Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Hawkshill Freedown

The small patch of land on the top of the ridge between Walmer Castle and Kingsdown remains uncultivated (partly thanks to being an airfield) and has a good selection of plant and bug life.
The Hawkshill Newsletter reports that the grass is getting shorter, and that therefore the Pyramidal Orchids are getting more plentiful, but I think this year's rain will have strengthened the sward - there's only a few orchids to be seen, whereas last year there were 80.

A cloudy day was not ideal for insects, but Small Skippers, Meadow Browns and a Marbled White were seen. I'll check for blues when the sun's out.
Small Skipper

One insect that was there in profusion was the Common Field Grasshopper, and the grass boiled with colonies of these nymphs jumping away from my footsteps. The nymphs are like the adults, but are smaller (at the moment) and have no wings - as the summer progresses they will grow out a number of skins, and eventually take on the adult form, breed and die.

Common Field Grasshopper

A good summary of the natural history of the site is on:

Sunday, 24 June 2007


It was time to give the newly regenerated area of Fowlmead a proper look in peace and quiet, and that certainly described the place this weekend, to my approval.

The country park already has a wide range of flora on its varied habitats, from stonecrops eking out a niche on the shale, to reeds and comfrey on the wetlands. The first flowers of note were, however, in a ditch in the car park, being a coupling of Yellow Wort and Centaury.

Yellow Wort with Centaury buds


The varied habitats have also attracted a good selection of bugs, and a reasonable number of bird species - a pair of Cuckoos flew out of the trees by one of the ponds, and circled the tip throughout my visit, calling frequently.

Cinnabar moth caterpillar

Reed warbler filling its beak

Bug on Stonecrop

The poor soil has given a chance to the weaker species of plant to establish themselves, without being overwhelmed by more invasive types, and it will be fascinating to watch this interaction in future years. St John's Wort, Tansy and Viper's Bugloss are the most eye-catching flowers at the moment, providing patches of striking colour against the grey/black ground, without the usual cover of grass.

Viper's Bugloss

Thick-kneed Flower Beetle, on Field Bindweed

It seems that a marvellous nature reserve has been created, but it remains to be seen if that's enough - it has some interest for families and other 'normal' people but it will never be a Disneyland - and I hope that it's allowed to develop for its own sake.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Little Owls

I've been watched by a Little Owl most mornings since April. It sits on a tree stump by the side of the road, and I was hoping that it was one of a breeding pair.
This morning there was a different face peering down at me - a Little Owlet! Congratulations to the parents.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007


A variety of butterflies have arrived at the patch of clover at the north end of the rifle range, enjoying the warmth of the sunlight reflected down from the cliffs.

Common Blues, a Small Skipper and a Small Heath were seen flying around, as well as.....

.... a Marbled White, the first I've noticed in Kingsdown.
This was a very small butterfly, and I assumed it was a Small Blue - but on closer inspection the edge markings seem to indicate it's a Common Blue. This is clearly a veteran, being so tatty.
Small Skipper

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Otty Bottom

The marvellous Kingsdown Guide (available online on describes the existence of Fragrant Orchids on the approach to the golf course and along Otty Bottom. A walk today confirmed that they're still there, with about a dozen in the former and three times as many south of the latter. The guide also tells of Pyramidal Orchids, and there were just a couple of each at both sites.
I had feared that the vegetation along the track to St Margaret's might have wiped out the orchids that I remembered from years ago but there are still bare patches where they survive.
It's a shame that the track was tarmaced though, as the old chalk way was very evocative of the past.
Fragrant Orchid
The spring is about to be overtaken by summer, and the rainfall that we've had recently has encouraged lush growth of foliage, and many bright flowers.

Dog rose

This previously unknown (to me anyway) plant is apparently Goatsbeard, or Jack-go-to-bed-at-Noon - thanks to Simon of the Mote Park blog

A brown hare was seen in one of the paddocks, characteristically crouching, and I was pleased to hear the song of two Yellowhammers, which have become scarce in the last few years in this area. Families of birds are everywhere now, benefiting from the bounty in the hedgerows.

A hare in clover (with Mignonettes)

Thursday, 14 June 2007

The Rifle Range

Small heath butterfly

The old rifle range betwen the cliffs and the sea has been unused for about 10 years, and (like Samphire Hoe) new habitats have formed depending on the various surfaces.

There are three main habitats: the flat area of shingle that stretches the length of the range, the 'undercliff' and shooting mounds which have more soil and so attract thicker vegetation, and the cliff face itself.

The shingle has plants that are found on the strand between the range and Deal, including Yellow Horned Poppies, and at the far southern end there is a flat area of muddy chalk which seems to attract passing wheatears.

The vegetated middle strip provides cover for wintering birds such as stonechats, migrants (a fall of willow wablers in May was very vocal) and the whitethroats described below. The plants are varied, and currently there are two pyramidal orchids on one of the mounds, and a host of other flowers that I hope to identify in due course. Insects seen this spring include a small heath (above), common blues (below) and silver Y moths.

Female common blue

Yellow wort

Silver Y moth (can you see why? hehe)

The cliff faces provide nesting sites for fulmars, a pair of kestrels, jackdaws, feral pigeons and house martins, while this year a Common Whitethroat has been signing long and loudly, obtaining a good echo from the sea wall and the cliffs. Today I saw that the family had emerged - at least four of them plus the male - so it has been worthwhile.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Kingsdown Grassland

By starting this blog in June, the main objects of my attentions (birds) are unfortunately mostly hidden, having either moved on north, or made a nest or fledged chicks in which case they don't want to draw attention to themselves. Consequently, photo-opportunities with birds are rare, but at least in Kingsdown there are other targets - and I've been concentrating on chalkland butterflies and plants this week, although with little sunshine the former have tended to keep hidden too.

A stroll along part of the golf practice area provided the usual kind of common chalk downland plants, as well as one pyramidal orchid:

Other flowers were seen, and shall hopefully be identified in due course. I'll make guesses at the moment - please feel free to correct them!

Kidney Vetch

Harebells - lovely, and frequent in Kingsdown


Beautiful, but I have no idea what it is - the leaf (bottom right) is like a nettle [months later, with the assistance of Dinah, I've discovered that this is Germander Speedwell, not Whatthef]

Monday, 4 June 2007

Nightingales, orchids and a Duke of Burgundy

As fog covered East Kent, I headed west and found myself in the hidden heart of Kent, at Denge Wood, when the sun broke through.

I parked by the Woodland Trust entrance and walked to the Warren, with Nightingales singing and day-flying moths like the Speckled Yellow flitting around the rides.

The Warren and the nearby Bonzai Bank are managed for primroses and cowslips, which are the food of the caterpillars of Duke of Burgundy Fritillaries, one of which was seen as the morning warmed up. This management also benefits the orchids which are found here:-

Common Spotted

Greater Butterfly

Lady orchid


and White Helleborine.

A few Common Blues were to be seen, skimming the coarse grass and when the sun is more predictable I'll visit some more places to try to find other butterflies.