Archive | August 2014

Late summer clouds

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At 10.30 after a warm sunny morning it became very humid. Walking along a path at Pebsham a dense cloud of insects appeared above an Oak tree – then hundreds of insects began falling onto the ground and leaves with a hard rattling noise. My bag and arms were soon covered in flying ants and there were hundreds on the pathway, some in copula.

This is a mating swarm of the ant Myrmica scabrinodis (Nylander 1848). The males form a cloud over vegetation and females join. The fertilised females will discard their wings and attempt to overwinter before forming nests in the following year.

I noticed another swarm later and also Black-headed gulls and a Willow warbler were catching some of the ants.



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This morning, resting on the wall inside the hallway of the flats where I live was this exquisite animal. It is a Harvestman, a member of the Order Opiliones, closely related to the spiders. The Opiliones have two eyes situated on a raised platform. A remarkable group of invertebrates.

This is the species Dicranopalpus ramosus (Simon, 1909). Originally known from Mediterranean Morocco it has spread through much of Europe. First recorded in Britain in 1957, at Bournemouth and found in Scotland during 2000. This species appears mainly between August and November. Note the pedipalps, the prong-like appendages at the front, appear to be forked.

Oraches and others

Another visit to Bulverhythe beach this morning. My botanical skills are easily challenged and today looking at the orache plants growing on the shingle I can see what looks to be Common Orache Atriplex patula, judging from the shape of some of the leaves. It looks as if at least two species of Orache are on the shingle here.

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A good plant of Sea Rocket Cakile maritima was also noted.

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Sticky Groundsel Senecio viscosus in flower (below), widespread on the upper shingle.

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Bulverhythe beach

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Below the storm tide mark the pale green of Babington’s Orache Atriplex glabriuscula contrasts with the darker green of upper beach flora along Bulverhythe early this morning. This strandline plant is an annual adapted to life on sand and shingle zones overtopped by the highest tide.

The sun glimmering fitfully for a while soon after dawn, after two days of prolonged rain.

Recent notes

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Cirrocumulus briefly from St Leonards this afternoon. A high altitude formation composed of ice crystals and soon transforming. It presages the arrival of a Warm Front within 10 hours.

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A new set of teeth… White Poplars and scrub cut back along the Coombe with this fearsome attachment for the heavy plant that has been clearing the banks.

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Wild Angelica Angelica sylvestris in the long ditch.

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The Turnip Sawfly Athalia rosae – numerous on the Angelica.

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Fruit ripened in the North’s Seat hedgerows.



Roesel’s Bush-cricket

A fine sight this morning at South Saxons was of a female Roesel’s Bush-cricket Metrioptera roeselii enjoying a sunlit patch sheltered from a strong wind.

The cricket was being pestered by one or two flies, possibly of a species which can be parasitic on the Orthoptera.

The whole area of South Saxons is excellent for wildlife and today a local explained to me how this was once a natural harbour, an inlet to the sea, with two streams coming down. Before the railway embankment was built the St Leonards cliffs there would have been the high ground fringing the lowland which would have been partly tidal. The local geography is still a special part of the ecology here for birds as well as insects and plants.

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Wild Basil

I posted on the 7th July on the flowers at Cooden beach area. There is an area of ruderal level ground inland from the beach road and with a shallow soil supports a variety of plants and insects. Like too many coastal spots rich in wildlife it is quite small and vulnerable to disturbance and development. I remember Ralph Hobbs showing me Grizzled skipper butterflies near there, quite a few years ago.

The mint I showed I thought likely to be Field Woundwort but the corolla was very long and I decided to research this later in the season. Now, having gone through Stace and a number of other books, searched websites online and checked back on my pictures I having looked up the BSBI online Atlas of British plants I can say it is Wild Basil Clinopodium vulgare. The Atlas shows the species has been recorded from this area and is another flower which is associated with calcareous grasslands and scrublands. The centres of population nearest us are the chalk downlands.

The stem is covered in adpressed hairs and lower teeth of the numerous calyxes are long and upcurved.

Here are some of the  photos of the plants I took that day.

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Three peas suite

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Goat’s-rue Galega officinalis flowering and seeding on Galley Hill

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Common Restharrow Ononis repens provides a carpet of blossoms for foraging leafcutter bees and others on Bulverhythe beach. A perennial spreading by rhizomes and surviving well here despite last winter’s storms.

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A tall annual or biennial plant, White Melilot Melilotus albus pictured here at Pebsham.






Sericomyia silentis

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A number of Sericomyia silentis (Harris, 1776) males were visiting Bell Heather Erica cinerea near North’s Seat Hastings on July 30th. It is present here thanks to the heathland management work which has been such a vital part of the conservation strategy here.
I have recorded this hoverfly once before, at Battle Great Wood, and this large fly is an inhabitant of acidic heaths and moors, often reported from waterlogged peaty lands in Western and Northern Britain. It has been considered a local species in South-eastern England and it may be that heathland restoration regionally is helping this species.
Devil’s-bit Scabious Succisa pratensis is reported as a favourite flower. Looking on the BSBI maps for the Scabious and Bell Heather and comparing with the distribution of the hoverly suggests that in Southern England Bell Heather is a surer indication that the fly is present. Where Bell heather is not present then neither is the fly. Both plant species are found at Battle Great Wood.
sericomyia silentis map
Sericomyia silentis Hoverfly Recording Scheme

Devil's-bit Scabious
Devil’s-bit Scabious BSBI

Bell Heather
Bell Heather BSBI


Fascinated by the appearance of the machinery engineered and built to replace human labour power. I try to learn something about this, as an old school friend was a keen student of JCBs. We take these machines for granted and often do not notice how widespread they are. They are very expensive to make and rely on oil, a natural capital formed by decomposing prehistoric forests. However without them, and the steam engines of old, our working environments would be fairly different and very arduous. The machinery and technology all around us is a part of our human ecology as well as economy.

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