Wednesday, 30 April 2008

This Morning is the First of May

This Morning is the First of May,
The bright time of the year.

If I should live and tarry well,
If I should live and tarry well,
If I should live and tarry well
I'll call another year.

So ladies all, both great and small,
I wish you a joyful May.

This song was resurrected by a folk band called Muckrum Wakes from the oral memories of the East Midlands, and shows the frequent fusion of pagan and Christian traditions at feast days.

And I sing it every year at this time, to commemorate the importance of the spring festival, to the chagrin of the rest of the family.

I've already posted that the Goat Field has some of the most varied flora in Kingsdown, admittedly part-wild and part-naturalised. As the season progresses, more species are showing themselves and it should be a riot in the next few weeks.

The lists of spring birds, flowers and butterflies are shorter than they should be, because of the inclement weather. Hopefully the weekend will provide a change, and we'll be able to get out and enjoy it. One new site for me to explore is Peene Quarry, on the North Downs Way, which looks promising for chalk downland species.
An unknown plant (for me that's not infrequent) was this sedge found at the top of the downs - similar to Spring Sedge, but perhaps slightly different?

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Langdon Cliffs

A walk today along the clifftop from Langdon with a group led by Murray Orchard. While there are particular pleasures in birding and walking alone, there are considerable benefits of being with others (especially those more skilled and knowledgeable than oneself). Murray ticks both of those boxes, and it's good of him to give up his time for these events.

Sightings included good numbers of Lesser Whitethroats, and well as the commoner warblers, a flyover Yellow Wagtail [and was that unusual call from another flyover perhaps the Serin seen a mile of two further north?], Peregrine, Sparrowhawk (female with a white patch on her back).
On the sea we were surprised to see five Shags, two of which hauled out onto a rock, and no Cormorants.

There were 88 Kittiwakes sitting on the sea, but none on the cliffs - the usual nestsites were empty, but there's time yet for them to be occupied.Last year, although numbers had continued to fall, I saw 100 or so birds here.
On another subject, I posted a picture last week and asked for help in identifying the plant.
Abbey Meadows in Northumberland came to rescue, and suggested it was Sanicle, and reckoned that there were mats of it on the chalk, which surprised me.
So I need help again....what is this diminutive plant that lines the main roads and motorways where there must be high pollution levels and where other plants can't survive?

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Romney Marsh and Southdown

Romney Marsh and Southdown are breeds of sheep, so it's no surprise that on a return trip to Sussex via the Marsh and the South Downs I saw many sheep and lambs. They (and the North Downs of course) are the loveliest places when the spring sun shines, as it did today.On the walk over the marsh, Reed Warblers called from the dykes, Wheatears and Skylarks hopped over the turf, Swallows and House Martins hawked insects overhead and Whimbrels flew to their beach roost. At Castle Water hide, Common Terns were flying over the lake while Sedge Warblers called in the nearby bushes. Note - that wouldn't be an Arctic Tern would it, or is it just a trick of the light?

A lovely walk beneath the heights of Beachy Head to Cow Gap showed, alas, no butterflies or orchids yet, but when I got to the most exposed cliff-edge I sat to enjoy the presence of a female Wheatear. I looked down and saw the tiny early buds of Milkwort........and later glimpsed a mauve variant of the plant.

First sight of Birds-Foot Trefoil.

There are so many Cowslips now, both on the downs and at the road-sides. It's good to see the recovery of this once-declining species, but it's been achieved by man, by improving farming practices and by sowing seeds.
Common Whitethroat, quickly a common sight and sound in the hedgerows after a week's arrivals.

Back over the Marsh, I found the solitary Fairfield Church, in the middle of nowhere, with only sheep, swans and skylarks for a congregation.
The interior looks simple, with unusual painted pews, and marvellous roof beams.

Mint sauce!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Spring flowers unfurl'd

A surprisingly early arrival on the rifle range, beneath the south-facing cliffs, was this Kidney Vetch flower. Surprising as it would be expected in June, and to last the summer, but stranger things have happened.

Nearby was a clump of Alkanet.

Moving inland, onto rather different habitats, was a colony of Bugle shaded beside a hedgerow...
...and deeper into the shade of the woodland there were the graceful stems and beautiful flowers of Lady's Smock. Lady's Smock is also known as Cuckoo Flower, presumably because the two appear at similar times in spring. I look forward to hearing my first call soon.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

A Day of Two Halves

A sea mist accompanied my morning stroll around Kingsdown, with the foghorns rumbling across the Channel. As height was gained, the mist became denser, and soon a klaxon sounded to close the golf course.
There were plenty of birds flying between the bushes and hedgerows, with Chiffchaffs probably the most frequent. Nothing could be seen in the sky, so much of the time was spent looking for beauty on the ground. I've not seen this tiny plant before, and don't know its name - any help out there?

Umbellifer species are numerous, but I think this is a kind of Chervil.

There are about 200 different variations of Dandelion, even before considering species that are Dandelion-like, so I'll not guess at the flower that resulted in this clock.

Herb Robert

In the afternoon, an unexpected blast of warm Spring sunshine hit the garden, and the air filled with insects. Among the many hoverflies was my first Holly Blue butterfly of the year (my favourite) and a number of bees.

Struggling through the grass was this one, which I believe is a Mining Bee. These lay their eggs in the ground, so this may be just emerging.

Thursday, 17 April 2008


A call from Dr Ray alerted me to the arrival of a pair of Garganeys at Restharrow Scrape this afternoon. When I arrived in the fading light, they were close to the hide, and should have given some good pictures.
Unfortunately, they were busy feeding so their heads were in the water most of the time.

I was hoping that the male would quack, as it's a strange sound, a cross between a dog's bark and a frog's croak. In the event, we were not entertained.
Garganeys are the only British summer visitor duck, wintering south of the Sahara.
There were 24 reports of Gargany sightings on Birdguides today, of which four were from Kent - Dungeness (10 flying past), Grove, Oare and here at Restharrow. In 2006, a pair was here on 19th April.

Earlier, a female Siskin arrived to finish off the last peanuts of the winter........

....and a Linnet sang from a budding Ash tree.