Saturday, 31 March 2018

Butterflies in the garden

Now that I'm starting to do some serious gardening again, I am trying to think what plants and garden features are beneficial to resident and visiting wildlife. In this post, I am going to focus on butterflies. I like to observe wildlife including butterflies and often record what I see using either iRecord or during the Big Butterfly Count. Here, I will use the photos taken in the garden and elsewhere to identify which plants are attractive to butterflies.

Gatekeeper - making the most of July warmth.
Many of my photos show butterflies basking in the sun - on sunlit leaves, fences, grasses, rocks, bare earth etc. So places where they can find warmth are important.

The summer banquet

The Butterfly Conservation people have a page on Gardening with butterflies in mind.  They list the best plants for summer nectar and these are very much in line with my expectations. One of the more useful hints is to plant nectar rich plants in sunny parts of the garden.

Peacock on Verbena Bonariensis - July
One of the plants they recommend is Verbena Bonariensis, which also comes right at the top of my personal list of flowers attractive to butterflies. This is consistent with the results of a more general survey I did in 2014.

Holly Blue on Marjoram - July
Another summer favourite is wild Marjoram.  The browns seem to particularly attracted to this plant if it is growing close to long grass.

Snacking through the rest of the year

Small Copper on Aster - September
As the days shorten and the summer flowers fade away, Asters and Sedums are a good source of nectar.  Butterflies will also feed on fruit. The Natural History Museum page - How to attract butterflies to your garden - suggests putting fruit on the compost heap for them. Our compost heap is in a shaded corner, so I drop overripe or fallen fruit into a sunny patch. I've sometimes seen Red Admirals feeding on it.

Red Admiral on Mahonia - November
On the subject of Red Admirals, these can be seen flying during the winter months and are likely to need a winter snack. Mahonia is very popular with these butterflies and many other pollinators. Be sure to get the type with the long spikes of flowers that bloom during the winter months. Avoid the type that blooms in spring when there is plenty of other food around.

Brimstone on Sweet Violets - March
Butterflies will take nectar from early spring flowers such as Violets.  Many will visit Blackthorn blossom and Lesser celandine but these two are thugs that will swamp garden plants.

Speckled Wood on Bowles Mauve Perennial Wallflower - May
The Perennial Wallflower, Bowles Mauve, appears on the Butterfly Conservation summer nectar list andit starts flowering in April and so bridges the gap between the early spring flowers and the classic, summer butterfly flowers.

Caterpillars need to eat too

Peacock on Stinging Nettle - June
Sorry, I'm a bad nature lover and have no intention of having a nettle patch in our garden. Luckily our neighbour doesn't cut the nettles in his parking area and I think this is where our steady supply of Red Admirals and Peacocks comes from.  The Butterfly Conservation gardening page links to a list of food plants (pdf) and the Natural History Museum page advises allowing your garden to be wild around the edges. I suggest wild corners rather than edges. The difference between a wildlife-friendly garden and a mess is tidy edges, a prominently positioned log pile and a bird box.

Metamorphose in peace 

Green-Veined White on Garlic Mustard - I check old stems before composting
When a caterpillar is changing into a butterfly it protects and disguises itself in a pupa. They hide away in all sorts of places so be careful what you clear away. I cringe whenever I think about the way that I used to carefully leave Garlic Mustard (Jack-in-the-Hedge) as a food plant for Orange Tip and Green-veined White caterpillars and then cleared away the stems that probably had pupa attached.

Do butterflies dream of electric flowers?

I don't know if butterflies sleep but they do need somewhere hide away at night. If I brush against our hedge as I pass it first thing, a cloud of brown and orange butterflies - Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers - appears.  While taking evening walks along the A45, which runs alongside a hotel I regularly stayed in while at Birmingham, I saw Large Whites disappear into the canopies of trees alongside the road. So hedges, shrubs and trees provide butterflies with useful shelter.

Next steps

I think we are doing reasonably well with our butterflies but I need to focus more on caterpillar food plants. Of those mentioned in the Butterfly Conservation (pdf) list, we have all sorts of rough grasses, Bird's Foot Trefoil, Garlic Mustard, Violets, Blackthorn, Sorrel/Dock, Holly and Ivy. This means I have both butterflies and food plants. The next step is to find out if the butterflies are breeding in the garden - and that means getting down on my hands and knees to find caterpillars.



Saturday, 17 March 2018

Blue Tits in Uckfield

This morning, Kevin of Potter's Books arrived with some treasures - nature and local history books. As it was a grey morning and snow was falling I decided to look at one of my books - The Blue Tit by Martyn Stenning.

The Blue Tit - Martyn Stenning
It is a specialist book with all sorts of fascinating information about Blue Tits including research on Blue Tits breeding in The Woodland Trust's Lake Wood, Uckfield along with detailed results and analysis.  I haven't had time to do more than graze through it so far but it sent me spinning off into my own records and photos.  My photos aren't great but I was pleased to be able to capture these lively little birds at all.

Blue Tit posing prettily on our birdtable - 13 January 2013

I find Blue Tits very endearing. They pose prettily on our bird table, nest obligingly in the box on the back of the house and surely butter wouldn't melt in their innocent little beaks?

Maybe they're not so cute if you are a rival or a threat. Just before Christmas I was shocked to see two Blue Tits having a brawl in the feet of a hedge in Hempstead Lane.  Maybe they were fighting over a nesting site? Martyn's book tells us that "securing a cavity will be the male Blue Tit's first move to attract a mate" or maybe, at a time when food was scarce, they were competing over some tasty morsel. A couple of the country names listed in Mark Cocker's and Richard Mabey's Birds Britannica, "Billy biter" and "Tom bitethumb" reflect their feisty nature.

At our nest box - 27 Mary 2007
I've got so used to seeing Blue Tits nesting in bird boxes that it was a surprise when David, chairman  of the Uckfield Nature Reserves Supporters Group, pointed out parent birds going in and out of a crack in the trunk of a big old tree in Uckfield Town Council's West Park Local Nature Reserve. I simply hadn't thought about what Blue Tits did before man invented bird boxes! Now I find myself wondering if they are descendants of any of the birds that featured in Martyn's Lake Wood studies.

Fledgling with yellow gape round its beak - 27 May 2011

When a Blue Tit family is resident in the box on our wall, we never have to worry about caterpillars eating our plants because the parent birds are constantly scouring the garden for nice, soft prey to feed their chicks.  Those little mouths are sign-posted with a bright yellow gape as shown in the photo above.

I was astounded when I read, in Martyn's book that they hatch " ... more often very early in the morning ... so the hatchling can feed sufficiently to double its weight from roughly one gram to two grams during the first 24 hours out of the egg shell." I find it remarkable that they can grow so quickly but also that everything is so well synchronised with the hatching matching the time that there are caterpillars to feed on.

The Blue Tits that nest in our box always seem to fledge when I am away but in 2007 they left the nest on a Sunday and I seemed to spend most of the day watching them and shooing off the neighbours' cats.  On the 27 of April, fledglings started coming out of the nest just before 9:30am. I still remember the parent bird calling them across the garden from a tree.

Fledgling hiding in bonsai - 27 Mary 2007
  • The first three got off quickly. These little bundles of fluff tumbled rather than flew from the box. They fluttered and ran across the garden until they reached a conifer. From there, I think they more-or-less parachuted to the Oak.
  • Unfortunately the fourth fell in the pond. Although I got it out and put it on the bird table, the parent bird would have nothing further to do with it.
  • The last two came out about 5 pm. They both fluttered to the ground and ran across the garden until they encountered an obstacle, which they would then climb to use as a launch pad for the next part of their journey.  It was fascinating to see them climb our wall with their surprisingly large feet.

Now, at the end of a snowy March, I'm hoping to see Blue Tits inspecting our box so the whole cycle can start again.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

West Park Local Nature Reserve - Species

Just before Christmas, I wrote about the species that I have observed in the Hempstead Meadow Nature Reserve. Now it's West Park's turn.

Amphibians and Reptiles

I've not observed any amphibians or reptiles in West Park but plenty of people have seen frog spawn near the pond.  iRecord shows two records for Common Lizard in 2015.

Birds

Goldfinch - 9 April 2017

We (The Uckfield Nature Reserves Supporter's group) have gone on a number of bird walks, led by David. I have recorded the following species but we saw and heard more.

Common name Species
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Swift Apus apus
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Buzzard Buteo buteo
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Robin Erithacus rubecula
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba subsp. yarrellii
Great Tit Parus major
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Magpie Pica pica
Dunnock Prunella modularis
Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Blackbird Turdus merula
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos

On one of our walks last year, David pointed out Bluetits going in and out a hole in a tree. I am so used to seeing them in nest boxes, it is strange to see them using a natural nesting place.

Flowering Plants

Bluebells and Oak - 14 May 2017
There are many flowering plants in the reserve including many blossom trees such Blackthorn, Hawthorn and Wild Roses.  I've only recorded a handful and have taken beauties such as the Oak and Bluebells, shown in the photo above, for granted. Looking at iRecord, it is clear that a much more detailed survey was done in 2015 by Ben Rainbow, which yielded over a hundred species including those two.

Mystery tree - a pear? - 9 April 2017
During the 9 April 2017 walk, we found an intriguing blossom tree.  The flowers were familiar but too big for one of the trees we expect to find flowering in April.  Scouring our books didn't really help and it was only when I found a very similar tree in Leatherhead that I began to suspect that it might be an ornamental pear. I didn't find any pears in the Autumn but I may have missed them.

Fungi

Velvet Shank - 22 October 2017
Many of the fungi that I have recorded in West Park were observed by a group that did a fungi hunt on the 22nd of October 2018

Common name Species
Jelly Ear Auricularia auricula-judae
Clouded Funnel Clitocybe nebularis
Shaggy Inkcap Coprinus comatus
Blushing Bracket Daedaleopsis confragosa
Velvet Shank Flammulina velutipes var. velutipes
Clustered Bonnet Mycena inclinata
Birch Polypore Piptoporus betulinus
Common Earthball Scleroderma citrinum
Turkeytail Trametes versicolor
Candlesnuff Fungus Xylaria hypoxylon

Insects

Peacock butterfly - 25 March 2017
West Park is home to all sorts of insects, from tiny beetles to showy butterflies and dragonflies.  I found several different types of insect feeding on the glorious Blackthorn blossom in March last year.

Honeybee nest entrance - 28 Jan 2017
One of my favourite finds was a natural Honeybee nest in one of the old trees.  On one of the Autumn walks, David pointed out a Hornet's nest. Fortunately these large, wasp-like creatures are much more laid-back than their smaller, waspy, cousins.

Common name Species Taxon group
Cream-spot Ladybird Calvia quattuordecimguttata insect - beetle (Coleoptera)
Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis insect - beetle (Coleoptera)
Peacock Aglais io insect - butterfly
Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae insect - butterfly
Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines insect - butterfly
Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni insect - butterfly
Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas insect - butterfly
Comma Polygonia c-album insect - butterfly
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta insect - butterfly
Emperor Dragonfly Anax imperator insect - dragonfly (Odonata)
Honey Bee Apis mellifera insect - hymenopteran
Large Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus (Melanobombus) lapidarius insect - hymenopteran
Early Bumblebee Bombus (Pyrobombus) pratorum insect - hymenopteran
Common Carder Bee Bombus (Thoracobombus) pascuorum insect - hymenopteran
Plain Gold Micropterix calthella insect - moth
Cinnabar Tyria jacobaeae insect - moth
Meadow Grasshopper Chorthippus parallelus insect - orthopteran
Panorpa communis insect - scorpion fly (Mecoptera)
St Marks Fly Bibionidae insect - true fly (Diptera)
Dark-edged Bee-fly Bombylius major insect - true fly (Diptera)

Mammals

The only mammals that I have seen are rabbits but there is clear evidence of the presence of larger creatures.

Spiders

Crab spider - 14 May 2017
With all those insects around, we are bound to find a few spiders. I am not very good at identifying them but was able to record this colourful crab spider.

This is a very brief round up of my own observations. There are many more out there including those from formal surveys and all the people who walk through  the reserve.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Biological Recorders' Seminar 2018 - Sussex Biodiversity

After a stressful week it was good to take a pause in Oathall Community College's kitchen garden and listen to the birds singing and the cows mooing before going into the Adastra wildlife recording seminar.

Inside, there was a sale of "The natural history books of Heather Monie and Bunny Bull." with proceeds going to the Sussex Wildlife Trust. It was very poignant to see the books being sold off but I had a strong sense of lives well lived.

Heather and Bunny's books.

I gathered up a few treasures and moved on to the Sussex Botanical Recording Society's stand where the much anticipated The Flora of Sussex was arriving.  I had a quick chat with society members, one or two of whom kindly said that they liked the sketch-notes about keying plants that I had put on the Facebook page. As there were a lot of boxes of books to shift, I brought a box in from the car and then claimed my own copy.

Once again, the talks that followed were full of fascinating information so here is a quick round up.

Record Centre Update - Clare Blencowe

Clare outlined the many developments this year including how various bodies are working together to try and get the local Wildlife Site system running again. Local Wildlife Sites (previously Sites of Nature Conservation Importance - SNCIs) are non-statutory sites of nature conservation value such as Uckfield's West Park and Snatts Road Cemetery.  There is more information on their new website, which includes a recording events calendar.

The Secret Life of Flies - Erica McAlister

Erica gave a very lively talk on flies and their, quite frankly, disgusting habits.  She will definitely be worth following on Twitter @flygirlNHM.  She mentioned bee flies such as the one photographed in Uckfield's West Park Local Nature Reserve, below.

Dark-edged Bee Fly (Bombylius major) - 25 March 2017
I already knew that they flicked their eggs into bee burrows but had no idea that they wrapped them in gravel to make that possible. Also, I didn't know that the larvae then had two distinct growth phases: in the first they are very active until they find a host; then they slow right down, just feeding on it.

Pan-species Listing the Sussex Wildlife Trust Reserves - Graeme Lyons

This is about listing all the species found in the reserves. Graeme announced that the number of species recorded was now over 10,000 and that James McCulloch (known as @My_Wild_Life on Twitter) added the 10,000th species.  The 10,000 included some historic records, one of which was a Little Bustard shot in 1846!  The largest group was beetles with 1874 species.

Graeme also showed the spreadsheet used to record the species information, which now supports work in the reserves.   The format is a list of species down the left-hand side and sites across the top. The cells are completed with the year of the most recent sighting.

Flora of Sussex - Nick Sturt

This was about the book I bought earlier. It is very clearly the labour of love of a very dedicated team and I am looking forward to exploring it. The maps are based on tetrads (2km by 2km squares).

  • The average number of taxa in a tetrad was 336.
  • The highest number was 818 in part of Brighton.
  • The next highest number was 598 in Amberley.
  • The lowest was 33, near the Kent border.

There was a lovely slide showing a 1920s and 2017 group of botanists at Chailey Common. To my surprise, I was in the latter group.

Sussex Seas - Sarah Ward

Sarah outlined the two main surveys that, together, form the Living Seas project:

Knepp Wildland - Penny Green

Penny described Knepp's change from an intensively farmed estate, which was not reliably profitable, to a rewilded landscape. Part of the inspiration was the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve in the Netherlands, where a variety of large herbivores with different eating habits maintain and improve the ecosystem. Any ecosystem needs an apex predator to prevent the herbivores eating themselves out of a home. The words that echo in my mind are "We are the wolf", which is how Penny explained humans' role in removing excess herbivores (to sell as meat) from the rewilded area. .

They rely on recording to monitor what is happening. One of the big successes is the reappearance of the Purple Emperor butterfly, which needs sallows, which in turn needed the environment created by the Tamworth pigs rooting around. Others included the reappearance of Turtle Doves and Nightingales.

Fritillaries for the Future - Neil Hume

Neil described the work being done to try and revive the fortunes of the:
  • Pearl-Bordered Fritillary - 3 sites in Sussex, extinct in Kent and Surrey
  • Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary - extinct in SE England East of the New Forest.

Both species need Dog Violets for their caterpillars. Ever since I found out that some of the more common Fritillary caterpillars use Dog Violets as a food plant, I've been baffled by their absence from my local area where there are plenty of Dog Violets.  Neil's talk about the rarities explained more about the butterflies' complex needs. His words wove a vivid picture of Fritillaries roosting in the canopies of Oak trees and then, as the sun warms the ground, them dropping down to visit the flowers in woodland glades and rides. He went on to explain the specific needs of the rarities.

For example, the Pearl-Bordered Fritillary also needs bare ground to enable the caterpillars to absorb warmth from the spring sunshine.  This means that they need woods to be managed in a particular way with coppicing providing a cycle of shade and sunlit ground.  Wide 'rides' enable provide corridors that enable the butterflies to move from one coppiced area to another.  The decline in these butterflies may be down to lack of such management over decades allowing woods to become too dark.

Latest on Sussex Lessers - Ken Smith


Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker
Ken described the work being done to record Lesser-spotted woodpeckers. This work is described on the website.  Recording these birds is important because there has been a big decline in numbers.  Ken explained that:

  • Birds such as the Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker are helped by the type of woodland management that would help butterflies such as Fritillaries - i.e. coppicing, providing rides and glades.
  • Greater Spotted Woodpeckers drum in short, hard bursts whereas Lessers drum in longer, softer bursts.

Stands

My nature watch: a super project in which a Raspberry-Pi is used to create a trail camera.
West Weald Fungi: promising because it covers the Leatherhead area as well as Sussex.

Takeaways (apart from a car-load of books!)
  • That time spent studying and recording nature is part of a life well lived.
  • It would be interesting to pick some Uckfield Tetrads for more thorough recording.
  • I could 'borrow' some of Graeme's spreadsheet methods to make better use of iRecord information
  • I now understand more about how the Woodland Trust's management of Views (Williams) Wood benefits birds and insects as well as flowers.
  • We are the wolf that stops herbivores eating themselves out of a home.
I also attended and made notes about the seminar last year. This year there was more emphasis on joining volunteer sessions and less on providing the type of information that would enable people to operate independently.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Big Garden Birdwatch - 2018

This year, I had to do my Big Garden Birdwatch a bit earlier (8:05 to 9:05 am) than usual because I needed to get to the hairdresser. I thought this might be why my scores were a bit low but I am assured that there were very few birds in the garden while I was away.

2018's Big Garden Birdwatch
I got a total of 18 individuals from 7 species:
  • Blackbird - 4
  • Blue tit - 3
  • Carrion Crow - 1
  • House Sparrow - 3
  • Magpie - 1
  • Robin - 1
  • Starling - 4
  • Woodpigeon - 1 
This compare's to last year's scores of 17 individuals from 11 species.  Mum suggested that the birds might still be finding plenty of food in nearby wild places and so are staying away from the garden.

The first birds to appear were the cheeky ones - a Magpie and a Robin, which both haunted the garden for much of the hour. I first saw the Robin amongst the purple cascade of Birch twigs. About 10 minutes in, they were joined by a group of Blackbirds, a Wood pigeon and a Crow, which lurked - rather shyly - in a branch just above the hedge.

I was a little concerned when Max, next door's cat showed up - but he just took a brief tour round the front garden before disappearing.  It was just after this, I started seeing the small garden birds including a lovely group of 3 Blue Tits in the Oak, their yellow chests almost glowing in the low sunshine.

I got slightly annoyed by 3 House Sparrows that seemed to be tormenting me by scuttling up and down the edge of a nearby house. Finally, they flew into our magnolia tree so I could count them.  That done, it was time to drop my note book and binoculars and head off to the town.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Brighter Lime Tree Avenue

As we stagger into 2018, it is time to give Lime Tree Avenue a good trim. This time I was working in a group with Brighter Uckfield.  As always, they are doing the town proud and there was a great turn out.  This is just as well. Since last February, when we last did the work, there had been plenty of growth.

The trees that make up the avenue are hybrids between Large-leaved and Small-Leaved Limes.  They are prone to producing "epicormic growths" (suckers), which both:
  • drain energy from the main trunk
  • produce a mini forest at ground level. 
This is why they must be trimmed off.  The photos below show a before and after.

Before and After - epicormic growths (suckers) have been removed.
That was one of the easier trees. I just had to clip over it with stout shears and the job was done.  Some are trickier though.

Stripping away leaf litter to get at older suckers.
The last tree I did had got sneaky. Over the years leaf litter had built up round the suckers, which - hidden from the attentions of volunteers - had grown thick and dense. I had to rake out years of composted leaf litter and then cut off as many stems as I could, one-by-one.

Fungi - about 7 inches across - Jan 2018
Although it was winter there were plenty of signs of life. Lime leaves rot very quickly and make an excellent mulch - although we appreciate it more on the earth than the path! This process relies on fungi and there was a big one near the trees.

White-lipped Snails with their "doors" closed - Jan 2018
While raking the leaf litter from between the suckers, I found several White-lipped Snails. They are small (about 1/2 inch) and are coloured either brown and white or amber. At the moment, the shells are closed with a little white door to keep them safe until they are ready to emerge. In our garden, they are eaten by Thrushes - but I haven't seen a Thrush in the Avenue yet.

Lime Tree Avenue is important to Uckfield for a number of reasons.  It is a real connection with the past. These wonderful old trees are one of the few remaining connections with Uckfield House. If you look on the Memories of Uckfield Facebook group (login required), you will see many stories concerning local people's experiences of Lime Tree Avenue.

Lime Tree Avenue acts as a "vertical nature reserve" that provides a home and food for many creatures. While we were working, we saw Robins, Dunnocks (Hedge Sparrows) and others, almost at ground level. How many others must there be in those tall trees?

Cow Parsley - 30 December 2017
It's not just birds. As I walk up and down the Avenue and through the connected Twittens on the way to and from the town I have encountered a variety of flowers.  When, just a few days ago, I did a New Year Plant Hunt, I found a Cow Parsley already in flower. Soon there will be Primroses, and a view of the whole Avenue frothing white with Cow Parsley is one of Uckfield's most beautiful sights.

Honeybee on Alexanders in Lime Tree Avenue - April 2015
Where there are flowers, there are pollinators.  While passing through the Avenue, I often see bees and hoverflies (bee mimics that are also pollinators) working their way round the flowers.

Ivy Bee - September 2015
There will be other sorts of bees too. Ivy flowers late in the season and supports pollinators in the autumn after other flowers have faded away. It also supports its own special bee - appropriately called the Ivy bee.

Beautiful Demoiselle - May 2017
One day, when walking back from the town I found a Beautiful Demoiselle. She may look dainty and pretty but if you are a small flying creature, she is a fearsome predator who hunts on the wing.

Frog and Primroses - Feb 2016
There are habitats for other creatures too. On one of the work days, we found a frog, which Martyn carefully put in a safe place.

As well as providing a home and restaurant for all sorts of creatures, Lime Tree Avenue is a highway - a "wildlife corridor" that enables insects, birds and other animals to get from one green space to another.  If a food source runs low in one place they can use a wildlife corridor to travel to another and live to munch another day. I particularly enjoy seeing wildlife in our Manor Park garden and I'm sure I would see less if we didn't have wildlife corridors such as Lime Tree Avenue, the Railway and the River Uck nearby.

Postscript

Tiny creatures from the leaf litter - 6 Jan 2018.
While I was scrabbling round in the composted leaf litter, I found and photographed a strange looking little creature about 1.5 cm long. It was only a snap with my phone, so I wasn't hopeful of getting an ID.  However I posted it in the Insects of Britain and Northern Europe Facebook group in the hope of getting some ideas.

Between them LS and DA suggested that the white larva was a beetle - probably Staphylinae (Rove beetle) or may be carabinae.  DA had spotted something else. Just above the beetle, by its legs, there are some tiny snails. She thinks these are probably Pupilla sp. (Chrysalis Snails) or Vertigo species. You might think that these are babies but this type of snail is just very, very small.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 - Adding New Species to my List

I like to record the wild plants and insects that I encounter using tools such as iRecord.  This year I recorded approximately 350 species of which nearly 100 were new to my lists.  This compares well with last year's 290 (with about 80 new).  This post is going to focus on the species that are new to my lists this year.  I have seen some of these before but this is the first time I've recorded them.

Some of the new entries are the result of me working in Leatherhead where I explored a new riverside habitat but many were much closer to home. Two species that I saw in both Leatherhead and Uckfield were the Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) and Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens).

Female Beautiful Demoiselle - near Lime Tree Avenue - May
Uckfield's Banded Demoiselles were rather camera shy but I did get some photos of the Leatherhead ones. The two males below were part of a group (over 16) that roosted overnight in a clump of strappy leaves near the river. There must be similar roosts near the Uck. Has anyone seen one?

Male Banded Demoiselles - Leatherhead - June
My recorded year started with more humble species. I did the BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt, which meant that I needed to hunt out any wild or naturalised plant that was in flower. The plants that are most likely to be blooming are the hardy, versatile weeds that grow in supermarket car parks, industrial estates etc. A new one for me was Annual Mercury (Mercurialis annua).

Annual Mercury - Bellbrook Industrial Estate - January
This year, I paid a number of visits to Holy Cross churchyard to identify the plants there for the Sussex Botanical Recording Society churchyard survey.  While I was investigating the plants I found a number of species of both plants and insects that I had not encountered before.  The Girdled Mining bee (Andrena labiata) is "scarce" and relies on "unimproved" grassland - i.e. grassland that has not been fertilised etc. Our old churchyards often have this type of ancient grass.

Girdled Mining Bee - Holy Cross Churchyard - April 2017
Cockspur (Echinochloa crus-galli) - Holy Cross Churchyard - August 2017
In early June, I did a Bioblitz of our garden. This means finding as many different species of wild plants and animals as possible. I found over a dozen that were new to me including:

Cantharis livida - No-mow zone - June 
Rhopalus subrufus - Flower bed - June
Selimus vittatus with her egg case - Oak tree - June
One of the highlights of the year was joining the Uckfield Local Nature Reserves Supporters Group. We went on a number of bird song/bug walks and a fungi hunt. I also did a little exploring of my own.  I am fairly familiar with Hempstead Meadows Local Nature Reserve (LNR) and found a few new bugs and beasties including:

Devil's Coach Horse (Ocypus olens) - Hempstead Meadows LNR - August
Notostira elongata - Hempstead Meadows LNR - August
West Park LNR is less familiar and enjoyed exploring it with the group. In November, we went on a fungi hunt and found a good variety of fungi. Beware that I got in a bit of a muddle trying to identify them and it will be a while before they are verified. They included:

Blushing Bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa) - West Park LNR - November
Witches' Butter (Exidia glandulosa) - West Park LNR - November

It's not all about surveys and special expeditions. I saw the Beautiful Demoiselle on the way to the town. Mum showed me this dear little 10-spot ladybird (Adalia decempunctata) that she found while gardening.

10-spot ladybird - Found in our own garden.
This Large Garden bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus) bumbled into a patch of garden I was sorting out, sending me scurrying into the house for my camera.

Large Garden Bumblebee - my gardening is constantly interrupted by bees!
In Uckfield, we are lucky that we have plenty of green spaces and paths that we can follow as we go about our daily lives. I've been amazed at just how many creatures and wildflowers I see by looking out while going about my day-to-day shopping trips etc. If you ever see a woman in a red beret peering into her phone, it could be me recording wildlife on the run.