Extinct 13-spot ladybirds found in East Devon nature reserve

It’s not often an extinct species turns up breeding on your nature reserve. All too infrequent an occurrence if you ask me. But that’s what’s happened this week (this minute to be perfectly honest) and I am very proud to be able to bring you the news here in this column.

Now, from the outset I must point out that I am merely bathing in the reflected glory of others with this story, I had only the tiniest of roles to play in this discovery, but a role I had nonetheless and I am chuffed to pieces to be within the gravitational pull of this little piece of biodiversity history.

The real honour falls at the feet of the chap who provided me with my first photograph this week, entomologist and ladybird expert Richard Comont. He very kindly came along to the recent BioBlitz held on the Axe Estuary Wetlands and, boy, is he ever glad he did?

The species in question has been officially extinct in the UK for the last 60 years and this will be the first confirmed breeding of this beetle ever in mainland Britain.

I remember as a boy being told that the number of spots on a ladybird’s wing cases told you how old it was. Not so, there are many different species and the 13-spot is officially now my favourite!

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You may remember last year I wrote about the discovery of a 13-spot ladybird at Seaton Marshes, discovered by local naturalist Catherine Willerton, well she has been something of a tub-thumper for these beetles ever since and it was her insistence which got Richard to come and take a look.

It’s one thing to identify this beetle, it’s long and elliptical rather than round like most of our common ladybirds; however to recognise a larva as something potentially significant is another thing all together.

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During his minute scrutiny of the wetlands in July, Richard discovered a larva which he thought might be from this long gone beetle. He took it back to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to raise it on to adulthood for confirmation, and seven minutes ago I got the tweet I had been waiting for: the emerging adult was indeed a 13-spot ladybird!

This particular ladybird is a wetland specialist, so it’s fitting that the new discovery was made on the newest wetland in the country. Until now, all post-1952 records have been continental immigrants which occasionally arrived – Cathie’s was one of just 11 sightings since 1980 . Now we have found this individual I am sure there will be much work to determine the size and distribution of the first breeding 13-spot ladybird colony in the UK in 60 years!

One thing is for certain, I’ll let you know as soon as I do!

Autumn movements

Autumn is well under way in the bird world, and it’s time to get out and see a wonderful host of wagtails, wheatear, whimbrel and winchats as they pass through our local patch.

You don’t have to go far from home to witness this spectacle (although it helps) any bit of coastal scrub or rough hedgerow is bound to turn up whitethroats and migrating chiffchaffs at this time.

However, if you want to see the full glory, a visit to an estuary is imperative. Waders are the birds which, to me, typify autumn migrations. Birds like this graceful greenshank which breed in the Arctic and spend the winter in tropical West Africa, pass through our region in autumn and spring, but it is in the Autumn that they can be enjoyed for a little longer.

At Black Hole Marsh last week there were three wood sandpipers, two ruff, a gaggle of dunlin which contained a curlew sandpiper, three little ringed-plover and umpteen green and common sandpipers. I’m sorry I didn’t get exact number of all of these waders, but I only popped my head into the hide for a few minutes and the water was covered in fabulous birds. I left with my head positively spinning!

The great thing about the island hide is that it is only a few meters dashing distance from the reserve car park, so even if it’s lashing down with rain you can make a run for it!

The car park can be found by driving carefully through Seaton Cemetery, through the gap in the hedge and out into the parking area beyond.

If you visit early in the morning and you intend to take photos, make sure you go to the Tower hide at the far end of the lagoon, overlooking the estuary, as the sun will be behind you and you will be able to get good shots.

The island hide comes into its own for evening photography when the birds are within a few feet of the hide itself.

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