Friday, 17 November 2017

Scientific Names - All that Glistens is not Gold

While exploring local nature reserves and beauty spots, I like to identify and record the plants and creatures that I find. To do this properly, I need to understand more about the scientific names. As the golden autumn afternoons fade into winter, I've decided that gold is a good place to start.

Scientific nameOriginEnglish meaning
aur- (root word)latingold 
chrys- (root word)greekgold
chrysanthemumgreekgold flower
I wish I could include an example of Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) but you don't get many of those in Uckfield. Instead, my first example is a tiny moth that, during the summer, I often find in the garden. Some people call it Small Gold and Purple and other, Mint Moth. This type of confusion is one of the reasons that recorders use scientific names.
Small Purple and Gold (Pyrausta aurata), garden
The next one isn't gold at all but I think that the name is referring to its shiny wing-cases.
Rose Beetle (Cetonia aurata), garden
Now turning to the plant word, the scientific name of Goldilocks buttercup is auricomus, which means golden-haired.
Goldilocks (Ranunculus auricomus), Boothland Wood.
Aurantiaca means orange-coloured. In autumn, I sometimes find light orange False Chanterelle fungi in Views (Williams) wood near Manor Park.
False Chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) in View (Williams) Wood.
 Finally, auricollis means golden collared. The little pollinator in the photo below is a hoverfly. It doesn't sting but the gold and black rings deters predators by mimicking a bee or a wasp.

Meliscaeva auricollis, garden.
So, from now on, if I see aur in a scientific name, there is a reasonable chance that I have struck gold.


Sunday, 27 August 2017

Holy Cross Churchyard Plant Survey - End of August

On the 26th of August, I did the fourth and final visit of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society's Churchyard survey. Although Fuchsia is a cultivated plant and doesn't count for this survey, it was lovely to see the bright red flowers dripping over the side of the Churchyard wall and buzzing with honeybees.

Holy Cross Church, Uckfield
One of many honeybees on the Fuchsia
As I went in I heard sounds overhead and looked up at a group of House Martins dipping and diving as they hunted their insect prey. Going into the churchyard itself, I noticed that it was loud with birdsong.  The star of this little show was a Robin that seemed to follow me around as I looked for plants.

After the previous Sunday's service Mum had brought home a piece of unusual-looking grass for me to identify.  After 20 minutes scrabbling through books and Googling, I identified it as Cockspur (Echinochloa crus-galli)

Cockspur, between the old and new brick paths.
I found dozens of plants, lining both sides of the lovely old brick path that goes from East to West across the churchyard.

Detail of Cockspur flower head.
Towards the South end of the Churchyard I found a beautifully carved headstone.

1880 headstone.
On one of the old graves, I found a clump of Reflexed Stonecrop (Sedum rupestra).

Reflexed Stonecrop.
The ever-irrepressible Dandelion (Taraxacum) flowers held their heads high above the neatly mown grass, providing a feast for pollinators such as Hoverflies.

Two different species of Hoverfly on one Dandelion flower.
In the miniature world of the short grass, I found another new species for my list.

Small Flowered Cranesbill (Geranium pusillum).
While I was trying to identify this, a lady stopped and asked what I was doing. I told her about the survey and we chatted about wildflowers and walks, then she went on her way. 

I found my last 'new entry' near the war memorial. It is Canadian Fleabane (Conyza Canadensis). The tiny petals have a slight lilac tinge.

Canadian Fleabane
Canadian Fleabane - tiny petals tinged with lilac.
It is a strange and poignant coincidence that the Canadian Fleabane should appear next to the War Memorial. During the Second World War, the 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherlands Highlanders of Canada was stationed in Uckfield for about a year.  The BBC article, Lorne - The Canadian Soldier, tells Peter Hunter's personal account of one of the soldiers. Another of the Canadian soldiers, Private Lyall Wright Wotton, married a local girl and is remembered in Uckfield's roll of honour.

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 June

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 ...
.... Uckfield ...
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.

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.