Author Archive

28th June 2012, Thursday

The creature from the pit

A couple of winters ago a small willow dominated pit had its cover of trees removed and the vegetation is still in transition.  A range of ruderal species grow on what was once shaded bare ground around the pit whilst the open water, lacking in aquatic flowering plants, is dominated by filamentous algae, with unicellular algae colouring the water.


Over time of course the vegetation will settle down and become dominated by the species associated with unshaded wetlands, with seeds lying dormant in the seed bank in the silt at the bottom of the pond providing some of the likely successful species.

The aquatic fauna seems to be on the way to establishing itself too. Peering into the turbid water to see if I could spot one of the medicinal leeches I noticed a few weeks back, subtle movements drew attention to

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28th June 2012, Thursday

Life moves on!

Back in 2008 I wrote about the broom cycle at Dungeness click here.  The last two photos in this post show a broom Cytisus scoparius I got to know well in the 1990s.  It was growing on previously disturbed shingle and was heavily grazed by rabbits, forming a low broom turf.  Then an outbreak of myxomatosis allowed the bush to reach for the skies (the second last photograph in the above post shows this just as time was starting to catch up with this plant and it died).  The final photo shows a number of  seedlings colonising around the remains of the bush, benefitting from the humus it had added to the bare shingle.

Move forward four years and those seedlings have formed several large wood sage Teucrium scorodonia plants.


The wood sage plants are growing with

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27th June 2012, Wednesday

Benefits of a wet summer

The natural pits on Dungeness are a range of ancient natural water bodies on the RSPB Reserve, of varying depth.  Pit 6 frequently dries out in the summer, but this year a pair of waders are required to get into the centre and stay dry.  This is where I found signs of water vole – a neat pile of rush stems nibbled at the characterisitic 45° angle and a blunt ended water vole dropping close by on the old tree stump.  In the top photo the dropping is just to the left of the pile of rush stems, near the end of the stump.  This species tends to retreat to deeper water bodies in dry years, but can spread out into temporary water when conditions permit.


A second feeding site was

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20th June 2012, Wednesday

White (and a bit of yellow)

Ox-eye daisy is prolific on our lawn this year – responding really well to growing a hay crop each summer, and bringing in the hoverflies.


The stand of purple toadflax to the right of

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20th June 2012, Wednesday


 Some fields behind Pett Level are now showing very good cover of red clover as a result of applying green hay to the fields.  Great for the scarce bumblebees found in the area.


The graph below

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20th June 2012, Wednesday


Yellow is the dominant colour on parts of the Dungeness RSPB reserve – around the margins of some of the gravel pits, and around the edges of the shingle beach where shingle grades into alluvium.  This is due to the abundance of bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus, providing a bonanza for pollen and nectar feeders.


28th May 2012, Monday

Back at last

Back in 2008 we started planning the return of the short-haired bumblebee Bombus subterraneus, a species last seen in the UK at Dungeness in 1988 and declared extinct in 2000.  We have searched every year for this insect since the late 1990s and considerable effort has been devoted to restoring legume-rich pasture, first at the RSPB reserve, and then across Romney Marsh.  Initially plans to bring back New Zealand bees, descended from British insects, failed because the insect was difficult to breed in captivity and also very inbred.  However the project was thrown a lifeline by Swedish entomologists who reported the healthiest population of this insect in Europe.  Otherwise it is highly endangered across the continent due to loss of wild flower-rich pastures.

So, today 51 Swedish females were released on the RSPB reserve at Dungeness.Bombus subterraneus 

This was one of the first specimens I

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14th May 2012, Monday

Poor Fen

Not a term of commiseration, or criticism, but the name for one of the scarcest habitats in the RX region.
Poor fen habitat
The poor fen communities in the Cladium Pit at Dungeness RSPB reserve are bursting into life at the moment Read the rest of this entry »

1st May 2012, Tuesday

Sparrow weather?

I participate in nestbox challenge, a BTO initiative that encourages people to record the use of nestboxes, and the survival of eggs and chicks.  During this last month we had four house sparrow nests supporting  chicks for more than a week in late April. All of the nests contained young birds for at least 7 days and survival during this wet period was just 55%.

male house sparrow

At first this figure did not seem particularly high and I blamed

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25th March 2012, Sunday

Hairy-footed flower bee

The hairy-footed flower bee Anthophora plumipes has been active in Northiam this week.  The males (see here) could be mistaken for common carder bees Bombus pascuorum, although they are smaller than the queens you would expect to see in the spring, and I have not seen any of the latter species flying yet this year.  The sexes of this species show different colour patterns, with the females being all black in colour, with yellowish hairs on the back legs.  They have a more rapid flight than a bumblebee darting in an out of stands of flowering plants.  More information is available on this bee here.