Nature Notes #40
I was asked to co-cover the WeBS count on Sunday July 13th and made my way west along the M56, calling in at Frodsham High Street for the obligatory latte take-out. I parked up overlooking the water on No.6 and immediately set the scope up ready for the influx of birds on the high tide at 1300 hrs. It was sunny with big cumulus clouds after a night of rain and there was a fresh north-westerly blowing which wasn’t too bad for birding but frustrating when it came to photographing insects, which inevitably what happened. The birding was quiet except for a large post-breeding flock of Black-headed Gulls which settled on the sand. I counted around 720 and was surprised to note only twenty juveniles. I wondered why there were so few?
Insects were feeding on the nearby flowers and I noticed the umbellifer that I’d originally seen last week but didn’t recognise, so I had a closer look. Tall, small flower heads, tapering pinnate leaves. In the end I took some photos and identified it later with Barry Shaw confirming my initial suspicions. It was Upright Hedge-parsley Torilis japonica, a plant of grassy habitats on dry soils. I couldn’t remember seeing it before.
Upright Hedge-parsley Torilis japonica
After completing the bird count, I wondered around looking at flowers and insects. The richness and diversity of Frodsham Marsh goes way beyond the amount of birds here and, if you take the time to look, there is diversity rarely found in many other places. I may do some of the plants next time, but I took many photos of flowers and flower meadows along the tracks and on the dry beds. The variety of plants is brilliant.
A blaze of flower power along the trackside verges.
Comma Polygonia c-album
There were many butterflies about, mainly Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus, but a couple of Comma Polygonia c-album and tens of Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta. Because of the wind they tended to stay settled low down. You can’t walk past them without taking pictures.
Continuing the thread from last week there were many hoverflies on the umbellifers and Sow-thistles and I crept up quietly on a few of the insects and snapped away. The commonest species in Britain is the Marmalade Fly Episyrphus balteatus and late July is the peak time for this colourful insect. Mass influxes from the continent also occur and they can be found almost everywhere.
Marmalade Fly Episyrphus balteatus
There were lots of yellow and black striped hoverflies about as well, I thought that they were Syrphus species and will do some research. Close-up they are really beautiful things and made for some nice images.
Much easier to identify was one of the largest species in Britain and its black and white markings with dark wing clouds are unique. The Great Pied Hoverfly Volucella pellucens is a resident, its larvae living in the nests of social wasps where they scavenge amongst the debris at the bottom of the nest cavity.
Much smaller but very obvious were Thick-legged Hoverfy Syritta pipiens. So named because of their thickened hind femoras….the top of the back legs to you and me. They are common and sometimes very numerous as immigrants from the continent begin to arrive.
Among the common residents and partial migrants was a true migrant, Scaeva pyrastri, which was feeding on Elder flowers and very skittish, not allowing more than a few seconds of stalking before it spooked and flew off. Its immigration is similar to Red Admirals and Clouded Yellows, and in some years it can be almost absent. When it does turn up, it can breed locally. Luckily, it’s a relatively easy one to identify with the abdomen being black with whitish comma-shaped markings. I wonder if Clouded Yellow are next in this long hot summer?
As I walked along the side of No.6 tank to see if there were any waders on the small pool, I noticed some tiny flies running around the edge of a dirty puddle. I became more interested when they began to display and walk across the water. Knowing nothing about what they could be I sneaked up on them and managed one identifiable photo which a couple of experts on the Dipterists forum confidently identified as Lispe tentaculata. Part of the Muscidae family of flies, which includes House Flies and Bluebottles, this species is more specialised and lives around stony puddles and pools. The inflated white palps on the face are one of the features to look for. They eat other insects and small larvae. I have no idea how common they are in Cheshire but the NBN Gateway doesn’t show any.
Lastly, something bigger and more familiar. I walked across the dried up east corner of No.4 bed and flushed some grasshoppers. I managed to corner one and identified it as a Common Field Grasshopper Chorthippus brunneus. They are one of the commonest grasshopper species in Britain and occur in anywhere with long grass. But you hardly ever stop to look at one, let alone identify it, or at least I don’t.
Written and images by Tony Broome