Monday, April 16, 2018

April lepidoptera

Butterflies and moths are becoming more frequent again as the weather gets warmer.  So far in the garden I have seen brimstones, peacocks and the comma (Polygonia c-album) below sunning itself on a flagstone.  I sometimes wonder quite how the aerodynamics work with the ragged-edged wings of this very capable flier.


On the moth front we were surprised to see on 11th April a small magpie (Anania hortulata) on our sitting room ceiling.  This normally emerges from June to August and such an early record possibly indicates that the caterpillar had found somewhere to pupate undisturbed indoors.  

The generic name Anania is a figure of speech known as a litotes (e.g. 'not bad') which, in this instance, could translated as 'not unattractive'.  However, the moth was originally placed in the genus Eurrhypara which means 'well greasy'.  The wings were said to have a greasy appearance, a feature which escapes me.


A very pretty Geometrid moth (see below) that normally flies in April and which I haven't seen for some time is the streamer (Anticlea derivata) appeared the other night on our lighted kitchen window.


This has caterpillars that feed on the leaves and flowers of wild roses, reminding of William Blake's poem The Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

The scientific name is interesting.  Anticlea was the mother of Ulysses and she is said to have died of grief because her son was away too long at the Trojan War, though I fail to see why this relates to the moth. The specific name derivata means 'a diverted stream' and presumably refers to the fine black lines (the streamers) crossing the outer part of the forewings. 


Friday, April 06, 2018

Spring arrives

The weather has now turned warmer - up to 15 degrees C today.  Over the past week a wood mouse has been sharing some barley flakes put out for the birds.  Here it looks a bit on the wet side and seems to have the tip of its tail missing, but having survived the worst of the winter it might now have a chance.


In contrast to the damp mouse, today a comma butterfly sunned itself on the concrete path.  Almost the first butterfly of the year.


The early dog violets (Viola reichenbachiana) are starting to come out in various places in the garden and woods.  They flower earlier than common dog violets (V. riviniana) and are a somewhat redder shade of mauve which is distinctive when one is familiar with both species.  The flowers also have a dark spur at the rear rather than the paler one of the common dog violet.


The clay pit in Killingan Wood is very attractive just now with many patches of wood anemones but very few bluebells.  The hornbeams, which are the dominant trees in most of the wood and the oaks, maples and other species tend to grow on the clay sides of the pit whereas the central sections have mainly been colonised by ash.


In one out of the way corner I found a colony of about 25 early purple orchids (Orchis mascula), a species that seems to do particularly well in this wood.  I shall return when the flowers are out.




Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A common rough woodlouse

On emerging from our back door today after a second spell of cold and snow, the first thing that caught my eye was a woodlouse about a metre up on the wall.  Not exactly a sheltered position but one that perhaps gathers some heat from the kitchen behind.


Woodlice (or isopods) are interesting subjects of study for those who like invertebrates.  There is a manageable number - nearly 40 British natives or outdoor breeders (and a few more in greenhouses) -and, unlike many invertebrates they are around all the time and can often be found just as easily in summer as in winter.  They also have an interesting range of parasitoids and predators, do not sting or bite, cannot be classed as pests and are easy to collect and keep alive.  Identification is fairly straightforward with the AIDGAP guide A key to the Woodlice of Britain and Ireland by Stephen Hopkin and published by the Field Studies Council.  There is also a British Myriapod and Isopod Group which promotes the study of these and some other invertebrate groups: http://www.bmig.org.uk/

The woodlouse in the picture on our wall above is the common rough woodlouse, Porcellio scaber, a very common species in the British Isles.  The orange bases of the antennae in this example is a frequent feature of this species.



Thursday, March 15, 2018

A few spring flowers

Between bouts of cold the earliest spring flowers are starting to bloom.  There are a few anemones in the woods and the new growth of dog's mercury is a bright glossy green.  In a woodland garden near home I noticed one clump of daffodils.  They look like wild daffodils (Narcissus pseudo-narcissus) and do not appear to be part of any organized garden.  So far as I could see they are the only clump of daffodils in this area and they seem to have spread from one bulb.  If so I wonder how they got there.


It might be slightly too large for the true species, but the characteristic two-toned flowers have the wildlings slightly downward drooping habit.

Other minor pleasures include the first celandines and a dandelion in flower.




Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Snowball pink

The Beast from the East as the bitterly cold Siberian anticyclone has been dubbed brought heavy snow showers this morning.


Just outside our window were the skeletal remains of a Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) with each grey brown shuttlecock of seed head delicately holding up a small ball of snow like a supplicant making an offering.  This pink has been surviving as a self sown annual in our garden for maybe 30 years and needs no looking after.  It often seeds itself into pots of other plants where it can be left as its slender shoots do not mask the main attraction.  Then, in summer, it produces a sequence of small dark pink flowers.


There is a fine appreciation of this modest native flower by Andy Byfield here: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/jun/21/deptford-pink-plantlife






Saturday, February 24, 2018

The lane in the cold

Along the lane they have been cutting the hedge by machine (permissible until 1st March).  The rather brutal results with shredded wood and white broken branches harmonises well with the bitterly cold wind from Siberia.  It reminds me of of Totes Meer, the painting by Paul Nash: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/nash-totes-meer-dead-sea-n05717


There are some very Gothic shapes among the battered bushes, especially where the hedge is thin, but I expect it will all fill out quite nicely.  The other day we had a visitor from Alberta in Canada and she asked why we had hedges round our fields instead of fences - that gave me an opportunity to hold forth on the English landscape and its conservation.


Despite the frigid weather and brutal hedging work, there were some signs of spring in the lane.  Patches of snowdrops, little 'tommies' (Crocus tommasinianus) escaping from our neighbour's garden and a few flowers on lesser periwinkle.






Thursday, February 01, 2018

Knapweed phyllaries

Yesterday I received my copy of the BSBI News from the Botanical Society of the British Isles.  It has been redesigned and has a new editor - Andrew Branson - and the results in my view are excellent, though I shall always have fond memories of reading and writing for the previous version under the editorship of Gwynn Ellis.

One article that interested me was "Ambiguity in recording Centaurea (knapweeds) taxa using MapMate".  This had coloured pictures of the phyllaries of what are considered to be the three British species (C. nigra var. nigra, C. nigra var. nemoralis and C. jacea) though it pointed out that hybrids were common.  ('Phyllaries' are the small leafy structures, or bracts, that surround the base of the flower/seed head.)

I immediately pulled on my boots and set off to my favorite patch of 'old' meadow where I found plenty of knapweed seed heads still perched on stiff, dead stems above the fallen grass.  These were plainly the nominate subspecies Centaurea nigra var. nigra.


A wonderful excuse to do some useful botanising in winter and to remind oneself on what to look forward to when summer returns.




Monday, January 22, 2018

A mid-January walk

The weather was warmer today with the sun shining and no rain.  Heading down the garden I found that the spurge laurel (Daphne laureola) had opened some of its flowers.  The bush appeared here of its own accord and the next nearest example I know of is about 500 metres away in a wood and the plant seems nowhere common in this part of East Sussex.


Further down the garden I found our bush of the winter flowering honeysuckle Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty' and was pleased to discover that the flowers were being attended by a couple of rather dark marmalade flies, Episyrphus balteatus. This very common hoverfly often appears here in the colder months and its presence on the honeysuckle again illustrates how important these winter flowering introductions can be to our native fauna.  Lonicera x purpusii is a hybrid between two Chinese species and I wonder what Chinese insects may be attracted to their flowers.



In Churchland Wood I photographed this single-stemmed hornbeam.  These trees are nearly always coppiced, but there are two or three that have been left to grow naturally in the wood and I often wonder why.  Maybe there was a use for larger pieces of the wood.


Underneath the trees the green leaves of bluebells are rising through the leaves as a reminder that spring is not far away.  Noise levels are increasing too with, today, several great tits calling loudly and a great spotted woodpecker drumming on an oak tree.



Thursday, January 18, 2018

Invertebrates on witch hazel flowers

We have a witch hazel bush halfway down the garden making a fine show with its bright yellow, sweetly scented flowers contrasting with the cold and damp.


In 1993 I wrote a note (about the same garden) for the Entomologist's Record: Nocturnal invertebrates visiting flowers of Witch Hazels, Hamamelis mollis pallida and Hamamelis japonica cultivars, in January and I have posted an edited version here:

On 20th January 1993 I walked around our garden with a torch and inspected our Wintersweet, Chimonanthus fragrans and Witch Hazel, Hamamelis mollis pallida bushes both of which were in full bloom with their sweetly scented, pale flowers.

I found nothing on the Wintersweet, but the Witch Hazel had a variety of Diptera (two-winged flies) on the flowers. There was the mosquito Culiseta annulata quite clearly feeding; two species of fruit fly (Drosophilidae), Parascaptomyza pallida and Drosophila subobscura, the latter the more common of the two; an Anthomyiid and the Common Yellow Dung-fly, Scathophaga stercoraria.  Culiseta annulata, with its distinctive white-banded legs, in one of our commonest mosquitoes and is often found in winter in outhouses or caves.  Parascaptomyza pallida is also an extremely common fly that seems to be about in most months of the year.

On 30th January 1993 I again inspected the Hamamelis mollis pallida and also two H. japonica cultivars, "Primavera" and "Arnold" after dark. The flowers were attracting numerous invertebrates including woodlice, millipedes and spiders. Insects noted were the Common Earwig, Forficula auricularia (Dermaptera: Forficulidae); an owl fly (Dipt.: Psychodidae); Sepsis fulgens (Dipt.: Sepsidae); a Pherbellia sp. (Dipt.: Sciomyzidae); Tephrochlamys rufiventris (Dipt.: Heleomyzidae); Dromius linearis (Col.: Carabidae) and a brown Noctuid moth caterpillar.

The centre part of the Witch Hazel flower seems to be constructed for insect pollination and is relatively flat and open allowing easy access to the nectaries by short-tongued species. The pollen is sticky and, in the flowers I examined closely, had been successfully transferred from anthers to styles. Most of our Witch Hazels usually set a good quantity of viable seed and it would appear that they are adapted to pollination by nocturnal invertebrates. On day-time visits I have found only Sepsis fulgens and two non-biting midges, Smittia aterrima and Limnophyes prolongatus. The last two were, I suspect, simply sheltering in the bushes rather than feeding on nectar.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Another Stereum crust fungus

In my post on January 11th I posted a picture of a resupinate orange crust fungus.  I think this was probably Stereum hirsutum.

Today I found a much more luxuriant colony of what I think is probably the same species in Killingan Wood (TQ783192).  There is much fallen wood in this area, but only one - a large ash branch - carries such a display of fruiting bodies.



Thursday, January 11, 2018

Winter mixed with spring

On a wind chill walk today I found the first expanded hazel catkins: always a sign to me that the wildlife season has started (though it never really finishes of course).  Soon the hedges will be thick with these catkins shedding their pale yellow pollen.


Also on hazel, this time on dead, usually standing, trunks is the common and widespread ascomycete fungus known as hazel woodwart (Hypoxylon fuscum).


In the very sheltered Killingan Wood brick pit I found precocious flowers on a primrose and beside it on the wet leaves a dead male mottled umber moth (Erannis defoliaria) a winter-flying species whose season is nearly over.  It used to be very common when I was young, but is thought to have declined in recent years.  Like the winter moth, the females have very reduced wings useless for flight.






Tuesday, January 09, 2018

January miscellanea

Although the countryside is bleak grey-green washed by a cold winter wind, there are still moments of brightness.  One of the best is the flowers on the gorse hedge that runs across Churchland Fields.  In warmer weather these scented golden blossoms attract bees and other insects, but it is too cold for any to be on the wing at the moment.


There are a few splashes of colour provided by fungi like this resupinate Stereum species on a a chestnut trunk that was cut down last March.


Or purple jellydisc (Ascocoryne sarcoides) growing here on a dead, but upright hornbeam trunk in Killingan Wood.  This was kindly identified by Nick Aplin via the Sussex Fungi Group

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On the fauna side, one of our daughters spotted a well-camouflaged green caterpillar on a fern leaf that was pressed against our kitchen window pane.  The nearest look-alike I can find is the larva of the copper underwing (Amphipyra pyramidea).  There appears to be some feeding damage on the pinnae of the fern but the copper underwing should be a pupa at this time of year.  One fern-feeding noctuid is the small angle shades (Euplexia lucipara), but it isn't that.  It seems to enjoy its place between glass and frond, so I will leaves it to see what happens.


We seem to be experiencing a minor population explosion of what I think is the amphipod landhopper Arcitalitrus dorrieni.  This is a native of forests in New South Wales, Australia, but has become widespread here.  It occurs frequently in gardens and the pair of dead ones illustrated here were found on our sitting room floor - the first time we have seen the creatures indoors.  In life they are normally darker coloured than this.