Thursday, 30 July 2009

Things that groweth in Bogs

Between the showers, a trip to the recently-renamed Hothfield heathlands.
Nicholas Culpepper wrote that sundew 'groweth in Bogs, and in wet places, and sometimes in moist woods'. The distilled water in wine is 'good for Diseases of the Lungs, as Pstisicks, Wheesing, shortness of breath, or the Cough' so if Tamiflu starts to run out, we know what to take instead.
Although heath spotted orchids and bog asphodel are over and only show as seed-spikes, there is plenty of other interest, and a number of plants new to me (I lead a sheltered life up here on the chalk). Cross-leaved heath looks good at the moment, and this below is apparently water mint. The crushed leaves smell very pungent.
While chatting to Ian, a local, he pointed out keeled skimmers and tiny lesser skullcap flowers.

Of a different scale in the adjacent woods is a small patch of Himalayan balsam which the managers must be looking at carefully, to see if it spreads and crowds out the indigenous plants.
Another introduction, though rather more popular, is sweet chestnut.... if we have a barbecue summer, maybe these will grow to edible size?

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Not just Ladies

With a warm southerly wind coming up from the continent, it looked good for clouded yellows I reckoned. And indeed by 8am I'd found one on the rifle range. Then I read a comment that these could be the emerging generation following a May immigration - who knows?
By 9am I'd seen eleven species, including a few hundred PLs, about 30 fresh common blues
and a wall - certainly the year's second emergence.
As if that many species was not enough, it was time to drive up to Covert Wood near Barham, for an instructive walk led by Fran of the local Butterfly Conservation group.
White admirals were fluttering around the car park and butterflies were rarely out of sight during the stroll through woodland, clearings, heath and finally chalk downland.

I've got a jaundiced view of woodlands, and so many of them have too much shade and too few clearings, with the result that the fauna and flora are dull. Fran's Denge Woods project which has links to other woodlands in the Canterbury area, aims to persuade landowners to manage them more sympathetically. Covert Wood has interesting plants, bird and insect life, and is a good example to follow.
Gatekeeper on that's what it looks like!


Devil's bit scabious -no.1 on my 'to find' list this month, so that's a good result (thanks to the incredibly-knowledgeable Alf for the ID on this and a variety of other rarities, and indeed for relocating the tiny basil-thyme, here sheltering under some wild basil).
Finally, another clouded yellow flew across the down and landed, well-camouflaged, in a patch of hairy St.John's wort. A bright, obvious butterfly when flying or settled on a green twig or leaf, this is clearly its plant of choice for hiding. Even the brown blotches on the leaves are mimicked by brown blogs on its wings.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Blue-cheeked bee-eater

A superb bird (I mean ..... normal European bee-eaters are stunning......... but this....)

and, of course, although the thing turns up a couple of miles from home, I'm stuck at work.

Others, however, can show what retirement is for:

This must be the first instance of a Bluebird over the white cliffs of Dover :-)

Report from Birdguides:

After the stunning belated stories of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters in Hampshire and Devon earlier this summer (both photographed, the Hampshire bird particularly nicely), hopes that one of them (if indeed two were involved) may still be bouncing around the country seemed to have faded away. It's been over three weeks since the sighting in North Devon. Then, out of nowhere, in the middle of the morning on 22nd, came amazing news from Kent: a BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATER had been found around Bockhill Farm, St.Margaret's-at-Cliffe. The bird was initially seen for some ten to fifteen minutes, then was lost for almost an hour. Just before noon, the bird was back and showed on and off (with at least one flight out to sea, the French coast clearly on view) until early afternoon. For those arriving from slightly further away than the southeast, there was a gathering sense of inevitability to the proceedings. The dogged old-timers working their local patch could enjoy the find of a lifetime.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Newly emerged.....

Apart from a brief visit from a pair in spring, there seemed to be no kestrels at the usual nesting site on the cliffs this year. This morning, however, two birds were seen flying at the hole, with a great deal of noise. Soon, a youngster flew a little way along the cliff and clung to a small outcrop.
One can imagine Johnny Morris giving words to the fledgling's cries.

I have a question....... mid-May this year the great influx of Painted Lady butterflies started, peaking towards the end of the month with estimates of millions flying across the channel and up through the country. Most of these were ragged individuals, understandably so after their flight from north Africa, and the number of sightings fell to single figures in subsequent weeks.
For the last week, however, fresh individuals are all over the place, with ten or so being commonplace on a single buddleia bush. Now....since we all know that none of the insect's life-stages can survive a European winter, do we surmise that these new arrivals have developed from eggs laid by the first wave two months ago, or have they flown in from elsewhere?
I blithely expressed the former opinion to Jack, who asked 'are you sure?' which is his gentle way of saying 'you are probably wrong, so go and check your facts - but I'm not going to exclude the chance that you might be right'. A true gentleman.

Ploughman's Spikenard. Spikenard was mediterranean herb used by Mary Magdalene to anoint Christ's feet before the last supper, so presumably this is the poor ploughman's substitute. It is 'a singular remedy to heale inflamations,' according to Gerard 'and the smell therof povoketh sleepe'.

Fleabane (are you sure? -no, it's golden samphire....thanks Fred) with annual seablite

Broad-leaved everlasting-pea

A very substantial red-tailed bumble bee

Purple toadflax

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Meet the locals

On the scale of "rare to common", the word "local" is used to describe species that are not widespread but, where they do occur, they thrive. Consider the woolly thistle. Although apparently frequent in the south midlands, and despite plenty of apparently good habitat on the downs, it only grows in a few isolated places here. But where it does occur, it seems to do well.

Ragged robin is probably common to many, but on my rambles over the parched landscapes of East Kent, it is rarely seen. I see more of its relative, the Nottingham catchfly, which is local bordering on rare.

We are lucky to have a few colonies of marsh helleborines, which are at their best at the moment. A rare plant, or just local? Looking at NBN Gateway, sites are scattered throughout England, Wales and Ireland, with fewer in Scotland.

In the avian world, the same applies. We see flocks of 20 or so corn buntings every winter in the same place, and hear the jingling call every summer, but only in favoured areas. They have their chosen habitat, and are very rarely seen away from it. Perhaps Warren in the heart of the weald could tell us how many records he has of corn buntings over the years?
Another case in point, paragliders chose their habitat carefully, needing a combination of wind, steep hillside and soft-landing area. Chose the wrong habitat, and they would have more than their bums in a sling.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The day starts (and ends) here

The Greenwich meridian is marked by a timeball tower, like the one at Deal. While the one at Deal is black, this is red - nice!
The phrase "The day starts and ends here" amused me, although places in France, Spain and a number of African countries, not to mention Catford, can make a similar claim to be on the meridian. After some thought, however, (the brain works slowly these days) I realised that the claim is wrong....the day starts and ends on the other side of the world, as the celebrations of the new millennium made clear.
At the bottom of the hill is a fine collection of buildings making up the Royal Naval Hospital for Sailors, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and now mostly occupied by the University of Greenwich. One of two main domes has a clock-face showing the wind direction, presumably moved by the weather-vane above it.
Between the Royal Observatory and the Hospital is the Queen's House, built to compliment the Palace of Placentia which stood on the site of the Hospital, and which was the main palace of monarchs including Henry VIII and Elizabeth, both of whom were born there.
The Queen's House is by Inigo Jones for Anne of Denmark, the wife of James I.
As the buildings have recently been relinquished by the Navy, many are now open to the public, and, with the Royal Observatory and Maritime Museum, provides a fascinating area of museums and art galleries - all free. The extensive parkland gives a great sense of space, while the town is attractive and interesting too. If you find London oppressive, the World Heritage Site of Greenwich is a fine alternative.

Across the river, of course, stands Canary Wharf. When the first tower was built, it was stunning, like a building places there by a God. Now it looks rather cluttered.
Which is the taller - the Natwest Tower (alright, number 42) or the gherkin? A clue is that the latter was built later.

Monday, 13 July 2009

The Kingsdown Brand

Since 1995 the precious water of Kingsdown has been collected, bottled and sold to high-class establishments, putting the village on the map. I'll resist the temptation to comment on the comparable quality of our tap-water, which is presumably drawn from a similar source, filtered through millions of years-worth of chalk to an undreamed-of purity (sell by date on the bottle = 29 April 2011).

Talking of maps, I bought one of Kent dated 1824, which is before the railways changed the demography for good (with the exception of Swindon and Crewe). It shows "every Parish & Place containing upwards of 40 houses", and there not many of them.
Our village is shown as 'Kingswould', an amalgam of Ringwould and Kingsdown that I've seen before, but am not sure if any contemporary would have claimed to live there. More likely it is a recording error, or maybe the hamlets amalgamated temporarily to achieve the 40-dwelling threshold.

And while on the subject of wrinkled old relics ......... it's time to meet the members of the band:

The Kingsdown Band is celebrating its 20th anniversary - they started out 1989 when two of them, Terry and Roger, discovered that they had a similar background, playing the clubs of Hamburg in the 1960s.
Line-ups changed and members have come and gone, but they remain true to the principle of having a good time, and audiences are soon up and dancing.
Starting as a tight four-piece, they soon attracted a brass section from the old Marines in Deal, and have now added other musicians bringing the squad up to 12, making the amplification a nightmare, assuming that all the band can fit on the stage.
They've given us some great times, and have done more than their share of gigs for charity - well done lads!