High Plain Drifter

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 27 August 2019 12:06

I've just got back from another trip to Ken Hill. Along with the structured surveys I am doing there, building a site list is also a key task. That means that casual records of species made when you are doing different jobs, or moving between plots, are extremely important. Such as this emerging Humming-bird Hawk-moth recorded on a large area of acid-grassland with some heath known as the Plain. Now these are not all that scarce as a migrant but I have never seen this before, an adult that had clearly still not taken its maiden flight. Last summer I saw an adult ovipositing on Lady's Bedstraw at Heyshott Down but this was a first for me. Annoyingly, my memory card broke so I only had my phone camera for much of this trip. However I took this shot and posted it on Twitter not thinking that much of it, three days later it reached 1000 likes and over 150 retweets. I think even the Calosoma sycophanta event only got about 300. Anyway, not bad for a phone shot!

I've now recorded over 700 invertebrates there this year and the list is rising all the time. Highlights included a new location on the site for Breckland and Fallen's Leatherbugs, the impressive wasp Podalonia affinis (also on the Plain), the Scarab Shieldbug, the unpronounceable Sphragisticus nebulosus (a new species for me). Also on the Plain (and cathartic as I caught one last month but it flew off before I could pot it) were my first stiltflies. They turned out to be the notable Micropeza lateralis. Also on the Plain, quite a few Hedychrum nobile. A not very impressive camera photo of a very impressive jewel wasp.

To the north of the site this very late Agapanthia villosoviridescens. It's usually a late May to June species.

We ran a moth trap on the Plain which would have been more successful if the generator hadn't kept cutting out. We did add a few species to the list such as this Vestal.

Always a pleasure to see Antler Moths (below) and True Lover's Knots too.

However it was the by-catch that proved most interesting. There were lots of aquatic bugs and beetles that were all new to the site, hundreds of Water Veneer moths too. Quite a few carabids came to light  but the best was Harpalus froelichii which I have only seen in the Brecks so far. Talking to Steve Gale I was expecting to see this at Ken Hill but as yet I had not knowingly picked it up. It's Nationally Rare, Near Threatened and S41 and adds to the Breck-like nature of the site's flora and fauna.

The vegetation structure and composition plots are now complete. I added a couple more arable plants to the list including another good one which was also a lifer and a 7 point scorer. This is my new favourite grass, Rye Brome which was confirmed by vice county recorder Richard Carter when we met up in the field. It's Vulnerable and nationally scarce. Along with Corn Mint (scores 1) that gets the site index for arable plants up to a whopping 113!!!

A couple of veteran trees were really impressive. This 6.5 m+ (that doesn't even include the 2.3 m branch on the right) girth Pedunculate Oak is one of the biggest I have ever seen.

And this Common Lime Tilia x europea was 4.31 m girth!

And a few fungi were about too, such as this Dyer's Mazegill on pine. I've started the NVC map now, so I will be doing some series footfall (this last trip was 42 miles) for the last two visits. Whatever will we find next month?! A huge thanks to the Padwick's, Richard Carter and everyone else at the Estate for their support and time and making it such a fun project.

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