Thursday, April 17, 2014

Purple, blue, white and yellow

Spring is now advancing at full speed and the woods are at their wonderful best.

In Killigan Wood about quarter of a mile from our house, in addition to the usual astonishing spectacle of the bluebells, there were many early purple orchids (Orchis mascula) with several white-flowered examples among the purple, and more plants of goldilocks buttercup (Ranunculus auricomus) than I have seen for many years.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Service recommences

The wild service or chequer tree (Sorbus torminalis) in the lane outside has quite suddenly started into leaf.

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There is a fat flower bud within the layer of silver leaves and so it looks like we shall have a great crop of fruit this year.

This phase of the tree is very brief.  The flower will soon be open and the leaves turned to the sad green (as one author described them).  If you are interested in this scarce British native species, now is the time to look for it in hedges and woods before it becomes almost invisible again.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Brimstones & buckthorn leaves

I have often wondered at the striking resemblance between the fading , autumnal leaves of alder buckthorn (the food plant of the brimstone butterfly in our area) and the yellow of the butterfly itself.  Even the antennae of the insect are the shape and colour of the buckthorn leaf stalks.

2013-10-30 12.32.54 Brimstone

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I have wondered because brimstones do not seem to be on the wing when the buckthorns are turning yellow, but on 30 October I saw the fine fresh male above fluttering around a bramble patch in nearby Brede High Woods.  This is the latest I can remember seeing an adult on the wing though, according to the literature they have often been recorded in mild weather into early November.

The male I saw was in that part of the woods where alder buckthorn reaches its greatest abundance, and these butterflies are common here in spring.  My interpretation of this late October event is that the male was looking for somewhere to hibernate (bramble patches are a frequent choice) but was positioning himself near the buckthorns that would attract the females after hibernation in spring.  The butterfly I saw was visible from a long way off, but I think I would have been hard put to it to spot him if he had chosen to settle in a buckthorn like the one below.

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On this principle I suppose one of the butterflies settled among the buckthorns in spring or summer might be thought to be an unseasonal dead leaf.

On a slightly different point, I wonder why the females are paler than the males.  Does this dimorphism convey some evolutionary advantage?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The arrival of autumn, 2013

There have been many interesting moments after the last few weeks as summer has given way to an Indian summer.

In the sunshine the ivy flowers in our garden hedge has proved a great attraction to insects and I have seen more hornets here than anywhere else this year.

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A welcome addition to the usual visitors was the ivy bee, Colletes hederae.  This was first recorded in Britain in Dorset in 2001 and is spreading rapidly northwards.  It is one of the latest solitary bees on the wing, its emergence coinciding with the ivy flowers that it normally visits.

2013-09-24 Colletes hederae

Another pleasant surprise was the discovery of a huge colony of autumn lady's tresses orchid, Spiranthes spiralis in a front garden in Sedlescombe village.  The small white spikes are the orchids.

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An extraordinary sight was that of a spider-hunting wasp. an Anoplius (probably A. nigerrimus) hauling a paralysed wolf spider (Trochosa sp.) up the curtains in our living room.  These wasps normally nest at or near ground level and it is not clear precisely where this one was going with its victim.

2013-09-26 Anoplius & spider

Another surprise was the discover of a tiny barkfly halfway down our garden that turned out to be a fairly recent British arrival - Trichopsocus brincki.  This was discovered in Madeira in 1957 and, for a while, was thought to be an endemic species there.  However, one turned up in South Devon in 2003 and it now seems to be fairly widespread in Britain.  The pattern near the front edge of the forewings make it unmistakable.  It was named after Professor Per Brinck, a Scandinavian entomologist who did much work in Madeira.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Moths and crickets

A beautiful, freshly emerged light emerald moth (Campaea margaritata) was resting on the spiders webs on the north wall if our shed yesterday.

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Later, coming indoors after dark, I spotted an oak bush cricket (Meconema thalassinum) on our back door and took a flash picture:

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Campion moth caterpillar

The other day I found a caterpillar of a campion moth (Hadena rivularis) nestling comfortably in the opened seed pod of, guess what, a red campion (Silene dioica).

I kept if for a day or two so that I could get a photo of it stretched out.

After our studio session had finished I gathered some fresh campion leaves and pods and the caterpillar immediately 'got its head down' as they say (see below).  It is now, of course, too big to fit completely into the pods as it did when I first found it.




Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Just a few moths

Moths seem to be even scarcer this year than before.  In a wonderful, still, heatwave dusk I walked round the garden and saw no moths at all.  It is now rare to find them on our windows after dark whereas 30 or 40 years ago one could expect to see a great variety of species here.

As well as moths, many other insects seem to be down in number.  Our first hogweeds are out, but are hardly jostling with species as they used to be and honey bees are very few, though the recently arrived in Britain Bombus hypnorum, the tree bee, has had a good season and must have done much of the pollinating that is usually the province of the honey bee.

One of the few moths I have seen round the house is the small dusty wave (Idaea seriata), kindly identified by one of the experts on iSpot.

While yesterday a spotted a micro under a leaf (difficult to photograph) that turned out to be the Oecophorid Esperia oliviella.

Often caterpillars seem easier to find than adults.  On the corner by the lane there is a hogweed almost completely eaten to pieces by larvae of the parsnip moth (Depressaria pastinacella).  They seem almost to have created their own problems by being too many for the food supply.

Moths may be doing poorly, but butterflies seem to be managing quite well.  Meadow browns are abundant and I have seen virtually all the species I would have expected to see by this time of the year.