For illustrated talks on natural history and history see

For illustrated talks on natural history and history click here for

Monday 29 June 2015

Grass snakes in East Dean, Friston forest, East Sussex, UK

 The pond in East Dean village is an idyllic shady spot -- with benches -- for a picnic lunch midway on a circular walk from Crowlink through Friston forest to Exceat and then up and down five of the Seven Sisters.
 We were not alone.  Young grass snakes were swimming in the dense reeds at the pond edge.
 Quite small, perhaps 20 cm or so long, they were well camouflaged.

The yellow "collar" is unmistakably a grass snake; harmless to people and a pleasure to see.
There is a large pile of grass clippings in my garden from a neighbour in addition to other compost heaps, in which I should like grass snakes to breed again.  They eat frogs.  But they might also reduce the scores of newts, which predate the tadpoles in the first place.

Sunday 28 June 2015

Chalara dieback of ash (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) in Friston forest. East Sussex?

 At this time of year the beech trees in Friston forest cast a deep shade.  Sunlight was streaming into the wood behind the beech trees above.  What was causing this was a sorry sight for the Ash trees.
I imagine that it is caused by Chalara dieback of ash (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus)

For detailed info' see

Friday 26 June 2015

Damselflies and Dragonflies at Wakehurst Place, West Sussex

Wakehurst Place, is fabulous for its plants and tranquil scenery.  It is also very good to spot damselflies and dragonflies from the luxury of walkways over the wetlands. 
 Common blue damselflies, Ellanagma cyanthigerum lived up to their name in being common; plentiful and mating and egg laying in public view.  Large red damselflies were also around.
Common blue damselflies

Dragonflies were active too and never rested for me to get a picture in focus.
 A spectacular Gold-ringed dragonfly was buzzing up and down a meadow away from the water.  It also didn't rest and flew so fast that I couldn't get any pictures of it at all.  It was quite a sight in the sunshine.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Bracken & brambles clearing with a Morris Dunsford Long-handled billhook on the High Weald Landscape trail, west of Cuckfield, West Sussex

 It was hot and humid this afternoon and the High Weald Landscape trail, west of Cuckfield is getting a little overgrown.  I've been attacking the bracken and brambles here for many years and both plants are under reasonable control.  The path was impenetrable years ago in the summer months.  The picture above was taken after I had started with a new tool; a Morris Dunsford Long-handled billhook.
 After forty minutes of heavy labour, sweating profusely and being attacked by horseflies, (I killed six before they got me!) I had cleared a good section right back to the wire fences on both sides of the path,
 The Morris Dunsford Long-handled billhook is a heavy tool to use.  But hey!  Some people pay money to lift weights in a gym!  With this tool the weight lifting comes for fee!
I found it most effective to swing it hard in a 180 degree arc using the sharp straight edge, reverse the tool and swing it back again using the same sharp edge.  It has so much momentum that it slices through the undergrowth and brush.  In the past I have used a scythe, which is also very effective -- except with very large brambles and small shrubs; they needed loppers.  With the Morris Dunsford Long-handled billhook you won't need to take loppers with you.  It was amazing what this can deal with.
For anyone wanting to help keep our public footpaths free from encroaching undergrowth this tool is a great workout and highly effective.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Honeybee swarm this afternoon

 Tremendous fun this afternoon when a honeybee swarm landed in a Davidia involucrata on the verge outside my house.
Everything laid out for collection; sheet, towel and skep.

 My neighbor was able collect the swarm in the skep to start a new hive.. after I climbed up the step ladder to get a closer shot.  A video of the collection process was taken.  Please see

 The skep was left, full of bees, for an hour or so for the majority of bees to enter and calm down.

Then it was wrapped up and carried off to start a new hive.

 Otto will now block the exit from the skep temporarily with grass and place it onto a wooden ramp leading to a new hive.  The colony will then hopefully climb up into the new hive in the morning as the grass dries and shrivels allowing the bees to leave the skep.  Nice job Otto!  And I didn't get stung at all.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Dragonflies and Damselflies this month in West Sussex

The prenuptial acrobatics of this pair of Large red damselflies went on for 20 minutes or more at my garden pond in Cuckfield, when I got bored and went for lunch,  A rival male was lurking in the background. 
Whether this is the same pair egg laying after my lunch, we'll never know.

It is always a pleasure to see a male Broad-bodied chaser charging around a garden pond.
The more so when it is so relaxed to allow a camera lens of a modestly-priced Panasonic Lumix camera to get within a few inches to take a close up of its face.

Not the prettiest mugshot perhaps to human eyes!  But look at the facets of his wrap-around compound eyes with 360 degree vision.  And that bristly stubble on his powerful jaws!  It's enough to turn any damsel(fly)'s head.

Many Coenagrion puella, Azure Damselflies, breed in my stagnant garden ponds.  I have yet to see a Common Blue Damselfly in my garden.

 Common Blue Damselflies were common in the Loder valley, yesterday however where there is slow moving water; a male above and a female below.

Also in the Loder valley yesterday was this aptly named Blue-tailed damselfly, Ischnura elegans.

Lurking deep in the grasses was what might have been a Small Red damselfly.

There were other Hawkers and chasers flying around, which I was unable to photograph.
A fascinating insect family don't you agree?

My thanks are due to Pam Taylor at the British Dragonfly Society for assistance in identifying some of the above.  Should you like to know more about these amazing insects please see

In my series of nature talks, I also have a presentation module on dragonflies.  Please see

Some native orchids of the High Weald of Sussex; Common Spotted-orchids, Heath Spotted-orchids. Southern Marsh-orchids, & strange hybrid? forms.

Common Spotted-orchids, Dactylorhiza fuchsii were spectacular yesterday in the High Weald of West Sussex in the UK.
 These two very fine pale flowers were in a sheltered, waterside location.

Could the above be a Heath Spotted-orchid (or a hybrid).

 There was a smal group of Southern Marsh-orchids, with characteristic unspotted leaves and flower shape (above and below).

 More Common Spotted-orchids but the one below seems to have curiously segmented and elongated dorsal sepals -- a strange hybrid perhaps?

Hiding in quite dense vegetation was a tiny orchid, a curious variant of a Common Spotted one perhaps.

For anyone interested in a public speaker on the Natural History of the South East of England, please see

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