Thursday, 18 September 2014

A few plants in Knole Park

Eyebright, Euphrasia officinalis ssp. anglica.  Knole Park, 15 August 2014.
Eyebright, Euphrasia officinalis ssp. anglica.  Knole Park, 15 August 2014.
In Knole Park with my botany class, taught by Sue Buckingham, she showed us patches of this Eyebright.  It's the scarce subspecies anglica, and one of its distinguishing features is the presence of long glandular hairs all over the upper leaves.  I normally see the Common Eyebright, Euphrasia nemorosa, so this one was quite interesting.

Heath Groundsel, Senecio sylvaticus.  Knole Park, 15 August 2014.
Heath Groundsel, Senecio sylvaticus.  Knole Park, 15 August 2014.
And I normally see the common groundsel, Senecio vulgaris, so this was another interesting variation, taller and lankier than the common species.  Like S. vulgaris, and like the Ploughman's Spikenard shown in the last post, these flowers never open further than this.

Rigid Hornwort, Ceratophyllum demersum.  Knole Park, 15 August 2014.
Rigid Hornwort, Ceratophyllum demersum.  Knole Park, 15 August 2014.
There are a few ponds in the park, and in one I was able to reach in and pull out this plant.  It lives up to its name, Rigid Hornwort, by being quite stiff, not what you would expect from a water weed.  It's a pity we could not find any of its interesting spiky fruits. 

Water-pepper, Persicaria hydropiper.  Knole Park, 15 August 2014.
Water-pepper, Persicaria hydropiper.  Knole Park, 15 August 2014.
This Water-pepper was growing in a marshy patch.  Apparently it used to be called Arse-smart.  It tastes particularly fiery (I tried it), and like a strong curry, apparently has the same effect when leaving the body as it does when entering it.  I did not eat enough to find out how true this is.

New Zealand Pigmyweed, Crassula helmsii.  Knole Park, 15 August 2014.
New Zealand Pigmyweed, Crassula helmsii.  Knole Park, 15 August 2014.
New Zealand Pigmyweed, a rampant invasive foreign species, was growing around one of the small ponds.  This stuff could become a real problem. 

Corn Mint, Mentha arvensis.  Knole Park, 15 August 2014.
Corn Mint, Mentha arvensis.  Knole Park, 15 August 2014.
The last of this interesting group of plants for today is Corn Mint.  It looks similar to Water-mint, but has flowers in groups up the stem rather than in a cluster at the apex.  The smell of the crushed leaves is very different too, not very minty at all, and some find it unpleasant.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Some Wildflowers Near Downe, August

Perennial Sowthistle, Sonchus arvensis.  Near Downe, 23 August 2014.
Perennial Sowthistle, Sonchus arvensis.  Near Downe, 23 August 2014.
Here are a few flowers from the countryside near Downe, Charles Darwin's village.  This area consists mostly of shallow chalky valleys.  This first flower, the Perennial Sowthistle, can be told from many similar types by the orange-tipped glandular hairs on the flower stem and bracts.  This specimen was in a hedgerow at the side of a field.

Dwarf Thistle, Cirsium acaule.  Valley sides near Downe, 23 August 2014.
Dwarf Thistle, Cirsium acaule.  Valley sides near Downe, 23 August 2014.
This one is typical of uncultivated chalk grassland.  It's often called the Picnic Thistlle, because it can be discovered when sat on.  Unlike other thistles, it remains as a rosette at ground level and doesn't put a stem up to flower.

Ploughman's Spikenard, Inula conyzae.  Near Downe, 23 August 2014.
Ploughman's Spikenard, Inula conyzae.  Near Downe, 23 August 2014.
Under the trees was this rather undistinguished plant, a Ploughman's Spikenard, with leaves rather like a Foxglove, whose flowers never open more than this. 

Spear-Leaved Orache, Atriplex prostrata.  Roadside near Downe, 23 August 2014.
Spear-Leaved Orache, Atriplex prostrata.  Roadside near Downe, 23 August 2014.
These flowers are even less showy, and can really only be seen close up.  It's a Spear-leaved Orache.  The feature that distinguishes Oraches from similar plants is their triangular bracts, but you can hardly see the bracts on some of them, including this plant.

This and the next one were growing in a hedgerow by the roadside.

Common Blue Sowthistle, Cicerbita macrophylla.  Roadside near Downe, 23 August 2014.
Common Blue Sowthistle, Cicerbita macrophylla.  Roadside near Downe, 23 August 2014.
I hadn't seen a Common Blue Sowthistle before.  I think "Common" relates them to the Alpine Blue Sowthistle, which grows here only in the east of Scotland, rather than any other sort of plant.  This is rather showy and pretty, not unlike a Chicory, which can be found not too far away at Jubilee Country Park. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Petts Wood, July

Crabronid wasp, Astata boops.  Male.  St Paul's Cray Common, 30 July 2014.
Crabronid wasp, Astata boops.  Male.  St Paul's Cray Common, 30 July 2014.
In July the Orpington Field Club went to a patch of heath in the middle of a wood in St Paul's Cray.  We were looking around for insects, of which these are a few.

This predatory wasp was resting on my bag.  It seems quite alert, with its head turned to put me in the view of both its huge compound eyes.
Hoverfly, Eristalis pertinax, on Ling, Calluna vulgaris.  Male.  St Paul's Cray Common, 30 July 2014.
Hoverfly, Eristalis pertinax, on Ling, Calluna vulgaris.  Male.  St Paul's Cray Common, 30 July 2014.
Two of my favourite subjects: hoverflies and flowers.  Ling heather flowers are a purple swath across nothern hillsides, but close to their colour is quite subtle, and they make a good background for this Eristalis.  You can see it has been busy with the pollen, as has this one:

Hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus.  Female.  St Paul's Cray Common, 30 July 2014.
Hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus.  Female.  St Paul's Cray Common, 30 July 2014.
Both these species are quite common and can be seen in a variety of habitats.  They are both in the family Eristalini, and in both photos you can see this family's distinctive loop in the wing vein near the centre of the tip of the forewing. That can be quite a handy identification guide.

Spider, Philodromus species.  Petts Wood, 30 July 2014.
Spider, Philodromus species.  Petts Wood, 30 July 2014.
This spider was in the woods, lurking in the underbrush.

Before we went into the woods, I saw a pear bush with what I thought was a major infestation of leaf mining insects.  But I was wrong; this is a rust fungus.

Pear Trellis Rust, Gymnosporangium sabinae.   Birchwood Road, Petts Wood,  30 July 2014.
Pear Trellis Rust, Gymnosporangium sabinae.   Birchwood Road, Petts Wood,  30 July 2014.
It actually looks quite pretty!  But it can't be doing the bush any good.

My last photo in this group is of a field seen from the path through the wood.  It is (or was) known as the Soldiering Field, as troops were once assembled there. 
The Soldiering Field from Petts Wood.   30 July 2014.
The Soldiering Field from Petts Wood.   30 July 2014.
It's full of Ragwort and is clearly not grazed or used for crops, so I do not know what its current use is.  The Ragwort, though pretty, would make it useless for hay, as it is particularly poisonous when dried.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

More July Hayes Moths

Diamondback Moth, Plutella xylostella.  Hayes, 5 July 2014
Diamondback Moth, Plutella xylostella.  Hayes, 5 July 2014
Four more from my garden trap in July, showing the variety of creatures that arrive.  This one is tiny.  Not the smallest moth I have had in my trap, but it is only about 7mm long.  The jagged back markings that give it its name can be white or, as here, brown.

Privet Hawkmoth, Sphinx ligustri.  Hayes, 8 July 2014.
Privet Hawkmoth, Sphinx ligustri.  Hayes, 8 July 2014.
In contrast, this is the biggest moth I have had in my trap, with a forewing length of about 50 mm.  It is accurately named.  The caterpillars eat privet.  If anyone wonders why there is a big gap in my trap, it is to let beasts like this get in.

Pretty Chalk Carpet, Melantha porcellata.  Hayes, 30 July 2014.
Pretty Chalk Carpet, Melantha porcellata.  Hayes, 30 July 2014.
This was probably the least expected moth of the month.  The caterpillars of this species eat the plant called Traveller's Joy in Spring and Old Man's Beard in Autumn: Clematis vitalba, a plant that prefers alkaline soils.  There is none close to me.  I do occasionally see other chalk moths, too, and I suppose they fly or are blown here.

Sallow Kitten, Furcula furcula.   Hayes, 22 July 2014.
Sallow Kitten, Furcula furcula.   Hayes, 22 July 2014.
 This was probably the prettiest of the month.  It is said to be common, but this is the first I've seen. The Sallow Kitten's caterpillars eat willows of all sorts, of which there are plenty around. 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Underwings, August 2014

Peacock, Aglais io.  Nymphalidae.   High Elms Country Park, 4 August 2014.
Peacock, Aglais io.  Nymphalidae.   High Elms Country Park, 4 August 2014.
Butterflies that overwinter as adults have underwings that disguise or camouflage them.  They are usually very different from the top sufraces, which are often flamboyant.  This Peacock is probably our most colourful butterfly, but look at this black underwing, with subtle jagged cross-lines.

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta.  Nymphalidae.   High Elms Country Park, 4 August 2014.
Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta.  Nymphalidae.   High Elms Country Park, 4 August 2014.
This Red Admiral is from the same family, the Nymphalidae.  Here, only the hind wing is disguised, with wonderful marbling like the inside of an old book cover.  If you should only be able to see the rear underwings, that whitish blotch at the top distinguishes this species.  Actually, this one does not usually overwinter in this country at all.  Most of those we see have come across from Europe.

Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni.  Female.  Pieridae.   High Elms Country Park, 4 August 2014.
Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni.  Female.  Pieridae.   High Elms Country Park, 4 August 2014.
 The Brimstone, whose males are bright yellow and whose females are very pale, has a different sort of disguise.  When its wings are closed it looks remarkably like a leaf. 

Silver-washed Fritillary, Argynnis paphia.  Nymphalidae.   High Elms Country Park, 4 August 2014.
Silver-washed Fritillary, Argynnis paphia.  Nymphalidae.   High Elms Country Park, 4 August 2014.
Butterflies that overwinter as caterpillars do not have such a need for disguise, but not all of them are showy beneath.  This Silver-washed Fritillary, a large and pretty butterfly, is relatively subdued.

Common Blue butterfly, Polyommatus icarus.  Lycaenidae.   High Elms Country Park, 9 August 2014.
Common Blue butterfly, Polyommatus icarus.  Lycaenidae.   High Elms Country Park, 9 August 2014.
This is a favourite.  The Common Blue is a delightful sight flitting around a meadow.  The upper surfaces are either blue or brownish with orange spots; the females are quite variable in this respect, but the males are always blue.  The pretty underwings are often on show, but you need to get up close to fully appreciate them.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Crowborough Moths, July 2014

Argyresthia goerdartella.  Argyresthiidae.   Crowborough, July 2014.
Argyresthia goerdartella.  Argyresthiidae.   Crowborough, July 2014.
 I was able to set out my light trap overnight in Crowborough in July.  It was in a garden in the edge of the countryside and I got lots of nice moths, though nothing rare or unusual.  This Argyrestha is a tiny golden beauty that glints from the trap and can be found all over the place at this time of year.

Peppered Moth, Biston betularia.  Geometridae.   Crowborough, July 2014.
Peppered Moth, Biston betularia.  Geometridae.   Crowborough, July 2014.
This Peppered Moth is much larger and very conspicuous in the trap.  It is the species that is often used, incorrectly, as an example of natural selection.  The idea sounds great, with dark forms suddenly becoming common during the industrial revolution, but actual evidence of disguise against a dark background being a survival factor has not been forthcoming.  This is the most common form, and its foreshortened outline and peppered appearance is unmistakeable.

Oak Hooktip, Watsonalla binaria.  Drepanidae.  Crowborough, July 2014.
Oak Hooktip, Watsonalla binaria.  Drepanidae.  Crowborough, July 2014.
The Hook-tips also have a distinctive shape, living up to their name.  This is the one I see most often, oaks being common in this area, and in Crowborough too.

Knot Grass, Acronicta rumicis.  Noctuidae.  Crowborough, July 2014.
Knot Grass, Acronicta rumicis.  Noctuidae.  Crowborough, July 2014.
This was new to me.  There are several rather similar Acronictas and care is needed to distinguish them.  You can clearly see the black circles which are typical of the family Noctuidae - they almost all have round, or roundish, markings in that position, and a more kidney-shaped mark lower down which is quite vague and faint in this species.

Lesser Swallow Prominent, Pheosia gnoma.  Notodontidae.   Crowborough, July 2014.
Lesser Swallow Prominent, Pheosia gnoma.  Notodontidae.   Crowborough, July 2014.
This one is unmistakeable.  There is also a slightly larger Swallow Prominent, but I have never seen one.  All the Prominents have big crests on their thoraxes.

So, I thought I had a good selection.  I have seen most of these moths in my Hayes garden trap, but not all at the same time or in such numbers.  I am hoping to go back again in August!

This is the trap itself, in the back garden:

Skinner 15 watt actinic moth trap in Crowborough.  27 July 2014.
Skinner 15 watt actinic moth trap in Crowborough.  27 July 2014.
All the kit fits into that shopping bag on the right, making it truly portable, and the battery lasts all night.

This was taken at 5:06 am, around first light, and it wasn't very bright.  The iPhone 5S took it at ISO 400, and the result when seen at full size is full of artifacts and lacking in detail.  Even reduced, like this, look at the top left to see what I mean.  That's an interesting comparison with my main Canon cameras, on which ISO 400 is indistinguishable from anything less, and I regularly use ISO 1000.  But the iPhone gives great results with enough light.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

July Moths at West Wickham

Rhyacionia pinicolana.  Tortricidae. West Wickham Common light trap, 16 July 2014.
Rhyacionia pinicolana.  Tortricidae. West Wickham Common light trap, 16 July 2014.
Let's start with the most colourful moths from West Wickham Common.  These were in July's trap, set on the 15th by Barry Gutteridge, who is now resident there.  I went up at first light on the 16th to photograph the catch.

This one, Rhyacionia pinicolana, is a pine specialist, and a particularly colourful Tortrix.  There are a few mature Scots Pines not far from the trap.

Scarce Silver-lines, Benia bicolorana.  Noctuidae.  West Wickham Common light trap, 16 July 2014.
Scarce Silver-lines, Benia bicolorana.  Noctuidae.  West Wickham Common light trap, 16 July 2014.
This is one of our few truly green moths, a Scarce Silver-lines.  All of our larger moths have English names.  Names have recently been assigned to all the micromoths as well, but they are mostly ridiculous and I tend to ignore them.  (For example, the Rhyaciona at the top has been given the name "Orange-spotted Shoot.")  The older names show a bit more knowledge of the moths they apply to and are often idiosyncratic and interesting, which makes them more memorable, too.

This one is on my measuring paper, marked off in 5mm squares.

Dusky Sallow, Eremobia ochroleuca.  Noctuidae.  West Wickham Common light trap, 16 July 2014.
Dusky Sallow, Eremobia ochroleuca.  Noctuidae.  West Wickham Common light trap, 16 July 2014.
This is one I had not seen before.  The larvae eat grasses, and it's not scarce.  There are many others I have also not seen, which I may come across later.

Gold Triangle, Hypsopygia costalis.  Pyralidae.   West Wickham Common light trap, 16 July 2014.
Small but nicely marked.  This one was on the outside of the trap.  You have to check everywhere nearby when sorting out the catch.

Festoon, Apoda limacodes.  Limacodidae.   West Wickham Common light trap, 16 July 2014.
Festoon, Apoda limacodes.  Limacodidae.   West Wickham Common light trap, 16 July 2014.
This odd, squat little moth is from an unusual family.  The larvae are small oval things that live on oaks.  This one is not common, but where it is found it tends to occur in numbers, so in such places you get the erroneous impression that they are quite common. 

We also had a Yellow Shell and two Tortoiseshell Moths, nice and colourful, but covered elsewhere in this blog recently.