Big Red Moon

Down The Greenway

Down the Greenway and Beyond

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Shoreburs Greenway is one of a number of Greenways in Southampton, and is a narrow 3.5 mile stretch of parkland and woodland. It's the small 0.6 mile long section known as Weston Common (locally called "the valley") that we're mainly concerned with, although we sometimes stray a little further. "Beyond" is our garden which is about 100 metres from the greenway, and as a consequence is much affected by it.

We're not wildlife experts, but we do have a keen interest in the natural world. The aim here is to note our observations of the wildlife we see, put up some photographs, let it evolve and hopefully create a record of what can be seen without going far from home.

Occasional notes

These are notes on current stuff that we find interesting, and we will be adding to them occasionally with earlier observations which, at the time, we didn't complete.

 

14th June 2014     •     Garden     •     Hello KittyRS

We have a white sheet which we peg up next to our moth trap in order to shield our neighbours from the lamp light. It has the added advantage of being a convenient perch for the moths that would otherwise settle in the surrounding foliage. You may have noticed that it gets light fairly early at this time of year, so I was up at around 4am to see what was about, as some moths flutter away before sunrise. It's easy to miss the odd gem when getting up at a more sensible time. Anyway, clinging to the sheet was a beautiful Puss Moth. There was, however, no worry about this one leaving early. I removed it from the sheet to take a few photos before putting it into the safety of our mothing basket, where it remained until at least 9.30pm. It's a fairly big moth with a wingspan of up to 80mm. It's a first for us, and well worth the wait.

 

14th April 2014     •     Greenway     •     Lady's Smock - A Close ShaveRS

Here's another wild flower that seems to have sprung up from nowhere. Yesterday morning I noticed a small group of Lady's Smock at the edge of the local path to the greenway. Later in the day the council mowers were out, so I was a little nervous of what I might find, or not find, this morning. Luckily, the flashing blades had missed the Lady's Smock by a whisker. The rather splendid Borage next to our neighbour's gate was not so fortunate, which is a shame as it's a great early nectar source for bees.

Lady's Smock, Cardamine pratensis, is usually found in damp meadows as the epithet 'pratensis' implies. It has an alternative common name of Cuckoo Flower, as the flowers are said to coincide with the arrival of the cuckoo. They grow to about 55cm high and the flowers are seen from April to late June, being produced on tall, slender stems. The lower leaves are cress like in shape and the upper ones are longer. I've read from more than one source that the leaves can be eaten as a salad. If they weren't right next to the path, I'd probably have a nibble.

 

11th March 2014     •     Garden     •     Three BeautiesRS

It's been a dreadful winter, hasn't it. But now, at last, there seems to be a change for the better. Last night was our third trapping of the year, and flapping around near the lamp was an unfamiliar moth which Toni quickly identified from my couple of hastily taken photos as a Pine Beauty. Now this is a new moth for us, and is not overly common in this part of Hampshire. So a cracking good start to the mothing season for us! The photo on the left is the Pine Beauty, and on the right is of one of a pair of Oak Beauties drawn to our lamp light. These are not at all uncommon, and we've seen them on a number of occasions, but they are rather attractive don't you think?

 

10th November 2013     •     Garden     •     Martin's MerveilleRS

Today, Martin Wainwright, of the excellent 'Martin's Moths' blog, announced his Moth of the Year, the Merveille du Jour, and we can see why. He had his first, and so far, only sighting on17th October, and this reminded us of our own first and only sighting of this fairly common but stunningly beautiful moth. It will be two years on 13th November since one stayed the night in our trap, and not only was it a bit of good fortune that we went for a late season punt on that evening, but it was the only moth in the trap! Oddly enough, this isn't the first occasion when the only moth in the trap has been a first sighting for us. It's happened quite a lot. Now, if only we could come across the Scarce Merveille du Jour. It's a real stunner and, as its name implies, scarce.

 

5th November 2013     •     Greenway     •     More AcornsRS

Down in the valley, and no doubt elsewhere, there's been a huge acorn crop this year. It's been a couple of months since we noticed the first fall of green acorns, these being mostly small ones. Two weeks ago virtually the whole crop had fallen, and the distinctive smell of ripe, dried acorns filled the air. It was a short lived experience, as the warm, dry weather was jostled out by storms leaving the acorns in a bit of a soggy state. However, they do need a bit of moisture to tempt them into action, and some are now showing signs of sprouting. The photograph shows part of a group of around 21 mature oaks, and under their canopy, unlike anywhere else on Weston Common, hardly anything of any great size grows.

 

7th October 2013     •     Garden     •     Migrant MothsRS

It seems that it's been a good year to see the migrant Vestal moth (left hand photo), which is great for us as we'd never seen one. This nice example was in our trap this morning. This was very fortunate, as the weather forecasters are predicting some chilly winds coming from the north in a couple of days time, so this may have been our last chance of a sighting this year.

The second photo is of a Silver Y, a fairly common migrant, of which we've seen increased numbers this year. They are often seen at dusk flitting from one flower to another, and although they will land to take nectar, their wings rarely stop flapping. Until you get to recognise them, this can make identification a bit of a challenge.

 

8th September 2013     •     Garden     •     Jay FeederRS

This is prompted by my recent note about acorns, but the tale began in January. I've been meaning to write this for ages.

So!  Remembering how, years ago, we would string together some monkey nuts and hang them from a tree branch for the birds to enjoy, we thought we'd give it a go. It wasn't long before the local great tits were swinging on the string having a good peck, then, soon after, a squirrel was eyeing it up. It attempted a couple of leaps from the adjacent apple tree before giving it up as a bad job. A jay had more success, dangling about on the end of the string and ripping off a few nuts which it broke open in the privacy of our big birch.

Encouraged by the jay visits, we began to lob a few monkey nuts onto the garage roof and press them into crevices in the tree bark. This worked to a degree, but most were scoffed by the local squirrels. So we bought a tray and mounted it on a pole. This went well for a few weeks, with regular visits from jays, the occasional one from magpies and even one take-away by a carrion crow. Eventually, of course, a squirrel managed to shin up the pole so I fixed an upturned flower pot on top of the pole, and that did the trick.

Within the last few days the jay, magpie and squirrel visits have become scarce, so they're probably now finding enough food in the valley. However, whilst the jays were nesting and feeding their young, we were getting through about a half kilo of nuts per week, although we have to admit to eating a few ourselves.

If you'd like to watch a short video clip of a Jay on the feeder, click here.

 

29th August 2013     •     Garden     •     Bin BeesRS

Look!  Bees in a bin!  This year we've been working on the side garden, which had become a bit of a repository for bits of old timber and buddleia branches. In amongst all this there is an incinerator bin which had only been used once, probably about ten years ago, when it generated so much smoke that we never used it again. Since then, it's been stuffed with twigs for a burning that never happened. So, it's great to see that it's been put to excellent use as a bee nest. I first noticed the activity a couple of weeks ago when they were bumbling around the various holes, and looking slightly confused. I'd probably removed some landmarks in the tidying process. Luckily, I hadn't tried shifting the bin. All seemed to settle down quite quickly, and they now all pop in and out of the one hole at the bottom of the bin. We've looked at various websites and asked the opinion of those more knowledgable than us, and it seems that they are the Common Carder Bee, Bombus pascuorum.

When looking up the Carder Bee on line, we were disappointed to see how many people were asking how to get rid of bee nests. Bees are usually not bothered by us humans, so long as we leave them alone, and will carry on with their lives as if we weren't there. We once had a nest of very small bees just a few inches from the back door. They were using an old blackbird nest which had slipped to the base of a shrub. Just watch and enjoy them.

 

28th August 2013     •     Greenway     •     AcornsRS

Last year, there was a noticeable shortage of acorns, and this had an effect on our winter garden visitors. Squirrels were once just occasional visitors, and Jays a rare sighting, but once they'd discovered our supply of monkey nuts, there was no keeping them away. And they're still visiting daily! This year it's different. The oaks in the valley are generally well covered with acorns, so it'll be interesting to see if they still visit us when the new acorns are ripe.

There are two native oak species in the UK; the Sessile or Durmast Oak, Quercus petraea, and the Pedunculate or English Oak, Quercus robur. The Sessile Oak is also known as the Cornish Oak and the Welsh Oak, and is the national tree of Wales. The ones in the valley are Q. robur, and their acorns grow on stalks or peduncles, whereas the acorns of Q. petraea are stalkless or sessile. When it comes to the leaves, the opposite is true.

 

22nd August 2013     •     Garden     •     Look What Dropped InRS

A strange little creature (first photo) turned up this morning. In fact there were two, one inside our moth trap and another on the outside, so we guess that they'd fallen from one of our trees. They looked somehow familiar, and we thought they were perhaps some kind of beetle larva, but a look at the usual sources came up with nothing convincing. We emailed a photo to Andy Collins, aka the Watcher of the Skies (watcheroftheskies1.blogspot.co.uk), and he came up with the answer that they were lacewing larvae. Of course, once aware of what they are, they're easy enough to find. In fact, a quick search on the internet reveals that most lacewing related websites seem to be offering them for sale as an aphid control. It seems that they are voracious predators; just look at those massive jaws! We're not surprised to have lacewing larvae in the garden, as we see plenty of adults (second photo) in our trees and around our moth trap at night, though it's a little odd that we haven't seen them before today.

 

20th August 2013     •     Garden     •     Clouded YellowRS

There's been a lot of talk this year of the increased numbers of the immigrant butterfly, Colias croceus, the Clouded Yellow. They're quite distinctive, but we'd never knowingly seen one in the UK before, although we did see one in Crete and the very similar Clouded Sulphur, Colias philodice, in California. Our wait was over last week when Toni spotted one in our garden, then I saw one in my parents' garden only to be followed by yet another which we both saw at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens near Romsey, Hants. Unfortunately, we were unable to get a photograph, so our slightly worn one from Crete will have to do. The Buddleias at Hilliers were, of course, heaving with just about everything but the Clouded Yellow.

 

2nd August 2013     •     Garden     •     Small RanunculusRS

Once common in the UK, the Small Ranunculus became extinct in the early 1900s only to reappear in Kent in 1997 when two were recorded in Gravesend. It has since gained a bit of a stronghold there and has started to spread in small numbers. It was first recorded in Hampshire in 2009 when two were found (one in Southsea, one in Fleet) and it is still rare in the county, so we were delighted to find one in our trap this morning. There have since been sightings close to Southampton, one being recorded in Eastleigh in 2010 and one in Totton in 2011. Unfortunately, the photo quality is not too good as the light was poor at 5.30 in the morning and it took off before conditions improved.

 

1st August 2013     •     Greenway     •     Common Knapweed - Centaurea nigraRS

As the name suggests, this is a fairly common plant. It's also known as Lesser Knapweed, Black Knapweed and Hardheads, and, if you look it up on the RHS website, a great many more. It grows in grassy places such as roadside verges, hedgerows, meadows and wasteland. On a recent visit to Norfolk we saw an abundance of it along the sides of a disused railway line. However, although it may grow elsewhere on the greenway, I don't remember having seen it on Weston Common despite all the grass, so it may be a garden escapee. This one is growing on a regularly mown area and, as a consequence, has become a bit of a ground hugger. This single flower head has managed to pop up between mowings, but the odds are against it getting to the seeding stage. I shall be keeping an eye on its progress. The encouraging thing is that there are eight other flower buds in various stages of development, so there are a few more chances yet>

PS
On 4th August I found a further 12 plants in a cluster on another part of the field. Most had flower buds. Hope they get to flower. Gripping stuff!

 

3rd July 2013     •     Garden     •     Nesting Swifts RS

You wouldn't believe how pleased we were to see swifts nesting in our roof again. I managed to get a series of shots of one entering the nest hole, and was lucky that it only took a few minutes' wait. They collect a large ball of insects and you can see the enormous bulge that it causes. No wonder they take so long to dish out the food to the young. Click here if you want to read last year's swift ramblings.

 

30th June 2013     •     Garden     •     Two Green Flies RS

Here are two sparkling gems that I hadn't noticed before. The one on the left is Poecilobothrus nobilitatus, and is seen here on a Frogbit leaf on our pond. They like damp places with lush vegetation. Only the male has white wing tips and performs its mating display by posing in front of the nearest female and flickering its wings at right angles to its body. The other fly is Chloromyia formosa, another damp loving creature, and we believe that this is a female.

 

19th June 2013     •     Greenway     •     Cardinal Beetle RS

I spotted this one down the valley this morning. It's a Red-headed Cardinal Beetle, Pyrochroa serraticornis, and, although not uncommon, it's the first time that I've seen one in the greenway or the garden. The photo was taken on Toni's iPhone 4s as I didn't have the camera with me, and I think it's pretty good. The second photo was taken at the Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve in June 2009. It's very similar to the Black-headed Cardinal Beetle, Pyrochroa coccinea but with the obvious difference of the head colour of course.

 

28th March 2013     •     Garden     •     Orange Sallow RS

This is a great example of what these pages are about. We've been mothing for four years and have a lot to learn about the little creatures. Last August, this rather attractive moth was drawn in by our lamp and we identified it as an Orange Sallow which, according to our moth ID books, is common throughout the country. And indeed it is, but when we received an email from the county moth recorder asking to confirm our sightings (20th August and 14th September), we looked a little deeper and found that not only was the first sighting six days earlier than any previous record for Hampshire and Isle of Wight, it's also quite uncommon in the two counties with a record high in 2009 of only 15 recordings. Last year ours were two of only three recorded. Exciting stuff indeed!! Surely!

 

27th January 2013     •     Garden     •     Cold Weather visitors RS

The recent chilly weather has encouraged a few greenway residents to visit the garden. It's good to see them fairly close up.
Song Thrush. For the past couple of weeks, we've had daily visits from a Song Thrush. It tends to hang around for most of the day, either pecking around the garden or perching in a holly bush.
Chaffinch. Although there are small flocks of Chaffinches in the greenway, they rarely pop up to our garden. Good to see one or two at the bird table each day.
Jay. Monkey nuts .... A visiting Jay has been making return trips to feed on them. Toni managed to get a few nice shots of this rather timid bird before it nipped off with its prize. Lovely blue sky, too.

 

7th November 2012     •     Garden     •     Jackdaw RS

Sometimes, we're so easy to please. It's just a Jackdaw, but it's the first one we've seen in our garden. Toni saw it yesterday morning when I wasn't home, but managed to get a couple of photos. They've been hanging around and nesting a few hundred metres down the road for some time, and have increased in number from a couple of pairs four years ago to about 16 birds this year. Their preferred nest site seems to be a chimney pot, but the fact that there are very few open topped ones nearby may explain why they don't usually visit our garden.

 

19th August 2012     •     Garden     •     Tigers RS

Two nights ago we saw a Garden Tiger (left photo) perched near our moth lamp. You may not find this particularly exciting as they are reasonably common. However, it was for us. I've only ever seen two Garden Tigers in my life, both of which were dead, and Toni's never seen one at all. So imagine the muted whooping this morning (It was 5.10am on a Sunday) when we spotted a nationally rare Jersey Tiger sat on our moth sheet. They seem to be established in Devon and more recently in Dorset, and apparently, there have been quite a few records of Jersey Tigers along the Hampshire coast in the last few weeks, so they may be getting a foothold here.

 

10th August 2012     •     Garden     •     Hermit Snail RS

We found this very curious combination today. What looks like a White-lipped Snail had somehow managed to wedge itself inside an empty Common Garden Snail shell in a hermit crab sort of way, although, we would guess, unintentionally. We wonder what will happen as its own shell grows, and how well it gets around with the extra weight to carry. Generally, we tend not to intentionally disturb the things we observe, but it happens all the time when we're gardening. So why didn't we prod it into action and watch it go? An opportunity missed.

 

8th August 2012     •     Greenway     •     Sparrowhawks RS

sparrowhawkI was drawn into the greenway by a squeaky bird of prey call. I'd heard the same call two days earlier, and had briefly seen a couple of hawk-like birds rise above the tree canopy. So I had to have a look. I could hear a number of birds, and then spotted two of them flying from tree to tree. They looked like young Sparrowhawks to me, but not being much of an authority on such things I recorded the calls (at least 4 individual birds) on my mobile. On checking the call on the RSPB website, there's no doubt that they were Sparrowhawks. Hope the enormous local community of sparrows doesn't diminish too much. You can hear the calls by clicking play. You'll have to excuse the rustling leaves, whistling wind and the passing aircraft noise.

 

29th July 2012     •     Garden     •     Swifts RS

Last year (2011) we had the great excitement of having swifts nesting in our roof. This may not have been the first occupation, but it was the first that we had noticed. The space was first used about 15 years ago by starlings, and since then by house sparrows. That year, the sparrows had only just left the site when the swifts moved in. The same thing happened this year with the sparrows producing two broods by the time of the swifts' arrival. In fact the sparrows were still in residence when the swifts were performing their initial site fly-pasts.

We wonder if the fly-past may be a form of location or territory reinforcement, as they perform it a number of times during the weeks before nesting, and then again after until they migrate, screaming as they pass within about 30cm of the nest hole. This is done sometimes as a pair, but we have counted up to seven in a fly-past where we imagine the nesters are accompanied by non-breeding singles.

It takes a bit of patience to be sure that the swifts are nesting. Last year, to confirm our nesting suspicions, I performed a little stakeout. Sitting in a shady spot on an large upturned flowerpot, I stared at the nest hole for about an hour. After around 20 minutes a swift emerged and was gone. Another 20 minutes passed before another, or perhaps the same one, flew in. It left 15 minutes later. That's quite a long stay, but it would seem they sometimes travel vast distances for food, and return with huge quantities of it.

This year, our first sighting of swifts was on 7th May when we saw three flying nearby. On 12th May we noticed 2 passing close to the nest hole, and groups of up to 12 flying overhead. Unlike the blue tits and blackbirds nesting in the garden, we're not able to casually observe the swifts' comings and goings from our kitchen window, but I did see them visiting the nest up to 1st July. On 28th July they were flying extremely high in a group of about 16. Four of them screamed past the nest hole on a couple of occasions, and it had the same feel as last year when it was the last we saw them that summer. (And indeed it was this year too)

If you'd like to know more about these fascinating birds, there are some excellent websites to look at, a few of which are listed on our LINKS page.

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