Twitch for the Two-barred Crossbill!

Recently, I took a trip to Broomhead Resevoir close to where I live in Sheffield as there was a small flock of Two-barred Crossbills (Loxia leucoptera bifasciata). On the day I visited both male, female and juveniles were present. I got some great views of them and a couple of not so great photos!

Male Two-barred CrossbillMale Tw0-barred Crossbill.

Along with the good views, I and the other excited twitchers there were able to hear the very distinct trumpet-like ‘tviiht’ call of the bird, very different to Common Crossbill call which is a high ‘glipp’. I’m now set up for any Crossbill flocks or visible migration sessions that I do cos’ if I hear that again I’ll not be mistaking it for anything else!

The birds a rarity over here in Britain and probably only breeds reguarly in Russia, occasionaly nesting in Finland or Sweden. A great turn up and a first for me!

Other birds included a fly-over migrating Osprey!

As it was a stunning day I decided to hang around and explore. Along the shore of the resevoir (where usually it’s submerged) some interesting plants had colonised the suitable conditions of the newly exposed area.

Amphibious BistortAmphibious Bistort (Persicaria amphibia).

Creeping Yellow-cressCreeping Yellow-cress (Rorippa sylvestris).

Trifid Bur-marigoldTrifid Bur-marigold (Bidens tripartita).

And some lovely fungi were present as well;

Fibrecap sp.

Fibrecap sp. 2

This is a Fibrecap (Inocybe sp.). They are very tricky group of mushrooms to identify even when using microscopy so I dont know which exact species this is.

Blusher 1

Blusher 2

The Blusher (Amanita rubescens). This genus has some very poisonous species. This species is poisonous unless thoroughly cooked and any water it’s cooked in should be discarded. Personally, I wouldn’t go near any species in this genus! It’s called the Blusher as its flesh blushes pink when bruised or exposed to air.

All photos – Ashley Watson.

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Galls on Nettle

Swellings on Common Nettle leaves

Dasineura urticae 1

Dasineura urticae 2

These swellings on Common Nettle (Urtica dioica) are caused by gall midge Dasineura urticae. The swellings contain several midge larvae (occasionally one). The galls range in colour from pale green (as in the photo) to purple.

Nettle Clustercup Rust

Nettle Clustercup Rust

This swelling is caused by the rust fungus Puccinia urticata. Commonly it affects the stem but also affects the leaves as well.

All photos – Ashley Watson.

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Seagulls and Sand in Sunderland

Recently I spent a few days in the city of Sunderland which is located on the north-east coast of England. I wasn’t there primarily for the wildlife but there were a few nice surprises and I took the opportunity to enjoy them and do some learning along the way!

Close to my acccomodation was a local park which had a pond. With Sunderland being close to the coast it wasn’t a case of feeding the ducks but feeding the gulls! A flock of Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus argenteus) were present and with such close views this was a great opportunity to get my eye in and practice my skills in gull plumage.

1st winter Herring Gull 1

This bird looks as though it was born last year. The black in the beak is giving way to pink and you can notice some grey feathers on the birds back replacing the juvenile brown. The eye at this stage is very dark.

2nd summer-3rd winter Herring Gull 2

This bird looks to be a 2nd summer/3rd winter meaning it was born in 2011. All of the speckling on the neck, head and breast has disappeared. You can clearly see the progress of the grey feathers replacing the juvenile brown. The majority of the bill is the final yellow colour with the black nearly gone and the red spot on th elower mandible just starting to come through. The eye is a touch lighter but still quite dark. This will complete its moult and will aquire full adult plumage next year.

And finally an adult bird. Crisp white and grey body feathers and the ends of the wing feathers are jet black with white spots. The bill is yellow with a red spot on the lower mandible and the eye is light with a red eye-ring.

Adult Herring Gull 1

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Loafing among them was this adult Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii).

I also took the opportunity to pop down to the coast. I love it when the habitat changes as the species that you find there change as well. Below are some plants that I identified, most of which are coastal specialists, so I wouldn’t get the chance to see these where I live in land-locked Sheffield!

Sea RocketSea Rocket (Cakile maritima).

Sea Sandwort 1

Sea Sandwort 2A lovely plant – Sea Sandwort (Honckenya peploides).

Sand SedgeFlower-head of Sand Sedge (Carex arenaria).

Common RestharrowCommon Restharrow (Ononis repens). Not restricted to the coast but habitats include dunes.

My little tribute to the local flora and fauna of Sunderland! Hope you enjoyed reading!

All photos – Ashley Watson.

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RSPB Old Moor, June 2013 – Not just the birds flying around!

I took a trip to one of my favourite places recently –  the fantastic RSPB Old Moor Reserve in South Yorkshire. However, on this day I didn’t do much birding! I was totally distracted by the stunning insects that were flying around and these Old Moor residents are the subject of this blog. Hope you like!

Four-spotted Chaser

There was only one dragonfly species about but a stunning one at that, a Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimacultata).

There were huge amounts of damselflies though and I think chasing these around was where most of my time went!

Azure Damselfly

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella).

Mating Azure Damselfies

Mating Azure Damselflies. (Male, left. Female, right).

Blue-tailed Damselfy

Blue-tailed Damselfy (Ischnura elegans).

Large Red Damselfy

Large Red Damselfy (Pyrrhosoma nymphula).

Butterflies included;

Common Blue Butterfly

Common Blue Butterfly (Polyommatus icarus). The wing markings can be variable on this species. This looks to be a female.

Dingy Skipper

Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages).

Small Yellow Underwing Moth 2

Small Yellow Underwing Moth 1

A day-flying moth – Small Yellow Underwing (Panemeria tenebrata).

Other flying insects included:

Cantharis rustica

A large Soldier Beetle – Cantharis rustica.

Wasp Beetle

Probably my favourite find of the day was in the playground when pushing my little girl on the swing! This striking Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietis) may be a first for the reserve.

Snipe Fly

And a species of Snipefly – Rhagio scolopaceus. An interesting fly as it is predatory and catches other flies and such in mid-air.

All photos – Ashley Watson.

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Blogs on Bugs Introduction – Summer 2012

The word ‘bug’, for many of us brings up images in our minds of grotesque looking little creepy things scurrying under our pyjamas at night! Bugs are in fact a very large group of insects that contain some incredibly stunning individuals. There are different families of bugs, the most commonly known family would be the Shieldbugs. (See my blog on Shieldbug Identification for more on these – .

There are many others such as Plant bugs, Groundbugs, Assassin bugs, Flowerbugs, Bedbugs and aquatic species such as Waterboatmen and Pond-skaters. There are in fact over 580 (and counting) species of bug in the British Isles in some 38 or so families.

In Blogs on Bugs I will be showcasing the bugs that I have found and hopefully highlight some key features in identification with the hope of assisting any readers with bug identification. When identifying bugs there are many clues to consider. Sometimes general appearance, colour and markings are sufficient. At other times subtle markings, length of hairs, antennae length etc need to be looked at closely. An important clue is to what plant it was found on as many species are associated with a particular plant species.

This edition focuses on what I found last summer. I hope to bring more this year. Hope you enjoy!

The following 4 species are Plant bugs.

Cyllecoris histrionius 1

This very handsome bug is Cyllecoris histrionius. The coloured markings are helpful in identification but the most distinct feature is yellowish collar below the head which can be seen in the photo below;

Cyllecoris histrionius 2

This species is found on Oak and feeds mainly on other small insects such as aphids. It will however feed on the young acorns and catkins of its associated tree.

Phylus melanocephalus 1

A simple looking bug, this is Phylus melanocephalus. There are 3 Phylus species and the way to distinguish this one is by the distinctly dark head and bright red eyes. Another clue is that is found on Oak.

Phylus melanocephalus 2

The colour of the forewings very from yellow to orangy-red.

Potato Capsid 1

Potato Capsid 2

The Potato Capsid (Closterotomus norwegicus) is a common and widespread plant bug and is one of a few similar green species. Just going on its general appearence isn’t really ideal and a couple of factors to confirm its identity are; the spines on the tibia are shorter than the width of the tibia and the 2nd segment of the antennae is about the same length as the 3rd and 4th segments combined. It feeds on number of different plants such as clovers and nettles which is where I found this one.

Potato Capsid 3

The two dark spots on the pronotum are distinctive but other similar species also have these spots.

Liocoris tripustulatus 1

This is Liocoris tripustulatus. Its a fairly distinctive bug with its 3 yellow spots (2 on the cuneus and then the pronotum). The depth of colours can be a little variable depending on age with this bug. I found it on nettle with which is is commonly associated.

Liocoris tripustulatus 2

The next 2 species are Groundbugs.

Nettle Ground Bug 1

This is the Nettle Groundbug (Heterogaster urticae). It is recognisable by the alternate light and dark bands on the legs and edges of its body (connexivum). Also the head and pronotum are covered in long hairs. As the name suggests its host plants are nettles and to know surprise this was the plant I found it on.

Nettle Ground Bug 2

In this photo you can see the light and dark bands on the legs quite clearly.

Scolopostethus thomsoni 1

This is Scolopostethus thomsoni. Now there are 3 Scolopostethus species that are somewhat tricky to seperate. The main feature, though not always reliable, is that of the antennae; the last part of the 2nd antennal segment along with the 3rd and the 4th are dark, whereas the first part of the 2nd segment along with most of the 1st are lighter coloured, a sort of orangey-yellow. (You may just be able to see this the photos). I also found it on nettle with which it is commonly associated.

Scolopostethus thomsoni 2

Below is the Common Flowerbug;

Common Flower Bug - Anthocoris nemorum 1

There are about 10 different Flowerbug species and these are probably the most difficult to seperate with examination of the genatalia sometimes needed. The commonest is Anthocoris nemorum (photographed). It’s the most likely that you will come across and a couple of features to note are that the body is shiny and not matt. Also, note the dark hourglass shape at the end of the body on the cuneus.

Common Flower Bug - Anthocoris nemorum 2

Anthocoris nemorum is a very common species and is found on a variety of plants. I found it on nettle. It is a predacious species that feeds on small invertebrates (mites, aphids etc).

Corizus hyoscyami

This striking individual is a Rhopalid bug called Corizus hyoscyami. The markings are distinctive though at first glance it could be mistaken for other red and black bugs. It is distinctively hairy however. It is found mainly around the southern coasts but has been frequently found inland as of late. Inland is where I found it, in Kent.

All photos – Ashley Watson.

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Woodlouse Identification

Woodlice – quite familiar to us all, but before I started learning about these “grey little bugs” I was quite unfamiliar about the range of shapes, sizes and colours these crustaceans came in and that you could find 5 or 6 different species all in a small urban garden! Here’s what I’ve managed to find and photograph so far;

Common Shiny Woodlouse – Oniscus asellus

very common species found in woods, hedgerows and gardens. A greyish back fading to buffish white tips (epimera) is typical. Yellow spots on back are variable depending on indivdual.On the photo above you can see a splattering on the last 3 large segments (pereionites) of the body. Body in adults glossy hence its common name. When disturbed, tends to clamp down as opposed to run away.

 Common Rough Woodlouse – Porcellio scaber

As ubiquitous and common as previous species and  frequently found together. Note the bumps across all the segments. In terms of colour, uniform grey is most common but it is a variable species with orange/yellow forms speckled with black occuring. To help distinguish it from other species if variability causes confusion, toward the rear of the body on the underside are 2 pairs of white sacks – the pleopodal lungs (photographed below). Other species may have more pairs or none at all.

Common Striped Woodlouse – Philoscia muscorum

Common species again. You will notice that the body outline is different to the previous two species, being stepped towards the rear and not continuous. Also the tail (uropod) has 4 clearly visible spearlike projections (exopodites and endopodites) as opposed to 2. A black stripe down the back of the body is present. Yellow patch at base of the black head is present on most individuals but the degree to which can vary. Usually brownish in colour (as above) but very pretty red forms and yellow forms do occur.

Common Pygmy Woodlouse – Trichoniscus pusillus/provisorius 

 Very easily overlooked but common and in terms of numbers our most abundant species of woodlouse. Found in a wide variety of habitats. There are 2 species which need close examination of the male genatalia to confirm identity.  Reddish-brown in colour but purple forms occur (caused by a virus). Small, maximum size to 5mm. Body outline is stepped. Antennae has a conical tapering section with a little ‘brush’ on the end.

Common Pill Woodlouse – Armadillidium vulgare

Armadillidium vulgare 1

This is the commonest of the woodlice that are able to roll in to a ball. As you can see its general shape is different from the previous species. Its tail isn’t pointed but blunt and flat. It’s a very variable species in colouration.

Armadillidium vulgare 2

Armadillidium vulgare 4

One of the ways to help identify the different type of pill woodlice are characteristics in the way they roll up into ball. With this species it rolls up into a tight ball.

Armadillidium vulgare 3

Here you can see here it’s a tightly rolled up ball  and you can see the unpointed tail parts (uropods).

It’s quite a common species in the south of the country, particuarly the south-east but becomes much less so in the north.

Rosy Woodlouse – Androniscus dentiger

A. dentiger

This is one of my favourite woodlice! You can see the bumpy texture on its body, the yellow marking along the middle of the back and most obvious of all – it’s pink!

Freshwater Woodlouse – Asellus aquaticus

Asellus aquaticus 1

A close relative of the land dwelling woodlice, this species has adapted to live in freshwater. It has a somewhat different body shape to those that dwell on land with modifications to suit its underwater life. It has particuarly long antennae.

Asellus aquaticus 2

It’s a common species though not reguarly encountered unless one goes pond dipping. It frequents ponds, lakes and slow-moving streams.

All photos – Ashley Watson.


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New Easy Reference System fo Plant Gall Identification

There is a new and easier way to try and identify plant galls using my blog. Galls are now categorised by host plant eg Oak. All you need to do is simply go to categories and click on Plant Gall Identification. You will then be able to view all posts on plants galls. Simply scroll down to the relevant post ie Galls on Oak, Galls on Meadowsweet, Galls on Other Plants etc. Galls found on trees appear first and further down galls on other plants appear such as wildflowers. When you reach the bottom of the page click on Older Posts and more will appear. If there is not a post on a plant species that you are looking for then check Galls on Other Trees or Galls on Other Plants and it may be within these posts. New galls will be added when I find them and will appear in the relevant post. I hope you find this new way helpful.

What are Plant Galls?

Plant galls are abnormal swellings or growths which occur due to the presence of another organism living on or in the plant itself. The host plants cells are enlarged or multiplied and provide food and shelter for the intrusive organism. Gall causers include bacteria, fungi and a variety of invertebrates such as mites, midges and wasps. New galls can be found from spring to autumn and aged galls can be found in the winter.

I am fascinated by the various shapes, sizes and colours in which plant galls occur and the variety of causers with their own intricate natural history. They are often overlooked but not that hard to find. I hope you discover how interesting and varied plant galls and there causers are.

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