Friday, 11 April 2014

Tourna a Sorrento

Leaving Vesuvius (the Big V) behind across the bay, we moved on to the Sorrentine peninsula for a few days, finding it to be a relatively built-up area with narrow winding (often tortuous) roads, where nobody drives a big car. Just as well, then, that we had hired a little Cinquecento. But even this looked large against its older relative.

Part of the enjoyment of a holiday is in its planning, and ours was greatly helped by some websites about walking and the botany of the area - led us to the author's walking page.... which led to an ex-pat's walking and botany page..... which led to another..... which has the following commandments that show considerable sense........
These sites are a mine of information, and we were lucky enough to meet both Ruth of the "Walk with Us" page, and Giovanni who writes the first two sites, and enjoyed a walk down to the coast with them. It was a relatively easy walk, but some of the ones that they arrange are like mountain climbing.

 This part of the Amalfi coast was lit up by tree spurge as well as by the sun and the shining sea. Lovely!
There were plenty of anemones in flower, which I took to be the same as our wild variety as they were so familiar, until I was reminded that they are garden plants with us.
That's Capri over there in the background, but I wasn't tempted to visit, despite Spike Milligan's complimentary report in Mussolini, My Part in His Downfall. Or was it Where Have All the Bullets Gone?
On leave on the Amalfi coast at Christmas, he says "The whole place has architectural maturity: there are numerous creepers and vines growing in profusion on the walls and balconies. In summer it must be a riot of flowers, right now it's a riot of gunners, there is a scramble as we dash for the best beds (if any)....".  Yes Spike, it is a riot of colour - in spring at least, before the sun burns the vegetation in summer.

Asparagus pea, or tetragonolobus purpureus
Blue pimpernel
Nettle-leaved figwort
If flowers were profuse, the birdlife was not. Serins were in every tree, of course, and British garden birds were seen and heard in the hills. Occasional Sardinian warblers appeared briefly before diving into cover, and there were very few raptors. All indications were that birds in Italy have only survived shooting in small numbers, and those that have, learned to keep their heads down.

One exception to that rule was, however, a showy hoopoe that was seen while I was elsewhere (typical) - maybe the Italians have a love for this endearing bird which they don't share with the rest of the animal kingdom.
Lizards were, however, everywhere, and provided much entertainment. Italian wall lizards were most common, although other, unidentified, species were also seen.

And the Ierano headland looks like a lizard too.


Just look at the beach - deserted! The cafes were open though, and charged just 1.50 euros for a coffee, served on the veranda overlooking the sea. Ices were cheap too :-)

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Italian Spring

We went looking for spring and the sun in Italy, and we found it on the slopes of Vesuvius. We woke to sunshine across the Bay of Naples, but when we looked out of the hotel's back window, we saw snow on the volcano.
It's a bit concerning staying in on the side of an active volcano, with lava in the car park, but we survived. Apart from the infamous eruption in 79AD, Vesuvius has erupted regularly since with the latest in 1944. This gives an interesting habitat on the various lava flows, and near the hotel we found a rich area of mosses, lichens and plants.

Butterfly Orchid (but not as we know it)


Early Spider Orchid (Ssp probably)

This is part of the original cone, taken from the current cone with a 1944 lava flow in between. The original cone was about 8,000' high apparently, but most was blasted into the sky so the centre is now only about 4,200'. You can drive up most of the way to the summit, then fight past coaches and tourist traps to walk the rest of the way to the top, and look down into the crater which is a few hundred yards across.

There was a blue rock thrush singing in there somewhere, making the most of the acoustics.
Steam rises from vents in the crater, giving off a slight sulphurous smell, but mostly it seemed peaceful.

Just one flowering plant was seen on the inside - a dandelion had colonised first, although the dreaded red valerian was making its relentless way up the outside of the cone, a successful pioneer of arid land.

A distinctive lichen has also colonised the lava, Vesuvius Snow Lichen (Stereocaulon vesuvianum).
How do people live here, with the constant threat of eruption?

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Kingsdown born and bred

Just a quick note to advise that the long-tailed blue  colony seen on the Leas in August have successfully produced a new generation which have started to fly.

This is an extremely rare occurrence in the UK and I'm so proud!
There has been debate over whether a pair of blues arrived on the cliffs in the warm winds of July, and procreated there, or alternatively an impregnated female arrived on her own, and laid the eggs that turned into the butterflies in the last generation.
We will never know, but can be reasonably sure that this emergence will be the last well see of them,as they won't be able to survive the winter here.

Unlike our native blues, some of which were found roosting nearby, waiting for the fuss over the continental stars to die down.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Cloudy Banks

Ever wondered where the song Claudy Banks got its name? No, I thought not. It was a song that I first heard sung by Bob Copper, but it's an old traditional favourite.  I like to think that it refers to clouded yellows on the chalk downs, where this year the species has enjoyed a bumper time.
A brief lunchtime stroll over a nearby acre or two found five of these butterflies, including a very pale one that might have been a Pale Clouded Yellow, or a Berger's Clouded Yellow or (more likely) a helice version of the common race. It was hot so they didn't hang around for a portrait; on the weekend it had been cooler (natch) so the clouded yellows on the beach were more sedentary, absorbing warmth from the pebbles.
Late summer is the best time to be on the Lydden / Temple Ewell nature reserve; not only are the chalkhill blues still swarming in their hundreds, but also the devil's-bit scabious is coming into flower. Centaury is not frequent this year and it's good to see its spiral stamens.
And the glorious Adonis blue is emerging in its second flourish of the year, while silver-spotted skippers are appearing for their only show; if it's a bit cool or cloudy you might be able to warm them up on your hands.

In fact, silver-spotted skippers are best observed in the cool as they move too quickly in the sunshine - we counted over 20 resting in the grass on a small part of the down.
A surprise was an extensive patch of common dodder. The records tell us that it has been seen at the Temple Ewell end but not here, in the middle. A nice find, twisting its predatory self around the scabious but living off bedstraw.

Beware dwarf thistles.....

....and nasty-tasting stink-bugs.