Sunday, 9 July 2017

Flying Ants and a Thrush That Pants

Before anything else I have to share this tweet I came home to on Thursday.

Yes, BBC Wildlife Magazine made me their Blogger of the Week! I was delighted to see this though I do feel the pressure to write something good today!

On Wednesday it was flying ant day. I was sat in the front room when suddenly there was a whole swarm of flying ants coming from the front lawn. Of course I grabbed my camera and had a closer look where I found a patch of lawn covered in ants.


Flying ants are young queens which leave their birth nests to go and form their own colonies. It happens in localised areas on the same day and no-one quite knows why. They even caused problems for the players at Wimbledon this year:

   

The ants have to be really active as they lose their wings after about 24 hours. The vast numbers are to deal with predators- many will get eaten. Indeed locally the house martins were having a real feast on this easy meal. 

In other insect news I added another butterfly to my 2017 list with this brimstone


Though most commonly found in Spring, this species can be seen on warm days throughout the year. This one is a female as it has the orange spots on it's wings and is less bright than males. Apparently there's a theory that the word "butterfly" comes from this species due to it's colour. 

Dragonfly and damselfly numbers have increased dramatically over the last few weeks. Particularly noticeable this weekend were the large numbers of  banded demoiselles



They are a beautiful species with a metallic shine to them. The females are green and the males are blue, with a darker patch on their wings which they use in an aerial dance to attract mates. They generally live on the edge of slow-moving rivers (like the local stretch of the Avon) or still water. 

One more magnificent insect for this week is this mayfly


Mayflies are tricky to identify as they all look so similar but this is probably a green drake (Ephemera danica). I found this one on the rail of a footbridge which crosses a small stream. Nymphs dig into the gravel where they collect fine organic material from the water. Once they mate the females fly upstream before descending onto the surface of the water laying up to 8300 eggs over several intervals. When their eggs supply is used they fall onto the surface where they will likely be eaten by a bird or a fish. 

It's been a few weeks since I last gave an update on the nursery of canada geese. Whilst numbers have inevitably fallen a little, it's looks to have been a successful year. The first photo is from a week ago whilst the second was yesterday. 


As you can see, it's now hard to tell the adults from the goslings- it's only size that is the giveaway in most cases. You can spot the occasional gosling there which were likely from a slightly later brood and haven't yet developed the black and white head and neck markings but they will do so very soon. 

One final bird this week is this young song thrush


This young thrush is displaying typical behaviour that blackbirds and thrushes do in hot weather called 'sunning'. No-one quite knows why they do this but the generally accepted theory is that it helps to maintain the bird's feathers. It's possible that the sunlight affects the preen-oil that the birds have, maybe helping it to synthesise vitamin D. This oil helps to keep the feathers flexible, hygienic and waterproof.

To stop themselves over-heating they gape and pant to lose the heat, like this bird is doing. The birds become really engrossed in this activity and are quite approachable when they are doing it. 

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