Sunday, 31 May 2009

Monkeys and lizards

Another weekend with wall-to-wall sunshine.....lovely. So it's off out again to look for orchids, firstly to the wonderful Parkgate Down for monkey orchids, which were there in dozens.
Also, a greater butterfly orchid, standing proud amongst the monkeys.
Later in the weekend, a couple of trips to Sandwich Bay in search of lizard orchids. Again, there are plenty, although only just starting to flower.
It's good to see such rare plants thriving in their own particular habitats. I became the proud owner of Eric Philp's masterful Atlas of Kent Flora this weekend, and the maps clearly show how isolated such species are in the county - lizard orchids are only found here at Sandwich, and the monkey orchids were in only one site near Faversham until someone collected some seeds and spread them illicitly at Parkgate.

I was intrigued to see a photo in the book of sea holly broomrape, which is only found at Sandwich Bay, and nowhere else in the UK. This was the only possible union of these two species that I could find, although there were plenty of clove-scented (bedstraw) broomrapes, and sea holly plants without their parasites.
Another plant that is almost restricted to this area is sand catchfly, which took rather more searching for, being tiny and not abundant. Cute.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, tree lupins have become established in a few coastal sites in Kent, including on the Cinque Ports golf course. As they seem to be spreading successfully, the cry of 'not more bloody lupins' will soon be heard from the greenkeepers.

And finally......good to see that the landlord of the Lord Clyde shows his support for the Manchester United even after their poor performance against Barcelona.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

On the verge.....

Kent has a network of roadside reserves, inconguously placed alongside the tarmac and fast cars of our modern world.
Chosen for a variety of reasons, these small reserves may conserve plants, reptiles or insects, and seem to be well maintained. One of the largest is on the cutting in the chalk on the old A2 at Lydden, where the scraping of soil off the rock has provided a niche for plants that need just a little soil and not much moisture. Mignonette is flowering now, and a few orchid spikes have emerged. A bank of strawberry fruits has also emerged - barren, I'd guess, judging by the lack of flavour.
Nearby, at West Langdon, is another reserve, protecting the verge that holds a good variety of downland plants - scabious, knapweed, horseshoe vetch, kidney vetch, bedstraw, milkweed, goats-beard and poppy are all represented, so it's a valuable resource in the prairielands. As the crops come close to it, it's likely that orchids will have been chemicalled, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
ScabiousGoats-beardThe inspiration for this pottering around the verges was a post by Tony St Margarets on a dozen spikes of man orchids that were found by the eagle eyes of Phil. He cycles, and so presumably sees more that the rest of us.
I was struck not only by the size of the spikes, but also by a large mat of pink milkweed, a plant that is more usually seen hanging on alone on sparse soils, not thriving profusely on an apparently rich roadside. Is the fact that the verge is on the site of an old fort earthwork relevant, I wonder?
In the wood nearby, a few more man orchids grow in the shade of a beech tree, sharing mutually-usefully fungi.
Still the painted ladies pour over and around us - an extraordinary invasion.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Standing on the shoulders of giants

East Kent has been host to a cracking bird for the last fortnight - a Black-Winged Pratincole. I eventually twitched it (it would have been impolite not to) and it's a stunner. It gave an aerobatic display for half an hour, taking insects in the breeze, looking like a cross between a house martin and a tern.
The photo is not mine (I am unworthy) but by Dr Ray - who also took some excellent pics of three spoonbills that flew over Grove, shown here.

More pleasing visitors are spotted flycatchers, now back to a regular nestsite near here. Thanks to the Planet Thanet crew for the info some years ago.
Back at Campbell's Garage (small blue hotspot), they were busy egg-laying in the sunshine.
Greenie has got me looking for butterfly eggs - is that one on the leaf? A much better observer than I has reported 54 small blues at this site this week; I was particularly pleased to see individuals at separate sites up and down the coast today.
The first flowers of yellow-horned poppy, sea pea and tree mallow were seen along the beach at Walmer; last year I posted a picture of tree mallow seeds, and Ann commented that the flowers must be spectacular. I've waited three seasons to show her.

Finally, a few days ago we saw these strange clouds at sunset, and Kaddy explained that they are virga from altocumulus clouds, also known as 'jellyfish'. The trails are precipitation of rain or ice, which evaporate before reaching the ground.
Thank you, giants all.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Foreign parts (part 3 - mountains)

The north end of Lake Garda is enclosed by mountains; the southern edge of the Alps, and on the east side by the Monte Baldo range. Fortunately there is a cable car from the lakeside to the top, into the snow at this time of the year.
As the snow recedes, a flush of crucuses (OK, croci) quickly takes its place, giving a carpet of thousands.
Glaciers covered the lower slopes in the last ice age, but the mountain tops remained uncovered, so ancient floral species were able to survive - the area is now a nature reserve because of this.
Gentians were starting to come through the warming soil (stemless and spring gentians?)...

...and what semed at first sight to be cowslips were in fact bear's ears.

Alpine snowbells - quite lovely

Alpine buttercup
Pasque flower

The first orchids were starting show, the one below being - I think - a pale-flowered orchid.

Where there are tourists, there are scavengers; in this habitat they were alpine choughs.