June's wildlife

Regular reports about some of the plants and animals that you may see on a visit to Fineshade Wood
- and also some that are rather more elusive!

6th June.  Many bees and a very unusual insect

 

After nearly a week of leaden skies and virtually no sun, it was a great relief on Saturday to see shadows and dappled light on the surface of the bridleway that leads to Kings Cliffe. There was a distant Cuckoo and the wavering descent of a Willow Warbler's song. Soon after where the bridleway separates from the disused railway line, a fine Common Spotted Orchid caught the eye - it seemed relieved to see the first June sunshine too.

Walking on, there was a sudden awareness of a deep buzzing - not from a single insect but from many -  very, very many. There, on the side of a mature Ash tree was a colony of bees, methodically yet hastily entering and leaving a hole. Outside around the hole many bees stood guard on the trunk, while others hovered almost motionless, checking those arriving who were carrying nectar and pollen. They were honey bees, not in the domesticated confines of a bee-hive, but rather a wild colony apparently thriving and making honey that no bee keeper would ever be able to steal.  

Years ago there were Fineshade bee-hives in the old orchard at Top Lodge that gave up their honey every summer and provided interest to visitors. But, when the local community's management of the orchard was terminated, the bee-keepers were told the hives had to be removed too. The bees were found new homes but perhaps some of them were actually the ancestors of these wild honey bees in the wood today.

Some half mile futher along the track another golden brown insect flitted through the vegetation. A hornet? a big one? No, it's far too big. It surely had to be a dragonfly. With the aid of binoculars the features could be made out when it settled on a nettle stem. A golden-brown abdomen with a black stripe. Black spots on the wings, which had a generally yellow suffusion. We do see dragonflies in Fineshade Wood but never one like this - and it also seemed a little early - no others had been seen at all so far. This was a puzzle. Fortunately it stayed long enough of the nettles for a picture to be taken, not a good picture to be sure, but good enough to confirm the identification. It was a female Scarce Chaser - a very localised early summer species usually seen in lush water meadows. Whatever was that doing here in the wood?

Mark Tyrrell, the Northants Dragonfly recorder was consulted. He confirmed the identity and was puzzled too. The nearest breeding sites for this wetland specialist are along the River Nene, some distance form Fineshade but perhaps there are colonies also along the nearer River Welland. Another Scarce Chaser has recently been recorded at Fermyn Wood so Mark feels that they seem to be dispersing from breeding sites quite widely this year.

 

Mark's Northamptonshre Dragonflies blog is here

12th June. Bees do it

 

After last week's discovery of a honey-bee colony in the wood, this week there was news of another colony of bees - this time in one of the gardens at Top Lodge. Linda Peirce's house and garden is an absolute wildlife wonderland. Last year there were Adders, Slow Worms, Common LIzards and Grass Snakes in the garden, a Red Kite flew into her conservatory and to cap it off she came up with the first Fineshade record of the magnificent Purple Emperor butterfly

The garden is alive with bees at the moment and she recorded at least eight varieties during the recent spell of warm weather. These included:

Red-tailed Bumblebee, White-tailed Bumblebee, Common Carder Bee (above left), Honey Bee, Early Bumblebee, Garden Bumblebee, Willoughby's Leafcutter Bee, Blue Mason Bee and Tree Bumblebee (above right).

However, a tit's nest box has been taken over by a colony of Tree Bumblebees and Linda's been enjoying watching the comings and goings of these rather attractive insects. One day she saw the larger queen emerge onto the rim of the entrance. Immediately the queen was attended by a group of males, as the picture on the left shows very clearly.  (Now we know the origin of the phrase "the birds and the bees"!)

The Bee Conservation website is really good if you wish to try to identify bees and from there you can download a fascinating article by Clive Hill which gives lots of details about the Tree Bumblebee.

For example:

  • It's a migrant from central Europe, only arriving in the UK on 2001

  • Since then it has spread rapidly, aided by its liking for bird boxes - there are lots of those in the UK

  • The queen is easily capable of evicting blue tits from a nest box

  • A strong colony could be 300 - 400 bees

  • They also like to nest in the vent pipes of tumble driers!

There's lots more information here:

https://bumblebeeconservation.org/images/uploads/Tree_bee_article_2015.pdf

 

17th June. The MP and the Bee Orchid

It all began during the MP's visit. As Tom Pursglove emerged from the wood itself and found himself back on a walking track, his guide realised that he was just about to tread on an orchid. It certainly didn't look much at that stage. A couple of half-eaten leaves and a few buds on a flower-spike - certainly not the sort of thing to set pulses racing at Westminster! That was 3rd June and on the 5th it wasn't much better (see first picture below) but it was now possible to confirm that it was, or would be, a Bee Orchid if it managed to survive the predations of deer, rabbits, passing dogs, cycles and walkers - it was less than 50cm from the busy track.

 

By 8th June the bottom bud on the stem had opened fully to reveal the bee-like colours, and two days later the plant had become really elegant. Then it began to rain. It rained and it rained. How would the flowers survive? Was there a chance it would be pollinated, either by a bee or otherwise? Friends of Fineshade kept checking: it seemed to be holding its own.

So, the picture left shows the splendid plant as it was just a couple of days ago.  

This orchid was noticed because it was out in the open and close to the path, but how many more are there, quietly blooming away unseen and unappreciated, except perhaps by bees?

Well, we do know of at least two more half-hidden in the long grass but easy to see from the same track.

To find these three you need to look carefully along the left hand side of the vehicle track that passes the houses. The first one is well beyond the forest gate and just before a picnic table. The other two are still further along that same track.

But much more rewarding is to find one for yourself - how many more Bee Orchids are blooming in Fineshade this year?

 

28th June. Lizard skins and toes

Yet more fascinating pictures from Linda Peirce's garden. All four common British reptiles occur there. and that includes the Common Lizard.

Recently Linda spotted one of these in the middle of shedding it's skin. For some of us it came as a surprise that these four-footed reptiles grow a complete new skin every year - we knew about snakes (see here) but how could a lizard get out of its skin?

 

The answer, it seems, is very slowly. Linda watched for over an hour and there was very little progress although two other lizards did show up to watch or offer encouragement. (Photo below left).  

Later Linda returned and the newly emerged creature was there, looking very smart, but his old skin (the "slough") has disappeared.

Later, on a (rather rare!) sunny day, Linda saw a remarkable sight. There were two lizards basking on a metal ornament in the garden. Looking closely Linda saw that both reptiles had their feet, or at least their fingers/toes, raised in the air. It seemed that the metal had heated up to the point where it was no longer comfortable? Ouch!

We'd love to know whether anyone has noticed this behaviour in lizards before?

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