Wednesday, 26 May 2021

More invert action

Sometimes, just a nose about locally is all it takes to produce the goods. After a morning of gardening I took myself off to check Banstead Downs for Striped Shieldbug (above). I didn't find them where I have had success before, but did come across three individuals within 3m of each other at a new site (TQ2664260543) some 500m south of the original Freedown Lane colony. 

I also came across Lixus iridis (above) at four sites, all shown on the map below. Each of these areas are open in character with a heavy ground vegetation. The weevil seems to like Hogweed. Today, all three Striped Shieldbugs were on Bramble.

Apart from the Striped I also recorded Brassica, Dock, Hairy and, best of all, Woundwort Shieldbug (below), my favourite - just like delicate precious jewels. The chances are, if you are in the Banstead, Wallington, Chipstead, Coulsden or Croydon areas, a check of any stand of Hogweed might provide you with either of these colonising inverts. That's my summer sorted out then...

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Colley potter

Looking across the chalk pit to the scarp slope of Colley Hill

Colley potter - sounds like a BBC1 Sunday evening family drama, doesn’t it? However, it just describes my afternoon, spent climbing up and down the steep, south-facing scarp slope of Colley Hill, together with a side trip (on foot) to the cricket pitch on Reigate Heath. It was yet another cool and blustery day, although thankfully lacking the heavy rain showers of recent days. The footpaths have become muddy again and insect life was depressed, with barely a butterfly to look at. Botanically it seems as if many species are late in flowering, certainly the carpet of flowers that is to be expected on chalk down land is so far missing. I know it’s boring because I’ve banged on about it frequently this Spring, but the lot of the dry inland birder is, at the moment, one of few birds. My scanning of the skies from the hill top just underlined how little is out there, with very little bird song and very few migrants. Thankfully I can turn my attention to other life forms - both Annual Knawel (below) and Bird's-foot (middle) were on the short sward of Reigate Heath (bottom). The Bird's-foot was profuse.




At the bottom of the slope I came across a single plant of Green Hound's-tongue, a rare flower of limited range in England. Although I have seen colonies of several thousand in Surrey, this is the furthest east that I have seen one in the county.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Vegetated verges

Roadside verges can be a rich source for recording wild flowers. Here in Banstead we are lucky enough to be in an area where the housing planners of the 1930s considered that green spaces were advantageous to residents - thus we have many grassy strips that are allowed to grow (largely) unchecked - mainly due to council cutbacks that do not stretch to frequent mowing. A ten-minute walk from home provided me with 60 species of wild flower utilising these areas. Although this morning's list was not populated by anything surprising, I have found Common Broomrape, Small Toadflax, Pignut, Blue Fleabane, Pyramidal Orchid and Bee Orchid on these Banstead verges in the past. The underlying ground is chalk, so it is quite usual to find plants that would usually be associated with calcareous grassland on these suburban havens.

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Past few days

My 'birding spring' seems to have already morphed into an 'insect summer'. I can't say I'm too bothered about it as the local birding has not been all that productive over the past few weeks (for me, anyway). Avian highlights this week have been a migrating Hobby along the scarp at Colley Hill (watched it arrive from a mile-away, dead straight line, east to west) and a singing Firecrest on Banstead Downs, where I have only seen wintering birds in the past.

The image above may not appear to have any wildlife merit, yet it is here that both Striped Shieldbug and the giant weevil Lixus iridis is to be found here. I have failed to locate the former so far in 2021, but the latter are easy to find, double-figure counts achievable without the need of sweeping or beating the vegetation. A good selection of inverts are also present, and really bolster this flagging birder's mind. A few highlights below. I have found in the past that when I switch off from the birds they often come and find me - last year, on June 1st, I had the pleasure of a Bee-eater calling overhead just a couple of miles from home. As much as I don't expect a repeat performance this year, I am quite happy to receive any similar luck if it's going...

Lixus iridis

Hairy Shieldbug

Rhopalus subrufus

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Invert interlude

A morning that started as a search of the many horse paddocks to the north of Banstead (which failed to yield the hoped for chats and wagtails) and ended up as a successful hunt for invertebrates, mainly due to my checking of the Lixus iridis Banstead Downs location. To the uninitiated, this is a rare, southern-European species of weevil, large in size and of indeterminate status in the UK. Whether it is here under its own steam is in question, but now that it maintains a foothold in northern Surrey, we may see it expand further (image above).

At least six were found in a small area of Hogweed with casual searching over 30 minutes (no sweeping or beating). This site is also 'home' to Striped Shieldbug, although none were forthcoming, and I also checked a further site where I had recorded this rare hemipterid last summer. No joy there either. There were good numbers of Dock Bugs, with smaller counts of Sloe, Brassica (below) and Pied (bottom) Shieldbugs.