Tuesday, July 28, 2009

King's Wood, Heath & Reach

King's Wood, Heath & Reach, is an ancient woodland bursting with life close to the A5 between Woburn & Leighton Buzzard. I've visited it a few times recently, hoping to see one of the dramatic Purple Emperor butterflies that have been reported.

O.K., so I'm cheating. This is a Lesser Purple Emperor that was enjoying my baguette during a family holiday in the Dordogne, France, a few years ago. I've 'dipped' on the Beds Purple Emperors each time I've been to King's Wood, and Chicksands Wood near Clophill. This has become a quest...I will see one...one day!

This Muntjac was sussing me out from further up the ride.

There were hundreds of other butterflies around: Peacocks; Ringlets; Gatekeepers; Meadow Browns; Purple Hairstreaks; Large, Small & Green-veined Whites; Large, Small & Essex Skippers; Speckled Woods; Commas; and a single each of Brimstone, Common Blue and White Admiral. I can't begin to describe the effect of hundreds of Painted Ladies, like this one, flying up from my feet and darting about everywhere - they are the next generation of the millions of Painted Ladies that migrated to the UK from the Atlas Mountains in northern Africa earlier this year.

There were 3 young Common Lizards sunning themselves on a fallen branch - this one looks like it's had to discard the end of its tail to escape an unknown predator!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ampthill Park

The Dedication Service for Katherine's Cross following its recent restoration was a typical Ampthill affair this morning, and it was a joy to be present. I wonder how Queen Katherine would have felt about a Baptist doing the Bible reading...and singing Greensleeves - a hymn composed by Henry VIII arising from his passion for Anne Boleyn!! After spending some time learning more about the archaeological dig and viewing some of the fascinating items unearthed, I had another look at the plants on the south-facing sandy bank next to the cricket club:

I've spent a couple of sessions doing a plant survey over the past week or two...and discovered an amazing 68 species...if I'd have started this at the beginning of the year the list would probably comprise more than 100 species! It would be great if we could make a feature of this. Here's my list in full:

Silver Birch; Common Nettle; Redshank; Knotgrass; Black Bindweed; Sheep Sorrel; Broad-leaved Dock; Curled Dock; Fat Hen; Many-seeded Goosefoot; Lesser Stitchwort; Common Mouse-ear; White Campion; Creeping Buttercup; Common Poppy; Hedge Mustard; Weld; Dog Rose; Bramble; Creeping Cinquefoil; Hairy Tare; Black Medick; Birds-foot Trefoil; Red Clover; White Clover; Haresfoot Clover; Common Storksbill; Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill; Musk Mallow; Common Mallow; Field Pansy; Rosebay Willowherb; Hoary Willowherb; Hemlock; Selfheal; Red Dead-nettle; Hedge Woundwort; Great Mullein; Ribwort Plantain; Scentless Mayweed; Yarrow; Common Ragwort; Groundsel; Common Fleabane; Creeping Thistle; Spear Thistle; Prickly Sowthistle; Prickly Lettuce; Nipplewort; Dandelion; Common Catsear;Smooth Hawksbeard; Bristly Ox-tongue; Perennial Rye-Grass; Annual Meadow Grass; Cocksfoot; False Oat-grass; Tufted Hair Grass (tbc – wrong soil type); Wavy Hair-grass; Sweet Vernal Grass; Yorkshire Fog; Common Bent; Meadow Foxtail; Hairy Sedge; Sedge sp.;
Soft Rush; Jointed Rush; Field Horsetail.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Maulden Wood

After a busy morning, I found myself close to Maulden Wood at lunchtime, so I went for a wander. I was hoping to find some adders, but the hot sunshine had presumably sent them into deeper cover. I did find this sloughed skin, though.

There was no problem at all finding butterflies - they were everywhere: Marbled White; Green-veined White; Large White; Small White; Common Blue; Small Copper; Comma; Large Skipper; Meadow Brown; Red Admiral; Peacock; Small Tortoiseshell; Painted Lady...and these amorous Gatekeepers!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ampthill Park

I had another wander across to the archaeological dig this afternoon. Things are slowly progressing, and it’s certainly fascinating, though I think the site is posing as many questions as answers for those trying to interpret the evidence being uncovered, as is often the way with these kinds of things!

This is the trench nearest the West Car Park. There is a line of rubble at the northern end: a dump following the dismantling of the palace? Or part of a roadway to it? The lumps behind the gentleman’s left shoulder are clods of clay from the Vale: a foundation for some building? Looking at this photo, you will see another trench to the north of this one and in a line with Katherine's Cross....

...this is the trench that I spent a morning digging in a week ago. It’s now basically completed. There’s a ditch running through it – and you can just see the hearth at the bottom where something was burned…rubbish of some kind? There is a small clinker pit in the far left-hand corner which we discovered last week. It contained slag and bits of iron. Does it date to the First World War era?

There certainly seems to be a lot of activity in this pit, which may very well date back to that time. Notice the grey soil in the top right-hand corner of the pit. This consists of a lot of ash…evidence of smelting during the First World War? Then, there have been a lot of Tudor-period roof-tiles found which are piled up on the edge…and some Tudor brickwork of some kind on the floor…but does the structure date from that time, or is it re-constituted stone? There’s also a lot of white chalk around, which may have been used as a sub-layer to a floor.

The most easterly trench is fascinating. A few bits of Tudor green-glaze pottery have been found here. The darker soil running down the centre indicates what may have been the site of a kitchen range which was begun…laid out with timbers to the design….but never completed. But the activity ‘puddled’ the soil which has caused it to retain its moisture, leading to a line of greener grass that continues right down to the western side of the memorial.

I may not have got all the facts right here, so take them with a pinch of salt, but it’s obviously complicated because of the discovery of a lot of relatively recent, though interesting, activity. And there’s a lot of debate going on by those in the know as to what, exactly, the axis of the Tudor palace is, for which we have the stylised plans! Whatever happens in the next few days as the dig draws to a close, it looks like the site invites further investigation in the future - let's hope it's not the far-distant future!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Chandos Road, Ampthill

Mark and I went to a late showing of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in MK last night. At gone 2am this morning we made our way through the Woburn Abbey Deer Park which led to some fascinating images of deer in the headlights. Back at home I checked out the moth trap and was excited to discover my first Poplar Hawkmoth for the garden clinging to the side. When I examined the trap this morning, I found that there was also an Elephant Hawkmoth, and a worn Privet Hawkmoth, too!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ampthill Park

This is a poor photo, but I thought it was worth a shot, because it was my 50th hoverfly species in Ampthill Park - Scaeva pyrastri...and it was feeding on my 293rd plant species - Musk Mallow!

Scaeva pyrastri is one of my favourite hoverflies - big & bold. It's believed that most of them are migrants from the Continent.

And this is one of my favourite butterflies: the Small Copper. It's quite common in the Park. This is the form caeruleo-punctata, marked out by the tiny iridescent-blue spots at the bottom edge of each hind-wing.

This fungus was out of reach, some 15m or so above the ground, in an old pine tree. It's hard to work out what it is from that distance!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ampthill Park

Many of the Common Ragwort plants in Ampthill Park are being decimated by these voracious brightly-coloured beasties at the moment. They are the larvae of the Cinnabar Moth (see 28th June post). It's well known that Ragwort causes destructive liver damage in horses and cattle when consumed in reasonable quantities. The animals will only eat them in the field if they're all but starving, but they can't detect the plant when it's been dried and incorporated in hay. The damage is caused by the presence of poisonous pyrrolidizine alkaloids. The great news for these caterpillars is that they are immune to these toxins which accumulate in their tissues as they devour their host plant. It means that many potential predators are going to give them a wide berth, which begs the question....when a single female Cinnabar Moth can lay up to 300 eggs, what is eating them? Why are we not being over-run by plagues of the things? Answers on a postcard.....!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ampthill Park

I hope you don't mind me going 'off-piste' for a post...from natural history to archaeological history, in fact! It's always been known that there used to be a castle in Ampthill Park, most famous for the time when Katherine of Aragon was residing/being detained (!) there whilst her divorce to King Henry VIII was being finalised down the road at Dunstable Priory. But there never have been any archaeological excavations of the shovel & trowel (& JCB) variety carried out to confirm just what this castle/palace looked like. So there's a lot of excitement in Ampthill at the moment as a team started digging 4 trenches this week, an excavation that will culminate on Ampthill's bi-annual Aragon Day a week on Saturday. The funding includes a local community element, and I took the opportunity to volunteer a few hours this morning.

I was really excited at what we might find. Yesterday the stonework above was uncovered...probably a bit of late medieval doodling!

During this early part of the dig, we focused on an area in what was probably the inner courtyard of the castle. This was my 'tray' after a mornings work. The items in the main consist of half a cow!!

But this little piece of pottery was fascinating. I unearthed it in the bottom of the trench and, at first glance, it's believed to be the bottom of a pottery vessel of some kind, probably the sort that was used to bring wine from the Rhineland in the late 16th/early 17th century! Wow, Indiana Jones eat your heart out!

I can't wait to see what turns up, and I'll try to go over the Park when I can to catch up with the progress of the dig. There will be an on-site talk each day at 4pm by one of the archaeologists, but they don't mind anyone wandering up and asking questions. So do visit if you can find the time.

What I'm hoping for is concrete evidence for a castle on site that goes right back to Norman times...here's hoping!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Flitwick Tescos.

Common Broomrape (Orobanche minor) is not that common in Bedfordshire...at least it's not commonly found, though I guess a number of plants are probably hidden away under the foliage of any taller plants in the immediate vicinity. It's a parasitic plant and 'plugs in' to the roots of clovers and other herbaceous plants in order to extract various nutrients. There is quite a show of the plant in one of the car park flower beds at Tesco's in Flitwick. It's been there for a few years and there were at least 50 specimens - probably a lot more - when I looked late this afternoon after taking my son to tennis. It's a good idea to look out for Waxwings in supermarket car parks in the winter....but Common Broomrape in the summer is not a bad find, either!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Maulden Wood

I went for a walk from Green End to the meadows west of the 'Round House' early this evening.

There are a lot of Ringlet butterflies around now. As they flutter past they look a lot darker than the Meadow Browns. Other butterflies seen were Small Heath, Large Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral.

The Marmalade Hoverflies (Episyrphus balteatus) have been out in force in the sunshine this week. I love the colours of this female against the delicate pinks and whites of the Field Bindweed.

This balloon race remnant was the only bit of rubbish on a mammal path through the centre of a field...an ideal location for a local Fox to advertise his presence!

Can you spot two owls on this Green End roof? The owner obviously has a thing about owls. Interestingly, a real Tawny Owl was calling as I noticed them!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Maulden Wood & Chandos Road, Ampthill.

Last night I joined Andy & Melissa Banthorpe, who were running 3 lights in the southern half of Maulden Woods. Any people with mottephobia - a real fear of moths - just wouldn't have coped, because there were so many flying around, let alone those settled on the sheet or in the traps. They were landing in our hair, fluttering in our ears....and I even managed to swallow a few! But what a fantastic evening as one species after another made an appearance.

Andy & Melissa reckon that it will beat their previous best ever night, when they managed a haul of some 123 separate species! My favourite was the Pine Hawkmoth - my 9th Hawkmoth species, but there were plenty of others with that special something, too: the wonderful green hue of the Large Emerald, for instance, or some of the tiny bright golden micros! And then there was the strange Leopard Moth that suddenly appeared and took our breath away. I took him home to get a photo.....

...only to find two in my own back garden moth-trap!!

What a fantastic creature! Mind you, so is a Bullfinch and, like a Bullfinch, the Leopard Moth is not appreciated by people who like their fruit trees, because the larvae of this moth will spend a few years chomping its way down the middle of an apple or pear branch, both weakening it and making it more susceptible to disease.

But we haven't got any fruit trees in our garden, and these beauties are welcome to pop by anytime!

UPDATE: 159 moths confirmed from Maulden Wood so far, with 5 yet to be identified (I was fortunate to see most of these)!!! The list looks something like this:

16 Gold Swift 1
130 Incurvaria masculella 1
161 Leopard Moth 1
246 Tinea semifulvella 1
410 Argyresthia brockeella 1
411 Argyresthia goedartella 1
415 Argyresthia retinella 1
417 Argyresthia spinosella 1
420 Argyresthia pruniella 1
424 Yponomeuta evonymella 2
442 Cedestis gysseleniella 1
462 Ypsolopha sequella 2
464 Diamond-back Moth 5
640 Batia lunaris 1
642 Batia unitella 2
658 Carcina quercana 2
688 Agonopterix heracliana 1
756 Parachronistis albiceps 1
765 Teleiodes vulgella 1
774 Teleiodes luculella 1
874 Blastobasis lacticolella 1
925 Phtheochroa rugosana 1
946 Aethes rubigana 1
966 Cochylis atricapitana 2
970 Pandemis cerasana 2
972 Pandemis heperana 1
977 Archips podana 1
980 Archips xylosteana 1
987 Ptycholomoides aeriferanus 1
1001 Lozotaenoides formosanus 10
1010 Ditula angustiorana 1
1032 Aleimma loeflingiana 20
1036 Acleris forsskaleana 1
1076 Celypha lacunana 1
1082 Hedya pruniana 1
1083 Hedya nubiferana 1
1169 Gypsonoma dealbana 1
1175 Epiblema uddmanniana 5
1200 Eucosma hohenwartiana 1
1201 Eucosma cana 5
1205 Spilonota ocellana 1
1211 Rhyacionia pinicolana 5
1272 Pammene aurana 2
1293 Chrysoteuchia culmella 10
1334 Scoparia Ambigualis 10
1345 Brown China-mark 5
1376 Small Magpie 5
1377 Perinephela lancealis 1
1390 Udea prunalis 1
1392 Udea olivalis 2
1405 Mother of Pearl 10
1413 Gold Triangle 2
1428 Bee Moth 1
1436 Conobathra repandana 2
1495 Marasmarcha lunadactyla 1
1513 White Plume Moth 1
1640 The Drinker 1
1647 Barred Hook-tip 1
1648 Pebble Hook-tip 1
1652 Peach Blossom 25
1653 Buff Arches 30
1655 Poplar Lutestring 1
1657 Common Lutestring 4
1666 Large Emerald 5
1667 Blotched Emerald 1
1669 Common Emerald 10
1681 Clay Triple-lines 30
1682 Blood-vein 2
1702 Small Fan-footed Wave 5
1708 Single-dotted Wave 1
1713 Riband Wave 30
1726 Large Twin-spot Carpet 10
1727 Silver-ground Carpet 1
1758 Barred Straw 1
1765 Barred Yellow 2
1768 Grey Pine Carpet 3
1784 Pretty Chalk Carpet 1
1791 Brown Scallop 2
1792 Dark Umber 1
1803 Small Rivulet 2
1811 Slender Pug 1 dissected
1816 Toadflax Pug 1
1819 Mottled Pug 2 dissected
1830 Wormwood Pug 1 dissected
1837 Grey Pug 1 dissected
1856 Larch Pug 2 dissected
1858 V-pug 8
1859 Sloe Pug 2
1860 Green Pug 1
1862 Double-striped Pug 2
1874 Dingy Shell 1
1876 Small Yellow Wave 3
1887 Clouded Border 3
1893 Tawny-barred Angle 20
1902 Brown Silver-line 5
1906 Brimstone Moth 5
1922 Swallow-tailed Moth 1
1931 Peppered Moth 8
1937 Willow Beauty 2
1941 Mottled Beauty 30
1944 Pale Oak Beauty 1
1947 The Engrailed 2
1950 Brindled White-spot 1
1954 Bordered White 5
1955 Common White Wave 5
1956 Common Wave 1
1958 Clouded Silver 3
1961 Light Emerald 5
1962 Barred Red 5
1978 Pine Hawk-moth 1
1991 Elephant Hawk-moth 1
1994 Buff-tip 7
2009 Maple Prominent 25
2030 Yellow-tail 2
2037 Rosy Footman 20
2044 Dingy Footman 5
2047 Scarce Footman 2
2049 Buff Footman 2
2050 Common Footman 1
2061 Buff Ermine 2
2088 Heart & Club 2
2098 The Flame 2
2102 Flame Shoulder 2
2107 Large Yellow Underwing 2
2120 Ingrailed Clay 2
2128 Double Square-spot 5
2150 Grey Arches 4
2155 Dot Moth 1
2160 Bright-line Brown-eye 2
2192 Brown-line Bright-eye 1
2198 Smoky Wainscot 5
2278 Poplar Grey 1
2279 The Sycamore 1
2280 Miller 1
2284 Grey Dagger 1 gen checked on male
2301 Bird's Wing 1
2302 Brown Rustic 5
2305 Small Angle-shades 1
2318 The Dun-bar 1
2319 Lunar-spotted Pinion 1
2321 Dark Arches 5
2326 Clouded-bordered Brindle 1
2330 Dusky Brocade 1
2337 Oligia strigilis agg. 5
2341 Cloaked Minor 1
2349 Mere Wainscot 1
2381 The Uncertain 5
2387 Mottled Rustic 5
2410 Marbled White Spot 10
2423 Oak Nycteoline 4
2425 Nut-tree Tussock 2
2441 Silver Y 1
2442 Beautiful Golden Y 1
2466 The Blackneck 1
2473 Beautiful Hook-tip 3
2474 Straw Dot 3
2477 The Snout 2
2489 Fan-foot 2
2492 Small Fan-foot 5


Chandos Road, Ampthill.

I know that there have been a lot of posts on this Blog concerning moths over the past few weeks. I was given a free moth-trap after agreeing to take part in the Garden Moth Scheme. I record the moths caught every Thursday evening and the results are collated with those of hundreds of other amateur enthusiasts across the country. I've also been putting the moth-trap out on other nights and attending various events so that I can learn as much as I can. The exciting thing is that you never know what's going to turn up. Last night at Maulden Wood was a case in point (see above)...and there were other goodies like a Southern Hawker dragonfly and Volucella pellucens hoverfly attracted to the lights, too!

But the star of the night at Chandos Road turns out to have been this relatively non-descript creature...

If the Leopard Moth (above) is the equivalent of the avian Bullfinch, then this is Lepidoptera's equivalent of the Garden Warbler...the fact that there's not many defining features goes a long way to defining it!

It's a Fen Wainscot and, much to my amazement, it turns out to be a scarce species and is only the 15th record in Bedfordshire!

And to think that I almost didn't bother to try and identify it!!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Firs Lower School, Ampthill.

Thankfully, the moth trap at The Firs contained a number of moth species this morning, though not the Hawkmoths - with their 'wow' factor - that I had been hoping for. But the 'wow' factor was definitely there, nevertheless. I had planned to spend an hour or so at the school to show the catch to any children who happened to be around, but Sue, the Assistant Head, asked if I'd mind all the classes coming to see them. So I set up in one of the empty classrooms and spent the next 4 hours or so entertaining one group after another. They all loved the Buff-tip perched on the end of my finger ("It's a stick with legs!"), and I was really encouraged by how easily they picked up the significance of the patterning of Peppered Moths, both now and in the grimy days of the Industrial Revolution.

After doing a few visits this afternoon I crashed out - teachers have my total respect for doing this day after day...but it was great to witness the fascinated faces as they passed the pots around containing the various species, and I can't wait to do it again!

Species List: Riband Wave (5); Common Footman (2) ("It looks like a seed"); Silver Y; Buff-tip (2); The Flame (2); Pug (1); Grass Veneer (5); Peppered (2); Grey Dagger; Heart & Dart (3); Dot ("It looks like a bird has pooed on the wing!"); Mottled Beauty; Emmelina monodactyla; Miller; Dark Arches (3); Uncertain (2); Large Yellow Underwing; Coxcomb Prominent; Dunbar.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ampthill - dusk.

Having told Carole that, 'how I Exercise is as important as what I Eat when it comes to losing a bit of weight', I thought I'd better practice what I preach and went for a dusk walk around the Ampthill area.

Lots of Chafers were blundering about just above the tree-tops and a male Kestrel was catching them in mid-flight just a few metres away from where I was standing. The pitiful scream of a rabbit signalled its demise...almost certainly supper for one of the local stoats. A heron was calling close by.

I stopped off at a Badger sett that I'd discovered a few months ago to see if there was any sign of activity. Within a couple of minutes the familiar white blaze appeared as a large Badger left its home and trundled up the hill, returning about 10 minutes later.

There were lots of moths flying about as I made my way home. I've left the trap over The Firs Lower School this evening. Hopefully there'll be lots of exciting moths to show the children in the morning.