Sunday, 2 December 2018

Englandshire - Week 1 of 3 (Part II)

Hot on the heels of yesterday's blogpost, here's some more of the first week's action as I pan-species listed my way around Hampshire and Sussex with Tony. 

Day 4 - 29th September - Tony had to finish off some important office work today (euphemism for 'I've had enough of you, Gibson. Piss off') so I did the only logical thing available and buggered off to twitch the Beluga that had been swimming up and down The Thames all week. 

If I'm being totally honest, Gravesend isn't precisely the dazzling jewel in north Kent's coastline and some of the residents do look a bit kinda squiffy around the edges, but that doesn't bother me any. I rocked up at the back end of some sort of trading estate and headed off down a rubbish strewn alleyway in search of a white whale. 

Welcome to Gravesend - you'll never leave!
Despite the whole place looking dodgy as fkk, everyone I met along the walkways and alleys was friendly and polite, asking if I was looking for the whale, had I already seen it, was it this way, etc etc. One bloke, who looked a right murderous crackhead if ever there was, stopped me to say that he thought it was "fkkn 'mazin' bruv, there's a fkkn whale jus' over there!" before continuing on his merry way again. Belugas, bringing harmony and unity across the free world...

Anyway, I saw it. The Beluga, a creature of myth and legend come to life, on this occasion watched swimming between barges and tugs from a pub beer garden in Gravesend, complete with giant metal cranes and industrial units as backdrop. Scenic Arctic oceans this ain't! No pics from me, it's appearances were way too brief and distant for my wee clickamatic to capture, though there are plenty of images online. One guy was heard describing it as a giant inflated condom floating down the river, someone else said white inner tube. Twats. Clearly it was more like an old fashioned white Fairy Liquid bottle.

Coming in at a close second for my top sighting of the day, I glanced down and found Andy Musgrove looking up at me (he's not tiny, by the way, it's just that I was standing on a raised bit of decking whilst he was still in the alleyway below). We had a chat and I met his lovely wife, Trudy. His opening line was, "you haven't seriously twitched this all the way from Skye have you???" They already had some good pics of the Beluga, it even looked a lot more like a whale than a condom/inner tube in their pics. We wandered down some more alleyways and into a park where I finally had decent views of the Beluga, and in far better light too

I let a bunch of local kids look through my binoculars, they lined up and took turns using them - all under the watchful eye of their nan who patted my arm in thanks. She had some seriously impressive tattoos! The kids all thanked me and a policeman I hadn't even noticed nodded at me and smiled. Blimey, I've never had a copper do that before. Truly the Powers of the Beluga are indeed all encompassing.

Back in the alleyways I managed to tick Erysiphe urticae, a mildew on Common Nettle leaves, spotted a Stag's-horn Sumach growing in a gateway and even found some Pot Marigolds growing in a weedy verge beneath Buddleia bushes. Unfortunately I didn't think to check for Alternate-leaved Buddleia until afterwards and I didn't see any Rambur's Pied Shieldbugs on the Black Horehound patches either, despite checking quite closely. Spotting some mildewed leaves on a Sycamore, I asked Andy if he needed Sawadaea bicornis. His hilarious response was to hold his phone to my face whilst saying, "speak it again" - haha, what a fella!  

 Stag's-horn Sumach seedling (and not Tree of Heaven as I first thought)
Pot Marigold - quite a few of these amongst weeds below a fenceline
Great to bump into The Muzza again, it's been about three years I think? Back in Hampshire that evening, Tony was still neck-deep in paperwork, reviews, reports and stuff, but he worked far into the small hours and the next day we were back to PSLing the heck outta some unsuspecting nature reserves in deepest darkest Hampshire.

Lifers - BELUGA, Erysiphe urticae

Day 5 - 30th September - We didn't put in too many miles today, by way of a change, but we still managed to find some really top quality stuff including a moth that John Langmaid hasn't seen yet!!! If you don't know who John Langmaid is, just check pretty much any serious paper or publication pertaining to British microlepidoptera or their larval stages and look out for the initials JRL. He's legendary.

But first Tony took me to a service station situated along a very busy stretch of dual carriageway, jumped out of the car and started walking along the sliproad back onto the carriageway. Erm...Tony, where you going mate?!? "This'll be the rarest thing you see today" he declared and pointed at a dead thing behind a cordon of tape. Oh, cool. So what's that then?

Taped off because a truck once drove over it!
This is the only known plant of Field Eryngo in Hampshire.  It's a very rare and declining plant in Britain, being restricted to an ever-reducing handful of sites in southern England. Quite how/why this individual is clinging on here is a bit of a mystery, I guess it's pure luck it wasn't buried beneath tarmac!

I wondered why it's so damn rare in Britain, I think the climate may have something to do with it. I found reference to sowing it from seed and this is what the supplier had to say

Sow seeds IMMEDIATELY you receive them, at any time of the year, they depend on having several months, sometimes up to a year in cold, damp compost, (NOT DRY IN A FRIDGE) before they will germinate. Keep the seed tray moist in a cold greenhouse or shady corner and do not discard. These fresh seeds can be very slow to germinate but do not use any artificial heat in an attempt to germinate them as it may simply disrupt their germination mechanism causing them to enter even deeper dormancy.

So it looks as though we may see this plant becoming ever increasingly rare in Britain as our winters warm up, foiling any attempts of new seed germination.

But I didn't know any of that at the time, so my spirits were still high as we moved on to our next stop somewhere north of Winchester. We explored woodland and open areas finding a good variety of plants including a large number of Blue Fleabane that had gone to seed. Tony soon had me sifting through the seedheads for signs of an uncommon moth. Didn't take us long to find it in good numbers

That dark thing is the larval case of Coleophora squamosella hidden within the seedhead
We found plenty of these larval cases inside Blue Fleabane heads, I managed to 'encourage' one larva to briefly stick its head out of the case and waggle around for me. They will overwinter in the seedhead before emerging as adults next summer. Tony's GPS informed him that by moving a mere 15 metres or so to the right he'd be in a different tetrad. He duly moved and recorded the moth 'new' for that tetrad too, ha!

Suddenly Tony excitedly called me over so that I could examine one particular seedhead. Ooh, a free-living moth larva, what's that then?

If you're somehow reading this, JRL - I'm really sorry buddy! 
This is the larva of  Cochylidia heydeniana, a locally distributed Tortix moth and presumably the only moth I've seen in Britain that John Langmaid hasn't (he's had over 1000 species in his garden, for crying out loud!) I think Tony said that he'd seen it before, but it was a good find anyway. Pity John wasn't there to share our find, wow - it must be over ten years now since I last saw him.

Lifers - Field Eryngo, Coleophora squamosella, Cochylidia heydeniana, Phragmidium sanguisorbae

We mooched around for a while longer before heading off to Heckfield where we failed to find the Copse Bindweed that used to occur. Mildewed Foxglove leaves turned out to be the protist Peronospora digitalis which was new for both of us. We departed after a Range Rover with personalised plates performed several slow passes, showing great interest in us. Only then did I notice the Private No Trespassers sign... Meh, you don't get this kind of shit happen on Skye.

Lifers - Peronospora digitalis

We headed across to Castle Bottom NNR and bumped into one of the Rangers that covers that site. Tony spent FOREVER talking to the poor chap, but the astonishing news is that this particular Ranger seems to actually be interested in nature!!!! Mind blown, I know right? He's really into spiders, knows his plants quite well and has a seemingly sensible head on his shoulders regards site management, species recording and dealing with the public. I liked him, so he can't be that bad. Tony seemed positively stunned to find 'a goodun' at long last.

After I'd managed to prise Tony away from the poor chap, we had a wander around the site and soon started finding some nice inverts. Silver Birches (been a while since I've seen one of those, we only have Downy Birch on Skye) were happy hunting grounds and Tony was quick to find me a couple of new moths

Larval Swammerdammia caesiella beneath its flimsy webbing on birch leaf
Silver Birch leaf folded over by a larval Parornix betulae
Parornix betulae larva - complete with parasite, ick!
We found lots of Parornix  betulae larvae in their silken leaf-tents, both of the green and brown morphs, plus the one in the pic with a parasite. Rather fewer Swammerdammia caesiella though. We wandered into a copse of mature trees where I spotted a fragment of lichen that looked somehow 'wrong'. Looking closer I was thrilled to find myself eye-balling this wee stunner of a beast

I was pretty damned surprised when this bit of 'lichen' ran away when prodded!
I knew what I had found, and was pretty stoked, but Tony hadn't figured out what it was that I was pointing at. He got really close to the trunk, maybe expecting a Psychid case or a small bug, and absolutely jumped a mile when this wonderfully camouflaged Philodromus margaritus burst into action and shot around the trunk and out of sight - haha!!! How I wish I'd have been filming that particular moment! Once his heartbeat had dropped to a steady 150bpm and he'd changed his trousers (haha!) Tony uttered words that I never thought I'd hear him speak, "That's really stunning, it's the sort of thing that could get me into spiders". Remember, more than six legs and Tony just isn't interested, so this spider really must have impressed him!

We quit Castle Bottom and headed to one of Tony's old sites, Shortheath Common. Tony used to be a warden here back in the day, so knows it intimately. Which is handy, else we'd never have found my next lifer, despite it being about sixteen feet tall.

Guaranteed the worst pic of a Juneberry that you'll see today! 
And this'll be the second worst pic of a Juneberry that you'll see today!
So this is Juneberry Amelanchier lamarckii, presumably birdsown rather than planted (I mean, why would anybody plant it in the middle of secondary woodland anyway?) and hence perfectly eligible to count for my fast-growing PSL. I took pics of the buds, bark and leaves too, but I'm really not sure I'd ever recognise this again if I found it elsewhere. A bit of an oddity really which never has managed to get me particularly enthused, maybe because I'd never heard of it before, maybe because I just can't be certain of its provenance? The BSBI map shows it to be widespread across the London/Surrey/Sussex/Hampshire area (and scattered across much of the rest of mainland Britain) so I'm a bit surprised I've not encountered it before.

One final plant caused a bit of discussion, Tony suddenly halted mid-stride along a grassy path and fell to his knees. Heart attack, stroke? Nope, just a tiny plant at his feet

Mossy Stonecrop - tiny but it shows up well when it turns red
Tony suggested Mossy Stonecrop and I wholeheartedly agreed. I then mentioned that I'd seen it at its first British site, down at Par Beach in Cornwall. Tony carefully explained that it was a native. I just as carefully explained that Crassula is an alien genus and this is a recent addition to the British flora. Tony disagreed. I disagreed with his disagreement. That evening, back indoors, we checked. Bugger me but he's right - it's a native! Arse, I blame Danny the Pirate for this! Danny told me the patch I was looking at on a sandy patch of track at Par Beach was the first site in Britain. Or maybe he said Cornwall, it was a while back. Anyway, I was wrong and Tony was right. Fairplay, I'm a gracious in defeat (I mean, at least I'm not a wee short arse...)

Lifers - Swammerdamia caesiella, Parornix betulae, Aulagromyza tremulae, Philodromus margaritus, Rhamphus pulicarius, Juneberry, Pilophorus cinnamopterus, Neottiglossa pusilla, Stictopleurus punctatonervosus, Rhopalus parumpunctatus

Tomorrow we'll hit October in the final instalment of Week One....fifty four lifers so far, where will it be after a solid week's worth of PSLing madness???

Ah! Just realised that I've forgotten to add some music after the last couple of posts. Being my usual random self, I have nothing lined up for you. BUT...this is on YouTube's autoplay thingie. It's coming up in three songs' time and I have no idea who they are or what it sounds like. But YouTube knows what I like, so hopefully it isn't too dire.

So - this is new to me and quite possibly new to you too. Let's hope we enjoy it!


  1. Beluga Whale and Erisyphe urticae probably don't often appear together!

  2. You certainly know how to cram at least 25 hours into every day.