Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Long Horned Bee and Alex Farm Pasture update

A Long Horned Bee at Alex Farm Pastures - June 12th 2016.
Long Horned Bee exclusively visiting Bramble - June 12th 2016.
Long Horned Bee and Thick Legged Pollen Beetle.

 Not sure on ID of this Bee feeding on Ragid Robin
Its been a busy first half of the year at Alex Farm Pastures (SSSI) with a great deal of work and management carried out by KWT staff and volunteers to clear encroaching woodland scrub from the meadow and erect extra fencing in preparation of the arrival of cattle in the near future. In addition, the KWT volunteers cleared invading Shady Willow scrub from the pond, allowing the water and light levels to increase with immediate and startlingly good results.

The SSSI status of Alex Farm Pastures supports a varied list of threatened and scarce wildlife. During the present early summer days of June there has been no better time to view some of its unique species before summer arrives.

Male Cuckoo - one of 3 males in the Alex Farm / Stone Wood area.
Based on the amount of calling and occasional views, it has been a good year so far for Cuckoos - not just at Alex’s but also in the Orlestone Forest area as a whole. At Alex Farm Pasture, and the surrounding woodland meadows, Cuckoos have been present in numbers I couldn’t have imagined for a bird in rapid decline in the UK. On one occasion, there were four birds together (including a distinctive brown hepatic female) in one woodland opposite the Alex Pastures gate. It was still present eight days later in company with a steel grey male the Pastures. This raises the real chance that they may have had a successful breeding year.

One species the Cuckoos probably parasitise is Nightingale.  They are present in good numbers this year, not just at Alex's but also in the surrounding blackthorn hedges leading back to Shadoxhurst. There are many unpaired birds still singing, and paradoxically at the same time, some Nightingales have fledged their first and only brood. The numbers of breeding Nightingales at Alex’s is hard to ascertain especially in the second heavily thicketed field of the site which is their favoured breeding area. An indication of how many birds present was given when I watched a Jay trying to raid their nests. The calls of many birds eventually gave a full-on chase to a Jay, no doubt plundering their eggs and chicks. As the Jay vanished into the woodland behind I was quite surprised at the number of Nightingales (5) in pursuit, temporarily abandoning their nests in support of their neighbours.
Turtle Dove. June 5th still in the area up to June 12th
Along with Cuckoo another late arrival to Alex Farm Pastures this spring has been a single Turtle Dove. Although present for the last 7 days, the surrounding countryside is a former Turtle Dove breeding site, offering a good variety of open woodland and meadow for nesting and breeding.

Downy Emerald Dragonfly at the pond Alex Farm Pastures June 11th 2016.
One of many Broad Bodied Chasers on site June 11th
Four Spotted Darter, up to 20 present with several egg laying (with BB chasers) at the pond. June 11th
Back to news of the site’s large shallow pond. In early spring, KWT volunteers cleared Sallow and opened-up the tree-lined edge to let in more light. In recent years the pond was heavily shaded and filled with leaf litter. Moorhens bred in the Sallows, although there was very little to see with just a temporary stagnant patch of water. But after the early spring clearing work the open water has produced a good number of dragonflies, in particular Broad Bodied Chaser and Four Spotted Darter - a mixed party of about 20 of each species there on a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon. Even better, they were accompanied by several Downy Emerald Dragonflies a new record for me at this site. Downy Emerald is a locally scarce dragonfly so, once again, Alex Farm Pastures is supporting an uncommon species with specific habitat requirements, in this case tree-lined woodland ponds.

Recently fledged Grey Wagtail, at the pond, Alex Farm Pastures. June 11th

Yellow Shell Moth, June 11th

On the same day as watching the Downy Emerald, I had also photographed insects among the orchids and thistles within the Alex Farm Pastures meadow. I had already noticed the Wool Carder Bee, one of the few I’m able to identify, when I started to notice another restless Bee with long antennae collecting pollen from Bramble blossom. It was so distinctive and unforgettable I knew it was something I had not seen before. I quickly 'googled’ the description and was immediately delivered the I.D. of Long Horn Bee, a rare and fast declining southern UK species. As far as I’m aware its not been recorded here before or at the very least not recently. Time and, I’ll admit it, lack of knowledge stops me commenting on the flora of the site, The summer wildflower swathe is yet to come into full flower, but there are plenty of Common Spotted Orchids and Marsh Thistles in flower not to mention odd clumps of Ragged Robin and various vetches to see. Among the cover of the ground plants there are many common Lizards to see, the numbers here seeming higher than at other local sites.  So, whilst the weather has been unpredictable (no doubt contributing to poor Butterfly and Moth numbers on the site this spring) it hasn’t spoiled what has been a varied display of some of Alex Farm Pastures' unique and special wildlife.

Alex Pasture is a 11 acre site, South of Shadoxhurst, Kent

LINKS (but content dated)


Steve Pearson said...

Lovely blog Nick, Springwatch should take a few leaves out of your book!

Clare Gillatt said...

Do you mean Common Carder (Bombus Pascuorum), Wool Carder is solitary and doesn't look quite right to me.

Clare Gillatt said...

Fabulous post by the way!

Tony Witts said...

Hi Nick,
Well done on finding Eucera longicornis! a very scarce beast in Kent.
I reckon you're other bee pictured flying away is probably the female.
Best wishes
Tony Witts
Kent & Medway Biological Records Centre