Archive | May 2015

Two legumes

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Top. Bush Vetch Vicia sepium. In a dense hedgebank and Lower; Common Vetch Vicia Sativa alongside a more open hedged pathway in Hastings this week. As well as being a natural part of the European steppe and other grassland communities many legumes have followed the spread of humans from the Near East through Continental Europe since the end of the last Ice Age, being taken along with the roaming herds of livestock and providing the animals with an essential food supply.

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Maize and the Corn Borer

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Walking near North’s Seat a few days ago I passed by fields which had been converted some years ago from meadow and gorse grazing areas into arable. The earth had been recently tilled and was bare. I remember that Maize had been planted there when the fields were first ploughed up. Taking a number of photos of insects out in the sporadic sunshine and the one above, a smart-looking parasitic fly in the Tachinidae, is possibly an example of the common Lydella.

Lydella is a parasite of a moth which attacks Maize, the European Corn Borer Ostrinia nubilalis.

The Corn Borer has caused such damage to Maize that a gene isolated from a soil bacterium has been used to genetically modify some strains of the crop in order to suppress the moth caterpillars. This is such an important issue for farmers such as the maize farmers of India.

The Corn Borer has invaded parts of the USA and the tachinid fly has been introduced there in order to try to control the spread and numbers.

Marshes

A good downpour of rain on the 14th although temperatures now quite low again. Walking in Rye harbour and Winchelsea Beach yesterday I passed a Barn owl perched on a telephone wire. The owl began hunting over a field of wheat beside bungalows even though it was the middle of the day – the recent heavy rain putting pressure on the bird to catch prey.

The harbour marshes are transformed by the years of hard work to restore and protect habitats. Twenty-four pairs of Avocets are nesting. Other waders noted as well as the breeding Ringed plovers and Redshanks included Little ringed plover and two each of both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed godwits and Greenshank, Snipe are still being recorded and could possibly attempt to nest and five Curlews are still present. Gadwall pairs are present in numbers and I also flushed a pair from a small ditch close to the Winchelsea road. Two Spoonbills dozed in a corner of one of the waters. Fencing has been instrumental in protecting breeding colonies from predation. With more islands the Black-headed gulls and others are more spread out. Common terns are assessing the conditions – they flew up en masse as a Hobby passed over the coast. The Rye harbour reserve is a truly spectacular area.

Vegetation is now coming up quickly and the season is looking good for the shingle flora.

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Marina and Pebsham

May 10th 12.45 – scanning the horizon from the beach I noticed a strange bird flying steadily eastward at some height above the sea. An odd wader? – perhaps a previously unknown genus? .. then more like a giant hirundine… the tail seemed to have a spike and then I clicked – a Bee-eater. It changed course slightly, heading in and as it went towards Warrior Square I saw a second Bee-eater shadowing it at nearly the same height. Quite distant but could see the shape and the curved bill and wing and tail shape. They came inland at Warrior Square and were tracking north by then.

Swallows have been passing west for some days now, just occasional singles and small parties over the prom and sea. This morning new arrivals of Reed warblers were evident at Pebsham.

Bird passage off the coast has been very poor recently.

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Sun worshippers at North’s Seat

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Andrena haemorrhoa

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Leucozona leucorum

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Mesembrina meridiana

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Syrphus ribesii

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Sphecodes

Migrant birds continue to arrive with Swallows, a Yellow wagtail and Whimbrel passing over and newly arrived Sedge warbler and three Garden warblers singing from coastal areas.

Recent notes

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Water Horsetail Equisetum fluviatile is the only truly aquatic member of the Family Equisataceae. The plant is a rhizomatous perennial and here pictured recently in one ditch on the Levels, near Cooden. The Carboniferous Period saw the establishment of these plants with some species as large as trees. The fossil record indicates that they were a speciose group, but all are extinct today save for the species in the Genus Equisetum.

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Some welcome sunshine at Pebsham yesterday enjoyed by this fly; a member of the Dolichopodidae in the genus Argyra.

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Weather changing again with the approach of rain-bearing fronts.

Bird passage off shore continues to be unremarkable. Walking along the prom recently a drake Eider came flying in from the west and went along near to the beach. Yesterday a Wheatear flew in as I went out to the bins outside the flats. At Pebsham later that day ten House martins and some Swifts appeared and as I walked by Bulverhythe fields a Turtle dove appeared feeding on the newly cut lawn of one of the pitches – but was flighty and flew further inland after visiting a couple of spots. Another species which is now so scarce in Hastings.

Cold in May

The surfaces of the Levels seem to be quite dry. April was a dry month but the cold dry north-easterly winds perhaps hastened the evaporation of water from shallow pools, marshes and drains. Deeper and wider ditches seem less affected and we are promised rain again from tonight.

Migrant birds have quickly moved inland away from the cold coast or are in cover. Reed warblers were widespread near Pevensey today but new arrivals hard to find, with no sign of passage off shore. The highlight was a first Swift of the year flying into the easterly wind.

Yesterday a Common sandpiper was perched on a concrete post in the Bulverhythe sluice. It made short flights to half-submerged items where it attempted to find invertebrates while hovering or perching precariously. The sluice has no muddy margins and I wondered if the sandpiper had dropped down during the night.

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Turnstones feeding on the lawn at the De La Warr pavilion have come into breeding plumage.

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They catch pupae of bibionid and tipulid flies amongst the roots of the grass, foraging like starlings.

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Treacle Mustard Erysimum cheiranthoides flowering with Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris along a footpath in St Leonards.

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Beachy seen from Marina allotments.