Thursday, 22 June 2017

Prey

Small Fan-foot, Herminia grisealis. On the wall near my garden light trap in Crowborough.
Small Fan-foot, Herminia grisealis. On the wall near my garden light trap in Crowborough.
Just a brief post.  In this hot weather I looked out at my light trap in the middle of the night, to photograph the moths I could see on the wall, in case any of them flew away before the morning.  And that's what I thought this Small Fan-foot had done.

Remains of Small Fan-foot, Herminia grisealis. On the wall near my garden light trap in Crowborough.
Remains of Small Fan-foot, Herminia grisealis. On the wall near my garden light trap in Crowborough.
But after clearing the trap in the morning I looked all around carefully, and I saw what looked like a small moth high above.  On looking at the photo, I can see that it used to be a Small Fan-foot .. no doubt the very same one, which has had an unfortunate encounter with a spider in the night.  (Fortunate for the spider, of course.)

Friday, 16 June 2017

Garden Birds

Jackdaw, Corvus monedula, in my garden in Crowborough. 15 June 2017.
Jackdaw, Corvus monedula, in my garden in Crowborough. 15 June 2017.
So, I have been lounging on my sofa with a longish lens in my camera (200mm with a 1.4x extender) taking shots of birds through my window.  There are several familiar species.  A few are missing, so far at least.  This one, the Western Jackdaw, never appeared in my old garden so it was a surprise to see two of them eyeing up my lawn.

House Sparrows, Passer domesticus, in my back garden in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
House Sparrows, Passer domesticus, in my back garden in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
House Sparrows used to be very common but are now less so, and are another species I didn't see in my Hayes garden, so I am pleased that a little flock of them like my sunflower heart feeder.  The one in flight is a male.

House Sparrows, Passer domesticus, in my back garden in Crowborough.  Male feeding young.  15 June 2017.
House Sparrows, Passer domesticus, in my back garden in Crowborough.  Male feeding young.  15 June 2017.
He was taking the sunflower seed hearts to feed this young one on my back fence.

Young Bluetits seem more capable of finding their own food.

Young Bluetit, Cyanistes caeruleus, in my back garden in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
Young Bluetit, Cyanistes caeruleus, in my back garden in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
Tits like peanuts, which they take to a safe spot to eat bit by bit.  I saw a Great Tit earlier, but didn't get a photo.  No Coal Tits as yet, though.

Another of the crow family has also appeared.

Magpie, Pica pica, over my back fence in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
Magpie, Pica pica, over my back fence in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
A Magpie.  And there are two of the dove family:

Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto, on my back fence in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto, on my back fence in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
A Collared Dove, and several Wood Pigeons:

Wood Pigeon; Columba palumbus, on my back lawn in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
Wood Pigeon, Columba palumbus, on my back lawn in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
Several birds like to investigate the lawn when it has just been mown.  The Wood Pigeons stroll around as though they own the place.  Most of the birds are more cautious.

I have seen (but not photographed) a pair of blackbirds, and there are sometimes a few starlings:

Common starling, Sturnus vulgaris, on my back lawn in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
Common starling, Sturnus vulgaris, on my back lawn in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
Starlings usually work over the lawn in groups, looking for grubs such as leatherjackets - which are cranefly grubs that eat grass roots, so the starlings are a good thing.  I suspect I won't have much slug or snail trouble, either, given the high general level of bird activity here.

It's not just birds that like the garden:

Cat on my back fence in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
Cat on my back fence in Crowborough.  15 June 2017.
But I think this visitor likes the birds rather than the lawn.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Crowborough! Moths!

Alder Kitten, Furcula bicuspis.  Luxford Lane, Crowborough, 28 May 2017.
Alder Kitten, Furcula bicuspis.  Luxford Lane, Crowborough, 28 May 2017.
I have moved house!  I now live in Crowborough, East Sussex.  It's more countrified than Hayes, but the size of the local community is similar.

So, I started moth trapping immediately.  These are some of the lovely things I got on my first night.  First, an Alder Kitten, one of the moths you can point to if people think moths are dowdy.  It lives in wooded areas in the south of England, and the larvae feed on Birch as well as Alder.  I am not as close to the woods here as I was in Hayes, but they are only a mile away and that must be within the flight capacity of this Kitten.

Notocelia cynosbatella.  Luxford Lane, Crowborough, 28 May 2017.
Notocelia cynosbatella.  Luxford Lane, Crowborough, 28 May 2017.
This Notocelia cynosbatella is a much smaller moth, one of a very large family, the Tortricidae.  Some of these are hard to tell apart, but the orange whiskers make this one very easy to identify.

It's common throughout Britain, and the larvae feed on roses.

Peppered Moth, Biston betularia forma carbonaria. Luxford Lane, Crowborough, 28 May 2017.
Peppered Moth, Biston betularia forma carbonaria. Luxford Lane, Crowborough, 28 May 2017.
I have to include this very smart black moth.  It's the dark form of the Peppered Moth, much quoted as an example of industrial melanism, that is, darker forms surviving better in soot-coloured parts of the country.  The common explanation is that darker forms are better camouflaged from predators in industrialised areas, but no-one has yet provided direct proof of this attractive theory.  Rather than tell the whole story here, may I point you to the Wikipedia article on industrial melanism, which gives a fair precis.

I see lots of the typical peppered form, but hardly any of these pretty creatures.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Tiger Larva

Larva of Jersey Tiger, Euplagia quadripunctaria.  Hayes, 10 May 2017.
Larva of Jersey Tiger, Euplagia quadripunctaria.  Hayes, 10 May 2017.
 Look at this little beauty, which I found curled up among some bits of grass and other plants I was pulling up. 

Larva of Jersey Tiger, Euplagia quadripunctaria.  Hayes, 10 May 2017.
Larva of Jersey Tiger, Euplagia quadripunctaria.  Hayes, 10 May 2017.
It was curled up and took a long time to uncurl.  It's the caterpillar of a Jersey Tiger moth, a very showy creature that I see large numbers of in my light trap for a few weeks in early summer.  They used to be rare in this area, but no longer.

They are increasing in numbers.  Here's a post on Jersey Tiger moths from 2012, when they turned up in twos and threes.  Last year I had over 30 in my trap one day.

These caterpillars are not fussy about what they eat.

Bright colours are usually a warning to predators that the bright creatures are poisonous or distasteful.  Those hairs have a reputation for being very irritating.  They look a lot like the small spines on some cacti, that can get stuck in your skin and are indeed irritating, so I was not tempted to handle it.

I saw another caterpillar recently, and it's in this post of Jubilee Country Park photos.  That's what you would normally expect a caterpillar to look like.


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Hawthorns

Midland Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata, and Common Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna.  Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 25 April 2017.
Midland Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata, and Common Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna.
Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 25 April 2017.
Most of the hawthorn bushes we see in the south of England are the Common Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna.  The bush in the middle distance of this photo is one.  In the foreground is a less common species, a Midland Hawthorn.  Its flowers are just a little more showy than the common sort.  Also, the leaves are in general much less divided.  But this is not the best way to tell them apart.

Midland Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata, and Common Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna.  Flowers compared.  25 April 2017.
Midland Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata, and Common Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna. Flowers compared.  25 April 2017.
Common Hawthorns have just one stigma in the centre of each flower, and just one seed in the berry later on.  Midland Hawthorns have two or sometimes three stigmas, and two or three seeds in the berry.

Counting stigmas or pips is the only real way to be sure of these.  Because, as is so often the case, you might also come across a hybrid between these two species, Crataegus x media, which has leaves and flowers intermediate between them.  So on the hybrid, the flowers have mostly one, but sometimes two stigmas, and the pips in the berries follow suit.  Here is one we found in May last year:

Hybrid Hawthorn, Crataegus x media.  C. monogyna x C. laevigata. Near Jail Lane, 21 May 2016
Hybrid Hawthorn, Crataegus x media.  C. monogyna x C. laevigata. Near Jail Lane, 21 May 2016
They're common in some places, but often under-reported in the wild because not everyone goes around counting stigmas on hawthorn bushes.  I am told that they have been used in hedging because they are robust, but I have never found the common C. monogyna to be less than vigorous. 

Counting stigmas is MUCH easier than counting the pips, so this is the time of year to look for Midland or hybrid hawthorns them if you are so inclined.  Coloured and double-petaled forms of the hybrid are sold as garden shrubs. 

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Tentacular Spectacular

Bogbean, Menyanthes trifoliata. Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 25 April 2017.
Bogbean, Menyanthes trifoliata. Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 25 April 2017.
I had to post this photo of the flowers of Bogbean, a water plant in a small pool in Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve.  The plant looks unexceptional for most of the year.

Bogbean, Menyanthes trifoliata. Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 25 April 2017.
Bogbean, Menyanthes trifoliata. Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 25 April 2017.
It has a short flowering season, so normally you just see these leaves.  But those petals covered with tentacles are amazing.

You can see some of the plant in the background of this photo I took of the same pond in September last year:

New Zealand Pigmyweed, Crassula helmsii.  Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 2 September 2016.
New Zealand Pigmyweed, Crassula helmsii.  Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 2 September 2016.
This photo is of an invasive foreign plant, New Zealand Pigmyweed, which covers most of the edge of the pond.  It has pretty little flowers:

New Zealand Pigmyweed, Crassula helmsii.  Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 2 September 2016.
New Zealand Pigmyweed, Crassula helmsii.  Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 2 September 2016.
But unfortunately it chokes and outgrows any native plant that likes the same habitat.  Here's a quote from the Non-native Species Secretariat:

"Introduced in 1911 as an oxygenating plant for ponds and, since the 1970s, has spread rapidly. Forms dense mats and can impede drainage, causing flooding. Displaces other aquatic plant species and reduces amenity use of the waterbody.

New Zealand Pigmyweed is listed under Schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 with respect to England, Wales and Scotland. As such, it is an offence to plant or otherwise cause this species to grow in the wild."

Friday, 5 May 2017

Some JCP Photos

Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris.  Jubilee Country Park, 30 April 2017.
Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris.  Jubilee Country Park, 30 April 2017.
There was a lichen walk in Jubilee Country Park last weekend, led by Ishpi Blatchley, or local lichen expert.  I took the opportunity to take some photos of a range of subjects .. this one shows the male "cones" of a Scots Pine, shedding pollen.  There are lots of little pollen grains stuck to the sort of spider webbing which you can find almost everywhere in the countryside.

Oak Apple gall.  Jubilee Country Park, 30 April 2017.
Oak Apple gall.  Jubilee Country Park, 30 April 2017.
There were several of these galls, looking large and apple-like, on an oak tree that was right behind Isphi as she gave her introductory talk.  I was itching to take a shot but waited until later as that seemed more polite!  These growths are caused by the aptly-named  Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Biorhiza pallida.  There are hundreds of plant galls caused by a range of insects that make plants grow homes for them.  Oaks have more types of gall than most plants.

Larva of Orthosia cerasi, Common Quaker. Jubilee Country Park, 30 April 2017.
Larva of Orthosia cerasi, Common Quaker. Jubilee Country Park, 30 April 2017.
This caterpillar was munching on a Field Maple at the edge of the car park.  It was identified for me later (caterpillars are hard!) as a Common Quaker,  a type of moth that is easy to find early in the year.  I was pleased to get a shot that showed the head and the whole body structure so clearly.  It's not as easy as you might think, because they keep on the move and their heads go from side to side.

Parmelina pastillifera.  Parmeliaceae.   Jubilee Country Park, 1 May 2017.
Parmelina pastillifera.  Parmeliaceae.   Jubilee Country Park, 1 May 2017.
Finally, an actual lichen!  Ishpi was pleased to find this Parmelina pastillifera as she only has three other sightings in the London Borough of Bromley (though it's not rare in the UK as a whole).  This was on an oak branch and Ishpi was drawn to it by its steely glint. 

Parmelina pastillifera.  Parmeliaceae.   Jubilee Country Park, 1 May 2017.
Parmelina pastillifera.  Parmeliaceae.   Jubilee Country Park, 1 May 2017.
I wasn't happy with the photos I took on the day so I went back the next day to improve on them.  I opened the iris and sped up the shutter.  This gives less depth of field, but better sharpness and less motion blur.  (As I take these one-handed, holding the subject in place with my other hand, motion blur can be a problem, especially on a long springy tree branch.)

Those little bumps are isidia, little outgrowths containing both the fungus and alga component of the lichen.  It can reproduce if these growths break off and are scattered.  Their shape on this specimen helps to identify it.