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.