Saturday, 17 March 2018

Blue Tits in Uckfield

This morning, Kevin of Potter's Books arrived with some treasures - nature and local history books. As it was a grey morning and snow was falling I decided to look at one of my books - The Blue Tit by Martyn Stenning.

The Blue Tit - Martyn Stenning
It is a specialist book with all sorts of fascinating information about Blue Tits including research on Blue Tits breeding in The Woodland Trust's Lake Wood, Uckfield along with detailed results and analysis.  I haven't had time to do more than graze through it so far but it sent me spinning off into my own records and photos.  My photos aren't great but I was pleased to be able to capture these lively little birds at all.

Blue Tit posing prettily on our birdtable - 13 January 2013

I find Blue Tits very endearing. They pose prettily on our bird table, nest obligingly in the box on the back of the house and surely butter wouldn't melt in their innocent little beaks?

Maybe they're not so cute if you are a rival or a threat. Just before Christmas I was shocked to see two Blue Tits having a brawl in the feet of a hedge in Hempstead Lane.  Maybe they were fighting over a nesting site? Martyn's book tells us that "securing a cavity will be the male Blue Tit's first move to attract a mate" or maybe, at a time when food was scarce, they were competing over some tasty morsel. A couple of the country names listed in Mark Cocker's and Richard Mabey's Birds Britannica, "Billy biter" and "Tom bitethumb" reflect their feisty nature.

At our nest box - 27 Mary 2007
I've got so used to seeing Blue Tits nesting in bird boxes that it was a surprise when David, chairman  of the Uckfield Nature Reserves Supporters Group, pointed out parent birds going in and out of a crack in the trunk of a big old tree in Uckfield Town Council's West Park Local Nature Reserve. I simply hadn't thought about what Blue Tits did before man invented bird boxes! Now I find myself wondering if they are descendants of any of the birds that featured in Martyn's Lake Wood studies.

Fledgling with yellow gape round its beak - 27 May 2011
When a Blue Tit family is resident in the box on our wall, we never have to worry about caterpillars eating our plants because the parent birds are constantly scouring the garden for nice, soft prey to feed their chicks.  Those little mouths are sign-posted with a bright yellow gape as shown in the photo above.

I was astounded when I read, in Martyn's book that they hatch " ... more often very early in the morning ... so the hatchling can feed sufficiently to double its weight from roughly one gram to two grams during the first 24 hours out of the egg shell." I find it remarkable that they can grow so quickly but also that everything is so well synchronised with the hatching matching the time that there are caterpillars to feed on.

The Blue Tits that nest in our box always seem to fledge when I am away but in 2007 they left the nest on a Sunday and I seemed to spend most of the day watching them and shooing off the neighbours' cats.  On the 27 of April, fledglings started coming out of the nest just before 9:30am. I still remember the parent bird calling them across the garden from a tree.

Fledgling hiding in bonsai - 27 Mary 2007
  • The first three got off quickly. These little bundles of fluff tumbled rather than flew from the box. They fluttered and ran across the garden until they reached a conifer. From there, I think they more-or-less parachuted to the Oak.
  • Unfortunately the fourth fell in the pond. Although I got it out and put it on the bird table, the parent bird would have nothing further to do with it.
  • The last two came out about 5 pm. They both fluttered to the ground and ran across the garden until they encountered an obstacle, which they would then climb to use as a launch pad for the next part of their journey.  It was fascinating to see them climb our wall with their surprisingly large feet.

Now, at the end of a snowy March, I'm hoping to see Blue Tits inspecting our box so the whole cycle can start again.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

West Park Local Nature Reserve - Species

Just before Christmas, I wrote about the species that I have observed in the Hempstead Meadow Nature Reserve. Now it's West Park's turn.

Amphibians and Reptiles

I've not observed any amphibians or reptiles in West Park but plenty of people have seen frog spawn near the pond.  iRecord shows two records for Common Lizard in 2015.


Goldfinch - 9 April 2017

We (The Uckfield Nature Reserves Supporter's group) have gone on a number of bird walks, led by David. I have recorded the following species but we saw and heard more.

Common name Species
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Swift Apus apus
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Buzzard Buteo buteo
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Robin Erithacus rubecula
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba subsp. yarrellii
Great Tit Parus major
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Magpie Pica pica
Dunnock Prunella modularis
Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Blackbird Turdus merula
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos

On one of our walks last year, David pointed out Bluetits going in and out a hole in a tree. I am so used to seeing them in nest boxes, it is strange to see them using a natural nesting place.

Flowering Plants

Bluebells and Oak - 14 May 2017
There are many flowering plants in the reserve including many blossom trees such Blackthorn, Hawthorn and Wild Roses.  I've only recorded a handful and have taken beauties such as the Oak and Bluebells, shown in the photo above, for granted. Looking at iRecord, it is clear that a much more detailed survey was done in 2015 by Ben Rainbow, which yielded over a hundred species including those two.

Mystery tree - a pear? - 9 April 2017
During the 9 April 2017 walk, we found an intriguing blossom tree.  The flowers were familiar but too big for one of the trees we expect to find flowering in April.  Scouring our books didn't really help and it was only when I found a very similar tree in Leatherhead that I began to suspect that it might be an ornamental pear. I didn't find any pears in the Autumn but I may have missed them.


Velvet Shank - 22 October 2017
Many of the fungi that I have recorded in West Park were observed by a group that did a fungi hunt on the 22nd of October 2018

Common name Species
Jelly Ear Auricularia auricula-judae
Clouded Funnel Clitocybe nebularis
Shaggy Inkcap Coprinus comatus
Blushing Bracket Daedaleopsis confragosa
Velvet Shank Flammulina velutipes var. velutipes
Clustered Bonnet Mycena inclinata
Birch Polypore Piptoporus betulinus
Common Earthball Scleroderma citrinum
Turkeytail Trametes versicolor
Candlesnuff Fungus Xylaria hypoxylon


Peacock butterfly - 25 March 2017
West Park is home to all sorts of insects, from tiny beetles to showy butterflies and dragonflies.  I found several different types of insect feeding on the glorious Blackthorn blossom in March last year.

Honeybee nest entrance - 28 Jan 2017
One of my favourite finds was a natural Honeybee nest in one of the old trees.  On one of the Autumn walks, David pointed out a Hornet's nest. Fortunately these large, wasp-like creatures are much more laid-back than their smaller, waspy, cousins.

Common name Species Taxon group
Cream-spot Ladybird Calvia quattuordecimguttata insect - beetle (Coleoptera)
Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis insect - beetle (Coleoptera)
Peacock Aglais io insect - butterfly
Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae insect - butterfly
Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines insect - butterfly
Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni insect - butterfly
Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas insect - butterfly
Comma Polygonia c-album insect - butterfly
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta insect - butterfly
Emperor Dragonfly Anax imperator insect - dragonfly (Odonata)
Honey Bee Apis mellifera insect - hymenopteran
Large Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus (Melanobombus) lapidarius insect - hymenopteran
Early Bumblebee Bombus (Pyrobombus) pratorum insect - hymenopteran
Common Carder Bee Bombus (Thoracobombus) pascuorum insect - hymenopteran
Plain Gold Micropterix calthella insect - moth
Cinnabar Tyria jacobaeae insect - moth
Meadow Grasshopper Chorthippus parallelus insect - orthopteran
Panorpa communis insect - scorpion fly (Mecoptera)
St Marks Fly Bibionidae insect - true fly (Diptera)
Dark-edged Bee-fly Bombylius major insect - true fly (Diptera)


The only mammals that I have seen are rabbits but there is clear evidence of the presence of larger creatures.


Crab spider - 14 May 2017
With all those insects around, we are bound to find a few spiders. I am not very good at identifying them but was able to record this colourful crab spider.

This is a very brief round up of my own observations. There are many more out there including those from formal surveys and all the people who walk through  the reserve.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Biological Recorders' Seminar 2018 - Sussex Biodiversity

After a stressful week it was good to take a pause in Oathall Community College's kitchen garden and listen to the birds singing and the cows mooing before going into the Adastra wildlife recording seminar.

Inside, there was a sale of "The natural history books of Heather Monie and Bunny Bull." with proceeds going to the Sussex Wildlife Trust. It was very poignant to see the books being sold off but I had a strong sense of lives well lived.

Heather and Bunny's books.

I gathered up a few treasures and moved on to the Sussex Botanical Recording Society's stand where the much anticipated The Flora of Sussex was arriving.  I had a quick chat with society members, one or two of whom kindly said that they liked the sketch-notes about keying plants that I had put on the Facebook page. As there were a lot of boxes of books to shift, I brought a box in from the car and then claimed my own copy.

Once again, the talks that followed were full of fascinating information so here is a quick round up.

Record Centre Update - Clare Blencowe

Clare outlined the many developments this year including how various bodies are working together to try and get the local Wildlife Site system running again. Local Wildlife Sites (previously Sites of Nature Conservation Importance - SNCIs) are non-statutory sites of nature conservation value such as Uckfield's West Park and Snatts Road Cemetery.  There is more information on their new website, which includes a recording events calendar.

The Secret Life of Flies - Erica McAlister

Erica gave a very lively talk on flies and their, quite frankly, disgusting habits.  She will definitely be worth following on Twitter @flygirlNHM.  She mentioned bee flies such as the one photographed in Uckfield's West Park Local Nature Reserve, below.

Dark-edged Bee Fly (Bombylius major) - 25 March 2017
I already knew that they flicked their eggs into bee burrows but had no idea that they wrapped them in gravel to make that possible. Also, I didn't know that the larvae then had two distinct growth phases: in the first they are very active until they find a host; then they slow right down, just feeding on it.

Pan-species Listing the Sussex Wildlife Trust Reserves - Graeme Lyons

This is about listing all the species found in the reserves. Graeme announced that the number of species recorded was now over 10,000 and that James McCulloch (known as @My_Wild_Life on Twitter) added the 10,000th species.  The 10,000 included some historic records, one of which was a Little Bustard shot in 1846!  The largest group was beetles with 1874 species.

Graeme also showed the spreadsheet used to record the species information, which now supports work in the reserves.   The format is a list of species down the left-hand side and sites across the top. The cells are completed with the year of the most recent sighting.

Flora of Sussex - Nick Sturt

This was about the book I bought earlier. It is very clearly the labour of love of a very dedicated team and I am looking forward to exploring it. The maps are based on tetrads (2km by 2km squares).

  • The average number of taxa in a tetrad was 336.
  • The highest number was 818 in part of Brighton.
  • The next highest number was 598 in Amberley.
  • The lowest was 33, near the Kent border.

There was a lovely slide showing a 1920s and 2017 group of botanists at Chailey Common. To my surprise, I was in the latter group.

Sussex Seas - Sarah Ward

Sarah outlined the two main surveys that, together, form the Living Seas project:

Knepp Wildland - Penny Green

Penny described Knepp's change from an intensively farmed estate, which was not reliably profitable, to a rewilded landscape. Part of the inspiration was the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve in the Netherlands, where a variety of large herbivores with different eating habits maintain and improve the ecosystem. Any ecosystem needs an apex predator to prevent the herbivores eating themselves out of a home. The words that echo in my mind are "We are the wolf", which is how Penny explained humans' role in removing excess herbivores (to sell as meat) from the rewilded area. .

They rely on recording to monitor what is happening. One of the big successes is the reappearance of the Purple Emperor butterfly, which needs sallows, which in turn needed the environment created by the Tamworth pigs rooting around. Others included the reappearance of Turtle Doves and Nightingales.

Fritillaries for the Future - Neil Hume

Neil described the work being done to try and revive the fortunes of the:
  • Pearl-Bordered Fritillary - 3 sites in Sussex, extinct in Kent and Surrey
  • Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary - extinct in SE England East of the New Forest.

Both species need Dog Violets for their caterpillars. Ever since I found out that some of the more common Fritillary caterpillars use Dog Violets as a food plant, I've been baffled by their absence from my local area where there are plenty of Dog Violets.  Neil's talk about the rarities explained more about the butterflies' complex needs. His words wove a vivid picture of Fritillaries roosting in the canopies of Oak trees and then, as the sun warms the ground, them dropping down to visit the flowers in woodland glades and rides. He went on to explain the specific needs of the rarities.

For example, the Pearl-Bordered Fritillary also needs bare ground to enable the caterpillars to absorb warmth from the spring sunshine.  This means that they need woods to be managed in a particular way with coppicing providing a cycle of shade and sunlit ground.  Wide 'rides' enable provide corridors that enable the butterflies to move from one coppiced area to another.  The decline in these butterflies may be down to lack of such management over decades allowing woods to become too dark.

Latest on Sussex Lessers - Ken Smith

Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker
Ken described the work being done to record Lesser-spotted woodpeckers. This work is described on the website.  Recording these birds is important because there has been a big decline in numbers.  Ken explained that:

  • Birds such as the Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker are helped by the type of woodland management that would help butterflies such as Fritillaries - i.e. coppicing, providing rides and glades.
  • Greater Spotted Woodpeckers drum in short, hard bursts whereas Lessers drum in longer, softer bursts.


My nature watch: a super project in which a Raspberry-Pi is used to create a trail camera.
West Weald Fungi: promising because it covers the Leatherhead area as well as Sussex.

Takeaways (apart from a car-load of books!)
  • That time spent studying and recording nature is part of a life well lived.
  • It would be interesting to pick some Uckfield Tetrads for more thorough recording.
  • I could 'borrow' some of Graeme's spreadsheet methods to make better use of iRecord information
  • I now understand more about how the Woodland Trust's management of Views (Williams) Wood benefits birds and insects as well as flowers.
  • We are the wolf that stops herbivores eating themselves out of a home.
I also attended and made notes about the seminar last year. This year there was more emphasis on joining volunteer sessions and less on providing the type of information that would enable people to operate independently.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Big Garden Birdwatch - 2018

This year, I had to do my Big Garden Birdwatch a bit earlier (8:05 to 9:05 am) than usual because I needed to get to the hairdresser. I thought this might be why my scores were a bit low but I am assured that there were very few birds in the garden while I was away.

2018's Big Garden Birdwatch
I got a total of 18 individuals from 7 species:
  • Blackbird - 4
  • Blue tit - 3
  • Carrion Crow - 1
  • House Sparrow - 3
  • Magpie - 1
  • Robin - 1
  • Starling - 4
  • Woodpigeon - 1 
This compare's to last year's scores of 17 individuals from 11 species.  Mum suggested that the birds might still be finding plenty of food in nearby wild places and so are staying away from the garden.

The first birds to appear were the cheeky ones - a Magpie and a Robin, which both haunted the garden for much of the hour. I first saw the Robin amongst the purple cascade of Birch twigs. About 10 minutes in, they were joined by a group of Blackbirds, a Wood pigeon and a Crow, which lurked - rather shyly - in a branch just above the hedge.

I was a little concerned when Max, next door's cat showed up - but he just took a brief tour round the front garden before disappearing.  It was just after this, I started seeing the small garden birds including a lovely group of 3 Blue Tits in the Oak, their yellow chests almost glowing in the low sunshine.

I got slightly annoyed by 3 House Sparrows that seemed to be tormenting me by scuttling up and down the edge of a nearby house. Finally, they flew into our magnolia tree so I could count them.  That done, it was time to drop my note book and binoculars and head off to the town.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Brighter Lime Tree Avenue

As we stagger into 2018, it is time to give Lime Tree Avenue a good trim. This time I was working in a group with Brighter Uckfield.  As always, they are doing the town proud and there was a great turn out.  This is just as well. Since last February, when we last did the work, there had been plenty of growth.

The trees that make up the avenue are hybrids between Large-leaved and Small-Leaved Limes.  They are prone to producing "epicormic growths" (suckers), which both:
  • drain energy from the main trunk
  • produce a mini forest at ground level. 
This is why they must be trimmed off.  The photos below show a before and after.

Before and After - epicormic growths (suckers) have been removed.
That was one of the easier trees. I just had to clip over it with stout shears and the job was done.  Some are trickier though.

Stripping away leaf litter to get at older suckers.
The last tree I did had got sneaky. Over the years leaf litter had built up round the suckers, which - hidden from the attentions of volunteers - had grown thick and dense. I had to rake out years of composted leaf litter and then cut off as many stems as I could, one-by-one.

Fungi - about 7 inches across - Jan 2018
Although it was winter there were plenty of signs of life. Lime leaves rot very quickly and make an excellent mulch - although we appreciate it more on the earth than the path! This process relies on fungi and there was a big one near the trees.

White-lipped Snails with their "doors" closed - Jan 2018
While raking the leaf litter from between the suckers, I found several White-lipped Snails. They are small (about 1/2 inch) and are coloured either brown and white or amber. At the moment, the shells are closed with a little white door to keep them safe until they are ready to emerge. In our garden, they are eaten by Thrushes - but I haven't seen a Thrush in the Avenue yet.

Lime Tree Avenue is important to Uckfield for a number of reasons.  It is a real connection with the past. These wonderful old trees are one of the few remaining connections with Uckfield House. If you look on the Memories of Uckfield Facebook group (login required), you will see many stories concerning local people's experiences of Lime Tree Avenue.

Lime Tree Avenue acts as a "vertical nature reserve" that provides a home and food for many creatures. While we were working, we saw Robins, Dunnocks (Hedge Sparrows) and others, almost at ground level. How many others must there be in those tall trees?

Cow Parsley - 30 December 2017
It's not just birds. As I walk up and down the Avenue and through the connected Twittens on the way to and from the town I have encountered a variety of flowers.  When, just a few days ago, I did a New Year Plant Hunt, I found a Cow Parsley already in flower. Soon there will be Primroses, and a view of the whole Avenue frothing white with Cow Parsley is one of Uckfield's most beautiful sights.

Honeybee on Alexanders in Lime Tree Avenue - April 2015
Where there are flowers, there are pollinators.  While passing through the Avenue, I often see bees and hoverflies (bee mimics that are also pollinators) working their way round the flowers.

Ivy Bee - September 2015
There will be other sorts of bees too. Ivy flowers late in the season and supports pollinators in the autumn after other flowers have faded away. It also supports its own special bee - appropriately called the Ivy bee.

Beautiful Demoiselle - May 2017
One day, when walking back from the town I found a Beautiful Demoiselle. She may look dainty and pretty but if you are a small flying creature, she is a fearsome predator who hunts on the wing.

Frog and Primroses - Feb 2016
There are habitats for other creatures too. On one of the work days, we found a frog, which Martyn carefully put in a safe place.

As well as providing a home and restaurant for all sorts of creatures, Lime Tree Avenue is a highway - a "wildlife corridor" that enables insects, birds and other animals to get from one green space to another.  If a food source runs low in one place they can use a wildlife corridor to travel to another and live to munch another day. I particularly enjoy seeing wildlife in our Manor Park garden and I'm sure I would see less if we didn't have wildlife corridors such as Lime Tree Avenue, the Railway and the River Uck nearby.


Tiny creatures from the leaf litter - 6 Jan 2018.
While I was scrabbling round in the composted leaf litter, I found and photographed a strange looking little creature about 1.5 cm long. It was only a snap with my phone, so I wasn't hopeful of getting an ID.  However I posted it in the Insects of Britain and Northern Europe Facebook group in the hope of getting some ideas.

Between them LS and DA suggested that the white larva was a beetle - probably Staphylinae (Rove beetle) or may be carabinae.  DA had spotted something else. Just above the beetle, by its legs, there are some tiny snails. She thinks these are probably Pupilla sp. (Chrysalis Snails) or Vertigo species. You might think that these are babies but this type of snail is just very, very small.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 - Adding New Species to my List

I like to record the wild plants and insects that I encounter using tools such as iRecord.  This year I recorded approximately 350 species of which nearly 100 were new to my lists.  This compares well with last year's 290 (with about 80 new).  This post is going to focus on the species that are new to my lists this year.  I have seen some of these before but this is the first time I've recorded them.

Some of the new entries are the result of me working in Leatherhead where I explored a new riverside habitat but many were much closer to home. Two species that I saw in both Leatherhead and Uckfield were the Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) and Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens).

Female Beautiful Demoiselle - near Lime Tree Avenue - May
Uckfield's Banded Demoiselles were rather camera shy but I did get some photos of the Leatherhead ones. The two males below were part of a group (over 16) that roosted overnight in a clump of strappy leaves near the river. There must be similar roosts near the Uck. Has anyone seen one?

Male Banded Demoiselles - Leatherhead - June
My recorded year started with more humble species. I did the BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt, which meant that I needed to hunt out any wild or naturalised plant that was in flower. The plants that are most likely to be blooming are the hardy, versatile weeds that grow in supermarket car parks, industrial estates etc. A new one for me was Annual Mercury (Mercurialis annua).

Annual Mercury - Bellbrook Industrial Estate - January
This year, I paid a number of visits to Holy Cross churchyard to identify the plants there for the Sussex Botanical Recording Society churchyard survey.  While I was investigating the plants I found a number of species of both plants and insects that I had not encountered before.  The Girdled Mining bee (Andrena labiata) is "scarce" and relies on "unimproved" grassland - i.e. grassland that has not been fertilised etc. Our old churchyards often have this type of ancient grass.

Girdled Mining Bee - Holy Cross Churchyard - April 2017
Cockspur (Echinochloa crus-galli) - Holy Cross Churchyard - August 2017
In early June, I did a Bioblitz of our garden. This means finding as many different species of wild plants and animals as possible. I found over a dozen that were new to me including:

Cantharis livida - No-mow zone - June 
Rhopalus subrufus - Flower bed - June
Selimus vittatus with her egg case - Oak tree - June
One of the highlights of the year was joining the Uckfield Local Nature Reserves Supporters Group. We went on a number of bird song/bug walks and a fungi hunt. I also did a little exploring of my own.  I am fairly familiar with Hempstead Meadows Local Nature Reserve (LNR) and found a few new bugs and beasties including:

Devil's Coach Horse (Ocypus olens) - Hempstead Meadows LNR - August
Notostira elongata - Hempstead Meadows LNR - August
West Park LNR is less familiar and enjoyed exploring it with the group. In November, we went on a fungi hunt and found a good variety of fungi. Beware that I got in a bit of a muddle trying to identify them and it will be a while before they are verified. They included:

Blushing Bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa) - West Park LNR - November
Witches' Butter (Exidia glandulosa) - West Park LNR - November

It's not all about surveys and special expeditions. I saw the Beautiful Demoiselle on the way to the town. Mum showed me this dear little 10-spot ladybird (Adalia decempunctata) that she found while gardening.

10-spot ladybird - Found in our own garden.
This Large Garden bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus) bumbled into a patch of garden I was sorting out, sending me scurrying into the house for my camera.

Large Garden Bumblebee - my gardening is constantly interrupted by bees!
In Uckfield, we are lucky that we have plenty of green spaces and paths that we can follow as we go about our daily lives. I've been amazed at just how many creatures and wildflowers I see by looking out while going about my day-to-day shopping trips etc. If you ever see a woman in a red beret peering into her phone, it could be me recording wildlife on the run.

New Year Plant Hunt 2018 - Uckfield

For a number of years, the Botanical Society of the British and Ireland have been running a New Year Plant Hunt. The idea is to go out on the weekend of the New Year and spend a maximum of 3 hours hunting for wild flowers in bloom. If you are reading this on or before the New Year bank holiday, you can still take part. I also did the flower hunt:
  • 2015 - 21 species of which 2 were naturalised garden plants that had 'jumped the fence'
  • 2016 - 34 species of which 4 were naturalised
  • 2017 - 23 species of which 2 were naturalised
So how did I do this year? We've had some awful weather with a hard frost following and being followed by heavy rain. When I did my survey on the 30th of December, I feared that all my wild flowers would be mush. The day was dull but warm and dry. There was even a little sunshine just before noon.

I started with a straggle of Gorse in our own hedge.

Starting the New Year Plant Hunt with Gorse  - Manor Park, Uckfield
Just before crossing Browns Lane, I checked one of the clumps of bushes at the top of the Dene. No flowers but two bright little Robins flitting amongst the stems.

As usual, I found a good selection of flowers around Tesco Express and the other shops. These included many humble little "weeds" such as Shepherd's Purse, Annual Meadow Grass, Groundsel, Chickweed, Ivy-leaved Toadflax and Petty Spurge. Often they don't look like much but they provide seeds for hungry birds and nectar and pollen for insects.

Next I threaded through some of the Manor Park Estate's twittens, which yielded a Narrow-Leaved Hawks'-beard. In the shelter of the magnificent old Lime Trees of Lime Tree Avenue, I found a dear little Cow Parsley.

Cow Parsley - Lime Tree Avenue
In Southview Drive, I made straight for the big clump of Ivy on the corner of Beeches Close. As I approached, a group of cheeky House Sparrows flew out. There were several Ivy flowers in full bloom.

Ivy Flowers - Manor Park
When I got to the top of the town, I was in for a delightful surprise. I had seen buttercups in bloom just after Christmas Day but I was surprised to find them still flowering.  Also they turned out to be the charming Meadow Buttercup rather than the thuggish creeping one.  

Meadow Buttercup - top of the town
Thank you for the help with identification by:
  • BSBI Botany: Is the flower stalk groovy? Creeping and Bulbous are but flower stalk in Meadow B. should be ungrooved." I checked and it was smooth.
  • Brian Laney: With that tall flower spike and that lobeing to the upper stem leaves your id for meadow buttercup is spot on!
I also found Red Clover and Common Ragwort.  On the other side of the road, the old walls yielded the usual Wall Bellflower and Yellow Corydalis.

Surprisingly Holy Cross churchyard didn't yield much but there was a fine spread of fungi and a cheeky female blackbird dogging my footsteps. 
Fungi in Holy Cross Churchyard
At the foot of a hedge between the car park and Belmont Road, I found a Smooth Sow Thistle and a plant I had never seen before.
Ramping Fumitory in the feet of a hedge.
As I walked along Bellmont Road, I paused to watch a Wren feeding. We were both startled by a fat Grey Squirrel running along the fence.

Hazel Catkins near the Doctors' Surgery
I followed the little path that connects Belmont Road with the Doctors' Surgery and was amazed to see a lone hazel bush covered in catkins. There were none on those nearby. I was surprised because knew that there were none on the bushes by the river, which are usually the first to blossom.  As I was photographing it, Sandra, from the local nature reserves group, passed by and told me that the ones in the West Park Local Nature Reserve, a little further along the path were blooming too.  As I checked the rest of the path, a man asked me what I was doing. I explained about the flower hunt and we chatted about the spring bulbs that we were looking forward to seeing in our gardens.

Next, Bellbrook Industial Estate. Last year, this was one of my best sites. There wasn't so much this year but I did manage to add Common Mouse-ear and Red Dead Nettle to my list.  Then it was time to stop the clock for a break in the Station Pub. This gave me a chance to check my lists and see what was missing.  That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

A welcome break at The Station.
I also dropped into the supermarket to pick up some shopping - they had a fine display of flowers.
Supermarket Flowers

I just had to ask ...
WendyTagg: These don"t count  right? #NewYearPlantHunt
BSBIBotany: No they don't count, nor do the grapes that went into your glass of wine, nice try though ;-) #NewYearPlantHunt

I realised that I hadn't checked the hedge by the allotments - in 2016 I found Hawthorn in blossom and I wanted to see if had come out again. It hadn't but tiny blue Speedwell flowers were peeping out from the foot of the hedge.

Common Field Speedwell - under the allotment hedge.
Time was running short, so I walked home as quickly as I could, picking up a few stragglers along the way.  My own garden gave me a lovely surprise. The sun had warmed tightly closed buds, which had made little suns of their own.

Lesser Celendine - garden.

The Science Bit


Location: Uckfield, East Sussex.  Start point: TQ478219

What was missing?

Primroses, Violets and Hawthorn. It seems that fewer spring flowers have been tempted into bloom early.

26 Wild Plants Flowering on 30 December 2017

Scientific name Common name New in 2018?
Anthriscus sylvestris Cow Parsley  
Bellis perennis Daisy  
Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepherd's Purse  
Cardamine hirsuta Hairy Bittercress  
Cerastium fontanum Common Mouseear  
Corylus avellana Hazel  
Crepis tectorum Narrow-leaved Hawk's-beard New in 2018
Cymbalaria Muralis Ivy-leaved Toadflax  
Erigeron canadensis Canadian Fleabane New in 2018
Euphorbia peplus Petty Spurge  
Fumaria muralis Ramping Fumitory New in 2018
Hedera helix  Ivy  
Lamium purpureum Red Dead-nettle  
Poa annua  Annual Meadow Grass  
Ranunculus acris Meadow buttercup New in 2018
Ranunculus ficaria Lesser Celendine  
Senecio jacobaea Common Ragwort New in 2018
Senecio vulgaris  Groundsel  
Sonchus oleraceus Smooth Sow-thistle  
Stellaria media Common Chickweed  
Taraxacum officinale Dandelion  
Trifolium pratense Red Clover New in 2018
Ulex europaeus Gorse  
Urtica dioica Common nettle  
Veronica persica Common Field Speedwell  

3 Naturalised Plants Flowering on 30 December 2017

Scientific name common name New in 2018?
Bergenia cordifolia  Elephants ears  
Campanula portenschlagiana  Wall Bellflower  
Corydalis lutea Yellow Corydalis