AFON visits Knepp

AFON visit to the Knepp Wildlands ~ 16-17th July 2016 ~ 

Last weekend I joined fellow A Focus on Nature members at Knepp Wildlands in Sussex. The weekend started with an introduction from Charles Burrell, owner of Knepp Castle, about their re-wilding project. After we'd heard all about this fantastic project, we headed out to see it for ourselves. 
Knepp Wildlands
The next few hours were spent doing a walking tour of the wildlands with Knepp Ecologist, Penny Green, filling us in on the different species found on site, showing us how the place has been completely transformed since traditional farming ceased and searching for invertebrates and other small critters through the use of sweep nets. 
Long-winged Conehead nymph (Conocephalus discolor)
Grasshopper species
Common Green Grasshopper (Omocestus viridulus)
Cicadella viridis
Bee species
Back at the campsite we had a BBQ dinner, where everyone got to know each other a bit more and got to catch up with old friends. At around 8.30pm we headed out in hope of seeing some of the Barn Owls that are nesting on the site. We had to be silent and sit at the other end of the field so as not to disturb them. We watched one of the adults go into a barn with food and even though we were quite far away you could hear the chicks hissing!! Once the adult flew out again we headed off to look at the 2 moths traps that had been set. 
Common Footman (Eilema lurideola)
There were plenty of moths flying around them, but there were even more flying ants and midges! We then headed to the lake to spotlight some Daubenton's Bats. We had at least 4 individuals hunting over the lake which was cool! After that, some headed to bed while others headed back to the moth traps to see what else had been attracted. Eventually, the rest of us gave up and headed to bed around 00.30am in preparation for a 4.45am start! Even at that time it was very warm and close, which made getting to sleep rather difficult.
Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor)
My alarm went off at 4.45am and I got ready and headed to the ringing. On the way, I stopped to have a peek at the moth traps but didn't look too closely so as not to disturb anything in them! I arrived at the location of the ringing demonstration and waited for Tony to appear. He was still in the middle of putting some nets up, so wasn't quite ready to begin yet...just as well as there were only 2 or 3 of us up at that point! 

Tony carried on doing the rounds while I got on with ringing the birds, showing and explaining the process to those present. Those up early were treated to a great start to the day, in the form of a Turtle Dove purring away quite close behind us. Most of those present went to see it, but I carried on ringing since we had caught quite a few birds, including some juveniles. As the morning wore on, more people arrived after their lie in and some of the trainees present assisted me with the ringing in order to reduce the time birds spent waiting and so that they could get some experience of some new species.
Me with a Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) ©Max Hellicar
Adult Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) ©Max Hellicar
Male Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula©Sorrel Lyall
At about 9.45 the catching had slowed down a lot, so some of the latecomers headed off in search of Turtle Doves and most of the rest headed back to base to grab some food before the Butterfly walk at 10.30. Luckily for them it was perfect timing and they were all treated to incredible views of a Purple Emperor down on a cow pat. I too was lucky since Oli Simms texted me to tell let me know about the Purple Emp, so me and the last few people headed back with high expectations! 

When I got there, there was no butterfly to be seen -  it had just flown up into the trees. I couldn't pick it up though. With my phone charge almost at 0% and with no camera on me, I decided to give it 10 minutes before heading back to get my camera. Luckily this patience paid off and the butterfly fluttered down to the ground and was happy feeding while I used the last of my phone's charged to take some photos of it.

Once my phone had died I decided to head back and get my camera, in the hope that the Purple Emperor would still be there by the time I returned. Sadly it wasn't, so I waited for a bit hoping it would reappear but unfortunately I had no such luck, meaning you'll have to make do with my photos from my phone.
Purple Emperor Butterfly (Apatura iris)
The rest of the gang then appeared, ready for the Butterfly walk. We headed off around the Wildlands once more and saw lots of Purple Emperors, Purple Hairstreaks and other butterflies before myself, and a few others, decided to head back for lunch around 12.30. It wasn't until about 14.00 that the rest of the group returned, slightly thirsty and a tad warm from being out in the sun for so long! 
Speckled Bush-cricket (Leptophyes puntatsissima)
Cinnabar Moth caterpillar (Tyria jacobaeae)
Ruby-tailed Wasp (Chrysis ignita)
We all then had lunch and went through the second moth trap. It was absolutely heaving with moths of all colours, shapes and sizes and it was just brilliant to go through a trap with people on hand who were able to instantly ID everything that came out! Once the trap was emptied, people started saying their goodbyes and heading off.
Epiblema costipunctana
Rosy Footman (Miltochrista miniata)
Pale Prominent (Pterostoma palpina)
Bordered Beauty (Epione repandaria)
Drinker Moth (Euthrix potatoria)
It was a fantastic weekend and was just brilliant to be in the company of such knowledgeable and like-minded people. I want to say a huge thank you to Simon Phelps and Tony Davis for organising the event, and to Penny Green and Knepp for hosting us. Hopefully there will be another event at Knepp in the not-too-distant-future!!
Brown Long-eared Bat (Plecotus auritus)
(Almost complete) group photo for good measure... ©Beth Aucott

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