Saturday, 28 June 2014

Irresistible allure of Knapweed !

A walk around the high meadows of Lullingstone country park revealed a beautiful vista of wild flowers.
The Pyramidal Orchids & Oxeye daisies putting on a fine display.
The sky was a brilliant Blue and the warm sunshine encouraged the Butterflies to reveal themselves.
And there lies the problem, as the morning warms up, the butterflies are very active, hardly settling at all, and very frustrating when you are trying to get a decent photograph.

As I lined up a Large Skipper to Photograph, from the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a large orangey Butterfly, a Comma I thought,  as it landed several feet away from me on a Pyramidal Orchid.
I took the photograph of the Large Skipper.

 As I glanced again at the would be Comma Butterfly, it suddenly hit me, those wings were not scalloped or ragged looking,
and as the wings slowly closed, revealing the underside, 
a greenish wash with large white spots........

Then in that eureka moment as I realised for the first time, that I was looking at a Dark Green Fritillary, it was off, disappearing across the meadow as I fumbled around with the camera in a blind panic to get a photograph. 

I spent the next hour walking around the meadow, kicking myself for wasting the opportunity, searching for that butterfly, there had to be more than one I reckoned, and I wanted a photograph, I did see a couple more flyovers, but nothing close.

It  struck me how luminous orange they appeared as 
they fluttered across the meadow always distant, 
I knew now what to look for, but where.

 I thought I would walk down to the Orchid Bank, 
to try my luck there.

A good move, because as I approached the Orchid bank, the lower slopes were alive with Butterflies, and there they were,
 Dark Green Fritillaries everywhere.

The initial problem here, was that they just did not to settle, I was getting good views, but not long enough to take a photograph.

Who said   "You can't teach an old dog, new tricks"

I noticed in the rough grass at the bottom of the Orchid bank a large patch of Knapweed, possibly Greater Knapweed,  and all in flower.

So I positioned myself next to the Knapweed and waited.

Dark Green Fritillary on Greater Knapweed.

Dark Green Fritillary & Meadow Brown
Dark Green Fritillary & male Small Skipper

Small Skipper
Marbled White
Marbled White
Common Blue

Some good field craft learnt here, look for some Knapweed, 
Don't chase the Butterflies, let them come to you.

Knapweed both 'Common' and 'Greater' are particularly attractive nectar source to Bees and Butterflies,
 and as they go to seed, the birds will feed on them, 
looks like a good wild flower for the garden.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Arachnid !!!

I don't know much about Arachnids, I'm not frightened of them,
 but I must admit,

 I'm not particularly comfortable letting them crawl all over me,
 I know that none are poisonous in this country but some can bite and its the fear of the unknown that worries me.

When I encounter a new spider,I find out as much information as I can about it.

I can recognise with confidence, the Common Garden Cross Spider, the Wasp Spider and the Four spot Orb weaver spider, 
Thats three out of a possible six hundred species of spider found in the UK

This funnel shape web low down in the reed bed at Rainham RSBP was something new to me.

Like most people, I suspect,  my first thought was this was the dreaded  Funnel web spider, notorious in Australia,
 but I was pretty sure they do not exist in our country,

do they !

I narrowed it down to  two possibilities the  "Tube web Spider" 
or the "Labyrinth Spider"

The Tube web spider, a visitor from Southern Europe, sometimes found near ports, after being transported here by ships from Europe.
They make a funnel type entrance to there web, usually on the entrance to a crack or crevice, but this spider, although quite large, is black with two prominent green fangs, they can give you a nasty  though not fatal bite, definitely not the one in my photograph.

The Labyrinth Spider ( Angelena Labyrinthica ) seems to fit the bill.
Usually seen in the months of June to October in southern counties, Its web, found low down in long rough grass, hedgerows or trees.

The description seems to fit the partially viewed spider, features a central brown stripe with a darker grey band on each side, the darker bands have tiny white chevron markings running through them, which can just about be seen in the photograph.

The Labyrinth Spider produces a sheet web, so thick in places that it appears white in colour, at one end is a funnel shaped entrance.
Further down the funnel is a labyrinth of tunnels which gives the spider its name.
Hidden in the centre of the web is the spider's egg sac containing all the developing young.

Common, Shy and harmless.

Wouldn't want to put your finger in there though,
 would you!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Dance of the Demoiselle !!!

The River Darent is a shallow slow running river with lush bankside vegetation.

 Perfect conditions for the Banded Demoiselle.

This is one of the largest Damselflies, along with its cousin, the Beautiful Demoiselle.

The Banded Demoiselle appears to be more common than the Beautiful Demoiselle, which I am still yet to see.

The male Banded Demoiselle takes up position on the overhanging vegetation or a suitable stand of nettles, usually in a sunny area, where they wait for a female to show.

The males are unmistakable with a metallic blue green body, translucent wings with a dark blue black spot near the end of its wings.

The females are a beautiful metallic green with bronze tint to the wings. 
There is also a small white spot near the end of each wing.

The females tend to avoid going near the water until they are ready to lay their eggs, or looking for a mate.

Their eggs are laid in emergent or floating vegetation, 
sometimes completely submerging.

If you can find a suitable vantage point to watch them, you will see as a female comes on to the scene, the males leave their vantage points and crowd around the female, fluttering like a butterfly, rising and falling  desperate to impress the female with their display flight.

I witnessed at least five males fluttering around one female, each time a female flies near the water, the males appear as if from nowhere.

Dancing Demoiselles
I'm yet to see the final selection !

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Pear Tree Juveniles !!!

I always keep one eye on the garden pear tree, so to speak, 

there always seems to be something going on,
at the moment the numbers of Ring necked Parakeets seem to be increasing, and unlike some people, I love them in the garden, I can watch their antics for ages.
They seem to be testing the ripeness of the pears at the moment, 
I have a feeling there will not be many wasted this year.

The other garden birds seem to ignore their exotic cousins, 
although this Great Spotted woodpecker seems to be keeping an eye on them too.

The Great spotted Woodpecker after an absence of several months, has reappeared in the garden, bringing with him a juvenile, I just managed to get this fuzzy picture of them together.

The juvenile is the one with the red cap on its head, now coming to the garden regularly feeding on the peanut feeders.

While watching the woodpeckers, the adult male was seen to fly from the peanut feeder and appeared to be feeding or introducing the juvenile to the taste of peanuts, I managed to get a photograph of this, but while reviewing the photograph, to my horror I deleted it by mistake.

Starlings as always, arguing amongst themselves.

Only one juvenile Robin seen in the garden so far, this one has learnt already to perch on the feeder for mealworm treat.

And my favourite pictures of the day, was this House Sparrow family which arrived on the pear tree,
and were fed from the fat ball feeders.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Greater Stag Beetle !!!

You cannot help but admire this spectacular looking Beetle, known as the Stag Beetle because its mandibles resemble the antlers of a Stag,  and as ferocious as it looks, it is quite harmless.

Also known as the "Thunder beetle," "Oak Ox," and "Horse Pincher" this protected species is one of our largest terrestrial beetles, found mainly in the south of England, its spends most of its seven year life cycle as a large white grub, living underground  chewing its way through dead wood . As it nears the end of its life cycle, it pupates in the autumn and metamorphosis as the adult beetle, the following summer.

The last few weeks of its life are spent in a desperate struggle to find a female and to mate. To this end, usually on a hot, humid thundery evening, the males take to the air in their search for a female.

 The female releases a pheromone perfume to attract the males, and this is where the large mandibles come into play, its possible that the females perfume attracts more than one male, so they engage in a form of wrestling match, trying to flip their opponent over on to its back, the winner mates with the female who then searches for a suitable habitat to lay her eggs, and the cycle begins again.

The adults do not usually survive the winter months.

This adult Male, gate crashed a garden party, where it was not particularly welcome, so a big thank you to Lorraine for giving me a chance to take a close look at this magnificent beast.

And a happy ending, The Stag Beetle spent the day on  the log pile at the bottom of the garden, taking wing that evening to continue his search for that elusive female.

The female Stag Beetle below, turned up in my garden last year, as you can see smaller mandibles, which can give you a nip.

How can we help these magnificent Beetles, check out the diagram below, the larvae only eat dead wood and cause no harm to living wood, so make a log pile, and provide some much needed deadwood habitat.

Give nature a home !

Saturday, 14 June 2014

A look at Orchids !!!

I decided back in May, to have a closer look at Orchids.
 Kent is renowned for its Orchids, if you know where to look,
 and even then, its not easy to track them down.

 I have only  managed to look at the Bonsai Bank, Denge , and the Orchid Bank at Lullingstone, and now as the Orchid seasons draws  to a close, I do not hold out much hope of seeing many more Orchids this year.

I have managed to track down some other venues for next year,  Hutchinson's Bank near Croydon, ParkGate Down or Hector Wilks Reserve, near Elham Kent, and Sandwich Bay to name a few.

There are still many Orchids that have eluded me,  Lizard Orchid, Man Orchid, Monkey Orchid, Fly Orchid, Bee Orchid and Spider Orchid, to name a few that I would love to see in there natural environment, and these are all within the realms of possibility, but these will have to wait until next year.

So as a complete novice, these are the Orchids I have managed to see and photograph this year. with a pleasant surprise near the end.

On my first visit to Bonsai Bank at the beginning of May, the only Orchids I could find were about nine or ten spikes of the
Early Purple Orchid, and most of these were past their best, so maybe an earlier visit next year.

I only managed to find one flowering Lady Orchid at this time.

On my second visit  to the Bonsai Bank, three weeks into May, things had drastically changed, there were Lady Orchids everywhere on the Bank, much the most common Orchid on view.

A close view of the flower spike shows the individual flowers,
very lady like in there appearance

Another attractive Orchid on show was this 
 Greater Butterfly Orchid, quite prominent on the grassy bank and easy to pick out.

Another Orchid found was this Fragrant Orchid, and as the name suggests it did have a pleasant fragrance.

Nearing the end of May, another visit to the Bank , this time with my wife, and again the view had changed, many of the Lady Orchids and Greater Butterfly Orchids were past their Best.
It was now the turn of the Common Spotted Orchid to show, and they were everywhere and made a very attractive view.

Also on show on the grassy banks were these Common Twayblade,
not very impressive but part of the Orchid family

This next member of the Orchid family was pointed out to me by another enthusiast , White Helleborine, and reading up on this one it states that the  flowers rarely fully open.
Not so common, found about four or five specimens.

On my last visit to Bonsai Bank, I came across an Orchid that was just  beginning to open its flowers, much darker than the Fragrant Orchids near by, it just did not seem to fit the descriptions of the local orchids that you would expect to see here on the Bonsai Bank.

I don't know why, but I thought I would send the photograph to the warden who looks after the reserve, Abe Jupp to see if he could identify it for me.

To my surprise he was unfamiliar with it, he thought it may be a hybrid of some sort, but would forward it on to a botanist friend for identification.

A further surprise when I received another email from Abe Jupp 

" Your orchid has been confirmed as Southern Marsh Orchid by Alfred Gay- an unusual record for a dry chalky site and a first for Denge Woods I think. Thanks very much for sending in your useful sighting and keep them coming if you can- I suspect this one is so unusual it may well make the Kent Botany 2014 report! I’ll put your sighting and photos up this evening. "

Well pleased with that response.

Two weeks into June, and a quick walk around Lullingstone country park to find my final Orchid,

 The Pyramidal Orchid so named because of the shape of the flower head. This was probably the most abundant Orchid seen, they were coming through the wildflower meadows, high  on the grassy slopes of the valley, and a much better spectacle than the Orchid Bank, which was very disappointing for me,
seeing only a few Pyramidal Orchids and a few Fragrant Orchids.

So nine different Orchid species seen this year,

Early Purple Orchid
Lady Orchid
Greater Butterfly Orchid
Fragrant Orchid
Common Spotted Orchid
Common Twayblade
White Helleborine
Southern Marsh Orchid
Pyramidal Orchid

  Many more to find in years to come, hopefully.