Saturday, August 28, 2010

Stanmer Orchard Clearing Undergrowth

Up at Stanmer this morning for another task at the Orchard.  Plenty of windfalls in the new orchard near the village and they've been busy labelling up the trees.  Some recognisable varieties like Bramley but other old fashioned varieties that you don't see very often and certainly not in your average supermarket.

Two new volunteers joined us today, so we were about eight in all.  Having collected tools we set about the undergrowth in the old orchard.

Somewhat limited with tools but all things considered we did a pretty good job in a few hours.  Amazing what you do with a couple of slashers.

Although the butterflies, beetles and crickets might not have appreciated their home and food source being cut back down to ground level.  There were quite a few common blues flying around.

A few toads were also off to find new homes.  We managed to clear about two thirds of the undergrowth - leaving the remainder for the next task group and the brush-cutters, which were due in later in the week.

We had a lunch break back in the main orchard with the chance to pick-up a few windfalls to take away with us and admire the bee-hive and the hedge-laying which was completed a couple of years ago to keep the horses out of the orchard.

It's Apple Day up at Stanmer on September 26th - a free event to find out more about apples, eat them, juice them and buy them.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Three Young Goldfinch

Three immature goldfinches in the garden on one of the feeders.  Similar to the adults but without the face and chest markings of the adults.  They're also pretty 'assertive' - chasing off the pair of greenfinch that have also appeared - rowdy teenagers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Young House Sparrow

There's a young house sparrow in the garden.  He's spending most of his time on the ground and looks slightly confused.  I thought at first that perhaps he was stunned having flown into the window but I can see a slight yellow gape and he's able to fly up on to things but seems to prefer it on the ground. Not good with so many cats around, so I'm keeping an eye out as much as I can.

He's quite happily pecking around but then stops for a nap and seems to like 'nestling' in clumps of grass or plants, as though he's missing the nest.  Perhaps he's just fat and lazy as there's so much seed on the ground below the feeders.

A few other sparrows flew in and were up on the feeder.  They seemed to ignore each other.  He's not calling or behaving like a baby when other birds are around.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Golden Ringed Dragonfly

Out in the garden in a brief spate of sunshine and spotted a large dragonfly with black and gold rings.  Now the only dragonfly I know like this having seen one at Pulborough, is the cannily named Golden Ringed dragonfly.

I've seen dragonflies, damselflies and hawkers in the garden before but I don't usually see enough of them or for long enough, to identify them.  As it's the only large dragonfly with gold and black rings I think I'm on to a safe bet with this one.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chalk Downland Butterflies

As I left Harting it was autumnally cool and misty.  Not a good day for spotting butterflies.  Fortunately as I drove further west it brightened up but arriving at Mill Hill LNR, although sunny it was very windy.

Having gathered in the correct car park we set off down the hill for a brief overview from Simon about what we were looking for.  Neatly grouping the butterflies into their six main groups with identifying features and again eliminating those we were unlikely to see.

We quickly spotted a Wall Brown - unusual but very pretty and one of the 'brown' group - along with the Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper.  Distinguished by their overall colour - brown with orange or orange with brown.

Adonis Blue
Blue butterflies were also appearing - quickly identified as Adonis and one was unceremoniously (and very carefully) grabbed by Simon, so that we could see the colour, the black lines and the underside.  In fact we were pretty much surrounded by Adonis Blue - they were everywhere!  I was expecting us to be lucky to catch a fleeting glimpse of maybe a handful.

Further down the slope, there were also the paler Chalkhill Blues and the purple tinged Common Blues.  There were so many of them that we were able to see all three, often close together.  Making it easy to see the difference between them.

Chalkhill Blue
They seemed to favour settling on bare patches of earth and lumps of dung.  We spent a happy few minutes wandering over the ground at the bottom.  Also identifying plant species from yesterday, then heading back up the hill via the slightly gentler path, rather than the straight down the slope approach - to the car park and off to our second site near Steyning.

Having negotiated the vagaries of the Steyning parking system, we wandered up the hill for a lunch stop in the sunshine watching the gliders and spotting a Hobby, catching a quick glimpse of a Green-veined White and Holly Blues on the track up.  The 'whites' are difficult to identify as they rarely settle and disappear up and away pretty quickly.

We were here to look for Brown Hairstreak and were in luck.  Neil Hulme from the local Sussex Butterfly Conservation Trust was on the site and had already spotted one.  He and a couple of others were busily photographing a female.  We joined them and got amazingly close to a  female egg-laying.

Unfortunately my photographic attempts were too blurred but you can find decent images here but I did get one of a Speckled Wood.

Speckled Wood
At 2.30 the females went back up into the trees and that was pretty much it for the day.  They're very precise with their timing and Neil knows their habits and behaviour intimately.

We walked further up the hill and then spent a good few minutes watching whatever butterflies were around.  Two Wall Brown's made an appearance, as well as several Common Blues, a Small White, Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns.

There was masses of wild marjoram which left a lovely scent as you walked through it and the bees and butterflies loved it.  I found a huge bumblebee on the marjoram.  No idea what species but it was huge.

Back down the hill to the cars.  I stopped off briefly at Woods Mill on the way back but it was clouding over and getting cooler, so not much around.  In fact very quite.  I did spot Holly Blues and a rather ragged Comma and fleeting whites.  I spent a bit of time trying to get a few shots of a male kestrel sitting on the dead tree in the meadow area.  Not great but good practice.

Further photos -

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Chalk Downland Wildflowers

Today's Sussex Wildlife Trust course on wild flowers of the chalk downland, started at Singleton Village Hall.  The early arrivals having set the room up, we set about important things like tea and coffee while the others arrived.

Simon Curson, our guide, gave us a brief introduction of the flower groups that we were likely to see and an excellent overview and explanation, including his two minute explanation of 'how the Downs were formed'.

Carline Thistle
If you feel overwhelmed by the pages of potential thistles, hawkweeds and hawkbits in your identification book - it's reassuring to know that actually there are perhaps just a handful of species that you're likely to see in any particular location, so once you know this you can eliminate most of the others.

We started out with a walk up the hill from Singleton, in the drizzle - making slow progress as we kept stopping every few steps to check the species on the rough grassland which was overgrown with spear and creeping thistle, field pansy, willowherb sp., woody nightshade and sow thistle sp.

Sp = species, i.e. haven't identified the exact plant but it's from that family.  A good let off when you don't want or really need to identify the specific hawkbit plant.

There was a further distraction identifying the Roesel's Bush-cricket before we finally made it onto the chalk grassland.  Long antennae = cricket, short antennae = grasshoppers.

Clustered Bellflower
Along the hedgerow was majoram with a lovely small pink flower and minty/herby scent, wild basil, hemp nettle, white dead nettle.  On the grassland, plenty of ragwort, yarrow and small clumps of self heal and wild thyme.  Back down the hill and more crickets and grasshoppers, common speedwell, scarlet pimpernel and more bittersweet/woody nightshade.  Apparently it tastes bitter, then sweet, then you're dead!  Pity the person who worked that one out?

A short comfort break before heading up the hill past the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum onto the Trundle - where we had lunch and then walked down from the car park to the strip of grassland beside the track.  In the next two hours we managed to progress a few hundred yards down the track busily identifying many of the plants we'd seen slides of and recording over 20 species in just that one area.

We also identified a few butterflies while we were at it, saw three buzzards circling overhead and watched the rain over Bognor Regis.  We finished off in time to get back to the cars before the next wave of showers hit us.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Oystercatchers, Curlew And A 'Pale' Gull?

A walk down to the seafront this evening and the tide was well out.  Plenty of seabirds roosting on the shore in amongst the seaweed or bathing in the pools - mainly herring .  A group of twenty or so adult black-headed gulls in varying stages of moult.  Some have completely lost their black heads and others still have a faint outline.

There were a few greater black-backed gulls and I think, but don't quote me on it, a glaucous gull.  Now it was a way off on the shoreline but it was definitely paler than all the other herring gulls - adults and juvenilles.  Similar size but overall pale, creamy colour rather than grey and different from all the other varieties, shapes and sizes of bird.  I'll admit that I need to get my 'seabird eye' in, as I do have difficulty with all their different stages of plumage.  It's also a bit early in the season as they tend to be more winter birds.

I did count at least 10 oystercatchers feeding along the shore, a couple of little egrets and after much scanning, a lone curlew in amongst them all.  There was a fulmar up on the cliff, a couple of rock doves and a pair of swallows flying over the clifftop.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Seafront Walk

A walk/jog/run along the seafront this morning for a change of scenery and the first piece of serious exercise in a while.  The blackberries are just starting to ripen and I picked a couple from a passing bramble on the way - the first blackberries of the year.  There were several female blackbirds in the park in what looked like a family group with one male.

The tide was in and there were plenty of gulls on the seashore along with several dogwalkers, one of whom was a lady who'd done the Brighton marathon last year and had already signed up for the next one - that put me to shame!

A few oystercatchers around and three little egrets flying along the shoreline but I was in exercise mode and didn't have my bino's with me, so other than looking at what I could see close by, I didn't see much else.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Bees And Butterflies

The wind has dropped, the sun is out and insects are everywhere.  Bees on the lavender, hoverflies on the fennel - they love it and I keep at least one large clump growing, which does result in it seeding itself all around the garden - especially if I don't dead-head it soon enough.

There are plenty of butterflies around - blue and brown ones.  They spend more time fluttering than settling, so are difficult to identify and even then, I've got the book in hand trying to work them out.  The pictures have them nicely settled with open wings and more often they've got their wings closed, not so helpful.  However, I did identify holly blue, meadow brown and a gatekeeper (two white spots in the black eyespot).

I'm doing a course this weekend on butterflies so I hope to have improved my fluttering butterfly identification skills.  Especially the little blue and brown ones you see out on the downland.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Breeding Blackbirds?

I think the blackbirds may be having another brood.  The male has just been down gathering as many seeds in his mouth as he can before flying off towards the trees.  He takes a couple for himself first before ending up with a beak-full of seeds.

Also in for breakfast are a pair of great tits (don't seem them very often), a blue tit, a pair of goldfinches and a noisy female chaffinch.  The male usually appears later in the day and is equally noisy.  My cue to check there's not a cat around.