Derek's Nature Notes 1-2016 (April)

Regretfully, for various reasons, I was unable to produce any editions of Nature Notes since early October. The weather then closed in and like many of the creatures we see at Gillfield, I opted for a period of hibernation. I have however joined with other volunteers in the creation of the new pond, and recently I joined Steve Clements and other members in the search for crust fungi. Some 30 fungal species were found on the day and Steve is currently still working through a number of ID’s. I also took a few photographs, and these follow, with a brief species description together with a couple of other shots taken w/e 3rd April.

Our search for fungi started near the ‘bus terminus where I spotted several large maroon coloured growths on some large Ash logs which had been dumped in September last year in the car park area. Close examination showed these to be young fruiting bodies of the woody fungus Daldinia concentrica, commonly known as King Alfred’s cakes as they blacken with age. Ash is usually the host tree and the image also shows a cross-section of one of the fruit-bodies, displaying the concentric rings from which the scientific name derives.

On entering the Plantation area, one of the members drew our attention to a greyish, slimy looking encrustation on a deciduous rotten branch, partly hidden on the mossy ground. This turned out to be Crystal Brain Fungus, Exidia nucleata, one of the jelly fungi, and with a lens it was possible to discern mineral crystalline inclusions of calcium oxalate (I think) in the watery soft flesh. Several specimens were around, but were not very photogenic.

Adjacent to this was another, drier dead branch, and turning this over revealed one of the commoner crust fungi, Netted Crust Byssomerulius corium. Close examination of the image reveals the distinctive ‘netted’ appearance of the fruit-body. This fungus is usually white/cream and flattish but can form small brackets depending on the orientation of the log.

We then found another jelly fungus, this time the rather strange looking Witches’ Butter, Exidia glandulosa on a fallen dead branch. The blackish fruit-bodies are soft and gelatinous when wet, but if dried out, can be easily overlooked as they shrink considerably. Commonly found on a variety of deciduous logs, but rarely on Oak.

As mentioned above, a number of the fungi we found are still to be determined, some are new to the Wood, and one we think may be a rarity.

On a sunny Sunday morning I decided to dust off my camera and it was pleasing to find some of the earlier Spring flowers, notably Dandelion, Taraxacum officionale with their vibrant yellow flowers at the western end of the Wood. Further down the Ride, Gorse too made a splash of colour in the bright sunshine. 

I couldn’t resist carefully peeling off some bark from a felled Pine and was rewarded by a fine specimen of a Flat-backed Millipede, probably Polydesmus angustus still in hibernating made, making it easy to photograph. It is the commonest flat-back locally and the third most recorded millipede in great Britain.

My morning was made when I heard the ‘bubbling’ call of a Curlew from the field below the plantation--------‘Spring has sprung’.

Derek's Nature Notes 2-2016 (late April)

Emerging from hibernation for a second time towards the end of the month, I hit upon a reasonably bright day and made my way to the western end of the Wood. At this time of the year it is always worth looking round for something commonplace, but unusual. The first examples to fit were a number of groups of emerging Blackberry, Rubus fruticosus agg. leaf-buds. These were all tightly closed, but were showing glimpses of pink-edged leaves, covered with downy hairs.

The next shot shows a group of more advanced, almost fully-opened shiny leaves in a bright lime-green colour, displaying the deeply furrowed veining, together with the silvery hairs on the stalks. This is a good indication that Spring has finally sprung at last.

The Wood is now displaying swathes of Bluebells, Endymion non-scripta, but I chose to illustrate a single spike in order to show the deep blue colour (not always easy to capture), and the one-sided flower formation of our native species.

Another bright flower which is appearing now in several places is the brilliant yellow of Gorse, Ulex europaeus and one flower contained a resting Dung Fly Scathophaga sp. waiting to pounce on probably another fly species.

As is usual, I gently prised off some dead bark from a couple of fallen trees and found several large larvae munching their way along tunnels. Although not identified as yet, they are most certainly Beetle larvae, and could be either that of Longhorn or Ground Beetles. I have retained one which will be kept moist in a small log to see if I can rear this to a mature adult (watch this space!). 

The same log produced a number of small Millipedes, and these are probably juvenile Club-tailed Snake Millipedes Cylindroiulus punctatus, the commonest species found in this area, and always found in dead timber or leaf litter. They are usually reddish with darker spots in a line along their sides.

Finally, a slight puzzle in that the fly on the gorse flower is almost certainly one of the St Mark's Flies, Bibio sp., which emerge each year around St Mark’s day (25th April). This is a very distinctive all black fly with long dangly legs when flying (Bibio marci) which I have recorded here for the past three years. This specimen however had distinctive, translucent reddish hind tibiae, and I am advised that it is likely to be Bibio reticulatus (NEW).

Derek's Nature Notes 3-2016 (May)

At this time of the year it is very rewarding to look for and record some of the more common flowers found in the Wood, excluding Bluebell and Wood Anemone. 

One of my favourites is the delicate, pink coloured bud clusters of the Apple Malus sp. to be found right next to the ‘bus terminus at the western end of the Wood. I believe there may be other Apple trees to be found in other areas.

Often overlooked or ignored because of its small white flowers and its profligacy is Cow Parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris agg. One of the commoner Umbellifers. Its five-petalled flowers have an interesting structure and are a magnet for many of the earlier insects.

Next up, and appearing everywhere this year are the distinctive Garlic Mustard flowers, Allaria petiolata, with the all-pervading smell of garlic when crushed,

Wherever it appears,Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum, makes a violent splash of a beautiful purple colour, with more or less orange stamens, together with its delicately pointed flower buds.

Another, slightly less purple flower is Red Campion, Silene dioica, and a patch of about twenty plants have established themselves as part of the Wildflower Meadow.

One of the smaller, but earliest ladybirds to appear is the bright yellow  Propylea 14-punctata, the 14-spot ladybird in its geometric form. This seems commoner here than the usual spotted version.

Several craneflies were around and the first of these was Cranefly, Tipula varipennis which is a Spring species and commonly found at Gillfield.

Quite a bit smaller, and more delicate is another early species the Spotted Cranefly, which is thought likely to be Nephrotoma appendiculata.

Similar in appearance to the previous species is another quite delicate fly. With its yellow-brown body and legs this is thought to be Empis stercorea, and another new species. NEW.

Flowers like Buttercup attract a number of hoverflies and this one is a male Platycheirus sp. but difficult to pin down as the spots on the tergites are not clear enough to determine.

Near to the ‘bus terminus I turned over a couple of Dock leaves, and on the underside found several egg masses of Dock Beetle, Gastrophysa viridula which appear here every year.

Next up was a spider which I hadn’t seen here before, and at the moment it is puzzling several experts (spiders are notoriously difficult without microscopic examination of the male genitalia). However, external examination suggests it is possibly Ozyptila simplex but this is a species normally only found in the south of England, but climate change does funny things. (POSSIBLY NEW)

Flies of various species were in abundance on my two visits, the first of which produced a Muscid Fly poss. Hylemya sp., but no specimen was taken (NEW).

The second fly was a male Fannia sp., but again difficult to determine to species without a specimen (NEW).

The final fly was somewhat easier and is thought to be one of the Soldier Flies, probably Beris chalybata (NEW)

Finally,  a small, plant-sucking, Mirid Bug, Liocoris tripustulatus seen here frequently on Nettle.

Derek’s Nature Notes 4-2016(June)

This year the weather has been unkind for invertebrate photography particularly, as rain drives them under leaves or deep into the undergrowth and this held true for the weekend the documentary film was shot. I did a recce on the Friday and found a reasonable 20+ species, but when the shoot took place on the Saturday I was hard-pushed to find three as the rain persisted. A week later and some sixteen species were imaged-----see below.

Hay fever sufferers will have noticed a worsening of their condition over the past ten days as many grasses have flowered including Cocksfoot, Dactylis glomerata, the flowerhead as can be seen is laden with the ripe anthers, ready to disgorge their pollen. It is however a very pretty grass at this stage.

Keeping with Botany, one of the overlooked flowers at this time of year is the attractive, but straggly, Herb Bennet, Geum urbanum. The small flowers definitely deserve a closer look.

The same applies to the somewhat nondescript Lesser Stitchwort, Stellaria graminea..When freshly opened its white star-like flowers have five finely split petals, set off by reddish anthers.

This year too, Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata bears closer inspection with its tall, erect flowerheads and pale yellow anthers arising from the brownish flowers. This in fact is one of the commonest English plants.

A slightly warmer Sunday (16°C) brought out more invertebrates and the first of these was my first Capsid Bug of the year Common Green Capsid Bug, Lygocoris pabulinus

A week before filming took place I had observed the egg-mass of Green Shieldbug on a Red Clover leaf. At the time I wasn’t sure of the ID although I was pretty sure the pale lime-green eggs were those of a shieldbug so I removed them in situ to see if I could breed them out for a positive ID.

The eggs were inspected every day for a week and on the day of filming I noticed that they had hatched into minute shieldbugs Green Shieldbugs, Palomena prasina. The pale yellow-green specimens are newly hatched and these develop darker markings within a few hours of emergence. These then featured in the film as some of you will have seen.

This is a fly which we see every year about this time Fly, Sepsis fulgens. It spends its time wandering across leaves, all the time waving and rotating its wings. 

The next fly is common at this time of the year and is the Empid Fly, Empis livida, which has a slender, down-pointing proboscis, and is a predator on other, smaller flies.

One of our smaller ladybirds is a probable 10-spot Ladybird, Adalia 10-punctata. This specimen doesn’t show ten spots and is probably an aberrant as there can be a wide variation in markings. I await confirmation of my ID from The Ladybird Survey. The species has not been recorded at Gillfield since 1981.

In my last report I noted the presence of eggs laid by Green Dock Beetle, Gastrophysa viridula, In this image several larvae of this species can be seen on the underside of a Dock leaf and the second image is a close-up view of a single larva.

Leafhoppers, although tiny, are quite common at Gillfield and can be found on a wide variety of plants, but this one seems to be new, possibly Macustus grisescens. Similar to froghoppers developing in ‘Cuckoo-spit’, leafhoppers can be distinguished by the numerous spines on the hind legs.(NEW)

One of the most attractive micro-moths appears at this time of the year, sometimes in swarms of males and females. This is the Longhorn Moth Nemophora degeerella,of which the male has the longest antennae of British moths. This is a female, with shorter antennae, but colourful nevertheless.

Unfortunately on my last visit to Gillfield, my nose was assailed by a putrid smell and looking into the nettle bed near the ‘bus terminus, I found a dead lamb, covered in various carnivorous flies, of several Muscid species. I suspect this was a road kill and the perpetrator tried to hide the result.

Whilst I was looking at the nettles my attention was drawn to a pale caterpillar on one of the leaves, but so far I have been unable to arrive at an ID.

On this visit there were a number of sawflies, six or seven of one species Sawfly, Tenthredo mesomelas which has a greenish abdomen and a black thorax. In this group, the females have a saw-like ovipositor from which the name derives.

Perhaps a more striking sawfly is the attractively marked, bright green species, probably Rhogogaster viridis, but I await confirmation of this, as I have only recorded one previous specimen here in the past four years.

It’s a great shame that after all the hard work of the film-makers that the weather proved inclement when the shoot took place.

Derek’s Nature Notes 5-2016(July)

This edition has a carryover from the June edition when I was puzzled by what appeared to be a strange caterpillar on some nettles. Further examination by some expert colleagues suggest this was a probable Syrphus ribesii hoverfly larva on nettle, where it would be seeking out young aphids which it predates.

One of several members of the Pea family to be found at Gillfield is the occasionally seen Black Medick, Medicago lupulina with its tightly clustered yellow flower-heads, later producing black seedpods

Another family, of which there are several representatives here, are the Willowherds, and this image is an example of the delicate Broad-leaved Willowherb, Epilobium montanum with its pinkish-white flowers and a 4-lobed white stigma.

Some grasses and sedges can be easily overlooked, but there are a few plants scattered around of False  Fox Sedge, Carex otrubae with its sharply angled stems and dense spiky flower-heads. There are several isolated plants in the rough grassy area near the Scout Hut. (there are currently also a number of seven feet high Teasels, see reference below).

Another striking and colourful plant with its rich purple flowers at this time of the year is Hedge Woundwort, Stachys sylvatica  and this is a favourite food-plant of a number of developing invertebrates.

One of the commonest flies to be seen now, is the ubiquitous Blow-fly or Bluebottle, Calliphora vomitoria  which breed on carrion or any decaying animal matter, but also likes flower-heads and sunlit leaves to bask on.

I was intrigued by this tiny caterpillar, only some ½” long. With most segments having six raised black spots and a darker green stripe running the length of its back it should be easy to identify, but so far, no success.

This year, observers will have noticed that there have been masses of Froghoppers developing in 'Cuckoospit' on grasses and other vegetation. At this stage they are difficult to determine to species level. The image shows a greenish froghopper which has left behind its previous larval ‘skin’.

It may well be that the nymph pictured above might easily later emerge as the Common Froghopper, Philaenus spumarius which is quite prevalent anywhere at the moment.

A favourite of many are the white or pink versions of Dog Rose, this one with a feeding hoverfly, probably Platycheirus or Melanastoma sp., but the abdominal spots were not fully visible for accurate determination..

This large and brightly coloured hoverfly was a pleasing find about the middle of the month. It is a male, Sericomyia silentis, and according to the records was last formally recorded back in 1981. It is a typical wasp mimic and is said to prefer red or purple flowers.

This spider, imaged when repairing the damaged silken web surrounding its egg cocoon is thought to be one of the Clubonia  sp, possibly Clubonia lutescens but this is by no means certain as no specimen was taken. However it does seem to be unrecorded previously (NEW)

This wasp is interesting as Chris Measures spotted it whilst we were walking the Access Track. I quickly looked at it and it seemed quite robust, unlike the lighter-bodied Common Wasp. I was intrigued by the red markings on the abdomen which suggested Norwegian Wasp. To be certain I contacted the UK’s leading expert and he determined it as the Red Wasp, Vespula rufa another good find. (NEW)

It is a mixed year for butterflies of many species but I have been pleased to find, at both ends of the Wood on several visits, Large Skipper, Oclodes sylvanus, male. CM has had similar sightings but has also noted Small Skipper which I have not seen.

Earlier in this report, I referred to the large Teasels which have appeared. On one day, examination of the pools of water accumulating in the leaf axils, I noticed what appeared to be wriggling worms, but closer examination suggested that they were Biting Midge, Ceratopogoninae larvae, Dasyhelea sp. which appears to be specific to Teasel. I resolved to breed these out for certain ID, but returning the next day, the wind had dried out all the pools.(NEW)

One of the Mirid Bugs, Grypocoris stysi  is currently quite abundant certainly at the western end, and two images are attached, the first being a clear shot of an adult. Close examination of the second image also shows a small nymph of another Mirid, this time Heterotoma planicornis with its strangely shaped, bi-colour antennae.

Derek’s Nature Notes 6-2016 (mid-July/ mid- August)

There are at least 270 species of bee to be found in the UK, and as such are often overlooked or under-recorded. Many occur in our area and one of these is the Common Furrow Bee, Lasioglossum calceatum,  This is a male, but the name derives from a difficult to see ‘furrow’ on the 5th abdominal tergite (section), of the abdomen in females. (NEW)

White butterflies are sometimes difficult to ID on the wing, but at rest the distinguishing features are easier to see, as in this Green-veined White, Artogeia napi with the greenish veins on the wing undersides, clearly visible.

A similar sized species is the equally common, Small White, Artogeia rapae which lacks the green veins, is lemon yellow on the underside,  and has different markings on the wing uppersides.

Just along the path from the Scout Hut there are a number of rather straggly plants with pea-like yellow flowers. These are Ribbed Melilot, Melilotis officinalis  a plant found on waste or disturbed ground, but I was unable to determine these until the distinctive seedpods had formed (NEW, but unbeknown to us, was previously recorded here in 2012 by a member of the BSBI)

Appearing in clumps in various areas of the Wood are the deep purple flowers of Black Knapweed, Centaurea nigra which act as a magnet to many species of butterfly, bees, hoverflies and the like.

In the overgrown compound in front of the Scout Hut, a number of Teasels, Dipsacus fullonum, have, sprung up and are now over 8 feet in height and looking very healthy.

The very attractive and symmetric flowerheads are proving a magnet for numerous invertebrates.

Very common at present at the eastern end of the Wood are numerous nymphs of the Woundwort Shieldbug, Eysarcoris venustissimus, which seems to have established itself here.

Feeding on Hogweed recently were several Fungus Gnats, Sciara thomae a very attractive species of small fly with a bright yellow abdomen.and purplish-black wings. As their name implies they are associated with and breed in rotting fungi.

It is sometimes interesting to compare individuals from a single species like this Gatekeeper Butterfly, Pyronia tithonus, this is a male, and there are numerous differences on the upper wing, compared to the second male which was in fact only photographed a metre away and is much paler.

A number of hoverflies are appearing sporadically, but this one, a female Leucozona glaucia,.is slightly different, having greyish rather than yellow bands on the abdomen, and it is only the second time this species has been recorded at Gillfield Wood.

Seen also for the second time recently is another less common species of Hoverfly, Sericomyia silentis, a female of a largish species which was reluctant to leave the safety of the grass under-storey

Much more common, but not in fact this year, is the attractively marked Hoverfly, Syrphus ribesii, this is a female with its mainly yellow legs, making identification easier. Readers may recall that an image of a larva was posted just over a month ago.

Another striking black and white species is the bee mimicking Hoverfly, Volucella pellucens, this is a female, with bright orange wing-bases.

At both ends of the Wood, a number of observers have spotted several Longhorn Beetles, Rutpela maculata, usually on Hogweed flowers. Their wing markings can be quite varied and the black and yellow leg markings are quite distinctive.

Finally, a Soldier Fly, Beris vallata, which appears relatively frequently, and if you look closely at the shield-like scutellum near the wing bases, this has several  black spines pointing backwards..

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