Amourobius ferox

Amourobius ferox
By Peter Byles

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Spinning her magic

One of the best things about spiders at this time of the year is that they
have grown to a decent size. Even a bumbling old amateur naturalist can
point a digital camera in the right direction and try to work out how they
do things. If one is stealthy she will carry on weaving her web.

Her eight feet move from string to string with the nimbleness of a concert
pianist. It is like watching someone knitting at speed. She has already laid
down the 'warp' like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. The web is on a 45
degree slope and she is hanging on the underside with her eight feet. She
moves around in a clockwise direction paying out silk from her spinneret and
spot-welding this 'weft' to each of the radial spokes. She does this at
speed and, as far as I can see, blindly. Her eyes are on the front of her
head and she can't see her bottom.( Neither can we, thank goodness).

It seems that her rear pair of feet do a lot of the steadying and
positioning  of the warp threads so the spinneret hits the right spot.

The more one looks at things like this, the more questions one asks
oneself. How, for goodness sake, do an orb spider's delicate- looking feet
cling to the web so deftly? One false move and those incredibly spiny legs
will surely become fatally entangled. Well, look no further than Google.
Amongst all the stuff about spider bites etc. I eventually found an
excellent article by an Australian describing these special hook-like claws,
one to each foot, that are used to lock on to the silk threads. Question

Peter Byles

Monday, 11 September 2017

Manx shearwater chicks - a battle for survival!

These strong westerly winds that have been hitting the Pembrokeshire coast over the past week are a serious problem for this years Manx shearwater chicks who need to fledge from Skomer Island and head off out on their migration to South America. I was on the island last week and saw several bodies in the water at the Garland Stone.

Some youngsters were coming out in the open during daylight hours so strong was their desire to leave making them vulnerable to the large flocks of ravens that visit the island at this time of the year to benefit from the easy pickings that the chicks provide.

A report on the news tonight is that the RSPCA are collecting large numbers of birds that are washing up on Newgale beach today. Conditions will hopefully improve for them later in the week when the winds are forecast to change to a northerly direction.

Sunday, 10 September 2017


Years ago I was walking with some naturalists and spotted what could have
been an otter's spraint on a tussock near the marshes' edge. A mammalian
expert instantly got down on her knees and shoved her nose in it and
sniffed. 'No, I think a teen-ager had some chips and then too much lager.'
Was her verdict.

This offering is quite obvious. Fox, badger and various lovely dogs we've
had all go for blackberries this time of the year. This fox dropping is
about three times the size of one containing residues of Field Voles and
things. It appears that virtually no digestion has occurred. Where the
plastic came from is anybody's guess.

    Peter Byles

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Noisy Brats!

Noisy Brats

 This is the time of the year that Mr and Mrs Chough have a bit of a rest
from their demanding brats and leave them to jolly well look for their own
food. The juveniles persist in making this continual high-pitched squeaking
noise and making begging gestures with their wings. They are almost as
annoying as badly controlled kids in a supermarket. I hope they soon learn
where all the juicy invertebrates live.

  Peter Byles.

A 'Lek' of Speckled Woods.

A 'Lek' of Speckled Woods.

Between the showers I found a woodland clearing sheltered from the wind.
There were 5 Speckled Woods. A nice pristine female stayed in one spot while
4 males tumbled about in the air fighting it out. They mobbed a Meadow Brown
that appeared. One of them settled beside the female, but she obviously
wasn't impressd. She just sat there. I hoped she would lead him up to the
top of this little oak tree and mate. I waited and waited. Then my dog came
sniffing along and put them both up. Oh well.

Peter Byles.

Voracious Predator

Voracious Predator

 A few days ago Melvin Grey came across this larva on a gate he was
painting. He gave it the full Melvin macro studio treatment in his home-made
light box. This is the fantastic image he produced. From what I've read
these 'fangs' are sunk into their prey, aphids or anything that they
encounter including each other! They inject something which dissolves the
internal organs of the victim in a minute and a half. Perhaps it is just as
well that they are only 1/2" long.

 I remember last summer, on one of Clare Flynn's jolly biodiversity trips,
someone found what looked like a large untidy Mealy Bug in the beating tray.
It was later identified as one of these Lace-wing larvae. It seems that they
cocoon themselves in body-parts of their victims. Grisly.

 They pupate and metamorphose into a fragile and delicate-looking Lacewing.
One occasionally finds one sipping nectar on a Wild Carrot flower and they
sometimes turn up in the moth trap. In Autumn some of these find crevices
and hibernate. Someone once gave me a pretty looking thing with a little
roof and a lot of bamboo sticks. A nice idea, but as far as I know only a
few earwigs have ever used it.

Peter Byles.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Wildlife at Stackpole NNR

I enjoyed a great afternoon yesterday capturing common blue butterflies and common darter and emperor dragonflies at Stackpole NNR.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Crab spider

Female Misumena vatia spider eating an unidentified hoverfly in a Pembroke Dock garden. This crab spider is able to slowly change its colour to some extent to match the flower it is on so that it can lie in wait for its unsuspecting meal. They are usually white, yellow or greenish. Clearly this is as far as it can go to appear lavender!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Pembrokeshire Wildlife Recorders

Increasing scope, capacity and enjoyment in Biological Recording

In May 2016 I found myself wandering the Pembrokeshire Countryside with my insect net and notebook and wondering how many more people out there may be interested in wildlife but not actively recording their sightings. Pembrokeshire has a long and established tradition of natural history and wildlife recording but a regular meet up of like-minded people and perhaps the encouragement of some new faces onto the scene seemed somewhat lacking.

With this in mind, I submitted an article to West Wales Biodiversity Centre and the Pembrokeshire Biodiversity Partnership to ask if anyone would like to join me on some recording field days in the Pembrokeshire Countryside. I received a steady trickle of responses and, with the support of WWBIC, an initial evening talk was organised to explain a bit about biological recording and gather ideas for some field exploration! Most of the people who attended had never done any formal recording but all were extremely enthusiastic with a keen interest in finding out more.

Our first field day was soon arranged with an invite from one of the group to his stunning cliff top land over looking Ceibwr Bay in North Pembrokeshire. Eight hardy souls turned up in driving rain and a near-gale on that day in June 2016 to record 113 species, particularly rich in flowers including gems such as Saw-wort, Burnet-saxifrage and Betony. 

Our second trip, again through a personal invite, on private land near Merlin's Bridge in Haverfordwest, saw the attendance of some of our County recorders, including the County mammal and moth recorders, who'd heard about the group. One of the first sightings that day was a group of Greater Horseshoe bats hanging about in the garage (and one very happy County mammal recorder)! 

Our final day for 2016 took place at the wonderful farm of Pembrokeshire's Fungi recording Group co-ordinator, David Harries. On a rather wet day (eased by lots of tea and cake) David shared his wealth of Knowledge about grassland fungi and we were able to record a number of these lovely species in the field. The season ended with a Christmas 'do', with 20 people attending  and even a December moth landing on the door (which promptly got recorded!). We also received a rather nice Christmas present in the form of some funding from both the National Park and the Wildlife Trust to buy field kit and ID guides for the group's use.

We now have a 30 strong mailing list and each field day, organised once a month, is attended by 12-15 people comprising a wonderful mix of enthusiasm, knowledge and learning. Our 2017 season started on May 6th with a sunny visit to Hilton Court, a relatively cultivated but very varied site a few miles north west of Haverfordwest. 

With the support of WWBIC, we are aiming to increase recording in squares where record numbers are low. At Hilton Court, we were able to take the number of species in that particular 1km square from only 26 to over 250. The involvement of the County recorders is greatly helping verification whilst the emphasis on the days is also sharing of knowledge and enjoyment of the Pembrokeshire Countryside. We are receiving invites from organisations such the National Trust, the wildlife trust and private owners to visit their land.

It has been an pleasure to be involved with this group. Each field day, come rain or shine, is hugely enjoyable and is helping to increase recording in the County in liaison with key individuals and organisations. I'm looking forward to next month's meet-up - we just need to decide where to go!

Clare Flynn

Freelance Educator, Naturalist and VC45 Joint County Recorder for Bees

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Tawny owl

Managed to catch the tawny owl sunbathing yesterday in a lovely setting in Pembrokeshire.