Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Rural perfume

Kingsdown has reeked to the rural perfume of slurry sprayed on the fields this week.
Coincidentally, I got into a conversation with a farmer who I've never met before, who (on hearing that I am vegetarian, nature lover, general wuss etc) pointed out that people like me "are always the first to compain" when farmers use such natural farming methods.

I can't dispute that a number of townies are offended, but, having been brought up with dirt (and often dung) under my finger-nails, I am not. This process is age-old, and to be welcomed if the volume of chemicals is reduced.

This brought to mind an old photograph of local farmer Jim P-W, being towed by his wife Shirley in (I would guess) the fifties on their farm in Kingsdown. Jim is much missed by all.
Rather longer ago, this map shows the village in 1877:
Some places are familiar, such as the King's Head and the Zetland Arms, as well as the relatively new church.
Less familair are the names 'Sparrow Court' along Chalkhill Road, the Great Combe which is now known as the Lynch, 'New barn' at the otherwise unnamed Hill Farm, along with capstans, wells and a Pillar letter box.

This map is available from OldxMaps and I hope plenty of people buy it to avaid me being sued for copyright infringement. Please do not click on it to make it larger.
The scene above is unmistakably modern, with the new type of bales but the road below looks traditional, and if the tarmac was removed and the chalk track reinstated it would be timeless.

As a pleasant change from this week's excellent pictures provided by SteveR, the blur below confirms that the Mediterranean gulls are back on the beach - at least three, including the usual high proportion of ccolour-rings.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

From the Roving Reporter : Hoe Hoopoe

And now over to our roving reporter, for word of a twitch.......
I had just finished wandering around Sandwich Bay feeling quite pleased with having found 4 wheatears, 4 whinchats and 2 stonechats when a call alerted me to the presence of a hoopoe at Samphire Hoe. Suddenly what I had been trying to photograph for the previous hour lost its significance!
At Samphire Hoe the visitor centre kindly gave me directions and I shot off to the western end of the Hoe, the bird being in residence about 100 yards past the end of the Hoe itself. Tony Morris and family were already on the shingle merrily snapping away at the hoopoe which was only 20 yards or so up the cliff face and I joined them in the photo-fest.
The bird was moving about quite a lot as it fed on the insects populating the cliff face vegetation but every now and again it came into view and the camera shutters rattled.
After 30 minutes it flew east some 20 yards to a more exposed area of cliff face but rapidly vacated that area and flew another 50 yards east and disappeared high into the cliff face vegetation.I departed at that point and don’t know whether the bird was relocated by the newly arriving birders; I hope so.
This has been Steve Ray, East Kent, for the Kingsdown blogspot.

His Flickr site is always worth a look - now he's got close-ups of a curlew sandpiper. It makes me weep - Ed.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Practically perfect

A practically perfect morning stroll was had this morning, in a pretty good weekend. I hope that messages of apology are being sent to the much-maligned Met Office, as the warm dry weather continues. In the south-east anyway, he added hastily, as the soggy residents of the north and west grind their teeth.
The stroll in question was around the north section of the Lydden reserve, to check on the slow progress of the thousands of flower-buds of devil's-bit scabious. They only grow on the northern slopes here, but even these are dry chalk. As the plant generally likes 'damp' places (must be good in the north and west then hehehe) I assume that this has retarded their blooms, and they have been in bud for weeks.
But....... a secluded dip which gets less sun, some of the scabii had bloomed, looking like the kind of hat my grandmother used to wear on Sundays.
As the day warmed up, combining hot sun with cool breeze (perfect), butterflies appeared - including about 30 adonis blues looking stunning in the bright light, and at least 40 silver-spotted skippers, dashing from flower to flower.
Also, on marjoram of course, some small coppers.

To add to enjoyment, three buzzards floated over, calling to each other. Other highlights of the weekend included watching Newcastle beat Palace (my ears are still ringing, as we were in the Newcastle section), and switching on the radio to hear the last Aussie wicket fall.

Almost perfect. In the next week or so, the sight of all the scabious in flower should be stunning.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Counting tresses

It's good to see autumn lady's-tresses appearing on the village lawns. In one garden I counted 39 spikes last year, and there are 44 this year - a testament to good grass management (i.e. none).
The largest number of spikes are on Phyllis's lawn - she was amenable to waiting for some pyramidal orchids to seed before cutting her grass, but I feel that she was not so pleased when I pointed out the 150 or so new spikes that have appeared.
Over in the Isle of Wight, Rambling Rob reckons that they spiral either left-to-right and right-to-left, but although there are a few here that had little spiral, most keep strictly to the anti-clockwise trend.
Evening primrose in the evening

It's getting towards that time when birds reemerge from their summer activities, leading to wistful staring out to sea in the hope of something interesting. At least there are birds on the scrapes, even though their plumage poses a few challenges.
Green sandpiper (not too difficult)

Crow (or a juvenile rook?)

Pheasant (or chicken, or veloceraptor?)

And how often do you see a kestrel and a common sandpiper on the same wall?
And finally....two more links:
marvellous shots of a long-eared owl at Elmley by Steve Ray, and
a reminder of the Google Earth link showing this year's migration of ospreys from Loch Garten.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

In the heat of the night

Another warm night (unheard of!) -
Since everyone else seems to be catching moths I thought I'd see what happens when some golden syrup is drizzled near an outside light.

Sure enough, bugs arrive, even though the syrup coursing down the drainpipe looks like Castrol GTX. I shall not attempt any identification, since I took the Observer's Book of Moths back to the library in bewilderment.
Aha - I know that's a lacewing!And what do they call you, boy?

They call me Mister Tibbs

OK guys, it's quite interesting when sitting out of an evening, but I'll leave it to you.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Sea food

A plate of tasty golden samphire, from some of the many plants now flowering on the undercliff.

Rock samphire is also flowering now, and although it is said that it is better before this, there are still plenty of fresh leaves to be had. To my uneducated palate, the two samphires taste quite similar.
Richard Maybey warns, however, to wash plants from such places carefully, as "the bushy clumps that they grow in are often the only prominent vegetation along coastal paths and sea walls, and are ideal targets for perambulating dogs".
Glasswort (or marsh samphire) has appeared in small quantities this year, so is not being picked (apart from a little nibble occasionally). It is probably best pickled when found in good quantities.
Sea purslane "makes a succulent addition to salads".

So far as I know, annual sea blite is not edible, but is thriving in the pools by the sea wall.

Not Square-stalked St John's Wort, as I'd first thought, but Woody Fleabane (very rare)

Sea aster

Sea holly - its root was a delicacy, but not to be confused with the root of yellow horned poppy, which brings hallucinations.

Sea spurge, a strange plant

Friday, 14 August 2009

An afternoon with the father of nature

High Elms Country Park is a mile or so from Down House, the 'good, very ugly' home of Charles Darwin. A latterday Darwin, Fred Greenie, has studied closely the park and particularly Cuckoo Wood, as reported in his excellent blog, Greenie in the Wild.
Fred kindly lent me an afternoon of his skills, knowledge and patience to show me around the park. He also pointed out the musk orchid bank, where much of Darwin's time was spent in work and contemplation, and where Irene Palmer continues his studies, illustrated on a slide-show here.
One of the targets for our walk was views of egg-laying by silver-washed fritillaries, and when the sun came out, so did they, in good numbers. These large butterflies performed well, with the females being chased by males, the floppy flight of the former being accompanied by cork-screwing attendance of the latter.
In a glade, just where Fred predicted, a female was seen laying eggs on a tree trunk, then flying up to a sunny branch for a rest before returning to continue her task.
She seeks out craggy, gnarled bark with moist dark crevices.... so naturally sought out Fred's clothing.
Later, she showed that there was no favouritism and landed on my corduroy trousers.
The clearings had a good mixture of low chalkland plants like marjoram and taller scrub including plenty of heady flowering hemp agrimony that attracted butterflies, moths and other bugs. While waiting for the arrival of a white-letter hairstreak (it didn't) we watched a hornet blundering its way around the flowers, hunting prey, which it eventually found, caught and consumed.
It's good to visit places outside one's usual area, and I had to ask the name of this plant - a white mullein - which is frequent in the west of kent but unknown in the east.
Some stars pointed out included three helleborines:
Violet helleborine

Broad-leaved helleborine

and nearby 32 spikes of the rare green-flowered helleborine.