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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Wed 8th Aug 2012 - Alverstone Nature Reserve.

It is usually at this time of year that GG help out at Alverstone Nature Reserve with the hay baling.  So wouldn't you know that after a few days lovely sunshine, overnight rain meant that the hay was too wet to cut! However our ever resourceful volunteers soon got stuck into the alternative task of ragwort clearance.  The two large fields normally grazed by Highland cattle did have a huge amount of the dreaded weed, but after a hard morning's work both fields were ragwort free and many full barrows were taken back to the two dumping areas well out of the reach of the cows. There were a couple of minor difficulties with the humid weather bringing out lots of biting insects - ouch! - and some digging disturbed an ants nest the inhabitants of which whizzed up a few trouser legs but hey! who said volunteering was all fun and games!!!

Carrie's Nature Lesson.

Three finds this week, the first by Elspeth, which is a Bloody-nosed beetle (Timarcha Tenebricosa).  It is a large, round beetle with long legs that is flightless and can often be seen plodding across paths or through grass. It can be found during the spring and summer in grassland, heathland and along hedgerows. One of our largest 'leaf beetles', adults feed on the leaves of Lady's Bedstraw and related plants, and the larvae can be seen hanging from these plants. The name derives from its defence mechanism, when breathed on, the beetles secrete a blood-red liquid from the mouth which irritates the mouths of mammals.

The second and third of this week's finds, were by Les with terrific photos taken by Tony - the first being a Great Green Bush Cricket (Tettigonia Viridissima), and it by far our largest bush-cricket. It lives in trees and on grassland dotted with patches of scrub, eating vegetation and other insects. It prefers light, dry soils into which the females can lay their eggs using their long, down-curved ovipositors. The males display to females by producing a very loud, long 'song' by rubbing their forewings together. They sound like a sewing machine going continuously for long periods, but their expert camouflage still makes them hard spot.

The second was a spectacular moth known as a Garden Tiger (Arctia Caia). Its forewings are chocolatey-brown with cream patterns, whereas its hindwings are orangey-red with black spots. Its bright colours warn predators that it tastes unpleasant.  It used to be a widespread species but has declined in recent years, but Colin the County Ecologist has had other reports of sightings of this moth, so perhaps it is making a comeback.  Its brown and black, exceedingly hairy caterpillar is often called a 'woolly bear'. The hairs are irritant and protect it from predators, such as birds - be warned in case you pick one up! Garden tigers overwinter as caterpillars and can be seen from June to August in gardens, parks, grassland, meadows and scrubby areas.  The adults drink nectar from flowers, and the caterpillars eat low-growing, herbaceous plants.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to the editorial and photographs.

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