Wildlife at Tablehurst and Emerson: Winter and Early Spring

Picture of Cochlodina laminata

Plaited Door-snail (Cochlodina laminata)

Since the beginning of the year we’ve been recording any wildlife we see in the kilometre square TQ4335, which is the one that includes the core bit of Tablehurst, plus Emerson as well as a part of the Forest Way and the Medway. It is an interesting way to get more familiar with all the common plants and animals on our doorstep, and inevitably turns up loads of things which you can’t immediately identify, thereby encouraging better knowledge about groups of species about which you may previously have been largely unaware. Several kilometre square projects have been undertaken around the country in recent years,[1] often resulting in over a thousand species being recorded. Even so, such a list is never ‘complete’ and will inevitably reflect the expertise of the recorders, with the result that more difficult-to-identify groups are hugely under-recorded, or ignored altogether (eg flies and micro-fungi).

Picture of Irish Yellow Slug (Limacus maculatus)

Irish Yellow Slug (Limacus maculatus)

Our New Years Day walk[2] turned up over a hundred species, including of course common things such as Oak (Quercus robur) and Blackbirds (Turdus merula), but also some less -familiar (though still common) species such as Irish Yellow Slug (Limacus maculatus), and Soft-shield Fern (Polystichum setiferum). We also found things such as the Common Spangle Gall caused on Oak by the wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum, and the leaf mine on Hazel caused by the Nut-leaf Blister-moth (Phyllonorycter coryli).

So, after three months, how are we progressing in Forest Row? So far we have recorded 226 different species, whether alive, dead, or simply unambiguous evidence of an organism (eg leaf mines, galls, mole hills, bird song etc[3]), which isn’t bad considering spring is barely on us yet. The majority of these are either birds (38), vascular plants (77) or bryophytes (49). As the season warms up we’ll certainly find many more vascular plants, and we’ve barely started looking at insects yet. For instance, regular moth trapping in different habitats could easily add a couple of hundred different species, maybe more.

Picture of Chrysosplenium oppositifolium

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium)

There are inevitably lots of common organisms that we’ve not formally recorded yet, be they Bank Voles (Myodes glareolus), Foxes (Vulpes vulpes), or Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris), but it won’t take much effort to find them.

However, it is the more focussed digging around and serious looking that has already started to turn up interesting things. Invariably, there are many groups of species where we need some more expert advice, and that can either be found via the online identification site iSpot, various Facebook groups, or by asking experts based elsewhere in the county, especially for those organisms that can’t be identified from a photo alone. So far this has particularly been the case for crust fungi and mosses, for which Nick Aplin and Tom Ottley have been very helpful.

Picture of Tussilago farfara

Colt’s Foot (Tussilago farfara)

The recording can easily take us to little-visited corners of the farm, such as the stream at the bottom of Hazel Wood, or up Gill Wood, and these have proved to be lovely habitats. Several times I’ve collected mosses and identified many of them, but needed confirmation from Tom Ottley, the county recorder. Sometimes Tom has corrected my IDs, but on other occasions he has noted that my sample included something else much more interesting as well, such as Hygroamblystegium varium in Hazel Wood, and Microbryum davallianum behind the vegetable stall in the middle of the farm. The latter is a tiny moss which is normally only found on chalk downland, so is very unusual here.

Walking up the stream from the pond at Emerson into Gill Wood also gives the opportunity to find some different things, such as the liverwort Chiloscyphus polyanthus, and a number of crust fungi. Those so far identified by Nick have been Rusty Porecrust (Fuscoporia ferruginosa), Xylodon quercinus, and Peniophora cinerea. There will undoubtedly be more.

Picture of Peniophora cinerea

The purplish crust fungus Peniophora cinerea

Even on our first walk at the beginning of January we started looking for various animals that live in and around dead wood. It doesn’t take long to uncover our two very common woodlice Porcellio scaber and Oniscus asellus, but then more digging can reveal beetles, myriapods and tiny molluscs, such as the 7mm diameter Garlic Snail (Oxychilus alliarius), which does indeed have a faint whiff of garlic.

Pictture of Garlic Snail (Oxychilus alliarius)

Garlic Snail (Oxychilus alliarius)

Of the birds, you can often see groups of Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis), and there was a large group of Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) as well. It’s also nice to see the occasional Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) up there, and Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) occurs on the farm reservoir. Tom Forward has also reported a Raven (Corvus corax) on the farm.

Picture of Now-vacant mines of the Holly Leaf Miner fly (Phytomyza ilicis)

Now-vacant mines of the Holly Leaf Miner fly (Phytomyza ilicis)

Once you start looking, it is surprising how many things you see that otherwise would have passed you by. Indeed, there have been quite a few species I’d not noticed before, even though I’ve walked around the farm hundreds of times. These include the nice range of tiny plants that grow up among the arable stubble, as well as the blotches on Holly leaves, which are the result of the Holly Leaf Miner fly (Phytomyza ilicis). Then, giving a Gorse bush a bit of a bash generated a rather cute-looking Gorse Weevil (Exapion ulicis), and having a closer look at some sheep dung revealed a striking Yellow Dung Fly (Scathophaga stercoraria).

Picture of Scathophaga stercoraria

Yellow Dung Fly (Scathophaga stercoraria)

We’ve identified a reasonable number of common lichens too, the most recent being a striking white one that looks like blotches on many trees. There are a couple of common chemical reagents that are used to help determine some lichen species, and in this case a drop of potassium hydroxide solution turned the lichen yellow and then to red. This lichen is Phlyctis argena.

Phlyctis argena

Phlyctis argena

With the warming weather we’re now seeing more spring creatures. The bees are about, especially lots of Queens of the Buff-tailed Bumble-bee (Bombus terrestris). And, in the last week other insects are emerging such as the Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major), and Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae).

Picture of Bombylius major

Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major)

However, even in such a relatively small area there are several habitats we’ve not even looked at yet. The most obvious of these is the river Medway itself, as well as within the small streams. Some groups such as the bryophytes are probably almost approaching a reasonably comprehensive record of what is in the square.[4] For others, such as worms, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and bugs, we have no records at all yet. In part that is due to the time of year, and that also applies to other groups where many more species will become visible in the coming months.

Do let us know what you see (preferably with the date and location), and if you don’t know what it is you can post a picture to the Facebook group or specifically to the TQ4335 album. The number of records is about to increase substantially…

Picture of Galleries of Ash Bark Beetle (Hylesinus varius)

Galleries of Ash Bark Beetle (Hylesinus varius)

[1] For example, see the squares recorded as part of the 1000 for 1ksq blog and its rules: http://1000for1ksq.blogspot.co.uk/p/the-rules.html

[2] Bicker, Rachel. “New Year’s Day species hunt at Tablehurst Farm.” Biodiversity Gatwick, 3 January 2015. Web 6 April 2015. <http://biodiversitygatwick.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/new-years-day-species-hunt-at.html>

[3] The rules for the 1000 for 1ksq project didn’t allow ‘evidence-only’ records, but since biological record centres do, it seems sensible to include them.

[4] The current list of bryophytes comprises:

  • Atrichum undulatum
  • Barbula sardoa
  • Barbula unguiculata
  • Brachythecium rutabulum
  • Bryum argenteum
  • Bryum capillare
  • Bryum rubens
  • Bryum ruderale
  • Calliergonella cuspidata
  • Chiloscyphus polyanthos
  • Cololejeunia minutissima
  • Conocephalum conicum
  • Cryphaea heteromalla
  • Didymodon insulanus
  • Eurhynchium striatum
  • Fissidens incurvus
  • Fissidens pusillus
  • Fissidens taxifolius
  • Frullania dilatata
  • Funaria hygrometrica
  • Grimmia pulvinata
  • Hygroamblystegium varium
  • Hypnum cupressiforme
  • Isothecium myosuroides
  • Kindbergia praelonga
  • Lunularia cruciata
  • Metzgeria furcata
  • Metzgeria violacea
  • Microbryum davallianum
  • Mnium hornum
  • Orthotrichum affine
  • Orthotrichum diaphanum
  • Oxyrrhynchium hians
  • Pellia endiviifolia
  • Pellia epiphylla
  • Phascum cuspidatum
  • Plagiomnium undulatum
  • Polytrichastrum formosum
  • Pseudotaxiphyllum elegans
  • Radula complanata
  • Rhizomnium punctatum
  • Rhynchostegium confertum
  • Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus
  • Syntrichia intermedia
  • Syntrichia ruralis
  • Thamnobryum alopecurum
  • Thuidium tamariscinum
  • Tortula muralis
  • Tortula truncata
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