Friday, 27 June 2014

Late summer invertebrating

You might not think there's much in the way of quality habitat around an airport. Fair doos, as I used to think that too.

Clay Slope, North West Zone

Last Monday, Jeremy, Scotty D and his little dog Ro returned to our site in the North West Zone for the follow-up invertebrate survey. By surveying twice at the same site, both early and late in the season, we can detect a greater diversity of species.
River Mole floodplain

The past few weeks, the River Mole floodplain at Gatwick has looked the bee's knees (I'll be coming back to the subject of bees!). This is the result of some large-scale sculpting works which took place back in 2000 when the watercourse was diverted. It is now a veritable hotspot in terms of floral diversity... 

Greater Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis)

Grass Vetchling (Lathyrunissolia)

Betony, Ladies Bedstraw, Quaking Grass

Meadow Vetchling, Greater Bird's-foot Trefoil, Lesser Stitchwort to name but a few. 
Artificially seeded? Either way, this lovely wildflower mix is a great thing for biodiversity

So colourful that my outlandish running trainers almost blend in

For this survey, we spread out to cover as great an area of the North West Zone as possible. The variety habitats, their different ages and structure provide plenty of options for food, water and shelter; potentially pleasing to even the fussiest kinds of invertebrate! 

Scotty grubbing around the dry slope while Jeremy searches for bees down on the floodplain

Ro the dog, focusing his efforts on keeping cool

Bishop's Mitre Shieldbug (Aelia acuminata). 
The weird angular head and stripes reminds me of the Muto in the latest Godzilla movie

Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) in cute begging pose

Since our recent exciting find of a rare species of bee, Jeremy and I spent some time staking out this section of the clay slope. We were hoping to see a few of the female Long-Horned Bees (Eucera longicornis) returning to their nesting sites...

Possible Eucera burrow?

I'll let you know the result of our great Eucera count at the end of this post!

Sharing observations

A pretty good indicator of how well a survey has gone is the number of specimens which Scotty has to take home for further microscope identification...

Just a few of his tubes; dude's got his work cut out

This type of sampling might look a bit grim, but we are unlikely to impact any populations and it is all in the name of science, with all data being passed onto the Biodiversity Record Centres.
   The following is a selection of Jeremy's excellent shots from the day (thanks again Jeremy!)...

 Broad Centurion (Chloromyia formosa) female. This looks like a Hoverfly but is actually a Soldierfly

Dusky Cockroach (Ectobius lapponicus) female. 
This is the first Cockroach species I have seen in Britain, and it is local to the south

An uncommon and nationally notable species of Hoverfly (Neoascia interrupta) female

Hoverfly (Scaeva pyrastri) male. This is a migrant species to Britain

Semaphore Fly (Poecilobothrus nobilitatus) male. Lots of these happy chaps gathered around small pools in the wet clay. They are named for the outlandish dance which the males perform with their wings

Striped Slender Robberfly (Leptogaster cylindrica), one of the most noticeable species out and about 

Water Ladybird (Anisosticta 19-punctata), the first time I have knowingly seen this lovely beetle

And last, but most definitely not least...

Long-horned Bee (Eucera longicornis) female. In the end we only spotted 3 individuals, so we had sadly missed its peak. In previous weeks we have counted over 10 in just one small area.

I'm afraid I will keep banging on about this particular bee until the cows come home (I have no cows).
Seriously though, the world of entomology means I can never be bored again!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Late Breeding Bird Survey - North West Zone

Thursday June 19th

Solar Panel Field, North West Zone

It was a warm and hazy start to the morning when Laurie, Tom F. and I began our first birding transect, along the canalised section of the River Mole.

The sun beating down on a dirt track felt positively Mediterranean

In the riverside vegetation we picked up songs of Reed WarblerReed BuntingCommon Whitethroat and Wren. A lone Skylark was singing its head off by the airfield boundary, but in contrast the hedgerows were all pretty quiet.

Web of a large Orb-weaver spider...

Belonging to this lovely lady; a Furrow Spider (Larinioides cornutus)

Around the corner where the river begins to meander, we picked up the first confirmed breeding bird signs; fluffy Reed Warbler fledglings perched low-down in the Willows. 

Photo taken through my binoculars... As good as it gets!

In the scrub to the west of Brockley Wood, Blue Tits were in good numbers along with Chiffchaff, Common Whitethroat and a noisy pair of Linnets. Groups of fledgling Goldfinch were fluttering about, seemingly having a successful year. The northern part of Brockley Wood was busy with Jackdaws, Jay, Song Thrush and some unseen, uncharacteristically loud Bullfinches

Scrub West of Brockley

By the time we began the 2nd transect, the sun had burned off all the mist. The further along the River we travelled, the harder going the walk and the more insignificant we felt in the towering grasses... 

Riverside jungle

Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) and dense clumps of Hedge Bedstraw (Galium mollugo)

Into the 2nd transect, we picked up Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Carrion Crow and several Barn Swallows.

Large Black Slug (Arion spp.) 
The big hole in its side is the respiratory opening, called a pneumostome 

We were noticing lots of these funnel-like webs about the place...

Belonging to the Labyrinth Spider (Agelena labyrinthica) of Springwatch fame

There was an exciting moment when I thought I heard one of these...

But on second thought, it was actually one of these...

In my defense, it was quite far off in the distance.

Greenfinch and Garden Warbler cropped up toward the end of the 2nd transect, where the bordering areas become more residential. We got a good view of perching Ring-necked Parakeets. Sadly no Kingfishers today, but we saw lots of lovely damselflies including Common Blue, Banded Demoiselle and a female Broad-bodied Chaser Dragonfly.

We recorded a good number of fledglings today, which is all evidence of successful breeding. The final count was 33 species which is our usual total for this time of year:

Turdus merula
Sylvia atricapilla
Blue Tit
Cyanistes caeruleus
Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Carrion Crow
Corvus corone
Phylloscopus collybita
Prunella modularis
Garden Warbler
Sylvia borin
Carduelis carduelis
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Dendrocopos major
Great Tit
Parus major
Green Woodpecker
Picus viridis
Carduelis chloris
Corvus monedula
Garrulus glandarius
Carduelis cannabina
Long-tailed Tit
Aegithalos caudatus
Pica pica
Gallinula chloropus
Sitta europaea
Pied Wagtail
Motacilla alba subsp. yarrellii
Reed Bunting
Emberiza schoeniclus
Reed Warbler
Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Ring-necked Parakeet
Psittacula krameri
Erithacus rubecula
Alauda arvensis
Song Thrush
Turdus philomelos
Stock Dove
Columba oenas
Hirundo rustica
Apus apus
Sylvia communis
Columba palumbus
Troglodytes troglodytes

Mr Forward also shouted me a surprise birthday breakfast... a sweet start to the day!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Magnificent moths and more

Last Friday, Sir Jacob of Everitt, Warden of Horsham returned to Gatwick with his trusty moth trap and his (mostly trusty) generator. We had high hopes for some excellent mothing conditions after such a warm and humid day.

A massive column of midges above our heads kept us company

We made sure the generator and trap were up and running before the sun set, giving us time to explore the grass and scrubland habitat of Goat Meadow in twighlight.

'Dusking' for moths

Eudonia pallida - a common micromoth species

Meshweaver Spider (Dictyna arundinacea). It looks like it's covered in cowhide 

Burnet Moth caterpillar, not far off pupating

Common Crab Spider (Xysticus cristatus), female

The air temperature was still pretty warm, but even then, while checking under one of the reptile refugia I wasn't expecting this incredible sight...

Grass Snake fest: five large adults (around a meter long) and one rather small fella all huddled up together

That's definitely the most snakes I've seen under one refugia! It's also right by our new and improved Grass Snake brash and log pile, so we must be doing something right.
   Back to the trap to see how we're getting on... 

Jake's trap: a large actinic light bulb and a plastic bucket filled with egg boxes for the moths to settle on

The great thing about moths is not only their incredible diversity, but their aptly descriptive names which make them more memorable. They are well worth surveying for as they can indicate habitat quality; which food-plant species are thriving, whether there is a good woodland/grassland structure, if air pollution is high, or if pesticides are being used. The cool and windy weather can really put them off, but luckily tonight was mild and the moths began arriving at the trap before it was even fully dark...

Light Emerald (Campaea margaritata)

Blotched Emerald (Comibaena bajularia), but renamed 'Carlsberg Moth' by us

Coxcomb Prominent (Ptilodon capucina), side view

Coxcomb Prominent (Ptilodon capucina). It's like a tiny, fluffy Lion! 

We left the trap to carry on its work and went searching for flowering shrubs in the torch light, checking for nectar-loving species. We hadn't gone far before we stumbled across something else pretty awesome!

A funky green LED, out in the middle of the grassland

Photo taken with the camera flash on... 

This is a female Glow Worm (Lampyris noctiluca). It is not a worm at all but actually a type beetle, belonging to the Firefly class of insects (which incidently is my favourite class of spaceship). The end of her abdomen glows through bioluminescence, which is basically the light produced through an internal chemical reaction. I've regularly been finding Glow Worm larvae under the reptile refugia, even males in a moth trap, but this was my first glowing adult female!

Scorched Wing (Plagodis dolabraria), genuinely looks like a scorched piece of papery bark... 
I guess it has its reasons 

Back to the moth trap and soon it's time to start collating all the species. A comprehensive species tick-list makes things a bit easier with one person calling out the names and another recording.

Peach Blossom (Thyatira batis)

Peppered Moth (Biston betularia)

Moth accessories must be worn at all times

Jake says we got around 67 species from just one trap, which is not a bad haul. In fact, it was enough that some of them even decided to hitch a ride home in my rucksack; a Large Yellow Underwing flapping about your face while you're driving isn't ideal.
   Moths are blooming fantastic things when looked at more closely, so here are the profile pics of all 67 species I have diligently photographed...

Clouded Silver (Lomographa temerata)

Beautiful Golden Y (Autographa pulchrina)

Common Swift (Hepialus lupulinus)

Large Fruit-tree Tortrix (Archips podana) 

Just kidding, I do have some kind of social life at the weekend.
Even more moths and invertebrates to come this month!