The spider on my wheelbarrow

When I was five or six, I used to play with a small green and yellow wheelbarrow, ‘helping’ my dad transport sticks to the compost heap. It has been sitting outside the garage on a bit of patio since then, contributing nothing except a few algae species that have accumulated at the bottom. However, on Sunday, I had a big surprise.

On Sunday I went out for a complete circuit of my garden and my first stop was the dry bit of patio where the wheelbarrow was. Except for the Tree Bumblebee nest in the wall and the Procumbent Pearlwort growing out of a crack, there wasn’t much else. That was until I bent down to look at a small spider running across the patio – Salticus scenicus. Not a new species for me nor anything rare but the first for me in the garden this year.

Turning around to get up I noticed another spider, even smaller, running intermittently along the yellow handle of the wheelbarrow. I got up and moved into a better position to see the spider and it paused, allowing me to get a few quick photos. I was doubting the fact that it could be identified so I didn’t try until that evening, when I put it on iSpot. Soon enough, to my surprise, I had an identification!

Steve Gregory, one of the invertebrate experts on iSpot had added an identification to my observation: Bianor aurocinctus. He wasn’t certain as it was quite a rare species, he said, although he added in the comments section that he didn’t think there were any similar species. Looking on the NBN Gateway I think he is right that it is quite rare. The Gateway doesn’t hold all the records but the Bianor aurocinctus records on it at the moment are mostly along the River Thames with a few scattered records in central England and east Wales.

The most striking and distinctive feature of this spider are its swollen, hairy front legs. I’m not too certain about the purpose of these legs, but I am assuming that they are used in attracting a mate. They are definitely useful in identification though! Despite being so rare, this spider doesn’t show much of a habitat preference. All it needs is a dry area, so our patio is perfect. However, it is more often found on short vegetation, which there is none of on our patio, in sand and chalk quarries. Sites such as Portland Bill are perfect for it. It has only been recorded in 38 hectads (10km x 10km squares) since 1992 and is Na (Nationally scarce A).

I’m excited to find out what other rare species are hiding in the unlikely corners of my garden over the coming summer…

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SOS Outing to Old Lodge

On Sunday I joined the Sussex Ornithological Society on a walk around Old Lodge, a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve in Ashdown Forest. My aim was to hear a Cuckoo for the first time as I worry that we might not be able to hear that characteristic sound for much longer.

The first good bird of the day was a Common Whitethroat flitting about a willow. I don’t see very many and this was only my second of the year, followed by my third half way through the walk.

Suddenly, I heard a faint two note call way off in the distance. A Cuckoo already! Despite the fact that there was a pair on the reserve that were seen yesterday, I wasn’t expecting to hear one so soon! It called the whole time while we were at the top of the hill near the car park, just loud enough for me to hear it but too quiet for my dad unfortunately.

A little further along the path we had great views of a Woodlark. It was singing while performing its parachuting display. It was quite close and gave good views through my binoculars. This is the first time I’ve heard a Woodlark’s amazing song as well as seen its display.

There were a few dead trees along the fence line to our right where we first saw a Redpoll and then had good views of a beautiful Stonechat. Just behind the dead trees were a few tall pines where I saw my first Tree Pipit of the year. It was singing its heart out and giving its display flight like the Woodlark. It flew up and floated in the air before parachuting down to an Oak tree. While we were watching the Pipit a Kestrel and 2 Swallows flew behind the trees.

Not long afterwards a familiar song arose from the sky above us. It was another bird that performs display flights – the Skylark! I remember hearing them a lot when I was on holiday in Northumberland, they would display over the cottage where we were staying. This one didn’t stay for long however, and soon departed  west.

The path turned right and we were heading down the hill through some thin woodland between the reserve and what looked like private land. There were lots of bluebells on either side of the path and the fresh oak leaves were amazing! We soon came across a pond where we stopped to try and find some Redstarts. A Willow Warbler started to sing in a small tree beside the pond and it wasn’t very mobile like most of the Phylloscopus warblers that I see. A Long-tailed Tit looked like it was collecting nesting material, probably for a second brood as Long-tailed Tits are one of the first birds to start nest building in spring. There was also a young Robin nearby and two Goldfinches were chasing each other around a Birch tree.

After that things got quiet bird-wise. We continued on our walk and only when we were climbing the hill again did things get a bit more exciting. There was a lone male Siskin feeding in a pine, exposed at times. There were also many more stunning Stonechats including a female in a perfect, well lit position on some dead bracken. A great photo opportunity for someone with the right sort of camera.

The terrain started to flatten out again and we were nearing the end of the walk, yet we had not yet seen a Redstart. I have only ever seen Redstarts once before, when I spotted a family at a different location at Ashdown Forest. I also wanted a better view of the gorgeous males.

We came to an old Oak tree along a straight ride with dense pines on either side. There was a bleached stump behind the tree where I spotted a small brown Robin-sized bird flit up and perch motionless on top. I called ‘Redstart‘ and soon everyone was watching the bird. It perched on the stump for quite a while, often turning its back and showing its rump. However, it was only a female and not nearly as pretty as a male Redstart.

We had circled back to the car park by eleven-thirty without seeing much bar a singing Chiffchaff and a trio of Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Having not seen any Crossbills during the morning some of us decided to head back to a spot not far from the car park where a flock of up to 20 had been seen during the last few days. None were seen, but we did see this:

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Unfortunately the photo doesn’t do justice to this fab male Redstart…

Total number of birds I managed to see: 33