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From the Clifftop and East Guldeford Levels

Yesterday was a bit of a write-off-windy and rainy with hardly any seabirds and no chance of any moths for a few days. After a wild clifftop night, the wind lessened and birds were back on the sea. The first thing I saw through the scope was a Great Skua eating something on the sea, watched by several GBB Gulls and Kittiwakes, I've had a few sightings of these [or this] recently. An hour or so produced totals of 24 Brents east, 27 auks, 27 Gannets, just 2 Red-throated Divers and a lone Common Scoter.

After this I went over to the Levels for one of the quietest visits ever- March doldrums ! Although the stubble field that has provided most interest has now been ploughed, there were still 25 Corn Buntings and 25 Tree Sparrows in the bushes there, but I saw little else of note; all the Lapwings and Golden Plovers seem to have gone' though 400 Starlings was a good count. as was 20 GBB Gulls.

An hours watch from the clifftop in the evening finally delivered my first 3 Sandwich Terns-they have been regularly seen at Dungeness for some time, but not by me, these just scraped in as my earliest ever. Also 70 Black-headed Gulls and 1 Med Gull east


More on Colletes cunicularius at Galley Hill

Went back to Galley Hill yesterday to check on the Colletes cunicularius and get some more data especially due to the unusual time of emergence and habitat compared to most populations of this species in Britain including the nearby population at Rye Harbour (discovered by Chris Bentley).

There are a number of made up common names for this species, the one I prefer is spring plasterer bee as it is most descriptive. Colletes produce a gland secretion that the females, using their short bilobed tongue, line their underground brood cells with which dries into a natural polyester. And C.cunicularius emerges in spring (April-May) unlike most other species of Colletes which are on the wing later in the year (June-November).

At least six nests were found right at the top of the landslip spoil in a discrete line adjacent to the landslip scar. Roughly 30-40 males were patrolling the cliff above the nests occasionally investigating holes looking for females. Hundreds of Andrena thoracica (cliff mining bee) males were also on the wing in the same area, as well as smaller numbers of Andrena flavipes (yellow-legged mining bee), Lasioglossum malachurum (sharp-collared furrow bee) and Anthophora plumipes (hairy-footed flower bee).

The most interesting information gained though was a record of two Colletes females at Petasites fragrans (winter heliotrope) flowers on the adjacent railway sidings with bright white pollen loads. Dozens of female Andrena thoracica and smaller numbers of female Andrena flavipes were also foraging from this pollen resource. It is interesting to note that only the male flowers of this dioecious plant, introduced and naturalised from the Mediterranean, are known in Britain.

Dense rhizomatous Petasites fragrans growth on Galley Hill railway siding.

British populations of C.cunicularius are usually associated with loose sand nesting habitats and Salix pollen, especially those in north-west England and Wales. The population at Galley Hill adds further evidence that the recent colonisation in south-east England is most likely from continental populations of the species which are much more widely polylectic (collect pollen from a wide range of plants).

As well as the bees there were many other insects on the wing including dozens of green tiger beetles. The undercliff at Galley Hill supports a large population of this beetle and is usually only seen in numbers like this in early April.

Andy Phillips

(Photos by Andy Phillips and Ian Phillips)




From the Clifftop

Another glorious morning. Despite the night-time chill, 10 moths were in my Fairlight moth trap this morning, including this Early Moth, which was not just new for the garden, but the first one I've ever seen. A bit brown though !

Also things were going on at sea, in two hours till 8.45 200 Brent Geese departed to the east, 5 Mediterranean Gulls arrived from the West, and a Great Skua flew East. At one point there were 61 Red-throated Divers on the sea, these moved east and others landed from the west, 100 all told at least, so plenty of fish around. 5 Common Scoters were also on the sea, 12 auks flew east and a Peregrine appeared briefly.


Monthly Beach Clean

The next monthly beach clean at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is this Wednesday 27th February at 10am.

Hopefully the glorious sunshine will hold and we can enjoy seeing some of the spring migrants arriving whilst walking, chatting and removing litter from the beach.

Meet at the Rye Harbour car park at 10am. Finish around 12noon, refreshments provided.


Clifftop Moths

Moth trapping in winter is hard work, lots of electricity consumed during the long nights for little result. Still, I've given it a go occasionally and have caught a very modest five species so far this year, four of these today .

These were March Moth [pictured], Common Quaker, Dotted Border and The Chestnut; yesterday an Early Grey. It's a pity the warm temperatures we are all enjoying the moment quickly dissipate at night.