Wood crickets in Dunsford Woods

On my way home from work yesterday I stopped at Dunsford Woods in the Teign Valley (managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust and owned by the National Trust) to see if I could locate the population of wood crickets that live there. In a voluntary capacity I am the Devon County Recorder for Orthoperta – that is grasshoppers, crickets and bush crickets.

Wood crickets are native animals and are really rather rare in the UK – if you want to know more about them click here where you will also find a couple of sound files where you can hear their calls – a distinctive thing about most of our orthoptera.

I am pleased to say that I heard around 20 calling males, saw a couple of adults and a nymph. I didn’t manage to take any photographs even though I took my camera and struggled up the very steep south facing woodland edge slopes where they live! However I did get some pictures of the Dunsford wood crickets in September 2008 so I will share those instead.

Wood cricket 1Wood crickets are black and around 1cm long – they tend to live in woodland glades in deep leaf litter

Wood cricket 4This is a male – their wings cover about half of the abdomen – their hind wings are absent and as a result they cannot fly. Females have even smaller wings and possess a long ovipositor which extends beyond the two cerci (pointed extensions which can be seen on the rear end of the male above).

Wood cricket 2Wood crickets feed on dead leaves and their associated fungi

Wood cricket 3Here is a close up of a wood cricket face

Wood cricket mapHere is the national distribution – only three main population centres – South Devon, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight

I am currently in the process of setting up a website on Devon’s orthoptera which will give information on all of our species including their distributions. Hopefully I will get that project up and running by the end of the year. Earlier in the year I blogged about our other species of cricket – the scaly cricket which is much, much rarer and lives on the beach at Branscombe – see here for that story.


Wood ants by the tens of thousand

I was in Fingle Woods yesterday (which is owned and managed jointly by the National Trust and the Woodland Trust) and they must have one of the best populations of wood ants in the south west. There are dozens of nests per hectare and one nest can contain up to 250,000 individuals. Wood ants are social insects rather like honey bees and each colony normally consists of a queen and a host of worker ants. Wood ants are predatory catching other insects and caterpillars but surprisingly get most of their food from ‘milking’ aphids for their honey dew. Wood ants have been found 90′ up trees searching for honey dew. If you want to know more about wood ants see here. The species in Fingle Woods is Formica rufa. They are most common in coniferous woodlands but they do also occur in quite large numbers in broadleaved woodlands such as Dunsford Woods. It is hard to believe that although they are so common (but local)  in Fingle Woods and elsewhere in the west and north of Britain that they are rare in the rest of Europe.

Wood ant 2A small wood ant nest beside a ride at Wooston Castle

Wood ant 1A wood ant – note the jaws – they can nip!

Wood ant 3Colonies are busy places

Wood ant 5Colonies can be quite dense and close together

Wood ant 4And some are huge – this one is nearly 3′ tall


Dartmoor’s sheep

When I went to the Chagford Show last week I went and had a look at the sheep. There are three breeds of sheep associated with Dartmoor – two now sadly rare and one very common. Here are a few pictures of the three breeds along with some background information. Thank you also to Matthew Cole who is a Dartmoor Commoner and grazes the Trust’s Upper Plym moorland who kindly told me about the various breeds. His father Arnold sadly died late last year and was an expert and champion for the Dartmoor whiteface sheep – see here.

Dartmoor whiteface - an indigenous breed of sheep and one of the oldest UK breeds. There is a Whiteface Dartmoor Sheep Breeders Association. Whitefaces are also known as widecombe Whitefaces. They are a hardy sheep but they are not able to stay on the moor all year round. They are overwintered on the lower ground around the home farms. They are popular with Natural England as they tend not to eat heather!

Prior to the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2001 there were around 2000 breeding Whiteface Dartmoor Sheep. However they were hit hard by Foot and Mouth and today there are between 900-1500 which means they are on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s ‘At Risk’ category.

Whiteface sheep 2They have tight thick coats – can grow horns but have clean wool-less faces.

Whiteface sheep 1

Dartmoor greyface - often called the Improved Dartmoor as they have been cross bred with Nottinghamshire and Leicester longwools. Again hardy but can’t stay out on the moor all year. In 1997 1800 there were greyface ewes, they are now on the RBST ‘At risk’ list cat 5 1500-3000 ewes.

Greyface sheep1Again they have tight curly hair – wool on the forehead and a black smudge on the nose

Greyface sheep 2

Scotch blackface - Hardly all year round sheep – debate about when they came to Dartmoor – either in 1820-30s or in the 1860s. Coming from the ‘north’ they were more hardy and as a result could be left out on the moor all year round. Scotch blackface sheep  are now the commonest sheep on Dartmoor by a long shot.

Scotch blackface sheepA show animal at Chagford

Sheep and lamb 1A ewe and lamb on theUpper Plym this spring

Sheep have been on on Dartmoor since prehistoric times and the Dartmoor Whiteface may originate from the original Iron Age Soay sheep. For more information on Dartmoor’s sheep see here.

End of summer?

Today is a washout! All plans shelved. Hopefully this isn’t the end of summer merely an interlude.

Just got two pictures from the past couple of days.

Silver washed fritillaryOn Friday I photographed this battle worn silver washed fritillary at Finch Foundry – despite having lost so much of its wings he was still a very strong flyer

Clouded yellow 2Spent all summer hearing about clouded yellows but not seeing any and then in the last couple of days I have seen two myself – one at Parke and another in Exton where I live.

Exmouth Gig Rowing Club open day

Exmouth Gig Rowing Club held an open day in conjunction with the RNLI at Exmouth over the weekend. The idea was to raise the profile of gig rowing and recruit new members to the club. Here are some photos from Saturday along with a link to a fuller photo set.

The open day continues today down at the Lifeboat Station if you are interested.

Gig9Old and new – gig boats were the original life boats – here is ‘Rodney Bey’ in front of the new RNLI boat.

Gig12Taking the gig down to the sea

Gig16 On the beach

Gig19Getting ready to row – the club did a demonstration rescue with the RNLI

Gig3A busy day down at Exmouth

Gig5The Gig Club stall included a static rowing challenge – go for it Matt!

Red Arrows 8The Red Arrows who were doing a display at Dawlish also flew over to add to the excitement!

Red Arrows 4

Two more rarities from Parke – one new one not so new

A couple of days ago I found a wasp spider a Parke – a new record for the property. On the same day I also found this hoverfly which was also a new record.

Arctophila superbiens 3This is Arctophila superbiens

Arctophila superbiens 2You can see it is a hoverfly and not a bumblebee which it is mimicking because of its very large compound eyes.

Common carderThis is the common carder bumblebee – Bombus pascuorum also photographed at Parke which it is mimicking (note the small eyes)

Arctophila superbiensAs you can see from the distribution map of Arctophila superbiens – it has a very western and northern distribution in the UK – not very common in the south west.

Long-winged  conehead 1At the same time I also managed to photograph this bush cricket – the long winged cone head Conocephalus discolour – bush crickets have very long antennae which distinguishes them from grasshoppers

LWCH 1990Here is the national distribution of the long winged cone head up to 1990 – not in Devon

LWCHHere is the distribution now in 2014 – it is clearly spreading north and west – probably as a result of the warming climate. It is a species of rough grasslands – that it why it likes the river meadows at Parke.


Clouded yellowIncidentally I also recorded this species of butterfly – the clouded yellow – a vagrant that has flown over from the continent as a result of the recent warm weather.


Chagford Show antics

Yesterday was the Chagford Show which is partially held on NT land in the Teign Valley below Castle Drogo – it is my favourite country show – fantastic location, lots of people, lots of animals and lots of our friends – classic Dartmoor. Well done to the organisers for another great Show. The National Trust and the Woodland Trust turned out in force! It is one of the occasions during the year when we get a chance to meet up with the public and the various other people we work with on the moor to have a good chat. Here are a few pictures from the day.

TomTom Wood – Area Ranger in the Teign Valley ……. with a ferret

Ferret rouletteHere’s why Tom had the ferret! Ferret roulette – guess which pipe the ferret will emerge from! Thanks to Stuart Mathieson, another our Rangers in the Valley for bring his pet ferrets!

MickMick Jones – Lead Ranger on North Dartmoor is snail racing!

Wild TribeThe Wild Tribe team – fire lighting

Drogo teamSome of the Drogo team in period costume.

Woodland TrustNow we manage Fingle Woods with the Woodland Trust they came to the show too

DaveDave Rickwood from the Woodland Trust making bird and dormice boxes

SueGood to see Sue from the Dartmoor Magazine – big plug – I’ve got an article in the next edition on the cottages at the Dewerstone!

DNPADartmoor National Park Authority  and the Dartmoor Preservation Association were also there

Tim CoxGood also to see Tim Cox and his team – Tim processes the timber from the valley and turns it into wood chip so that it can be used in the Castle Drogo wood chip boiler.

JennyHere is Jenny from Active Dartmoor with their brilliant new show trailer – thanks for free publicity! Another plug – the current issue has an article I did on the NT in the Plym Valley

All in all a great day – see you all again next year – if, of course, not before.