24 April, 2017

Bluebells and longhorns

The woods are now doing that thing where they turn blue for a little while, so I turned up to White Down on Sunday afternoon with a plan to photograph the transformation.

I wasn't alone; it seemed like half the population of the local town had descended on the reserve, but as usually happens in the North Downs people quickly melted away with distance from the car park and I was left with all this to myself.

The things interspersed amongst the bluebells didn't disappoint either. This is Nematopogon swammerdamella, one of the largest members of a family of micro moths which all sport mesmerizing long white antennae. They're one of my favourites.

Nematopogon swammerdamella

 Wood Speedwell

 Yellow Pimpernel

I really needed to stand under this Beech to give you an idea of how utterly humongous it is.

22 April, 2017

Pan-species appreciation

Highlights from a productive few hours of pan-species appreciation at Esher Common on Tuesday included Cyclosa conica and Agalenatea redii, two fantastically striking looking spiders that have managed to evade me up to this point. Fresh 'oak apple' galls caused by larvae of the tiny wasp Biorhiza pallida are now appearing on most of the oak trees, and at ground level the larvae of Lathronympha strigana can be found feeding within spun leaves of St. John's Wort.

Cyclosa conica

Agalenatea redii

Biorhiza pallida

Lathronympha strigana

 This Eriocrania swept from birch saplings on the heath is a good candidate for sparrmannella, one of the latest flying species in the genus.

It's been a tad too dry recently to appreciate bryophytes at their best, but rooting around in some of the damper, shadier parts of the heath turned up the conifer-loving liverwort Calypogeia muelleriana and the ever common Oxyrrhynchium hians.

 Calypogeia muelleriana (Mueller's Pouchwort) 

Oxyrrhynchium hians (Swartz's Feather-moss)

17 April, 2017

Primula paradise

Last week my brother and I dropped into Suffolk to visit the grandparents for a few days. They live in the heart of a biodiversity rich region called the Brecks, characterised by sandy heaths, large expanses of dry grassland and some incredibly rare wildlife, so it's always a huge chore going over there.

Bradfield Woods is one of their nearest nature reserves so we all headed over there for a stroll on the Monday. Suffolk Wildlife Trust manage this site using traditional coppicing practices much to the benefit of a fantastic array of wildflowers that are now flowering alongside the paths.

The reserve's main claim to fame is that it supports a thriving population of the nationally scarce Oxlip (Primula elatior) which grows profusely amongst Cowslip (P. veris) and Primrose (P. vulgaris) in the ditches and rides, providing visitors with the chance to snap up three species of native Primula within the space of a couple of metres.


Telling apart the two 'lips' can be done by looking at the flower clusters on top of the stem. Oxlip has pale yellow flowers all of which droop in one direction, whereas Cowslip has yellow flowers of a darker shade that droop in various directions around the stem. Just to make things confusing, False Oxlip (a hybrid between Cowslip and Primrose) also has pale yellow flowers, but like Cowslip these never all droop in the same direction.



 Wood Anemone

 Water Avens

13 April, 2017

Moth catch-up

The balmy weather of late has provided plenty of opportunities to get out into the field and search for some of the spring flying micro moths that don't readily come to light. The Caloptilia was knocked out of a dense Cypress trees at Stokes Field, whilst Incurvaria pectinea, Cydia ulicetana and Heliozela sericiella were all abundant on heathland at Fairmile Common last Friday. 

Caloptilia cuculipennella

 Incurvaria pectinea

 Cydia ulicetana

 Heliozela sericiella

Moth trapping in the garden during spring is typically a fruitless affair, and this year has been no different. Most sessions have resulted in an empty trap the next morning, so these two micros disturbed from the hawthorn were nice compensation. Pammene rhediella turns up every year and probably breeds in the garden, but none of the individuals I've come across have been as stunning as this one. Agonopterix scopariella is a bit of a local rarity, with this being the first record of the species in the garden for six years.

 Pammene rhediella

Agonopterix scopariella

06 April, 2017

Mnium hornum

 Mnium hornum

Came across this really fine example of Mnium hornum (Swan's-neck Feather-moss) at Esher Common growing underneath a stand of birches the other day. It is one of our most common woodland bryophytes and pleasantly easy to identify with its upright posture and large dark green leaves. I like it especially because it makes me look clever when I point it out to people.

02 April, 2017

Fairmile Common

A brief evening visit last Thursday to what is fast becoming one of my favourite local spots for wildlife, despite its tiny size and close proximity to the A3. There was plenty to study amongst the heather...

 Bloody-nosed Beetle tangled amongst the moss Pseudoscleropodium purum

 Aradus depressus

 Bibio johannis - a very common spring fly

 Little Mouse-ear

Bryum capillare

26 March, 2017

Sunday on the patch

It was the perfect day for a Sunday stroll on the patch...

 Wood Anemone

Yellow Archangel

 Phaonia sp. 

 Dyseriocrania subpurpurella

 Lochmaea crataegi

 What appears to be a Gooseberry bush growing deep within the woods!

Kindbergia praelonga

23 February, 2017

Chalk Comb-moss

Chalk Comb-moss

The first moss I've attempted to identify this year - Ctenidium molluscum (Chalk Comb-moss). Found on Denbies Hillside in some barmy February sunshine last weekend. Even managed to fit in a half hour snooze on one of the south facing chalk slopes. Bryophyte recording at its best. 

20 February, 2017

A winter ascent

A couple of years ago, whilst awaiting a change-over train to take me up to Mallaig during my Hebridean organic farming adventure, I found myself briefly landed in the tiny village called Crianlarich, nestled away in the mountains north of Loch Lomond.

The breathtaking backdrop to the village is dominated by Ben More, one of the highest peaks in the UK, and on that hot summer's evening sitting on the platform I only wished I'd given myself some time to explore it's heights.

Last weekend I jumped on the train, booked myself into the Crianlarich YHA and decided to give it a go.

The route saw me follow a windy track from Ben More Farm up through a spectacular glen to reach the west side of the mountain, at which point it was a matter of heading straight up the steep slopes towards Bealach-eadar-dha Beinn, an 850m mountain pass between the twin peaks of Ben More and Stob Binnein.

It was bitterly cold, with 70mph wind gusts and snow that was 3 feet deep in places, but I wouldn't have rather been anywhere else in the world. I reached Bealach-eadar-dha Beinn early in the afternoon after 3 hours of climbing, at which point the skies suddenly cleared, the sun came out and I was treated to an unrivalled vista of Scottish mountains, hills and valleys all coated in white stuff.

After a long period of pensive gazing, I turned my back on the view and started heading up to the summit of Stob Binnein which was once again shrouded in cloud.

Having been nicely sheltered from the worst of the easterly winds on my ascent, I was now totally exposed and it wasn't a pleasant experience. My cell phone (which I'd been using to navigate along the final ridge) suddenly froze in the wind chill as did my water bottle, and although my coat and fleece-lined trousers were keeping my innards toasty, I quickly learned the hard way that the old gloves I was wearing weren't cut out for this kind of cold anymore - they'd become rigid around my hands!

With the summit tantalising close, I carried on. I say 'carried on', but it was more of an onward stumble akin to the kind you might remember seeing in the final scenes of that recent 3D blockbuster Everest when all those climbers get hopelessly caught out in a really bad storm.

I wised up just below 1000 metres and called it a day when the wind finally made it impossible to walk forward. The sky opened up again as I headed back down through the clouds, and any feelings of anguish at not making the summit were quickly lost. A sublime sunset behind the mountains was a nice way to round off a memorable weekend!