Sunday, 10 August 2014


After Bertha had passed through we were treated to s couple of hours of fine weather. At this time of year one of the delights it to watch dragonflies hawking along the hedges. This is a Migrant Hawker, taking a rest from chasing smaller insects to rest in the sunshine. The structure of a dragonflies wings is a truly remarkable wonder of nature. This species has a wing span of around 8.5 cm, while the largest species in Britain, the Emperor Dragonfly has a wingspan of 10.6 cm. These are pretty large insects, but around 300 million years ago Meganeura monyi had a span of 65cm. The gigantic size of these insects is way beyond what seems to be theoretically possible but may have be feasible if the atmosphere had higher oxygen levels than are present now. 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

St Margaret's Big Game Garden

Entomologists have always had good imaginations when it comes to naming insects and moths are no exception. In amongst the catch I had last night were three that read rather like the highlights of a safari on the Indian sub-continent,

Jersey Tiger

Leopard Moth

Elephant Hawk-moth

Friday, 4 July 2014

Skipping Along

The buddleia is out and there's been a small invasion of Red Admirals out side my mothing conservatory 
There's no plant better at attracting the best known group of garden butterflies, Red Admirals, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and Painted Ladies, and there's no plant easier to grow.

Red Admiral

other butterflies, like this beautiful Marbled White (a member of the Browns not whites!) need more specialised plants to thrive, and the chalk grassland along the cliff top at Bockhill is just right. There are a couple colonies between the monument and hope point and at the moment they're at there freshest, and can be seen on the top of Knapweed flowers and occasionally one of the Pyramidal Orchids that have done so well this year.

 There are plenty of Skippers around at the moment ant the test is to get a good enough view to separate the Small Skippers from The Essex Skippers. They are very similar, but the black tips to the underside of the antennae distinguish the Essex Skippers. I think the one above is a Small, although both occur in the area.

Large Skippers are much easier, they are of course a bit larger and they have a sort of faint chequered pattern on the wings as opposed to the very pain wings of the other two.

There are a lot of Burnet moths around at the moment and those that I saw seemed to be Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnets, not the better known Six-spot, that may be around a little later.

As I walked along the cliffs, just down from the monument this Herring Gull was calling continuously circling above my head. I didn't take much notice as I was looking at the butterflies at ground level.

I was pretty surprised when there was a loud swoosh as it dived just above my head. A stunt it repeated several times until I'd moved on about 50 m. I can only assume it had a young one concealed just over the cliff top.
There were a lot more Large Skippers as I walked along, often chasing each other or any other butterflies that entered their air space. This one's sharing its landing strip with a Meadow Brown.

This is a female Meadow Brown, the males lack the orange patches on the fore-wing.

We've been getting several Badgers coming to feed, but two seem to be the most regular.

This one and the picture above is the little female that's been visiting all year, although we're yet to see her with any offspring.
This is a smallish male, and I've mentioned him before, He's got one ear more or less missing, although how this happened is unknown. He's also pretty beaten up on his hindquarters, with a rather tatty top to his tail, perhaps due to fighting. He is the boldest when it comes to food. A couple of times I've heard a thump on the window, either when I'm late putting the peanuts out, or if he's a bit late and an earlier visitor has already eaten them. Tonight I was watching the news when I heard a bump and he was there. I opened the door and refilled the plate and although he did back away while I did filled it up he was only about o foot behind the plate. The other day I forgot to close up my conservatory early and when I went out to do it he was in their opening op the box with the sparrows fat balls in it. That was before it was very dark, so I need to be a bit more careful.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

It's all Greek to me

 Like most people with an interest in natural history Dragonflies and Damselflies hold a particular fascination for me. Watching a predatory insect patrolling an area of pond or river and catching a smaller insect in their strong jaws is a like a strange miniaturised version of watching a Hobby hunting over a marsh, catching dragonflies.
Today I went to Westbere, always a favourite place, but for a particular reason. For the last couple of years it has become the home of the parochially named Norfolk Hawker. Although this large Dragonfly, occurs  in Europe, particularly around the Mediterranean and in North Africa, in Britain it only occurs in the fens of East Anglia. That is it did only occur there until the colonisation of Westbere started.

 Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva )
 There are a lot of other Dragonflies to see at Westbere, such as the Scarce Chaser, above,

 Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles)
It didn't take too long to fin several Norfolk Hawkers patrolling a stretch of water. Occasionally one would land on a favourite perch. I don't know where the scientific names comes from. Isoceles means, I think, equal sided. I would have thought that this applies to all dragonflies, it doesn't have a noticeable triangular mark anywhere, so if ou know, please enlighten me.

Against the backgroung of reeds and other vegetation flight shots were pretty well impossible, but they were great to watch.

 Another perch on a different reed, but this one seemed to like landing on places with similar orientations.

 Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)
Lots of Banded Demoiselles were around, particularly on the nettle patches. With their flappy flight and large wings they are quite butterfly like.The female, above has green iridescent wings.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum)
A pair of Common Blue Damselflies in tandem.

A male  Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens), showing why he's called banded.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Bees. Lizards and Broomrapes

Thanks to help from Barry Hunt, self confessed oldest swinger in town (Thanet) I got see this rather stunning Orchid.

It is a "white" Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera (var. chlorantha). I don't think it is quite such good condition as when Barry took his superb photo on his face-book page.

With most Orchids, where you find one they'll be others, but Bees often seem to be found singly.

Bee Orchids seen to often appear in recently disturbed areas, flourish for a while and then disappear.

At Sandwich the Lizard Orchids are in dull glory. Many of the plants look really healthy and robust, perhaps the mild but wet winter suited them.

This one is a typical flower with the "Lizard" tails pointing downwards.

I rather liked this one with the tails pointing outwards, seemingly defying gravity.

Along the side on the golf course and in the sand dunes there are many Broomrapes. I think that they are Bedstraw Broomrape, also known as Clove-scented Broomrape, an East Kent, and Sandwich in particular, speciality. I did get down on my hands and knees and I couldn't smell the cloves, but I think that they are better in the evening.

Among the Broomrapes and the Lizard orchids a large number of Pyramidal orchids are now appearing. They are not yet at their peak but look as if they will be prolific again.

After the White Bee orchid this morning I caught up with a normal one this afternoon. Unfortunately it is a bit passed its best, but stil;l a very attractive plant.

It was rather neare home, just along the road at the White Cliffs NT car park. Again it was a single plant, although I believe there are more not too far away,

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Silver Service

A bit of a breezy walk along the cliff top was certainly bracing! The wind rather kept to birds down and I saw very few butterflies.

On a ledge, near the monument, a Herring Gull was sitting on its' nest, It will be interesting to was when the eggs hatch, situated on a narrow ledge with about 100 m drop  below.

After the winter bunting flocks had dispersed it is good to see that at least one Corn Bunting has a territory near the cliff top. In the old day it was usual to see Corn Buntings using hedges as song posts, but now, with so many hedges gone a large plant of Fat Hen has to do. In addition there was a Yellowhammer singing just beyond Hope Point.

As I said butterflies on the wing  were scarce today, so when I saw a blue I was pleased to find that it was an Adonis Blue. The black veins extending through the border distinguish it from Common Blue.

I try to provide the Badgers a good standard by giving them their peanuts on a nice silver plate. I'm not sure how much he appreciates this silver service judging by the tip he left me last night!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

A leopard in the grass

During the School half-term Nina, Jack and Josh came down from Clitheroe for a few days. Pete was away taking a group round China, hard life isn't it, and we had a couple of days trying to see as many of the orchids that wereout in Kent as possible. We managed a creditable 14 species, which was pretty good going.

At one site there was an unusual Southern Marsh Orchid,  Var. junialis  known as "Leopard marsh Orchid". At the time the leaves were visibly very different but the flower was only just beginning to open. Today it was fully out and a very stunning orchid it is.

At one time this variety was thought to be a variation of a hybrid between Southern Marsh and Common Spotted  Orchids, but the fact that they were found in colonies with no Common Spotted suggested otherwise. The fact that it is a variety of Southern Marsh Orchid is supported by genetic evidence.

While I was photographing the Orchids a Common Whitethroat accompanied me with its scratchy song. Although they have never fully recovered their numbers from the great population crash of 1968/9 they are very much more numerous than for many years in the later part of last century.

It is always worth looking carefully from the Ancient Highway form Grey Partridges. The meadows here are the best I know for watching this beautiful native species feeding out in the open.

I hadn't seen the Little Owl perched on the old barn opposite the Chequers for a while, but it was sitting in the sunshine today.
While I was watching it had a good preen and got into various contorted positions while it had a scratch.