Monday, 31 May 2010

Lowland Heath.

I am fortunate to have many different habitats to visit within a reasonable driving distance of home and late spring into summer is an excellent time to wander around a lowland heath such as Thursley Common comprising a mixture of dry and wet heath, bog, woodland and scrub. 
Heathlands are very rare habitats and occur in areas which combine poor soils with a cool, moist climate. In Europe, lowland heathland occurs mainly in a zone bordering the Atlantic and North Sea, where there is a cool moist oceanic climate with mild winters and cool summers. The UK has approximately 20% of Europe's remaining lowland heath. Most of this is concentrated in the southern and eastern counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Sussex, Suffolk, Norfolk and my home county of Surrey.
Heaths are wide open landscapes dominated by plants such as Heathers, Gorse and heathland grasses and punctuated by scattered trees such as Silver Birch and Pines. They are historic landscapes and are essentially a man-made habitat. Gradual clearance of native woodland for planting crops began in Neolithic times and continued into the 17th century. Once the soil nutrients were exhausted people moved on to cultivate a new areas. Continued grazing and other activities have helped to maintain the open nature of these heaths. The soils are usually sandy (and therefore free-draining), acidic and very low in plant nutrients so a unique association of plants and animals have adapted to withstand such inhospitable conditions and evolved to form the distinctive heathland community including approximately 5,000 species of invertebrates.
Numerous wide sandy tracks criss-cross the common and I often pass the time of day with horse riders who gently walk by but on this occasion the exercise was far to quick for my legs! There are various stands of  pines with evidence of recent thining lying on the ground. There are also small pockets of deciduous woodland to search out diffent species and I watched a female Redstart bringing food to her youngsters but no postable pics this time.
 A female Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) [the male has red patch on back of its head] was busily feeding its young at the nest hole. 
Dry heath is normally dominated by varying proportions of Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) and Gorse (Common, plus Western or Dwarf). Wet heath is characterized by the presence of Cross-leaved Heath (Erica tetralix), Purple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea), species of Sphagnum moss and the Marsh Orchid.
An unexpected find was this female Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) quietly perched on a pile of logs and I was able to get quite close without upsetting her.

Three Red Data Book species of birds are particularly associated with Surrey heathlands; Nightjars (Caprimulgus europaeus), Woodlarks (Lullula arborea) and Dartford Warblers (Sylvia undata). Dartford Warblers are the only ones exclusively associated with this habitat in southern England but their numbers appear to have severely crashed in recent years...the devasting fire in 2006 that wiped out vast tracts of their preferred habitat certainly hasn't helped and I have not seen any during recent visits to Thursley Common. Nightjars are summer visitors to England, whose characteristic churring noise can be heard on warm, summer evenings so I'll be returning very soon to enjoy this experience.  FAB.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Fluttering Insects.

Although it has been sunny, (that is up until today) the constant strong breezes have not made it easy to find 'flutters' or 'damsels' resting but here are a few varieties I have seen during my walks at Bookham and Thursley Commons.
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas).
Interesting to notice the deeper colour (see below) when the sun is shining.
Brown Argus (Aricia agestis).
(Thanks Roy for helping with the ID - Easily confused with a female Common Blue, especially when flying.)
Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens).
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum).
Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula).
I watched this pair attempting to complete the 'wheel' or 'heart' but they flew off still joined presumably to find a more suitable resting location.
Four Spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata).
Many males were seen, constantly patrolling their territories chasing off other males. Certainly not easy to focus on but this was my best so far!
It was rare to find one perched plus sunlight reflecting on the water so this was the best I could do but it clearly shows the middle wing spots that differentiate the Four Spotted from other Chasers and Skimmers.

As I don't own a macro lens all these shots were taken using the 70-300 IS zoom. Hopefully when the sunshine returns I'll be able to locate a few more species.  FAB.

Open Skies.

Views of the open sky above me today as I spent many hours roaming around Thursley Common, one of the finest remaining heathlands in Southern England.
......and high above me a Hobby was feeding on the wing drifting from blue into white.
For more fabulous SkyWatch images, please click this link.     FAB.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Blue at last.

Many years ago during a visit to Derbyshire I took masses of photographs of blue butterflies only to find that when I opened the camera to extract the film for processing there was no film in the camera...bummer!  Having only switched to digital earlier last year I realised that I had not managed to capture many species of butterflies so on Wednesday although it was a little windy I headed off to Bookham Common late mid morning in search of any flutters. To my delight I eventually located a male Common Blue patrolling its territory and regularly chasing off another male and wondered if it would ever come to rest.  
Well patience paid off and the male sat on a fern frond soaking up the sunshine.
He was also kind enough to let me capture his underside, so totally different to the blue topcoat.
During one of my other brief stops another male obliged the camera so mission accomplished. 

I also saw Small Copper, Peacock, Speckled Wood, some non-stop flying Whites and Orange Tips plus some damsels that I'll share in another post very soon.       FAB

Garden Update May (Part 2)

Continuing from Part 1, Deutzia crenata 'Nikko' a dwarf variety will flower its socks off through May into June and pale-pink Geraniums will eventually peek above the white carpet  is planted beneath the ever expanding birch (Betula 'Hergest') with its pinkish-white bark which is fun to peel off and reveal the fresh colour.
More colour is now appearing with the pink florets of an Astrantia slowly opening up; the Clematis montana which I heavily pruned earlier this year as most of the growth was hanging the wrong side of the fence is producing some flowers; a Geranium and another Clematis add more pink and blue with the velvety deep purple of a self seeded Aquilegia 'William Guiness' yet to fully open.
A lot of our very small garden is still green with new buds forming on Deutzia 'Pink Pompom', Escallonia 'Apple Blossom to hopefully provide colour into the summer. The red Paeonia (inherited and unknown) has opened since I took the shot and the strong winds have since battered the blooms. Ferns in the shaded side border continue to unfurl beneath the lilac now starting to open its fragrant blooms (Syringa variety unknown) while the hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata Plena) increasing spreads its arms clothed in double white to shade most of the centre of the garden. 
The spheres of Alliums are now swaying in the daily breezes; various old pots of Sempervivum grace the table at the bottom of the garden and another Aquilegia 'William Guiness' now reveals its black and white surprise. 

I have removed numerous snails that were hiding inside the three handmade pottery night lights; no obvious inhabitants in the bee nester; many of the pink pea-like flowers on the Indofera himalayensis 'Silk Road' are already clothing the paving slabs in the corner of the raised patio area at the bottom of the garden; plenty of buds on the climbing rose on the fence trellis and one of the resident 'spadgers' keeps a beady eye open for his friends hiding in the Pittosporum below.   FAB.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Afternoon on the marshes.

A chilly day on the Kent Marshes and eventually the sun peeps out from behind the grey clouds and sheds its afternoon rays on  the swaying reedbed.  FAB.

For more Watery Wednesday images please click this link.  

Garden Update May (Part 1)

I have been spending a little time in the garden recently and realised that I haven't posted an update since mid April so have put together a few montages of the changes I've seen over the last month.
Towards the end of April the multi-headed Narcissus were doing their thing adding another dimension to the display of yellows and oranges. As the days get warmer the red-purple spikes on Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha open to reveal its sunshine yellow petals. First sighting of a Ladybird helping to reduce the aphid population on a Euphorbia. The lantern of Erythronium 'Pagoda' brightens up a dark space in a shaded spot under the boundary fence.   
As I garden on heavy clay the large flowered Tulips are grown in few pots and the display was not as good as last year but they provided a splash of pink, purple and red for a short time. The specie Tulips including T.biflora (white with yellow centre) and T. humilis (red with black centre) are all planted under a tree or shrubs and continue to bulk up year after year.
As we move into May, Brunnera 'Jack Frost' sends up its panicles of bright blue flowers; the ornamental quince (Chaenomeles speciosa 'Yuki-Goten') has produced a mass of blooms; the dwarf potted Pinus sends up new spikes; Bluebells (regretfully the non-native form and inherited) add more blue to the palette together with the spikes on the Camassia cusickii.   
A number of different Alliums are planted around the garden and it's fun to watch the sheaths open to reveal the hidden delights as day by day the starburst expands to form their colourful spheres.   

The two matching large Whichford Pots (a present from my friends at the pottery) which I planted up with two different Phormiums (Rainbow & Jester) underplanted with Thyme and Heuchera at the end of March are now begining to bulk up and I'm pleased with the combination but may need to add some bulbs for next spring.   FAB.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Missed It!!

Well it appears that the camera didn't arise early enough today and after returning from a visit to the Dentist I checked out the garden and listened for any sounds from the nest box....nothing.
One the adult Blue Tits was however calling constantly, a warning of a Magpie and Greenfinch nearby, while it was flitting around the upright Prunus.

I then noticed a pale yellow, blue shape hiding inside the ever expanding greenery of the Clematis...a fledged
Blue Tit keeping absolutely still and not uttering a sound. After a few minutes the adult flew off and the youngster followed. I therefore have no idea how many youngsters successfully fledged early this morning but they may return to feeder sometime.

Whilst walking down the garden path another sight caught my eye. A caterpillar web nest in the crook of the Sorbus vilmorinii that has never looked well with numerous lesions on the bark.
Moving around to the shady side there was a mass of Lackey Moth caterpillars  I believe, but if I'm wrong no doubt someone will correct me. I wonder what proportion of this population will survive!   FAB.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Five are now four.

No birding today apart from keeping an eye on the garden nesters as we have been restocking and repacking all the necessary gear back into the camping trailer. So an update on the goslings...there were five last week but my most recent visit indicates that there are only four can only presume this is a result of predation. 
It was interesting to see the adults sharing sentry duty when the other partner wanted to feed. The youngsters, of course, just kept nibbling away at the fresh green growth and are getting bigger by the day.

I hope to pop out again sometime this week to see how these charmers are progressing.   FAB.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Blue Tit Update.

The parents are still busily feeding their young in the nest box where the tiny chirping sounds are becoming more vocal each day. 
These were all shot late this evening after the sun disappeared behind the houses. Had to pump up the ISO in order to get a decent speed to capture the action (hand held this time) hence the grainy images. Interesting to note the increase in contact and warning calls when other species were close by, especially an inquisitive Magpie and a hungry Parakeet try to get to the feeder above my head.  The adults are certainly showing increased signs of wear and tear!    FAB. 

Flutters in Kent.

A few of the flutters seen during our visit to Northwood Hill on Friday.
Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae).
One of the RSPB staff kindly pointed me to a location where Green Hairstreaks (Callophrys rubi) had been seen fighting. With such strong direct sunlight this individual was defending its territory and regularly perched amoungst the greenery that made it even harder to focus so here are the best of a few images.
Its antenna and legs are striped black and white.
Always rests with its wings closed. The upperwing is in fact brown.
Probably a recently arrived (migrant) Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). Just a pity it wouldn't open its wings.

Finally a Peacock (Inachis io) soaking up the sunshine.     FAB. 

Friday, 21 May 2010

Kent Marshes (Northwood Hill)

After dropping off the camping trailer at 8.15 a.m. in Northfleet we headed to Northwood Hill RSPB Reserve somewhere we had never visited before. The reserve is situated on a ridge overlooking the Thames Marshes and our first port of call was the woodland which was full of birdsong; Blackcaps, Garden Warblers, Blackbirds, Chaffinch, Whitethroats and Chiffchaff but most individuals were hidden from us by the lush dense foliage.
With fierce sun overhead it was great to be walking in dappled shade with Red Campion and Bluebells lining the pathways.
A view outside the woodland over the adjoining farmland.
Our route eventually led us to the edge of the ridge with this expansive view over the marshes. The building on the left was used for communicating with the U.S.A. during World War 2.
While Anita rested her feet, listening to the intermitent calls of Cetti's Warbler, Nightingale, a distant Cuckoo and the constant sounds from various corvids I headed downhill to check out the reed fringed small waterways and listened to the rythmic song of a Reed Warbler and the scratchy sounds from a Sedge Warbler.

Our return route to the car was an uphill slog but interupted with views of this docile 'bunny' and a very noisy laughing Green Woodpecker.
We then drove to the main car park at Bromhey Farm where a large party of school children were also enjoying the various wildlife delights of butterflies, bugs and of course the birds under the guidance of RSPB staff.
Clockwise L to R...ARB, Cuckoo, Chaffinch and Whitethroat.

We found a convenient seat to eat out packed lunch while watching Whitethroats, Linnets, a Yellowhammer, Chaffinch with the constant calls from a Cuckoo who eventual alighted on a very distant tree. Other sightings included Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Greylag Geese, Shelduck and Tufted Duck plus we also saw a few butterflies but I'll leave these for a later post as this one is already too long! Just after lunch the mobile rang and we returned to pick  up the trailer, now in full working job is to repack all our gear so it is ready for an outing somewhere next month.   FAB.


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