Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Clouds - over a Hundred

The Cornillo Hundred is a good place to watch clouds ("Hello clouds, hello sky") with big skies, few trees, flat expanses of prairie stretch for miles in all directions.

Hundreds were used to divide counties into more manageable administrative districts, and nominally each one encompassed land that could support 100 households. Although Kingsdown is in the smaller hundred of Ringwould, just inland is the extensive hundred of Cornillo.

The map was found on this site for which many thanks. If anyone knows where the Cornillo name comes from, I'd be interested to know.
Spring is a good time to watch clouds, as they seem to change constantly. I won't try to identify all the cumulus, nimbus, stratovarious types, but refer any interested parties to the Cloud Appreciation Society.
In this picture, aircraft contrails are casting shadows on the lower layer of clouds over the channel.
Another good place for big skyscapes is Dungeness - which (stop press!) has just attracted a crested lark across the water from France - just the third recorded in Kent. Considering that these larks seem happiest wandering around the roads of Calais port, Dungeness is a step up for it. It's about time that they moved north, as I'm sure our dour coastline is perfect for the species.

Other news - butterflies are starting to appear - common blue, small heath and wall being seen this week.
Chalk downland plants are also being seen, like milkweed, horseshoe vetch and kidney vetch.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Busy weekend

Another great sunny weekend - here are the highlights: not many clouds, but those that appeared were attractive.
Breeding bird survey on the undercliff: 24 fulmar nest sites, a pair of rock pipits, two house martin nests and some jackdaws (one with a wonky foot).
Hoary stocks flowering on the cliffs.

A single early spider orchid, just like last year.

A single early purple orchid on Tolsford Hill.

Lady orchid becoming more feminine, on a return trip to Denge Woods.

One of a handful of Duke of Burgundy butterflies - tiny!

A trip on the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway to Dungeness,
where there were plenty of small coppers, but precious little else.

And finally, a short-eared owl at dusk.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Not very lady-like

A pleasant evening was spent at Bonsai Bank in Denge Wood, and at Yockletts Bank. At least four Duke of Burgundy butterflies ('Dukes' to their mates) have already been seen on this bank this year so far, but the evening air was too chilly for them to show. Another trip in the middle of the day will be required, which is no hardship.
These woods are also excellent for orchids - you know the kind of thing.....delicate feminine flowers, of which the lady orchid is a particularly fine example.

Except that when they are in bud, they look anything but lady-like.

There are a number of fine specimens in the sun on Bonsai Bank, that will presumably open in the next few days, while those at Yockletts, below, being in the deep shade of the wood will take a little longer.
Also stirring are good numbers of twayblades...
...and a single early purple orchid.
A group of a dozen or so of these bizarre plants had my reaching for my handbook, as I've certainly never seen anything like them before (a sheltered life) and they turn out to be Herb Paris, or True-Lover's Knot.

Very strange things, which seem to have dispensed with the concept of petals. They do attract some insects (presumably by smell rather than sight) and also propogate by tubers, hence the grouping.

Not only is Denge great for insect and plant life, but also the bird song was lovely.

A tawny owl was hooting away as the sun started to set, green and GS woodpeckers called, a male kestrel swooped down to take a worm or a small slowworm, yellowhammers sat on a barn at the entrance, and marsh tits, blackbirds, a song thrush, blackcaps, willow warblers, chiffchaffs and a nightingale filled the evening air with song.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Racing snakes and slower worms

An all-too-brief lunch-time wander around Fackenden Down reserve in the Darenth valley, with the Green Man as guide, provided much to see but also much that was too quick to be snapped.
Greenie tried to find adders and grass snakes for me, but although we saw three of the former (two males and a female) they quickly slithered away before I could get near. Very sensible of them.

There were, however, plenty of slowworms living up to their name.

Above, a male, a female (with the dark line) and a youngster.

Also slow enough for me to catch were Roman snails, also known as Burgundy or edible snails or indeed escargots, about 2" across. This species is perhaps surprisingly not found in Kent east of Ashford - surprising because there were plenty of Romans in east Kent. Maybe they ate all of them.
Another species not found in the Kingsdown area is crosswort, which coincidentally appears right next to wild madder (see yesterday's post) in my flora bible.

There were a few quicker beasts that I managed to photograph - a tiny common lizard,

grizzled skipper

orange tip

and a strange moth - any ideas anybody?

Many thanks to Greenie for his time, expert assistance, and patience at my clumsy attempts at seeing the beasts that he had carefully found.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

A lazy wind goes through you instead of around you

Despite the forecast for excellent weekend weather, this was about the only sight of the sun, as cold north-easterlies blew mist across us. We may not get much rain, but when the wind's in this quarter, we feel it.
A few butterflies had been fooled into emerging by earlier warm days, with small whites most frequent. With spots above; and without, below.For the rest, it was a question of seeking out the small things in life. For one, I've never previously (knowingly) seen glasswort, but a clearing by the sadly-damaged hide at Pegwell is covered in the stuff.
Similarly, I've never noticed wild madder, but there's quite a bit on Samphire a sturdier version of goosegrass. The plant is apparently quite common in the west, but not so further east. Terrible pics, but it was gloomy.
On the chalk-downland, a first showing of milkwort,
...and all along the railway-side path, the first of many early spider orchids.
Early, yes; orchids, undoubtably; but spider....why? A view was expressed that they more closely resemble dung-beetles, but early dung-beetle orchid doesn't seem right.
Bird-wise, there were a few unphotographable bits seen or heard during the weekend, including whimbrel, sandwich tern, nightingale, grasshopper warbler, lesser whitethroat, peregrines, rock pipit, black redstarts and a surprisingly late brambling from my window* - a male in stunning plumage, to which the picture failes to do justice. The photo is only posted to prove that it wasn't a mis-id of a chaffinch.
Add ImagePerhaps the most pleasing sight of the weekend was of a paitr of kestrels over the undercliff, checking out nest-holes. No kestrels have been seen here since last year's female was found dead in early December.

*Sorry if my poor grammar indicates that all these were seen from my window. Unfortunately not.