The only reason I look forward to my birthday nowadays is that it signifies to me that Spring is just around the corner. To celebrate the occasion yesterday, I decided to check out a couple of downland dew ponds for signs of amphibian activity.
Common Toad (Bufo bufo) in mating clasp amongst the spawn.
Toads can be very variable in their colouring, ranging from dark brown to rusty red and from algal green to sandy beige.
Yesterday, Bob and I met up for our weekly walkabout; Ashdown Forest being our destination. The temperature didn't rise above 5 degrees but with the sun shining and very little wind, there was the promise of singing Woodlarks and perhaps a raptor or two.
Our first interesting sighting of the day was a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) gliding over the heather and momentarily basking on a gorse stump before heading off in search of nectar. By this time, several Woodlarks were singing their beautiful songs and Spring was definitely in the air.
As we wandered through the heathland, I noticed a familiar form basking in the dead bracken with its body pressed flat for maximum effect.. Because of its dark colour I immediately thought that I had spotted a newt but on closer inspection the scaled head indicated that this black creature was a melanistic Common Lizard (Lacerta vivipara). I don't know how frequently this form occurs in L.vivipara but it was definitely a first for me.
Common Lizard (Lacerta vivipara) (melanistic form)
By contrast, I have seen at least two melanistic Adders in the wild in recent years and the following photograph was of one seen in a Wealden wood in 2013.
Whilst working in woods near Flimwell, on the East Sussex and Kent border earlier in the week, I came across an empty cocoon on the trunk of a birch tree. Kitten Moths make very similar cocoons in which to pupate but the large size of this cocoon (40mm long) suggested Puss Moth (Cerura vinula).
It is a wonderful structure made from larval silk mixed with chewed up tree bark. It sets to a hard shell and is perfectly camouflaged to protect the over-wintering pupa.
They are also very hard to find and if it wasn't for the exit hole catching my eye then I may well not have seen it. The occupant of this cocoon probably hatched last summer but I suspect that these empty cocoons can last for years.
The adult Puss Moth (Cerura vinula) is a stunning creature and a species that comes to my garden light-trap most years.
If I were visiting Tenerife during the summer months I would have a fairly good idea of what butterflies I might expect to see but I wasn't sure what species would be on the wing in January. This was our first visit to the Canary Islands and we arrived to the news that they were having one of their warmest winters in many years.
As with any volcanic islands, wildlife has to arrive under its own steam or it is artificially introduced and species diversity can be low. Whilst it is easy to surmise how some species have colonised these islands, the arrival of others is less clear.
Having seen the Indian Red Admiral (Vanessa indica) on Madeira some years ago, it was no surprise to see it flying on Tenerife but quite how and when this Asian species arrived on these Atlantic islands is curious. There is a school of thought that the Canary version of the Indian Red Admiral is now a distinct species (Vanessa vulcania) but I shall leave the taxonomists to continue pondering that one.
The Canary Speckled Wood (Pararge xiphioides) and Canary Blue (Cyclyrius webbianus) are both endemic to the Canary Islands.