The Amethyst Deceiver: Found at this time of year and Into the early winter this small fungi (the cap is between 2 and 7cm across) is quite common in deciduous and mixed woodland, among the leaf litter, especially where Oak and Beech grow. It starts a deep purple- cap, gills and stem but as you can see in the photos, this coloration pales over time, and the round cap often dips in the centre. The gills attach to the stem and are widely spaced, with shorter gills in the gaps. The cap of the Amethyst Deceiver is edible (the stem, which is twisted and hollow) is tough) and also as it ages and changes colour this fungus can be mistaken for very poisonous similar sized Fungi, so unless you really know what you are doing, it is best to leave it undisturbed. The Amethyst Deceiver grows in small, scattered groups and another reason to be careful if foraging is that it ‘bioaccumulates’ Arsenic, so if it is found growing in earth contaminated with arsenic it is likely to have absorbed some of the poison! I’d love to know how it got its name. Conditions: A balmy spell of dry, warm, sunny autumn weather. Temperature: Max 19 Min 14C.
I had my first sight of the striking Golden-ringed Dragonfly recently, down South, and can’t understand why I haven’t noticed any before. The female is our largest Dragonfly, up to 84mm with its extra-long ovipositor but the male is also large, and you can hear the whirring of their wings as they fly past. They lay their eggs in acid streams and ponds of all sizes, down South or in moorlands in Wales, the Lake District and West Scotland. The larvae live for up to 5 years underwater, catching invertebrates. As adult Dragonflies they are on the wing from May to late September. These Dragonflies catch their prey -of insects, including Butterflies and Damselflies and even Bees- in their front legs, in flight and then fly to a perch to eat what they have caught. You can’t mistake these for any other Dragonfly, with their bright gold and black ringed abdomens and bright green eyes that just meet, They fly fast and don’t settle for long, hence only a couple of photos- these are a male as you can tell by its club-shaped abdomen. Conditions: A very hot, dry, cloudless spell of weather. Temperature: Max 28 Min 16C.
European Hornet: These, the largest of our native wasps, are mostly confined to the rural south although their range is growing slowly. Highly socially organised they are rarely aggressive to humans, and the sting is only a big problem to those who have an allergic reaction, unlike the much more toxic Asian Hornet which is occasionally turning up down south. I was in Sussex recently and watching Bumble and Honey Bees enjoying the newly emerging flowers of Sedum, so valuable a food source in late summer and autumn, when the often seen patrolling Hornet approached one of the Bumble Bees. it must have found it too big to prey on because it buzzed off and targeted a Honey Bee instead. It quickly subdued the Honey Bee, I assume by stinging, and was not put off by another Honey Bee that came to investigate. Maybe the trapped Honey Bee was giving off an alarm signal. The Hornet flew off with the paralysed Honey Bee, where it will be likely be fed to its larvae. The adults rarely feed on prey like this. Conditions: Sunny and dry. Temperature: Max 22 Min 14C.
I recently watched a female Brimstone feeding on Buddlia when she was ‘buzzed’ and pursued by four White Butterflies, flying round and round after her for 2 or 3 minutes. They could possibly have been defending a food source but the most likely explanation is that they were pursuing her in the hope she was a female of their species, available for mating. Apparently butterflies don’t have that good eyesight– just a sort of pixilated view and tend to go more by picking up pheromones etc when seeking a mate. Whatever the explanation, it was like watching a ‘ballet’ in the sky. The Brimstone, as can be seen in some of the photos, was holding her abdomen upwards, which is a signal that she was unavailable for mating, even if they had been the correct species! Eventually they gave up the chase and she settled back to feed. Conditions: Dry yet again, with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 19 Min 13C.
Adonis Blue Butterfly- this is the third of the butterflies I saw for the first time on Malling Down Nature Reserve near Lewes. Adonis Blue males are a vivid blue and the females an inconspicuous brown, both distinguishable by the way their white wing-edges are intersected by black lines (see photos). As well as being a beautiful, low-flying and scarce butterfly it has a fascinating life-cycle. Adonis Blue is found on unimproved short chalk land turf where the caterpillars only food-plant is the Horseshoe Vetch. They have a symbiotic relationship with ants. The ants protect the caterpillars from predators by patrolling them, and even semi-burying them in loose soil over-night and burying the pupae. In exchange, the ants feed on the sweet excretions produced from special glands or pores on the caterpillar and pupa bodies. There are two broods a year. Such a treat to see them at last. Conditions: Continuing dry, variably cloudy and sunny days. Temperature: Max 19 Min 13C.
Chalkhill Blue Butterfly- This is the second of the butterflies I have never seen before this week. Once it was more widespread but now it only survives on specially conserved chalk sites in Southern England– there were quite a few males, with their distinctive silvery colouring though fading in colour a little, on Malling Down near Lewes. The large males fly conspicuously, though near the ground, in sunshine, on steep chalk hills, while the much smaller females are less conspicuous. We were lucky to watch a male trying to mate with a females, among the short grass. Caterpillars only feed on Horseshoe Vetch while adults feed on scabious and other chalk-land wild flowers. Conditions: Sun and a light breeze. Temperature: Max 19 Min 10 C
Silver-spotted Skipper- I was excited to se a few butterflies I’ve never seen before, thanks to a visit to the wonderful Malling Down Nature Reserve, beside Lewes, Sussex. One was this Skipper which is rare and can only be found on specially managed short-turfed chalk Downland in the South. The adults dart about, low down, settling to feed on Dwarf Thistle (see photos) and the caterpillars only feed on Sheep Fescue grass. Silver-spotted Skippers upper wings are orange-brown but the definitive markings are the white checkers on the underwings, unique to this Skipper. In Skippers the males have a darker streak across the upper wing, from which pheromones are released. Like all Skippers, male and female hold their wings at an angle, not spread wide. Conditions: A settled spell of cloud and sun, gentle breezes. Temperature: Max 22 Min 13 C.
Juvenile Robins– This young Robin shows how, in late summer, the juvenile’s speckled breast begins slowly to moult and the red-orange colour of the adult begins to emerge. Young Robins are fed in the nest for about two weeks and, once fledged, supported by the adults for a further two or three weeks as they learn to fly strongly, and feed themselves. Robins usually have two broods a year and the young of the first brood are fed mostly by the male as the female prepares to lay eggs and repair the nest for the second brood. Like many young birds, young Robins are not brightly coloured. With Robins this is partly for camouflage but it is also thought to be because adult Robins fiercely defend their territories against other adults, and their young could be among those attacked if they displayed the red-breast of an adult before they were fully grown and feathered, and able to leave to establish their own territories. The photos show that by now this juvenile certainly was old enough to feed itself, preen and practice sunning to maintain good feather-condition. Conditions: Warm with light showers and sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 21 Min 13C.
Mixed flocks of birds- once the breeding season is over and birds no longer need to hold territories, some species flock together to do their foraging. Tits commonly do this- you will see the most common species in your area dominating- with us this is Blue Tits, though Long-tailed Tits feature in numbers too. We have fewer Great Tits. Coal Tits, more retiring by nature, tend to come in as the the larger, noisy, boisterous and more competitive group move on. Mixed flocks of tits can also contain the odd Warbler, like a Chiff-chaff or Willow Warbler, or a Goldcrest, Nuthatch or Treecreeper, so if you hear the chatter and flurry of wing-beats that heralds a mixed flock, in your garden, hedgerows or woods, it is worth giving them a close look. Feeding in groups means there is greater protection from predators and a greater chance of finding good food supplies- the more numerous pairs of eyes benefit the group in both cases. Studies show that, while you may have a small number of the same individuals on your feeders during breeding, hundreds of different individuals can pass through your garden over this period as they roam further looking food. Conditions: Cloudy and mostly dry (down south). Temperature: Max 20 13C.
Goldfinch– there’s nothing like a shortage of seeds in the feeder, and a subsequent spat, to show the beautiful markings of Goldfinches. Goldfinches are one of the success stories at present. Spreading their territories further north, they are only absent in moorlands and mountains now and, on the green list, they are increasingly common in gardens, accessing feeders. As autumn progresses you may see them feeding on tiny seeds in teasels, but if so, they will be males- only males have long enough bills to access Teasel seeds. It is one of the easier ways to tell males from females! Tracking has shown that many travel south in late autumn and migrate to Europe for the winter. Goldfinch became associated with the passion of Christ during the Renaissance (to do with the ‘blood’ red on their heads) and appeared in several works of art, including a painting by Raphael. The Dutch painter Carel Fabritus famously painted a chained Goldfinch, which subsequently featured in the Donna Tartt book ‘The Goldfinch’. Conditions: Breezy, dry with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 21 Min 13C.