This evening turned out to be really wonderful despite forecast for rain all day. Around 4pm, the clouds cleared away and the sun shone warmly. It made for excellent walking conditions. My walking buddy and I made it about 6 miles up and down the Colne before stopping off at the Coop to pick up some ingredients for dinner. The walk was wonderful; we saw the baby oyster catcher again, baby cows, house martins, tons of dead crabs washed up on the banks, a few live crabs living in the drying pools left over from high tide, and the cormorant that seems to have made a home for itself in the hythe. The biggest thrill of the day came this evening, after the sun had set, around 10pm. We were waiting at the bus stop on Wivenhoe's 'The Avenue' across from the Co-op for my ride back to campus when a lady came out to check the schedule. I was distracted by a noise coming from near the base of the fence: the sound of something rustling through dry leaves. On the cement post, we spotted a stag beetle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucanus_cervus). But that beetle wasn't making all the noise. We peeked over the fence and thought we saw some more. The lady was excited because she'd just seen a dead one on her drive way (she reckons she ran it over earlier when she was pulling in). She ran off to get the torch so we could better see what was happening in the leaves and we stayed to investigate.
Simultaneously creepy and cool, stag beetles are quite large and have pincer like mandibles that precede them. They have become rather rare in England and are England's largest beetle. There's a sign down by the rail station that says to look out for them and take care when you find one because they're considered to be a threatened species. I just learned that they can fly--which is totally creepy. Imagine one of those flying through the air at you. Ick.
So the lady went inside to grab the torch and her husband and they came out and shined the light behind the fence where a few beetles were wrestling in the leaves. The lady kept exclaiming how they're an endangered species. One of the beetles was headed for the road, so I stopped it with my shoe. It promptly climbed on board and then quite stubbornly refused to get off. It went right around the top to the sole. I could feel it gripping. My friend laughed that I had an endangered species on the bottom of my shoe. The man used a few leaves to pull it off and put the bug behind the fence with the rest of them. I've seen a stag beetle before. In Japan, a friend of mine caught one and put it on my back where it proceeded to climb up my shirt. I wasn't scared of it then, but with the one on my shoe I felt suddenly shy and fearful of it's pincers.
The lady ran off inside to grab her camera. She came back out and filmed them. We giggled and watched--amused by the lady's remarks and excitement and fascinated/disgusted by the beetles. We stepped back to give them room to shine the light, investigate and film the scene. She couldn't believe there were so many in one place, what luck that they were in her front yard, and how this made up for the one she ran over earlier.
Then I noticed that the man, who was leaning over the fence, had a stag beetle climbing up his trousers. How it got there, I'm not sure. We were watching the ground pretty intently. How it got so high up--upper thigh, nearly buttock--without him or any one else noticing, I'm not sure either. But then the spectacle became watching this woman grab a stick and try to remove the beetle from the back of this man's trousers. He kept commenting how he felt lucky it wasn't up the front of his trousers while the woman kept pocking and prodding the beetle towards his inner-upper thigh. The man starting repeating, not to the front! Eventually the woman managed to get the beetle on the stick and set him down on the non-street side of the fence. In the mean time, my friend and I were checking one another for climbing beetles. They continued to film and watch and we continued to watch them and giggle. I think we could have been there all night if my bus hadn't come. As it was, we probably spent 15 minutes playing with beetles, watching, and being entertained by this couple's remarks and actions. Excellent way to end the evening. And how exciting to see one of England's rare beetles!
Help track the beetles. Report any sightings to the Stag Beetle HelpLine: http://www.stagbeetlehelpline.co.uk/
Photos courtesy of Hideki Mizuno