21 December 2012

Midwinter Day 2012

For once a sunny morning which we were able to enjoy in Brede High Woods where it was muddy and quiet.


It is a good time of year to reflect on the past season and what might be done next year.  It is also easier to see things like mosses.  The picture below is of white moss (Leucobryum glaucum), normally pale green and I think the white patches are where it is not too healthy.


We also had a look at some of the extensive sphagnum moss beds that have developed on the flatter woodland areas around some of the streams.  Unusual and precious ecosystems with their own special wildlife.


And, finally, a midwinter moss-covered oak.


24 September 2012

First bat records

A small party of bat enthusiasts led by Dave Barker braved the wind and rain yesterday evening in an effort to see and hear some bats, animals for which there had been no earlier formal records from Brede High Woods.

Despite the cold, wet and lateness of the season, six species were on the wing foraging for insects.  These included soprano pipistrelles, common pipistrelles, brown long-eareds, a noctule, a Myotis species and possibly a whiskered bat.

This is very encouraging news that further emphasises the importance of Brede High Woods for wildlife.  In addition to being of interest in their own right, bats need a healthy supply of insects and places to roost and hibernate.  They also have many insect associates living in their roosts (but not necessarily anywhere else).

With the success of this first bat walk, there are likely to be others, hopefully in better weather, so watch the events lists for the woods if you are interested in leaning more about these fascinating little mammals.

11 September 2012

Yellow jumping spiders

Crystal Ray, who frequently visits Brede High Woods, took these photos of yellow jumping spiders (Evarcha falcata) by the 'Soldier's Seat' on Brede High Heath on 20th August this year.

Although widespread in the southern half of Britain, this species is rare in East Sussex so it is a welcome addition to the Brede High Woods records.

The picture above is of a male and this and the one below of a female:

This species is mainly a woodland spider which occurs in the foliage of trees as well as on lower vegetation such as heather and gorse in woodland clearings.  Brede High Heath would seem to be ideal as it is a place where heath and woodland meet.

An interesting aspect of this spider's behaviour is its sleeping position (yes spiders do sleep).  It hangs on a short thread with all eight legs pressed into its body. This occurs whenever it darkness falls and the spider will adopt this position when in captivity at any time of day if it is put into a dark place.  The reason for this 'suspension' is assumed to be a way of avoiding predators.

The specific name falcata means a sickle-shaped sword and is, presumably, a reference to the spider's jaws.

3 August 2012

Fishy wasp?

At Soldier's Seat on Brede High Heath (grid ref TQ780207) there is a sunlit patch of bare earth worn by all the people, their children and their dogs who rest a while there.

Yesterday I photographed this small solitary wasp scooting about just above the surface.

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It is an ornate-tailed digger wasp, Cerceris rybyensis, an identity confirmed by my entomologist friend Steven Falk.

This species is predatory on the small mining bees that build their nests in this area of bare soil.  The wasp catches and stings the bees and buries them in a nest tunnel as food for its larvae.

If you get a chance sit on the seat on a warm sunny day and watch all the action.  It is a good illustration of the importance of bare ground as a habitat as most of the active species cannot complete their development in places where the vegetation forms even the thinnest layer.

'Ryby', incidentally, is the Polish word for 'fish', so the scientific name means 'of the fish'.  Seems a bit improbable, but I cannot find anywhere called 'Ryby', though it can be someone's name.  Perhaps someone can suggest a better reason for the specific name.

14 July 2012

When it isn't raining

I have had two lovely sunny mornings in Brede High Woods this last week and, though it is wet underfoot, the wildlife responds very quickly to an hour or two of warmth.

Butterflies on the wing include many silver-washed fritillaries and today just one white admiral.  There are also meadow browns, ringlets, commas, red admirals, brimstones and large and small skippers.  I have not yet seen a gatekeeper though and they are usually one of the commonest butterflies at this time of year.

One apparent success story is the large number of six-spot burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae) shown here on marsh thistle.

20120712 BHW six-spot burnet

It disappeared from the woods for a few years, then started to return a couple of years ago and continues to increase in Holman Wood Field.

One of the plants now in full bloom in several places is musk mallow (Malva moschata), so named because the flowers are said to smell of musk and they do have quite a pleasant scent.

20120712 BHW Malva moschata

Not being sure of what proper musk smelt like anyway, I looked it up in Wikipedia and learnt that "No other natural substance has such a complex aroma associated with so many contradictory descriptions; however, it is usually described abstractly as animalic, earthy and woody or something akin to the odour of baby's skin"  The leaves of musk mallow are very finely divided, which distinguishes it from other mallows and, with the flowers, are edible and highly regarded by many wild food foragers.

Musk mallow is a native but, in the main car park, there are, as usual, some interesting aliens.  In the picture below there is, on the right, a typical plant of purple toadflax (Linaria purpurea) next to the much rarer pink form of this Mediterranean plant.  In the foreground there are also some silver leaves of  Lamiastrum galeobdolon subspecies argentatum, a cultivated form of the wild yellow archangel.

20120714 BHW Linaria Galeobdolon

9 July 2012

Recolonising plants

An area that until late 2008 was covered in a dense canopy of spruce with a ground layer of black, dead pine needles, has now the conifers have gone, a very varied vegetation of a markedly heathland nature.  All three Sussex species of heather grow there and there is purple moor grass, dodder and much else.

Here is some slender St. John's-wort, Hypericum pulchrum, in the bracken:

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As well as these smaller acid soil plants there are many trees and shrubs coming from seed.

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The picture above shows a host of birch seedlings, which we would rather not have, with a slightly larger alder buckthorn seedling in the centre.  Alder buckthorn, Frangula alnus, is scattered, but uncommon, in the High Woods and it is good to see in increasing naturally, especially as it is the only local food plant of the brimstone butterfly (one of which was on the wing here last week).

7 July 2012

Small water bodies

This very wet summer has its compensations and there are many small water bodies in Brede High Woods at the moment that offer a specialised habitat to the various plants and animals that need them.

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In the areas where the cattle graze there are plenty of water-filled hoof prints and there are some insects that use such a very ephemeral habitat.  The caddis fly Limnephilus sparsus, for example.  A widespread species, but with only one Sussex record so far (Chailey Common).

Plants that flourish in small scale aquatic environments include remote sedge, Carex remota, seen here at the edge of an iron-stained stream that would normally be dried up by now.

20120706 BHW Carex remota (11a)

In the cart ruts there are pools rich in lesser spearwort and water-starwort (Callitriche), whose leaves can almost cover the surface as below.

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Where the soil is very acid and boggy there are some good colonies of sphagnum moss much more associated in my mind with moorlands and uplands.

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Something new to me was a strange red cloud I noticed on the muddy bottom of a small, clear puddle in one of the rides.  I thought at first it might be a leaf, or a dense cluster of water fleas, but closer inspection showed it to be a colony of tubifex worms, almost certainly Tubifex tubifex which, like us, use the red-pigmented haemoglobin to carry oxygen around their bodies.

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Each 'cloud' is composed of hundreds of small worms, head down and writhing around together like the tentacles of a sea anemone.

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These pools and puddles may be small, but there is much going on in them and, when they dry up, most of the residents have survival strategies to tide them over until the next deluge.

29 May 2012

The flowering of the broom

Broom (Cytisus scoparius) has become a landscape feature in Brede High Woods following the opening up of more acid areas and is currently in full bloom.


It is a beautiful shrub that has featured much in poetry and folklore as described by Geoffrey Grigson in his 'Englishman's Flora'.  One ballad says:

There was a lady of the North country

Lay the bent to the bonny broom.

According to Grigson this means that twigs of broom were plaited with 'bent' or heath rush (Juncus squarrosus) to avert the evil eye and discourage the elfin lover.

In Brede High Woods heath rush grows along many of the rides that are bordered with broom, so it is easy to see how the two came together.  Yesterday I plaited two rush & broom amulets just in case the elfin lover is lurking about:

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The top one is 2 rush, 1 broom and the lower 2 broom and 1 rush.  I will see which is the most efficacious.

As well as being beautiful and useful, broom attracts a great number of insects including, in the High Woods, the green hairstreak butterfly whose larvae feed on this and other plants.

Green hairstreak, Sedlescombe Heath

Broom flowers are also sought after by bees.  As Thomas Hood said "the broom's betrothed to the bee."

22 April 2012

A spring walk

Yesterday I led a walk from the new car park to Austford and Austford Farm then back to Holman Wood Field and up around Brede High Heath.

Though rather chilly, it was a fine sunny day crowned by a noisy thunderstorm of which we missed almost all the rain.

Highlights of the day were the sound of the cuckoo, the fact that there seemed to be plenty of heath dog violets, Viola canina, a rapidly declining species in there usual places, while in one of the streams we found a small brook lamprey, Lampetra planeri.  It did not look too healthy and was easy to lift briefly out of the water, but the fact that it was there at all indicates that the streams are in good condition.


Now is the time to look for these strange, primitive creatures as they swim upstream to find suitable spawning grounds, though they are often on the move at night.