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.