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From the Clifftop

The last few days have seen good numbers of moths in my Fairlight trap; over 60 a couple of nights ago included Common Quakers -which make up most of the catch, Small Quakers and a Powdered Quaker-not caught many of those in Sussex before, likewise another Red Chestnut. The house list now stands at 293 since May 23rd last year, so I should get 300 in a year..

Bird passage has been slight, despite a promising  line of 30 Pintails heading east on Thursday evening; a two hour watch this morning produced just a trickle of birds heading east, though one of the wintering Great Skuas went the other way.


Spring Bees at Great Dixter

We've been carrying out a full invertebrate survey of Great Dixter Gardens & Estate. A few preliminary surveys to define survey areas were carried out last autumn and in about 200 species recorded 42% were pollinators. Great Dixter, which is managed by Head Gardener Fergus Garrett, is a shining example of how horticulture and nature conservation can go hand in hand especially for insect pollinators.

So far in March this year we have already recorded seven species of bumblebee on the wing including two Bombus hypnorum queens, one in the gardens and one in Weights Wood. All the Bombus terrestris queens seen in early March have now been replaced with workers indicating most of the buff-tailed bumblebee nests are up and running. Bombus pratorum queens can be seen looking for nest sites in some of the old walls around the gardens.

Solitary bees are also out in force with the most important an Andrena gravida female found in the Orchard. This is a nationally rare species of bee with most recent records from the Hastings/Rye/Tunbridge Wells region. Nesting in the old wall bordering the top of the Orchard are dozens of Lasioglossum smeathmanellum a tiny metallic green bee, and Anthophora plumipes (hairy-footed flower bee). Males of this large solitary bee were seen patrolling flower-beds in the gardens looking for females.

In Weights Wood, a coppice woodland part of the Great Dixter Estate, there is also much bee activity including Andrena clarkella and the hawthorn mining bee Andrena chrysosceles. A few scattered nests of this species were present in sunny grassy paths around the recently coppiced areas with males seen patrolling the paths. Other species on the wing included Andrena minutula, Lasioglossum zonulum, Nomada fabriciana and Nomada leucophthalma.

But the most conspicuous insect on the wing over the last few days has been the bee-fly Bombylius major, a parasite of mining bees. A large emergence of this fly in Weights Wood and in the gardens was evident early in the week. (Photo below by Ian Phillips)

Andy Phillips

Consultant Ecologist, Professional Entomologist, Arachnologist & Ornithologist.


Rye Harbour Moths (and some other stuff)

Unlike Alan's moth trap which is 'starting to deliver', the Lime Kiln trap is definitely 'snail mail' at the moment, with only four moths of three species (plus an unidentifed micro) this morning, with two small quaker, a common quaker and a double-striped pug. I have largely left the pugs alone, most of them being the lepidopteran equivalent of little brown jobs, or as I like to think 'I'll pretend I didn't see that one', but this boldly marked critter is fairly easy. Elsewhere on the reserve, insect sightings have included my first red admiral of the year and queens of buff-tailed bumblebee and garden bumblebee, also new to the year list. The latter was feeding on a bed of white dead-nettle, an important nectar source for recently emerged queens, and I don't think I've had many, if any, earlier in the year in the past. 


Back to the Clifftop-and off to Dungeness

We've been away in Northern India for two weeks or so, loads of birds but not a lot of sea there, so the Clifftop was a nice change. Spring has arrived while we were away-Chiffchaffs singing around the house and a Wheatear on the fence on Tuesday . The moth trap has started to deliver too, with 24 moths of 6 species yesterday, including a Red Chestnut and a Double Striped Pug.

After that, a visit to Dungeness produced a few spring firsts for me: Swallow at Scotney, Sedge Warblers on the reserve and Sandwich Terns passing. Best however was this Garganey, which swam out right in front of us as we scoped the furthest reaches of Cook's Pool [photo Peter Maton].

A couple of the usual suspects too-the male Ring-necked Duck displaying to a female Tufted, and a Long Eared Owl in full view


Golden Plover breeding plumage

The daytime roosting Golden Plovers at Rye Harbour are usually between the 2 hides at Ternery Pool and at high tide have Oystercatchers and Sandwich Terns for company. Numbers are falling as they depart for breeding further north, today just 40, but most getting their breeding plumage... be quick as they'll probably all be gone in two weeks!