Friday, 29 June 2012

Bumblebee Nest

Heather Martin sent me this really nice picture of a Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) nest.

I can count eleven worker bees inside working on the pupal wax cells and they are also in the process of constructing a wax roof for their nest.
Photo by Heather Martin 28/06/2012

The number of pupal cells would also indicate that it will not be long before the males and new queens emerge. Note also the use of moss for nest insulation.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Battle Great Wood (TQ765163)

This weekend we decided to explore Battle Great Wood.

This is a very popular wood for visitors and combined with the relatively good weather on Saturday (23rd June) it meant that there were lots of dog walkers, ramblers and horse riders out enjoying the woodland.

At the start of our walk we saw a few meadow brown and speckled wood butterflies, but it was this pristine Brown silver-lines moth (Petraphora chlorosata) that caught our attention.

(Picture Heather Martin 23/062012)

It has been a good year for Common Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsia). Their flower spikes are noticeable all along the rides.

The orchid flowers bring out the bumblebees too. Here we have a White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum);
(Picture Heather Martin 23/062012)

And a Southern Cuckoo Bumblebee (Bombus vestalis).

If the common spotted orchids have done well this year, then the Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) have done even better.

Once the rapid growth begins then the woodland ride edges flourish with life.

Hoping to exploit this marvellous living resource is the funnel web of a spider;

And there she lurks at the bottom of the funnel; think of it as a three dimensional web.

A commercial woodland plantation can often be rather uniform, but it can also lend itself to majestic free standing trees like this Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) a tree native to north-western North America.

(With thanks to Kate Harris of the Forestry Commission for the tree ID).

Along the rides we also saw this Longhorn Beetle (Strangallia melanura);
(Picture Heather Martin 23/062012)

Many Hoverflies like this one, which is possibly (Chrysotoxum bicinctum).

And a Mullein Moth caterpillar (Shargacucullia verbasci) feeding on Common Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa).

Another highlight of our walk was a flock of noisy Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra), I had never seen (or noticed) these birds before.

 More on Crossbills at the RSPB Website

With thanks to Dave Monk, Martyn Parslow, Rod Taylor and Heather Martin for providing photographs, insect, plant & songbird identifications and much encouragement.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Unseasonal weather!

An article by Heather Martin

Rodney and I went to our wood on Saturday armed with a saw to clear up the expected fallen branches and possibly even whole trees after unseasonably wild weather during Friday. The few trees that had failed to withstand the gale force winds weren't in the way of anything so were left to rot in situ.
The wind remained strong for much of the day and many insects clung on to the undersurfaces of leaves or hid low down in sheltered positions.

We saw numerous Degeer's Longhorn Nemophora degeerella moths gripping onto leaves and a distinctively marked Clouded Border moth Lomaspilis marginata sheltering amongst foliage.

Clouded Border Moth
A male Beautiful Demoiselle Calopteryx virgo kept fluttering past tantalizingly close and finally landed in a sheltered, sunny spot to rest for a few seconds.

Perched nearby was a Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula.

This large, beautifully patterned hoverfly Myathropa florea managed to find a calm, warm place in the lee of a stack of logs.

The jet black fly Mesembrina meridiana with orangy-gold on the base of its wings, feet and face had the same idea.

There's always someone ready to spoil the party! In this case for unsuspecting Heteropteran bugs taking refuge in the undergrowth. The rather handsome looking Phasia hemiptera fly is a parasite of Green Shieldbugs and Forest Bugs.

By the end of the afternoon we had given up hope of seeing any butterflies when Rodney called me on the radio to say he had seen a Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) at the edge of the track across a section coppiced two years ago.

Luckily it hadn't strayed far when I arrived with my camera. Our first Large Skipper sighting this season to add to a rather poor 2012 total of butterflies for our patch to date.

All pictures by Heather Martin 10/06/2012

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Travels in TQ6422

For me, trips with the Sussex Botanical Recording Society are always very informative about plants and their habitats. However occasionally, as an added bonus, we get to visit some spectacular places and see some fantastic scenery.

On a survey around Burwash Common I was surprised and delighted to see so many wildflower meadows.

Fields awash with red and yellow flowers; common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and meadow buttercups (Ranunculus acris).

This apparently was how meadows looked fifty years ago.

How about that for a view?

We saw field upon field of wildflowers with red clover (Trifolium pratense), Lesser Trefoil (Trifolium dubium) and occasionally some yellow rattle (Rhianyhus minor).

The occasional surprise too, here growing on a road verge is bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), this plant is possibly the foundation of western civilizations.

Finally my best wildlife photograph so far this year; a common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) sunning itself on a gate bar. This lizard derives its scientific name from the fact that it is viviparous, meaning that the female bares live young, as opposed to laying eggs, as is the case with most reptiles.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Beckley Woods (Skipper Search)

Following on from our Skipper Event in Barnes Wood last weekend, we assembled at the entrance of Beckley Woods for an informal Spring Skipper survey (Sat 2nd June).

The weather was not particular conducive to a butterfly walk, but we remained hopeful and set off nevertheless.

Our first discovery was this Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera). The distribution map (NBN Gateway) would suggest that this plant is quite rare in East Sussex. However I would suspect there are actually more records, and more importantly, more plants. Still, not something you see everyday.

Ophrys apifera distribution Map NBN Gateway (records 1900-2011)

It was also pleasing to see what could surely be described as an ‘outbreak’ of Common Spotted-orchids. (Dactylorhiza fuchsia). They were abundant along the rides we walked.

The first butterfly we saw was this fellow, a Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus). This little, unassuming butterfly is often overlooked. It is remarkably well camouflaged and so perhaps not noticed among its more illustrious cousins. I have seen quite a few this season, so perhaps they are recovering a little, however like so many of our butterflies the 10 year population trend is negative (-28%).
(Photo Heather Martin 04/06/2012)

A considerable amount of effort has gone in to improving Beckley Wood. The rides have been widened and there has been a lot of coppicing, clear-felling, bracken clearing and replanting.

So we were pleased to see a Speckled Wood Butterfly (Pararge aegeria) along the ride.  

(Photo Heather Martin 04/06/2012)
Here we also saw this mass of tiny spiders in a cluster. As I approached with the camera they began to disperse. Interestingly, a mother spider will often sacrifice herself as food for her offspring. To prevent interbreeding the male siblings will mature much faster and be ready to breed long before their sisters.

Well, if little spiders do not fill your heart with joy then how about this cherry-red beetle? We have called this one as (Chrysomela populi). I tend to think of beetles as ground-dwelling, cumbersome and often a little clumsy (kettle/pot), but this one had all the agility of a free climber.
(Photo Heather Martin 04/06/2012)

We saw many moths. This one is Angle shades (Phlogophora meticulosa).
(Photo Heather Martin 04/06/2012)

We also had a couple of skipper false alarms with both a Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma) and Mother Shipton moth (Callistege mi), both of which can do a very good grizzled skipper impression.

Silver Y Moth at UK Moths

Mother Shipton Moth at UK Moths

The pick of the moths though was this one; Arched Marble (Olethreutes arcuella) first spotted by Dave Monk. This is quite a rare moth (listed as Nb; Nationally notable).

(Photo Heather Martin 04/06/2012)
Distribution map Olethreutes arcuella : (UK-Moths; NBN Gateway)

In places, with its ultra-wide rides and copious amounts of bare ground, the Beckley Wood habitat just screams dingy and grizzled skippers to me. So our patience was eventually rewarded when Dave Monk saw a Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae). The day itself seemed to improve too, with the occasional out break of sunshine. Upon returning to our starting point we saw another couple of Grizzled Skippers nectaring on Bugle (Ajuga reptans).

Mission Accomplished!

Please also see Stuart Cooper's Beckley Woods Sightings here

And more on Butterfly Recording in Sussex; Clare Blencowe's Blog

My thanks to Dave Monk, Martyn Parslow, Stuart Cooper, Heather Martin and Rod Taylor.