Thursday, 30 April 2009

Thursday 30th.April 2009

Today's forecasted deluge did not materialise , but the morning was not particularly pleasant , with a cool wind , overcast skies and the odd spots of rain . After lunch , it was a little brighter , so I set off for Burnt Gorse at High Elms , as much for a walk as anything . Butterflies were almost non-existant , with just the odd Large and Small Whites , Orange Tip , Speckled Wood and 3 Green Hairstreaks in aerial battle during one of the short hazy sunshine spells . It was a case of thank heavens for birdsong , at least that is about , regardless of the weather . Blackcaps , Chiffchaffs , Gtreat and Blue Tit , Goldcrest , Song Thrush , Pheasant and ( sorry Warren ) , a Tawny Owl were all heard calling . For once , I did not hear Rose Ringed Parakeets , probably nesting . And that was what was on the mind of this Great Tit I found on a path , collecting dogs hairs , no doubt to line it's nest . Along the sheltered hedgerows , large number of St.Mark's Fly-Bibionidae marci , were swarming . They are the ones you see at this time of year , flying with their legs trailing below them . So called , because they appear round about St.Mark's day , April 25th. , and if you wondered what they did when they are not feeding on Wayfarer flowers , They're making more St.Mark's Flies . I am still searching for my first sighting of the Spotted Bee Fly , but every one I examine turns out to be Bombylius major , the common one , here seen
feeding on Bugle . Another insect found on the same bush was this Hawthorn Shield Bug-
Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale , perhaps it hasn't learnt to identify Hawthorn yet . Now is a good time to check out if there are any Wych Elms around , as at this time of year , they tend to drop large quantities of their leaves and seeds , forming a carpet beneath the tree . Well worth a look later in the year for White Letter Hairstreak butterflies , which use them as their food plant , especially since the demise of the English Elm from Dutch Elm Disease . The Wych Elm has not been so badly affected as it tends to grow in woodland , surrounded by other trees , but the English Elm tended to grow on it's own outside woodland , and was thus more susceptible to the disease . Also along a path , I found a Lords and Ladies-Arum maculatum plant that had been munched , probably by slugs , but it shows the fruit which will be orange/red later , but now cream , right at the base of the plant , requiring insects to pass right down the throat of the flower , in order to pollinate the female flowers . The top of the spadix , which attracts the insects has also been eaten away . The first Bird's Foot Trefoil , also know as Bacon and Eggs , has come into flower , so Summer can't be that far away , can it ? After looking again for signs of Bird's Nest Orchid and finding nothing , the biggest surprise of the afternoon was finding my first Fly Orchid-Ophrys insectifera
of the year , just by the side of the path on the Orchid Bank . I have never managed to photograph it myself , but male insects really think it is a female , and attempt to mate with it .

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Wednesday 29th.April 2009

With the probability of being grounded tomorrow due to the weather , I grabbed my passport and headed for deepest Surrey early this morning . The site I was heading for is a release sight for two of the rarest reptiles in the UK , being Smooth Snake and Sand Lizard , and they were my target species for the day . I have been sworn to secrecy over it's whereabouts , so deepest Surrey is all I can say .
Arriving on site about 0930 , there was still a cool wind blowing , but the birdsong made me forget that . 2 or 3 Willow Warblers were competing against each other , and the were interspersed with two Tree Pipits , my first of the year . Blackcap ( pictured ) and Chiffchaff joined in , and in the distance a Cuckoo . It gradually worked it's way towards me and I was ready with the camera , but then it went off in another direction . Other birds seen/heard included Coal , Blue and Great Tit , Bullfinch and Chaffinch ,Wren , Robin , Pheasant , Song Thrush , Nuthatch , Jay , Carrion Crow , Sparrowhawk , Swallow and Pheasant . On previous year's visits , I have been treated to views and song of Dartford Warbler , but it wasn't to be today .
I headed straight to where the Sand Lizards were released a few years ago , and where I have been fortunate enough to get shots of a single animal on two occassions . The conditions seemed ideal , with the sun just warming up their bank of sand , but it wasn't to be today , despite a lot of walking and concentrated looking , none were seen . What were about in numbers , were Green Tiger Beetles -Cicindela campestris , scuttling around on the open areas , and flying off as soon as I got too close . By 1130 , and with no sightings of Sand Lizard , I changed my attention to the rare Smooth Snake . I was luckier with this species , finding one after about half an hour of looking . As can be seen from this shot , it does not have the zig-zag back pattern of the Afdder , or the yellow collar of the Grass Snake . It is also a smaller animal than either of the other two snakes .
A close up of the head shows the round pupil , same as the Grass Snake , not like the vertical pupil of the Adder . He stayed posing for so long , then made his way off . I found two Smooth Snakes and whilst looking , came across two female Adders , this being one of them .
As I said , the wind was quite strong , and at one time , I sat and watched a Dor Beetle -
Geotropes stercorarius , making several unsuccessful attempts to take off from the Heather . Eventually , after a long struggle , it made it into the air , and I was lucky enough to capture that moment , as the wing covers were lifted and the wings deployed . All over the site Billberry is finishing flowering , and the small fruits are starting to form .I mentioned the other day that I recorded good numbers of Brimstone butterflies at Salt Box Hill , but this site was incredible for the species . I only walked a small part , but would estimate seeing 50+ Brimstones , and not a surprise really , as I passed a small copse that was made up completely of Buckthorn , their food plant . I can honestly say , I have never seen so much Buckthorn in one place . Other species seen were , Orange Tip (2) , Large White (2) , Peacock (3) and Speckled Wood (2) .
Earlier in the day , I had missed a photo chance of a Roe Buck , as it crossed the track behind me , and by the time I turned around , got the camera out , he was gone into the vegetation . Just after passing the Buckthorn copse , I saw movement , and it turned out to be a Roe Buck getting up onto it's feet . It could well have been the same one , but I couldn't be positive . As I made my way back to the car , I found this on the ground .
I've told Carol that when I go , I would like my ashes sprinkled over a nice bit of countryside , seeing as I spend most of my time there . Obviously this person thought the same , but why didn't they take home the urn ?

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Tuesday 28th.April 2009

Couldn't make it out till after lunch , and then decided on Fackenden Down , near Otford . I started in sunny periods , and arrived in overcast with a strong threat of rain . I had heard that there were Early Purple Orchids on the site , well away from the areas where the refugia were laid . As there was no sign of the sun , I decided to look for these first . I took the track that takes you above the chalk grassland , along the edge of the scrub/wood . The first thing I spotted was a Crab Spider , sitting , waiting for an insect to come and feed on the Bugle , so it could feed on the said insect . But with the conditions , I think it was going to have to wait for it's meal . These spiders come in a variety of colours , and some have contrasing dots on their abdomen . A bit further along the path I found the first of the Early Purple Orchids , a very robust plant compared to most that I have seen . This one must have stood about 25cms. high and the spotted leaves were really leathery . All were the usual colour , except one , being of the pink variation , which is reasonably common , none being the deep purple / violet , like the ones Warren found on his patch . Also on the edge of the woods , Wood Spurge , a member of the Euphorbia family , is in full flower . As I got half way along the site , Otford , sitting in the dip , was getting the first of many showers passing through , only a mater of time till one gets me I thought . As I got towards the far end of the site , I started turning tins , but with the conditions , did not expect to find much . Sure enough , just the 17 Slow Worms were found in odd ones and twos , mostly under felt , which tends to retain it's heat longer than the corrugated sheet . The wetter conditions suited the large Roman Snails which are abundant on the site , and lots were seen out feeding . I passed by the plant that Steve/Kingsdowner and I looked at when he visited the site , and as it was not yet in flower , I changed my mind twice on it's identification from the leaves . My final thought was Sainfoin , and today the flower heads were showing , and a tinge of pink from the flower spike confirmed my thoughts . Soon after , the threatened shower arrived , and I was still some distance from the car . The very last pair of refugia , produced the only Adder of the day , a good sized female under the corrugated sheet . Also noticed today was that the Ash has started to burst bud into leaf . No butterflies were recorded today , in fact , come to think of it , with the exception of the Crab Spider , I do not remember seeing any othe insects . Birds did better with singing males including Yellowhammer , Common Whitethroat , Chiffchaff , Blackcap , Blackbird , Song Thrush , Wren and Woodpigeon , all trying to attract a partner or letting others know that this was their patch , on what was turning into a miserable afternoon . About the only ones not bothered were these two lambs , just worried about their next meal . Rather bedraggled , I reached the car and the dry .

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Sunday 26th.April 2009

A much warmer and sunnier day than what was forecast . I thought I would go back to Burnt Gorse , High Elms , and see if I could get a pair of Skippers or Green Hairstreak .
Although it was only 0930 when I arrived , in the sheltered areas , it was already quite warm . I first searched for Green Hairstreaks , and very soon , found several males , most involved in aerial combat for the best posing positions . Even though they have only been emerged for a short while , battle damage is already visible , either combat with another male or a bird strike . This shot does give the chance to see the colour of the topside of the wing , a mid brown , not usually seen , as they always land and close their wings immediately . Although I did not see a pair together , they obviously have been , because already , females are egg laying on the favoured food plant , Bird's Foot Trefoil . Once again , when the eating machine hatches , the supermarket door is wide open in front if it . The single Dingy Skipper that I found last visit is no longer alone , as I recorded 8 in total , including a couple of females .
The female being identified by being much darker than the male below .
At one stage , I thought I had seen a Common Blue , I know they have already been recorded in Kent , but , when I chased it down , it turned out to be a male Holly Blue . My attention was drawn to a whitish butterfly , flying around what I thought to be a dead tree , but on closer inspection , it turned out to be a female Brimstone , egg laying . Being higher there than on the Common , the Buckthorn trees are only just bursting bud . Strange , because I was talking to one of the Rangers on my last visit about the possibility of planting a few Buckthorn trees for the Brimstones , no need now . Still very little flower colour , but the Wild Strawberry is doing it's best to cheer things up . Also , just starting to flower is the Salad Burnett . Eventually , the whole
head will be covered with these superb little pink flowers . Whilst on site , I managed my first shot of female Large White of the year . She is the largest of the white butterflies that we see .
I had several sightings of a colourful micro moth , found usually on chalk grassland that goes by the name of Pyrausta purpualis . By the time I left , it was getting very warm and sightings were dropping off . I watched one male Brimstone , fly slowly along a fenceline , then disappear from sight . When I looked , he was suspended under a leaf , using it as a parasol .
In total , 11 species of butterfly were recorded , one more than last visit , that being Small White .
Birdwise , I recorded 26 species , nothing fantastic , the best being Bullfinch , Swallow ,Blackcap , Common Whitethroat and Chiffchaff . Plus one that I never saw , but heard . A call I hadn't heard before . It was in Scots Pines , and I wrote it's call in my notebook as -' chip it x3 , with the occassional x4' . I pondered on Crossbill at the time , but I never saw it . My book describes a Crossbill's call as jip-jip , just maybe it was , but we shall never know for sure .
Only other sighting were two Roe Deer , one stag and one ? , as I only saw the rear end .

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Saturday 25th. April 2009

After the buzz of yesterday's trip to Dungeness , it was back to reality . The morning was overcast and breezy , but there was a promise of sunny periods later . I let the day warm up , whilst I sorted out the photos from the last few days , just as well it wasn't sunny , or that job would have been put off again .
After lunch I took myself off to the Greensand Ridge . The day was warming up nicely , the breeze was still cool , but I thought to myself , this could be a good afternoon for reptiles . Well , that proves how much I know , because it was probably one of my worst visits to the Ridge . No Slow Worms , no Common Lizards , two Adder sightings and two Grass Snakes , one of them being the only reptile found under refugia . Most Grass Snakes found under refugia are coiled , and we all know what happens when a coil is released -and this specimen was no different , before the camera could focus , it was off . In the same area , I posted the first Bluebell in flower this year , now every plant is in flower , producing a raft of colour . In amongst the Bluebells , Red Campion is also coming in to flower .
Butterflies were few and far between , with 2 Peacock , 2 Small White , 2 Speckled Wood , 1 Orange Tip and 1 Green Veined White , this time a male , identified by the single spot on the upper wing . By the side of one of the lakes , a pair of Grey Lag Geese were very protective of their six offspring , keep a good distance from the camera . Also close to the lake was another stand of white Cuckoo Flower or Ladies Smock , normally lilac in colour .
On the way home , I called in at the farm lake , to see how the Little Grebe was getting on with it's nest . Well , it isn't . The wind was blowing across the lake , making it quite choppy . Wether she has given up or not , I don't know , but there was no sign of either adult today . A Grey Heron lifted as I approached , and landed on the far bank , before taking off again , and heading elsewhere . The only change in residents was a female Mallard + 9 ducklings , let's hope they do better than last year's young , none of which survived . Talking youngsters , we had the first youngsters under the feeders this morning , two speckled breasted Robins , being fed by their parents . They did not nest in our garden , but chose two doors down , but used our feeders constantly .
A call on the Common , was very , very quiet , even for birdsong , although the Blackcap near the car park was singing his heart out . The leaves are now out on the Oak with the Purple Hairstreak egg that I have been watching since it was laid , and I am glad to say has survived all that has been thrown at it , and , hopefully , it will emerge into one of the adult butterflies that I hope to photograph there , this Summer . The egg is the small sea urchin shaped spot in the middle of the frame , between two buds .