Thursday, 21 May 2020

Tawny Owl

I visited Bramber Nature Reserve this morning. I had been intending to visit for a while but was triggered into action by reports of a Tawny Owl and owlet in one of the trees close to the entrance.

I arrived early and spent some time searching the tree. The adult (I assume a female) was easy to find but getting a photograph proved to be difficult due to the branches blocking the view. The chick if it was still there must have been well hidden as I could not find it.

I went for a walk around the reserve and returned an hour later. It was good timing on my part. Not only had the owl moved position but the light had improved and the owl briefly opened it's eyes.

Common Whitethroat, Blackcaps and a Green Woodpecker were seen around the reserve with Reed and Sedge Warblers heard only. Unfortunately none were giving picture opportunities. The reserve is a great addition to the local area and in particular to the chances of maintaining a green corridor along the Adur River.

The mornings target achieved and it only just having turned eight o'clock I decided to drive over to Park Heath Corner and have a look for the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries.

It was very quiet when I arrived but they were soon flying and in numbers greater than anything I had seen on the reserve before. A real success story for the Fritillaries for the Future project and for a butterfly that seemed to be lost to Sussex only a few years ago.

I spent a couple of hours trying to get a photograph but failed miserably. It was a hot morning and the butterflies which were probably all males were hyperactive. They are always difficult to photograph but I usually manage to get a couple of shots. For best results you really need a female or mating pair or a return late afternoon when they may be getting tired and will spend some time nectaring. Or it could just be that I am getting too old for chasing butterflies around under the hot sun!

Next stop was Old Lodge in the Ashdown Forest. I was hoping for Tree Pipit and Woodlark but there was very little moving. The temperature was getting uncomfortably hot and the area was very dry, although the dragonfly ponds still held some water and  a few dragonflies.

I spent a couple of hours walking around and did eventually get to see a two Woodlarks just as I was returning to the car park to leave.


Probably my best find of the day was the plant below. It looks like Bog Beacon Mitrula paludosa which has been recorded at Old Lodge but I can't be certain, apparently there are several very similar Mitrula species, separable only by microscopic examination.

Bog Beacon Mitrula paludosa - I think!

These specimens looked to be past their best. I will have to look out for it a bit earlier next year.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Knepp Storks

I woke up around five this morning, too late for the dawn chorus but still early enough to catch the tail end of it. I hadn't been to Knepp for about a year, so was interested to see how the stork introduction project was going and with the estate hosting Nightingales, Turtle Doves, and Cuckoos there should be some decent bird song on offer as well.

I am not sure how many Stork pairs are nesting at Knepp but I managed to see two nests. The first about 300 metres past the camp shop to the south of the main path. It's in the top of a dead tree clear of the surrounding green branches and is very easy to spot but the views are a bit distant unless you are prepared to leave the path. Storks are usually very tolerant of people and on the continent will often nest on a house roof or close to a busy road but I wasn't taking any chances.

The second nest was also distant but gave good views from some deep cover and the lighting was better for taking pictures. From reports issued by the project team I believe this nest contains the first Stork chicks born in this country for centuries.

Unfortunately I didn't see the chicks. The male came in and at first I thought he was carrying food but it turned out to be top up nesting material.

There were also good views of six storks circling in the updrafts. I am not sure if you can still refer to it as a kettle if they are not preparing for migration. It's great to watch but pictures don't really do it justice. However there were a couple of low passes from single birds in flight and I did eventually get a reasonable picture.

Elsewhere on the estate the bird song lived up to expectations. At least two Turtle Doves heard although I couldn't see either of them. Five or six Cuckoos, or one very mobile Cuckoo, with a couple of fleeting sightings from fly overs. Also a good number of Nightingales that  at times could only have been a few yards away but which gave no views at all. Very disappointing but nice to listen to.

The other disappointment was the number of people that were there, walkers, cyclists, runners, and birders. I was on my own when I arrived but by ten o'clock as I was leaving it felt quite crowded. You start to realise why the estate is trying to enforce people staying on the designated pathways. They are at risk of becoming victims of their own success.

Crowds or not, I think I might have to go back to see the Storks fledging.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

False Widow

With the onset of warmer days the insect life in the garden has slowly picked up and my searches have started to reveal some interesting subjects. They may not be the birds that I would normally be looking for but at least I have some interesting subjects to photograph.

Actually taking the photograph is relatively easy. Putting a name to the subject is the difficult part and I have spent many an interesting hour searching the web and reference books to confirm identities.

As with all my insect pictures, there is a health warning. I am not an expert, I will make mistakes from time to time, so treat my labeling with a degree of suspicion, and let me know if you find any mistakes.

First up is a Spider, Steatoda grossa commonly known as the Cupboard Spider  and one of the group of False Widow spiders that the tabloids like to make so much fuss about. An easy one to identify, it has clear markings of a crescent followed by three or four chevrons down its abdomen. The markings are clearer on the male.

Steatoda grossa

Steatoda grossa

Does it bite, yes, but it's not aggressive. I haven't had the opportunity to try it, but like its close relation, the Noble False Widow Steatoda nobilis, the spiders bite can sometimes be painful. It is said to be something like a bee or wasp sting.The venom of spiders in the Steatoda group can also cause steatodism. This presents as a set of symptoms, most notably pain radiating from the bite, fever, nausea, headache, malaise, lethargy and even chest pains. Such severe reactions are apparently very rare and there has never been a fatality in the UK from a false widow spider bite.

The venom  delivered by the genus Steatoda is a neurotoxin that attacks the nervous system not a necrotic venom that attacks the flesh. Pictures that you see in the tabloids of puss filled arms and legs having to be amputated, if genuine, would have to be the result of some secondary infection. Like any cut or bite, clean it properly and you should be OK.

I found the spider on the underside of the garden table as I carried it out of the garage. There are still a few spiders nests under there, so I am pleased I did the research. I will at least be able to explain what they are if they suddenly appear crawling across the table whilst we are in the middle of eating the barbecue. 

I have not been able to identify the spider pictured below. It doesn't seem to have any markings on the abdomen. It may be a female Steatoda grossa which I have read can be found without any markings but it was a lot bigger than the male above.

Possibly a female Steatoda grossa 

Next up is a Wasp, this one the German Wasp - Vespula germanica. Whilst referred to as German it is native to the UK and Europe and has spread across most of the world where it is often seen as a pest threatening crops, native flora and fauna, and peoples life styles.

It being the spring I assume the wasp shown in this picture is a Queen. She would have overwintered in hibernation and emerged towards the end of spring. She already carries sperm impregnated last autumn and will search out a nest site and establish a new colony with workers emerging around June/July time.

German Wasp  -  Vespula germanica

Looking very much like a wasp the next one is a Solitary Bee, a Gooden's Nomad Bee - Nomada goodeniana. The black on the back of some of the antenna segments identifies this one as a male. It is one of the largest and most common of the Nomad bees in the UK and like all Nomads it is a cleptoparasite. It targets a number of mining bees laying eggs inside their unsealed, pollen-stocked, nest cells. A cuckoo of the bee world.

 Gooden's Nomad Bee  -   Nomada goodeniana

Hoverflies - the first is Epistrophe eligans. It is a spring hoverfly widespread and common in the south of England. It does also occur in Northern England and around the coast in Scotland but in much smaller numbers.

Hoverfly -  Epistrophe eligans 

Next up two examples of  Myathropa florea. Another one that is easy to identify. It has a distinctive "Batman" marking on its thorax, which is not that distinctive in either of these pictures due to reflected light. It also has an unusual wing vein pattern.

Hoverfly  -  Myathropa florea

Hoverfly  -  Myathropa florea

Veins reach wing margin separately - diagnostic

The next one is not so easy. It is of the tribe Syrphini probably of the genus Syrphus but this can only be confirmed using a microscope. Even if you get that far there are five different hoverflies in the genus, three of which are widespread and common.

Syrphus sp

And another hoverfly that I cannot identify. This one I can narrow down to the genus Eupeodes. There are nine UK species of which three are common. The guides quote them as being very challenging to identify so there is no point in me going further other than to say on balance of location and flight time I would guess Eupiodes luniger. I should have taken a side view, it may have helped with the identification.

Eupeodes sp

I even found some Ladybirds. These are Two Spot Adalia bipunctata and probably less than 4mm in length. They still show in a lot of literature as being our most common Ladybird in the UK but I rarely see them these days. It seems to be Harlequins everywhere.

Nice find though, I now have my own pair of biological control agents. I just hope they are hungry.

Two Spot Ladybird  Adalia bipunctata

Harlequin Ladybirds worry me. They are an invasive species and they are here to stay. They are a good way of controlling aphids but they also prey on other insects and on their eggs and larvae including those of other ladybirds. You might expect that over time they would reach some form equilibrium with the existing UK species but it seems to me that most ladybirds that I see now are the various forms of Harlequins.

Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis

The most common fly in the garden, a Green Bottle Fly, this one I think is Lucia sericata based on the presence of a pale basicosta - don't worry, I had to look it up as well.

Green Bottle Fly - Lucilia sericata

There is still not the variety of insects in the garden that I had expected but it is improving as the weather warms up. If this continues for much longer I could end up with a decent garden list.