Monday, 7 August 2017

The Big Butterfly Count for this year has just ended. I don't even have to wait for results to know that this year has been a much better year for butterflies than last. This year I decided to do my counts in as many different places as possible so I don't have as many garden counts as usual.

Counts from an Uckfield (Sussex) garden

I recorded more butterflies per count than in previous years.

Year Number of garden counts Average number of butterflies Total number of species Most numerous species
2014 10 6.6 10 Gatekeeper
2015 12 9 13 Gatekeeper
2016 10 6.1 8 Large White
2017 4 11.75 9 Meadow Brown

For the first time, since I started taking part in this survey, Small Coppers appeared in my counts.

Small Copper in our Uckfield garden.
One morning, when coming back from getting my newspaper, I saw several Six-spot Burnet Moths clinging to the long grasses in our no-mow zone. I started my count right away so I could include them.  I found a chrysalis attached to one of the stems and wondered if they were all newly emerged.

Six-spot Burnet moth in our Uckfield garden.
The graph below shows that Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers dominated my garden counts.  Last year, Large Whites took the lead.

Butterflies counted in our Uckfield garden during 4 counts.
 

Hempstead Meadow Nature Reserve, Uckfield

I did one count at Hempstead Meadow.

Hempstead Meadow count 1
Common Blue 3
Gatekeeper 4
Large White 1
Meadow Brown 5
Red Admiral 1
Ringlet  1
Small Copper 1
Speckled Wood 1

I was charmed to see a trio of Common Blues dancing around the Meadow Vetchling in the grassy area.

Common Blue dancing amongst the vetchling flowers.

West Park Nature Reserve, Uckfield

I did two counts in West Park Local Nature Reserve and someone else did a third. I know about the third count because the Big Butterfly Count results page enables you to zoom in on a location and find out more about the counts taken there. The counter found a fantastic number of Common Blues.

West Park Nature Reserve count 1 count 2 count 3
Common Blue   4 10
Gatekeeper 5 3 10
Large White     2
Meadow Brown 5 2 4
Red Admiral   1 1
Ringlet  2    
Silver Y 1    
Small Copper   1 1
Speckled Wood     1

Of course, there are butterflies that I missed. One of the ones that got away was a possible Fritillary in West Park. It was big, orange and too fast for me to catch up with. I also did some counts in Leatherhead, where I took the photo below.

Silver Washed Fritillary - Leatherhead
Now I just need to wait for the results of the whole count to be analysed and published.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Holy Cross Churchyard Plant Survey - End of July

On the 24th of June, I recorded the plants in Uckfield's Holy Cross Churchyard for the Sussex Botanical Recording Society's Churchyard survey. As the weather was miserable on the day I did the survey I returned on the 1st of July to check some IDs and take some photos. This is my third visit, the first two being at the beginning and end of April

I've already recorded over 80 species and it was good to see some properly out in flower, like the Bird's Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) shown below.

Bird's Foot Trefoil.
I heard a buzzing and took a closer look at the bee pollinating the flowers.

Common Carder Bee on Bird's Foot Trefoil.
I was intrigued by the writing on the gravestone. The weather-worn letters were difficult to read but I could make out ...
 
THOMAS BROOKE ...
.... Uckfield ...
 
WHO DIED FEBRUARY 3rd 1876
....
Blessed are the pure in heart
... shall see god.

Thomas Brooke may have been a tailor on Uckfield High Street or one of his family.

Nearby a White-Tailed Bumblebee was foraging in the hedge alongside the churchyard.

White-tailed Bumblebee on bramble flowers.
Some of the plants I recorded are those little weeds that are so familiar that we hardly even see them. Identifying them obliged me to take a proper look at them.


Distinguishing between Willowherbs by comparing the share of the stigma (central female part).
The Collins Wild Flower Guide has keys that help me pick my way through different types of similar flower. The two Willowherbs I found were:
  • on the left, with an undivided stigma, is Square Stalked Willowherb (Epilobium Tetragonum)
  • on the right, stigma has four lobes, is Hoary willowherb (Epilobium Parviflorum).
The big, showy Evening Primrose flowers are a complete contrast to the dainty little willowherbs. Surprisingly, there are members of the same family.

Large Evening Primrose.
I thought that an evening primrose would be straightforward to identify but, again, there are several different species.

Red speckles on Evening Primrose stem.
The red speckles on the stem and other details helped me identify the plant as Large Evening Primrose (Oenothera glazioviana).

Yellow seems to be the colour of June. Another yellow flower that I added to the list was Smooth Hawkweed (Crepis capillaris)

Smooth Hawkweed.

Another plant we take for granted is grasses. I found a few more to add to my list including some that had escaped the mower because they are inside the metal railings around plots.

False Oat grass (Arrhenatherum elatius)
I'm sure that the Goldfinches and House Sparrows that I have seen in the churchyard will appreciate the seeds.

I finally managed to identify the large fern by the door as a Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas). I find ferns very difficult to identify. This time, my trusty plant guide directed me to inspect the spores and the edges of the leaves.

Male Fern - underside of leaf showing spores.
One of my favourites this time was Yellow Fumitory (Corydalis lutea).

Yellow Fumitory growing on the church walls.
After this it was time to leave the memorials, birds and flowers behind and visit the Farmer Market.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Garden BioBlitz 2017

It was the first weekend of June, which meant it was time for the Garden Bioblitz giving me 24 hours to find as many wild species in my garden as possible. I have been doing the Bioblitz every year since 2014.
 
3rd June 2017 - 9am - let the Bioblitz commence
This year I wanted to:
  • beat last year's total of 144 wild species identified
  • successfully identify some tiny bugs that the iRecord verifier had been forced to reject because of my inadequate photographs
  • make more precise identification of plants in my garden especially grasses.
Hoverfly (Eupeodes) - a useful pollinator.
I started at about 9am on Saturday to try and find insects.  I was able to photograph some hoverflies and bees before they really warmed up and got too fast for me.  While I was exploring for insects, I could hear the birds calling in the trees. Thanks to what I have learnt on birdsong walks (guided by David of the Uckfield Local Nature Reserves Supporters Group) I found it easier to figure out where the calls come from and identify the bird. This means I got a couple of extra bird species compared to last year.

Leaf hopper - Iassus lanio
Our visiting birds are forever searching our oak and birch trees for insects to eat. I used a hook, hastily improvised from a packaging tube and a coat hanger to shake some branches. My catch included a number of tiny bugs and spiders. This time my replacement macro lens gave me a good enough photo to identify the Leaf Hopper shown above.

Corizus hyoscyami - Cinnamon Bug
I was a little disappointed not to find any Shield Bugs but I did find a colourful Cinnamon Bug amongst our flowers.

White-tailed Bumble Bee on ceanothus.
One of our star plants for bees is Mum's ceanothus. This was covered in different types of bees, such as the White Tailed Bumblebee shown, all day. After photographing the bees it was time to start checking the wildflowers. This is easier and quicker because, over the years, I have developed a list of what I expect to find. This year, because I have had some useful advice from the Sussex Botanical Recording Society I have been able add a few extras. For example, I have used the guides on the bottom left hand corner of BSBI Identification page to identify grasses more precisely.  Species new to my list included Fox Tail Grass and Perennial Rye Grass, both of which must have been in the garden for years without me noticing them.

Common Liverwort
Unexpectedly, I found a large colony of liverworts amongst the grasses on a sloping grass bank.


Frog tadpole
Doing a pond dip really brings out the big kid in me. I was delighted to find 15 fat tadpoles in one scoop.


Arion Rufus - Large Red Slug from underside
Mum called me over because she had found some slugs under her pots.  I photographed them from 3 angles as advised by Chris De Feu in February's Biological Recorders' Seminar. The bigger of the two was from one of those groups that are difficult to sort out but is probably Arion Rufus. Although they are big and very obvious in the garden, they do relatively little damage because they live on rotting vegetation. It's the little brown ones you need to look out for. After taking portraits of my slimy little sitters, I set up my beetle traps and went inside for tea.

Toad, creeping through the leaves after dark.
As night was falling I went outside with my bat detector and detected a Common Pipistrelle. I heard some rustling behind me. Because there was no wind, this was seriously creepy. I slowly turned round, fearing that I would find a rat. Instead there was a toad moving through some dried-up leaves at the side of the house.  Toads eat insects, spiders, slugs and worms. Hopefully it is helping to keep our slug population down.


Millipede (Polydesmus)
The next morning, I got up early to check my beetle traps. I didn't find any beetles but I did find a millipede.  One last round of the garden yielded a few more insects and a forgotten wildflower and then it was time to enter my results.  So how did I do?

The National Results - I found 153 species in the garden.
I had just about beaten last year's record and, due to having replaced my 20-year old macro lens, had taken much better photos of the tiny bugs, enabling successful verification.  Thanks to other people, such as members of recording societies and Uckfield's own Nature Reserves group, I have been able to increase the number of species that I have recorded and share my own knowledge with others.

The 153 species I found broke down as follows.


My results broken down by group.

Before I close, I would like to give a big shout out to all the people who diligently sift through the records pushed into the system by people like me and verify or correct as required.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Churchyard Plant Survey - End of April

This weekend, I was back in Holy Cross Churchyard. At the beginning of April, Helen of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society, got me going. This time I was back - and needed to be able to identify the plants on my own. 

Ferns and flowers by the smartly painted door.
The instructions for the Churchyard Survey recommend ...

Three visits per year in Spring, mid and late summer would be ideal for ... plant recording.

I've decided to add in another visit, four weeks after my first, to see some of the plants that Helen pointed out, before I forgot too much.  At the beginning of the month we saw bluebells just beginning to flower. Now both the English and Spanish varieties are in full bloom.

Honeybee on Spanish Bluebell (possibly hybrid) - notice the bluish pollen
English Bluebells showing creamy-coloured pollen.
There are some lovely clumps of English bluebells (‎Hyacinthoides non-scripta) alongside some touching modern-day memorials along the East Wall.

English Bluebells by touching wall memorials.
Slightly nearer the church, a gravestone from the late 1700s reminded me just how old the Holy Cross churchyard is.

E.B. 1765 and J. B. 1779.
The Caring For God's Acre website - A2 Caring for Grassland tells us:

Apart from grave digging, the grassland will have been relatively undisturbed, re-seeding naturally for hundreds if not thousands of years. ...

A benefit of this continuity of management over a very long time is a diversity of beautiful grasses and flowers and associated animals, some of which may now be uncommon or rare in Britain.

A tiny (6mm) Red-Girdled Mining Bee on Germander Speedwell.
Have you ever wondered what pollinates the tiny flowers in the grass? For this Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), the answer is tiny bees. While I was photographing the plant, a bee landed on the sapphire-blue flowers. Thanks to Ryan Clark and Stuart Roberts of the UK Bees, Wasps and Ants Facebook group, I now know that this is a Red-Girdled Mining Bee (Andrena labiata). My Field Guide to Bees, by Steven Falk, says that  this little pollinator lives in unimproved grasslands, feeds on  Germander Speedwell and Forget-me-nots, nests in short or sparse vegetation and is "scarce".

It seems that the old turf of Holy Cross church is just the place for this little bee. It has escaped the fertilizers and weedkillers intended to "improve" grass but end up driving out wildflowers and the pollinators that depend on them.

Of course I was in the churchyard to find more plants that I could add to my list. I was able to identify about 10 more ranging from a humble Common Chickweed to Ash Trees that make up part of the hedge.

Large Red Damsel Fly - only about an inch long!
The hedge is a valuable habitat too. While looking for more plants, I found a damsel fly, who had found sanctuary from the cold wind, amongst its leaves.

Black Bryony
Black Bryony has sprung up very rapidly. On our first visit there were only old stems and one, shrivelled fruit. 4 weeks later the stems are carrying the shiny, exotic-looking, leaves up round railings and other supports. Soon, the dainty white flowers will open.

Pellitory-by-the-Wall.
A little plant growing in the wall had me stumped. Fortunately, Mum came to the rescue by telling me that it is Pellitory-by-the-Wall (Parietaria Judaica).

Pellitory-by-the-wall - tiny female flowers
Pellitory-by-the-Wall has miniature, wind-pollinated flowers. The plant that I found has female flowers. I wonder if there is a male somewhere nearby?

Blackbird - making it clear to a rival who owns this patch.
My couple of hours searching for plants had flown by. As I was completing my survey, a glossy male Blackbird was fending off another, whose presence was clearly unwelcome. The brown female, was nearby and there may well be a nest. I left and hoped that the intruding Blackbird had the good sense to do likewise.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Churchyard Plant Survey - Holy Cross, Uckfield

After the hustle and bustle of the working week, it was lovely to spend some time in "God's acre", the churchyard of Holy Cross Church, which is very much the beating heart of Uckfield.  I was recording the wild plants in the churchyard as part of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society's Churchyard survey.

Holy Cross churchyard, with established garden daffodils.
With Helen acting as a guide and mentor, we recorded 74 species of plant.  Most of these are natives but some were garden varieties that had become established in the churchyard.  We included everything from tiny Speedwells to big Yew trees.

Slender Speedwell in the grass by the East Wall.
The Slender Speedwell (Veronica filiformis) was originally from Turkey and was introduced in the early 19th Centaury as a rockery plant. However, it was prone to establish itself in the grass, much to the annoyance of Victorian gardeners.

Good Friday Grass, throughout the churchyard. 
One of the plants we found was the Field Wood Rush (Luzula campestris).  This is a tiny rush that grows in the grass. The individual plants are inconspicuous but in their hundreds they make a pretty yellow haze above the neatly-cut grass.  Pleasingly, for a plant found in a churchyard they are also called Good Friday Grass, because the flowers come out just in time for Easter.

The gravestones and hedges are habitats too.
Grassland is just one of the habitats to be found in a churchyard. The gravestones support colonies of colourful lichens and mosses, as well as perches for curious robins. There are also hedges as shown in the background of photo above.  These provide a home to hedge plants such as Hazels, Hawthorns and Yew, as well as the little plants that live in their feet.

Wall Rue fern (Asplenium ruta-muraria)
Even the walls provide a habitat for plants such as the delicate Wall Rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria), which is a tiny fern. This was my favourite find. It is such a pretty little thing, clinging to the tiny crevices in the old wall.

Primroses hiding under some roses.
There are just a few primroses (Primula vulgaris) in the churchyard, tucked away in odd corners. The photo shows one of a group nestling under a rose. Another spring favourite, the Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), is just starting to flower amongst the gravestones.

Thale Cress, which grows in disturbed ground.
One plant, which I have never noticed before, was Thale Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). It is a fairly widespread weed of disturbed ground and I must have walked past it many a time without really seeing it.

A solitary bee, which is a good pollinator but does not make honey.
The churchyard supports a community of plants, insects and birds just as the Church supports the community of Uckfield. Even the humble Dandelion is providing a welcome meal for a hungry bee.

Survey done and I was off to the Farmers' Market to pick up some samosas for lunch and a jar of Sussex honey. I found myself wondering if the honeybees, who had made my honey, had visited any churchyards.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Frogs spawning - better late than never!

With storms Doris and Ewan, March has certainly come in like a lion. More importantly our garden frogs have belatedly decided it is time to spawn. 

Spawn first seen 2nd March 2017
I wasn't around to see it myself but Mum let me know when I came home from work.  This year's spawning is quite late compared to the February dates for 2014-2016.
  • 2017 - 2nd March
  • 2016 - 14th Feb
  • 2015 - 22nd Feb
  • 2014 - 8th Feb
  • 2013 - 6th March
  • 2012 - 25th Feb
  • 2011 - 20th Feb
  • 2010 - 28th Feb
  • 2009 - saw frogs active in pond 18th Feb
  • 2008 - saw frogs active in pond 29th Feb
  • 2007 - saw frogs active in pond 11th Feb
  • 2005 - 19th Feb
Meanwhile, while I've been driving along country roads, I've seen the first daffodils and wild primroses appearing as we are blown headlong into spring.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Sussex Botanical Recording Society and Snatts Road Surveys

I've just attended the Sussex Botanical Recording Society (SBRS) AGM.  SBRS members record flowers, ferns, mosses and all sorts of plants throughout Sussex.  I enjoyed an informative afternoon amongst lovely, knowledgeable people.  The meeting was held in Staplefield Village Hall. It was pleasing to find some primroses blooming nearby.

Primroses at Staplefield, where the meeting was held.
Churchyards

One very interesting talk was about the new Churchyard survey for Sussex. Helen, the coordinator, explained that:
  • Churchyards provide several different habitats such as walls, grassland, paths, hedgerows and grassland
  • They had previously been surveyed in the 1980s
  • The surveys done so far (2016) have more species than 1980s but this may be down to people having better sources about information.
  • That conservation areas need to have grass removed sometimes otherwise wildflower seeds cannot germinate.
One of the surveys was for the Snatts Road Cemeteries.  The scores on the doors were:
A separate survey (by a different organisation) was undertaken for Wealden in 2015. This was summarised in the Uckfield Town Council minutes for 11 July 2016 as follows:

Following a site visit and survey in summer 2015 it is recommended that the Local Wildlife Site boundary be extended to include half of the newer area of cemetery to the North of the road.  The grassland has a more acidic characteristic and the east half of this area is species rich with plant species Heath Grass, Devil's Bit Scabious, Eyebright and Trailing St. John's Wort.

There is more information about caring for graveyards and cemeteries at http://www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk/

Other useful tidbits

 Returning to the AGM ...

There will be an Autumn get together (as well as all the spring and summer field meetings) on October 28th.

Mathew said that if we were in doubt over an ID, had something unexpected or a hybrid to check with him. The BSBI website is http://bsbi.org/

The webmaster outlined features of the SBRS website:
  • Latest sightings - needn't be confined to rare items. Anything interesting - maybe because it is the first of a type you have identified.
  • There is a map, which you can click to find species found in a particular "tetrad". Some tedrads (listed on the website) have no items so it would be nice to get some.
There are useful pieces on way the recording organisations use map references on the BSBI and BTO websites.

Brad displayed splendid photos of mosses and liverworts. There is more information at:
photos - https://www.flickr.com/photos/23980231@N07/collections/72157675601655911/
website - https://sussexbryophytes.wordpress.com/

In a conversation about a survey, one of the committee explained the meanings of letters used in surveys.

P = Planted
C = Casual
N = Natural
S = Surviving
E = Established
U = Unknown

I had a chat about the NPMS squares scheme, in which people record plants in a particular square on the map. I've just had another look but nothing available close enough.