Friday, 30 April 2010

Friday 30th.April 2010

Over the last few days , I have noticed one of the local Jackdaws , who is doing a pretty good imitation of a Hooded Crow . The grey on the nape of the neck , has extended right down it's back , and it has extremely scaly legs and toes . Today , whilst getting ready to go out , I managed to get a shot of the bird .
Later in the day , I am hosting fellow blogger Steve/Kingsdowner , on my patch , so I thought I had better get out and make sure everything was standing to attention . Steve said he was interested to see Toothwort and also Bog Bean , neither to be found in his own area , an area he refers to as the 'drylands' .
I knew Toothwort wouldn't be a problem , but wanted to make sure Bog Bean was in flower , so headed to High Elms to check . Just in from the car park , the large area of Butterbur has finished flowering now , and the large , leathery leaves are developing , which just seem to get bigger and bigger . Close by , amongst the Cowslips and other greenery , Lungwort-Pulmonaria officinalis , with it's spotted leaves and blue and pink flowers was found . Around the dipping pond , I was pleased to find the Bog Bean just coming into flower , and the bonus of a well advanced flower spike for Steve to photograph , right on the bankside . The male Mallard seemed quite excited with my find as well . Actually , he was in the middle of his ablutions . The cloud cover meant that I didn't see a single butterfly there . Plenty of the usual birdsong , but I was stumped by one song , a Willow Warbler type descending scale , but in a bass tone . I searched for some time amongst the conifers that surround the pond , before finally getting the songster in the binoculars , a male Blackcap ! Very strange indeed , I just hope he's still singing when I go back with Steve .
On the way back home , I called in at the Common . The open areas were cool , with the wind whipping across , but in a sheltered corner of the heathland area , I did disturb a very smart looking Peacock butterfly , my only sighting today . Out in the middle of the heathland , two male Chiffchaffs were singing , about 25 metres apart . One on the dead Silver Birch , near where I know the pair have built their nest , the other on a dead Oak . I waited a while , and eventually the female landed in the tree , carrying nesting material , whilst the male sang overhead . Great , two nesting pairs , let's hope they both succeed . The coolness meant no sign of Brimstone caterpillars , but the evidence on the Buckthorn leaves says that some at least , have hatched out . Just before crossing the road back to the car park , a very common plant , Herb Robert-Geranium robertianum , caught my eye .

Footnote : Best laid plans -it transpired that Steve's early finish did not materialise , and by late afternoon , given the weather conditions , still completely overcast and windy , we unfortunately had to call the meet off .

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Thursday 29th.April 2010

After two very hard days back working on the Greensand Ridge , my Warden is back on light / supervisory duties , so guess who was on heavy duties ? , I set off this morning in hazy sunshine to do the Down House bird survey . Unfortunately , contractors are working on the gravel paths in the main garden and walled garden , so I wondered if it would be worth it at all . As it happened , I did record 20 species during my visit , the best of the bunch being a Garden Warbler in the woodland by the Golf Course . Would have been better with a hirundine or two , but I had to wait till I got home , as whilst having a coffee with Carol in the garden , she spotted our first Swift over the house this year . Just 5 Speckled Woods were recorded at Down House , whereas the garden did better again with Speckled Wood , Orange Tip and Holly Blue , all joining us for coffee .
After lunch , still in hazy sunshine , I set off for Burnt Gorse , to look again for the early Skippers . As is usual for me , the sun became more and more watery , and I didn't hold out much hope on arrival . But I was wrong , as after just a few minutes of searching , I found the first of 7 Dingy Skippers . Well named , and looking more like a moth than a butterfly , and with the typical Skipper clubbed antennae . The wingspan of this species is only about 30mm. , so with the drab colour and it's size , it is not easy to follow them in flight . A flash of orange had me thinking of an early Small Heath , but when it settled , it turned out to be the day flying moth Burnet Companion , so named as it is usually found in the same habitat as Burnet moths . I had sightings of Peacock , Orange Tip and Holly Blue , but no sign of Grizzled Skipper . Right down at the bottom of the slope , I found a mating pair of Bee-flies-Bombylius major , although the one on the right seems to have touched down , all wings are still working hard . It was soon after that another movement led me to the first of 2 Grizzled Skippers recorded today . This species has a wingspan of about 26mm. , so are even harder to find or follow in flight . Things were quiet around the Wayfarer bush at the top of the slope , just 2 Green Hairstreaks recorded , but it appears that a cafe has opened on this prime real estate , now that the flowers are opening . Leaving Burnt Gorse , I headed to check on the Bird's nest Orchids , but still , no sign , but I did find a very freshly emerged Speckled Wood nearby . The Orchid bank was my last visit , and it looks as if it will be a good year for Common Spotted Orchids , with good numbers already showing in leaf . Another member of the Orchid family , the Twayblade , are just getting their flower spikes , unfortunately , they get no more colourful than this usually . But , today , I did find an unusual variegated specimen , the like of which I have never seen before .
Arriving home , Carol was in the back garden trying to get rid of a Magpie that was attacking a family of Blackbirds . Three times she had to drive it off , and this seemed to be what it was after , a juvenile , which got under some plants , and stayed there , motionless .

Monday, 26 April 2010

Monday 26th.April 2010

Firstly , something to be thinking about . A wild flower I found growing along the lane , not far from the Farm Lake today , but , what is it . A clue , we have posted the second part of the name many times already this year .
Only got out for a very short time yesterday , and that was to try and find a Cuckoo , that a friend had seen up on the Common , but needless to say , I was unsuccessful . I had another look this morning first thing , but still no luck . I did however have an interesting few minutes in one corner of one of the glades . Whilst photographing this Chiffchaff , and with a male Blackcap in full song within 10 metres , something caught my eye , disappearing into some scrub to one side . I kept still and waited , and after a short time , this Common Whitethroat , popped up , but didn't sing , and I had only mentioned yesterday to Steve/Kingsdowner , that I hadn't seen one yet . Not bad , three Warblers in one small area , in just a couple of minutes . Giving up on the Cuckoo , again , I headed off for another check on the Early Purple Orchids near Green Street Green . Along the lanes , Greater Stitchwort has exploded from the banks in drifts . This will be followed in about a month , by the smaller flowered Lesser Stitchwort . As I drove slowly along the lane to park , the call of a Yellowhammer had me stopping early and grabbing a shot . Parking up , I set off hoping for some butterflies in the sheltered areas , but with overcast skies and a cool wind , I was hoping for too much . Just before reaching the Orchid area , I came across my first Yellow Archangel-Lamiastrum galeobdolon , in flower , another member of the large Labiate family , and as can be sen , square stemmed as are the other members . The Early Purple Orchids didn't let me down this time , but , as I mentioned after my first visit , they are very few and far between this year . I can only think that they exhausted themselves with last years showing . I only found this colour today , whereas last year , pink , mauve , violet and white flowers were seen . Whilst in the woodland looking at the Orchids , once again , Common Buzzard , at least two , were heard , but not seen . As I was leaving the woodland , a rare sunny spell had me changing my plan , and heading for a small , south-facing , chalk grassland reserve , managed by LB Bromley , close by . Another Yellowhammer was in full song when I arrived , but didn't stay for a photo . Once again , no butterflies were recorded , but there were good numbers of two species of tiny , day flying moths on the wing . This I think is Pyrausta purpuralis , but I am having trouble identifying the second one , which looks as if it should be in the same family . Over to you I think Dean . Relax Dean , I've done some more digging , and I think it might be Pyrausta nigrata . What do you think ?
On the way back to the car , House Sparrows were in good numbers around the cottages , and this pair were busy , nest-building in the eaves under the hip of the roof . Well , she was , I think he was still mulling over who will go down from the Premiership this season . Just before the car , Honesty-Lunaria annua , a member of the Cabbage family , was growing in the bottom of the hedge . As I passed Christmas Tree Farm , in Downe , it sounded as if WW3 had broken out in the picnic area , alongside the lane . It turned out to be 4 Guinea Fowl , arguing the toss of a bit of thrown away sandwich . I had to take a shot of one of them , although , certain people would have 'ticked' them as well !
And finally , the question posed at the start of this post .
The plant is Greater Celandine-Chelidonium majus , a member of the Poppy family , and no way related to Lesser Celandine-Ranunculus ficaria , a member of the Buttercup family , and one of the earliest to come into flower .

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Saturday 24th.April 2010

My heart couldn't stand another round of 'Adder dancing' , so this morning , I decided to do the second full butterfly transect at High Elms , which takes about 2 hours . Although the sun was well up , it was still chilly at 10 o'clock , but I pushed on . On the edge of the Golf Course , I found a large Peacock , which I assumed was a female , acting very strangely on an area of Nettles . She , was fluttering from Nettle to Nettle , as if she was intent on egg laying , but then just sat , wings fully open , basking in the sun , before moving on to another Nettle , and doing the same again . I left her to make her mind up . Further along , on the chalk grassland , I spotted a plant amongst the Cowslips and Primroses , that was neither one or the other . The flowers said Primrose , but the multi flowered stems said Cowslip . The Primrose produces it's flowers , one per stalk , and the Cowslip produces flowers that are much smaller , and never open as fully as the Primrose . This was an Oxlip-Primula elatior , the first that I have recorded on the site . The butterflies were slow coming , but the odd Orange Tip and Brimstone was recorded . Getting to Burnt Gorse , I was hoping again for Dingy or Grizzled Skipper , and again left disappointed , but an aerial battle around the Wayfarer tree , that seems to be prime real estate , alerted me to a pair of male Green Hairstreaks , deciding who owned it . Following these small butterflies is really difficult , so , I was glad when the winner took his place on the rostrum , to survey all he owned , whilst I got a shot of him . Nothing else earth-shattering was recorded , and I finished up with Peacock (5) , Small White (1) ,Orange Tip (6-all male) ,Brimstone (3) , Green Hairstreak (5) and Comma (1) . Not a lot I know , but better than the big fat 0 recorded on my first transect .
On the way home , I called in at the Common , and as there were no female Brimstones egg laying , had a look for their efforts . In a very short period of time , I found 7 eggs , in the picture , the creamy cylinder on the right hand leaf , all laid on the tender young leaves of the Buckthorn , first meal waiting for the caterpillars when they hatch out . as I walked back to the car , it got me thinking about the Purple Hairstreak eggs , that were laid on Oak buds , back last Summer . Some will have survived predation and all the Winter threw at them , and now that the Oak buds are just about to burst , will hatch out shortly , eat the fresh leaves , and hopefully appear on this blog in July/August , to start the whole cycle all over again . In the car park itself , Common Comfrey is coming into flower , but I couldn't work out what the yellow substance was on the leaf . I thought at first it might be eggs , but under an eye glass , it didn't seem so , more like a mould of some sort . The warmer days has also brought into flower Jack by the Hedge or Garlic Mustard-Alliaria petiolata , which is used as a foodplant , along with Cuckoo Flower , by the Orange Tip butterfly .
During the morning , I came across a pair of male Speckled Woods , disputing the ownership of a sunny glade . One of several attempted shots of the frenetic battle almost froze the battle , but not quite . The second Speckled Wood is just above the Holly leaf .

Friday, 23 April 2010

Friday 23rd. April 2010

Over breakfast this morning , a pair of birds near the feeders , had me running upstairs to the back bedroom window , to get a shot of them . To lots of people , a male and female House Sparrow may be commonplace , but , in the 20 years that we have lived here , I could count on one hand having a single House Sparrow in the garden , never mind a pair . The day was off to a good start .
Something was telling me to return to the site that I had visited yesterday , probably , as I have felt cheated by the photos that I managed to get , many , through thick Heather , and as I was unprepared with the 100-400 mm. lens on the camera . The action did not last long enough to change the lens . Before long , I found myself at the same spot , but this time , with the 100 mm. lens already attached , and ready to go . Not surprisingly , no repeat of yesterdays combat , just one male Adder laying out , in the still cool sunshine . A walk around the site , found just one other male , seemed like my feeling was wrong . About half an hour later , I returned to the first spot , to find a female , possibly two , and at least three male Adders , all lying in a very small area . One , which I think was the incumbent from yesterday was lying coiled on top of the 1/2 females . I set up the tripod and waited . The other males left the scene and so did one of the females , into thick Heather . The male and female left , then proceeded to mate , exactly the same as had happened up on the Greensand Ridge on Tuesday . Difficult to say how long the mating went on for , as was also concentrating on 3 males that were 'circling' the mating pair . Eventually , one of these males got too close for the mating male , and he broke away and chased off the other male . Whilst he was away , another of the males tried to 'muscle in' on the female .
The original male returned to find the situation , and all hell broke out . I thought that I had had a good 'Dance of the Adders' yesterday , but today's was streets ahead , and I was in a better position , with the 100 mm. lens attached . You might have noticed a new header to my blog , this being one of approximately 75 , all of the same quality . At one stage , two males were 'Dancing' in the middle of the arena , the mated female was coiled in her original position , the second female arrived and watched the show , and later another of the males . As quickly as it started , the two females moved into the thick heather , closely followed by the others , and it was all over . Getting my breath back , I looked back at what I had taken , but the sunshine made it difficult , but when I got home , I couldn't believe my eyes . I would have liked to have posted more shots of the 'Dance' , but just recently I have noticed that a publishing company has been downloading some of my Adder shots without asking permission , so I am just posting the change in header . Some might be fed up with Adders , so they will be happy . For me , it's the end of an incredible week , two sightings of mating and two 'Dances' , who would ever believe it .
Like a 'dog with two' , I headed home , stopping off at the Common , at finding that all the singing by the Blackcap that I have posted a couple of times , has paid off , as I saw him and a female , looking as if she was nest building , in the same area as the Chiffchaffs and the LTTits . The temperature was very agreeable by now , and Brimstones were making the most of it . In one glade , I found 4 males refuelling on Dandelion , and in the area where Buckthorn grows , the females were laying their eggs in this , their foodplant .
A final stop at the Farm Lake didn't produce any surprises . A pair off Jays were fossicking in the shade , allowing just one shot as one of them hopped into sunlight . A Grey Heron was on the floating platform , but no sign again of the female Mallard and her brood . A Little Grebe was diving some way out , but no sign of it's mate , possibly on eggs . Amongst the perfect yellow of the Cowslips , an interloper . Probably the result of cross pollination with a garden plant . In the lake margins , Bog Bean-Menyanthes trifoliate is just coming into flower , with the most exquisite bloom . As I was leaving , a Moorhen seemed to get just a bit too close to the two Coot chicks , and the male Coot sent it packing . The Moorhen showing it's defiance by flashing it's white undertail .

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Thursday 22nd.April 2010

As I drove along the A25 , heading for the heathland of deepest Surrey , I thought to myself , can my lucky streak of finding exciting wildlife keep going ? Little did I know at the time , that the answer to that question was to be yes !
The Heather clad heathland that I arrived at , was bathed in beautiful sunshine , and there began today's adventure . Very little was found initially , apart from the odd Common Lizard and Slow Worm , but when I came across three , perhaps four Adders , including one female , I thought that this could be interesting , and so it turned out . On my first visit to the trio/quartet , all was reasonably calm , which quite surprised me , given the gender mix and the time of year . I left them to do their thing , and searched other areas with very little reward . I made way back to the group , and just saw the end , a matter of seconds of the famous 'Dancing Adder' display . Before I could get the camera out , the two males had disappeared into the thick Heather . Disappointed , I set the camera up on the tripod , and waited . After a good while , a male returned and settled down with the female , and all was quiet . All I could think was , 'why didn't I return sooner ?' I thought , I'll give it ten minutes , then move on . About half way through that time , I spotted movement in the Heather , then the off white and black colouration of a male in breeding colours . The new arrival , gave a wide berth to the incumbent male and his prize , then darted straight in towards them from almost in front of me . The incumbent male then charged out from his passionate embrace , and second 'Dance of the Adders' started , about 3 metres in front of me . The Heather mad it very difficult to see the two males , and the speed of their movement made photography very trying . I checked that the camera was on program 'P' , to enable continuous shooting , and the shutter speed , which in the sunshine was showing 1/500th. of a second , and just hit the button every time they came into view . Hindsight is a great thing , as I should have increased the shutter speed to compensate for the pair's quick movements . Some of the shots came out fuzzy and some didn't manage to get the whole animal in the frame , but all in all , I was very happy with the outcome .
The fuzziness in this shot is in fact Heather branches between them and the camera . The 'Dance' went on for about 3/4 minutes , before the one that I thought was the incumbent male , saw off the intruder , and returned to his female . That's the end of it , I thought , and considered packing things away , when another movement in the Heather , announced the intruder's return . This time much slower , and to begin with , no reaction from the incumbent male . Closer and closer came the intruder , until , the incumbent decided to meet the intruder and stand 'toe to toe' , or should it be 'nose to nose' , with him . They came together like two trains on a single track line , neither one prepared to give way . Without actually touching each other , the intruder turned tail , and was seen off , again , by the incumbent . The brown female can be seen directly behind the incumbent male on the right . I waited a while longer , but everything went quiet , so I left them to it .
I feel very lucky , as this is the third time that I have witnessed the 'Dance of the Adders' . Previously on the Greensand Ridge a couple of years ago , a Dance that lasted for 20 odd minutes in a more open situation , a shot of which I use as the header to my blog , and more of a 'handbag' effort lasting just about a minute a couple of years before that .
I decided that , if this is my lucky day , I would call in at Burnt Gorse , High Elms , and see if the Grizzled or Dingy Skippers had emerged . Yes Phil , I was being greedy again , and no they hadn't . On the track to Burnt Gorse however , I did find my first Red Admiral of the year . No way of telling if this specimen overwintered successfully , as many failed to do because of the long , cold Winter , or this was a migrant from the Continent . On Burnt Gorse four species of butterfly were recorded , Orange Tip ( 3M,1F) , Brimstone (1M) , Peacock (4) , and , down in the sheltered bottom of the slope , a beautiful tawny Comma .
When I got home , Carol said that she had a Holly Blue in the garden , shortly before I arrived . I took the camera and found it flying down the bottom , alighting for a couple of seconds , enabling a poor shot , due to the wind blowing the leaf . Identified as a male , by the small amount of dark colour on the leading edge of the forewing .