Tuesday 12 April 2016

Beetles in red and black

11th April 2016 - Topsham


I've been photographing insects on and off for about 12 years. I get into it some years more than others but I think I've probably got pictures of most of the obvious species in my garden; always attracted to anything bright and shiny - as long as it's an insect. When something new turns up there's a good chance it's either a new arrival or something fairly rare. Yesterday I found a couple of red and black beetles on my back door.

There are 14 species of tortoise beetles (Chrysomelidae, Cassidinae) on the British list, most are green and rather similar (Cassida spp.). Pilemostoma fastuosa is unmistakeable in red and black. It's not the sort of thing to overlook and does appear to be genuinely uncommon: scarce (Notable A) with only one Devon record (none for South Devon VC 3) according to NBN Gateway. Well it should be unmistakeable in theory, but then I can always find a way to cock it up. It's actually Cassida murraea, the Fleabane Tortoise Beetle. Still a new one for me but nowhere near as rare; found mainly in the south west. What I should have noticed - and it's blindingly obvious now - is that P.fastuosa has black markings also on the pronotum and is a deeper darker red. At least I take some consolation in getting my correction in before anyone else spotted it.

Cassida murraea by back door - 11/4/2016 Topsham

Cassida murraea garden- 11/4/2016 Topsham

My first garden Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis (Coccinelidae) turned up back in 2007 (first recorded in Britain in 2004) and it's now very common. This is my first of the year; I assume it's just emerged from overwintering and will now set off to feed up and breed.

Harmonia axyridis by back door - 11/4/2016 Topsham. Distinctive 'M' on pronotum and brown legs, antennae etc.

Harmonia axyridis garden - 11/4/2016 Topsham

Wednesday 6 April 2016

What passes for excitement round here...

6th April 2016 - Topsham

Stare at gulls long enough and you start to see things: maybe you'll find a nice rarity (I wish), maybe you just see more and more problems.

Todays bird ticks a lot of boxes for a Yellow-legged Gull but I like a challenge so let's see if I can talk myself out of it.

Yellow-legged Gull - 6/4/2016 Topsham

Yellow-legged Gull - 6/4/2016 Topsham

Yellow-legged Gull - 6/4/2016 Topsham

Yellow-legged Gull - 6/4/2016 Topsham

First the positives: it's darker grey than adjacent argenteus and in the field looked a drabber, less bluish grey; the primary pattern looks fine with a black band on P5 and and lot of black on P9 and 10; the eye looks darker than on the Herring Gulls alongside and may have a darker red orbital; and of course the legs and feet are yellow.

And the negatives? Mainly its small size and its apparently short legs, rather like a Lesser Black-backed in fact.

So, a small, weedy michahellis or another hybrid? I can see no definite signs of mixed parentage in the plumage or bare part colours so I'll put this one down as a Yellow-legged. Other opinions are of course available, I'd love to hear them.