Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Damsels and Dragons

All things told it's been a frustrating spring in many ways with plenty of good birds scattered about the county and none finding their way to the patch - or should I say none that I have found! Still there is a lot to be said for keeping trawling away in the hope of turning up something half decent and there is plenty to keep the amateur naturalist in me happy. Sunday was the best day of the bank holiday weekend by far in terms of both things to look at and weather. I have mentioned before that Brown Hares are my favorite British mammal so the two on Down level this weekend were especially welcome. Brown Hare is regular on the levels although I am not certain about whether they are resident, I see them frequently and since they are on the whole very secretive, it would not come as a surprise if they were. Unfortunately they are in serious decline and are second only to the Water Vole in terms of decline in numbers since the start of the 20th century with a decline of over 80%. Despite this they are the only British game species that does not have a close season.

Birds continue to be my main interest however and the Levels continue to sport plenty of summer migrants and year round residents. Whilst doing my WEBS count last weekend I took the opportunity to count up some Reed and Sedge Warbler territories on Down Level. Without covering the whole of the level I came up with 30 Reed territories against 7 Sedge, a ratio of about 4:1 which confirmed my general impressions. Another brood of Mallard was in evidence with 10 duckling while other resident/ visitor/ breeders that continue to be in evidence were Cetti's, Redshank, Little Egrets, Hobbies, Yellow Wagtails, Gadwall, Raven, Stock Dove, and Tree Sparrow.
On the insect front my first Variable Damselfly of the year were seen on Down level and Red-eyed Damselfly were on Horse-eye. Butterflies comprised my first Painted Lady of the year on White Dyke and Red Admiral was also seen.

During the quality sunshine on Sunday I also took an early evening potter around Park Corner in an unsuccessful attempt to see SPBF for the year. Whilst failing in my main mission there was plenty of interest with the best being a cracking female Broad-bodied Chaser posing for piccies, Speckled Yellow moths doing likewise, and several Brimstone including the male pictured nectaring on a late Bluebell.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

"Life is like a box of chocolates"

"You're never sure what your gonna get" in the immortal words of Forrest Gump. A bit like moth trapping really except the box is a Skinner trap and the chocolates are the moths.
So it was on the night of the 19th, when I surfaced to sift through the trap I very nearly overlooked the moth pictured above as a Light Emerald but it didn't look quite right and I vaguely remembered that there was a form of Barred Red that was in fact green. A quick look in Lewington confirmed my suspicions that this was a Barred Red of the form prasinaria. I am not entirely sure of the status of this form in Sussex but at best I would think it is scarce, in any event it was a new one for me and a nice surprise.
This usurped my moth of the month so far which was a Great Prominent (a garden second) that I trapped on the night of the 17th. This moth really is extremely beautiful on close inspection with its mixture of greens and browns as well as being of impressive size!
Other macro newbies for the year were Garden Carpet, Light Emerald, Common Swift, and Pale Tussock on the night of the 17th, Foxglove Pug and Uncertain on the night of the 19th, and Setaceous Hebrew Character, Treble Lines,and Puss Moth on the night of the 20th.
In addition I am starting to get to grips with micro's thanks to the excellent Micro Moths of Great Britain & Ireland.
Thanks to this (and some assistance from PC) I am now sifting through a variety of common micro's that I have previously largely ignored as not enough time or too problematic! New species for the garden (overlooked on numerous occasions) included Cydia pomonella (Codling moth) pictured above, Evergestis forficalis (Garden Pebble), Eudonea angustea, Aphomia sociella (Bee moth), and Endrosis sarcitrella (White-shouldered House-moth) also pictured which I am pretty sure I have not overlooked as it is particularly distinctive
Birding has been very quiet apart from the resident breeders with a singing Willow Warbler at Rickney on Saturday morning and the female Marsh Harrier which continues to loaf around being the best of a quiet period. In fact spring in general has been not the greatest, with waders especially down on past years. On the dragon front "Old red eyes is back" with my first Red-eyed Damsel of the year at Hankham on the 17th.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Warming up again

Nothing startling to report but a week of brighter weather and typical birds for the time of year. A walk at Arlington on Tuesday evening turned up 3 Common Sands and a stop at The Old Oak for the obligatory pint of Long Blonde produced the equally obligatory singing Nightingale. Wednesday turned up my first Hobby of the spring hawking insects over White Dyke and the Skylark nest pictured above. Fledglings for the week included 2 Pied Wagtails being fed by both parents, 6 Mallard duckling still going on Down, and a single Coot also on Down. Today a single female Marsh Harrier was quartering Down Level. 
Moth trapping in the week was again very quiet indeed so much so that I am contemplating investing in a new bulb to see whether my old one has lost its powers. Newbies for the year were limited to Common Marbled Carpet and Narrow Winged Pug on the night of the 13th. Last night (the 15th) produced only 2 Shuttle-shaped Dart and a single Light Brown Apple Moth however it also produced the rather splendid Common Cockchafer pictured on the left. Whilst taking the piccy of the beetle my eye was drawn to the rather attractive small spider also pictured which I believe to be Araneus cucurbitina although as a complete spider novice I stand to be corrected!

Sunday, 11 May 2014


and overcast with strong south westerlies - Just what is required in the spring. Not. In fact so dull and disinteresting that I took myself off to Dunge yesterday afternoon. Lots to see and do here even with the appalling gale force winds.

The only things of any note this week were my first Hairy Dragon of the year yesterday (the 10th) and first Common Blue damsel of the year on the 4th. Mothing at home has been pretty depressing and pointless as well given the inclement weather with only a single Heart & Dart to show for trapping on the 5th.

Monday, 5 May 2014

A busy weekend

Starting with today where a Wood Sand was found feeding on one of the pools on Down Level - one of my favourite waders and always enjoyed, but especially so in the spring sunshine! Also present this morning was a single Greenshank, 2 Cuckoo, Raven, 2 Gadwall, and a very smart looking Red Fox legging it towards Downash. Today though was always going to be a Pom day so after my patch visit I legged it down to Beachy. On arrival cue 3 Poms sitting on the sea (thanks Laurence) quickly followed by a flock of 8 solidly chugging up channel, a singleton, another singleton with 2 Arctics, and then a really close flock of 4. Some birds, comprising an overall group of 12 (although I did not see them all in the air together at the same time), were just loafing
around offshore and were watched harrying Kittiwake (successfully). Other sea movement included several flock of Common Scoter (up to 80 in one slick), 10 Little Terns, 2 Whimbrel, 2 Barwit, Common & Sandwich Terns, and Gannets. Later back on the levels a pair of Egyptian Geese were on Horse-eye and a single Wheatear was on Down though the Wood Sand could not be found.
Levels highlights this weekend were few and far between on the bird front with the best being a Curlew and 2 Whimbrel on Sunday when a total of 15 Swift were also present over Down. On Saturday there was a single Wheatear by Horse-eye farm early morning and a Water Rail put in an appearance at Gropper corner. The Lesser Black-backs pictured were on Down and apart from them there were all the usual residents and summer visitors with both Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat seemingly in every hedgerow across the patch (the latter even at the Hailsham end of White Dyke) and Reed and Sedge Warblers in every patch of Reed bed.
With the exception of the mothing, which was again poor with only Heart & Dart added to the year list, there was plenty of insect activity all round this weekend with loads of Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars feeding on the nettles. Whilst looking at these I noticed some of the nettles had been folded up on themselves using silk and closer inspection revealed a small but striking spider (as yet to be identified). This caused me to start looking around for insects and in consequence I now have a significant number of photographs to id including one of a rather striking hoverfly.

On the plant front the Green-veined Orchids are now out on Horse-eye though not yet in significant numbers. This afternoon I visited another site for this species which has significantly longer stems. This caused me to wonder whether grazing has an effect on the stem length or whether it is genetic or soil factors which cause the Horse-eye plants to be much shorter stemmed.

Friday, 2 May 2014

The heady scent of May

The levels are full of the heady scent of Blackthorn at the moment, hopefully indicating a good crop of Sloe's to come in the autumn, even in the grey and overcast conditions today. With the first Yellow Flag Iris of the year in flower as well there is certainly a splash of colour amongst all the greenery. On the bird front today was notable mainly for hirundines with c100 Swallow hawking insects over the pools and dykes. Mixed in amongst these were a few each of Sand and House Martin, and continuing the aerial migrant theme 3 Swift were seen over New Bridge road. Two Marsh Harrier comprised a female quartering Horse-eye and a male near Wartling, and the usual suspects were in the usual places with nothing much out of the ordinary. In fact the past week has been hard work with very little new migrant activity other than the usual residents and already arriveds, although the Brown Hare and Garganey in the Tuesday evening sunshine were nice even if expected (as was sitting in the Old Oak pub garden listening to Nightingales whilst supping on a pint of Long Blonde). On the moth front Tuesday was the best night with a smattering of newbies for the year including Pale and Swallow Prominents as well as 2 Mouse Moth, Hebrew Character, Shuttle-shaped Dart, Brimstone, & Flame Shoulder. The only other new moth for the year was a Currant Pug on Sunday night.