Thursday, October 18, 2007

Some autumn delights

After a period of mixed weather it has turned cold at night. But when the sun gains a little power by early afternoon, drowsy insects bumble around Emthree to enjoy the last of the summer wine.

The pictures above show the hoverfly Rhingia rostrata on a white marsh thistle flower, another hoverfly, Eristalis pertinax and a female ichneumon wasp looking for some hapless caterpillar in which to lay her eggs.

I have also uploaded a picture of a group of toadstools growing on Flint Field in Emthree. They are The deceiver (Laccaria laccata), a new record for the square.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Rosebay dancer

As this project passes into its fifth year I am reminded of the transience of life. Not long ago this rosebay willowherb was in flower: now it sheds its seeds in a Swan Lake whirl of optimism.

The seeds themselves can be seen as small dots in the white, and this fluff will carry new plants far and wide from Emthree. They can lie dormant in the soil for ages and are supposed to be stimulated into growth by fire (why are they not consumed?).

It struck me that the seeds are tiny exemplars of James Elroy Flecker's poem To a Poet A Thousand Years Hence. If they could talk, maybe they would be saying to their latent children:

Since I can never see your face,
And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand.

In Finland they use these seeds to stuff pillows - it must be hard work collecting enough.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Welcome to 'Wildlife' readers

My article (above) on the Square Metre has just come out in the Sussex Wildlife Trust's Wildlife Magazine (Issue 153, September 2007). So, if you are a reader, and/or a member of the Trust, welcome to this blog.

If you want a copy of the magazine, the easiest way to get one is to join the SWT - follow this link for details. You will get much more for your subscription than just the magazine and be helping to conserve the county's very special wildlife.

Just to amuse myself with a wheels within wheels conceit, when I was thinking about where to photograph the magazine I decided that I would put it in the Square Metre itself, thus the photo shows an article on a place in that place.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Knapweed and Rhingia hoverfly

The knapweed plants (Centaurea nigra) have been flowering all through August and attract many insects like this hoverfly Rhingia rostrata on the left hand side of the picture. Once thought to quite a rarity, it is common in our area and has a strong preference for red and purple flowers.

So far as I know its early stages remain undiscovered, though a sister species, Rhingia campestris, has larvae that live in cow dung. Since cows are now so often treated with Ivermectin, and since R. campestris seems much scarcer than it used to be, R. rostrata may breed elsewhere: badger dung has been suggested as a candidate.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Rosy footman eggs hatch

The eggs of the rosy footman (Miltochrista miniata) have hatched and, after posing for a picture on the grass blade where the eggs were laid, have disappeared into my breeding box full of tasty mosses and lichens.

Apparently they are quite easy to rear, so I shall keep them until they are larger before putting them out in the wild. In my first posting on this species I had read that the caterpillars fed on lichen, but apparenty they feed on mosses as well, so we might have a resident population in Emthree.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Rosy footman eggs retrieved

Today the rosy footman moth I found yesterday had disappeared, but her neatly arrayed eggs were still in place on the grass blade.
Here they were too far from any of the tree lichens the larvae eat, so I have brought them indoors. When the hatchlings emerge I will put them out in areas where plenty of lichen grows and maybe keep a couple to see if I can rear them through.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Rosy footman lays eggs

I found a rather battered female rosy footman moth (Miltochrista miniata) hanging from a grass blade over Troy Track today. As the photo shows she was laying eggs, eggs that confirm the description give in Stokoe (1948):

"somewhat spindle-shaped, rich yellow in colour and placed on end with great regularity, at a little distance from each other, in rows of generally three to five eggs in each row."

The moth had obviously read the book.

The caterpillars eat lichens on trees, so this little creature's endeavours are a triumph of hope over adversity. It will all be worth it if I collect the clutch and distribute the hatchlings in the medlar tree that has a good vestiture of lichen.

Stokoe, W. J. (1948) The Caterpillars of British Moths. Frederick Warne, London & New York

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The dying bumble bee

On a cold wet evening in July when the news bulletins were full of reports about the disastrous floods in the Midlands, I found a dying bumble bee on Troy Track. She was the epitomy of coldness and wetness and I picked her up on my finger tip and put her out of harm's way among the leaves of one of the hypericums.

By the morning she would be dead and the whole episode reminded so much of a wonderful passage in F. W. L. Sladen's 1912 book on the Humble-bee:

In the case of B. pratorum, and probably of other species whose colonies end their existence in the height of summer, the aged queen often spends the evening of her life very pleasantly with her little band of worn-out workers. They sit together on two or three cells on the top of the ruined edifice, and make no attempt to rear any more brood. The exhausting work of bearing done, the queen’s body shrinks to its original size, and she becomes quite active and youthful-looking again. This well-earned rest lasts for about a week, and death, when at last it comes, brings with it no discomfort. One night, a little cooler than usual, finding her food supply exhausted, the queen grows torpid, as she has done many a time in the early part of her career; but on this occasion, her life-work finished, there is no awakening.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Dolis and a ragwort moth

The first ragwort flower was fully out yesterday and glittering green females of a rather scarce dolichopodid fly Hercostomus chrysozygos (top picture) were skimming across Midsummer Pond, sometimes settling on the meniscus, sometimes on my Wadhurst Clay tiles or the ailanthus log. The one in the picture seems to have retrieved some morsel of food.

Today another dolichopodid (Poecilbothrus nobilitatus) appeared on the pond in some numbers, resting on floating leaves or the meniscus (middle and lower picture).

I also found a tortrix moth resting on a leaf by Troy Track. It turned out to be a retuse marbled bell (Eucosma campoliliana). The larvae feed on ragwort, eating the flowers or boring in the stem and this is one of the many species associated with the plant that must be suffering under the determined attempt to rid Britain of the plant because of its toxic effects, especially when dry, on horses and other grazing animals. There is a picture of the moth here. 

There are some buds missing and one ragwort plant in The Waste collapsed a few weeks back, perhaps because a worm was boring in its stem, so its seems likely to be breeding in Emthree. Most of the Sussex records for this species are close to the coast.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

My Tukanoan garden

I have been reading The Forest Within by Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff (1996) about the Tukano Amazonian Indians. I have been very struck by the chapter on their gardens and some of the parallels with what they do, and what I do in Emthree (but is not generally done in our culture):

"The Tukanoans always practise selective weeding and should the women find a tree seedling growing through the litter, they will carefully preserve it.

Although most of the area is occupied by manioc, the emphasis is upon diversity. Tukanoan cultivated lands are not fields in our sense, but are mixed gardens with a variety of cultigens. According to the Indians, plants grow better as parts of a diversified plot than in monoculture. People are equally opposed to the idea of domestication; in their view fruit trees, medicinal plants, toxic or narcotic plants develop best if left in their original environment where they can grow in permanent interaction with the local climate, soil, flora and fauna. A fruit tree, they point out, has its pollinators which, in turn, interact in their own way and have their own cycles. A tree may have its insect pests or vertebrate predators, but it also has its defenders; it has its vines and creepers and epiphytes, but they all have a function to fulfil in the tree’s life, and if this interaction is disturbed, the tree won’t thrive.

Part of the diversity one finds in a Tukanoan garden plot consists in the tangle of metre-high charred stumps, fallen trunks, upturned roots, lopped-off branches, vines and underbrush. The Indians run like squirrels over the skeletons of fallen trees, but a city-dweller will have difficulties in balancing along the slippery or rotting trunks, and in passing from one to another. To call this a garden and to claim that this could be a model for a sustained development seems ludicrous, but we shall soon learn otherwise.

What may look to us like a primitive clearing in the rainforest, in reality is an intentional combination of many components. In the first place, the litter of rotting wood, leafy shrubs and carbonised branches is, in the Indian’s view, an important part of the process of cultivation; it contains nutrients (‘energies’) not present in the soil, but which come ‘from above’, and which provide the cultivated species with an articulation with the forest environment, an interaction the Indians believe to be essential. This is not a ‘clearing’ in the forest or a ‘cultivated’ spot in a hostile environment, but a safe-hold, a second home where things may be grown thanks to the forest. In the second place, the felled litter attracts several important species of prey animals: paca, agouti, cavi, deer and armadillo. In this manner, a cultivated plot is an excellent place for what has been called garden-hunting. As the Indians see it, it is a bait, a trap set right in the forest. Next to attracting game, this environment attracts many insects, butterflies and beetles, and these in turn attract birds and lizards. In this variety of life-forms the Indians see a condensation of energies, of pollinators and activators of the cycles of insemination, growth and decay."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Year of the ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)

This year I have seen more ringlet butterlies than at any time during my life and in some places they are more abundant than the ubiquitous meadow brown (Maniola jurina).

The ringlet tends to like rather damp grassland along woodland edges, but I would not have thought the wet summer had anything to do with this year's abundance as many of the factors causing it would have occurred before the wet set in. The hot, dry April would not, I would have thought, have suited the butterfly or its grass-feeding caterpillars.

The example in the picture flew from this bramble leaf into the medlar tree that canopies Medlar Wood alongside Emthree, so I shall record it from there rather than from the Square Metre itself.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Perforate St Johnswort (Hypericum peforatum)

The new hypericum plant that appeared by Butterfly Rock came into flower this morning and its identity is confirmed as perforate St. Johnswort.

Characteristic features are two ridges along the stems, black glandular dots on the leaves and petals, translucent dots on the leaves and pointed sepals.

Long revered as a herb that could drive off evil spirits, especially around midsummer and St. John's Eve, perforate St John'swort is now widely sold in health shops as an anti-depressant and a medicine for various other afflictions, the main active ingredient being hypericin.

Emthree's other St. Johnswort, the square-stalked, is generally sulking, perhaps because of the attentions of the S J beetle, and the plants are rather stunted, flowerless so far and with distorted leaves.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tiles for a pond

I have lined the small pond I dug at the north west end of Troy Track last year with black butyl and have been wondering for some days about how to design a suitable edging.
I thought handmade tiles might be a good idea so I went to see Aldershaw, a small tile-making business on the road to Hastings. Here I found some beautiful six inch squares made out of our local Wadhurst Clay from a pit in a nearby wood and have used some for the edging (see photo). They are only loosely arranged at present and will try to work out how to settle them better. At the back of the pond where the ground rises almost vertically I have laid an Ailanthus log.

The top picture shows a close up of one of the hand made tiles: very shibusa.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Yellow shell moth (Camptogramma bilineata)

I was scanning the birch sapling this evening and what appeared to be a dead leaf turned into a yellow shell moth. Though a new record for the project, this is a common species whose caterpillars feed on docks, chickweed and other low-growing plants, so it may have grown up in Emthree.

The yellow birch leaves have been attacked the microfungus Asteroma microspermum and, as the top picture shows, the moth has quite a good resemblance to these and is easily overlooked.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A passing toad (Bufo bufo)

This afternoon, while working on a small pond to the west of Emthree, a large toad (above) emerged from the Meadow and crawled on to Troy Track then westward into Medlar Wood following very much the same route as Elly's mouse the other day.

Is something going on here?

This was the first toad I have seen in the garden for some time and, sadly, it seems to have been injured under the eye and on one of its hind legs. However, these injuries do not appear to be life threating and the amphibian was active and seemed otherwise in good health.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Elly and the mystery mouse

Evening brings a kind of pallor to the square. The last of the narrow-leaved vetch flowers are closed and only the white marsh thistle and the bramble flowers shine out.

There is colour showing now on the buds of the as yet unidentified St. Johnswort and the greater bird’s-foot trefoil will not be far behind in sending its yellow slipper flowers from Our Lady’s pincushions in which they lie.

There are still a few pale blue forget-me-nots, but they will fade soon. They seem particularly appropriate for the day on which our much loved granddaughter Elly has gone to stay with an aunt and will no longer be a constant spirit of joy and delight around our house. Almost every day she came with me to Emthree and wondered at the magical world of woodlice and snails under the stones and stumps. Once again I will have to make my visits alone, but they will be full of memories. Fare well little girl.

But an enchantment of hope brightened my reflections. As I stood on Troy Track a tiny wood mouse peeped out from under the yew log Elly loved to roll back. She pottered across Submespilus Assart, her sleek coat shining with movement like bright brown water. Then she was on Troy Track and climbed first on one of my shoes, then on the other before carrying on with her journey into the depths of the long grass.

I am, of course, much too sensible to believe that our magic granddaughter has learned to shape shift, but I have never before had a mouse explore both my shoes like that, and the route she took was very much over the ground where Elly is sitting in the picture above.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A few days ahead

First flowers out on smooth hawksbeard, Crepis capillaris and the first meadow brown butterfly flopping sideways across Emthree (though they have been on the wing locally for a couple of weeks).

In past years the hawksbeard came out on 17 June 2004, 23 June 2005 and 15 June 2006 and meadow browns crossed Emthree on 20 June 2004, 21 June 2005 and 24 June 2006, so things seem to be just a day or two ahead, though I would not have thought this was particularly significant. Elsewhere locally the Crepis has been very obviously in flower for many days.

Monday, June 11, 2007

England's haymaking

Today, 11 June, was the tradional day for haymaking in old England.

I have part of my project, Submespilus Assart North, which I intend to cut (as for hay) every 11 June. And so I did today.
The area was only cleared late last summer for a parallel project but today I counted 14 species in this small area: smooth hawksbeard, Yorkshire fog, hogweed, rough meadow grass, black bryony, cocksfoot, scaly male fern, herb-robert, prickly sow thistle, wood dock, bramble, creeping buttercup, stinking iris and hedge woundwort. There are probably a few others.
This speaks of hedge bank rather than hay meadow, but cutting and removing the arisings will reduce the present lushness and I shall selectively hand graze the aftermath to achieve a more meadowy effect.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Capsid bugs and dolis

Now that the 'hay' crop is reaching its highest, there are many small insects prowling about in the canopy layer.
The tiny Dolichpodid flies perch on leaves looking for even smaller prey. The one pictured here is, perhaps, a Medetera species. Note the small, brilliant white patch on its head above the antennae - some sort of signal to others of its species no doubt.
The capsid bug is Calocoris stysi and apparently those occuring in Britain are subspecies insularis. The adults are often found in patches of nettles (though there are none of these in Emthree) and they feed on fruit, unripe seeds and small insects. The example here is on our narrow-leaved vetch, a great value-for-money plant that attracts a wide range of insect species.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A ghost moth (Hepialus humuli)

I was with a friend at Emthree early this evening when I noticed something sticking out of the ground near the heather plant in The Waste. It was a pupal case (see top picture) and my friend almost immediately spotted the impressive moth that had hatched out of it.

It is a ghost moth (Hepialus humuli) and said to be common, though it is some years since I have seen one here.

The females ase a patterned orange colour and only the males white. They are indeed a ghostly sight as they hover the meadow grass at dusk.

One thing puzzles me: the pupal case was in a rather bare part of Great Plantain Desert and I wonder where on earth the underground larva found enough roots to eat. It certainly did not seem to kill or weaken anything.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Flowers of the bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.)

The brambles are now at their best in terms of flower with crumpled white petals opening their arms to passing insect visitors.

When I was young I remember places where these flowers were alive with butterflies: white admirals, silver-washed fritillaries and others but, in East Sussex at any rate, this now seems a thing of the past, though these butterflies still occur in small numbers.

Brambles are good value and Emthree's two plants up against North Wall now have four manifestations: the dead brown canes from 2004, the dying canes from 2005 that fruited last year, the floricanes currently in bloom, and the rising primocanes that will flower and fruit next year.

Although they may not be crowded with butterflies, I do get a number of insect visitors, particularly honey bees that scramble about enthusiastically among the stamens.

Outside Troy Track to the south I have turned the bramble growth into a low hedge. This is a very simple process with shears and I wonder if woody plants will work their way up through the prickly thicket and make a proper hedge in due course. If it works it seems an easy and inexpensive way to establish a natural barrier that gives some protection from wind to Emthree.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A white marsh thistle (Cirsium palustre)

The solitary marsh thistle in The Waste, a plant I have been watching since last autumn, came into flower today and, rather surprisingly, it is white.

Emthree and The Waste have had several plants of this biennial species in the past and they have all been the usual red-purple. White-flowered marsh thistles are not uncommon in the wider countryside, but I do not recall seeing them in the garden here.

Purple flowers are particularly attractive to certain insects such as carder bees and it will be interesting to see which species visit this white one.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Welcome to Springwatch viewers

If you have dropped by following the appreance of the Square Metre on BBC TV's Springwatch programme today, greetings and I hope you enjoy this weblog.

To find out more about the project, follow the links above and to the right, or just browse through the entries.

Even better, why not set up a square metre of your own then maybe some day we can compare results from different places in the United Kingdom or worldwide.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Square metre on Springwatch

It has been rumoured that the Square Metre project will be featuring on BBC TV's Springwatch series this year.
Well, as the picture shows, they have spent time filming and I am assured the material will appear on the box in due course.
Fortunately Emthree behaved herself during filming and we had all day sunshine. If you want to see me crawling about on my hands and knees looking at dungflies and things, tune into the programme. I will post up the date and time if I find out what it is.
I will also be broadcasting live from the Square Metre as part of the Springwatch Project on Southern Counties Radio sometime between 7.15am and 9am on Monday, 4 June.

St Johnswort leaf beetle (Chrysolina hyperici)

Recently I found a shining metallic beetle about the size and shape of a ladybird happily chewing its way through the leaves of one of the square-stalked St Johnsworts (Hypericum tetrapterum) in The Waste. These have not been growing so well this year and maybe the beetle is the cause.

Elsewhere I have seen them in considerable numbers and in some countries where St Johnsworts have become troublesome introduced weed species the beetles have been used as a control agent.
It will be interesting to see if our St Johnsworts and their beetles can live together in the longer term.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Birch leaf bugs

The young birch tree on Thistle Moor in the Square Metre has been attacked by three insect species this spring. There was a caterpillar in a folded leaf, probably a micro moth as soon as the birch leaves appeared.

A little later I found leaves damaged by two invertebrate species, the leaf mines (top photo) of the white-spot purple moth (Eriocrania unimaculella) and the birch leaf-rolling weevil (Deporaus betulae), both new species for the quadrat.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Narrow-lleaved vetch (Vicia sativa ssp, angustifolia) again

One of the key flowers in Emthree has opened for the first time this year (I counted five).

Narrow-leaved vetch is typical of late spring and early summer, dotting the grass with small purpe spots. Ants are constantly scrambling about on them and the picture shows one looking, no doubt, for nectar or other sugary exudations. I

let the grass round about grow a little partly to support the vetches and ensure an adequate supply of seed for next year. I suppose one of the reasons why Emthree stays so green and healthy-looking is due to the nitrogen-fixing bacteria associated with roots of plants of the pea family.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Spider love

This afternoon I was inspecting the pitfall trap in Emthree with granddaughter Elly (who always likes to look to see if we have caught anything) when what I thought was a hunting spider shot over the rim and into the trap.

On careful inspection it proved to be a male clinging to the back of a female. They were not head to head, the male was facing towards the rear. Taking the photo was quite easy as they seemed disinclined to leave the trap, but eventually we put them back where they had started from, apparently unaffected by their adventure.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bees, flies and beetles

There is now much going on in Emthree following the long spell of warm, sunny weather.

Today I photographed the carder bee on bugle flowers, a cranefly (good camouflage), and the small and rather rare fleabeetle (Longitarsus lycopi) on leaves of self-heal, one of its main foodplants.

The only rain in sight is the forecast of light showers for Wednesday, 25th April but it looks as though this will not be enough to make any significant difference.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Thyme-leaved speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia)

This tiny speedwell pops up from time to time in The Metre and nearby. It is not readily able to compete with larger plants and often seems to favour bare ground, the sides of paths and so on.

The minute flowers are not very conspicuous, but have honey guides pointing to the central source of nectar, so perhaps they attract something.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The forget-me-not flowers

I have discovered that forget-me-nots like the one above start flowering when the flowers are still completely enclosed in their caskets of leaves. Eventually they start peeping out like those above.

While enclosed there seems little chance of pollination, so perhaps these early flowers are self-fertile.

This plant grows below the nort eastern corner of Butterfly Rock and is one of several plants I suspect were brought in as seeds by birds perching on the rock.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Black bryony and sycamore

Today I found seedlings of two new plants for this project in The Waste. They were (lower picture) a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) and black bryony (Tamus communis). Interesting how the sycamore seedling resembles the shape of the tree it would ultimately turn into.

Sycamore is an alien and invasive species as this record shows since there is no sycamore old enough to set seed nearby. The identity is unquestionable as I found the old samara beside the seedling.

Black bryony is a striking plant, the only British member of the yam family. Although the flowers are inconspicuous, the bright red berries and variously coloured fading leaves make a fine autumnal feature. It is highly poisonous, though it is said they eat the young shoots like asparagus in Morocco - don't try it!

There is both a young sycamore and a black bryony in Medlar Wood adjacent to The Metre, so I do not suppose I shall leave these plants in Emthree for long.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The first flower of 2007

Rather to my surprise a flower opened this morning on the false hamate-lobed dandelion (Taraxacum pseudohamatum). The same plant flowered 24 days later, on 14 April, last year. Climate change? I doubt it, dandelion flowers seem to vary considerably in regard to when they appear.

I identify these Taraxaca to microspecies level if I can using the BSBI Dandelion book, but the results from the key are not always conclusive. T. pseudohamatum seems a clear enough form though.

The fly enjoying this spring treat is a sallow fly, Egle sp.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A spring cranefly - Dicranomyia chorea

Right on cue for the first day of spring I discovered a freshly emerged, male short-palped cranefly on the moss on the top of Butterfly Rock. The pupal exuvia can be seen in one of the pictures above protruding from the moss just to the left of the wing tips.

After it had hardened its exoskeleton it started to move around and eventually settled on a grass blade beside the rock.

This sandstone rock has now been in situ for just under two years. It quickly developed a carpet of moss and lichen on its bare top and, earlier this year, this was thick enough to support some small vascular plants. Now an insect has completed its development in the moss - only two years from bare stone to invertebrate life.

The rock has also developed a cordon of plants around its perimeter that do not grow elsewhere in Emthree. I strongly suspect they arise from seeds brought in by birds who must also deliver a fair quantity of fertiliser that washes off with the seeds.

Sudden flood

The other day I went to look at Emthree and found water running everywhere and all the holes and hollows full. It was clear and sunny and, although there had been some rain earlier, I thought it had not been enough to cause such flooding unless it was a very focussed cloudburst.

However, I quickly discovered that a water main had burst in a shed in the next door garden. The problem was soon fixed and the water drained rapidly away. One small bonus was that I was able to enjoy a tree reflection in a puddle in Troy Track, something that has not happened before as it is either raining on the water surface or dry.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Common crystalwort (Riccia sorocarpa)

A star turn today was the 'appearance' of a distinctive plant on bare ground at the north eastern end of Troy Track. Not only is this a new record for the project, it is also the first hepatic - that's the smart name for liverwort. Double hooray!

In the literature common crystalwort is indeed said to be common, but I have somehow managed to live my whole life without ever consciously seeing an example. It is an annual species and will, I think, not grow very much larger.

As is so often the case, I spotted this (it is about 1 cm in diameter) using my close focus binoculars and it must have been where it is for some time without my having noticed it.