Thursday, January 18, 2018

Invertebrates on witch hazel flowers

We have a witch hazel bush halfway down the garden making a fine show with its bright yellow, sweetly scented flowers contrasting with the cold and damp.

In 1993 I wrote a note (about the same garden) for the Entomologist's Record: Nocturnal invertebrates visiting flowers of Witch Hazels, Hamamelis mollis pallida and Hamamelis japonica cultivars, in January and I have posted an edited version here:

On 20th January 1993 I walked around our garden with a torch and inspected our Wintersweet, Chimonanthus fragrans and Witch Hazel, Hamamelis mollis pallida bushes both of which were in full bloom with their sweetly scented, pale flowers.

I found nothing on the Wintersweet, but the Witch Hazel had a variety of Diptera (two-winged flies) on the flowers. There was the mosquito Culiseta annulata quite clearly feeding; two species of fruit fly (Drosophilidae), Parascaptomyza pallida and Drosophila subobscura, the latter the more common of the two; an Anthomyiid and the Common Yellow Dung-fly, Scathophaga stercoraria.  Culiseta annulata, with its distinctive white-banded legs, in one of our commonest mosquitoes and is often found in winter in outhouses or caves.  Parascaptomyza pallida is also an extremely common fly that seems to be about in most months of the year.

On 30th January 1993 I again inspected the Hamamelis mollis pallida and also two H. japonica cultivars, "Primavera" and "Arnold" after dark. The flowers were attracting numerous invertebrates including woodlice, millipedes and spiders. Insects noted were the Common Earwig, Forficula auricularia (Dermaptera: Forficulidae); an owl fly (Dipt.: Psychodidae); Sepsis fulgens (Dipt.: Sepsidae); a Pherbellia sp. (Dipt.: Sciomyzidae); Tephrochlamys rufiventris (Dipt.: Heleomyzidae); Dromius linearis (Col.: Carabidae) and a brown Noctuid moth caterpillar.

The centre part of the Witch Hazel flower seems to be constructed for insect pollination and is relatively flat and open allowing easy access to the nectaries by short-tongued species. The pollen is sticky and, in the flowers I examined closely, had been successfully transferred from anthers to styles. Most of our Witch Hazels usually set a good quantity of viable seed and it would appear that they are adapted to pollination by nocturnal invertebrates. On day-time visits I have found only Sepsis fulgens and two non-biting midges, Smittia aterrima and Limnophyes prolongatus. The last two were, I suspect, simply sheltering in the bushes rather than feeding on nectar.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Another Stereum crust fungus

In my post on January 11th I posted a picture of a resupinate orange crust fungus.  I think this was probably Stereum hirsutum.

Today I found a much more luxuriant colony of what I think is probably the same species in Killingan Wood (TQ783192).  There is much fallen wood in this area, but only one - a large ash branch - carries such a display of fruiting bodies.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Winter mixed with spring

On a wind chill walk today I found the first expanded hazel catkins: always a sign to me that the wildlife season has started (though it never really finishes of course).  Soon the hedges will be thick with these catkins shedding their pale yellow pollen.

Also on hazel, this time on dead, usually standing, trunks is the common and widespread ascomycete fungus known as hazel woodwart (Hypoxylon fuscum).

In the very sheltered Killingan Wood brick pit I found precocious flowers on a primrose and beside it on the wet leaves a dead male mottled umber moth (Erannis defoliaria) a winter-flying species whose season is nearly over.  It used to be very common when I was young, but is thought to have declined in recent years.  Like the winter moth, the females have very reduced wings useless for flight.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

January miscellanea

Although the countryside is bleak grey-green washed by a cold winter wind, there are still moments of brightness.  One of the best is the flowers on the gorse hedge that runs across Churchland Fields.  In warmer weather these scented golden blossoms attract bees and other insects, but it is too cold for any to be on the wing at the moment.

There are a few splashes of colour provided by fungi like this resupinate Stereum species on a a chestnut trunk that was cut down last March.

Or purple jellydisc (Ascocoryne sarcoides) growing here on a dead, but upright hornbeam trunk in Killingan Wood.  This was kindly identified by Nick Aplin via the Sussex Fungi Group

On the fauna side, one of our daughters spotted a well-camouflaged green caterpillar on a fern leaf that was pressed against our kitchen window pane.  The nearest look-alike I can find is the larva of the copper underwing (Amphipyra pyramidea).  There appears to be some feeding damage on the pinnae of the fern but the copper underwing should be a pupa at this time of year.  One fern-feeding noctuid is the small angle shades (Euplexia lucipara), but it isn't that.  It seems to enjoy its place between glass and frond, so I will leaves it to see what happens.

We seem to be experiencing a minor population explosion of what I think is the amphipod landhopper Arcitalitrus dorrieni.  This is a native of forests in New South Wales, Australia, but has become widespread here.  It occurs frequently in gardens and the pair of dead ones illustrated here were found on our sitting room floor - the first time we have seen the creatures indoors.  In life they are normally darker coloured than this.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A memory of Rosebank

At Christmas in 2017 I came across this photograph which I had taken nearly ten years previously on 4 April 2008.  I had forgotten that I was ever there and would not have remembered where it was had I not been able to find details of my visit buried in my computer.  At first, I had no idea about when or why I had taken the picture, but I gathered fragmented recollections after a while.

The picture was taken looking east from an abandoned depot or lorry park called Rosebank beside the A22 just north of Polegate in East Sussex.  The fields run down to the Glynleigh Levels, a western branch of the larger Pevensey Levels, and the distant horizon is where the village of Hankham lies on a spur of higher land projecting northwards into the levels.  In the past it was spelt 'Handcombe' and was part of a 'Limb of the Cinque Port Liberty of Hastings'.  In the mid-distance the dark, straight hedge marks the line of the Cuckoo Trail, a cycle and pedestrian path along an abandoned track of the London-Brighton South Coast Railway.

This is a Low Weald landscape with little to excite the imagination: fields and trees (with a tree house), a Shetland pony, various fences and, on the left, a water-filled clay pit dug when the long-closed brickworks nearby was active.  Perhaps the significance of the scene is that it would not win any prizes, would not embellish the wall of a gallery or the page of a magazine.  Its somewhat nondescript virtues do, perhaps, have a Low Weald feel.

It is also represents only a fragment of time.  The camera shutter was open for maybe 100th of a second and that exact scene will never return.  It might be possible to go back to the site and frame a similar picture, but it would not be the same.  The pony would have gone, the tree house might not be there and the trees and fences would have changed.  And who knows what alteration might come over centuries and millennia?

The picture reminds me too of the huge volume of data that lies locked up in our brains because there is no reason or no one to open the door.  I have posted the picture in ‘the Cloud’, so others may look at it for one reason or another, but they will not have the memories I had of the afternoon I spent alone in that forgotten depot, recording the flora and fauna and its ecological significance for a proposed development.  As Virgil said sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt (there are tears in things and life’s transience moves the mind).

Friday, December 22, 2017

Bumblebees on Camellias

Now that mild weather has returned to East Sussex, a few bumblebees are on the wing again in the garden.  This is, as far as I can tell, a queen buff-tailed bumble bee (Bombus terrestris) photographed this morning.  The single-flowered pink camellia is Camellia x williamsii 'J. C. Williams' which usually starts flowering here in December and is very popular with bees at a time when many of the mahonias are going over.

It must have been thought of by others, but I wonder if these light-sleeping queens that find nectar and pollen sources when they wake up in mild spells in winter are getting an evolutionary advantage.  In the past, when there were few, or no sources of nectar in the countryside, light sleepers would have been at a disadvantage, but now camellias, mahonias and other winter-flowering exotics are common in gardens, the light-sleepers may be getting a survival advantage over those who do not wake up until primrose time.  Perhaps a more attractive idea than that it is all due to global warming.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Midwinter pleasures

Despite the mild and rather drab days we are having, I find much to ponder in my short walks round the neighbourhood.  I was entranced by two trees, a birch and a field maple, the latter still holding its leaves..

It led me to Robert Frost's poem about birches in which, among much else, he says:
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
 I also liked the phrase by poet Marchant Barron where he describes the golden-yellow leaves of the field maple "as if touched by Midas in the season of alchemy."

In Killingan Wood, which seems very brown and quiet at this time of year I noticed some almost military lines of slime-mould fruiting bodies on a log.

Later in Churchland Wood I found an extraordinary sky blue 'lichen' (below).  I wondered if something had happened to a normally grey or green species to cause this and will try to find out more.  On 23 December my friend Howard Matcham suggested it might be cobalt crust fungus, Terana caerulea this seems a possibility, but it has also been suggested that it could blue paint that somehow was splashed on this branchlet.  I do not think it is paint as there is only a small quantity here and searching as I do almost every day I would have been likely to see anything marked with such bright blue elsewhere.