Monday, 15 August 2022

Dorset Tree Cricket Success

It has been very pleasing to discover that West Bexington's Tree Crickets are seemingly doing well. Since coming across them last year I have had what feels like some weird paternal interest in their continued wellbeing. I have been rooting for them, so to speak. However, there has also been some unfinished business...

Hearing Tree Crickets has been great, but I have very much wanted to see one too. Efforts have been in vain. They tend to stop singing when you get close, which leaves you searching what seems like an acre of vegetation for the proverbial needle in a haystack. It has been disheartening.

Enter Brett Spencer...

Weymouth birder Brett is the first local person to express an interest in the West Bex Tree Crickets, and went to check them out at the end of last week. They performed well, and he heard several. But best of all he saw one too, a female, and got a photo. This was exactly the encouragement I needed in order to try again, which I did last night.

Tree Cricket song is very deceptive, and I was mindful of something Brett had said: 'They sound further away from you than they are.' He was dead right.

Pretty soon after darkness fell, I was tracking down a Tree Cricket. As I stood and cupped my ears, trying to work out exactly where the sound was coming from, I suddenly realised that the volume increased when I crouched a little. So I bent lower still, and the volume went up another notch. It was virtually at my feet! But, could I see it? No. The moment I began to search in earnest, my head-torch laying everything bare, it went schtum. And very, very still.

I don't know how long it took me, but a few minutes for sure. And then there it was, head down, on a twig. Quite obvious, in fact. According to the literature, adults range in size from 10-14mm, so I was expecting a tiny thing. But that must be just the body length. Factor in long hind legs and antennae, and you have a fairly sizeable insect.

My camera is not great for night-time photography, but with the help of two head-torches it didn't do too badly...

Male Tree Cricket Oecanthus pellucens - West Bexington

Viewed from the top like that, it looks rather a flat creature, but from other angles it takes on a different shape...



I had been concerned that they might be flighty, but need not have worried. It behaved impeccably.

Until last night I had not encountered a Tree Cricket anywhere away from the coastal strip. So I was pleased to come across one singing at least 100m further inland as I headed back to the car. In low, weedy growth this time, I was pretty confident of finding it. In ten minutes of searching I found three grasshoppers, a roosting Meadow Brown and countless little flies, etc, but no Tree Cricket. I tried from different angles, but all to no avail. They are not easy!

A final thought...

It is likely true that crickets are a bit niche. I get that. But it has surprised me how little interest there appears to be in this county rarity at West Bexington. In global terms, Tree Cricket is a common insect. But in the UK it is not, with just the one good colony, at Dungeness, as far as I know. The West Bex Tree Crickets are quite possibly the only ones in Dorset. It struck me quite forcefully yesterday just how precarious must be the existence of so many rare and vulnerable creatures, and how little the vast majority of the population actually knows and/or cares about them. As I waited for darkness to fall, I took this photo...

West Bex beach, sunset.

It was warm and still, the beach thronged with anglers and day-trippers, all having a great time, and 100% oblivious to the little population of Tree Crickets trying to establish a toe-hold nearby. And I realised the latter point would have been true of me too, just 12 months ago. Sobering.

6 comments:

  1. Great work on the Tree Crickets Gav. The lack of appreciation from the vast majority of the population is almost to be expected. Your label for them I believe, 'Dullards'?
    Personally speaking I feel privileged to be aware of, and be part of, the natural world around me. It's a massive source of interest and in a way, we own it.

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    1. Ha ha! That's the view of a much younger me, Ric. That disconnect between so many people and the nature that surrounds them is sad, but largely not their fault I think.

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  2. I can only echo Ric's comment. I shudder at each fire in our countryside and the devastation it must cause to little communities of rarities.

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    1. Absolutely. And heathland especially is home to so many rare and vulnerable creatures...

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  3. Love hearing about your Tree Crickets, slightly envious there are none near me but who knows, maybe only a matter of time? I understand your 'paternal interest' having a good population of Wood Crickets in and around our garden and it seems I'm the only one who notices or cares. Fine photos btw.

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    1. Thanks Tim. It would not surprise me one bit to learn that there are budding little colonies elsewhere along the Lyme Bay coast. It's illuminating that they weren't discovered at such a well-surveyed place as Dungeness until there were loads of them! They seem to be good at sneaking under the radar! 😄

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