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29th February 2012, Wednesday


The winter so far has been relatively kind to our hardier bumblebees.  We have had worker buff tailed bumblebees Bombus terrestris foraging in our garden in 9 out of the last 10 weeks.  One queen was even seen in flight on 7th February when there was a layer of snow on the ground – perhaps an individual that had been disturbed.

There has been a bit more variety this week with the appearance of the early bumblebee Bombus pratorum and the tree bumblebee Bombus hypnorum.  This latter species, first seen in the UK in 2001, looks like it is getting well established in the village.  Both species were feeding on shrubby honeysuckle Lonicera fragrantissima which has been a good nectar source throughout the winter.

Also out today was a red admiral Vanessa atalanta, my first butterfly observation of the year.

4th January 2012, Wednesday

Un-seasonal insects

We have had reports of plants flowering unusually late in December.  How is the mild weather affecting insects?  Today I have had a buff-tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris worker collecting pollen on shrubby honeysuckle Lonicera fragrantissima in the garden.  That means we have an active nest running through the winter (the same species was also foraging in the garden at the end of last month too).

This is not that unusual, as the same species has behaved in a similar way over the past decade, but over the three previous winters, which have been colder, the latest records I have of this species in Northiam are in week 47 of the year, and the earliest in week 9.

30th November 2011, Wednesday

First amphibian arrival

The annual ritual of spotting the first newt returning to our pond for the breeding season was a little later than average this year.  The first amphibian, a smooth newt, came in with the heavy rain last night and has a somewhat unusually shallow pond this autumn.  Dry weather has meant that there are still only a few centimetres of water in the bottom of the pond and dry ground has probably limited the opportunities for newts to migrate back.

17th October 2011, Monday

Ivy bee – have you seen one?

Should you happen to walk past a clump of ivy in flower keep a watch for this insect.

Colletes hederae

It is the bee Colletes hederae, a species that was first seen in the UK in 2001, and whose spread is being monitored by the Bee, Wasp and Ant Recording Scheme (BWARS).  They are interested in studying the progress of this attractive bee as it colonises the UK. 

They can also be observed on bare ground where they make their nests.  With broad pale bands on the abdomen this is the only solitary bee that is likely to be flying now, so identification is not too problematical, if you find one foraging on ivy.

It seems to be getting quite well established in southern England and is spreading inland in places, but records in the RX area would be useful.  We know it occurs in Hastings and at Pett but is it elsewhere?  For more information on this insect, including details of where to send any records if you have seen one (ideally sending a photographic record of the insect) click here

Thanks to Ian Hunter for use of the above photograph.

6th October 2011, Thursday

Shrill carder bee

Shrill carder bees Bombus sylvarum have continued to be found in small numbers on the RSPB reserve throughout the summer.  The most recent sighting I am aware of was by Will George on 17 September 2011 and was of a somewhat darkened individual.  Thanks to Will for allowing use of this link.  There should be a pale band at the front and rear of the thorax (where the wings emerge), separated by a band of black hairs.  In this specimen the darks hairs infiltrate the pale bands, making them difficult to pick out clearly.  Note the orange tail which is typical of this species.

It’s pleasing to note that this very threatened species managed to survive through the breeding season at the RSPB reserve and hopefully means that some queens were produced this year to continue the recolonisation of Romney Marsh in 2012.

13th September 2011, Tuesday


The standard way to find newts at this time of year is to turn over a piece of wood or a stone to see if animals are sheltering underneath.  This short log was productive, sheltering 6 smooth newts and one great crested newt this week, near the Cladium Pit.

Newts under log

The great crested newt is the large black amphibian – note the characteristic yellow rings on the digits and the greater size of this species. The smooth newts Read the rest of this entry »

1st September 2011, Thursday

Privet hawkmoth caterpillars

Two privet hawkmoth caterpillars were found this week in a neighbours garden in Northiam, defoliating a garden shrub, Spiraea.

Privet hawkmoth catterpillars

21st August 2011, Sunday

Another bane!

A number of plants have the suffix bane at the end of their name.  I wrote about henbane last week, this week it is another unrelated species, fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica. In the past I was used to seeing this species on ditch banks bordering arable fields.  It is a species that does not thrive with regular grazing, and currently it is abundant in some of the fields on the RSPB reserve that have been left ungrazed over the past 10 summers to favour bumblebees.

Craggs Small Field, with abundant fleabane

The fields look pretty with this bright yellow flower.  A few years back however, Read the rest of this entry »

21st August 2011, Sunday

Dungeness RSPB bumblebees

Last week saw the completion of the 10th annual round of monitoring of bumblebee numbers on timed walks, a long data set that started when we were experimenting with raising numbers of Biodiversity Action Plan bumblebees.  This may be the end of this monitoring for reasons I reveal in a later post.

 As ever the data need interpreting with care, but they do seem to show that 2011 was a lousy summer for bumblebees at Dungeness.

Trends in bumblebee numbers over 10 years

This does not mean there is anything wrong with the management on the RSPB reserve however, rather I think the climate was to blame.  Many of the Read the rest of this entry »

18th August 2011, Thursday


Last summer I was shown a strange looking plant in fruit at Moneypenny that I had not seen before and could not identify.  The fruits were distinctive, lined in pairs along the stem, pointing to the sky with a pair of roughly hairy leaves hanging below them.   

Henbane fruits

Returning to the same location this week I found Read the rest of this entry »