Sunday, 13 March 2016

Early spring and early insects

A couple of quick catch-up posts from recent visits to Quinta and Sutton;

Quinta arboretum, Swettenham, 28th Feb.

The snowdrops were in bloom in their full splendour, not far behind were crocuses and daffodils, the primroses which has only been in bud at my last visit were now flowering.
I had wondered if with so many early spring bulbs in bloom whether I might spot any queen bumblebees tempted from their winter slumber by the gentle warmth of the sun. At only 6.5/7 degrees, this was perhaps being a little optimistic and invertebrate life was largely restricted to a few hardy gnats and flies. 

I did however look closely at some of the evergreen trees which are a great place to find ladybirds at this time of year in amongst the needle-like leaves. It didn't take long before I found two 7-spot ladybirds, one in the needles of a Western hemlock, then another in a Japanese ‘something-whose-name-I’ve-forgotten’. These clearly aren't native trees, but the principle is the same - one place 7-spot ladybirds favour to overwinter is in conifer foliage so these are good places to look out for them awakening in the early spring.

7-spot ladybird on Western Hemlock

7-spot ladybird (on something else...!)

Fur from European Rabbit

Clumps of fur lying on the grass were all that remained of an unfortunate rabbit, possibly predated by one of the many Buzzards that patrol the skies here. This image of a cross-section of the fur clearly shows the densely packed insulating grey/white fur, as well as the longer and coarser ‘guard’ hairs. 

We are so used to seeing rabbits here in the UK and hearing them being referred to as an invasive species (not forgetting that it was of course humans that introduced them in the first place) that they feel an unlikely mammal to have a conservation status of 'Near Threatened'. But that they do, and in their native range of southwestern Europe and northwest Africa, numbers have declined significantly due to the introduction of the generally fatal disease myxomatosis, as well as habitat loss and excessive hunting. In turn this decline has had a negative impact on the predators such as Iberian Lynx and Spanish Imperial Eagle which rely on them as a significant food source. 

Sutton Reservoir 7th March 2016

View across the reservoir to snow-covered hills in the Peak District
Lesser Celandine
The low-growing perennial wildflowers of Lesser Celandine were now starting to bloom, the bright and shiny yellow flowers are enjoyed by many insects, but again, it was just a little cool for much insect-life. The temperature was still only about 7/8C, and in the distance, snow could still be seen on higher ground. 
Ivy berries were plentiful, these being a great food source for birds such as Blackbirds and other thrushes when other berries are no longer available. (Just a quick reminder at this point that ivy berries are toxic to humans!)
Common Ivy berries

Gorse bushes were in flower and it was a pleasure to find the first honey bees I've seen of the year collecting pollen from them. 

With the severe declines of so many of our pollinating insects it almost comes as a relief to see them - we can only hope that [someday] our governments will take heed of scientists' recommendations when it comes to the use of certain pesticides/insecticides that are harming these and so many other vital insects [rather than the lobbying of the agro-chemical companies]. We only need to look to China to see a particularly unfortunate example of how the future could look.... there are areas where the insect populations have been decimated to such an extent that fruit trees are having to be pollinated by [human] hand. Sadly that doesn't seem to shock our politicians nearly as much as I think it should. 

Honey bee on Gorse


  1. We have yet to have the first insects out on my patch yet, but hoping for them any day now :) Great stuff.

    1. Thanks Ashley - they won't be long, just starting to see (and hear!) bumblebee queens appearing here now. :)

  2. Some lovely images Jan, I always love seeing the first Lesser Celandine - it always cheers me up - one of those very early sighns of spring. As for your closing comments about policians - my opinion on the subject is best expressed with a choice mixture of some of the finest swear words.

    1. Thanks Phil, yes I think some of our conversations here on the subject of politics and politicians might make a squaddie blush! I do try not to get despondent but some of the decisions made by this 'shower' make that very difficult.

    2. Me too - although perhaps 'shower' is being unkind to light precipitation

    3. Lol, well I was thinking of 'shower' as in the collective noun, feel free to fill in the rest as appropriate. :)