What to see in November!

Hello out there!

It’s November and it’s pretty miserable outside. Mud, mist, rain and getting dark early. That notwithstanding, there is plenty to see in the mud, mist and rain and that’s the attitude I set out with that in mind to get some inspiration to write this blog. Most of the outside recently has looked like this.

november day

Now, if you look at that photo a bit closer, there are 7 little white dots and they are 7 Little Egrets, which I wasn’t really expecting to find! They were in the field just east of the Twineham Lane bridge that crosses the river Adur.

7 Little Egret dots

Little Egret dots

You’ll have to take my word for it that these little white dots are 7 Little Egrets. Little Egrets have, only in relatively recent times, established themselves in the UK and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen them around here, but they do stand out a bit!

Most of the plants have stopped flowering now and one of the last plants to flower, which is a good place to look for insects at this time of year, is Ivy. Most of the Ivy has stopped flowering by now but there are still a few flower heads that haven’t gone over.

Flowering Ivy

Flowering Ivy

Now that there are leafs on the ground, it’s a good time to get acquainted with what leafs belongs to what tree. I took this photo along Gratton Lane in Twineham and I’ve found 4 species in this selection, although there are probably areas around here that have a higher number. Anyway, the 4 in this selection are:

leaf guide1. Wild Service Tree (Sorbus torminalis).

2. Ash (Fraxinus excelsior).

3. Field Maple (Acre campestre).

4. Common Oak (Quercus robur).

Ash is always a good tree to begin trying to identify trees by their bare branches because their black buds are very distinctive.

Ash Buds

Ash Buds

Wild Service Trees are not that widespread in the UK and one way to describe their distribution would be ‘locally common’. A good place to find Wild Service Trees around here is along the Gratton Lane bridleway, with a few trees growing right next to the bridleway in the small woodland on the eastern end of Gratton Lane.

Wild Service Tree leaf

Wild Service Tree leaf

Its leaf is a fairly distinctive sharp edged, spiky ‘tulip’ shape and this one was handily on a low hedge.

So with all the greyness around, here’s with a bit of colour.

IMG_5366

Spindle berry

This is a the berry of Spindle, which could also be described as a ‘locally common’ plant. It often grows in hedges and its branches and twigs are green right to their tips.

Finally, this is the best time of year to go looking for the eggs of the Brown Hairstreak butterfly, which I have highlighted in previous blogs as a real stand out species for out area.

Blackthorn thorns.

Blackthorn thorns.

They are difficult to find and the best can do for now is show you a photo of where you can look for them. The eggs are laid at the base of the thorns on a Blackthorn bush, which is the bush that has blue Sloes for fruits. The eggs, if you find one, are tiny white dots, often described as ‘white pinheads’.

Hopefully that has given you a few things to look out for in these November days!

Tom.

An eye on our insects.

Hello everybody!

For this blog I thought that it might be worth highlighting a species which lives around here and is arguably of national importance. In fact this area is one of the few places in the country which you can see it, and is one of its strongholds.

Now, I’m told that this butterfly even got a mention in the Archers for a not dissimilar reason than it is now. I’m talking about the Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betula).

Brown Hairstreak, Jane Watson.

Brown Hairstreak, Jane Watson.

This is one that landed on Jane Watson’s kitchen window and it’s not something you see this easily because Brown Hairstreak’s tend to live in the tree canopy and usually the only time you will see one at ground level is when the females come down to lay eggs on blackthorn. The best time to look for those is in the winter with no leaves on the bushes and you’re looking for a little white pin head sized thing.

The Brown Hairstreak has the title of being a BAP species which means it is one of the UK species, not just butterflies, to have had a Biodiversity Action Plan written for it.

In the said Brown Hairstreak BAP, it shows that it is also a Red List Data species like the Lapwings of previous Blogs and according the Butterfly Conservation website has, in two 4 year surveys carried out in the last 20 years, has a 40% population decline.

Brown Hairstreak, Tom Simon.

Brown Hairstreak, Tom Simon.

Anyway, it’s a charming little butterfly and it’s really worth looking to the top of the trees at about this time of year, maybe a little earlier that right now, to try to see one of these.

Next, I thought it might be fun to go through the winners of the photo contest and just say a little bit about them.

Orange-tip Butterfly, Deborah Herbert.

Orange-tip Butterfly, Deborah Herbert.

So the Beauty was this Orange-tip Butterfly. This butterfly has a very close relationship with Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis). This isn’t a BAP species like the Brown Hairstreak and it would be nice to keep it that way!

Oak Eggar moth caterpillar, Kat Mitchell.

Oak Eggar moth caterpillar, Kat Mitchell.

Next we had the Oak Eggar moth caterpillar. Now, this one took a bit of time of time work out what it was, I think the water droplets didn’t really help matters. The adults are quite a large brown moth and worth looking up. It is common and widespread throughout the UK but good food source for things like Cuckoos!

Brown Argus, Dave Hill.

Brown Argus, Dave Hill.

So the most notable species went to the Brown Argus (Arcia agestis). This butterfly is fairly widespread throughout central, eastern and southern England but outside that it dwindles out. It does have an annoying similarity to the Common Blue but this is one!

Now just because the competition is over, don’t stop going out and finding wildlife to record! Who knows, there could be a Brown Hairstreak just waiting for you!

Insects! A little journey of discovery.

Hello again everybody!

I apologise for it being such a long time since the last blog. Getting all excited about breeding Lapwing must have really taken it out of me!

News on that front is that none of the 4 birds are there any more! It is a bit annoying not to be able to say definitively what happened to the chicks but we definitely know that a pair of Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) raised 2 chicks that left the nest so it was all looking positive the last time I saw them.

My plan for this blog was to have a look at some of the dragonflies, damselflies, chasers and demoiselles that live in our area and explain what they are, at least to family level if not exact species.

Firstly, dragonflies are the biggest and perhaps best known of this group.

DSC01373 - Copy

Emerging Emperor Dragonfly (Jane Watson).

This one is just emerging from its exuvia (outer casing from its larval stage) I think is an Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) and reasonably common.

Next are the demoiselles. There are 2 of these around here the Banded (Calopteryx splendens) and the Beautiful (C. virgo) Demoiselle.

Beautiful Demoiselle

Beautiful Demoiselle, male.

This one is a male Beautiful Demoiselle with an iridescent blue body and clear wings, while the female is a metallic green. The both sexes of the Banded Demoiselle have a big black blob in their wings. The 2 species prefer different types of rivers, the Banded liking slow moving water compared to the Beautiful’s flast flowing rivers although I’ve seen both around here. How well would they get on if this area was heavily developed? Probably not very well.

The next group are the Chasers and this one is a female Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) and this is a species that you can find kind of anywhere! The male has a blue body and chasers generally have a short stubby body, sometimes looking quite like large hornets.

Broad-bodied Chaser, female.

Broad-bodied Chaser, female.

I’m keeping a look out for others and there is the potential, for want of a better phrase,  for rarer chasers to be here too. I’ll keep you posted if I find any!

Finally in this group we come to damselflies. In this area, most damselflies are a pattern of blue and black with a very thin body. One notable exception is the Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) which is, speaking generally, simply a red damselfly. I have found others including Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) and Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum).

Another exception to the blue and black rule, at least in its immature stage when it is nearly all white, is the White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes). This again is a species that wouldn’t respond well a loss of habitat. It is described by the British Dragonfly Society as ‘locally common’ and mostly found only in southern England.

White-legged Damselfly.

White-legged Damselfly.

So now we come to what happened at home in Twineham 2 weeks ago. There is a pond in the garden and it’s not uncommon to find damselflies there. I had never seen a White-legged Damselfly in the garden though and so when I see a potential candidate I grab the camera and try to get a record shot.

A blurry line.

A blurry line.

It didn’t really work.

The damselfly flies over the house and on the off chance it might head to the pond, that’s where I head. It wasn’t there and since I’m there I take a photo of a spider that’s hanging in a web suspended in an Iris.

Cricket-bat Orb Weaver (Mangala acalypha).

Cricket-bat Orb Weaver (Mangala acalypha) (probably).

Later, I have a look at the Butterfly Conservation sightings page and I see someone has put up a photo of a spider and it clicked that it was the same spider as the one I had seen earlier. I click on the link and the spider this other person has found is a ‘Cricket-bat Orb Weaver’ (Mangora acalypha). It has a distinctive cricket bat pattern on the abdomen and from photos I’ve seen it can vary in colour.

At this point, it is worth stressing that my record hasn’t been verified yet (which is why I put probably in the photo caption being absolutely accurate) but I am pretty sure of what it is and pretty well anyone I’ve asked about it seems to agree.

So it looks pretty good for being the first record for the 10km square that we fall in according to the National Biodiversity Network.

I made a data request to the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre (who were really helpful!) about this species and it showed that if this record is verified that it would be around the 100th Sussex record and I’m not going to try to rank the Cricket-bat Orb Weaver’s rarity but it does show what is out there if you look, or in this case just happen to take a photo of a spider.

To emphasise the point, later in the week I’m at home and just as an exercise to see if there’s anything else notable out there I say to my mum let’s go outside and each take a photo of the first insect we find. This is at about 8 in the evening so not the best time to do this for varieties sake, but the first thing I find is a bee.

White-tailed Bumble Bee (Bombus locorum)

Buff-tailed Bumble Bee

We identify it as a Buff-tailed Bumble Bee (Bombus terrestris). Maybe not out of this world but this find led us to find a colony of them living in a forgotten bird box in the hedge and it has been well publised how hard a time bumble bees are having!

Have fun wild spotting – you never know what you might find and hopefully this blog proves it!

Tom.

A local Lapwing success story.

This is going to be a blog about the Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) aka Peewit, Green Plover and according to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) also Hornpie and Flopwing.

lapwing trimmed 2

They are a type of plover and in the group of birds called waders.

The Lapwings plight has been linked to the increase in intensive farming, the draining and drying out what would be wet grassland habitat that would benefit a lot of species, not just birds and not just Lapwing. It is a Red List species and is one of the flagship species used to highlight the decline in farmland birds.

The bleak criteria to be a Red List species include:

[Being] Globally threatened;

Historical population decline in UK during 1800 – 1995.

Severe (at least 50%) decline in UK breeding populations over last 25 years, or longer-term period

Severe (at least 50%) contraction of UK breeding range over last 25 years, or the longer-term period.

(RSPB Website).

Add to that numbers listed in the Sussex Ornithological Society’s ‘The Birds of Sussex’ are equally bleak stating that ‘south east England lost 46% of its pairs during 1987-98 (Wilson et al. 2001)’ and in a more habitat specific sense, the Lapwing population dropped by ‘58% in wet meadows in Sussex during 1984 – 2002 (Yates 2003)’. In the most recent breeding Atlas surveys during 2008 – 2011 there was an ‘Overall net loss of 46% of tetrads’ compared to the 1988-1992 Atlas Surveys.

So that all points to not a great outlook for Lapwing but it is worth pointing out that many other species have similar storied population trends like House Sparrow, Yellowhammer and Linnet, a collection of other Red List species that are found here.

Now, the reason I’m writing about Lapwings is that last year I was surprised to hear a male displaying in the area. I had maybe seen one or two Lawpings here spread over a few years and the 20-30 bird strong roost that used to congregate on the Twineham & Wineham CC pitch when we first moved to Twineham about 20 years ago is a very distant memory so hearing a displaying male stood out. There was a pair and I found where they had a territory and kept an eye on them for a month or so and then one day I go there and almost the entire half of the field the Lapwings territory and possible nest site had been was covered in corvids (corvids is a collective names for members of the crow family) and gulls. There were so many that I was reasonably sure that if the Lapwings had done anything, like eggs or hatched chicks, they would not have survived and I didn’t see that  pair again that year.

This year a pair of Lapwings, maybe the same pair but being sure is very hard, took up residence in another field, not far from where the pair had tried last year, and because of the high corvid numbers around here (and before there’s any kind of corvid backlash they just another collection of bird species that lives in this area and I love Magpies!) I was fearing another bad year. So when I go for a walk yesterday (today being 17th May) and see this…

Lapwing chick

 

I got quite excited.

The little chick like shape in the middle is a Lapwing chick; I guess it’s left the nest about a week ago. The family I found has 2 chicks, one slightly bigger than the other one and the parents are doing a very good job of guarding them from corvids getting too close. The chicks aren’t flying yet but they have got to a stage that they are pretty mobile.

This is great! I am really so happy that Lapwings are breeding here and this family are looking like they could successfully raise 2 chicks.

This is also the reason keeping your dog under close control or on a lead at this time of year is so vital for ground nesting birds like Lapwing to limit disturbance or anything worse happening.

So what do these fluffy little chicks really represent? Well, it is a little success against a background of what has been a declining trend for Lapwing. However, the point that is demonstrated here is what can happen when countryside isn’t built on.

The black and white of the matter is that these Lapwings would not be breeding here if houses were built here. Someone said last year while Nightingales were being heavily published about breeding here that you can’t put a nest box up for a Nightingale and the same certainly applies for a Lapwing.

There may well be that in some people’s eyes at the very least there are 275 million reasons why houses should be built here but if the trend of building and wrecking habitats for species such as Lapwing just continues and continues and continues, then an odd pair like this won’t breed and the number of odd pairs that won’t breed add up to severely harming and has caused species in similar plights to go extinct from areas so lets hope for a brighter future.

Bluebells, warblers, hairy caterpillars and spiny things!

Hello out there!

I think in the last blog I was going to say something about Bluebells. Well, the Common Bluebells Latin name is Hyacinthoides non-scripta. They aren’t just found in woodland; in fact I have found them in heathland. A threat to Common Bluebells is the introduced Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica and what they do is interbreed and create a hybrid version with the Common Bluebell. For further information consult a book – there’s lot’s around!

Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Right – moving out of the woodland and elsewhere round here. Last Friday morning I got up early to carry out a Breeding Bird Survey with Helen Crabtree of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). This involves walking a set route through an area and using a kind of birders short hand, mark down singing males, birds flying over and carrying nesting material to name a few things birds can be recorded doing.

One of the most pleasing things is that the Cetti’s Warbler, which I’ve only heard singing here for the first time this year, was in fine voice near Twineham Place Farm.

I was on the Adur a few months ago, when this thing sits up on a reed in front of me, opens its beak and shouts this trilling call, kind of saying ‘what are you looking at?’ and flew off, it was a nice surprise to see one here.

The Cetti’s Warbler is a relatively new breeding species in national terms and now in some places in the UK you can’t walk round a reserve without a mini explosion of sound firing out of almost every bush. If I was going to classify a Cetti’s Warbler rarity status, I’d say it was a bird I somehow wouldn’t expect to hear outside of a nature reserve, which is entirely ambiguous and as a guideline makes no sense, but to me they have a special feeling about them.

The other warbler that hangs out around the river is the Reed Warbler. On the BBS, I think we got up to about 10 singing males, which is encouraging. Also singing round there was a Cuckoo and Cuckoos parasitise (hey I’ve just seen a Barn Owl out the window while I’m writing this blog! 🙂 ) Reed Warbler nests, and what Cuckoos like to eat is big hairy caterpillars and we found a big hairy caterpillar on Friday morning!

Drinker caterpillar

This is a Drinker moth caterpillar and the adult moths are quite a sight too!

To finish off this blog – Nightingales are definitely back now and they are dotted around our lovely little area, Common Whitethroats are around too as are Lesser Whitethroats (think of a little Sylvia warbler, getting technical, with a robbers mask on), Lapwings are still displaying in places, and in the garden here at home there are prickly, spiny things scurrying around and, as this admittedly bleached out picture shows, instead of drinking the water I put out for it, it’s paddling in it… oh well!

hedgehog paddling

Deep into Spring

 Deep into Spring now and the air is thick with bird song. One of the oddest songs you’ll hear is that of the Lapwing. You really have to hear it because it’s very nearly indescribable, but if you imagine someone playing a violin with a tiny lightning bolt then you’re halfway there and have a VERY good imagination!

Walking around this area and I can hear many summer visitors: Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap to name a few.

Swallows have been here for about a month now but I haven’t yet seen a House Martin and that brings me neatly on to the BTO House Martin Survey and I am one of the recorders for the area so if you see any, particularly nesting ones, please let me know.

The main event though, you could say, for the area is the Nightingale. They have arrived and it is handy that their rich song stands out so much from the other bird songs because trying to see one in the middle of the thick blackthorn hedges they usually sing from in difficult at times. My ‘rule’ for identifying a Nightingale’s song is that it is one of very few birds to have a crescendo in their song. That is to say one of the ‘phrases’ in its song starts softly and gets louder.

Hyacinth-1
Anyway, enough for birds for now as our favourite little hyacinth is emerging – the Bluebell! I am very much looking forward to the wood the Gratton Lane bridleway runs through turning having a blue floor. You also see a few of these Early Purple Orchids that grow in similar conditions to the Bluebells.
Meadow-Sweet-1Another plant at this time of year is Ladies Smock which is the food plant of the Orange-tip Butterfly. They can be quite flighty so when one came in the garden the other day this was the best photo I could manage.

That’s probably about it for now. It’s nice to have Nightingales back again, although a repeat of the Osprey of last year (which some of you who came on the guided walks last year may remember) is probably less likely.

Good wildlife spotting!

Tom.