Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Springs not all about wild flowers and butterflies!

With spring finally here I've been busy looking for butterflies and spring flowers. So I'm still surprised that the things that stand out most from my walk around a local wood this morning were neither of those and were actually a fungus and some moss. I am very keen on both, I just thought I'd done with blogging about them for a few months, so I was delighted with what I found!

The fungus was a Dryad's Saddle, a large bracket fungus the size of dinner plates. It was the only fungus I saw on my walk and was big and beautiful. Apparently it gets it's name from the tree nymphs of Greek mythology, called Dryads, that rode around on it. Unfortunately I didn't see any tree nymphs today though!

The top was chestnut brown and scaly. It's also sometimes called Pheasant's Back fungus because the pattern on the top resembles a Pheasant's feathers. Underneath was white and full of pores, making it look spongy.

It was lovely surprise to see it and now I'm looking forward to Autumn and snuffling through the woods for fungi again!

The second thing that caught my eye was a forest within a forest! A large bank of moss (I think it's common haircap) was covered in pointy golden capsules on slender red stems. Tiny, but massive at the same time!

A forest of common haircap

The woods are lovely this time of year, with the sunshine reaching through the lime green new beech leaves.

Under the trees at the top of the hill, there was quite a lot of wood spurge growing in amongst the dog's mercury.  It's also known as Devil's cup and saucer, due to the shape of the green bracts. I also found delicate little woodruff flowers in amongst the grass at the side of the tracks.

Wood spurge or Devil's cup and saucer

At the bottom of the hill, a large patch of green alkanet was covered in flies and bees, including some bee-flies and I spotted a female orange tip butterfly on some forget-me-nots.

Bee-fly on green alkanet

Female orange tip on forget-me-not
As I was walking past, I popped in to check on Badger Bank. It's now a sea of green nettles and dog's mercury and is very well hidden. You can still make out the trails through the plants though. When I was there in the middle of March, I counted 41 entrances to the sett. but you'd be hard pressed to find them all now!
Badger Bank is now well hidden under a sea of green

You can still make out the trails up to the sett though - one going right
 and one going left

If you climb up the bank, you can still make out the mounds of dug out chalk
and spot some entrances
We'll have to take the trail camera back soon and see if we can see any cubs out and about.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Queen Hornet

Yesterday, my Mum disturbed a queen hornet when she was moving a pile of dead leaves to the compost bin. Apparently it was very cross and was crashing around in the wheelbarrow, so she caught it in a plastic pot as that seemed to be the best way to stop it stinging her.

It means we got to have a really good look at her and what an impressive creature! She was about the length of a 10 pence piece (we put one next to her as a comparison) and had an amazing face with large 'C' shaped eyes and 3 studs on the top of her head. Her thorax looked like it was covered in dark red leather and she was surprisingly hairy. I've never seen one before and you can understand why they have their fearsome reputation, as she was quite intimidating. I wouldn't want to mess with her anyway!
The queens emerge from their overwintering in early April and start nest building mid-May. Their sting is supposed to be incredibly painful, so, beautiful as they are, you don't really want a hornets nest in your back garden. Mum's planning to release her well away from any houses so she hopefully doesn't bother anybody.


We logged the sighting on the BWARS (Bees, wasps and ants recording society) website and uploaded the photos.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Snail safari

We had the first heavy rain for what seems like weeks, so decided to go on a snail safari to Pulpit Hill. We were hoping to see the huge Roman snails that live up there, but it turned out to be a real snailfest, with all sorts of lovely slimey creatures out enjoying the damp conditions.

The Roman snails were out in force. We must have seen 30 - 40, without really hunting very hard for them. They're quite well disguised in the dead beech leaves, so you have to get your eye in when you're in the woods. They're much easier to spot out on the grassy slopes.

There's something really quite endearing about them. I'm not sure whether it's just because they're so big, their big googly eyes or the fact that they don't really hide back in their shells. Whatever it is, they are a firm favourite of ours!
Bug Mad Girl can't resist picking one up for a closer look

A slug hitching a ride on a Roman snail 
This one was sat on what I think is a nice bit of wall scalewort (a type of liverwort)

A Roman snail and a Strawberry snail
We did notice a few of them buried in the mud, with just the top of their shell sticking out. Near to one was a hole about the size of a Roman snail, so we wondered if they hibernate in the mud and the hole is where one has recently come out of hibernation.
Maybe still hibernating

A Roman snail sized hole in the mud
No sign of any of the Roman snails mating yet, but the Brown-lipped snails were feeling frisky after last nights rain!

I'll let you try and work out which bit of which snail is where!

It looks like quite a slimy business! Wonder what colour the babies will be?

We came across several other types of snail, including some tiny little Door snails with long, thin, pointed shells and one that looked more like a pond snail than a land snail.

Tiny little door snail
Another door snail

Badly our of focus I'm afraid, but we thought this one looked like a pond snail
There were all sorts of other snails, different colours, shell sizes and shapes. Not sure I can identify them all though so here's a few pictures to show you some of the variety.

Yellow shell and less whorls than the others

Some lovely big black slugs were out and about as well.

There was plenty to see apart from the snails...

We found some Common Spotted Orchids growing. I'd started to worry a little as I hadn't seen any before today. They have the best leaves that look like animal print. Not long now until we see some flowers.

Leaves of the Common Spotted Orchid

We wondered if this was a different type of orchid growing - but we'll
have to wait and see to be sure!
The Wild Strawberries were flowering and the Hart's Tongue Ferns had died back and were growing their new fronds.
Wild Strawberries

Hart's Tongue Fern - just emerging

Hart's Tongue Fern - more mature fronds
The Jelly Ear is still going strong and some new 'ears' had appeared on an elder branch.

Another great trip to Pulpit Hill!

A quacker of a surprise!

I opened the curtains this morning to see a pair of Mallards sat on the roof of the shed at the bottom of the garden. A new species for our back garden!

They seemed quite happy up there, then the male flew down and waddled around the garden, closely followed by the female.
They had a quick go on the swing
They came up to the house and had a drink in the pond. Luckily for the fish, the child proofing on pond also appears to be duck proof.

They then cleared up some of the food the birds had dropped off the bird table - a new species for underneath our bird table! The female then settled down for a snooze in the middle of the lawn.

We all got quite excited about the thought of a family of ducks living in the back garden ... then remembered Rosie the puppy, who soon scared them away!

Just one more reason to love our back garden!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Moth night

After several days of lovely warm weather, but chilly nights, we were finally forecast a warm'ish evening, so decided to put out the moth trap. We had another beautiful sunset, but would any moths turn up in our trap?

It's always exciting to open up the trap in the morning, because you never know what'll be in there. At first glance it looked like lots of Hebrew Characters, then we spotted a few different moths and hiding right at the bottom was a Ruby Tiger, a lovely red moth with a fuzzy head, hairy legs and bright scarlet body.
Ruby Tiger - look at those hairy legs!

Ruby Tiger
A Herald

A Herald - lovely shape to the wings
We caught another pretty moth called a Flame Shoulder, a reddish-brown moth with a peach stripe running down the front edge of the forewings.
Flame Shoulder

Flame Shoulder
There were several other 'small brown' moths, that appeared plain at first sight. When we looked closer though, they all had features that made them really interesting.
Nut-tree Tussock - his feathery antennae mean this ones a male

Nut-tree Tussock having a bad hair day (or perhaps that's a good hair day!)

Shuttle-shaped Dart
Shuttle-shaped Dart
Early Grey

Brindled Beauty 

Our catch for the night was 17 Hebrew Characters, 1 Ruby Tiger, 1 Herald, 1 Flame Shoulder, 2 Nut-tree Tussocks, 2 Shuttle-shaped Darts, 1 Early Grey and 1 Brindled Beauty. Not bad for the bottom of our garden!

We carefully let them all go and made sure the birds didn't eat them all!