Header image (Credit to: Stephanie Hook)

Insects and Animals

We’ve got some fantastic photos this week of spindle ermine caterpillars in their web on a spindle. You can easily spot them from their light colour and dark dots (we look at the very similar white ermine last week - the dalmations of moths). As you can see their webbing can be extensive - covering entire bushes/hedges

Ermine caterpillars

Spindle ermine caterpillars on spindle (Credit to: Bob Hook)

One of our Rangers was out doing a reptile survey in the Millennium Country Park this week and saw 3 common lizards - they’re out and about, basking in the sun from April through to the end of September, before hibernating (in groups) amongst rocks or log piles. The photo below is of a pregnant one from a few summers ago (they moved way too quickly this time to get a photo) - interestingly they incubate internally, and give birth to live young rather than laying eggs like most reptiles. They’re ectothermic (aka they need to absorb the heat from the sun) which is why they bask so much - we put down roofing felt mats which easily heat up in the sun when doing surveys (sometimes they helpfully go underneath, however). Amazingly, they can just discard their tail to get rid of an attacker - it’ll keep wriggling to distract the predator, giving them time to escape. But it isn’t all positive, as they are declining in the UK due to habitat loss/degredation.

Pregnant common lizard

We’ve also spotted a banded demoiselle dragonfly over by Elstow Brook, where it flows into Stewartby Lake. You won’t really see them away from flowing water so that’s the best place in the Park to see them, if you’re ever curious.

If you’re eagle eyed enough to see a common lizard, you might even see one of the grass snakes out basking - we spotted one in the pond at Ridgeway Wood (over in Gateway Woods) this week. Also - make sure you look out for great crested newts as there are great numbers both in the boardwalk and sensory garden ponds at the Millennium Country Park. Of course they are a European protected species so it is great news to see so many.

Butterflies are everywhere now that summer is (nearly) in full swing - this week we’ve spotted small heaths out on the callow mounds. They’re rarely spotted more than 1 metre above ground, and only ever in sunshine.

Banded damoiselle dragonfly and small heath butterfly

Banded damoiselle dragonfly (Credit to: Martin Green) and small heath butterfly

Birds

We’ve had more ‘sightings’ of nightingales through their song, around Stewartby Lake - we think there are at least 6 of them now.  The pied wagtail has also been singing in its regular nesting spot, on the roof of the Forest Centre. They’ve been nesting here for years, so it’s good to see them again - they’ve also been spotted along Gold Furlong (our neighbouring residential road).

I’ve been learning about the parasitic nature of the cuckoo this week. They find an existing nest with eggs in - in wetlands, it’ll be reed or sedge warblers, but elsewhere it’ll be something like a dunnock. They then lay an egg in that nest, and take one of the existing eggs away (aka, they fly off with it and chuck it away). If the cuckoo is born first, it will kick the other eggs out of the nest; if it’s born after the other eggs then it’ll just kick out the other young. The parent bird just raises it as normal, feeding it and caring for it until it’s grown - obviously just assuming it had one very big, strange looking baby. There is a type of bee - the cuckoo bee - which does something similar. The natural world is brutal!


On a happier note - the great crested grebes have hatched on the Pillinge, and we have a lovely video of the mother carrying the three young on her back.

We haven’t had any success with our swift boxes yet this year - it isn’t necessarily too late but they have been nesting elsewhere in Bedfordshire already (including up the road at St Mary’s Church in Marston Moretaine). We’ll be taking a deeper look into this on our blog very soon. We do however, have great tits nesting in one of the boxes, so at least someone is making use of them!

Plants

We haven’t got any orchids out just yet (they’re due very soon) but the elder is in flower, and there are buttercups all over the place. Common mallow is out, looking very pretty for a weed! You’ll see it along verges and footpaths - some bits of it are edible but please don't try this unless you know what you’re doing! Interestingly, the French word for ‘mallow’ is mauve - hence the name for the colour.

Buttercups and common mallow

Buttercups (Credit to: Michelle Newstead) and common mallow

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All bird videos credit to Bob Hook