23rd July 2019 – Old Lodge Nature Reserve

22 SNHS members assembled in the small car park of the Old Lodge Nature Reserve, in the heart of Ashdown Forest, at 10.00. They were introduced to leader, Derek Barber, by Paul Baker who also briefly ran through the main health and safety issues. Derek outlined the key focus of the walk – dragonflies and damselflies – and the nature of the route to be followed.

While the emphasis would be on Odonata it would be worth keeping an eye out for birds and butterflies.

Without more ado the party set off along the gentle gradient of the partially wooded, north-eastern edge of the reserve. Coniferous trees yielded goldcrest and Derek picked up the call of a less common Dartford warbler, while a bullfinch and whitethroat also made brief appearances, but this late in the season bird song and display is less likely to be heard or seen and other wildlife soon attracted more attention. Butterflies listed here

  • Red Admiral
  • Meadow Brown
  • Comma
  • Ringlet
  • Small Heath
  • Large Skipper
  • Small Skipper
  • Gatekeeper
  • Holly Blue
  • Brimstone

were those that your scribe managed to note down from everyone’s observations. But the highlight of the walk, reached near the base of a steepish hillside, was undoubtedly the dragonflies and damselflies, thirteen species in all, including four of Derek’s targets, Keeled Skimmer, Small Red Damselfly, Emerald Damselfly, and the Golden-ringed Dragonfly. The latter performed two circuits of the group, with its mating partner in tow, before disappearing down the small heathland stream at the furthest point of the walk. Prior to this climactic conclusion, the 5 small ponds, no more than a handful of metres in diameter or length, visited on our way down the slope, revealed a treasure trove of brightly coloured insects, quartering the water, sometimes rapidly and aggressively, or clinging stealthily to the emergent or shoreline vegetation. These simple lacustrine scenes attracted the rapt attention of the audience as cameras and binoculars were trained on the exciting variety of species: Broad-bodied chaser, common darter, emperor, azure damselfly, large red damselfly, brown hawker, southern hawker, beautiful demoiselle and, not east the black darter, unexpectedly early at this site according to Derek. Meanwhile some sympathy was expressed for a meadow brown butterfly whose wings floated, apparently bodyless, on the surface of a pond while a, presumably, full-bellied Smooth Newt drifted about underneath.

Odonatan appetite eventually sated, the party wound its way slowly back up the hillside to the car park, where all expressed their genuine appreciation to Derek for a morning well spent. Even the failure of the pheromone lure to attract a relatively rare White-barred Clearwing Moth did not significantly detract from a most rewarding walk in ideal conditions.

Colin Whiteman

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6th August 2018 - Moth trapping at Abbots Wood - It is the quality that counts

For the last two years our Moth Event held on Seaford Head has had good results particularly on the western side of the Nature Reserve. This year, at the request of Stuart Sutton the Ranger in charge of Abbots Wood we agreed to try a different venue and run several moth traps overnight in Abbots Wood. Unfortunately Steven Teale, our leader and mentor on previous moth trap events, was unexpectedly taken ill and we were then faced with either cancelling the event or trying to run it ‘in-house’. We chose the latter and on the evening of Monday 5th August several members met in Abbots Wood to set up four traps in the area around the car park. As the moth traps can’t be left unattended four of us then spent the night in the wood, two sleeping in a motorhome and two in their cars.

At 11.00pm we checked the traps and had a very disappointing collection of moths though there were substantial numbers of Shield Bugs and Caddis Flies. Our confidence that overnight more macro moths would be attracted to the actinic and mercury vapour lights was not well founded and in the morning results could only be described as poor.

Twenty four members arrived for the opening of the traps and Michael Blencowe and Bob Foreman (from the Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre) came along to help with identification, particularly of the micro moths. We had been hopeful of a good number of moths given we had both actinic and mercury vapour traps set in a large glade in woodland, however the number of macro moths in all traps was poor and almost unbelievably only one moth was caught in the Skinner Trap. There doesn’t seem to be an explanation for this as the weather was favourable for catching moths, we had a variety of traps and we were in a large open glade surrounded by mature woodland.

The event felt unsuccessful though we did find a few macro moths that were new to most of us, however towards the end of the session our ‘experts’ found a moth in one of the traps that excited their interest. Unfortunately before they could positively identify it, it escaped and flew to a nearby oak tree but Michael Blencowe was not to be frustrated and climbed up onto one of our tables so he could net the moth. It was then identified as the Dark Crimson Underwing, a rare Red Data Book species. This moth is known, uncommonly, in Hampshire but not in Sussex and the fact that we then found a second individual may indicate that it was not an aberrant visitor but might possibly be breeding in Abbots Wood.

An excellent ending to our event.

The list of moths identified can be found here .

Marion Trew

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20th August 2019 - Ouse Valley Nature Reserve – Leader Andy Mitchell

We set off from Tide Mills car park at a cracking pace just after 10am on a beautiful sunny day in fairly calm conditions after the windy, squally weather of late.

It was lovely to see the field to the left of the cycle track generously sprinkled with sunflowers as it had obviously been sown with meadow flower seeds to attract the birds. A large flock of sparrows flew down to feast on rich pickings.

As we left the cycle track to enter the Nature Reserve, just near the beautiful old iconic elderberry tree, a brimstone moth settled on the path ready to have its photograph taken.

Arriving at the long bird hide fence Andy told us about the original expectation, 20 years ago, that the fields had been planned to act as a flood plain and create shallow lakes for water birds and waders. Unfortunately apart from in short periods of heavy winter rains the underlying ground has not been impermeable so the water just drains away. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust will be carrying out surveys to advise on how this might be addressed. As we were watching, a flock of about 50 curlew flew down to the second field beyond the bird hide as we looked across towards Denton. Two kestrels were also seen. Turning then to look towards Tide Mills and the coast, Andy pointed out that the path follows naturally raised ground which would have been the original shore line before the change in the course of the River Ouse.

We continued walking past a wooded section which would lead us quickly to the much disputed new road being built to the Newhaven Eastern Port area. This is where the new road bridge over the railway is being built and there will also be a new foot bridge to Tide Mills, doing away with the old level crossing gates’ access. There was a dispute as to who owned the small section of land on the footpath where the new roadworks are, where a nesting box for a barn owl had been located on a tree. It appears the construction company made an executive decision to fell the tree. The nesting box was relocated and this was pointed out to us, but sadly the owls have not returned.

As we looked across from behind the fence with the noisy construction traffic on the other side, we could see the very large area of Nature Reserve that has been taken over. This area will be used to locate several hundred new homes. Much discussion ensued as it was felt by some members that this factor would have a huge impact on the area, with the probable large increase in dog walkers, which in turn would affect wildlife.

A large drainage ditch from the reserve now flows under the new road. There was somewhat wry amusement at the fact that the construction firm had magnanimously built a mammal pathway alongside the diverted ditch under the road - for otters?

Continuing along the new road we were shown two of the five ponds in the reserve. The first one had free access to the public with the expectation that people would enjoy the educational benefits of pond dipping, watching dragonflies and so on. Unfortunately it is used by some of the dog population for swimming. Andy was of a mind to fence it off due to this. Both of the ponds were very choked with vegetation. Andy reported that there are a lot of herons in the ponds which inevitably means a reduction in amphibian population, mentioning great crested newts in particular. The existence of five good ponds and the presence of newts was welcome news.

One of the ponds in particular had a good population of these newts. Regular surveys are undertaken to ascertain numbers, involving late night visits with torches and bottles and early morning starts to do the count.

We walked back into the nature reserve and went into one of the fields which is not open to the public. Farmers use it for grazing but this year this particular field was lying fallow. Someone spotted a small rodent scuttling into the long grass. Formerly this area would have provided ideal foraging for the barn owls which sadly are missing at the moment. There was a fenced off pond, again overgrown. The reason for this was that a year or so ago the cattle could access it and it became a muddy depression, so the fencing has been placed to restore it. Yet again it seemed to many of us that these ponds are not being very well maintained, probably due to lack of finance. Although there didn’t appear to be any out of the ordinary plants in the field, there had been a survey done sometime which indicated there had been a rich variety there.

Another detour off the path took us into an area that has been submerged in wet seasons and this showed some reeds and sedges in the vegetation although the field is currently bone dry. There were also a few small specimens of pink centaury.

Back on the path we were asked if we could identify the large tree by the path, and some of us tentatively suggested “Black Poplar” which was correct. Apparently they are uncommon here and this specimen would have been planted about 20 years ago at the inception of the nature reserve. In fact, three Black Poplar trees were planted by the Society in 2003, and the person commemorated was Kathleen Amoore, of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society, and, it is believed, was also Chair of Seaford Head Management Committee for many years.

As we joined the cycle track and headed towards the car park people were noticing various plants and insects. We saw a white variety of centaury and several clumps of vervain. The flower rich areas are cut each year and the cuttings removed to prevent soil enrichment.

It was an interesting walk even if some stragglers didn’t catch all that was said at the various stopping points - a common problem on SNHS walks! We discovered that there is far more to the Ouse Estuary Reserve than we had realised!

Species observed during the walk included:

BIRDS: Hedge Sparrow (many), Starling (many), Curlew (56), Kestrel (2), Herring Gull

LEPIDOPTERA: Brimstone moth, White Ermine caterpillar, Cinnabar caterpillar, Painted Lady, Green-veined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Meadow Brown, Pyrausta despicata

BEES AND WASPS: Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, Red-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius, Common Carder Bee, Bombus pascuorum, Brown-banded Carder Bee, Bombus humilis, Common Wasp, Vespula vulgaris, German Wasp, Vespula germanica, Honey Bee, Apis mellifera

HOVERFLIES: Dasysyrphus albostriatus, Drone fly, Eristalis tenax, Marmalade Hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus, Long Hoverfly, Sphaerophoria scripta, Syritta pipiens

OTHER FLIES: Linnmaeya picta, Lucilia caesar agg., Lucilia sericata agg., Musca autumnalis

BEETLES: Harlequin Ladybird

FLORA: Centaury, Pink, Centaury, White, Centaury, Small (quite rare), Bristly Ox-tongue, Vervain, Ragwort, Sunflower, Elderberry, Knapweed, Mallow, Michaelmas Daisy, Fleabane Elderberry and Black Poplar

Mike and Margaret Kerry

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3rd September 2019 – Arlington Reservoir

Ten of us met up in the car park on a pleasantly warm day and before setting off on the walk Alex Stephens, Environmental Officer for South East Water (SEW), gave us an introductory talk. He began by saying that work on creating the reservoir first began in 1969 by cutting off a meander in the River Cuckmere with a dam and work was completed in 1971. The area was landscaped and over 30,000 trees were planted including birch, hazel, oak and wild cherry.

Alex said that SEW manages two large areas supplying 2.2m customers with 23m litres of water a day and involves 9,000 km of pipes. The reservoir is a pumped storage reservoir in which water is stored during the winter and then in the summer is treated before being supplied to customers. All the water comes from the River Cuckmere of which 70% comes from underground aquifers and only 30% from the surface, the two supplies being mixed.

The Arlington Reservoir was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 1980 and was granted SSSI status in 1985 mainly because of the number of over wintering birds here and passage of migrant birds but also because of the wildlife meadows and ponds. He has been working at the Reservoir for the last 20 years during which time the development and enhancement of biodiversity has increased greatly.

Leisure pursuits include walking, cycling and bird watching. Alex also pointed out the trout fishery, with fishing allowed by permit between February and June. There was a bird hide on the way round just off the main footpath. At the back of the dam wall grazing was carried out. Meadows were at the other end which were cut on rotation but in compartments which enables butterflies etc to survive. The woodland was also managed with tree thinning and coppicing. The ponds were also managed. There were a number of dormice with 60 boxes monitored every month. All in all the habitats were a nice mix which complemented each other. There is a balancing act here between the wildlife and the recreational side.

180 plus species of birds have been recorded including sandpiper, swallow, ring plover, kingfisher, bullfinch, nightingale, and turtle doves. The week before an osprey had been sighted. 37 species of butterflies had been recorded out of 57. There were also slow worms, grass snakes, and adders which strangely had been spotted near the river.

In answer to a question Alex said that no moth trapping took place because of lack of resources. He then gave out a booklet giving information about what projects are ongoing in order to continue investing in looking after the natural environment. In conclusion he handed round copies of the Osprey Trail leaflet and hoped that we would be fortunate enough to see the osprey.

As a group we then began the two mile Osprey trail round the reservoir. Among butterflies seen were comma, red admiral, painted lady, peacock, and speckled wood. A female darter dragonfly was seen (probably common darter). Among plants seen were bush vetch, common mallow, guelder rose, hemp-agrimony, sloes, woody nightshade, enchanter’s nightshade, hazel with next year’s catkins already forming, mare’s tail or horsetail, marsh woundwort, ox tongue, purple- loosestrife, teasel, small mallow – not that common but well established here - stone parsley, selfheal, sunflower, and vervain. From the bird hide we saw several cormorants, great crested grebe, heron, little gull, sandpiper, and wagtail. Other birds spotted on the way round included coal tit, coot, jackdaw, mallard, ravens, robin, a number of Canada geese, grey lag geese, and yellow wagtail.

A red tailed bumblebee, Sussex Reds cattle grazing and a fox disturbed in the bushes were also seen.

At various places warnings were in place about the toxic blue green algae and this could clearly be seen towards the end of the walk along the edge of the reservoir close to the water extraction tower.

All in all a number of good sightings but not of the elusive osprey*.

Susan Painter

*Very shortly after the walk ended Val and Peter Hammond saw an osprey as did a colleague of Alex Stephens. Just before leaving the car layby they also saw a Tortoise shieldbug (Eurygaster testudinaria).

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17th September 2019 Seaford Head bird Walk

Even by the standards of this very frustrating autumn, the SNHS bird walk on 17 September was something of a disappointment. In the brief period between a truly magnificent orange-coloured dawn and meeting the first group of seven hardy souls at 07:00 hrs it was clear that bird numbers were remarkably low. The highlight of the walk down Hope Gap was perhaps a party of 50-60 blackcap moving through the bushes at remarkable speed as if they were a tidal wave. This behaviour was scarcely surprising in view of the fact that the other outstanding sighting for the first group was a very active sparrowhawk which we watched on a number of occasions around the South Barn, later in Hope Gap and then again near Harry’s Bush. A brief scan over the sea also gave us several egrets feeding close inshore – perhaps the best view that was had on these walks. The final stop on the circuit was Harry’s Bush, consisting of mature woodland and scrub, and this provided us with a fair number of non-passerines which helped to bulk out the day’s bird list further. Included in this roll were three black-tailed godwit, little egret, common snipe, greenshank, little grebe, teal and Canada goose all seen from the vantage point above the lower Cuckmere. By the end of the first walk, we had accumulated a total of 45 species.

The second group were in many ways rather more fortunate. Having been the only one to see a common redstart at the top of Hope Gap during our first circuit I did not include this in the total. Fortunately, however, on the second circuit with the 10 o’clock group the bird put in a brief appearance and was added to the morning’s list. Moving down Hope Gap precisely the same thing happened with a garden warbler, which I alone had seen in the first circuit, and which now showed rather better to the whole group. We also encountered a wheatear, a whinchat and two goldcrests as well as two sand martins and small numbers of swallows and house martins. At the bottom of Hope Gap we inspected the thriving patch of moon carrot on the cliff edge, but this time there were no gannets offshore although an oystercatcher was a further addition to our tally. Approaching the South Barn at the end of the walk a very late lesser whitethroat was watched by a small but appreciative audience and this proved to be a very suitable final observation. During the walk we also encountered a migrant hawker, and a single silver Y moth, along with a few small copper butterflies and at least six clouded yellows (the first of the year at this site). We ended the day with a combined total of 59 bird species recorded which, in the circumstances, could be considered to be a fairly commendable effort.

Bob Self

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3rd October 2019 Seaford Head 50th Anniversary Plaque

Seaford Head Local Nature Reserve was established on 1st February 1969 on land owned by Seaford Urban District Council.

The original 76 acres was part of a much larger area bequeathed to SUDC by local philanthropist Hugh Hamilton Stafford Northcote, to protect it for public use. This was essentially what we now recognise as the eastern part of the current Reserve area which is managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust.

It seemed fitting that Mr Northcote was properly recognised as enabling the establishment of the Reserve, and that the 50th anniversary was an ideal time to do it. Seaford Natural History Society was a key player in getting the Reserve established 50 years ago and in its subsequent management, so it was apposite that 50 years later we proposed the erection of a commemorative plaque which acknowledged that debt.

Seaford Town Council agreed to the plaque and its attachment to the wall of South Hill Barn, where it can be easily seen by visitors to that part of the Reserve.

It had been hoped to have the plaque fixed to the wall and unveiled as part of the 50th Anniversary Open Day on 13th July, and although a number of delays made this impossible, we were able to display the actual plaque on our stand and have it unveiled by Chris Lowmass, the Chair of the Nature Reserve Management Committee.

Finally, the plaque is in place, and the photo shows it being admired by the Mayor of Seaford, Cllr Nazish Adil, Chris Lowmass, and Jim Howell.

SNHS are pleased to have initiated the concept of the plaque, designed it, produced the text, funded it, and even attached it to the wall. We hope it will attract the attention of users of the Reserve for many years to come.

Plaque Plaque
 

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page updated 15th October 2019