Sunday, 30 August 2009

Sunday 30th.August 2009

A grey , overcast morning , gave way to a glimmer of sunshine , and that was enough to see me heading for a look around the Common . When I arrived , it was quite pleasant in the sunshine , but very little was on the wing . The glade with the Ash tree , that provided so much interest earlier in the year , is now silent , without even a Meadow Brown sighting . A couple of glimpses of Migrant Hawker was all that I got . Already clouds were starting to steam in on a freshening wind . The second glade , full of Gorse and Heather was just as unproductive , but again , Migrant Hawkers were sighted , but not much sign of any food for them . The Orchid Glade , with hardly any flower showing , found a Magpie on the path , that seemed quite undeterred by my presence . It still held it's ground as a drew closer , then finally , with a raucous call , flew off into the trees till I passed by , returning as soon as I had . Another couple of Migrant Hawkers were hawking at the far end , and as I was watching one male , the sun started to get milky , behind the first of the clouds , and after a short while , he 'parked up' , to await it's return . Carefully approaching where he was resting , I managed to get a few shots , before the sun disappeared completely . As I was close , I went and had a look at the glade we cleared last Winter , where we found good numbers of Broad Leaved Helleborines . The flowers have all gone over now , but almost every plant is now loaded with seed pods , ready to provide more of these beautiful plants in future years . The odd plant has been browsed , probably by Deer , but most are intact . With the sun gone , I toyed with heading home , but then decided to have a quick look around the heathland area . Not a lot to look at , but as I stooped to look at a small moth that had landed on the Heather , a Hornet came into view . Seeing as I was unsuccessful yesterday , I thought I would give it another go , and got the camera out . A second Hornet appeared , then a third and fourth .I looked down on the ground , and a stream of Hornets were coming out of a hole in the roots of the Heather , right next to my right boot . I took several paces to the left , and stood still . By now , there must have been 10/15 Hornets in the air , in the area between me and their nest hole . I decided the best action was to stay perfectly still , and let things settle down again . This I did , and the drone of their wings started to subside , so too did the number on the wing . I must admit I was pleased that the situation panned out as it did . They went on about their business , and I started taking photos . Unfortunately , with the fading light , and the Hornet's fast movements , many of the shots were very blurry , but the odd one or two turned out reasonable . I must have been taking shots for 5/10 minutes , when the ones and twos coming and going , started to build up again . I took one final shot , and retreated slowly .I didn't realise it till I got home , but the front two of these three had what looks like foam coming from their mouths , so I probably made the right decision at the right time .
And finally , just for Warren , whilst we were having breakfast this morning , we had the first ever visit to the feeder of a Nuthatch . We have been here 20 years , have heard them around , and I see them in the woods at the top of the road , but not on the feeder . It made 7/8 sortis , then vanished as quickly as it came .

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Saturday 29th.August 2009

I arrived at Down House , the home of Charles Darwin to do the Bird Survey , in beautiful sunshine , albeit still a bit on the cool side . As I got out of the car in the car park , I was welcomed by 6 Swallows , perched on the wires across the road . I think these two are this year's young , lacking the red on the face . Unfortunately , they were well spread out , so to get a half decent shot , had to just ignore the other four , otherwise they would have been just specks . Another 'charming' sight came when I entered the formal garden , when I came across a charm of 15/20 Goldfinches , feeding on the heads of the Black Knapweed . They too were mainly youngsters , as , like this one on the ground , lacking the red face of adulthood .

Things were going well with 15/20 young Starlings were recorded , noisily , and 3 Mistle Thrushes alighted on one of the mature trees . Then , as I entered the walled kitchen garden , everything went quiet . With the sun warming the brick wall , I was hoping to find some butterflies , but only Whites were on the wing . In one of the borders in front of the wall , a member of the Brassica family , had been well and truly munched , and there sunning themselves were at least 2 dozen Large White caterpillars in varying stages of growth , some not long hatched , and the odd few looking not far off pupating . They will all eventually pupate this Autumn , and overwinter as such , to emerge as adults next late April/May . The next part of the survey took me into Great Pucklands , a large meadow , with good stands of Black Knapweed , Ragwort and Creeping Thistle , but the majority of these have gone to seed now . But the odd ones are still being defended by Small Coppers . As I walked over a rise , and down the bank beyond , I had a 'deja vu' moment , remembering Rambling Rob's post of coming across a Fox that he almost stepped on . I was about ten paces off , when the long grass at that distance , exploded , as two female Roe Deer leapt up and headed off at speed . By the time I got the camera out , they were out of sight . I carried on , and at the end of the meadow , heard movement in the scrub next to the fenceline . It was the two Deer again , and again they took off without a chance of a picture . I followed them with binoculars along the top fenceline , then they broke downhill , towards the Golf Course . That was the only picture opportunity , but it was at a good distance . The excitement over , back to the survey , and the few birds that were around . In the woodland behind the Cricket field , where the 2 Violet Helleborines were found , another four were found deeper in the undergrowth , but all had finished flowering , but plenty of seed pods bode well for future years . Butterflies were well down on last visit as well , but a few respectable Meadow Browns were recorded , but the same couldn't be said for the odd Brown Argus , looking very faded . By the time I got back to the house , just 17 species of birds had been recorded , together with 9 species of butterfly , but noteably , 8 Small Coppers and a lone Painted Lady .
Before heading home , I always go back to the Walled Kitchen garden , to see if anything new has turned up . Today's new arrivals since my first visit were the hoverfly Eupeodes luniger , posing in a Bindweed flower , and , first seen hawking for insects , but then settling on a fruit bush , was a male Southern Hawker . I did find 2 Hornets during the visit , the second as I was about to leave , and spent some time trying to get a shot . In ten minutes of trying , I failed miserably , mind you , the Hornet did not stop once , spending most of the time deliberately bumping into vegetation , in an attempt to dislodge it's next meal .
In answer to ShySongbird's question re. my last post , I have managed to contact my 'pro' again , and he says that the specimen that I photographed was so light in colour because it had probably only just emerged from it's cocoon , and would darken up quite quickly from then on .

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Thursday 27th.August 2009

After a cool cloudy morning , the sun broke through at lunchtime , and heralded a reasonable afternoon , albeit quite windy . I headed off to Fackenden Down , to do a Reptile and Butterfly survey . For once , the weather stayed good during the whole visit to the site , but obviously the gusty wind was going to make butterfly spotting quite a problem . I headed off to turn tins , and was rewarded with a Slow Worm under the second felt . Things then went quiet reptile wise , but the butterflies , although many looking very worn now , kept the interest ticking over . I recorded the first of two Adders , an immature female , about a quarter of the way round , then
it went quiet again . By the time I got to the far end of the reserve , the wind was even stronger , and the only butterflies found in those conditions , were tucked down well in the grass . It was noticeable the lack of Burnet Moths on this visit compared to last . Right down in the bottom corner , I recorded the second Adder , another female , but adult this time , and with her under the felt was another Slow Worm . In the shelter of a hedge , along the bottom track , I found the first of three Brimstones recorded on the site . It was only that it was out of the wind that a shot was possible . By three quarters of the way round , I thought , that's it , there will be nothing else about , when a flash of yellow passed me at great speed , carried on the wind , another Clouded Yellow . I watched it being buffeted by the wind , and being blown to the ground some way off . I kept an eye on the spot and made my way to it . After a bit of searching around , I found it down amongst the grass . Eventually , it took to the wing again , and then stopped to nectar on a variety of plants , but the favourite seemed to be the Small Scabious , which was no good for photographs , as it was all over the place in the wind . It also settled on Black Knapweed , and being a bit more sturdy , allowed a few shots . When I got home and looked at the shots , a good two thirds had to be dumped as they were blurred to some degree or another due to the wind .
Birds were few and far between as well , but a singing Chiffchaff , what appeared to be a family of Bullfinches and a Kestrel , looking for a meal , did put in an appearance .
In all , 12 species of butterfly were recorded , as I said before , many well worn , being :- Meadow Brown (81) ,Painted Lady (1) , Small White (1) , Large White (4) , Common Blue (57) , Brown Argus (26) , Clouded Yellow (1) , Speckled Wood (5) , Small Heath (13) , Chalkhill Blue ( 17) , Gatekeeper (5) and Brimstone (3) .
Just one more Slow Worm was recorded , making a total of 3.
And finally , remember these two ?I have spent hours trying to identify these two insects , but in the end , I had to get some professional help . The first one is indeed a Sawfly , Cimbex femoratus , one of the Birch Sawflies . My informant tells me that he has only ever seen one adult of this species ever .
The second , is a fly , classed very near Hoverflies , of the Conopidae family , Physocephala rufipes . They are parasitoids of Bees and Wasps . Both species are very secretive , and are therefor , seldom seen .
Now , we can all sleep soundly .

Monday, 24 August 2009

Monday 24th.August 2009

Firstly , the unknown plant from my last post . ShySongbird , Rob and Dean , have all put in time and effort to identify it . All three , and my first impression , say Willowherb . But the two species suggested , Marsh and Short-fruited , are found in wet habitat and are reasonably tall . Given the height , 15cms. and the fact that there was no water around , it will have to go down as a 'strange one' , but many thanks to those above for their efforts to solve it .
This morning started with a crisis , as another , or the same , female Southern Hawker , was bashing itself against the plastic roof of the car port , in an effort to get out . We don't know how long she had been trying , but she was obviously in a right state . I used the same stick as last time , and after a couple of efforts , she came to rest on the end of it , and started to get rid of the cobwebs that had become attached . She allowed me a couple of shots , and when I took her outside and she felt the breeze , it didn't take long to leave the stick , and head of to find breakfast . I decided to have a look at Hutchinson's Bank , a chalk grassland site , managed by the London Wildlife Trust , just over the border in Surrey . Another strange morning weatherwise , cloudy but very humid . Just walking to the top of the bank was an effort in those conditions . Still in flower , is a speciality of the site , Greater Yellow Rattle , in fact much this site and a few others locally , have the majority of the plants found in the UK . I must admit that it looks very similar to the ordinary Yellow Rattle , apart from the fact that it is more branched and obviously bigger . By the time I had got half way round the site , it was obvious that butterflies were very few on the wing . I did find a few Small Heath , that flew up out of the grass in front of me , and a couple of Painted Ladies , warming up on the paths . It was so slow , that even the site of a moth had me reaching for the camera . This one I believe is the Treble Bar . I must admit that I was stopped in my tracks when I found a pair of Common Green Grasshoppers mating on the track just in front of me . I'm not sure which is which , but it looks as if the upside -down one is having a bit of a hard time . I did record a few Common Blue , Brown Argus , Speckled Wood and Large and Small White on my way back to the car , but nothing else of interest .
I had my lunch in the garden , and was entertained by a pair of Collared Doves , partaking of their ablutions . This was the first one , making sure that the water got where it was needed , but the second one , just had a quick dip and the camera caught the moment of leaving the bath .
I forgot to mention yesterday , that whilst pacing up and down the Blackthorn bushes , I was treated to a Willow Warbler singing for a good 30/45 minutes .

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Sunday 23rd.August 2009

Having seen the forecast for today , I decided last night , to make a final try for the Brown Hairstreak , but at another location . This morning I received an email from Keith , another enthusiast , that he had been to this other location after I had told him about it , and had found a single female last week . Spurred on by this information , I made an early start , even deeper into Sussex . Clear blue skies and rising temperature on the way down , reverted to cloud rolling in and dropping temperature as I arrived . Fortunately , it didn't last for long , as the sun burnt off the cloud . The site was a railway line , and when the line was axed , the track was removed , and now provides a great walking/cycling route , especially as it is virtually flat . Along the sides of the track , are large stands of Blackthorn , the foodplant of the BH . It was this that I started searching , hoping for a movement or a butterfly to drop down from the Ash trees behind . After a couple of hours searching , and loads of 'good mornings' to and from the hoards of cyclists using the path , and a host of funny looks from people wondering what I was doing , not even a glimpse of a BH . A footpath lead off the track at right angles and that lead into a field that had been planted with trees some years ago . Amongst the small trees was lots of Common Fleabane , a favourite nectar source for butterflies , and at last I started seeing a few species . Surprisingly , one of the first species seen was the Silver Washed Fritillary , a male and a female being recorded . The male was in about the same state as those at High Elms . Brown Argus , Common Blue , Comma were also found The Common Fleabane was also attracting large numbers of Hover Flies , including this Helophilus pendulus. Apart from grasses and the Blackthorn hedge down one side , not a lot else was growing , but I did find a few stands of Gipsywort , showing well it's whorls of white flowers around it's stem . Another couple of butterflies turned up for the 'tattiest' prize , the first a Large White , with a large proportion of both wings missing , but I can assure you was flying well in the breeze . I only recorded a couple of Painted Ladies , one almost pristine , and this one . I can't make out whether it is just faded , or an abarration , as the front wings near the abdomen seem rich in colour , compared to the rest of it's colour .
By now it was getting very warm , and I got back to the other side of the Blackthorn hedge , and back to the 'good mornings' again . About 1115 , I noticed a movement , and was convinced that it was a Specked Wood on the backside of the Blackthorn . Then it moved again , and a splash of orange landed , this time in the middle of the bush and above head height . The camera was ready , and as soon as it moved into the clear , I got my first shot of the year of the Brown Hairstreak . A pristine female posed gracefully before moving several times within the same bush . She did open her wings , but being high up , it was difficult to get a decent shot . I hope it can be seen that the top wing is all brown , except for an orange flash on each of the forewings . This is one of the odd cases in nature , where the female is more colourful than the male , as he has hardly any orange on his top forewing . It is a beautiful butterfly , and is well worth the time and effort to see it , but like many species , they are becoming fewer , making them harder to see , as I have found out lately . I gave it another hour and a half , by which time , I had changed to 'good afternoon' , but did not get any more sightings .
I had to almost pass the Gatwick site on the way home , and popped in for a quick look . Nothing was moving on the Blackthorn there , and the wind was playing a much bigger part there . Heading back to the car , I once again came across 2 maybe 3 Clouded Yellows . I'm not sure if they are the same specimens that I found last time , but the habitat , grass with a smattering of Bird's Foot Trefoil , doesn't seem to be enough to keep them there .
And finally , a mystery flower , that I found on the footpath in the recently planted field . The whole plant was only 15cms. high , with a single flower on top . The centre has a white cone pointing skywards , and 4 small white cones , between each of it's four petals . I suppose it could be a garden escape , as I can't find anything like it in my books .

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Saturday 22nd.August 2009

Wasn't sure where to go today , so with plenty of cloud in the sky , decided to stay local , with a morning visit to Spring Park Pond . On taking my first shot of the day , I had to eat my words that I commented on Rob , Wight Rambler's blog last night , that I had never seen any Sawflies like he had posted , then in front of me is Tenthredo notha , the same species that Rob had photographed , although on first sighting , I must admit that it looked like another Hoverfly . Which was exactly what my second species was , but also looking a bit waspy . I think this one is Conops quadrifasciata , if it isn't , I know a man who will tell me . The pond itself was very quiet without any sunshine , so I headed off to the small sheltered meadow , and started recording the odd butterfly on my way . Also found was a dead Common Shrew , laying by the side of the path . As has been said before on blogs , they have a nasty taste from either the hair or the skin , and , having been caught , are then left by their attacker . On the same path , I found a member of the Primrose family in flower , Creeping Jenny , as as the name infers , it creeps over the ground , in this case , trying to blot out the small path . Apologies , as this is in fact Yellow Pimpernel a close relative , many thanks to Dean for pointing it out . I just put it down to my age .Even when I reached the small meadow , butterflies were very few , although I did find a very fresh looking male Common Blue , trying to catch the attention of a not so fresh female . For the record , he made no impression at all , as she flew off and left him looking dejected . When I checked my records , I had only recorded 17 butterflies , but surprisingly , I had recorded 9 species . Birdwise , the Wrens were very vocal today , and a Robin was singing his shorter song . Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch were also heard . By the time I returned to the pond , the sun had come out and so had a few Odonata . Migrant Hawker , Common Darter , Common Blue and Azure Damselflies were recorded on small numbers .
After lunch , with skies still heavy , I had a quick look at Hayes Farm , a site that I usually visit through the Winter . I headed for the Trout Fishery , as a tractor was working in one of the main fields , and nothing was about . All the residents from last year were seen , including the Egyptian Goose , seen here balancing on some of the bales of Barley straw , placed in the fishery to try to eradicate the Blanket Weed . Because of low water levels , the bales have risen above the surface . Heading back the way I had come , I noticed a large piece of rubber sheeting , laying by a fenceline . Looking like a large refugia , I had to give it a turn , and found three amphibians and a large Devil's Coach Horse , that left at a rate of knots . The two Common Newts were reasonably easy to see , but the Common Toad was a bit harder . This is a good time for turning things over , as most amphibians will have left the water , in preparation for hibernation , returning to the water to breed next Spring . On my way back to the car , I found a Small White , nectaring on a white crucifer , a member of the Cabbage family , Wild Radish , identified by the lilac veins on the white petals . Apart from a lot of weeds of cultivation , I found several specimens of Hedgerow Cranesbill , a member of the Geranium family . Compared to the Winter visits , things were very quiet , so I will leave my next visit till then .