Sunday, 29 June 2008

Longfield - Moths

Was expecting better from the trap last night given the warm temperature, but I guess not too bad, probably more a sign of the times.

Buff ermine 1, small magpie 1, willow beauty 2, common wainscott 1, garden carpet 1, heart & dart 7, rustic 3, turnip moth 2, dark arches 5, green pug 1, figure of eighty 1, bright-line brown eye 2.

Figure of Eighty

Friday, 27 June 2008

Lullingstone Country Park

I went back to Lullingstone C.P. this morning with a view to seeing the lizard orchids and then heading off elsewhere. As it turned out I spent all morning there having a much better time than I anticipated for an overcast, breezy and at times damp morning. I did however forget to pay my £1 parking fee and suddenly realising, just as I was within spitting distance of the lizard orchids, raced back to the car park. Would I ever get to see these orchids!! As it turned out I did, as you can see below and to be honest the chalk bank where they are located is amazing. Wedged between two golf links, the display of pyramidal orchids and the flypast of dark-green fritillaries is incredible and I also bumped into a few other great beasties along the way.

Walking up from the car park the grass path is very dry with bare earth patches, looking closely at these patches I noticed a lot of holes which were being visited by small bees, some of which where smothered in pollen. Over to the people who know their mining bees but what little cuties.

There seemed to be a quick turnaround once down a hole and they wouldn't come out until the coast was clear or at least some nosey bloke with a camera had moved on!

From the top of the path the view back the way I had come gives some idea of the lovely tall grass meadow.

Surprisingly for such overcast weather, butterflies were in evidence. Amongst the meadow browns were ringlets and they were quite numerous. I go as far to say that there were more ringlets on the wing than meadow browns.

I checked out the area where I had seen the slow worm on my previous visit but unfortunately the piece of corrugated iron roofing had disappeared, so no reptiles. The surrounding grassy area was good for butterflies and I managed to find a good looking large skipper just sitting patiently for the next spell of sunshine.
Large Skipper

I also came across a tussle between a male meadow brown and ringlet. The ringlet appeared to be the aggressor flying at the meadow brown and trying to push it off the leaf, or at least that is what is looked like. The meadow brown didn't budge and after a minute or so the ringlet flew off.

The butterflies just kept on coming as then I kicked up 3 small skippers, one of which eventually settled back down and started feeding on some selfheal. Pleased with this shot as you can clearly see the orange tips to the antenna which separate it from Essex skipper which has the black tips like they have been dipped in ink.
Small Skipper

I then started to wander toward the location of the lizard orchids which is a chalk bank that lies in between the two parts of the golf course. I wasn't sure quite what to expect and I was also wondering why I hadn't seen any dark-green fritillaries and maybe it was because they were keeping out of the wind, low down at the base of the tall grass. I couldn't have been more wrong. The chalk bank just sort of appears and suddenly you are faced with this amazing display of pyramidal orchids and grassland plants. In places it just oozes colour, quite stunning.

Wandering slowly along the path, I became aware of more butterfly activity and there were the fritillaries. Not cowering out of the wind at the base of the tall grass but steaming around the meadow and not just one but twos and threes. I think my jaw dropped at getting great views of this lovely butterfly feeding on greater knapweed and fragrant orchid.
Dark-green Fritillary

My photos don't really show it but the name comes from the green wash to the underside of the wings.
In the end finding the lizard orchids wasn't hard as around each of the 6 plants that I noticed, the meadow had been flattened which is a shame. To have such a rare and bizarre looking plant almost on my doorstep is quite a privilege.
Lizard Orchid

There were more skippers flying around as well and at one point I had a flypast of fritillary and skipper together. Two orange butterflies but a massive size difference. I couldn't resist taking this shot of what I consider to be another small skipper this time showing the brown tips to the antenna.
Small Skipper

More crushed grass led me off the path toward an unfamiliar plant, which I later identified as henbane which has some interesting history. In the past it was combined with other plants, such as mandrake, deadly nightshade, and datura and used as an anaesthetic potion, as well as for its psychoactive properties in "magic brews." These could provide visual hallucinations and a sensation of flight! Its usage was originally in continental Europe and Asia, though it did spread to England sometime during the Middle Ages. Henbane can be toxic in low doses. Its name came from Anglo-Saxon hennbana = "killer of hens". It was traditionally used in German beers as a flavouring, until the Bavarian Purity Law was passed in 1516 and outlawed the use of Henbane.

Trying to keep totals for the morning was a challenge but large skipper 1, small skipper 6, dark-green fritillary 12-15, meadow brown, ringlet 30, small heath 5, lizard orchid 6, pyramidal orchid 1,000+, swift 12, house martin 4, whitethroat 2, yellowhammer 6, common blue damselfly, fragrant orchid 20.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Lullingstone Country Park

I'd read that at Lullingstone C.P. there is a small colony of lizard orchids, somewhere, so I went to have a look. I wasn't surprised not to find them as I didn't really know where to look but it didn't really matter as the grassland chalk banks where superb, in some places full of pyramidal orchids, it was quite stunning. It wasn't until I got in amongst the tall grass trying to photograph a small skipper that I came face to face with this exquisite plant which I think is a grass vetchling.
Grass Vetchling

Pyramidal Orchid

I then tried to go all arty again with this dandelion head. Looks a little bit like a spiders web close up (maybe)?

In the long grass were quite a few common blue demselflies.
Common Blue Damselfly

Also a lot of Meadow Browns, this one being a male.

It wasn't until I was wandering back to my car that I noticed a different and very striking butterfly flying very fast across the long grass meadow. It was my first in Kent, dark green fritillary and what a big beautiful butterfly, in the end I saw 2 and tried in vain to get a shot, better luck next time. A very rewarding late afternoon out, with the added bonus of a male slow worm and a few swifts and house martins doing low passes over the meadows catching insects.

Longfield - Moths

Took a risk in keeping the mv trap out overnight and luckily any forecast rain held off. Heart and dart numbers are starting to increase. Totals for the night were, brimstone 1, heart and dart 6, minor sp. 3, turnip moth 1, angle shades 1, common footman 1, common marbled carpet 2, dark arches 1 and a campion.

Common Footman. The name footman, probably comes from the way it holds its wings at rest, they are aligned with the body as if the moth is standing to attention.

For me this next moth was a challenge as it could have been one of two very similar species, either the campion or lychnis. I've gone for a worn campion mainly because of the existence of the curved central cross line below the second kidney mark nearest the tip of the forewing.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Longfield - Moths

A much better night for the moth trap with overcast skies, no moon and some lingering warmth which produced a good catch compared to the previous night.
Angle shades 1, white ermine 3, pale mottled willow 2, broken-barred carpet 1, green pug 2, heart & club 1, small magpie 2, Udea olivalis 1, heart & dart 9, clay 2, varied coronet 1, brimstone 1, rufous minor 1, water carpet 1, minor sp 5, setaceous hebrew character 1, large yellow underwing 1 and turnip moth 1.

Turnip Moth, lets face it not known for their great markings but I like them.

Rufous Minor

Heart and Dart

Broken-barred Carpet, I think?

Brimstone (Is this a better looking beastie than brimstone butterfly?)

Friday, 13 June 2008

Wye Downs National Park

I drove past this national nature reserve on my way to Bonsai Bank without really knowing it was there and decided to return at a later date, so here I am. It is owned by English Nature and I think is actually managed by Imperial College London which is a first. It is another great area of chalk grassland, harbouring many interesting species a few of which I managed to see even though the weather wasn't favourable with the threat of heavy rain.

Walking from the main car park you quickly come across the Devil's Kneading Trough - a steep-sided 'coombe' carved into the chalk escarpment by melt waters from the last ice age. In fact it is the steepness of the landscape that has probably saved it from being turned into farmland.

To try and preserve the chalk grassland habitat it is being grazed and I bumped into a few of the local management team.

Walking along the various trails through the grasslands I flushed a couple of medium sized white moths. These turned out to be black-veined moth, a protected species, restricted to a handful of locations in south-east Kent, it was formerly also found in some other southern counties. It flies during the day, especially in sunshine, and frequents rough downland, pastures and similar grassy places. Given it wasn't that sunny I was quite lucky. The sun did emerge for a brief spell and I was lucky enough to be in the right place for this large skipper to appear.
Large Skipper

I also couldn't resist this iridescent green beetle that was determined to stay on this flower no matter how close I got. Thanks to Greenie, the beetle is a mint leaf beetle, Chrysolina menthastri.

One of the specialty plants of the area is the late spider orchid and I managed to locate a few of this rare Kent species. As per the monkey orchids these plants require some special protection and have to be caged to avoid rabbit predation.

Related to bee orchids they are equally superb flowers.
Late Spider Orchid

It is thought that the seeds of this species have drifted over from the continent as it only has the most tenuous of holds in the UK with all the known plants in the south east part of Kent.

Longfield - Moths

Not too much in the moth trap last night, but there again it was quite cool, clear skies and a lot of moonlight so not the best conditions for attracting moths using a light trap. However I did catch a few, large yellow underwing 1, common wainscott 1, pale tussock 1, heart and dart 3 and heart and club 1.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Queendown Warren

At last some sunshine and heat. Been a few weeks since I had last been to Queendown Warren so without further ado and the wife came along too. As we got out of the car there were at least 8 Mediterranean gulls flying around overhead amongst a group of black-headed gulls. The med gulls were giving their distinctive cat like calls. I couldn't find any adders around the east banks so we started to walk along the main bank and we saw our first bee and man orchids. It seems that someone has been digging up the bee orchids at Queendown, what a travesty. Quite what possesses someone to do such a thing as the plants will die and be lost forever. I think they are without doubt one of my favourite UK orchids, just stunning.
Bee Orchid

Butterflies were in evidence although worryingly still no skippers. Quite a few brown argus, common and adonis blues though.
Brown Argus. I think this is a male although it would be easier if I had taken a shot of the underwing as females have a white flash on the hindwing.

Adonis Blue (male)

At this time of year, the display of fragrant orchids can be amazing, and in certain patches on the downland the numbers of fragrant orchids were good and some tall spikes exist amongst the grasses. I think another few days of sunny weather and the number of spikes in flower will increase greatly. I was lucky to get a large white feeding on this fragrant orchid.

Another good plant to see at Queendown in June is meadow clary but once again it looked to me as though some of the plant spikes had been picked, such a shame for this rare and declining species.
Meadow Clary

Now for something odd. It must be at least 30 years since I last saw a stag beetle but I think Queendown must be excellent for them given the number of dead beetles that we found lying around the paths. Their softer bellies had been eaten away leaving only the head and wing casings. Quite what had done this was a mystery but there must have been some overnight carnage as we counted at least 8 male heads, maybe bats? Got to be worth an evening trip to see.
Stag Beetle (male)

Longfield Moths

National Moth Night. Pleased I could set the mv trap for it, especially as it had been raining earlier in the evening. A good nights catch ensued with white ermine 3, buff tip 1, clay 1, minor sp. (Oligia) 4, clouded silver 1, pale mottled willow 2, heart & dart 3, turnip moth 1, green pug 2, rustic shoulder knot 2, willow beauty 1, light brocade 1, treble lines 1, uncertain 1, cypress carpet 1.
Hedgehog in the garden overnight.
Green Pug

Clouded Silver

Cypress Carpet. First recorded in Kent in 1999 at Dungeness. This is my second record from Longfield so it must be spreading around the county quite well.

Light Brocade. What a little cracker, beautifully marked.