Thursday, 29 December 2016

Bird's-nest Orchid and Variation in Bee Orchid

I take many photographs during the course of a season. Trying to see different species of butterfly and dragonfly in their prime during their respective flight seasons can lead to a busy time for the amateur naturalist. Inevitably, some events are quickly overtaken by others and photographs get overlooked. Looking back at this time of year allows me to fill in some gaps.
Visiting Ashdown Forest back in May, I managed to observe a freshly emerging Bird's-nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis) over the course of three weeks. This strange orchid contains no chlorophyll and obtains its nutrients from fungi. It is generally found in the shade of long established beech trees.
Bird's-nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis)
On 17th May, the flower spike is just starting to emerge.
On 23rd May, one flower is starting to open.
On 2nd June, the plant is nearly in full flower.

The Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) has several named varieties, some of which can be quite numerous in some colonies. Var. chlorantha has whitish sepals and a greenish-yellow lip and in some small colonies they can outnumber the typical form. Var. flavescens, which has a pale brown lip, is thought to be a less extreme version of chlorantha.
On the East Sussex Downs back in June, I photographed a Bee Orchid with one flower that I would describe as var. flavescens. I returned to the same plant a week later to find that the original flower was looking more like var. chlorantha. From my own observations, these two varieties appear to be subject to change with age and perhaps all flavescens change to chlorantha over time.
Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) (var.flavescens) photographed on 8th June.

The same plant photographed on 15th June. The original (lower) flower is starting to look more like var. chlorantha.

(Reference; "The Orchids of Britain and Ireland" by Anne & Simon Harrap)

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Common Frog

Whilst at work in the wood at the weekend, I came across a Common Frog (Rana temporaria) moving about in the damp leaf litter. Although they hibernate over winter (either in water or on land), land based hibernators can become active during mild weather. This particular individual was very rotund and had either been feasting on slugs or it could be a female with ready developed spawn. 
Common Frog (Rana temporaria)

The weekend also offered the last chance to put the moth trap out, before stormy weather is expected to move in from the Atlantic for Christmas. Three Mottled Umbers (Erannis defoliaria) continued their variation on a theme and a Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) was the first one recorded in our wealden garden this winter.
Mottled Umber (Erannis defoliaria) (3 males)

Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) (male)

Looking out of the window early on Tuesday morning I spotted this Grey Heron on my neighbour's roof, surveying the local garden ponds before dropping in for breakfast.
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Winter Fare

On 26th November, I disturbed a Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) from the woodland floor, as I was coppicing. As its name suggests, it is on the wing from November until January. The female is flightless and relies on being found by the male as she sits and waits on a tree trunk.
Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) (male)

As I have said before on this site, the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is increasingly able to overwinter in southern England as a result of our changing climate. It does not enter true hibernation but will roost during inclement weather and come out to feed on mild and sunny days. Ashdown Forest offers plenty of insulating layers of dead bracken for roosting and gorse is always in flower as a source of nectar. The photograph is of one that I saw on the forest on 30th November.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Following a few frosty nights at the start of December, this last week has been mild and has provided a good opportunity to put the moth trap out on a couple of occasions. The appropriately named December Moth (Poecilocampa populi) is on the wing from November until January. Along with other members of the Lasiocampidae family, this species does not have any feeding mouthparts and their bodies contain enough stored energy for breeding. I suppose the main advantage to breeding at this time of year is probably a reduced risk of predation. Bats are a major predator of moths and they hibernate over winter.
December Moth (Poecilocampa populi) (male)  (7th December)
Male (photographed in 2011)

Female (photographed in 2013)

Sprawler (Asteroscopus sphinx) (7th December)

The Mottled Umber (Erannis defoliaria) is another species that is on the wing from October to January. Like the Winter Moth (O.brumata), Mottled Umber females are flightless.
Mottled Umber (Erannis defoliaria) (male) (10th December)

All of the following photographs are of Mottled Umber males that I have taken over the last few years. They show just how variable the markings of this species can be.

Monday, 21 November 2016

A Walk in the Wood

Saturday morning was cold and bright and my intention was to spend a few hours coppicing and thinning in the wood. After an hour, the spark plug on the chainsaw failed and with no spare, I decided to pack the tools away for another day and enjoy a slow walkabout through the trees.
Although I can recognise the obvious and showy species of fungi, I am a complete novice when it comes to trying to identify the other 99%. I find them a difficult group to identify, even to family level. When you come across a fresh specimen on the woodland floor they really demand close inspection.
This is a species of Puffball or Earthball; possibly a Scaly Earthball (Scleroderma verrucosum). A suture line is just visible to the right of centre where the fruiting body will eventually burst open to disperse its spores.

When at work during the winter months, the occasional micro-moth is inevitably disturbed from the undergrowth. The woodland habitat often provides species that I don't generally get in the garden at home.
Agonopterix arenella

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

A Dragonfly Oddity

Last week, I managed to enjoy a couple of sunny mild days on Rye Levels before temperatures started to tumble. Although there were still two or three butterflies about, my attention was drawn to a very different looking Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) that was flying in a sunny corner with several others. When it landed, I could see that it was an over-mature female whose wings differed from the norm.
The wings of freshly emerged dragonflies are generally cloudy in appearance before they have fully hardened and the wings of mature specimens can also take on a slightly cloudy appearance as part of the ageing process.
The wings of this individual were translucent rather than transparent, with a cloudiness covering the wings in their entirety. They were also symmetrically patterned in two or three different shades of beige. I don't know whether this specimen is an aberration or whether it is just normal ageing but I have not seen it's like before. I've no doubt that I shall be paying close attention to Common Darter wings for evermore!
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (over-mature female)   
Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Autumn's Bounty

I love the seasonal changes that are a signature of natural Britain and Autumn has a beauty all of it's own. However, walking across Pevensey Levels yesterday in temperatures of 17 degrees under a clear blue sky and with just a gentle breeze, it felt like summer was trying to hold on for a while longer. We saw four freshly emerged Clouded Yellows on the wing.
Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) (male)

Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus)

The weather this week has been good for moth trapping with still, overcast nights and temperatures staying in double figures. The species attracted to the light in our wealden garden indicate that Autumn is well and truly with us.
Green-brindled Crescent (Allophyes oxyacanthae)
November Moth (Epirrita dilutata)

Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata)

Feathered Thorn (Colotois pennaria) (male)

Cypress Carpet (Thera cupressata)

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Season's End ?......Not Quite

While the sun is shining and temperatures are still reaching double figures, the season isn't quite over yet. Whilst some invertebrates are coming to their end, others will continue until their food source runs out or the temperatures drop. For one small spider however, the breeding season is underway.
There are still good numbers of Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers flying on Pevensey Levels at the moment, one or two of which are looking quite fresh for this time of year.
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male)
For this year's breeding female Fen Raft Spiders, the season is coming to a close. Juvenile spiders can still be seen regularly on warm sunny days but any adult females will be seeing out their remaining days in the watery autumn sunshine having probably raised two broods during the summer. The photograph (below) shows a typical late season female with one leg missing and shrinkage folds on her abdomen.....perhaps the fly sitting between her feet senses that she has no bite left.
Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius) (female)   

For the Purse-web Spider (Atypus affinis), the breeding season is now underway. They spend most of their lives in their underground web-tubes but autumn is the best time to see males above ground as they leave their web-tubes to search for females. A close look at the huge fangs and tail spinners gives a hint that this species is a distant relative of the tarantulas; just as well that it is no bigger that a thumb-nail!
Purse-web Spider (Atypus affinis) (male)
(these photographs were taken on 25th October 2014 on the East Sussex Downs)


Saturday, 15 October 2016

No Sniggering Please

Earlier this week, during a walk around our wood to plan work targets for the winter, Carol and I came across the unmistakeable form of the Common Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) on the dank woodland floor. On fresh specimens, the cap is a glossy brown colour with a pungent odour that is irresistible to flies. The filigree pattern on the cap in the photograph (below) indicates that the spores have been dispersed. Much folklore surrounds this species of fungus and I think that the latin name rather says it all.
Common Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus)
Insect activity on Pevensey Levels is inevitably in rapid decline but there are still things to be found. Although most of the Red Admirals have moved south, I did come across a faded female busy laying eggs on stinging nettle. Whirligig Beetles are busy gyrating in their hundreds in many of the ditches and wandering larvae of the Pale Tussock moth are a common sight at this time of year as they search for a place to pupate for the winter.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) (ovum on stinging nettle)
Whirligig Beetles (Gyrinus substriatus)
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) (wandering larva)

The best of the bunch in the moth-trap this week has been these two common resident species.
Spruce Carpet (Thera britannica)

Merveille du Jour (Dichonia aprilina)