I had a couple of free hours on Friday so went to Cranford Park to complete the weekly UKBMS butterfly transect. Not a great success but still better numbers than last week. There were several dragonflies around too including at least 15 Southern Hawkers (no photos at all) and at least 30 Common Darters. The one below posed beautifully for me at the buddleia bushes....
The transect itself took just over an hour and resulted in the tally below...
49 butterflies / 9 species
Large White x 9
Green-veined White x 3
Small Copper x 6
Red Admiral x 3
Comma x 1
Speckled Wood x 9
Gatekeeper x 5
Meadow Brown x 7
Small Heath x 6
Sunday I was back at the park for a much longer visit. Well that was my plan until rain stopped play.
Two exciting finds for me today though, one of them being a patch tick for me and a possible patch first.
But first a warning - if you are arachnophobic you might want to scroll down to the blackberry photo as my next few photos are of three individual spider species seen this morning.
I'm not a lover of spiders, but I am happy to watch them outdoors in their natural habitat. I even have two nice sized Garden Spiders in my front yard, both sharing a 3 metre square space. And there are plenty of Garden Spiders in various sizes at Cranford Park....
But what I was hoping to find was a Wasp Spider. My good friend, Nathalie, recently found her first one on her patch in Hammersmith and after that I kept thinking there must be some at Cranford Park. We have areas of scrub there that are more than suitable conditions for this highly recognisable spider. In fact the thought played on my mind so much that I actually dreamt about where I might find them and the dream woke me up with a true revelation. I knew exactly what part of the park to look first. So today I did and I found my first one within twenty minutes of searching !!!!
So dreams DO come true !
I've seen these distinctive spiders quite a few times over the years in autumn including at the London Wetland Centre, RSPB Rainham, RSPB Arne and my most recent sighting just a few weeks ago at Maple Lodge NR.
But I was more than chuffed to find not one, but two good sized females in one small area at Cranford Park today. Unfortunately both were in fairly awkward positions so that I couldn't get a decent view of the top markings of this beautiful spider but the first one was at an angle that meant I could shuffle around for a fairly good sideways view. She had recently caught and cocooned a wasp and was still in the process of moving it when I found her.....
|Under view of Wasp Spider number 1 with wasp in silk cocoon|
Just a few feet away I saw the distinctive zig zag webbing of another Wasp Spider but couldn't see the spider itself. I lingered for a while then saw her move up into position from a hidden lair near the ground. Where she was, tucked into the long grasses, meant I could get no top or side views at all, just the under view of her. So this is Wasp Spider number 2 with part of her zig zag web just below her......
I lost another hour searching the fringes of the long grasses for more but to no avail. The fact that I found two within a short space of each other would suggest there are probably a lot more at Cranford Park. The rest of the meadow grasses have already been mown so I will be sending an email to our Conservation Officer at Hillingdon Council requesting the last few patches of long grasses are left to go to seed naturally and not go under the mower ! The two I found today are both females. The males are very small and a drab brown, and often after mating the female will kill and devour the male. Mmmmmmm, personally I prefer an after sex cigarette and a glass of wine !
I have never seen any reports of these colourful harmless spiders being at Cranford Park before so am hoping I've discovered a patch first.
Whilst I was searching for more spiders in todays cool autumnal weather I spotted my first butterfly of the day and followed it's progress hoping to get a photo of it. It was another Small Copper, one of my favourite butterflies this summer due to the good numbers I've recorded at the park. Sadly this one was to fall prey to yet another spider species. A Four Spot Orb Weaver. The butterfly sadly flew straight in to a web as I watched and before I had time to react and save it, a large spider with a big fat swollen abdomen descended quickly from her hidden lair.......
The poor butterfly was swiftly killed, wrapped in a silk cocoon and taken back to the spiders lair which was hidden in a tent of leaves in a bramble bush.
Nature at it's most cruellest ? Not really, that's what nature is all about. The chain of life.
Autumn really has arrived. The cool weather today after several very warm days certainly heralded it. And there are plenty of shrubs and trees in fruit now.
As to be expected at this time of year there were various fruiting fungi around the park.
This huge specimen below (with my iPhone for size reference) is possibly one of the bracket species ...
The two below are of the delicate looking Coral fungi species, of which there are plenty to be seen near old log piles on the woodland floor.....
The 'Dead Mans Fingers' below can be also be commonly seen on old rotting logs....
and as mentioned in previous blog posts, I've now found three sites for the lovely, colourful, tiny Yellow Stagshorn......
But my favourite, and the one I've been looking out for the last couple of weeks, is the wonderfully bizarre 'Stinkhorn'. Last autumn I found two by one of the main woodland paths but they've not re-appeared there this year. So I was pleasantly surprised to come across a quite fresh one in Bluebell Dell. Normally where you find one, you'll find others, but there was only the one visible today.
Its 'true' name is 'phallus impudicus'. 'Phallus' seems to be very appropriate seeing how the fungi is so 'phallic' shaped !!!!
The head of the fungi is meant to be quite smelly but I couldn't smell anything today. The smell is meant to attract flies. They then land on the fungi to feed and when they fly off they inadvertently carry the fungi's spores on their feet, therefore spreading the fungi in a very natural way.
The fungi itself emerges from an 'egg' that appears amongst leaf litter. I still have never found any 'eggs' but todays Stinkhorn still had the remains of it's 'egg' at the base......
It really was an autumnal day. The wind was quite chilly and the threat of rain was heavy. Apart from the poor one that met its end in the Four Orbs web, I saw no other butterflies during my whole visit. The only bees I saw were Common Carders. There were no dragonflies or darters on the wing. And I only found one hoverfly species......
Down on the River Crane there was no sign of life at all. Not even a Moorhen or a Mallard. From the Stone Bridge looking down there looks to be a fuel/oil spill of some sort caught amongst the reeds. Not a pleasant sight and one that I may need to bring to the attention of relevant authorities.
On the other side of the park where Frogs Ditch stretches by the side of the crop fields, there were plenty of signs of life. Tracks all along the far muddy banks were those of more than one Muntjac deer with its tell-tale two toe slot pattern.......
and the shallow water was ideal for a small mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Goldcrests to stop for a bathe. Unfortunately I still had my macro lens on the camera instead of my easier to use autofocus lens, so only a few of my photos came out........
|Long-tailed Tit after a thorough good washing|
|Out of focus Goldcrest|
|the same out of focus Goldcrest|
|Two out of focus Goldcrests having a bath|
At this time of year a lot of the small birds fly around together. Often in these mixed species flocks you'll get the odd warbler or even a Nuthatch or Treecreeper included too. I wasn't that lucky today, but to watch Goldcrests up fairly close, batheing without worried about being seen, was pretty special.
To top off my visit I was making my way out of the woods when I found this huge feather....
It's from a Red Kite.
If you read my blog post from last week you'll see I photographed a heavily moulting Red Kite perched up in one of the tallest trees in the park. I found this feather under the tree it had been perched in.
So even if rain did eventually stop play for me, I had a great few hours at Cranford Park.
My patch high-lights being of course, the Wasp Spiders and the Stinkhorn fungus.