31 October 2013

After the storm

On a lovely sunny morning a couple of days after the St Jude's storm on 28th October I walked down the track to Austford and round the area where the Konik horses graze.

Apart from the leaves and small branches littering the ground, there was little evidence of the recent high winds, the only obvious casualty seemed to be this larch tree.

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Along the ride to the east I saw the horses sleeping stretched out on their sides in the autumn sunshine.  They put their heads up as I came nearer and the friendliest stallion walked up to me for a stroke.

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Later I looked for insects in the purple moor grass area of Compartment 5a and, among other things, found several of these fierce-looking but harmless marsh flies, Sepedon sphegea whose larvae are parasitic in water snails.

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23 August 2013

Four new horses

On 21 August four konik horses from the Wildwood Trust in Kent were put into the conservation  grazing area of Sedlescombe Heath in Brede High Woods to follow the Exmoor ponies that grazed there earlier in the year, and the Sussex cattle last year and the year before.

The konik, originally from Poland, (the word means 'horse' or 'little horse'),  is described as 'semi-feral' and is thought to be at least partly descended from wild European horses, though DNA studies have shown a very complex development of the breed.

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Whatever their origin, they are small and beautiful animals with blue dun (aka mouse grey) coats and a dorsal stripe which they share with some wild horse breeds.

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Koniks are now used quite widely across Britain and Europe for conservation grazing and, as the picture above shows, they certainly seem to appreciate the sward on Sedlescombe Heath.

23 July 2013

Silver-washed fritillaries

There has been a strong emergence of these beautiful butterflies in the last few days.  Usually they occur in open, flowery rides and glades in different parts of BHW and seem gradually to be increasing.

Today they were along the lane from the Old Woodyard to Austford Farm (TQ789207 to TQ787201) and from there up the ride to TQ786202  They were also in the ride to the east of Holman Wood Field, TQ795202.  They are mostly patrolling males at this stage and fly to have a look at you, circling around the ride and among the lower branches of the trees.

So far this year though I have seen no white admirals, butterflies that are usually on the wing with the silver-washed fritillaries, and I would be grateful to learn of any sightings.

18 July 2013

Double flowers and dragonflies

I have visited the High Woods several times during the current heatwave and it is much quieter than usual.  Perhaps people are going to the beach instead.  However, there is plenty to see.  The woodland edges are rich with flowers and delicate grasses (as below: common bent, Agrostis capillaris., tufted vetch, Vicia cracca, and marsh bird's-foot trefoil, Lotus pedunculatus).

Common blue damselflies are very numerous this year and there are some interesting dragonflies.

Most summers there are golden-ringed dragonflies, Cordulegaster boltonii, often around some of the smaller, acid streams, one of the places they breed.

Today I saw a species I have not seen in the Woods for nearly 20 years, though it is a common enough in England and Wales: the  black-tailed skimmer, Orthetrum cancellatum.

Surprisingly hard to see when settled among twigs and grass.

A floral curiosity is growing by the gate to the Old Wood Yard.  There are a couple of plants of double red campion, Silene dioica, again something I have not come across before.

13 July 2013

Summer arrives

There is much to see in the woods at the moment in particular the summer butterflies that are starting to emerge.

Today on a walk my friend Dave Monk spotted a purple hairstreak butterfly sitting on birch leaves.

Its camouflage is good and it looks just like the ghost of a butterfly in the shadows, the lines on the underwings like the edges of leaves.

We managed to get it down and it sat obediently on Dave's hand before returning to the shelter of the trees.

Purple hairstreaks tend to stay up in the top of the canopy, but they sometimes come down to lower levels, particularly in hot weather.  The upperside is dark with blue/purple highlights.

Elsewhere one of the children on our walk spotted a mouse in the undergrowth.  Unusually it sat eyeing us for a while before scampering away.

Up in the Old Woodyard the corn sow thistles (Sonchus arvensis) are in flower now.  This is one of the few places in the High where they occur and the shaggy yellow flowers are larger and more showy than other British Sonchus.  Plants of this genus are said to have a particular affinity with pigs (hence 'sow thistle') and they are supposed to be effective if applied to wounds made by pigs: worth bearing in mind if attacked by a wild boar (very unlikely).  The bee is, I think, the white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum).

9 April 2013

A spring walk

On Sunday we had a lovely sunny day, the first spring-like occasion seemingly for weeks.

I led a walk mostly around Coneyburrow and Twist Woods and we checked on the green hellebores, which were in full flower, somewhat later than usual.

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One unusual discovery on our walk was that in various places along the rides plants of pendulous sedge (Carex pendula) had been pulled up and left lying on the ground.

20130407 BHW Carex uprooted

I suspect this has been done by wild boar and that they were aiming for the roots which are edible and, though small, contain starchy material which is probably very welcome to the animals at this time of year when food can be scarce.

Another strange discovery was of the very large burr at the base of an ash tree with four cultivated daffodil flowers in a natural hole.  We wondered what this might be commemorating.

20130407 BHW burr & daffodils

As a final confirmation that spring is at hand, we saw a fine male brimstone butterfly, like a flying flake of bright lemon paper along the ride by the car park - showing off to the visitors maybe.