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Bees on Passion Flower.
I have been having fun with a lovely photo that Alison Bolt took in her garden. We spotted about a dozen honey bees jostling for nectar in the centre of a passion flower (Passiflora caerulea).
We had never seen such activity in a flower. By the time Alison got her camera there were fewer bees, but it still made a lovely photo.
Honey bees are unable to pollinate this flower. They are too small, and their backs don't contact the stamens. We don't know what pollinates her passion flowers, but because she has two plants in the garden, they get cross-fertilised and produce egg-shaped yellow fruits.
What fun! [Irene Palmer, August 2016]
Piptoporus quercinus at Lullingstone Country Park.
This very rare Red data Book bracket which only occurs on ancient veteran oaks has appeared again at Lullingstone on two of the trees where it was first seen in 2009.
It occurred again here in 2010, but was absent after that until this year.
There were three separate fruit bodies on the hollow inside of a veteran in Upper Beechen Wood, and a nice bracket on the fallen bough in Upper Beechen Wood, north.
A new sighting this year, high up on dead bough of a the huge veteran oak near the plantation at the northern edge of the park. [Joyce Pitt, August 2016]
Graham Hemington's Bee Orchids.
Those of us who live near Graham have been thrilled with the display in his front garden.
Graham writes: 'No one cut the grass in my front garden in May. Effect: an outburst of 54 Bee Orchids and 2 Pyramidal Orchids. A beautiful sight! Smaller numbers of Bee orchids were seen in previous years and their scattered seed (like dust) may have been responsible for the large increase in plants.
There was a photo in the News Shopper on 29th June.'
PS I think there were more than 54 plants — nearer 60 by my count. [Graham Hemington and Margaret Willis, 27 July 2016]
Glanville Fritillaries at Hutchinson's Bank.
Some months ago I read that Glanville Fritillary butterflies were now to be seen at Hutchinson's Bank near Croydon. So I arranged to lead a Field Club trip at the beginning of June.
On Bank Holiday Saturday May 28th I set off for a pre-visit a bit uncertain of what I would find. It proved a very successful day. I walked in and only a few yards from the entrance in the cutting, a sheltered track between high banks, I found a group of people with large cameras gathered round an apparently uninteresting Crepis. Approaching carefully I could see there was a butterfly sitting there and, getting closer, it was a Glanville Fritillary.
There followed a very rewarding session watching and photographing these handsome creatures. It was amazing how 'tame' they were. They obviously hadn't really woken up. There was no sun and it was perhaps a bit cool so they were resting and so approachable they would even come to hand to be moved to a more photogenic spot. I only had my small compact camera but even so got some reasonable pictures including some of the distinctive underside. Later when the sun came out they were more active but still very visible.
I went on and explored more of the reserve and got a count of nine butterfly species, including the Small Blue, a speciality of the reserve.
A notice at the entrance announced the Open Day on the following day so back I went, talked to some of the staff and volunteers, explored more of the reserve and added three more species. I was told that the Glanvilles had gone by June 7th last year so, given a fine day, we should have a successful visit on June 4th. [Margaret Willis, 2 June 2016]
(It seems that this is an artificial introduction, not a natural spreading of this species' range. There has been more than one introduction, the latest being larvae introduced in Autumn 2015 and Spring 2016. [Addition by Bill Welch, 2 June 2016])
Bees are already out and about this Spring, taking advantage of the sun and foraging in the flushes of early flowers.
Bumble-bees are easy to spot because this is when the big queens fly about looking for food for their first batch of larvae.
On the right is a queen of one of our largest species, a Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris. When these bees are not actively foraging you might see them entering or leaving their nests, which in this species are usually underground.
But those are not the only bees you can see. Several solitary bees are active. On the left is a photo of one, a Hairy-footed Flower Bee, Anthophora plumipes.
Males like this one are a light buff colour, but the females are much darker, almost looking like a different species.
Both of these bees were working over a patch of Purple Dead-nettle, Lamium purpureum, which is currently in full bloom. [Bill Welch, 1 April 2016]
Bee fans might like to know that the Friends of the Earth are having their annual "Great British Bee Count" from 19th May to 30th June. It is linked to a smartphone app, which you can sign up for on that link. They also have a bee home page with links to other ways to help bees.
Cherry Plum, Prunus cerasifera, always early to flower, was blooming on 24th January at the bottom of Repton Rd, Orpington.
I have been monitoring this particular bush for nearly twenty years and noting its flowering time. This has fluctuated over the years from mid February to mid April.
January 2016 is the earliest date it has flowered!! When it flowers in March to April we usually get a good crop of plums in August. I suspect there will be no fruit this year.
The pink-flowered version, Prunus cerasifera var pissardi, common in suburban gardens, is also flowering well this week.
The closeup photo shows that the young wood is green - so different from Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa. [Joyce Pitt, 29 January 2016]
The Owl Prowl Continues! — A pilot survey of tawny owls was carried out in autumn 2015 by the Bromley Biodiversity Partnership (of which the Orpington Field Club is a member). This species was chosen for the survey because in order to survive and breed successfully each pair of owls needs a territory with a good nesting site and a plentiful supply of food. Their presence therefore indicates the health of the surrounding environment because without good habitat which will support their prey (which includes wood mice, voles, small birds, worms and beetles), the tawny owls cannot survive.
59 records were submitted by 33 people from many parts of the borough, and Tawny owls were recorded in about 17 areas.
We propose to continue the tawny owl survey in 2016, concentrating on parts of the borough currently under-recorded. These include:
However, we would be grateful for any records, so please continue to listen for owls particularly in February and March during courtship, and in September-October when they are establishing their territories, and send your records in via the OFC website as before. Good places to listen for owls are alongside the edge of woodlands or near parks and gardens with trees, especially those which have possible nesting holes. Listen carefully because sometimes you can hear one owl hooting and another 'replying'.
For more details of the results so far, and to send in a record if you are lucky enough to hear an owl hooting, please go to this page: Owl Prowl Results
Tricholoma orirubens, a scarce woodland fungus, was fruiting well among beech trees in High Elms Country Park. This dark grey-capped agaric with white stem and yellowish threads of the mycelium at the base of the stipe is a species of calcareous soils and has been recorded here for several years.
There were several colonies set amongst the large numbers of yellow birdsnest, Monotropa hypopitys, whose dark dead heads were conspicuous against the beech litter.
It is thought that there is a possible relationship between Tricholoma species and Monotropa.
Although there are seldom many flowering Monotropa in the beech plantation at Lullingstone, those also grow in close proximity to a large colony of the Tricholoma orirubens. [Joyce Pitt, 25 September 2015]
Following this note, Joyce Pitt also pointed out an article on line by Ken Adams which suggests a close link between Yellow Bird's-nest, a Tricholoma species, and the trees with which it has a mycorrhizal relationship. The Yellow Bird's-nest is parasitic on the fungus.
The example given in the article is T. singulatum and some Willows, Salix caprea and Salix cinerea, in Essex. A similar relationship seems to exist at High Elms and Lullingstone. Here is a link to the article: The Status of Monotropa hypopitys L. Yellow Bird's-nest in Essex.
Grass Training Day — A grasses training day was held at Downe House on 6th July as a memorial to our late member Geoffrey Bird. It was built around Charles Darwin's own experiences with grasses. Dr June Chatfield led a group round the Great House Meadow and followed this up with a summary in the Board Room of Downe House. The picture on the left shows Dr. Chatfield and two members of the Orpington Field Club.
The day was attended by members of several local "friends" groups as well as members of the Field Club.
Randal Keyes, Darwin's great-great-grandson, came to the summary session, which was also attended by Geoff Bird's widow Doreen, who told us how much she appreciated the event and its memorial nature.
Even though the meadow is not a specially rich grassland it provided a good list of grasses, as shown in this photo of the whiteboard in the Board Room, including the first one Darwin identified for himself, Sweet Vernal Grass, Anthoxanthum odoratum. (Click on the photo to see the board enlarged.)
It was also a great pleasure to walk through the gardens and glasshouses of Downe House on the way in from the fields! [Bill Welch, 29 June 2015]
Variegated Orchid — This is a Broad-leaved Helleborine, Epipactis helleborine, one of our native orchids. It's not exactly common, but it is widespread in Kent and there are many sites at which it can be seen. The difference is that this specimen is naturally variegated.
It is growing in that orchid-rich environment, High Elms Country Park. I saw a normal Broad-leaved Helleborine in the same place last year and it is possible that this is the same plant, somewhat changed.
Variegated orchids are scarce in the wild. Wild plants of all sorts can occasionally produce unusual variations of form or appearance, caused sometimes by mutation but more commonly by insect attack or virus infection. It is likely that this one was caused by a virus. Virus infections that produce similar effects are also known among cultivated orchids.
Variegation reduces the viability of plants because they have less of the green chlorophyll that produces the food they need. A virus can also reduce the strength of a plant in other ways, though this one seems to be quite robust. It will be interesting later on to see if the flowers are affected. [Bill Welch, 9 June 2015]
[Later addition:] The flower head was quite feeble. The virus clearly did this plant no favours.
Bromley's Mayor — The Mayor of the London Borough of Bromley, Cllr. Julian Benington, and the Lady Mayoress paid a visit to the annual social event of the Orpington Field Club on April 11th.
The social was, as usual, held in Bromley's excellent Environmental Education Centre at High Elms, BEECHE. Here, the couple and Irene Palmer, the Society's Chair and an expert naturalist, are being shown some pond life by Gary Cliffe, a long-standing member.
The Mayor thanked the Field Club for their work supporting and documenting Bromley's plant and animal wildlife and biodiversity; his visit and his support were greatly appreciated by the members of the club.
After the meeting the Mayor and Mayoress left to see the Boat Races! [Bill Welch, 30 April 2015]
"Darwin's Orchids - Then and Now" — Is the title of a new book from the Chicago Press. Irene Palmer, the Field Club's chair, writes: "The book is open at the page showing my late husband John's photo of the Fly Orchid. Grant Hazlehurst's triple decker of Digger Wasps on a Fly Orchid was also printed alongside another of John's.
The book was published after an orchid conference in Melbourne in 2012, that celebrated the 150th anniversary of Darwin's orchid book. It contains scientific papers presented at the conference with an introductory chapter by the editors Retha Edens-Meier and Prof Peter Bernhardt (on the left and right of the picture) who work in the University of St Louis, Missouri. David Roubik, author of one of the chapters, is in the middle.
The editors are helping me with my book which I'm calling 'Darwin's Orchid World,' which is likely to take a couple more years to complete." [Irene Palmer, 27 April 2015]
Jersey Tigers — are turning up in gardens again this year. We have sightings in Bromley and Eltham, like this iPhone photo from Joyce Pitt's brother, and they are also attracted to the light of moth traps.
Often regarded as immigrants, and still listed as scarce nationally, they are now well established in Kent and parts of London and seem to be expanding their range. They might be our most noticed moth. This attractive species is certainly the one people want to mention.
The caterpillars eat a range of herbaceous plants, including stinging nettles White Dead-nettles and Plantains, so they are certainly not short of food in the suburbs. [Sighting submitted by Joyce Pitt, July 2014.]
Sleepy Dormice — Two torpid female dormice found in a dormouse nest box in Bromley during a monitoring check by a licensed dormouse handler.
They are just waking up and will soon be looking for a mate and thinking about building a breeding nest of honeysuckle and leaves rather than the loose collection of hazel leaves in this nest. [Robert Francis, 21 June 2014.]
Parakeet Feathers — Members whose gardens are being visited by Ringneck Parakeets (sometimes called Rose-ringed Parakeets) - even if they are not always welcomed - may be interested in a scientific study of these birds by the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology where DNA is extracted fom their feathers.
Parakeets are not too happy with shedding them but if you do come across a feather in your garden or elsewhere, the Institute asks you to post it to them with information on where it was found.
The researcher is Hazel Jackson and her web page, with contact details, is here: Parakeet Feather Details. [Paula Thompson, 19 June 2014.]
Walls in Chelsfield — The north-facing brick wall over the railway at Chelsfield station was looking good after the winter rains, being decorated by rich colonies of two wall ferns, Wall Rue, Asplenium ruta-muraria and Maidenhair Spleenwort Asplenium trichomanes.
The ancient brick walls around St Martins Church , Chelsfield have always been home to the tiny rare Wall Bedstraw, Galium parisiense. Over the years the population has dwindled as ivy has taken hold and shrubs and trees have shaded the walls.
Recent work clearing the walls of ivy has let in the light and the bedstraw has responded. Over a thousand small plants were present along the top of the yard wall at the rear of the church and an additional new colony was observed on the brick walls opposite the church porch where the brick work and mortar have been exposed after ivy and other shading species have been cleared away.
Wall Bedstraw is a nationally scarce plant and is probably the rarest plant in the Borough of Bromley. In the Mediterranean, where it is commoner, germination occurs in the spring only and is triggered by warm conditions following a wet period. In the British Isles it can also occur following unusual conditions in summer and autumn. The plants at Chelsfield were going into fruit but one could just see the fading petals above the tiny fruits. [Joyce Pitt, June 2014.]
Orange Elfcups — Scarlet Elf Cups are very attractive ascomycete fungi with which most members will be familiar from late winter and early spring Field Club meetings. This Sarcoscypha austriaca was found by Joyce Pitt in Scords Wood in April 2014.
The red and much less common orange colour form are fruiting on the same wood. Very rarely yellow and white forms of Scarlet Elf Cup have been found in the West Country. [Trudy Fleming, June 2014.]
Spring — The new year is really getting under way now that the rain has paused and the days are getting longer. Flowers are appearing everywhere. Not all of them are conspicuous.
Here are the tiny red female flowers of an Alder, Alnus glutinosa, on the structures that will grow into loosely-knit cones. The male flowers are in the form of catkins.
In winter, you can distinguish this Alder from the more robust Italian Alder that is often planted as a roadside tree by its flattened, purplish leaf buds. You can see one at the left of this photo. The Italian Alder, Alnus cordata, has pale green, rounded winter buds — and it also has larger cones than A. glutinosa. [Bill Welch, 17 March 2014.]
Rust Fungi — There are still lots of green leaves around this winter, with many specimens of some species still in flower. Among these are Groundsels, Senecio vulgaris, and on many of them you can see yellow blotches on the leaves. These are caused by the rust fungus Puccinia lagenophorae.
This rust is thought to have originated in Australasia and has spread world-wide. It infects several species, and despite being rather pretty under a lens it can be something of a pest. For example, it can devastate Pot Marigolds, Calendula officinalis.
The example shown came from Jubilee Country Park, but that is not significant; it is widely distributed. [Bill Welch, 28 December 2013.]
Opal Tree Health Survey — Opal, the Natural History Museum's Open Air Laboratory, are carrying out a survey to investigate the health of three main species of tree: Oak, Ash and Horse Chestnut, and they need our help.
You can investigate one or as many trees as you can. Opal would be pleased with any results members can produce. Trees are very important plants. They support biodiversity by enhancing local habitats and providing food for a range of fauna.
To find out how you can take part in the survey, click this link to download a pack from their website: Opal Tree Survey Site, or you can ask for a survey pack to be sent to you in the post from this web page: Request a tree health survey pack. [Gary Cliffe, 2 July 2013.]
Damselflies and Dragonflies — These delightful insects are now out and about, with sightings everywhere.
They are mostly found near water, from which the nymphs emerge and where the eggs will be laid, but they can travel some distance.
Probably the commonest are the small, delicate damselflies; Common Blue, Azure, and Large Red like the one shown here. Their slender forms are harder to spot than the large and conspicuous dragonflies, many of which can be seen patrolling ponds.
Damselflies hold their wings along their bodies when perched, unlike dragonflies, which hold their wings out at right angles.
There are sightings of two species of dragonfly in the note of the Orpington Field Club's trip to Pagham Harbour on 1 June. [Bill Welch, 4 June 2013.]
Double Flowered Cherries — The Kent Field Club always held its churchyard lichen meeting on the the first Saturday in May in the late 1970s and 80s.
A feature of the journeys to the churches was the bright pink cherry blossom along the route. In 1990s and 2000s, the cherries flowered earlier and earlier, usually in early to mid April.
This year, 2013 for the first time in many years the cherry blossom is back to flowering in May! [Joyce Pitt, 10 May 2013.]
Woodland Flowers — Out with my botany crew in New Years Wood, Cudham, we were struck by the large numbers of young plants of Wood Anemones (Anemone nemorosa), Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), Wild Arum (Arum maculatum) etc.
Is this the result of the excellent early spring sunshine we had last year ensuring good seed, followed by wet weather for germination? I have also noticed the abundance and frequency of Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria) in many woods throughout the county (Kent). [Joyce Pitt, 1 May 2013]
Flitting Moths — Walking through oak woods early in the day and early in the year, you might see tiny moths flitting around the undergrowth.
I saw many of these Dyseriocrania subpurpurella in Spring Park Wood and Kennel Wood on 28th April. They are around 1 cm long, and you have to get up close to see that their wings are metallic gold flecked with a darker colour. Sometimes you can see iridescent purple spots.
They are oak specialists. Their larvae mine the oak leaves in the shape of an irregular blotch, starting when the leaves are young and tender. They pupate in the ground and emerge in Spring.
This specimen was resting on a holly leaf. [Bill Welch, 28 April 2013]
Early Butterflies — Like everything else, butterflies have made a late start this year by several weeks. But the species that hibernate have shown up at last, with Commas, Peacocks and Brimstones being spotted over the last week or two.
A few days ago I saw several Brimstones (Gonepteryx rhamni - not to be confused with the moth of the same common name, Opisthograptis luteolata) fluttering through the woods of Hayes Common and West Wickham Common. Today, I saw Peacocks (Aglais io) in the same places. Brimstones and Commas (Polygonia c-album) were spotted on Riddlesdown over a week ago.
Other things are livening up as well - there are lots of bumblebee queens around, and moths are turning up in traps at last.
The photo is of a Comma from early last year. Its ragged outline and brown underwing patterns give it terrific camouflage during hibernation. This looks nothing like the familiar vivid orange and black of its upper wing surface, but the white C shape that gives it both its common and species names is unmistakeable. [Bill Welch, 18 April 2013]
Scarlet Elfcup — Over 100 specimens of this small but spectacular winter fungus can still be seen at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve. Thanks to Irene Palmer for showing me the spot, and thanks to Joyce Pitt for the observation that it can also be found at Jubilee Country Park.
To find it, look for woodland sites which are wet enough for moss-covered dead branches to lie on the ground. It can be seen at least from January to March. This photo is a young specimen from Sevenoaks; the Jubilee Country Park specimens are a little past their best.
There are two British species, which can't be told apart with the naked eye, but I am informed that these two sites both have Sarcoscypha austriaca, which is the commoner species. Indeed, one of my fungus books, Michael Jordan's "Encyclopedia of Fungi of Britain and Europe", says that the other species, S. coccinea, has not recently been recorded in Britain.
It is not supposed to be poisonous. But please do not rely on this site to identify fungi to eat. [Bill Welch, 1 March 2013]
Wintering Moths — Not all moths die off at the end of the summer. A few will stay at least partly active all winter, emerging on warmer nights to search for food. Some rest all winter in sheltered places.
This Twenty-plume Moth was wintering in Chipstead Caves, and was spotted during a bat survey on 24th February. Outside it was under 2 degrees; deep inside, nearer 4 degrees. There were also a few Herald moths there.
Heralds are bigger and more showy, but this little micromoth has more interesting wings. Instead of being flat planes, each of its four wings consists of six plumes covered with backward-pointing hairs. So perhaps it should really be called the Twenty-four-plume Moth.
You can often find overwintering moths in sheltered spots or garden sheds, so it's worth looking out for them. [Bill Welch, 25 February 2013]
Fluffy pink balls — A brief visit to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve on February 6th. It was extremely cold so I spent only an half hour looking at Willows and few Elders etc. near the car park.
12 fungi were recorded, including two that occur on common lichen species. Xanthoriicola physciae blackens the fruits of the common orange lichen Xanthoria parietina. We know this to be very widespread in Kent.
However, in addition there were several colonies of Illosporiopsis christiansenii on both Xanthoria parietina and Physcia tenella. The fluffy pink balls were dotted across the lichens. Ishpi Blatchley (our lichen specialist) says this fungus is increasing in our area. Members might like to keep an eye open for this; any reports will be welcome. [Joyce Pitt, 14 February 2013]
Wildlife In Trust — This is a new book by Tim Sands about the history of The Wildlife Trusts, from 1915 onwards. According to The Wildlife Trusts site it covers "the landmark political Acts, the explosion of the local Trust movement in the 1960s and its subsequent development; the salvage and rescue operation to save woods, meadows, wetlands, bogs, and heaths; the dawn of marine conservation; the decline and recovery of species like the otter, plus the move to restore wildlife across whole landscapes."
It contains this photo by OFC member Irene Palmer. Irene sent in this copy and says "It is a doorstop of a book! There are two photos of OFC members visiting Downe Bank in April 2007 and enjoying masses of primroses."
If you are interested, you can buy it from The Wildlife Trusts, but you can get a much better deal by shopping around. [Bill Welch, 22 January 2013]
Waxwing Invasion — Vast numbers of Waxwings, ie in their thousands, have arrived over all parts of Britain from Eastern and Northern Europe in order to escape colder conditions and search for food.
They could turn up anywhere in our area. Recently they have been gathering in large flocks in West Wickham, Sidcup, the grounds of the Darenth Valley Hospital, Dartford and all over London. They are mainly looking for Rowan and Cotoneaster berries. Unfortunately, due to last year's weather, there are now not many berries around, so they are leaving Britain and going further south to France and Spain! [Gary Cliffe, 16 January 2013]