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.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Flowers & fruits, September 2018

On inspecting some rose hips growing over our garden shed, I was pleased to discover that the plant is a small-flowered sweetbriar (Rosa micrantha) rather than the common dog rose.  Note the small, white glands on the hips and elsewhere  It is a much more straggling plant than the normal sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa) - there is a good coloured illustration of three of the sweet briar species here:

It is the main wild rose in part of Brede High Woods a mile or so away and the plants scent the air with an apple-like fragrance after rain.

Another pleasant surprise was the discovery of a baby wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis) at the end of the garden.  It looks like a seedling, but I suspect it is a sucker shoot from trees that grow a few metres away to the west.  The separate leaflets on some of the leaves is a variation that occurs occasionally in wild service trees and will not necessarily persist as the tree matures.  It shows the affinity with the rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) which, of course, has all the leaflets separated.

In Killingan Wood up the lane, there is a small group of Crataegus x media, the hybrid between common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and the Midland hawthorn (C. laevigata).  The shrubs have a distinctive leaf shape, halfway between that of the parents and the fruits vary between having one or two styles.  The C. monogyna is common locally, but I have not come across the other parent C. laevigata here.

We have several self-sown Cotoneaster spp. in the garden and the one below is, I think, C. simonsii, but it is a difficult genus with many species grown in gardens and very ready to hybridise.

At the end of the warmer months a plant of wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare) still has plenty of flowers and is a welcome port of call for the hoverfly Helophilus pendulus, sometimes known as 'the footballer' because of the stripes on the thorax.  The early stages occur in all kinds of water bodies from lakes to muddy puddles and marshy areas.  Sometimes the larvae are found in cow dung too.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Insects September 2018

This season was a brilliant one for the ivy bee, Colletes hederae and I think it is now the most abundant bee in our garden.  Strange for a relatively new arrival in this country with a rather specialised habitat - it visits almost entirely ivy flowers.

Plants of the great mullein often pop up in the garden.  This year one has been heavily colonised by the larvae of the leaf mining fly (Agromyzidae) Amauromyza verbasci.  The mines show as pale patches.

As usual a dark bush cricket, Pholidoptera griseoaptera, decided it would be better to live indoors now the colder weather was arriving.  These crickets wander about in the garden and sometimes one or two come indoors where they prowl around the siting room for a few weeks before disappearing into the silent warmth of death.  That in the picture below is our female visitor with her sword-like ovipositor at the rea

Other insects enjoying the last warmth of the year included several dragonfly species, such as the one below.  It is a common darter, Sympetrum striolatum, very well camouflaged as it perches on dead bracken fronds, using them both as a lookout post and a basking opportunity in the late sun.

There have been late butterflies too.  Mostly red admirals on the Michaelmas daisies but also the occasional speckled wood and, in a neighbour's garden a small copper on a stunted knapweed.  Whether by mowing or grazing, the flowering of knapweeds and other plants can be extended over a longer season than if they are in a meadow cut for hay.