Poor old Gilbert is getting restless. Despite the fact that there is more interest in wildlife than ever before, it seems that most of the so-called conservation organisations are losing interest in species. Instead they prefer to babble on about landscape scale conservation and ecosystem services (whatever they are). Could this be because most of their staff don't have any knowledge about species if they don't have four legs?
This is my attempt to encourage an interest in good old-fashioned natural history.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Ahhh grasshopper

I've never really been very interested in Orthoptera. It's a small group so theoretically not much of a challenge but the identification criteria for a lot of species always seem to be a bit vague and comparative. This is all well and good when you're familiar with them but not much help to a beginner. Even the 'experts' seem to struggle with some species, I have a couple of cockroach specimens which are either Tawny or Dusky but I've shown them to various people and no-one has been able to definitively identify them.

Despite this I have managed to pick off most of the common species over the years, but Stripe-winged Grasshopper had eluded me. The opportunity of a meeting near Dorking on a warm, sunny day encouraged me to pay a visit to Box Hill. The grasshopper was very easy to find (although not a very cooperative photographic subject) but there was little else of interest on the slopes.

Stripe-winged Grasshopper
Back at the Zigzag car park I noticed a couple of groups of an unfamiliar plant. It really should have been easy to identify as the leaf-shape was very distinctive but the flower wasn't right. Eventually it was resolved as Buckwheat but I maintain that the picture in the Collins guide is very unhelpful. Buckwheat is a member of the sorrel family and they illustrate very sorrel-like flowers, not at all like this:

A quick stop in at Chiddingfold Forest produced little of note apart from the larval case of the moth Coleophora discordella on Common Bird's-foot Trefoil. This is not a rare species but I've only found it in the larval stage on a couple of occasions.

Coleophora discordella
There has been news recently from Dungeness of two very unusual Orthopterans. The Sickle-bearing Bush-cricket which was resident for a while at Hastings and the Italian Tree Cricket which has not previously been recorded breeding in Britain as far as I know. I had a couple of work related things to do in Kent so an evening visit to Dungeness seemed in order. I had fairly detailed info on where to look for the Italian Tree Crickets but the best chance of them was when they start singing at dusk. I did have a grid reference for the Sickle-bearers but it was worked out from aerial photo's rather than being taken at the time. I spent some time looking for these without success, a couple of hoppers and an interesting looking beetle may be new for me when I get them identified but the only new species for me by dusk was New Zealand Spinach - a plant so boring I am not going to post a photo.

As dusk fell the Italian Tree Crickets started to sing. It was really rather bizarre to be standing at Dungeness in a cold wind, listening to noises that would not be out of place in the tropics. There were a good couple of dozens crickets singing but actually seeing one was proving to be rather difficult as most were hidden deep in brambles. I did get one brief view but the photo's that I took were all horribly out of focus. At this point the warden of Dungeness Bird Observatory arrived and he kindly took me to see the Sickle-bearing Bush-crickets (well, cricket singular while I was there). It turned out that the grid reference I'd been given was a good 100m+ out.

Male Sickle-bearing Bush-cricket
  I returned to the tree cricket area and eventually they became more cooperative (or I became better at finding them).

Italian Tree Cricket
Also of Orthopteran note was a mating pair of Lesser Cockroach.

Mating Lesser Cockroach

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