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’.

Monday, 30 August 2010

30/8/10: Dartford Warbler, Grayling, Large Marsh Grasshopper, New Forest Shield Bug

Bank Holiday day trip to the New Forest with London Natural History Society invertebrate specialists Sarah Barnes, Tristan Bantock, Neil Anderson, Rob Wallace and Abby in search of rare insects.

I won't give a blow-by-blow account. Suffice to say I saw a significant number of species new to me, both plant and animal, a couple very rare.

Much of the territory covered - between Ashurst and Beaulieu Road railway stations - was heathland with Ling, Cross-leaved Heath and Bell Heather. I haven't decided whether the small, late-flowering Gorse (in the above picture) is Western Gorse (Ulex gallii) or Dwarf Gorse (Ulex minor). Both occur in the forest. The plants I looked at seemed to have features of both.

This is Bog Myrtle .......

and this a late Bog Asphodel .....

Other plants seen included Sneezewort, Devil's-bit Scabious, Bog Pimpernel, Bogbean and Marsh St. John's-wort (Hypericum elodes).

Early on in the visit we saw a couple of Stonechat with a Dartford Warbler flitting back and forth in the same area. Dartford is the next station east of where I live, just over the London border in Kent, and the Warbler - which I'd never seen in the flesh before - was the emblem of the erstwhile North Kent Wildlife Preservation Society, which I joined aged 10 in 1970. It was later changed - long before the Warbler started its recent dramatic range expansion - to a Heron to symbolise the North Kent marshes. Perhaps one day it will turn up on Dartford Heath. One was seen at Crossness in Belvedere fairly recently .......

Several Grayling butterflies (below) were seen, a first for me, quite pale on the wing and often gliding - in contrast to other 'Browns'. Once landed on a plant or on the ground they were remarkably amenable to being closely approached .

Another new insect for me was the Keeled Skimmer dragonfly, of which a singleton and a tandem pair were seen.

A big feature of the trip was Orthoptera. The list of species seen is as follows:

  • Meadow Grasshopper
  • Mottled Grasshopper
  • Woodland Grasshopper
  • Slender Ground-hopper
  • Bog Bush Cricket
  • Long-winged Conehead
  • and, last but definitely not least, the mighty Large Marsh Grasshopper (Stethophyma grossum) - pictures below - the largest British species, which now occurs only in a very few sites. Several were eventually found very close together after much quartering of a quaking bog for which we'd been given a rough OS grid reference. Ye olde vegan plimsolls are not the best kit for this sort of job, and my feet were still wet when I got home more than three hours later !

Large Marsh Grasshopper - see also which gives a better impression of how bright a yellowish green it can be.

An adult and nymph of the New Forest Shield Bug (Eysarcoris aeneus) were also found in this area - several pictures here

Rounding off the trip, a mixed group of House Martins and Swallows were lined up along telephone wires by Beaulieu Road railway station.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

28/8/10: London Zoo botany

London Natural History Society visit to London Zoo to help the head of Horticulture there build up a picture of plant life on zoo-owned land.

More than 100 species of plant were recorded, but nothing stunning. There was a lot of Wall Lettuce along Outer Circle Road, more than I've seen anywhere else in London, and a lot of Indian Bean Tree seedlings coming up. This latter appears to have the potential to become a bit of a nuisance like the Tree of Heaven.

The increasingly ubiquitous Roesel's Bush Cricket was in the grass around the car park by Prince Albert Rd.

I rather liked the Cape Hunting/Painted Dogs - Lycaon pictus. - now seriously endangered like so much else.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

12/8 - 21/8/10 - a 'catch-up' miscellany

12/8 - circa 140 Starlings congregating at the top of an electricity pylon south of Crayford Way and east of Crayford town centre.

13/8 - baby Common Lizard and several Dock Squash Bugs, Grasmere allotment site, Barnehurst

14/8 - after a 'subconcious glimpse' the other day, I confirmed that there was at least one, possibly two Caper Spurge (Euphorbia lathyris) trackside at the east end of Eltham's 'up' platform

Also this Treacle Mustard (my first identification / record of it) was near the junction of Ufford St and Boundary Row in Southwark (picture above)

The number of moths at the window of my home has been poor this year, but there was a Brimstone Moth tonight

15/8 - there was a 2" body length Common Toad on my compost heap at Grasmere allotments, and two Common Blue butterflies resting head downward in the grass stems by the pond there

16/8 - I was pleased to see that Catmint (Nepeta cataria) has hung on in an unpromising spot by the petrol station in Long Lane, Bexleyheath, with a strongly-flowering specimen (below) in evidence. I have raised a few plants from seed I collected here last year, but Thrip grazing has rather spoilt the appearance of the surface of the leaves of this and various other Labiates I'm growing.

An unusual denizen of a crack in the pavement was this Corn (Maize) plant (below) found outside a house in Chapel Road, Bexleyheath.

There was a Goats-beard in the grounds of St. Martin's church on Erith Rd, which looks like it will flower late after presumably having been mown down earlier in the season.

There was a Common Darter and a Speckled Wood along the south margin of Bursted Wood.

18/8 - several Common Frogs active in the back garden in this cooler weather. There was a Field Mouse in one of the compost bins.

20/8 - a party of Long-tailed Tits in the back garden Juniper.

I have checked some flowerheads of Prickly Lettuce - which is frequent in some places locally - for larvae of the Small Ranunculus Moth without success. Today I weeded a specimen out of a pot of Skullcap (it had grown up out of sight behind some horticultural fleece), and it was only after I'd pulled it up that I noticed a few small caterpillars around the buds, which appear to be of this species .....

The Butterfly Conservation website says this:

'Formerly a relatively common species in the south-east, it had become extinct by the early part of the 20th century. In the last few years, however, it has become re-established in a small area of Kent and Essex, around the Thames, where it is now frequently recorded, especially around allotments.The larvae feed on the flowers and seeds of various wild and cultivated lettuce (Lactuca spp.).'

In the evening I was doing some long-overdue work on my rather small and overgrown pond. 3 Robins got very friendly, two rather blotchy ones especially so, coming within a foot of my face as I leant down at one point. The third, with a proper red breast, was less bold. The blotchy birds I'd seen several times before, though I thought there was only one. In any case they seem far too trusing given the local feline presence, and one is already carrying an injury to its head.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

14/8/10: Bookham, Wisley for Orthoptera

Another LNHS jaunt, this time to Bookham in Surrey. This event was primarily aimed at showing people unusual Grasshoppers and Crickets. Given that the site has long been studied by the Society, I'm only going to mention species that were new to me or relatively unusual.

The first thing that was unusual for me was the very large extent of Common Fleabane, especially in the area not far from the railway line.

A plant new to me was Red Bartsia.

Orthoptera found were:

I found a Cryptocephalus beetle on a Thistle flower head, which is being looked at by an expert. He says that if it's C.aureolus, there is just a single record in 1944. If it's one of the other species, it will be a new addition to the site list.

Sarah Barnes, Tristan Bantock and Mick Massie sweep Willow succesion in wet mud around the 'Isle of Wight' pond

This pond contained a large amount of Bogbean, and in the mud had the troublesome alien invader Crassula helmsii (pictured above)

Woundwort Shieldbug and a nymph of the Shieldbug Troilus luridus were shown to me by other participants. A Great Crested Newt was found under arock, and various dead wood specialist insects under the bark of felled Oak.

Wisley heathland - near to the Royal Horticultural society gardens

The target at Wisley was Wood Cricket (Nemobius sylvestris) - only found in a handful of places in the country. In a stroke of 'beginner's luck' I found the species almost as soon as we'd come out of the car park, through some trees and onto the open heath. Picture by field trip leader Sarah Barnes here:

Besides the Heather, Erica tetralix was also in bloom.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

12/8/10: More solo Thames Road wetland work and new species

A mix of recording and some solo site management - laboriously shearing unobtrusive pathways along water courses and creating 'windows' in the taller marginal vegetation (Gypsywort, Great Willowherb) so that Odonata etc. can be seen, and litter-picking.

The contractor-planted shrubs (species not local to the site) have suffered badly in the drought, especially being on steep south-facing slopes. A bit of recent rain has improved matters a bit.

Guelder Rose in fruit on the Thames Rd bank

A Brassica Bug (Eurydema oleracea), a new record for the site, was found on this shrub.

There was a Grey Heron in the river Wansunt. On the eastern side of the Wansunt a Roesel's Bush Cricket was heard, then seen, Creeping Thistle was found which - for the first time I've noticed - carried the stem gall caused by the fly Urophora cardui and there were a couple of Perennial Sow Thistles on a bank in the eastern pools. All three species constitute new records for the site.

This Goosefoot with strongly toothed leaves was in the 'Pallet Yard' south of the Sewer Pipe Embankment, and has yet to be identified

Also in the Pallet Yard was this (new record) patch of Common Fleabane

There was a party of Long-tailed Tits flitting about.

There were some good Blackberries up on the embankment, and the lone Fennel plant was now in flower, the Dittander was going over and 4 juvenile Goldfinches were seen.

This very worn Comma landed on the trackway at the east end of the TRW on my way back

There's a lot of Vervain on this stony part of the site.

This Buddleia by the Cray is distinctive on account of the amount of branching **within** the flower spikes

12/8/10: Bursted Woods Mining Bee identified as Dasypoda hirtipes

In my 6th August post I drew attention to the fact that I'd found Beewolf wasps in the midst of the mining bee colony on Erith Road, by Bursted Woods.

At the time I had not identified the bee itself. LNHS expert Tristan Bantock has confirmed from my photos that 'it is the very distinctive (Hairy-legged Mining Bee) Dasypoda hirtipes. Nothing else has such long hairs on the scopa. They do nest in aggregations and like fairly loose sandy soil, as does (the Beewolf)Philanthus, but I am surprised they are nesting (together)'.

The Beewolf does, however, specialise in catching Honeybees, so these Hairy-legged Mining Bees are unlikely to be under attack from their neighbours.

According to the Essex Field Club website : 'This mining bee occurs in southern Britain, and whilst still reasonably widespread and locally common on southern coastal dunes, it has declined significantly inland (Falk, 1991a). In Essex most records are from near the Thames. The bee is remarkable for the female's very large pollen brushes on the hind tibia. The species will form nesting aggregations in bare or sparsely vegetated sandy or other friable soils and females collect pollen exclusively from composites (Asteraceae) especially yellow flowered species such as ox-tongues Picris spp. and ragworts Senecio spp.'

Later (on 16th August) I counted the holes - not easy to do accurately without doing the job rather slowly, but my rapid' rough-and-ready-count' of holes with recent excavate (excluding holes flush with the surface which may be last years' holes and/or abandoned this) gave a total of 570 (yes, five hundred and seventy).

Some photos of the site and bees appear below.

For more information about the variety of bees, wasps and ants that can be found in the UK see the Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society website:

Hairy-legged Mining Bee and Beewolf colony by Bursted Woods on Erith Rd, Barnehurst, looking towards Bexleyheath. The pale patches in the grass verge are excavated sand around nest hole entrances. Both are uncommon species.

Early in the day a lot of the bees sit with only the front part of their bodies poking out of their nest holes

Lucky shot of an incoming bee

Three-quarter rear view of female showing dense hairs on hind legs, used as 'paddles' to excavate sand from nest holes

Bee 'paddling' backwards to push more sand out of and away from the nest hole

Sunday, 8 August 2010

8/8/10: Jersey Tiger, Dark Mullein - New Cross park

Another of my indirect routes home after an LNHS meeting took me (somewhat randomly) to Fordham Park, New Cross - in the Borough of Lewisham - which is currently being re-developed.

The area by Childeric Rd, slated to be a wildlife zone, was covered with dense stands of tall Goosefoot species, but threw up this Jersey Tiger - a moth increasingly found in the capital (I saw two last year). Apologies for the poor picture quality, but it's good enough to show that's what it was .....

Amongst various common weeds of south east London, including Black Horehound, Yarrow, Hedge Mustard, Knotgrass and Black Medick were Woody Nightshade, Sun Spurge, Hemlock and the less frequently seen Field Pennycress.

I have yet to identify the above, which didn't appear to be sappy regrowth from pre-existing shrubs which had been cut down to the ground.

The best botanical find was this Dark Mullein (Verbascum nigrum), my first (apparently) non-planted find in London - though I have seen it in a Bexley Council flower bed, so you never know .... It had a specimen of the bug Liocoris tripustulatus on it.

There was also a Stinking Iris outside the park fence.

8/8/10: Croydon - Coombe Lane heath to chalk slopes near New Addington

LNHS field trip from the Coombe Lane tram stop to heathland on the Addington Hills for invertebrates, followed by chalk downland further down the line at New Addington.

Addington Hills heathland

Species seen here included:

  • A few Common Lizards
  • Tawny Cockroach
  • Beautiful Yellow Underwing moth (larva and adult)
  • Emperor butterfly - very brief view
  • Common Green Grasshopper
  • Mottled Grasshopper
  • Meadow Grasshopper
  • Long-winged Conehead
  • Gorse Shield Bug
  • Gorse Lace Bug

LNHS members search Hutchinson's Bank - a rich chalk slope surreally close to a New Addington housing estate - for unusual invertebrates

Species here included:

  • Marjoram
  • Agrimony
  • Eyebright
  • Greater Yellow Rattle
  • one plant of Sainfoin
  • Kidney Vetch
  • baby Common Lizards
  • a Brown Argus

plus ......

Stemless Thistle (Cirsium acaule)

My first ever Small Blue (Cupido minimus) butterflies

Restharrow (Ononis repens)

On the way to Chapel Bank were ......

a lot of Wild Parsnip in flower

a couple of Brimstone butterflies, a Large Skipper, a Ringlet, Black Bryony, Woodruff, Wood Spurge, Figwort, Bush Vetch,

this Broad-leaved Helleborine in flower

and on/in the environs of the bank Thyme, Hemp Agrimony and Common Gromwell (a new species for me).

Saturday, 7 August 2010

7/8/10: Missing the boat - Wimbledon Common / Putney Heath

I cut the time of my arrival at Wimbledon station a bit fine for walking to the London Natural History Society meeting place up on the Common, and compounded the mistake by walking the wrong way for 15 minutes after too casual a look at my A-Z. Never did find the main party, the site being a lot large than I had imagined, so this turned out to be a rather random solo ramble.

Putney Heath - classic heathland scene with flowering Heather (Calluna vulgaris), and Silver Birch in the distance

Silver Birch with Heather beneath on a damp part of Wimbledon Common

Heathland succesion at the margin of a damp glade - Gorse, Silver Birch and Aspen (or a similar-looking Poplar hybrid) gaining ground amongst Heather

The more notable plants included Tormentil, a Cudweed species, several Meadow Vetchling, a single Agrimony, a couple of ditches in close proximity containing runs of Blackberry with more ferny than usual 'Oregon Thornless' type leaves and a Downy Birch.

Tormentil in a damp glade, a daintier, 4-petalled relative of the ubiquitous Creeping Cinquefoil

The weather was patchy, sometimes rather overcast, so not many butterflies were seen. A Gorse Shield Bug (Piezodorus lituratus) was found. Also several kinds of Odonata. A Migrant Hawker settled on Gorse. A Common Darter was seen. A close view was had of a pair of tandem Ruddy Darters ovipositing amongst grass on a damp pathway. 2 or 3 (Large) Red-eyed Damselflies were utilising an isolated patch of Heather, away from water, with a Gorse plant in it.

I wasn't paying much attention to birds but a Jay was spotted.

Ride through a wooded part of Wimbledon Common

Soil profile exposed by erosion - where usage has 'sunk' the ride trackway. Note thin layer of organic matter over sand studded with bebbles.

As I left the north end of Putney Heath there was a heavy downpour, but I managed to avoid getting too much of a soaking by getting to a sheltered bus stop. Later in the afternoon large amounts of water were noted pouring off the ends of the modern, but badly designed glass roof at the entrance to East Croydon station. Any sensible set-up would be capturing that water for later use.

Friday, 6 August 2010

6/8/10: Barnehurst Beewolfs and darting Dragonflies

An unsuccessful White-letter Hairstreak hunt in a new location today - but it's getting a bit late in the season and, although warm, it was somewhat overcast during much of the time I was out.

The 'failure' was made up for by finding 2 specimens of the Beewolf (Philanthus triangulum) amidst the big colony of Mining Bees on the sandy bank between Erith Rd and Bursted Woods in Barnehurst.

Part of the site (looking north) with about a third of the bee/wasp excavations in view.

I was watching one of the bees doing more excavation work when a white face appeared at the entrance to another tunnel. I only knew what it was thanks to the LNHS Bushy Park field trip last weekend (see 31/7/2010 post). The owner jiggled back and forth several times, with a bit more of itself coming out of the tunnel mouth each time before it eventually flew off, coming back later 'empty-handed'.

Philanthus triangulum has to date been regarded as rare, and its status given as vulnerable, RDB2, with its population concentrated in the south-east (originally only in sandy habitats in the Isle of Wight and Suffolk) with a scattered distribution north to Lancashire and Yorkshire. It is now being found more often and has been reported as exhibiting more catholic tastes in habitat than previously.

One of the Barnehurst Beewolfs ('blown up' from a mobile phone cam picture). This one had landed on some excavation material, and was fairly obliging - apart from positioning itself behind some bits of grass.

I also checked out the old Pitch and Putt area along the wood margin. To my mind the mowing regime could usefully be relaxed a bit, at least in patches. There was little for insects to nectar on, apart from scattered Yarrow - which doesn't seem to be used much. The bees seen were on a couple of Common Ragwort 'stunted' by mowing, a couple of patches of Black Knapweed which I hadn't recorded here before and a few Spear Thistles in the band of Bramble/Nettle along the edge of the wood.

The heavily mown 'amenity grassland' of the former Pitch and Putt course by Bursted Wood, Barnehurst, quite unnecessarily leaves far too little for our declining Bees to feed on

One of a couple of patches of Black Knapweed, a great bee plant, here flowering at only a few inches tall due to the mowing regime. With a bit more imagination, flexibility and maybe training of contractors, surely such plants could be worked around or uncut areas left for them to proliferate in, providing more interest for people and a better living for local wildlife ......

I was also intrigued to see, along this northern margin of the wood, no less than 6 Hawker Dragonflies constantly zooming around in the same area without any signs of aggression towards one another. Although I watched for some time, none landed and a positive ID was not possible. This behaviour is, however, said to be characteristic of the Migrant Hawker, one specimen of which I saw on the nearby Grasmere allotment site a few years ago.

Some time earlier, I had seen a Common Darter dragonfly perch on a dead branch on the south margin of the wood, by the road to the hospital.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

3/8/10: Ruddy hell! Grain Wall Brown joy and Eryngium maritimum bonanza

An unexpected, short-notice trip over to the Isle of Grain in Kent today with Mervyn Brown, and old acquaintance from North Kent Wildlife Preservation Society days. Mervyn showed up at my door out of the blue a few months ago when he found out I was back in the area. He has been working with Eric Philp on the new Flora of Kent. He used to focus on moths but is now hot on grasses. The purpose of the visit was to look at a colony of Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum), as he is an afficianado of the genus.

The area looked at was the Thames shoreline, north and west of the village of Grain itself.

Looking east from the cliff-top towards the mouth of the Medway, with Sheerness beyond. Remains of anti-tank defences towards the foreground.

A short way west of the car park was a rough grassy area over a crumbly clay. A number of grasses were identified, including Sea Couch, the Couch/Sea Couch hybrid, Creeping Bent and Yellow Oat Grass. There were a number of Opium Poppies, Hoary Ragwort, Sea Mayweed and White Melilot.

Wild Carrot amongst abundant Horseradish

Creeping Bent (in the foreground)

View of the Thames looking north-west (upriver)

In a depression between some banking were Common Fleabane in flower, Hairy Tare and Common Toadflax.

Common Fleabane (foreground) with the Thames and Essex coast beyond

A lot of Coltsfoot was sprouting from several incongruous mounds of sand

The botanical highlight was the huge amount of Sea Holly. I haven't been able to resist including several pictures of it .....

A long strip behind the beach in a fenced-off area contained a phenomenal number of plants - it was as if a farmer had deliberately sown a field of them stretching into the distance. Neither Mervyn nor I had ever seen the species growing at this sort of density before.

Other coastal plants included Sea Purslane and lots of Sea Sandwort.

Insects seen included Common Blue Damselflies, good close-up views of my first definite Ruddy Darters, Common Blue butterflies, a Small Copper, a Red Admiral and Gatekeepers.

I thought I'd seen something a bit different earlier on, but when I called out to Mervyn 'It's a Wall Brown!' he didn't quite believe me. It was very obliging and we both took several pictures - even though it flew up a couple of times, it kept coming back to a nearby spot and opening its wings. I used to get Wall Browns on the Buddleia in my front garden in Barnehurst (and no Speckled Woods). Without hunting out my old records my guess is that the last one I saw was in my garden in around 1980-1982, more than half a life-time ago now. The Wall Brown disappeared from much of its range for unknown reasons, but for a long time now I have had Speckled Woods.

Long time no see - a Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera) by the Thames, just west of Grain village, on the Isle of Grain, Kent