Saturday, 30 August 2014

First whiff of Autumn

The other morning as I was clearing the moth trap that unmistakeable cool odour was in the air that accompanies autumn mornings. So we are heading into the closing period for our summer visitors, and the past week or so seems to confirm this with the regulars on the move, although at least one pair of Swallow are still feeding nearly fledged young at Rickney. Two hundred or so Sand Martin were on Down Level on the 22nd, and a smattering were tied up with the several hundred Swallow and single House Martin on Horse-eye today (30th). Also today were two Marsh Harrier, the regular adult female and a striking juvenile, over Horse-eye, Down, and Manxey Levels, and a flock of 5 Redshank over Down Level. On the 23rd 5 Wheatear were on Down with another couple near Chilley farm. The general summation though is that when it comes to birding on the levels late summer and early autumn are hard work with not a lot of return, generally speaking, for the effort put in!

The effort put in trawling for birds contrasts nicely with the garden moth trap which requires just a flick of the switch before turning in, and a quick sift through the Large Yellow Underwings in the morning. I will not be taking any bets on Large Yellow taking the crown for commonest macro in the garden by the end of the autumn, although it still has a couple of hundred or so to go to catch Dark Arches on 421. Late August, while still providing quantity, tends not to produce much new for the year with second generation emergences of residents tending to produce the variation from the regulars. Accordingly the only newbies for the year to report are Old Lady, Maidens Blush, Small Square-spot, and Scorched Carpet on the night of the 26th.
Other bits and pieces of note include Grass Snake - Hankham (23rd), Red Fox - White Dyke (30th), Harlequin Ladybirds - Hankham (23rd), and Anomoia purmunda or Hawthorn Fruit fly - Hailsham (29th). The last two named I report for differing reasons, Harlequin Ladybirds are very common locally but I was unaware that they laid eggs on aquatic vegetation as was evidenced by a number of larvae on Hankham Level which were on reeds in water, and the Hawthorn Fruit Fly is just a very striking (though tiny) insect!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Postcard from the west country

Left to right and top to bottom - Old Lady, Horse Chestnut, Jersey Tiger (all trapped at Stoneyford, Devon), Wasp Spider (Durdle Door). None of these on the patch apart from Old Lady although Wasp Spider has to be around somewhere locally. Other highlights from a few days relaxing in the west country were dark sky Milky Way, Saturn, Andromeda, and meteors, fossil hunting, shellfish, Hummingbird Hawkmoth, and Grayling everywhere!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Skua, Stilts, and something special after if you like

The temptation proved too much on Monday so, having dropped off middle offspring in Brighton for a university course, I just kept heading west to Selsey Bill for a long overdue Sussex tick in the shape of the long staying Long-tailed Skua. Having parked the car and walked towards Church Norton, the bird was easily located on the beach by the presence of a small group of admirers and performed well during the time I was present apparently feeding on strand line invertebrates, although it has been seen in pursuit of terns and successfully robbing them of their catch. Also seen at Selsey was a single Wheatear, Sandwich tern, and Med Gull.
From Selsey I headed back towards Chichester and stopped at the Ferry Pool to take in Sussex family Stilt who had relocated back to the peninsula from Pulborough Brooks. Both adults and their offspring were performing well feeding intermittently in the strong wind.
Also present on the Ferry Pool were several Common Sandpiper and about 20 Black-tailed Godwit.
Final stop of the day was Arundel for the "something special after" in the shape of the showiest Water Voles in Sussex to round off a cracking day out in the west. Whilst watching the voles an interesting incident occurred involving a Mute Swan cygnet which plucked one of the voles off the bank and threw it into the water.
Monday nights (11th) moth catch was disappointing, but not surprising given the blustery cool conditions, with the exception of the first Flounced Rustic of the year.
Tuesday (12th) was also very blustery however brightened up later in the day when I cycled across the levels. Single Wheatears on Hankham and Down Levels, and Buzzard on Hankham Level were the best of the birds and Small Red-eyed Damselfly were seen again on Hankham Level.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Small is beautiful and the Migrant massive

Small Red-eyed Damselfly that is. Not recorded in the UK until 1999 this recent colonist has been thin on the ground in Sussex recently. My only sightings this year until last weekend were of a couple of males which had refused to pose for a pic so it was good to find 6 on the wing on Hankham Level on the 3rd comprising 2 males and 2 pairs in cop, which although not as close as I would have liked did provide some acceptable images. Also on the wing at Hankham on the 3rd were Brown Hawker (5+), Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter (13+), Common Darter (3), Black-tailed Skimmer (3), Red-eyed Damselfly (2+), and numerous Blue-tailed, Common Blue, and Azure Blue Damselfly.

Occassionally I forget things which have happened during the prior week (despite keeping notes) which some would say is a sign of advancing years - I may have to agree before long but all the time I have a spring in my step I shall resist! However last week I omitted to mention the vast numbers of Migrant Hawker which appeared around the 30th of July. It would have been difficult not to notice these medium sized hawkers in double figure swarms or flocks as I was taking my lunchtime stroll around the industrial estate, and they were still present in large numbers this week. It was nice therefore to be able to photograph the female pictured left on home turf this week which helped to jog my recalcitrant brain cells.
The Brown Hawker pictured below was ovipositing on Hankham Level.
Sunday this week (10th) was again WEBS count day and as is typical in August was pretty disappointing. The bird of the morning was a Whinchat keeping company with 2 Wheatear on Down Level and, with little in the way of water birds and no waders other than a solitary Lapwing on Spoonbill scrape (not even a Green Sand), it was a fairly wet and dismal affair which was only offset by the presence of 3 rather racy Brown Hare. In fact the only waders of the week on the patch were 2 Snipe out at Hankham on the 3rd so inevitably, I succumbed to temptation, and paid a visit to Pulborough Brooks on the afternoon of the 9th where I finally caught up with Sussex family Stilt in the form of the 2 adults that had bred at Medmerry in the company of their 3 offspring. By way of a support act there was also an adult Pectoral Sandpiper, as well as 2 LRP, 2 Green Sand, Greenshank, and Mandarin. Following my abysmal WEBS count on the 10th Mrs Levellers suggestion of a trip to Rye was greeted with some enthusiasm as it meant I could escape for a little to one of my favorite haunts from my youth - Dungeness. So an afternoon stroll around the ARC pits ensued which was all very pleasant providing noteworthy Black Tern, 6 Garganey, Ruff, and a Wood Sandpiper, as well as the more usual suspects.

As the moon heads towards fullness so the moth counts drop off, as exhibited by the past weeks rather poor numbers with maxima of 49 macro's of 21 species on the night of the 7th and 56 micro's of 15 species on the night of the 5th. Nonetheless there were new macro's for the year list and new micro's for the life list in the shape of macro's - Copper Underwing (3rd), Cypress Pug (5th), Flame Carpet & Vine's Rustic (7th), Orange Swift & Small Dusty Wave (9th), and micro's - Dichrorampha acuminatana (3rd), Oegoconia deauratella (probable) & Udea ferrugalis (Rusty Dot Pearl) (5th), & Clepsis consimilana & Pandemis corylana (Chequered Fruit-tree Tortrix) (7th).
And finally, for something completely different, the highlight of my week occurred on Thursday evening (6th) whilst at Langney Point and (unfortunately) cameraless when a Compass Jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella) drifted by about 5-6 metres offshore. About the diameter of a dinner plate with red brown lines radiating out from the bell centre, black scalloping around the rim of the bell, and long trailing tentacles made this a very impressive sight. Keep the faith. 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Pevensey specials

If you don't like spiders look away now - Fen raft spider (Dolomedes plantarius) is a species synonymous with the levels since it is only known to reside at three sites in the UK, of which Pevensey Levels is the main one. They are not easy to find. Dave at White Dyke says he has only seen a handful on his farm,  and I have been putting in extra effort this year to get a picture for the blog! I was, therefore, quite excited to finally get to grips with this beast in the shape of the female pictured left on Down Level yesterday. Water is essential to this species which, along with the commoner Raft spider  (Dolomedes fimbriatus), is one of the largest spiders in Europe. The females carry the egg sac for 3-4 weeks and dip it in the water to keep it cool during hot weather. They are red listed by the IUCN and classified as vulnerable within europe, in the UK they are classified as endangered and are fully protected under schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The legs are clearly very sensitive and can detect movement on the water surface, it is interesting to note that the female pictured has one of her hind legs touching a plant stem as opposed to the water or floating vegetation. More information on raft spiders in the UK is available at the excellent
The spider was found along one of the dykes on Down Level which also held another speciality of the levels in Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia). Named after the shape of the leaves this is a particularly attractive aquatic plant with white flowers which appears in July and August. Other flowering plants this week included Water Mint (Mentha aquatica) and both White (Nymphaea alba) and Yellow (Nuphar lutea) Water Lilies.
Birds remain quiet, relatively speaking, with no real sign of passage activity over the past week. A female Marsh Harrier was quartering Down and Horse-eye on the 1st and residents/ summer visitors seen over the week included Raven, Buzzard, Bullfinch, Stock Dove, Reed Warbler, and Sedge Warbler.
On the mammal front things were also very quiet with only a Mink at New Bridge on the 25th July being of note.
Dragons appear to be having a good year with the resident species appearring in good numbers. Species on the wing that were seen this week included Brown Hawker (Down, Horse-eye, Hankham), Emperor (Down & Horse-eye), Ruddy Darter (Down & Horse-eye), and Red-eyed Damselfly (Hankham).
On the butterfly front the 1st was the best day if for no other reason than I was able to be out for 4 hours in the best weather. At least 6 Wall Browns were having territorial dust ups over White Dyke, also seen were 10 Small White, 8 Small Tortoiseshell, 6 Red Admiral, 4 Gatekeeper, and numerous Meadow Brown. Nearby an early evening walk at Birling Gap and Belle Tout produced numerous Common and Chalkhill Blue, Marbled Whites, a single very worn Dark Green Fritillary, and my first Silver-spotted Skippers of the year. Quite why the last named species spends its life perched on piles of dung and bare earth is beyond me as it doesn't make for the most aesthetically pleasing pictures!
And so to moths and a week which started frenetically and gradually slowed down to a plod. The busiest night by far was the 25th with 133 macro's of 34 species and 44 micro's of 17 species. These included a new macro for the garden in the form of Small Wainscot as well as 7 new macro's for the year - Campion, Dingy Footman, Dusky Thorn, Least Carpet, Oak Hook-tip, Ruby Tiger, and Vapourer. On the same night the micro's included Agriphila straminella,  Argyresthia goedartella, Blastobasis lacticolella, Notocelia roborana, and Udea prunalis. Since the 25th numbers have fallen away dramatically to last nights (1/8) count of 26 macro's of 15 species and 15 micro's of 6 species. There have however been a few interesting records with macro's including Common Wave (29th), Iron Prominent (29th), Lime-speck Pug (1st), Privet Hawkmoth (an extremely worn individual on the 29th), Sharp-angled Peacock (31st), and Yellow Shell (27th). In the same period the micro's included Agriphila selasella (29th), Cydia amplana (a particularly striking immigrant/ resident recorded nightly from the 27th), Cydia splendana (29th), and Yponomeuta malinellus - Apple Ermine (27th).