Monday 31 August 2020

Common Darters in Rendlesham Forest

Regular readers will know that I have a certain fascination for odonata. I have missed seeing so many species this summer as a result of our limited expeditions on account of the pandemic. It was a particular joy this afternoon, therefore, to see a few Common Darter dragonflies at the edge of Rendlesham Forest. You can see the female above and the male of the species below. 

It was a pretty nondescript Bank Holiday weatherwise here in Suffolk, with occasional patches of sunshine, large swathes of grey cloud and even a shower of rain. The photo below shows where the gravel path from the road gives way to a grassy track over sandy soil. The dragonflies favoured the stony ground as you can see in the photo above (it almost looks like shingle on a beach). At times they were extremely camouflaged.

Rendlesham Forest, owned and managed by the Forestry Commission, is 1500 hectares in size. There are various trails and tracks that can be followed. Despite keeping a sharp eye on the path, I nearly stepped on the insect below. I moved back quickly, and we noticed it seemed to be digging. I wish my camera did justice to this kind of scene, but my better one is too heavy to carry!

Is it a digger wasp of some sort? It looked a bit like a hornet, but seemed rather small. I considered Bee Wolf since we see these occasionally nearer the coast, but the markings do not seem right. It looks in appearance, if not in behaviour, rather like a Common Wasp to me. I will try iSpot next...

Does it look to you as though digging is in progress?

I was pleased to find this bee near the entrance to the forest...

... where there were quite large patches of Common Toadflax.

We noticed an Oak tree on the edge of the pines. There must have been a Grey Squirrel in the branches above as bits of acorn kept landing near our feet.

There were other telltale squirrel signs as well...

I noticed a small Pine Ladybird in the garden this morning, the first ladybird I had seen for weeks, so it was good to find a couple of 7-spots in the forest.

I'm guessing the flower below is Red Campion, though I don't remember the receptacle being so bulbous.

David and I both remarked on the fact that a cultivated forest can seem a little 'sterile', but the addition of Oaks, Sycamore and Silver Birch meant that there were patches of undergrowth. These other species were clearly enhancing the biodiversity.

It was good to hear the caw-cawing of corvids overhead and we think we heard a mouse, shrew or vole in the bracken. The photo above shows how the different plants mingled in and out of one another along the verges of the grassy path.

Sunday 30 August 2020

Bank Holiday: Blackberries and a Holly Blue

Yesterday was a 'typical' Bank Holiday Saturday in our neck of the woods. It was dark and blustery all day. Thankfully the weather brightened up considerably for a while this afternoon, though there was a cool north wind by 5pm. We decided to head for what has become our 'usual' spot as we wanted somewhere we could reach fairly quickly before the clouds returned. The blackberries look very mixed, but the good ones would doubtless make a tasty crumble. 

We saw a few white butterflies, largely at a distance, and a single Holly Blue. There was a Dockbug (below) on one of the blackberry leaves. I had not seen these insects on brambles before, but a quick look at Google Images suggests that this is not unusual.

I wonder if others have noticed how early the season seems to be changing. These Hawthorn berries, along with some Rosehips, certainly brightened up the hedgerow. 

As we reached a particularly scrubby area of the path by the railway bridge, my eyes led me to a few strands of Fumitory, a plant I have not seen for a while.

My photos give the appearance that everyone else was down the road at the beach, and they probably were, but we passed a surprising number of people. We pulled up our masks and stepped aside but I wish social distancing was more the norm...

David on the track by the bridge

Monday 24 August 2020

In the Garden Today

It is always interesting to find a new insect in the garden, and this hoverfly is no exception. I haven't posted it on iSpot yet, but I'm wondering if I am in the right area with a proposed ID of Chrysotoxum bicinctum, an imperfect wasp mimic. The first link will take you to an Irish site, but I gather this species is widespread. I look forward to having the identification confirmed - or corrected!

Hoverflies were not the only insects on the move in the garden today: we saw several Small White butterflies, one Holly Blue and one Red Admiral. I would so love to find a Small Tortoiseshell or a Painted Lady...

We have also been enjoying the resident grasshoppers. All the photos below, except the top right one in the collage (which was taken a fortnight ago), were taken this afternoon.

Sunday 23 August 2020

Butterflies and bees

Having waited at base all yesterday for a scheduled delivery that never arrived, we were keen to spend some time outdoors this afternoon. We visited our 'usual' lockdown haunt and were pleased to see a couple of bees on the Ragwort. The male Red-tailed Bumblebee above was the first of its kind I had seen for some weeks. 

We looked hard in case there were any Cinnabar larvae, but there was no sign today of the distinctive stripy caterpillars.

We found a new track that ran between swathes of thistles and long grass, and looked ideal for insects.

I came across the name of this yellow daisy-like flower very recently, but find I have forgotten it. Please feel free to leave a comment if you know. (Update: 24 August. My thanks to Conehead54, who tells me it is Common Fleabane). 

All in all David counted the four Holly Blues, four Speckled Wood, forty-six Small Whites, one Red Admiral and one Comma... in addition to the butterfly you see in the photo above. I had thought it was a faded Gatekeeper and that its 'second' white spots had failed to show, but I'm pretty sure it is a Meadow Brown.  

Comma, underside

 You can see the white 'comma' quite clearly on the underwing of the butterfly above.

The same Comma

When we eventually found a Red Admiral, it was perching with its wings closed. I waited and waited, and in my haste to catch the moment when the wings opened, I cut off the antennae in my shot: what a shame. 

I believe I have mentioned before that the footpath passes beside a barley field. As you can see the grain is ripening well. Barley always reminds me of the west wind in the song by Sting.

We are halfway through a fascinating documentary by writer, naturalist and poet, Helen Macdonald, about urban wildlife around the M25. The diversity not only of species but also of habitat is astonishing in this very busy area that circumnavigates London. 

Our current 'exercise spot' here in Suffolk hardly bears any resemblance to the M25 and yet it is a place adjacent to the port of Felixstowe with goods trains, bulging with containers, bustling to and fro at frequent intervals. The port is in fact Britain’s busiest container port, and one of the largest in Europe.

Industry sandwiched between trees and hedges

Given how close the barley field footpath is to such a hub of heavy industry, we have been delighted to discover a healthy diversity of species over the last few weeks. Slightly to our surprise (given how few butterflies are showing in the garden right now), it was satisfying to find good numbers of butterflies on the wing this afternoon, but there are definitely signs that the season is changing...

Friday 21 August 2020

A Long-Awaited Afternoon at the Beach

Knowing that Storm Ellen was on the way, we decided to make our way towards one of the less visited stretches of the Suffolk coast yesterday afternoon in the hope that even in August it would feel 'safe' to enjoy a couple of hours by the sea. My shielding only 'paused' at the start of August, so we are trying to tread pretty cautiously. As we approached the entrance passage that leads to the shore, we were horrified at the number of cars and decided that we would turn round once I had glimpsed the waves. However, the final car park was pretty empty so we thought we could at least afford to experiment. We were so glad that we persevered as a long empty stretch of shingle lay before us. Perfect!

Most of the blooms were past their best, but there were still a few flowers on the clumps of Campion.

The shore was dotted with Sea Kale...

...and I noticed the occasional shell. 

 Viper's Bugloss was still in flower further up the beach, though I didn't notice any bees.

We came across one very small mermaid's purse

 I always enjoy seeing the bright yellow flowers of the Horned Poppy...

... and the rare Sea Pea (this time with pods!).

I failed to get a sharp photo, but you may be able to see the spindly creature (Spider or Harvestman or something else?) making its way over the pebbles.

There are several Martello Towers along this stretch of coastline, dating from the Napoleonic era. In a guidebook by Brian and Mollie Skipper, it seems the name comes from a similar tower at Mortello Point on Corsica. Centuries before these towers were constructed, the Romans fortified parts of the east and south coasts of Britain with a series of castles and forts, known collectively as the Roman forts of the Saxon Shore. The remains of Walton Castle in the Felixstowe area are hard to trace, but there is a delightful 18th century watercolour here. Other Roman forts in the Saxon Shore line of defence were constructed in what is now Norfolk (the walls at Burgh Castle are impressive), Essex, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire (Portchester Castle is well worth a visit).  

There was a small bird on the path ahead of us... Unfortunately we were looking into the sun, so the photos are not very helpful in terms of seeing what it is.

The bill suggests 'finch' to me.

We sometimes see Meadow Pipits here, but this ID doesn't seem quite right.

Suddenly we had an avian flypast. This may be a flock of migrants.

We definitely saw a male Stonechat on a post, and we think we were watching a Kestrel on a distant wire. This bird in the photo above alighted on a different post: does it look like a Wheatear to you? After a lockdown summer in which I have been largely confined to base, my bird ID skills seem mostly restricted to the regulars who come to the coconut fatballs in our suburban garden!

The photo above is once again a very poor one, but my zoom was stretched to its limit. I wanted to post the photo anyway because the lie of the land (or I should say 'sea') has been radically altered since we were here last, just before lockdown.

We are looking across or along to Orfordness where, up until very recently, the view was dominated by the iconic red and white stripes of the Orfordness Lighthouse (see next two photos: how I wish I had taken more from Orford Quay).

Orfordness Lighthouse, taken from Orford Quay, 2011

Orfordness Lighthouse taken from Shingle Street, 2016

Orford Ness is, by all accounts, a very strange place. I have looked across at it many times, but have never set foot on its stony ground. The National Trust, who care for this strip of land, describe it as a place that saw a '70-year period of intense military experimentation'. As I was looking at this shingle spit yesterday through the lenses of my camera and binoculars, my thoughts turned to the bleakest, most unsettling book I have read this year, Ness, by Robert Macfarlane, with illustrations by Stanley Donwood. The volume is what Andrew Motion, reviewing it for The Guardian, describes as a 'freewheeling prose-poem' with 'metaphorical' implications. As I read Ness, I was reminded of The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster, a short story that was a set-text for my English Literature O level in the 1970s. Both books, it seems to me, send more than a shudder down the spine as they make us question our relationship with the natural world (and with the ever-encroaching world of technology).

Air to breathe...

...and space in which to stand and stare.

Orfordness Lighthouse in the press...

Back in 2013 I saw the writing on the wall and wrote a short poem the following year, subsequently published in Reach Poetry (Indigo Dreams) #188, about the lighthouse and its place on our exposed Suffolk coast:

Lighthouse Closure, 2013

Bands of red and white still cling
limpet-like to their deserted shell.

East coast waves arc in rainbows
over the Ness with a tale to tell.

The time for the turning of keys
has gone; gulls bid a fond farewell.

Yet up the coast there are those
who fear the rasp of a buried bell.

Footprints fade as the tide returns
and a small boat tackles the swell.

No more beams in a stormy sky,
just a star and a distant knell.

© Caroline Gill, 2014

* * * 


Sincere thanks to Ragged Robin and Conehead54 for their observations, additions and corrections. I can't believe I failed to consider the Wheatear's salient ID feature! As I say, my focus since lockdown has been on one small habitat - the garden. As for the bird on the path, Linnet was not a species we considered, though it makes good sense. What a shame I wasn't a few metres down the track so could have watched with the sun behind me... We saw that Whinchats were listed among recent sightings so this fits well. I'm very grateful to you both for your help.