Monday, 5 November 2012

The Micro World

An article by Heather Martin

Last month the upper surface of some bramble leaves in our wood became covered with tiny orange blisters and on closer inspection I noticed that a range of minute insects were drawn to them to feed including the Springtail, Flower Bug and Parasitic Wasp in the photographs.

Patrick Roper (link to Patrick's comments on Ash Dieback disease  here) explained the insects were eating the spores produced by a rust fungus most probably called Phragmidium violaceum and recommended a book 'Microfungi on Land Plants' by M. B. Ellis and J. P. Ellis.

Rust fungi are a microscopic species with a complex life cycle that can involve up to five different spore producing stages and two different host plants.

The orange spores (uredospores) are the main dispersal phase.

To positively identify most rusts you need to locate and magnify teliospores from the following life stage.In the case of Blackberry leaf rust fungus the teliospores are black and found in small clusters on the underside of the leaf.

Corresponding with these, on the upper surface there are conspicuous purple and crimson spots.
While I was busy looking for infected bramble leaves last week I also came across a Barkfly less than 3mm in length. I think it is possibly Ectopsocus petersi, a species commonly found all year round on a wide range of trees and shrubs.

I was also pleased to find the larval case of Coleophora gryphipennella on a Dog Rose leaf. The larva of this brown micro moth builds itself a successively larger portable case from leaf fragments, eventually fixing it to a stem.
It will pupate inside the case next May or June.

All Pictures by Heather Martin 05/11/2012

Friday, 19 October 2012

Autumn in the Wood

An article by Heather Martin

The recent rain has dampened the ground and fungi are starting to pop up here, there and everywhere.

Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria) is probably the species that everyone associates with the season. The common name comes from the historical practise of soaking pieces in bowls of milk to stupefy flies. It is often found close to birch trees and although this specimen, like most in our wood has been nibbled, the fungus is extremely toxic to humans and must not be eaten.

Every year I look forward to the emergence of a group of Magpie Inkcaps (Coprinus picaceus). They grow to a height of around 30cm but their delicate perfection is short-lived because like most of the species in this genus, the gills quickly auto-digest turning into a dripping, black mass.

A large cluster of Common Bonnet ( Mycena galericulata) has covered the rotting stump of a sweet chestnut tree. Examination of the spores gave a positive identification.

Some insects are still in evidence if you happen to be in the right place at the right time.
Rodney spotted a Glow-worm (Lampyris noctiluca) larva ambling across a log on a pile at the edge of a track.

I noticed a caterpillar munching voraciously on a hawthorn berry. It has the characteristics of a larva of the Geometridae family and Jim Barrett suggested it is probably a Mottled Pug (Eupithecia exiguata). The species should overwinter as a pupa in the soil then emerge as an adult next May.

This caterpillar from the same family was also found on hawthorn. Any ideas Jim?

(I believe this caterpillar may be 1773 Broken-barred carpet (Electrophaes corylata); Its a tough one to call though as green body with yellow bands is a common among caterpillars. JB)

Now that a large percentage of leaves have already fallen - or been blown off! - it's easier to notice some things like galls for example. The Ram's-horn Gall on this pedunculate oak tree was caused by the gall wasp Andricus aries. It was only discovered in England in 1997 but is now quite common across the south of the country. Not much is know about the life cycle of the wasp apart from the fact it has two generations a year, the second in the gall from October emerging the following spring.

A peculiar little appendage on the underside of a hornbeam leaf was identified by Tony Davis as the larval case of micro moth Coleophora violacea. It has fragments of leaf attached to the surface. The plain brown adult flies in May and June.

All Pictures by Heather Martin 18/10/2012

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Moth Trapping in Brede High Wood

On Friday 14th September we met at Brede High Wood for the last moth trapping session of the year.

For once it was not raining, but under a clear sky and with rapidly falling temperatures we were not optimistic of finding much.

We were just packing up around midnight when Heather spotted this magnificent moth on a tree trunk adjacent to her moth trap.

This is the Clifden Nonpareil (Catocala fraxini) moth and I would hazard a guess that this is the largest insect in East Sussex.

Other moths we caught that night were Burnished Brass (Diachrysia chrystis);

Sallow (Xanthia icteritia);

and Snout (Hypena proboscidalis).


There were also quite a few hornets (Vespa crabro) about. This one I believe is a young queen hornet. Another truly magnificent insect, even if slightly more alarming than the Clifden Nonpareil.

All photographs by Heather Martin 17/09/2012

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Autumn approaching

An Article by Heather Martin

It's beginning to look and feel rather autumnal in the wood. Yellowed birch and poplar leaves are already fluttering down and the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) berries are quite colourful.

Dragonflies hunting for prey perform aerial acrobatics around the clearings, also darting and swooping along the rides. When they perch to rest on the tips of branches, there's a chance to marvel at their beautifully patterned bodies and huge compound eyes. I managed to photograph a male Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) which can be identified by its orange-red abdomen and the two large yellow patches divided by a darker reddish-brown panel on the side of its thorax.

Also a male Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta).

Common spangle galls housing the asexual generation of the gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum are scattered liberally on the undersides of oak leaves. They will fall down into the leaf litter where they will spend the winter months, then in spring adult gall wasps emerge to lay eggs in the oak buds. These develop into green currant galls from which adults emerge in the summer, mate, the females laying eggs on the underside of leaves to start the whole cycle again.

There are nowhere near as many insects about now as there were a few weeks ago and this pale, delicate looking Oak Bush-cricket (Meconema thalassinum) was so well camouflaged on a leaf I almost missed noticing it!

Hunting for small insects amongst the foliage was a Spiked Shieldbug (Picromerus bidens) and it is possible to see the adults until November. The species usually overwinters as eggs.

This very hairy little Pale Tussock moth (Calliteara pudibunda) caterpillar was crawling across a chestnut leaf. The larva will grow slowly until October, then pupate to emerge as an adult next May.

Finally on perhaps a rather unsavoury but interesting note is a photo of a strikingly coloured Burying beetle - (Nicrophorus vespilloides) with mites attached to it. It appears that these may not actually be harming the beetle but merely hitching a lift. The beetle needs to lay its eggs in the corpse of a creature that it buries. The mites need to feed on the eggs and larvae of flies that might have found the prize first so the beetle provides transport and the mites consume the competition for the food source. Win, win situation!

All photos by Heather Martin (30/08/2012)

Monday, 20 August 2012


Well we could not have wished for a better day.

Compare and contrast with May 6th; (Butterflies, Boars & Beckley Woods) from frostbite to heatstroke, the sublime to the ridiculous.

I knew we were going to have a good day when as I set up the direction signs in the car parking area I saw a Peacock, a Silver-washed Fritillary and a Small Tortoiseshell before the event had even begun.
(Photo by Doug Neve, 18/08/2012)
Indeed the car parking area was a really good butterfly spot.
 (Photo by Heather Martin, 18/08/2012)

So Stuart Cooper led sixteen of us on a very enjoyable and informative butterfly walk around Beckley Wood.
(Photo by Heather Martin, 18/08/2012)

We also saw some Common Blue butterflies, quite a treat in Rother this year.

(Photo by Doug Neve, 18/08/2012)

The Brimstones are out and about too.

(Photo by Heather Martin, 18/08/2012)

And finally a Painted Lady, even less frequent than the Common Blue this year.

(Photo by Heather Martin, 18/08/2012)

So a big thank you to Stuart Cooper for leading the walk and the Forestry Commission for permission to park and access Beckley Wood.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Summer Butterfly Walk in Beckley Woods

Our next public walk will be in Beckley Woods on Saturday, 18th August meeting initially at 10:30am. See the (zoomable) map below for location details.

View Rother Guardians Summer Butterfly Walk in a larger map

The walk is intended to be a casual, guided wander around Beckley Woods looking for - and hopefully finding - some of our wonderful summer butterflies. We could see Silver-washed Fritillary, White Admiral, Peacock, Red Admiral and more. Plus, there are dragonflies galore! Much conservation work has been done in this Forestry Commission Wood, using funding from Butterfly Conservation, over the last few years and the results are beginning to pay off.

Children are very welcome - in fact, children are actively encouraged to attend. Dogs tend to frighten the butterflies (and sometimes other visitors), but are welcome as long as they are kept on leads. We look forward to meeting you.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Old Crick-in-the-Neck

Rod Taylor very kindly sent me these pictures of a female Purple Hairstreak that he saw in Long Wood.

Windy weather, or even a low growing oak tree can mean that these butterflies will descend from the tree tops.

The female in the picture above is laying her eggs right at the base of the oak leaf.

(Pictures Rod Taylor: 03/08/2012)

Well it is that time of the year again. The evening sunshine kisses the tree tops and the world is embraced in golden light. The out doors beckons, and irresistibly drawn, I am as a moth, and Barnes Wood is 125 Watt Mercury Vapour bulb.

A walk in the late evening will hopefully yield a special butterfly, the Purple Hairstreak (Favonius quercus).

Purple Hairstreak:- Butterfly Conservation

As their scientific name would suggest, the key to finding Purple Hairstreaks are oak trees. There is a spot in Barnes Wood where I always see them, on south west facing oaks that catch a good amount of evening sun.

This evening I wasn’t disappointed, though I was out a little later than the ideal time of about 18:30.

Spotting them requires a little patience as it can take a while to see the first one or two. However once you do observe them, they are worth the wait. Often you will get a burst of four or five butterflies, a gaggle of males chasing a female as she flits out of the oak tree, then returns back in again.

They are very much an arboreal species, so it takes quite a bit of looking up until you find them.

From ground level they appear silvery as they catch the sun. The ones in Barnes Wood seem to favour four or five trees in a group and a burst from one tree can be quickly followed by a burst from another.

They spend most of the day resting and feeding on honeydew, but become very active in the evening when they mate.

Like the Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) these butterflies are probably under recorded as they will often be found anywhere that oak trees are established.

Finally a crescent moon reveals the sun in the west.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Moth-trapping in Brede High Wood

An Article by Heather Martin

It wasn't raining, it wasn't too windy and it wasn't too cold so David, Keith, Mike, Jim, Stuart, Martyn, Dave, Mike, Tracy, Rodney and I met up in the car park at Brede High Wood on Friday (13th July) evening to spend a few hours moth-trapping. Despite the recent very wet weather the main track was firm and we were able to drive our equipment down into the wood to set up our traps in a range of habitats - the result of extensive work that has been carried out in the woods over the last few years. We hoped that by doing this we would attract a wide variety of moth species.

As darkness fell they slowly began to flutter in - all shapes and sizes, from a large Pine Hawkmoth (Hyloicus pinastri) to the rather distinctively marked micro, Lozotaeniodes formosana. The latter, which is found amongst pine trees, was first recorded in Surrey in 1945 and has since been expanding its range across Southern Britain.
(Pine Hawk-moth)

(Lozotaeniodes formosana)

The Lobster Moth (Stauropus fagi) is so called because in both shape and colour it's larva looks rather like a lobster. It is mainly found in areas of mature woodland and has a habit of resting with the hindwings slightly protruding. This specimen is a male on account of its feathery brown antennae.

 UK Moths: Lobster moth larvae

The sight of a Spectacle Moth (Abrostola tripartita) never fails to make me smile as I look head on at the 'spectacles' on the front of its thorax topped off with a furry 'turret'. The caterpillars feed on Common Nettles (Urtica dioica).

This Purple Clay (Diarsia brunnea) moth (photo Mike Pepler) has a beautiful subtle mix of colours on its wings with contrasting pale straw kidney-marks.

We all walked round together and inspected the contents of each trap, hoping that as the night wore on more and possibly rarer species might make an appearance.

The last trap on our round belonged to Keith and as we gazed at a pair of Ghost Moths (Hapialus humuli humuli) settled on the ground sheet, someone uttered the dreaded words, "Did I just feel rain falling on me?".

Unfortunately, yes! The initial drizzle rapidly developed into something far more unpleasant forcing us to make the decision to pack up our equipment. It was so disappointing but in the couple of dry hours we had, we recorded a total of 72 different moth species.

Night scene and Purple Clay photos from Mike Pepler