Saturday, July 20, 2019

Highlights from June 2019

Despite the dry weather the fungus season seems to be starting with species like this petticoat mottlegill Panaeolus papilionaceus (the pair on the right) popping up in Churchland Fields, Sedlescombe (TQ7818).

It has been an exceptionally good year for flowers on the gladdon (aka stinking iris) Iris foetidissima that is becoming increasingly abundant in our garden.  Such a rich flowering should produce many splitting pods of bright orange seeds to enliven the winter garden.

There are two plants of  great mullein, Verbascum thapsus, by our front hedge and for a few weeks one supported about a dozen mullein moth, Cucullia verbasci, larvae.  These have a warning colouration so that birds don't go for them and feed openly in daytime.  They pretty well shredded the one plant of the two out there, but it recovered and flowered well after the caterpillars had gone to ground to pupate thereby ensuring a good supply of seed and plants for future moths to lay their eggs on.  When I see caterpillars like this it always makes me wonder how the moths find the right plants, especially when they are not very common..

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Square Metre, 13th June to 17th July 2019

13 June 2019               I found a bud on the small-flowered sweet briar, Rosa micrantha.  I had not expected it to have any flowers this year and it is very late.

14 June 2019               The more westerly of the two dandelion plants consists of two rosettes.  Myathropa flora rested on vegetation in the shadowy back of Submespilus Assart.  This sometimes known as the Batman hoverfly because of the pattern on the thorax  Not very convincing to my mind.  It is also called the dead head hoverfly, because of the resemblance of the markings on the thorax to  a skull.  The goosegrass is flowering.

15 June 2019               One of the roses at the back of the Square metre is affected by leaf roll ‘galls’ of the sawfly Blennocampa phyllocolpa (see below), while the rose at the front of Troy Track has many silvery leaves which may indeed be silverleaf caused by the fungus Chondrostereum purpureum, though the plant seems a little small to host this fungus.  I watched a flesh fly for some time as it foraged among the wood chip near my feet.  Eventually it came and settled on my leg and then on my hand.  Seedlings continue to increase in the Dust Bowl.

16 June 2019               I photographed the sawfly leaf rolls spotted yesterday.  One of the Epilobiums is in flower.  I make it broad-leaved willowherb, Epilobium montanum but there are many hybrids of this species with close allies.

17 June 2019               A spider has spun a very fine web across the terrine pond.  Underneath there was at least one springtail on the meniscus.  The seedlings continue to increase in the Dust Bowl and I found a colony of yellow Psyllids under a leaf of the cordon oak.

18 June 2019               Massive thunderstorms overnight.  Another stone for the stone row.  This time from Killingan brick pit.

19 June 2019               Quite warm and steamy.  A second hawthorn bug crawled about the vegetation.


                                    Something has eaten most of the western dandelion.  One flower out on the small flowered sweet-briar.  Dust bowl now quite wet after heavy rainstorms.  The wood dock as been arched over by a clinging black bryony bine.  Lammas shoots (somewhat early) are developing on the cordon oak.

20 June 2019               The western dandelion has been further eaten down.  It was warm after overnight showers.  The water in Second meadow Pond is turning dusky green.  Ivy has become a dominant ground cover in many areas

21 June 2019               Another Midsummer Day but cool and cloudy with a frost warning for parts of Scotland.  Seedlings are now appearing in the Dust Bowl and getting away well in the damp weather.

22 June 2019               Much detritus in Second Meadow Pond.  Even the nearby empty snail shell had fallen (or been pushed) in.

23 June 2019               Little is now left of the western dandelion and the leaf eater has started on the eastern one.  Yellow is showing on the marsh bird’s-foot trefoil flower buds.  Very warm and humid.

26 June 2019               The marsh or great bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus) is starting to flower.

27 June 2019               Showed Clare Blencowe (manager of the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre) Emthree.  She collected macro and micro fungi and trampled on the dandelions and seedlings in the Second Meadow, but without doing any noticeable damage.  She found a couple pf toadstools on a chunk of chestnut wood in the Square Metre itself and was able to identify them (and have it confirmed) as the white-laced shank (Megacollybia platyphylla): a new record for the Square Metre.

                                    There are aphids on the knapweed and Clare found a blackbird’s eggshell in Second Meadow.

28 June 2019               The heat is gathering strength.  There are many mosquito larvae in the pond and I found a leaf mine on the figwort which might be Liriomyza huidobrensis.

29 June 2019               One of the hottest June days with the temperature here reaching 29.5°C but more elsewhere in UK.

30 June 2019               The end of another month and still quite hot.  I saw two white admirals (or maybe the same one twice) glide over brambly hedge.  With a pair of clippers I have been creating a ‘conservation lawn’ to see what permanently very short sward might do.  Essentially it covers the area I can reach easily from my seat and is the area on the southern part of the Second Meadow. 

                                    Today there was a light snow of birch seeds with every breeze and I found a leaf mine in a leaf of the easterly dandelion.

1 July 2019                 There was an interesting article in New Scientist of 22 June 2019 entitled A regular visit to the park is good for you.  It demonstrates that spending 2 hours a week in nature improves health and says “just sitting on a bench will do”.  With all the time I spend sitting in Emthree I must be astonishingly healthy.

Two birds, blue tits I think, flew up as I approached Emthree today.  They were I suspect, drinking at the pond in the Second Meadow.  Self-heal flowers have joined greater bird’s-foot trefoil along the Metre side of Troy Track.  The ragwort and eastern  dandelion on the conservation lawn have leaves touching now.  Closer to the westerly dandelion are two beautiful fallen feathers: steel blue on the narrower half, black on the wider, with a white central quill.

The pond surface is peppered with floating birch seeds.

2 July 2019                 A little cooler now.  I observed a white strap sober moth, Syncopacma larseniella, a gelechiid associated with great bird’s-foot, a plant that is currently flowering across The Metre3. This was recorded on 1st July 2004 and its identity confirmed by dissection of the genitalia.  I am confident that this new sighting will be of the same species.

                                    There was also a brown darkling beetle (Lagria hirta) sunning itself on a hogweed leaf and an attractive, yellow banded sphecid was exploring the Troy Trackside jungle.  The beetle was a new record for Emthree.

3 July 2019                 If I am quiet, I can hear the breeze in the trees, small birdsong and the cooing of a pigeon, occasional wing flutters, the hum of insects, a distant engine.  There are also small clicks and tappings from the undergrowth roundabout of unknown origin, a tiny spaced out percussion.  And I can hear the swish of blood in my brain like an endless sea surge.

A fine cossus hoverfly (Volucella inflata) rested for a while on a leaf of the cordon oak.  It is said to be associated with sap runs and goat moth (Cossus cossus) trees and to favour ancient woodland. 

There are 18 flower heads of  greater bird’s-foot trefoil, mostly on the side of Troy Track that bring their own melody to Emthree.

4 July 2019                 The wood inside the cherry log decays faster than the outside bark leaving an undamaged tube of dark reddish brown marked with the characteristic cherry lenticels. There are also several pale brown, polished cherry stones scattered across the Second Meadow and brought, no doubt, from the wild cherry tree further down the garden. Lots of debris in the eponymous pond today and it was only half full again.

5 July 2019                 Leon came down to see Emthree today.  He has a major interest in grassland and owns three hay meadows in Ellenwhorne Lane.

6 July 2019                 Visits from a hoverfly, probably Merodon equestris, a large white and a small skipper.  Quite warm and dry.  I have not seen any rough meadow-grass, Poa trivialis, this year but there is plenty of Agrostis.  The side of troy Track is now dominated by knapweed, hogweed and marsh bird’s-foot trefoil.

7 July 2019                 Early morning rain has wetted the Dust Bowl and saved its seedlings from drying up.

8 July 2019                 I watched a black fly, a small muscid, running constantly through an area of short grass of Conservation Lawn.  It would stop from time to time, perhaps to feed, but made no attempt to fly.  One of the hazels has grown quite tall in the last month.  I shall grow it as a single stemmed tree.

9 July 2019                 No notes just a silent visit.

10 July 2019               Birch seed everywhere: on leaves, on bare ground, on stones, on water in Second Meadow Pond (which has an almost subterranean toadstool growing beside it)..  A young robin joined me briefly in Emthree.

11 July 2019               Quite warm and sunny. There is white powdery mildew Erysiphe alphitoides  on the new oak leaves.  Bent grasses in anthesis are at about their best and there are still a few red campion flowers dotted about.

12 July 2019                  The first hogweed flowers have opened.  They are pale pink rather than white.  Birch seeds continue to shower down and there  are drifts of them in some places.  They land on my clothes and even get into the eye pieces of my binoculars.  There is a tiny brown toadstool  beyond Cynthia’s Ridge, but the one by the pond does not seem to be developing further.  The decaying wood at the southern end of the new cherry log has been hollowed out but some creature and now is a drift of sawdust.

13 July 2019                  Cooler and cloudy but still pleasantly warm.  The Dust Bowl needs rain for the seedlings, but everything else is fine.  The Second Meadow Pond was half empty again.  The hogweed is more fully out and the flowers are now white rather than pink.  I clipped the grass on conservation lawn – I would say there are five or six grass species in the sward.  The easterly dandelion is picking up now with two or three small but uneaten leaves spreading outwards.

14 July 2019                  Something has once again attacked the dandelions reducing both to about a third of their former size.  Whatever has also eaten some of the new leaves of the ragwort on Conservation Lawn.  The Epilobium in Medlar Wood is flowering now and I identified it as another E. montanum.  While examining it I discovered a small but interesting colony of aphids on one of the developing seed pods.  They appear to be Aphis epilobii. 

15 July 2019                  No overnight visitor, so the pond remains full and the dandelions and ragwort have not been further eaten.  There are dark chocolate purple egg rafts of mosquitoes on Second Meadow Pond.
                                       Looking at a big pouch mine (probably Pegomya solennis)  on common sorrel I spotted towards the back of M3 some swollen, bright green, unopened red campion flowers.  These are caused by the Cecidomyid midge Contarinia steini.

16 July 2019                  Quite hot again. Visits from a red admiral, a pair of meadow browns and, on blackberry flowers in Brambly Hedge, a male gatekeeper.  The hogweed flowers attracted a greenbottle (Lucilia sp.), a solitary bee and a Gasteruption.  These latter are gangly parasitic wasps from the Gasteruptiidae family whose hosts are the larvae of solitary bees.

                                       I found a powdery mildew I think is Erysiphe heraclei on hogweed leaves.  Like frost on the undersides.

17 July 2019                  The first harvestman of the season made its way cautiously across the vegetation on the northern side of Troy Track.   In the Square Metre I photographed a constellation of birch seeds trapped in a spider’s web (below).



Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A trip to the Brick Pit

Bright sunshine punctuated by heavy rain squalls today.  I walked to the Killingan Wood brick pit and found some galls of the mite Eriophyes laevis on the leaves of some of the alder trees.

On the way I noted the first flowers out on field rose (Rosa arvensis) a species that can be distinguished by its creamy white flowers, sea green leaves and purple tinged stems.  One such stem can be seen to the right of the flower in the photo below.

The storms have blown hundreds of yellow and brown leaves from the wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis) that grows in the lane outside our house.  The problem is fire blight caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora and this particular tree suffers every so often.  All the yellow leaves blow off quite quickly and about 75% remain green and healthy while the tree as a whole appears to suffer little permanent damage.

On the way home I inspected the great mullein (Verbascum thapsus) plant by the hedge that is home to a substantial colony of mullein moth (Cucullia verbasci) caterpillars.  I hope they don't completely devour the plant before they are fully grown.  Great mullein is not a common plant in our area and it is remarkable that the females are able to find it to lay their eggs.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Square Metre joins Ramblings

After a period of some personal turmoil I have decided to merge \ramblings of a Naturalist and the Square Metre blogs into one.

Today, 11th June 2019, was quite an eventful one at Emthree (an alternative name for the Square Metre) as my little garden bench fell over backwards and deposited me in Brambly Hedge.  On the wildlife side the small wild rose that grows on the edge of Troy Track has opened its first flower (see photo below), but I shall have to wait until it is a hip to attempt to put a name to it.  The rose that grows immediately behind it is a different species resembling a field rose (Rosa arvensis) but there is no purple staining on the stems (one of the characteristics of this species).  Towards the back of M3 there is the now quite large small-flowered sweet-briar (Rosa micrantha) which has flowered in the past but not this year.  It grows high up in the ash tree which has died of, I assume, ash die back disease.  I do, however, have two younger ash plants in The Waste that look perfectly healthy.

In addition to the rose, the first flower opened on Emthree's cinquefoil on the edge of Troy Track I think it is Potentilla anglica, but this is another tricky species to separate from other cinquefoils.  There is also a sprinkle of purple flowers on narrow- leaved vetch (Vicia sepium ssp. nigra) and a few white herb roberts (Geranium robertianum)

A month or so ago I made a small pool out of a wide-necked, glass jar that had contained Polish pig's head terrine.  So far it has attracted some small black mites, a very lively meniscus-walking springtail and a mosquito that stood with legs spread on the water surface.  It reminded me of Yeats's poem Long-legged fly:

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

Another exciting development in Emthree is my construction of a stone row along the top of what I call Churchland Ridge.  

The installation comprises some assorted stones given to me by Michael Hawkes, a friend from Canada, plus two large beach pebbles I found locally.  Both these pebbles were on the side of a local footpath running between two gardens and I suspect there had been some landscaping with stones of this sort and animals (for reasons best known to themselves) were transporting them to the footpath.  Anyway they both go towards making a mini Andy Goldsworthy creation, though I claim no particular skill in this genre.

After a day of cold, heavy rain the woods were fresh and samp during my afternoon walk.  A few fungi are even starting to appear and by the Churchland Wood path there was a somewhat nibbled example of what looked like a panther cap (Amanita pantherina), though it may be the very similar Amanita excelsa.  I shall have to check.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

A walk to the church

Although it is generally a rather cold spring many plants are now growing quickly.  In the dark and damp recesses of the Killingan Wood stream there is a good selection of ferns including this soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum).   the bobbles at the tips of the fronds are characteristic, but only last a short while.

The hard shield-fern (Polystichum aculeatum) which also has tip bobbles, tends to form a rather flatter 'shuttlecock'.

In the churchyard I found five flowering spikes of  green winged orchids (Orchis morio) and it must be about fifty years ago when I first saw them here.  Their continued existence is rather precarious and dependent on who is doing the mowing but I think they should keep going.

The busy road from the church to Hurst Lane is called Sandrock Hill (B2244) and has some interesting plants on its eastern side including abundant pignut (Conopodium majus) and yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon).  These are ancient woodland indicators and I wonder if the wooded bank alongside the road is an isolated strip of this.

Pignut (Conopodium majus)
In Hurst Lane I came across a shrub in the hedge the other day which runs down in Stace's New Flora of the British Isles as Tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) an introduced species from the Far East.  There are few Sussex records and this example, which must be quite old, was probably bird sown from a nearby garden.

This shrub is similar to fly honeysuckle (Lonicera xylosteum) which usually has creamy white flowers and more oval leaves (I have an old plant in my garden - see below).  This was also probably introduced but has been long established at Amberley in West Sussex, with scattered records elsewhere.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Highlights, October & November 2018

Generally a fine, warm and frost-free autumn.  I was pleased to see that I have managed to establish a colony of the grey ermine moth, Yponomeuta sedella, on some plants of orpine, Hylotelephium telephium. This is a nationally notable species with rather few Sussex records with gregarious larvae (see below) that eat cultivated orpine plants (e.g. Sedum spectabile) as well as the wild ones.  When young they mine the orpine leaves then form a web, like other Yponomeuta species.

Another exciting find was an oak leaf that had been galled by the Cecidomyiid fly Macrodiplosis volvens.  In the picture below the distinctive galls are the rolled and swollen parts on the edge of the oak leaf (something else had grazed the middle) and this is the first record for Sussex known to the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre.  I have not seen it before so it would seem genuinely scarce and I noted only one galled leaf on the young oak in Churchland Lane where I found it (TQ782188)

Another leaf modifier new to me was the microfungus sycamore silver spot, Cristulariella depraedens, whose round spots I found in abundance on fading leaves of young sycamore trees by the lower path in Killingan Wood.

A curious 'macro' fungus was the specimen below which seems to be Scleroderma verrucosum, the  scaly earthball. The stem (or pseudostipe) was completely buried in the soil and is composed of compressed mycelial threads.  Not all examples of this species have such an elongated base.

Among the many other fungi noted in November, there was a large crop of a small Mycena toadstool on our neighbour's lawn.  They were probably drab bonnets, Mycena aetites, and they had all disappeared after a couple of days (I reckon something ate them).  The leaf in the photo below is of a wild service tree that had wrapped itself around the trio of toadstools - it was not something I had arranged.  The donor tree was one I had grown from seed many years ago and planted on the verge bordering our lane.

Another November surprise was of a recently arisen plant of broad-leaved helleborine, orchid Epipactis helleborine, growing on a shady bank in Killingan Wood (TQ782189).  This plant is normally larger and darker and flowers in summer.  Difficult to say what induced it to flower at such an unseasonable time of year, especially as it seemed to be a one off. 

 This orchid, whose identity was confirmed by David Lang, the Sussex orchid recorder,, is quite common in our area, but I have found no more November flowerers.


Thursday, November 08, 2018

The rise and fall of wildlife since 1938

For a long time I have thought about the many changes in British (and other) wildlife during the course of my life, increasingly stimulated by the growing number of accounts of environmental catastrophes and massive declines in biodiversity.

I was born in 1938 and will be 81 next year.  I seem to have been interested in natural history since very early childhood, partly encouraged by my parents and other family members and there have undoubtedly been many changes in wildlife as I have interacted with it over the years.

I will need to write this in dribs and drabs as I remember things and try to get them into some sort of order, so please, if you are interested, re-visit from time to time to see what I have added.

I was born in Chingford, then in Essex, now in north east Greater London and lived there until I was twelve.  Vast tracts of Epping Forest were within easy walking distance of our house and I spent much time exploring there.

A friend, David Smith, and I were very interested in butterflies and moths and enjoyed trying to raise the adults from caterpillars.  We could collect dozens of different species from sloe and hawthorn bushes on the forest plains and used to find suburban poplar trees very fruitful too.  They nearly always had puss moth eggs and larvae, poplar greys and poplar kittens.  On suburban willow trees we found red underwing larvae and once a lobster moth caterpillar climbing a beech trunk.  The pollarded limes along our road (The Green Walk) often had lime hawk larvae heading up or down and I found eyed hawk caterpillars on our garden apple trees.  Once I went with a school friend to stay in Linton in Cambridgeshire and saw dozens of privet hawk larvae busily trimming the roadside privet hedge.  That was the last time I saw an early stage of this species.

Despite frequent searching of likely looking trees and shrubs around our present home in East Sussex, I rarely find caterpillars or see the feeding damage they cause as a sort of indicator on where to look.  It is not surprising that many insectivorous birds and bats are struggling and the more they find now, the greater the pressure on surviving populations.  What is usually described as a downward spiral.

One group of moths that seem to be doing better is those that fly in winter: November moths (Epirrita spp.), the winter moth (Operophtera brumata) and the December moth (Poecilocampa populi), for example.  This year, 2018, November moths were particularly common on lighted windows with often ten or twelve scattered across the panes.  Winter moths were less frequent and I saw a December moth settled on the wall of the house, the only moth I have see in such a situation all year.

Moths used to be much commoner in the warmer months and I would make many records from those attracted to our lighted windows, but now I am likely to get only one or two a month although the surrounding environment seems to have changed very little.  I wonder if the large number of acres of land farmed in the modern way has reduced the insect population such that bats and insectivorous birds are more active in woods, along hedges and in gardens than they used to be thus reducing the numbers of moths etc in those places in the warmer moths but having less effect on the winter-flying species during the period when the bats are in hibernation and many birds on migration.

Birds are quite an interesting phenomenon.  In the past we could hear, from the house, nightingales and grasshopper warblers in full song during the nesting season every year.  There were large numbers of chaffinches, greenfinches, house sparrows and starlings, and various other small birds that visited the garden, but most are now absent.  Blackbirds, thrushes, robins, woodpigeons and hedge sparrows are still always present but now we also have buzzards mewing regularly overhead and there are occasional sightings of ravens, both species that had been missing from this part of Sussex for many years.