Thursday, 5 December 2019

Earth stars !

I cannot help but be drawn to these Earthstars, to my mind they look like the alien species from  John Wyndham's 1951 novel "The Day of the Triffids",  I was half expecting something to rise out of the bulbous body and lash me across the eyes as I crouched down to get a closer view.

I have always wanted to see one of these and when I found out that there was a good chance of seeing  one in the local woodland, I couldn't resist the opportunity to seek them out.

It turned out that these were located at my previous dog walking haunt, Ashenbank woods, sadly since my dog has died I have not walked there for quite some time. It seemed strange walking here today without my dog for company.

I had been given some good directions, unbelievably I have walked past this location possibly every day for several years with my dog and not notice their presence, how observant am I.

These earth stars blend in very well with the leaf litter, I almost trod on my first sighting, how sad would that have been, once I had seen the first, others appeared almost mystically, what a wonderful fungi to see.

To give it its correct name this is the Collared Earth Star Geastrum triplex

Monday, 2 December 2019

Autumn rut !

Still trying to catch up on my wildlife reports, and I'm failing miserably.
It's now October and the start of the "rutting season " for me that means a return trip to Sevenoaks and Knole Park to watch the Fallow Deer Bucks strive for supremacy on Echo Mount and bragging rights with the hinds.

It's great to watch the action here, it can appear deceptively peaceful  with the bucks resting around the small stand of trees at the top of Echo mount, a few Bucks will strut around there bellowing mating call attracting the female hinds to the mount, the high point of the park.

 As more hinds appear, the mating calls get more intense, others join in, the Bucks chase the hinds, the older bucks begin to size each other up, you soon begin to notice the parallel walking, the foot stomping, you know that clash is coming, just a matter of seconds now, and when it happens that violent clash of antlers, it still takes you by surprise, some serious pushing and antler fencing which ends in one of the Bucks giving ground and retreating, usually chased off by the victor, and then it's quiet again, just the bellow from the victor, hopefully the hind in season is still around, mating takes place, victory is short lived, it's not long before a new challenge arrives.

I watched a couple of younger bucks with  some less than impressive antlers tentatively sparring, preparing for future battles to come, but they soon retreat at speed when one of the older Bucks approach.

Gentle sparring before being chased off
New Challenger arriving

Monday, 14 October 2019

Spider in the house !

To be more precise, its a spider or two under the conservatory roof, throughout the long summer months I have watched the spiders spin their webs along the eaves of the conservatory, happy to leave them to do their best at removing unwanted flies and such, that have made their way into the house.

One in particular, that lives in a crack at the corner of the roof has grown to a fair size, probably a female, also very wary as she scurries back to her lair at speed as soon as she detects my presence.

I've noticed that during a particularly heavy rainstorm, the raindrops hitting the glass roof tends to bring out the spiders from their hiding places. on this occasion I thought I would try and get a photograph and identify the large female that keeps catching my eye.

And here she is, presuming she is a "she" ,  I suspected this might be one of those False Widow spiders that keep making the news, a look through my Spider field book at the possibilities narrowed it down to the  Steatoda nobilis  or Noble False Widow, later confirmed by the UK spiders on Facebook.

I was particularly pleased with this find having never seen one before, a bit of research revealed that the females are much larger than the males and can reach a size of 2 to 3 cm which is very close to the size of ours. ( I,m taking this measurement covering the spread of her legs) so a female she is. The males being much smaller.
The pale marking around the front of the body is another indicator of Noble False Widow , its also said that the marking on the body sometimes resembles a skull, not on this one though.

Steatoda nobilis Noble False Widow
A few more images of the female.

As I mentioned before several other smaller spiders also living around the conservatory roof but much smaller and looking at the markings on the body are also Noble False Widows probably males.

Possible male Noble false Widow and hoverfly prey

I was initially a bit wary of  these spiders considering the scare stories that newspapers have reported in the past but it seems to be that there bite is no worse than a Bee sting,  and they scurry away as soon as they detect your presence so for the moment there safe to lead there short lives in peace, as long as they stay out of harms way.

Here's another spider taken up residence outside the house, the common garden or White Cross Spider. nothing to worry about with this one, unless you're a Mayfly !

Araneus diadematus Garden Spider and Mayfly prey.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Last of the summer Butterflies !

 The Clouded Yellow is usally my last sought after butterfly of the year, with just one sighting seen last year at Rainham Marshes in Essex. This year I was hoping to see some in Kent.

September, and several reports of Clouded Yellows at Oare Marshes caught my attention, I couldn't resist a visit, but after a long walk down the Swale towards Uplees in some sunny but probably to windy conditions brought no sightings.
 I walked around the East Flood not really expecting to see any now, until a bright yellow butterfly flew up from the path ahead, catching me by surprise, but typically it did not linger and disappeared across the inaccessible meadows next to the flood, but a sighting nevertheless.

 No more sightings for me here which was disappointing, a brief view and no photograph.

I was given some information by another butterfly enthusiast from 'Facebook' on a possibly good location to see Clouded Yellows and also the Wall Brown another butterfly I struggle to see well.

The location , Cliffe Pools, a site quite close to where I live, but a vast area to look for butterflies but worth a try.

As I walked from the car park down towards the river wall butterflies started to appear, mainly Small White and a few Small Heath, but expectantly a few Clouded Yellows started to appear , all very restless and none settling.

Small White

Small Heath

 I passed the Flamingo Pool, as it was named in my bird watching days from years gone by and walked towards the river wall. My first of many sightings of the Wall Brown started to appear, more than I have ever seen before.

Worn Wall Brown female

male Wall Brown

The embankment behind the river wall was alive with butterflies,  Small White the most numerous, Large White, Wall Brown,  a very worn Painted Lady, a very fresh Small Tortoiseshell, Brown Argus, Common Blue, Small Copper and finally a few Clouded Yellow, with just one settling for a photograph.

Clouded Yellow

Small Tortoiseshell
Brown Argus

Small Copper

Common Blue female

One last surprise sighting were these small Bees , It seemed to me at the time were making a higher pitch  hum than the usual carder bees seen. I was thinking  maybe a Shrill Carder Bee but having never seen one before I wasn't' sure.
I managed a couple of photographs and after an I.D. request discovered that they were in fact Brown Banded Carder Bee's also quite scarce, so nice to see.

Brown Banded Carder Bee    Bombus Humilis

A successful days wildlife watching, Clouded Yellow, Wall Brown and the Brown Banded Carder Bee best sightings of the day.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Valerian and the Hawkmoth !

 Some late summer memories.

Sitting in the garden as I often  seem to do these days, with plenty of time on my hands, I'm always on the lookout for a wildlife encounter, on just such an occasion, what I thought was a large Bumble bee of sorts, caught my eye, it was investigating a tub of Verbena that had been placed by my pond,
suddenly a 'eureka' moment struck me, this was no Bumbleblebee but a Hummingbird Hawkmoth, I nearly fell out of my swinging chair, where was my camera when I needed it, I rushed indoors and grabbed my camera, the Hummingbird Hawkmoth was nowhere to be seen on my return.

 As I sat back down, I could see that the Hummingbird Hawkmoth had discovered my clump of Valerian further down the garden which I had grown for just such an occasion.

This time  I thought I would watch for a time and try and get a photograph later as it happily hovered around the Valerian flowers in a typical Hummingbird fashion.

What a stunning day-flying moth this was, I took a few photographs as you can imagine, most of which were out of focus, trickly moth to capture as they move from flower to flower, but I did manage a couple of photographs, some showing the long proboscis.

I caught sight of this Hawkmoth  on two more occasions the following day, and then no more.

I think planting the Valerian was a huge success, which I may now move some around the garden,
in the hope for more sightings next year.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

Sunday, 22 September 2019

New Skipper !

Well a new Skipper for me !

With the weather not so good at the moment it's time to catch up and record some of my recent sightings.

I set myself a few targets this year, in the world of Butterflies I had set my sights on trying to see the Adonis Blue, Chalkhill Blue, Heath Fritillary and the Silver Spotted skipper, all of which I have been fortunate to observe in the field this year.

Queensdown Warren in Kent was the place to head for to see the Silver Spotted Skipper, and as the optimum time to see these approached, end of July through to August I made my first visit to the site.

A Warm sunny day with plenty of Butterflies to view, my first  couple of Silver Spotted Skippers were seen, but with some difficulty ,very fast darting flight low across the grasses. not to many to be seen probably as they were at the early stages of there flight  period. Just managed one photograph to record this first sighting.

My second visit  a few weeks later 13th August, and what a difference  a few weeks make, the Skippers seemed to be everywhere enjoying the sunshine giving good views of all their features. still flying  low and very fast but I seemed to be able to keep my eye on them this time , and once they settled there was plenty of opportunity to get some photographs.

 I have now managed to see several Skippers now, just one sighting of a Dingy Skipper, several Essex Skippers, Small Skipper and Large Skipper next year I hope to try and catch up with the Chequered Skipper.

My wanted list for nest year stands like this at the moment :-
Chequered Skipper, Purple Emperor Butterfly, Long Tailed Blue which seems to be making a stand here in Kent at the moment, maybe the Glanville Fritillary which resides very close to the Kent border, a few more sightings of the various Hairstreaks would also be nice.

What I have learnt this year is that if I want to see new species previously unseen, I need to make the effort and search for them in their favoured haunts, we will see what  next season brings.