Saturday, 28 August 2010

Village records

At last the clouds parted, the sun came out and beauty returned to the world. At six sites Autumn Ladies Tresses have emerged simultaneously, including on the green at Walmer, in people's gardens and at the lovely patch of meadow grassland in the middle of the village.
This small area also holds Autumn Gentian, Harebells, Burnet Saxifrage and plenty of Marjoram for the butterflies.
Eleven species of butterflies were listed, including two that I've not seen in the village before - an Adonis Blue and eight Chalkhill Blues, appropriately since the meadow is near Chalkhill Road.
Denis Harle's article in the Kingsdown History and Guide (1981) reports that the Adonis Blue, along with Silver-studded Blue and Silver-spotted Skipper "are species once recorded but now absent". Tony Pettit's later update (1989) adds that the Chalkhill Blue "has not been seen in recent years and seems to have disappeared altogether, possibly because the Horseshoe Vetch, its preferred food-plant, is now so scarce.

While viewing some Autumn Ladies Tresses over a hedge, I noticed this spindly plant - can anyone assist with its identification? [Thanks Phil... it's corn parsley Petroselinum segetum]

Fauna seen today included a Common Lizard on the piece of felt that I optimistically laid down on the rifle range,
.... my first Wasp Spiders of the year (one of which had caught a Common Blue) ..... and what I assume to be a Dark Bush Cricket, disturbed during my gardening work.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

It's not Autumn yet - it just feels like it

Marking time during the foul weather, a hide is a good place to be. When it's dark and raining, the birds don't seem to notice it and approach closer. Or maybe it's that there are fewer visitors so less commotion.
Birds tend to use the scrape for a rest on passage, so are soon gone. It does make for a bit of variety though. You won't be able to tell, but in the photo above there's a Ruff trying to ignore its noisy neighbours - a Snipe taking exception to the presence of a Water Rail.
As gloom descended, the Water Rail made its way around the water's edge, in front of the hide. Unlike their usual skulking habits, when they're on migration they can be quite showy.
Three Garganey seemed to like the shallows nearby, upending constantly.
The path to the hide is flanked by Bugloss - not Viper's Bugloss, but Bugloss, "covered over with a pricky hoarinesse" to use Gerard's description.
It's not yet Autumn, but with a good show of fungi already (could be a good year?) and the first Autumn Ladies Tresses emerging overnight on a number of lawns in the village, it feels like it.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

I-Spy Owls

There have been precious few birds on this blog recently, mostly because they don't hang around here in the summer (apart from the woodland birds that skulk around after breeding) so a chance meeting with some residents of the Folkestone Owl Rescue Sanctuary gives an opportunity to redress the balance.
This Barn Owl was born in captivity, and that might explain its tameness, allowing children (and adults) to stroke it.

Two Eagle Owls did not seem so calm, however, looking wild-eyed in the bright sunshine surrounded by traffic and pedestrians.

A Snowy Owl kept its cool, looking very stylish in its snow-white garb.

I have recently become the proud owner of one of the new I-Spy Birds books, which I bought to see how points were allocated for various species. Some of the ratings are bizarre (25 for a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and 30 for a Goldcrest, 20 for a Song Thrush and 10 for a Corn Bunting) while some are close to impossible: 50 each for Great Bustard, Black Grouse and Ptarmigan.
Unfortunately I haven't got an example of the original book - perhaps these were the scores then.
Although points of 15 for House Sparrow, 25 for Little Egret and 25 for Red Kite would indicate that's not the case.
But that's enough carping - the new book is a good introduction to birds, and I'm sure that the points system provides a good reward for the efforts of youngsters new to the hobby [25 points].

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Different downs, and Moonweed

The Sussex South Downs are strikingly different to our North Downs - for a start they point the other way, with the scarp facing north not south. They tend to be short-cropped too with little of the tor-grass that blights our hills, so the low-growing plants get a chance to thrive.

On a dull and blustery day, I met up with another blogger, Charlie of Firle Birds, who generously gave up his afternoon to show me around his patch (less charitable souls might call it internet dating, but let's not go there). He watches his patch far more assiduously than I mine, and it soon became clear that he knows his stuff. Bizarrely, we also discovered that we went to the same school (albeit at very different times) and that he is a product of the legendary YOC group run by Mrs Duncanson and Mrs Bird at Loose.
Charlie's patch includes farmland, woods linked by old tracks and the broad expanse of Firle Beacon which has a good variety of wild flowers and insects, not all of which were put off by the winds and drizzle. This track up the side of the Beacon must have been etched into the hillside by carts over centuries.
I was pleased to see that there were still Round-headed Rampion flowers right on the brow of the beacon (which made photography tricky, requiring an undignified curl of the body around the delicate bloom to keep the worst of the wind off).
A highlight for me was, however, the slow passage of a Dor Beetle, (also called Clock, Dumble-Dor or Lousy Watchman). I assume that the name derived from the similarly dozy Dor-mouse, from the French dormir.

Taking my leave of Charlie, I drove up to Seaford Head from where there is the classic view of the Seven Sisters. Another blogger (The Lyons Den, or An Alternative Natural History of Sussex - a contributor of great quality) had written about a rare plant called Moon Carrot which is similar to our familiar Wild Carrot, and I'd like to see and compare it. The reserve had acres of Wild Carrots mixed in with Hardheads and the similarly-white Yarrow, but where were the Moonweeds?
As it happened, they were not with the many Wild Carrots, but dotted along the cliff edge, looking like small cauliflowers.
Dr McLeod in his Nature in Downland writes "Wait until dark arrives - travel by moonlight, a silver dance on the darkened Channel, to see Moon Carrot glow at night". Unfortunately the moon was unlikely to show its face through the cloud, but the plants did shine in the gloomy dusk.
Just time before nightfall to twitch one last rarity......
.... Red Star-Thistle on the road past Cuckmere Haven. It grows by the bus stop, and just to be even-handed it grows by the bus stop on the other side of the road too.

Previously, near Beachy Head, I found just a handful of strange Scabious plants clinging to a clifftop. I had been searching for Sweet Scabious (Scabiosa atropurpurea) which as its Latin name suggests is purple. Sometimes.
The flowers were white with pink patterning, and the seed heads were impressively shaped.
There was also a colony of Pointed Snails (Cochlicella acuta) hiding among the stems. Different downs, with different residents.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

A la recherche du temps perdu

In remembrance of lost weather..... the sunny days of early summer are but a distant memory, and it's necessary to dig out some previously-unpublished photos of Hothfield Heathland to banish the grey-sky blues.
Summertime .... and the cottongrass was high. [Sorry]

Not Lesser Skullcap, but Lousewort

Marsh Cudweed

Marsh St John's Wort

Cross-leaved Heath


and Bog Asphodel, of which there seemed less this year?

Lurking in its funnel of a web, the Labyrith Spider Agelena Labyrinthica

Keeled Skimmer, a Hothfield speciality

Incidentally, I know as much about Proust as Nigel Molesworth.
'What hav you read, molesworth?

gulp gulp a rat in a trap.

'Proust, sir.'

'Come agane?'

'Proust, sir. A grate fr. writer. The book in question was swan's way.

'Gorblimey. Wot did you think of it, eh?'

'The style was exquisite, sir, and the characterisation superb. The long evocative passages - '

'SILENCE]' thunder GRIMES. There is no such book, impertinent boy. I shall hav to teach you culture the hard way. Report for the kane after prayers.'

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Butterfly transects

Transects, or fixed-route walks, are invaluable in the study of population change, but as was illustrated today, the rules have to be followed for the information to be useful.

Last year I walked an hours' transect counting butterflies on the grassland of Tolsford Hill, in late May and late July. This year, the bad weather in spring kept the temperatures down, giving me a (poor) excuse not to get out, and various commitments have deferred the counts until now - mid-August.
Although the weather was similar on 31st July 2009 and 11th August 2010, the numbers and species of butterflies recorded were very different.
Common Blues were by far the biggest increase, with 116 counted, compared with 10 last year - because of the time difference, however, it is not possible to conclude that this represents a real increase (although it has been reported that the second emergence has been strong this year.

... a recovery in the number of Small Tortoiseshells, with nine seen, against none last year;
....more Small Coppers and some late skippers.......

... fewer Gatekeepers but more Meadow Browns, and no Painted Ladies or Clouded Yellows this year. It was good to see a similar number of Wall Browns to last year's result, which were very scarce in the cool spring. The grassland (which is partly sheltered from the westerlies) is clearly a favourable habitat, and at this time of the year benefits from clumps of Marjoram and plenty of Small Scabious.

An adjacent field seemed to have a promising headland, and a quick look confirmed that there was a good selection of arable weeds, including Corn Mint and even the two Fluellens.

Elsewhere, searches for Grayling at Folkestone again drew a blank, but did reveal three each of second-emergence Dingy Skippers and Small Blues;.... while Kingsdown's rifle range also still holds Small Blues, and a white moth that should be called Brown-veined Moth but probably isn't [no, it's a Sulphur Pearl sitochroa palealis].

A Kestrel stood steadfast on the path, not moving until approached - I'm sorry, but it was on the path. It seemed to fly strongly enough so there's no obviously explanation for its behaviour.

And at Restharrow Scrape, a Partridge family of thirteen tries to evade the attentions of some crows.