US social scientist Kenneth Boulding : ‘If you believe exponential growth can go on in a finite world, you are either a madman or an economist’.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

31/7/10: Bushy Park: Beewolf, Wasp Spider and Mistletoe (bugs)

A London Natural History Society field trip with a largely entomological bent.

On the way down I noted quite a lot of White-flowered Buddleia beside the railway, especially just south of Wimbledon. (The other place where this is/was the case is between the tracks not far from Paddington station).

In Hampton Wick High Street there were a few Tree of Heaven saplings, Ground Elder, Ivy-leaved Toadflax, a Galinsoga sp. and Greater Celandine. There was a nice vertical run of Hart's-tongue Fern in an alcove on the railway bridge over Seymour Rd. A couple of 'escaped' Papaver (probably rupifragum) were also spotted.

Bushy Park, general view

The best area in Bushy Park for general invertebrates was one fenced off from the deer, allowing the grass to grow. Here were found:

- several Gatekeepers
- a Small Heath
- a copulating pair of Common Blues
- Silver Y
- Cinnabar Moth caterpillars
- lots of Burnet Moths

- 3 female Wasp Spiders, one with a male in its web

- Roesel's Bush Cricket

- Birch Catkin Bug
- Parent Bug (on Birch, sitting over its eggs)

There were a significant number of Hawthorns with Mistletoe on them, with a lot of these trees looking in a bad way. There was a bit on a Willow as well. After much persistence with a sweep net - and makeshift handle extension - LNHS bug expert Dr. Tristan Bantock managed to catch all four Bug species specific to Mistletoe, including Anthocoris visci, Hypseloecus visci and Pinalitus viscicola, as well as the Mistletoe pysllid (Cacopsylla visci).

Tristan Bantock poised to hunt Mistletoe bugs

Mistletoe on Hawthorn in Bushy Park

Elsewhere an Oak Bush Cricket and a Purple Hairstreak were swept.

On a compacted path we came across the nest holes of Philanthus triangulum, the Beewolf (the name of which put me in mind of films about WW2 U-boats ...) and saw several provisioning them with their paralysed bee prey. I had a great close-up view when a bee-laden female decided to land on my arm. Good photo of this species here:

There are a number of water courses and artificial lakes across the site.

Odonata seen were
- a Brown Hawker
- a Common Darter
- a Common Blue Damselfly
- Blue-tailed Damselflies
- a large number of (Large) Red-eyed Damselflies

3 small Common Toads were found in various places away from the water.

Plants included a lot of Skullcap at the water's edge, a single Trifid Bur-marigold, Greater Duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza) and the non-native floating Water Fern (Azolla filiculoides).

Greater Duckweed (the larger floating discs) amongst a smaller species

Birds here included a number of Egyptian Geese (one pictured below, with Canada Goose in the background).

31/7/10: Barnehurst Bastard Cabbage

Fewer than normal of the infrequently found, non-native, Bastard Cabbage (Rapistrum rugosum) behind the 'up' (London-bound) platform at Barnehurst station this year, but this one has made a fine specimen and the conditions today were well suited to the limitations of my mobile phone cam (which over-exposes white or yellow flowers in brighter light):

Thursday, 29 July 2010

29/7/10: Broadway, Hall Place North, Shenstone Park and Martens Grove

Late decision to go into Bexleyheath, so left home in a rush forgetting to take mobile phone (aka digital camera) with me, hence the lack of pictures in this posting.

There were about 50 Starlings on the roof of The Mall on the Broadway.

At Hall Place North a (probable Hawker) Dragonfly circled round several times, but was against the light and would not settle for identification.

There were groups of juvenile Blue Tits and a couple of definite Greenfinches (which flew off in a flock of 12 birds which may have been con-specifics).

A Red-tailed Bee and a Carder Bee were feeding on one of the Bird's-foot Trefoil patches in the close-mown turf. There were quite a number of Red Tails on the good stand of Black Knapweed that was flowering in one of the unmown areas.

Butterflies were few in number, with only a white, a Meadow Brown or two and a Gatekeeper seen.

Clematis vitalba was in the Old Road/London Rd triangle where the Gas Holders are, and Ash was becoming prevalent here.

Moving into Shenstone Park, which I haven't been through since my running days back in the 80's, I suspect, were a lot of the usual plants of mown and unmown grass for this neck of the woods. The large number of Limes and Ash were notable features, and I was interested to see a couple of Walnut trees and some nice 'specimen' Hornbeams.

Green Woodpeckers were heard and seen - there may have been 2 or 3 different individuals.

Heading into Martens Grove a number of Elm were noted and a good view of a Wren was had. Field Maple, Hornbeam and a Beech were noted. There was a run of Swine Cress (Coronopus squamatus) by the path near the St Stephen's Rd entrance.

13 Starlings were over the south end of Barnehurst Rd, and 35(+) over the junction of Bexley Rd and Brook St.

A result of this peregrination is that I have identified 3 more areas that look promising for White-letter Hairstreak butterflies, though it's getting a bit late in the season now to have the best chance of checking for presence.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

28/7/10: Sevenoaks and KWT urban greenspaces day

Down to Sevenoaks today for a Kent Wildlife Trust teach-in on the 'Living Landscapes' project, creating green corridors and enhancing urban greenspaces for people and wildlife. To be honest it turned out to be a little too basic for me in most respects. I was really after more depth on management for various species, more detail on dealing with various conflicting demands and how to resolve these, especially 'excuses' involving inertia, inflexibility and claims that we 'can't afford it' from Councils and various utilities.

Nevertheless, some useful stuff was picked up as a result, including an actual site-specific management plan for allotment wildlife, which I've not had a chance to read yet, but may be a help 'back home' in trying the establish the principle. My own Council hasn't even started the species recording process on its wildlife sites - 6 years after the target completion date - yet fills LDFs and BAPs with worthy pronouncements about protecting and increasing biodiversity in open spaces, including allotments, that it seems disinclined to act upon, data or otherwise.

The afternoon included a visit to a very large allotment site off Kennedy Gardens, with fine views northwards (below):

I only looked at a few plots, but there were some interesting 'weed' species, including Papaver rhoeas, 4 Fool's Parsley, Galinsoga (possibly Gallant Soldier), several Bugloss and Common Fumitory.

The streets I traversed in the area had a similar 'weed' flora to that in my part of Bexley, though Ivy-leaved Toadflax seemed more prevalant here.

Highlights were a couple of Hare's-foot Clover in the line of a recently planted hedge in Hollybush Lane Sports Ground, 5 Pyramidal Orchids in a front garden lawn on Vine Court Rd (next to, rather inevitably, a garden covered in a skip and gravel ....) and 15 or more Papaver (probably) rupifragum along the roadside boundary of The Vine cricket ground on Dartford Rd.

Time was then spent over a couple of pints in a local hostelry discussing ways to bring about a more radical approach to enhancing biodiversity, and maximising the amount of wildlife in Bexley, with a recent contact who has long been pushing for such improvements in the Borough.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

21/7/10: Least Carpet in the house

Least Carpet Moth, Barnehurst, photo taken under artificial light

This small moth is said to be restricted to the south-eastern counties of England, with the larvae feeding on Ivy and Traveller's Joy among other plants.

21/7/2010: Barnehurst and Crayford miscellany

To the River Cray via Barnehurst Golf Course, Perry Street roundabout and Thames Rd., back later via the pub and Thames Road Wetland (TRW).

There was a Small Copper butterfly on the grass at the golf course as I headed up the hill by Taunton Close, and near the summit a Speckled Wood.

In the Perry Street/Wyatt Rd section of rough ground were 2 Fennel plants, Gatekeeper butterflies and a Latticed Heath Moth. In the Thames Rd/Gascoyne Drive part were Wild Carrot and 3 White Melilot.

Along Footpath 106 by the Cray were 2 or 3 female Banded Demoiselle and a male, plus several Blue-tailed Damselflies.

A Comma was seen. 3 Gatekeepers were feeding on Common Ragwort flowers. A Red Admiral flitted through the Riverkeepers' yard.

Later in the garden of the Bear and Ragged Staff in Crayford town centre a Holly Blue fluttered over an ivy-clad wall and a Comma landed nearby. A male Blackbird was eating fallen cherries.

On the way home along By-way 105 I passed this clump of Galingale (Cyperus longus), a distinctive and attractive native sedge, often planted, so it may not be 'indigenous' to the area. There was also some along Footpath 106. Another Red Admiral was seen along the By-way.

For some time now there have been large numbers of Grasshoppers along the Thames Rd side of the TRW. Now they are getting to adulthood and I had my Grasshopper ID book with me. A few were carefully caught, one at a time in a clear plastic bag, and identified as Lesser Marsh Grasshoppers (Chorthippus albomarginatus), adding another species to the roster here. It is said to be increasing its range and is no longer confined to damp habitats. As the light began to fail I also found Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus) on the site.

Around 12 Swifts were over the Mayplace Av./Thames Rd junction.

Closer to home a patch of the white-flowered Soapwort was in bloom in the corner of the Perry Street Farm field by the caged ball-playing area on Gascoyne Drive. There was a Meadow Cranesbill (Geranium pratense) just about in flower in the roadside grass verge, having been 'dwarfed' by the mowing regime. In the next field along, towards Wyatt Rd, the lack of grazing had contributed to a good show of White Campion in flower, and Wild Carrot too.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

20/7/10: Another new White-letter Hairstreak colony in Bexley

Following on from my White-letter Hairstreak butterfly find at Crayford Marshes (see 2/7/10 posting), late this afternoon I checked Barnehurst Golf Course for the presence of White-letter Hairstreak for the second time in a fortnight.

I had had a possible 4 sightings on 6th July, 3 along the fairly substantial strip of English Elm along the western margin of the site bordering Manor Way, and 1 at the eastern end parallel to Perry St, where there is another reasonable amount of Elm. All were briefly in flight and I could not see where they settled to get a proper view and confirm presence.

Today, besides a possible sighting at the Perry Street end, I obtained a definite identification by the Old Manor Way entrance at the west end of the site (TQ 506 760). I had been pondering the dearth of suitable nectar sources in the immediate area when I saw a small brown butterfly land on a cluster of the few Bramble flowers not yet setting fruit, just as I was about to exit the Golf Course and head for home. I swung my binoculars onto it just in case it wasn't another Gatekeeper, and because I'd seen a possible White-letter Hairstreak on an Elm 'bush' here two weeks ago. And lo, and behold, a W-LHS it was! Cue a bit of fist-pumping, but not too obviously in case any passers-by thought I was some kind of nutter ..... The insect was about 8' from me and only a few yards from gardens and houses on either side. The time was 18.17 and it was a warm, sunny afternoon with a slight breeze. The area where it was feeding was still getting some sun from the west at this time.

A White-letter Hairstreak was seen feeding on Bramble flowers here at the 'stub end' of Old Manor Way, by the entrance to Barnehurst Golf course, early this evening. Dead, ivy-clad Elm to the left, live Elm centre, Pedunculate Oak right. Swathe of Bramble, Stinging Nettle and Mugwort in the foreground.

A bit of subtle management to improve W-LHS habitat would probably be useful here. The Elm is reaching a decent height before succumbing, but there is relatively little coming through in the way of mid-height (or even small) suckers. This is because a considerable number of dead Elm have been left in situ and are covered in Ivy, shading and swamping out new growth. Several medium-sized Sycamores are taking up space that Elm could colonise. And in one area a Russian Vine from a neighbouring garden is covering an increasingly large area within the Elm zone whilst a dense swathe of bordering nettles is hindering any Elm colonisation along the margins of its present extent.

At any rate, the fact that I've trebled the apparently 'known' number of W-LHS sites in the Borough in 2 weeks rather supports other people's theories that the species is under-recorded - it's not the sort of thing that one is necessarily going to find on the basis of a few cursory glances up at a bunch of Elm trees. Indeed the LNHS butterfly recorder tells me it has already shown a very large increase in records between the 1980s and 1990s - the second-highest of any butterfly species in London - which suggests better recording rather than a massive population increase and spread.

Elsewhere on the Golf Course today, Essex Skipper, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Holly Blue, Small Copper and Red Admiral were seen. The usefulness of the oft-maligned Common Ragwort as a nectar source for several of these butterflies, at a time when not much else is available in such grassland, was especially evident.

Monday, 19 July 2010

19/7/10: Barnehurst butterflies

A couple of Gatekeepers in the garden, plus a Meadow Brown feeding on Allium sphaerocephalon and Black Knapweed. The very dry conditions of recent months, and repeated shoot-tip damage from small caterpillars, has delayed the flowering of the Marjoram, the favourite nectaring foodplant of these species here. Later a Holly Blue was seen. A late-flying Essex Skipper was on Grasmere allotments in the evening.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

17/7/10: Southwark's London Bridge back streets

After today's LNHS meeting, I walked from Liverpool Street station to London Bridge, then botanised some of Southwark's back streets hereabouts.

Species on a vacant lot on Newcomen St., opposite Kipling St., included three dead Papaver rhoeas, several young Verbascum - and one in flower, identified as thapsus - Black Horehound, Prickly Lettuce, Buddleia, Great Willowherb, Black Medick and a Tree of Heaven sapling.

Guy Street Park (Guy Street/Weston Street junction) plants included Pellitory-of-the-Wall, Yarrow, Ribwort Plantain, several Buck's-horn Plantain, Common Mallow, Dwarf Mallow, White Clover, White Bryony and Lesser Swine Cress. Adult Rosemary Beetles were on planted Rosemary in a shrub bed.

Those in Leathermarket gardens, a little further down the road, included some of the above, plus 5 Common Stork's-bill, Bristly Ox-tongue, Common Cat's-ear, Pineapple Mayweed, 2 Ox-eye Daisies, Field Bindweed, Mugwort, Knotted Hedge Parsley and Annual Mercury.

There were several Black Nighshade in Tanner Street park, and several Tree of Heaven seedlings.

On Morocco Street were several Shaggy Soldier in the crack between the foot of the wall of newish flats and the pavement, along with the following :-

Eleven Wall Lettuce (above) in a squalid space between buildings

This Nicotiana likewise (garden escape)

This Tomato plant in the street gutter

And this Tagetes (marigold) seedling, also in the crack between the foot of the wall of newish flats and the pavement

A vacant lot car park on St. Thomas St, between Snowsfields and Fenning St, by London Bridge station, yielded the fruiting Deadly Nightshade pictured above, and a small Common Fleabane (which doesn't seem at all common in London) just about in flower - in both cases these were only my second records for the capital. Also Woody Nightshade, 3 Tree of Heaven saplings, Herb Robert and Hoary Willowherb.

The growing Shard looms over London Bridge and its plants.

17/7/10: Lee Valley Park, Amwell - more 'firsts' in Odonata and plants

Up at half past six (groan) to get to St. Margaret's station in Hertfordshire for a London Natural History Society field trip to Amwell in the Lee Valley Park.

Several Skullcap along the canal further confirmed this species' prediliction for such habitats. There was a bit of Help Agrimony and Brandybottle (Nuphar lutea).

Other plants included a first for me - Small Teasel (Dipsacus pilosus), pictured below, of which there were quite a number, also the waterlily Nymphaea alba, a couple of Common Fleabane, a couple of Musk Mallow and a nice patch of Tufted Vetch.

Small Teasel (Dipsacus pilosus), Amwell, Hertfordshire

Butterflies seen around the canal, gravel pits and reserve were:

Green-veined White

Large White

Small White

A few Red Admiral

Speckled Wood


Meadow Brown

A single Ringlet

A single Common Blue

Odonata seen were:

Common Blue Damselfly (large numbers)

Azure Damselfly

Several Large Red-eyed Damselfly on water lily pads

A single Small Red-eyed Damselfly ditto (first time I've seen this species - thanks to sharp-eyed leader Roy Woodward for clocking this and getting his telescope on it for us)

Male and female Banded Demoiselles

Several Brown Hawkers

A few Emperor Dragonfly

1 x Four-spotted Chaser Dragonfly (first time I've seen this species)

Birds included:

Close views of a juvenile Green Woodpecker

A Kingfisher

2 Little Egret

Greylag geese

Common Tern

3 Buzzards circling together high overhead

2 Hobby dashing about over distant woodland

1 Kestrel

Great Crested Grebe

A Reed Warbler feeding 2 fledglings

3 Goldfinches feeding on Creeping Thistle seeds

Friday, 16 July 2010

15+16/7/10: In my Barnehurst garden

Meadow Browns
Speckled Wood chasing a Gatekeeper
A Wood Mouse disturbed during daylight hours
A Wren

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

13/7/10: Brookweed and Little Grebe amongst new records on Thames Road Wetland

More recording either side of some Cray Riverkeepers work.

On the way down to the Cray an adult Asparagus Beetle was seen on Asparagus in Eversley Avenue, and larvae on Parkside Rd.

A clump of Tansy was noted on the 'rough' off Perry St. roundabout, in the Thames Rd/Gascoyne Drive section, a new record for me here.

22 Starlings were seen on roofs on Barnes Cray Rd.

Dace and Chubb were seen in the River Cray by Footpath 106. Amongst the marginal plants recorded were Branched Bur-reed (Sparganium erectum), Reed Sweet Grass and Reed Canary Grass in flower.

Insects about along FP106 and By-way 105 included a couple of Red Admiral, Gatekeepers, Banded Demoiselles, lots of Blue-tailed Damselflies and also a Large Red Damselfly ovipositing.

Next stop was the Thames Road Wetland (TRW). On the western section of the Sewer Embankment was a Black Knapweed, which I don't recall seeing here before (but I may be wrong - I'm way behind on spreadsheeting my records to make them quickly accessible ..... ). There were Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on Common Ragwort. A Large White Butterfly was seen further along, and 2 adult and 2 juvenile Goldfinches flew onto a shrub.

Black Knapweed and Common Ragwort on the Sewer Embankment by the TRW

The TRW is glimpsed over a clump of the uncommon plant Dittander (Lepidium latifolium), a mass of which were pouring forth their frothy white flowers along the Sewer Embankment

Looking out over the Thames Road Wetland, birds on the 'lake' (the deeper, open water at the eastern end of the flooded area west of the Wansunt) were 2 adult and a couple of juvenile Coot and a new record for me on the site of Little Grebe (Dabchick), of which there were 2 adults and 3 small young.

A couple of the mildew-feeding 22-spot Ladybird species down in the TRW 'bowl' were also a new record here.

At one point I was trying to get close to a flying Dragonfly, in order to get an ID, when it was grabbed from among the Reedmace by a House Sparrow which disappeared into the Thames Rd shrub beds with it.

From this side of the site I was able to pick out 4 Gadwall somewhat hidden on a small grassy 'island'.

Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea) was in flower on the flat, dry, ground up next to the Thames Rd fence.

Next I checked out that part of the site to the east of the River Wansunt. There were a few Purple Loosestrife in flower here, some Gypsywort and 8 Celery-leaved Crowfoot (Ranunculus sceleratus) in flower in the damp margins of the drying pool.

Dittander is now down in the bowl proper, on a corner of the easternmost pool, next to Branched Bur-reed which only seems to be at this end of the site so far, and is a new record for the 'bowl'.

Branched Bur-reed in flower on the TRW

A further new record for the site was a single Greek Dock which, oddly, was growing in the water.

A Goat's-Rue was also found down in the bowl.

The pool on the eastern fringe of the flooded area, east of the Wansunt, is shallow, its winter extent shown by the thin Rushes in the picture above

In the drying, but still quite damp mud here (with water pooling in old horse hoof-prints), yet another new site record was obtained in the shape of 15 flowering plants of Brookweed (Samolus valerandi). This is a member of the Primula family and has small, white flowers, with notched petals. This is the first time I've come across this species anywhere. It is reported to now have a rather restricted distribution in the UK, so this is a good find.

Brookweed (Samolus valerandi) on the TRW - a species completely new to me

Friday, 2 July 2010

2/7/10: New White-letter Hairstreak colony in Bexley

The LNHS Horsenden Hill meeting, which was the first time I'd seen White-letter Hairstreaks, was a useful event for getting my 'eye in' and was absolutely instrumental in enabling me to find the species along Moat Lane on Crayford Marshes today. I was also spurred on by Tristan Bantock having said he also thought there was a good chance of it being there when we were making our way along the lane towards Slade Green aftera bug-hunt earlier in June.

Moat Lane, Crayford Marshes, on a sunny evening back on the 23rd April 2010. The substantial English Elm 'hedge' where the White-letter Hairstreaks were found is on the left (south) side, here catching the evening sun from the west.

The lane has longish stretches of English Elm 'monoculture' to about 18-20' tall along the south side, and a few rather smaller ones on the north side. Horses are pastured on the rough grazing adjacent to the hedge. I saw between 7 and 9 likely different individuals, two of which I got side-on good binocular views of and so can be absolutely certain of the ID. They appeared to only be using the (south side) Elm some way along the lane at present (around TQ 530 767), and not that near the Slade Green station end or opposite the moat of Howbury Grange.

The weather was hot and sunny, with some blustery breezes and the odd dark cloud blotting out the sun for short periods. The observations were made between 11.40 a.m. to around 13.30.

The White-letter Hairstreak is a UK and London Borough of Bexley Council BAP priority species, and the Council's website says the only place it occurs in the Borough is in a wood at Foot's Cray Meadows.

Other species seen along the lane today were:

Probable Holly Blue
Common Blue
Large Skipper
Small Skipper
Small White
Meadow Brown

and a couple of female Broad-bodied Chasers and Darter species.

There were 4 Swallows (probably fledglings) sitting on the barbed wire fence of the field around the moat, and a few Swifts overhead.

Coming hard on the heels of the W-LHS find, a little further along the lane towards the River Darent were 2 or 3 clumps of Crown Vetch, my second find of it in the Borough - the other also having been on the Marshes, in that case away to the west near Crossness.

Out by the river were a Small Heath, 2 Common Blues, a Kestrel and Tufted Vetch.