Reports

Winter Trees - Friston Forest   24th October 2009

Although the meeting was officially cancelled due to bad weather, seven members turned up, so we decided to wander on our own. By the time we moved off the rain had stopped. We walked to West Dean, where the pond is being cleared by the South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service - what a good job they do.

We wandered around the village admiring the flint walls and buildings. On the way back we found the Sussex Wildlife Trust's dipping pond which is used by school children. We saw lots of trees, fungi and some plants still in flower; by then the sun was shining.

Janice Reynolds

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Reports

Fungi - Pound Common   17th October 2009

For the third year running we were treated to a fascinating afternoon of fungi by Rosalie Sinclair-Smith.

Rosalie began, as last year, by giving us a presentation of the fungi we might find on the tour around Pound Common. While some of those we also saw on Lane End Common and Memorial, many others were different showing what a variation there can be over a short distance.

It apparently has not been a good season for fungi – even worse than last year. It has been too dry and the recent rains have probably come too late.

Fly AgaricFly agaric

As previously Rosalie started by explaining about the types of fungi, some saprophytic, some parasitic, and their essential part in the natural world. She then showed us typical examples of different fungi found in the area.

These included the classic toadstool of childhood stories the red and white Amanita muscaria or Fly Agaric, so called because it was used as a fly killer (you put some in milk apparently). We were also shown Ugly Milkcap, Brown Roll Rim, Boletus pinicola – found near pine, having no gills and looking like a sponge on the underside; Birch Bracket – found on weakened trees; – Maze Gill; The Blusher – found mainly on willow and sallow; hypoxylon growing on a birch twig.

Sulphur TuftSulphur Tuft

Rosalie also showed us members of the Clitocybes family which are poisonous and can be easily confused with edible species such as The Miller and Earthballs and Puffballs, the former having a tough skin and releasing spores by the skin splitting, the latter being soft and having a single hole in the top through which the spores are released when hit by raindrops.

Finally Rosalie showed us a piece of oak stained green throughout by the Green Wood-cup (also know as the Green Elf-cup); this type of wood was used in marquetry for making Tunbridgeware.

On the walk itself we saw a number of these fungi and some others including the well known Fairies Bonnets and Sulphur Tuft.

Penny BunPenny Bun

We also saw a number of examples of Fly agaric in various stages from just energing, still with the white remains of the veil on the cap, through to quite old specimens.

The most excing finds were a large Boletus (Penny Bun) and, at the end of the walk, a pair of large Funnel Cap. I am not sure whether this was Clitocybe geophylla (which has no common name) or the Giant Funnel Cap Clitocybe gigantea (aka Leucopaxillus giganteus).

A splendid afternoon thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Chris Brewer

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Reports

Jevington & Lullington Heath   19th September 2009

BuffTip Caterpillar
Buff Tip Caterpillar

12 of us met at Jevington on a pleasantly warm afternoon. However when our leader for this walk did not turn up it was agreed that we would do a circular walk up to the downs taking in Lullington Heath Nature Reserve.

After leaving the car park on the way to Jevington church some Maidenhair Spleenwort and some Polypody were spotted on a wall. In the churchyard a fine example of a Camperdown Elm was noticed.

Camperdown ElmCamperdown Elm

On the footpath (SDW) leading from the church up to the downs a number of things were noted, including a Jersey Elm, a Buff-tip Caterpillar and later on Soft Shield Fern. After leaving the SDW at a crossing track numerous wild flowers such as Field Pansy, Sharp-leaved Fluellen and two types of speedwell, common and wall variety and also Toadflax were seen at the edge of a field. Woundwort, an uncommon herb, was also spotted.

Bell Heather
Bell Heather

In Lullington Reserve, a rare area of chalk heath, (where chalk is covered by a thin layer of acid soil) we saw acid loving Ling, and Bell Heather growing amongst plants such as Wild Thyme. Later some Small Heath Butterflies were seen and also a Harvestman spider.

On our return to the car park, while walking through an area known as the Gallops, some Swallows were seen, a satisfying end to an enjoyable walk.

 

Andrew Painter

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Reports

Bat Walk   5th September 2009

GatheringGathering

Eight of us met in the Exceat car park with Charlie Dwight in the evening of Saturday 5th September. In the car park we were rather amused to see a Brighten and Hove double-decker bus enter, turn round and park where the ice cream van is during the day; instead of the route number and destination it said it was Kev and Christie's Wedding Bus. We were not so amused later. As well as her own Batbox - they are made in Steyning - Charlie brought two other detectors, so we were all able to hear when a bat was near.

We crossed the road to the area outside Exceat Cottage and waited in the dusk with the three bat detectors switched on. For quite some time all we could hear was an intermittent sort of throbbing, Charlie assured us that it was the crickets. It was only about quarter of an hour before we detected our first actual bat - a Pipistrelle. After a while we moved off round through the grounds of the Cuckmere Cycle company and along came a Noctule, followed by a Soprano Pipistrelle. We followed the path up through the woods to where the "shelter-building" takes place, and Charlie asked where there would be water. We therefore went on to the steps and down to the West Dean pond. Perhaps every five minutes we would hear a bat nearby, and we would stop and listen, peering to the skies to catch a glimpse; all we ever saw was a glimpse.

Down at West Dean we 'heard' our first Brown Long-eared bat and for a time we could hear a selection of bats all at the same time. We then travelled along the bridle path following the course of the stream. It was then that we could distinctly hear the disco of the wedding party in the Turkey Barn and the marquee in the Europe Garden, getting louder and louder as we approached Exceat again, we must surely have been nearly a mile away over the hill and through the trees when we first heard it. The disco even there nearly drowned out the sound of the crickets along the path, and they were numerous.

Since I know the number of the combination lock to the enclosure to our new Dew-pond in the Forest, I escorted the party to the pond and on to the staging from which the children pond-dip. It was there that we were treated to the real treat of the evening with a Brown Long-eared bat swooping down and round the pond and back again. With the torches we were clearly able to watch it, and when it came right up to close to us, we could see its size, shape and those ears.

Back along the path we went to the bus shelter, crossed the road again, through the gate and towards the Meanders. Shortly after arriving at the bank of the Meanders we detected our last bat the Daubenton passing up and down along the water. A number of times we could clearly hear the increase in the speed of transmission as the bat neared it’s prey, almost as if we could hear the crunch as it caught it.

At some time during the evening there was mention of Serotine, but I was not clear whether we had actually heard one or whether the sound we heard was similar.

Looking at the Batbox website I see that the simplest detector costs £60 plus VAT and postage; Charlie assures us that for all normal amateur use, these simpler ones are quite adequate. The question I need answered is "Should these Batboxes be renamed Cricket Bat detectors ?".

Colin Pritchard

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Reports

Friston Gallops   8th August 2009

Chalkhill BlueChalkhill Blue

Friston Gallops has one of the best chalkhill blue butterfly colonies in the South East – to see this was the primary purpose of the visit. The morning was still, clear and bright – ideal conditions for seeing the chalkhill blues at their best. Seven members set off through the trees towards the bottom of the gallops and immediately a few Chalkhill Blues could be seen on the short grass.

We took a short detour as an Adonis Blue had been seen a little earlier but our luck was out and it didn’t make a repeat appearance.

We made our way up the hill on a narrow path through the long grass, seeing a number of Chalkhill Blues and Meadow Browns, a few common blues, one or two Small Heaths and a Small Skipper nectaring on the chalk downland plants, which were present in profusion. We noted Eyebright, Fairy Flax (also known as Purging Flax), Wild Basil (which one member calls the Fawlty Towers plant), Red Bartsia (known as the Bus Conductor ( ‘old on tight please) plant because Latin name is Odontites verna), Birds Foot Trefoil, Knapweed (both common and greater), Salad Burnet, Burnet Saxifrage and long-stemmed cranesbill amongst others.

Chalkhill BlueChalkhill Blue

Part way up this path a large area of grass is grazed by rabbits and as a consequence the turf is very short. This is where the Chalkhill Blues spend the daytime and we saw the wonderful sight of hundreds flying above the turf. So interested were the males in chasing females that they seemed oblivious to our presence, some actually flying into us. So interesting was the sight of the clouds of butterflies that we stayed for some time and were rewarded by the sight of a male Brimstone and two Clouded Yellows – both chased by the blues as they sped across the field. We also saw some Autumn Gentian which was very pale in colour and some very tall Clustered Bellflower.

We finally dragged ourselves away from the butterfly spectacle and made our way to the hedge line at the top of the field. Here we came across a number of Painted Ladies, a cinnabar moth caterpillar and a Wall Brown as well as a number of Chalkhill Blues gathered on some horse dung – apparently they do this as a source of minerals.

As time was getting on we headed down the hill back towards the bottom of the Gallops noting some Pale Flax – an uncommon plant although once we had spotted the first we kept finding it.

Chris Brewer

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Reports

Park Corner Heath   18th July 2009

White AdmiralWhite Admiral

On a sunny but breezy morning 15 members met to be given a guided tour of Park Corner heath by the volunteer warden, Michael Blencoe, with his infectious enthusiasm and detailed knowledge. Some members who arrived early had already started butterfly watching before Michael’s arrival and had been fortunate to see a White Admiral spent about 5 minutes in clear view nectaring on sunlit bramble.

Park Corner Heath is an 8 acre woodland site owned by Butterfly Conservation and managed specifically for butterflies by coppicing and cutting of wide sunlit rides. Michael explained that the woodland surrounding the reserve was poor for butterflies because of the dense canopy. As the weather was windy as so not particularly favourable for seeing butterflies Michael was had brought A4 size flash cards to show us what we might have seen. He needn’t have worried. Butterflies were in evidence as soon as we set off and before we reached the reserve proper. We saw Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Comma, Large White, Green-veined White, Brimstone (a female that looked almost white), Peacock, Painted Lady and, last but not least, a number of the spectacular Silver-washed Fritillary.

Painted LadyPainted Lady

The botanists were also delighted to see lesser skull-cap growing on the side of the path.

Once we reached the site hut Michael told us a little more about the management, then showed us a Painted Lady caterpillar (found on a thistle in the centre of Lewes and later released onto the reserve) and explained the unusual invasion of this butterfly in May – the best since 1996 and probably 1906.

Green Veined WhiteGreen-veined White

While talking Michael noticed a Purple Hairstreak in the surrounding oaks – unfortunately as it was windy it emerged only very briefly.

We then walked around the centre of the reserve, known as the plateau, which is covered in bracken under which grow violets the food plant of the Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary – the reserve is only site in Sussex where this butterfly is found. Apparently the bracken is allowed to grow as the warm, humid conditions under the bracken is favoured by the larvae.

On this part of the walk we saw a Large Skipper, Red admiral and Ringlet as well as further Peacocks, Gatekeepers and Commas as well as a day-flying moth, the Silver-Y. In all we saw 15 different species of butterfly.

Wall BrownWall Brown

Those of us who have been on Michael’s walks before (and since) are now accustomed to his moth traps and he didn’t disappoint on this occasion. Back at the shed Michael showed us what he had caught the previous evening in his moth-trap. He claimed it was rather poor as the weather had not been ideal but still produced over 30 species of moth. Moths have evocative names and amongst those he produced where Scallop Shell, Ghost Moth (the male of which is supposedly the origin of Will o’the Wisp), Scorched Carpet, Purple Thorn, Rosy Footman, Ruby Tiger, True Lovers’ Knot, Small Purple Bard, Adult Drinker and the impressive Elephant Hawk Moth.

Chris Brewer

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Reports

Barcombe Mills  16th June 2009

Seventeen of us set off on a lovely sunny morning to walk along the river Ouse. The first thing we noticed was how the Himalayan balsam was beginning to choke up part of the river. Further on we saw many banded demoiselles fluttering along the banks.

Yellow Longhorn BeetleYellow Longhorn Beetle

By the first bridge there was a lot of reed canary-grass, some water figwort, water forget-me-not and the first spikes of purple loosestrife. Unfortunately this year nothing had taken up residence in the nest box but, throughout the walk, there was quite a bit of birdsong. We saw goldfinch, whitethroat, yellowhammer, chaffinch, long-tailed tit; we heard blackcap and chiffchaff.

By the next bridge we admired the yellow water-lilies just coming into flower. Here we left the river to walk along the old railway track, a permissive path that is most rewarding for flowers, insects and butterflies to be seen. There was hedge bedstraw, meadow vetchling, hedge woundwort, a lovely display of zig-zag clover, and crosswort, which was nearly over. Interestingly we were able to see adult ladybirds as well as the larvae and the pupae. Butterflies included large and small skippers, painted lady, small tortoiseshell, common blue and speckled wood, a large group of peacock caterpillars and, towards the end, a number of mullein moth caterpillars feeding on figwort. (also a yellow longhorn beetle).

Mullein Moth CaterpillarMullein Moth Caterpillar

When leaving the railway track and entering a grassy area, we saw plants that had probably come from a previously seeded field, these included fodder burnet, a much larger plant than salad burnet, also a mystery plant that none of us could identify!

On the bridge by the weirs there is an interesting notice listing tolls that had to be paid to cross the bridge. The river Ouse is tidal up to the weirs, and we watched shoals of small fish in a patch of still water. Our last plant of the morning was some ragged robin down by the riverside!

Wendy Meadway

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Reports

Birling Gap   6th June 2009

Had a lovely walk today: it was dry and rather windy, but enjoyable. About twenty-five folk turned up at the car park at Birling Gap which was full. We saw a female hobby that flew over and we had a good view of it as it went by - the sighting was confirmed by an expert.

Bee OrchidBee Orchid

The colony of white bee orchids, totaling about fifteen, had a few normal ones nearby and the lizard orchid which, this year, has divided into two spikes, plus one common spotted orchid.

White Bee OrchideWhite Bee Orchid

Other flowers seen were the seaside thistle, mallow, thyme, pale and fairy flax, yellow rattle in multitude, black and white bryony, burnet rose, vipers bugloss, dropwort, aquilegia, horseshoe vetch, milkwort and mignonette.

Insects seen were cinnabar moths, two common blue butterflies, several speckled woods, one painted lady and a bloody nosed beetle, and this about sums up a lovely day.

 

Peter Davys

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Reports

University Boundary Walk   26th May 2009

Ten members met at Falmer to be taken around the University of Sussex Boundary Walk by our guide, Martyn Stenning. Until not long before we set off there had been heavy rain but the gods took pity on us – it had stopped by the time we set off and as we progressed the sun eventually came out.

The walk starts along the old flint wall former boundary of the Pelham estate backed by beech trees – probably planted as a wind-break. Both wall and trees are probably some 300 years old and the trees at nearing the end of their lives. Many were blown down in the 1987 hurricane and badger setts are found in the cavities under some of the root-balls.

Close to the old main entrance Martyn pointed out the new bee professor working on hives in his garden – we were to hear more about bees later.

After passing the two University entrance roads on the old boundary wall are a number of English Elms. These are suckers from trees blown down in the hurricane and too young at present to be affected by Dutch Elm disease. The walk then passes onto University playing fields which are adjacent to Stanmer Park, the boundary being marked by a row of short posts. Martyn pointed to a field in Stanmer Park which is unimproved chalk grassland with the typical rich diversity of plants and then to an area of the playing fields which are unused and which, although previously regularly mown, he has persuaded the groundsmen to leave uncut until hay-making time. The hope is that seed will drift over from the Stanmer park meadow and the now uncut area will develop into a flower rich meadow with. He noted the abundant red fescue grass and told us that even though it is only a year or two since the project started it looks promising.

By common consensus a diversion took us to the University dewpond created in 2005, already showing much diversity of wildlife. We had to remain outside the fence as ducks were nesting by the pond. As we left the pond and started to climb uphill we had sight of some Painted Ladies, part of the spectacular influx (one of the best in the last 30 years) which had occurred over the Bank Holiday weekend.

Ginko TreeGinko Tree

The walk goes up Richmond Hill where the slow and inexorable encroachment of woodland into the pasture was evident. Towards the top of the hill are the remains of old University observatory (there is not a “new” observatory – we asked) now used as seating and a viewpoint over the dry valley in which the University sits. Water does flow in the valley – but only underground as the chalk is so porous. As we walked towards the valley bottom to climb to the far side a fox ambled across.

Along the far side of the boundary is some further old beech woodland much damaged in the hurricane. Martyn pointed out that the trees regenerating naturally appeared to be larger and faring better than the nursery-grown trees which had been planted. He suggested that the reason was natural selection, only the best of the self-regenerating seedlings surviving as opposed to nursery grown ones where all seeds are germinated and planted out, including those which nature would have killed off by competition. As we stood by the trees we saw a couple of white flowered plants which turned out to be white helleborine.

Towards the end of the walk is a magnificent specimen of the maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba) – believed to be at least 200 years old.

 

Chris Brewer

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Reports

Cuckoo Trail 16th May 2009

The Cuckoo Trail walk at Hellingly lived up to its name as the cuckoo announced its presence to us soon after we arrived; birds dominated the walk with their calls and songs after the earlier rain had stopped. A song thrush was singing on the top of a dead tree, also heard were robins, chiffchaffs, whitethroats, blackcaps, wrens and chaffinches.

Flowers out were greater stitchwort, bluebell, comfrey, speedwells, herb bennet, spindle, ramsons, red campion. Ferns seen were male, lady and wall rue. Interesting trees were smooth-leaved elms and a nice turkey oak, also interesting was the wood carving on the back of the seats.

Peter Davys

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Reports

Bridlegate Nightingales  5th May 2009

It was very pleasing to welcome about fifteen members to Bridlegate on Tuesday morning, 5th May. The weather was ideal for bird song.

Joe MorleyJoe Morley

There were six singing nightingales each establishing territories of about one acre each. It was explained that many birds need a habitat of open areas, bramble, scrub and trees. Bridlegate is managed to provide this habitat. Hence the nightingales, other migrants and resident birds are encouraged to nest.

The nightingale near the pond was a prolific songster and welcomed members as they arrived. After a slow walk round the reserve listening to bird song, members were welcomed back by Wendy and Janice who served refreshments.

Everyone then wandered about as they pleased having had, I hope, an enjoyable morning.

Joe Morley

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Reports

Seven Sisters Country Park 25th April 2009

12 members explored the Park Trail in Seven Sisters Country Park which, although only 3 miles long, passes through a number of different habitats.

CowslipCowslip

Initially we walked up the South Downs Way (SDW) which runs along the old bostal to the former village of Exeat. The land is typical chalk grassland and we noted the great variety of plants to be found - although it required getting down on hands and knees to see them. Cowslips were in abundance and easily seen as were the occasional dog violet. Other plants seen included horseshoe vetch (the food plant of the Adonis Blue and in flower already), mouse-ear hawkweed, salad burnet and birdsfoot trefoil. Also in evidence was Houndstongue although too early to be in flower.

Further up the hill we noted an area of nettles and burdock, not normally to be expected in nutrient-poor chalk downland – the area is a rabbit warren and the rabbits provide fertility. Towards the sea extensive amounts of false chalk brome (or Tor grass) can be seen looking like waves; it is an undesirable invasive plant not eaten by sheep and cattle and controlled by Exmoor ponies.

Cuckmere HavenCuckmere Haven

At the top of the hill is the site of Exceat village abandoned in the 15th Century with a commemorative stone on the site of the old church, something a number of members had apparently not seen. We were relieved to find that from here all was downhill or flat and were treated to spectacular views of the meanders and Cuckmere Haven, something not seen by the majority of visitors who stay on the level ground of the valley.

Skylarks were singing and from the higher ground we had views from above of them dropping to the ground close by.

Horseshoe VetchHorseshoe Vetch

As the SDW drops down towards Foxhole, we noticed that the grassland changed and that it was very species-poor; it was an arable field until the 1970’s and shows how long it takes for the great diversity of chalk downland to be established.

At the beach we came onto vegetated shingle, a rare habitat, where we saw large amounts of Sea Kale with some Yellow-horned poppy and bittersweet. We noted that the vegetation was much less diverse than at Tide Mills. Behind the shingle bank is an area in which one of the 9 species of Rock Sea Lavender grows. As Janice was pointing this out to us (sadly it doesn’t flower until July) one eagle-eyed member spotted small (1-2mm) blue flowers which turned out to be early forgetmenot – something Janice had not seen there before.

The Trail heads back from the beach on the East bank of the Cuckmere where the habitat is saltmarsh with typical vegetation , mainly sea purslane with some sea beet. On the other side of the embankment and behind the shingle is a man-made lagoon, constructed in 1975, providing a nesting and feeding area for birds. A number of Shelduck were visible and three Oystercatchers could be heard and then seen.

Sea KaleSea Kale

The tide was quite low and on the far side of the river we saw three curlew and two godwits (the consensus seemed to be black-tailed) feeding in the mud. The embankment heads away from the river to rejoin the concrete track and has dense hawthorn and blackthorn on one side. As we passed over a stile a kestrel shot out at about head height a few feet in front of us.

On the final stretch back past the meanders just as we commented that, unusually, we hadn’t seen any Little Egrets, two appeared along the edge of the meanders.

Chris Brewer

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Reports

Lake Wood 14th April 2009

13 of us set off from West Park recreation ground car park, after we had prised the plantaholics away from inspecting the ground around the car park.

By the LakeBy the Lake

We crossed West Park Local Nature Reserve, getting down close to the ground to inspect the unusual plant Town Hall Clock (also known as Moschatel after its musk-like smell). It is unrelated to other plants, with light green three lobed leaves and very unusual flowers with very small yellow/green heads on long stalks. Each head has four outward facing horizontal flowers at 90 degree intervals (like a town hall clock) and a fifth facing directly upwards. It grows in woodland and hedgerows.

We climbed past outcrops of Ardingly sandstone through a wooded area, out to a small clear area near the A22 Uckfield bypass. Here we saw a peacock butterfly which was disturbed by others of the group who had taken a different route. There were mats of a lichen directly on the ground.

The awkward stile into the Woodland Trust reserve has now been replaced by a kissing gate, making access much easier. Soon after entering Lake Wood we saw the tunnel entrance under the road, where the original carriage drive from Buckswood Grange, the grand house of the Streatfeild family, passed under the road. The southern end of the tunnel is blocked up.

Wood AnemoneWood Anemone

We crossed the earth dam, constructed to create the lake. On the far side we made a muddy uphill detour to view broad swathes of wood anemones on the woodland floor. We returned to pass through the short man-made foot tunnel through a sandstone outcrop, observing the pick marks of the original tunnellers on the walls and ceiling. Further on there was a marshy area. Here there was a nuthatch on a branch near the top of a tree.

The path alongside the road on the south side of the lake has been cleared, and improved with steps. There is no longer the need for the mountaineering skills required the last time we visited two years ago. Following the undulating path brought us back to the tunnel entrance and the exit from the reserve. Here, some of the group decided to split away to seek out wild daffodils in a nearby wood. The remainder took a route past the other end of the tunnel, through more sandstone outcrops where a deer foot with just lower leg was spotted, to come out part way along the boardwalk across the wet area of West Park reserve. There was some brown fur, perhaps associated with the deer foot found earlier.

We returned to the car park using a path alongside a small stream between the houses.

Peter Hammond

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Reports
page updated 30th June 2012