual Biddlestone Chapel. This former Roman Catholic chapel was built on the remains of an old pele tower and was once attached to a hall which has since been demolished.

Biddlestone Chapel (c) Duncan Hutt

Biddlestone Chapel (c) Duncan Hutt

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The County Flower

Bloody cranesbill after rain (c) Duncan Hutt

Bloody cranesbill after rain (c) Duncan Hutt

Hound's-tongue (c) Duncan Hutt

Hound’s-tongue (c) Duncan Hutt

The Northumberland coast has long stretches of dune helping to protect the shore from the North Sea storms.  This dune strip is home to a variety of specialist plants including bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) which has been chosen at Northumberland’s county flower; it’s currently in full bloom providing a purple carpet over some large areas.  Elsewhere other plants typical of the coast are also out in flower such as the uncommon hound’s-tongue (Cynoglossum officinale), a member of the borage family: the dark red flowers contrast with the greyish leaves.  Dyer’s greenweed was also out in flower but others like rest-harrow will bloom a little later.

Hybrid between common spotted and northern marsh orchids (c) Duncan Hutt

Hybrid between common spotted and northern marsh orchids (c) Duncan Hutt

Many orchids are now providing some impressive colour too. At Linton lane nature reserve the common spotted and northern marsh orchids readily hybridise giving rise to some impressively large flower heads varying in colour from pale to dark purple.  Here too some ringlet butterflies had newly emerged and will be augmented by many more over the weeks ahead with meadow brown appearing a little later in the year.  The section of the reserve to the north is a little visited part of the site but there is a wealth of wildlife in this young but developing woodland.

Ringlet (c) Duncan Hutt

Ringlet (c) Duncan Hutt

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A gothic visitor

Gothic (Naenia typica)

Gothic (Naenia typica) (c) Duncan Hutt

A few days ago a fairly large moth found its way into the house one evening.  It was extracted and released again outside.  Today the same moth turned up again hiding in one of the garden wood stores.  Like most insects, moths are a tricky group to identify with quite a number of species looking very similar.

The Gothic (Naenia typica) is a fairly widespread moth, found throughout Great Britain, and the adults are seen from June to August.  It is a night flying moth but isn’t particularly attracted to light like many other species so may well be under recorded as most moth recording is done using light traps.  The caterpillars can be found from July to April and they continue to feed through mild winter weather.

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Sunshine between the rain

Small copper (c) Duncan Hutt

Small copper (c) Duncan Hutt

Snipe fly (c) Duncan Hutt

Snipe fly (c) Duncan Hutt

It was a rare day of sunshine, warm and almost rainless and the insects were making the most of it.  Down by the river Pont the marsh marigold is over but the cuckoo flower is out in abundance, fed on by the passing orange tips and green-veined whites.  Small stripey snipe flies (Rhagio scolopacea) gathered in places, settling on grass or flowers.

Over the river a couple of small copper butterflies engaged in an aerial battle, vying for a territory.  They joined together in a spinning dance, each trying to come out as the best so as to take this chunk of field as a patch of their own.  After a couple of minutes of spiralling one settled on a daisy clearly the winner (though why this should be so was less clear), whether this was the original holder of the land or the challenger is not known!

Bulbous buttercup (c) DuncanHutt

Bulbous buttercup (c) DuncanHutt

Ribwort plantain (c) Duncan Hutt

Ribwort plantain (c) Duncan Hutt

Hawthorn blossom (c) Duncan Hutt

Hawthorn blossom (c) Duncan Hutt

On the bank near the small coppers the buttercups were in full flower, meadow and bulbous varieties were there with creeping buttercup in the shorter grass.  Bulbous buttercup tends to grow in more diverse grasslands and is clearly distinguished by the sepals (the leaflets behind the petals) turning back down the stem.  Also here were flowering pignut, speedwells and the often overlooked ribwort plantain.  In the hedges the may blossom on the hawthorn is now flowering and in some cases barely a leaf is still visible beneath the white covering.

 

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