Archive for July, 2013

This bee is going to be just fine. As I looked at it movement was just starting, it would dry out and feed and be on its way. But having fallen asleep on the hogweed last night it was caught in a torrential downpour overnight. And there is nothing quite as soggy as a drenched bee,,,


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On the day that the Bug Walk let loose round Stoke Newington, (see the page about Wilmer Place), I found myself reflecting on what makes Abney so special for me. I think it comes down to moments when I see something for the first time. I always get an instant of ‘It looks just like that on the Telly!’ Just why I should think that what I see on the Television is restricted to this magic box in the corner of my front room I don’t quite know. It always takes my by surprise.

I had one of these instants recently. I came across Ectemnius cavifrons, a solitary wasp. It is a strange-looking critter, and something that I recognised as being a predator of hoverflies, among other flying species. Above it was a hoverfly, at least it was flying like a hoverfly, I didn’t get a look close enough to identify it. The hoverfly landed, and then suddenly the E. cavifrons swooped down on the hoverfly, flew to a nearby leaf with it and killed it. It then flew away with its prey. It took an instant for the capture and seconds for the kill. And it was just like it happens on the Telly. It was at least as impressive as any TV hunt and kill because of the aerial precision and deftness of capture. No wonder they are called ‘Mini beasts’.

Ectemnius cavifrons with prey

As long as the natural world is restricted to the box in the corner it is somehow more easy to walk away from. I need real live nature in front of me to ram home how amazing it is, how exciting and precious. A nature reserve in the heart of a big city is therefore doubly important as it is so easily accessed by so many people. The challenge is to explain all this to those who have no idea about ecology and to protect it for the future.


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The most fantastic growth of caps I have yet seen developed on a collapsed poplar tree.

The tree was degraded by Ganoderma australe from the ground to almost branch level, and in the hollow trunk at branch level Rigidoporus ulmarius. Ganoderma australe causes white rot, ie biodelignification of wood. Rigidoporus ulmarius causes brown cubical rot of trees, ie lignocellulose breakdown of wood. These are the two strengthening components of wood and without them the wood has degraded into a soft, spongy texture. Not surprisingly it collapsed.  The fallen trunk recently absorbed water and provided the perfect food for the Volvariella bombycina to grow.

The name Volvariella refers to a volva, a sac that the cap developes inside, which then breaks at the top as the cap grows out of it. The stem is without a ring. The gills start out pale, then become pink (rose), and eventually brown. The cap is covered in hairs, so ‘silky’.

It is a rare cap, with 314 records held at Kew for the UK.

Link to notes of Volvariella bombycina.

Link to photos of fungi and slimemolds 2013 in Abney Park Cemetery.

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In recent years this butterfly went into rapid decline. I haven’t seen it at all for a couple of years. At the moment there is an influx of these butterflies from the continent, and this morning there was one on the Buddleia near the Church Street entrance. Although it hasn’t opened its wings for me, this is definitely a Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae. (Urtica dioica is the latin name for nettle, which the caterpillars of this species feed on). Link to photos of Butterflies in Abney.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

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The Harlequin ladybird larva are distinctive – a black bug with a tapering black body and bright orangey flashes on either side, and 4 orangey spikes between them. In recent weeks the pupae have been sitting on the leaves, but now there are suddenly loads of adults out and about in a wide range of colours. Link to Insects etc photos.

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With bad news about butterfly numbers (the numbers of White Letter Hairstreak are down this year –  probably due to the prolonged cold spring), it is good to have a new butterfly in Abney. Tony tells me that he has seen one before, but it is unusual and not one I have seen. It was happily feasting on the privet towards the chapel. Link to Butterflies and Moths in Abney.

Ringlet Butterfly, Aphantopus hyperantus, 18.7.2013 (1)

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The sparrowhawks have two chicks this year. They look to be doing well at the moment. They are white fluffballs that are just too cute to be true.

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Ring Necked Parakeet, Male 3+ years old. 5.7.2013

I’m probably way behind everyone else on this, I have been wondering exactly what species of parakeet they are in Abney. They seemed to be the ring necked variety without the ring. Well, I’ve just seen my first ring. They appear on males when they are 3 years old or more, of breeding age. The females don’t have a ring. In Abney so far, they have tended to be young birds that I have been looking at. I know they bred last year, but females and young birds form the majority. The birds on the chapel recently didn’t have rings as far as I could see, and most of them were a little bit hesitant and landed in an awkward manner, suggesting young birds, with only a couple of confident birds who were more able to cope with the magpies, which I presumed to be the adults. If I am right, that’s a lot of young birds, at least 9, for 2 adult females. They have 4 to 6 eggs at a time, so this is possible.

There were a lot of birds around last year without rings, so a lot of birds may not be of nesting age yet. There are also a lot of green spaces within flying distance with more birds than Abney, so we may be getting the overspill from those sites. It all seems to point to a large number being around in the future.

Link to photos of birds in Abney Park.


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Early this morning, 7.45am, whan it was all wonderfully quiet elsewhere in Abney, a raucous screeching was round the chapel.

Part of the gang of magpies ready to fly at the chapel 4.7.2013

A couple of families of parakeets were clustered as a flock. There were clearly young birds there mixed in with adults, so they had a successful breeding season despite the cold weather. They originally come from the Himalayan foothills so should be accustomed to cold weather. Their food is listed as seeds, berries and nuts, which is bird table food. (They regularly visit the bird feeder at the front of Abney). They also try eating a lot more than that and birds are known to eat hard-boiled eggs, shells too for the calcium, when offered it in captivity. If they never went near this food in the wild, where would the instinct be to eat egg and their shells?

Parakeets flying from magpies, 4.7.2013

I’m guessing here, but the magpies are known to pop into the chapel and pinch the odd pigeon egg. They are feral pigeons whose breeding cycle has been messed up by human interaction, so they breed at any time of the year, not just on one season. The magpies know this food source is there, and maybe the parakeets have cottoned onto the idea too.

Parakeets on Abney Park chapel 4.7.2013

The parakeets were reluctant to be evicted from their chapel perches, and came back repeatedly when forced to fly away by the magpies. This interspecies interaction is unusual. I’ve had a look online and parakeets are described as getting on well with other bird species. To have this sort of rivalry for the chapel is something I’ve only seen before in magpies and crows, which compete for food etc. It does make me think of competition for the pigeon eggs.

Or maybe the parakeets are just really noisy and annoying.

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There is a bee in Abney called Bombus terrestris. You know what it is by its colour bands, its ‘shoulders’ are yellow, then it is black as far as its ‘waist’. The abdomen starts with a thin band of black, then it is yellow, black again, and the tail end is white. It is a common bee on the lowlands of England, Ireland and Wales, but has only got up into the central part of Scotland. Fairly widespread and eats from a wide variety of flowers.

Bombus terrestris, a bumblebee

Then there is this chap, Pocota personata, a hoverfly and bee mimic. This one was found by Russell Miller 16.5.2013 in Abney Park. It is the first time it has been recorded in London since 1966. It has the same markings as Bombus terrestris, but the legs are thinner, less hairy, and the antennae are different.

Pocota personata, hoverfly and bumblebee mimic

Link to photos of insects found in Abney Park.

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