Monday, 26 April 2010

Wishing my life away

As the late spring slowly warms the woodland floor, I wait impatiently for the flowers and insects to appear. Pacing this way and that, hopes suddenly raised by a movement.... but no - a leaf blown by the wind.
A glimpse of purple..... not an orchid, but another spike of ground ivy. It's still too early, still too cold.

Willow warblers, chiffchaffs and blackcaps sing, but there's no nightingales here yet.

I sit down on the dry hard ground. Sitting is good - I should do more of it. Closer to the ground, the world of small is seen. Beeflies come and go, ants clamber amongst the blades of grass, and in the delicate bloom of a primrose, death.
A crab spider has its prey, and clings on. The spider - probably a female - can change colour chameleon-like to match its background.
A flutter of wings low across the ground is not a leaf this time, but my own quarry - a Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, briefly seen, quickly lost, not to be refound.
More pacing up and down, eyes on my feet. Buds of Lady Orchids are seen, but it will be a week or so before they are in full flower.
In nearby Park Gate Down, no orchids yet, but a strong clump of Oxlips.

On the downs escarpment, just a couple of rock roses.......

But on Samphire Hoe, among some tight-shut buds, one Early Spider Orchid is open......... spring is underway. Foreshortened, late, but underway.

Memo to me : sit down more. Or lie down if appropriate.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

'Throats are hoarse

Whitethroats are in!
An early morning walk around the circuit found four Lesser Whitethroats and my first (well, first 17) Common Whitethroats, singing hoarsely and adding to the rasping of the chaffinches.
Lesser Whitethroats fly up from Africa by an easterly route, via Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean, mostly stopping to refuel in northern Italy. Common Whitethroats take a westabout way, crossing from Morocco to Spain. Sometimes the Commons arrive first, this year the Lessers were noticeably earlier (or to be precise, the Commons were noticeably later).

Presumably there was once a common ancestor race which migrated north together, but then the paths diverged and the two species developed different characteristics.....wintering places, migration routes, prefered habitats and of course voice.
A Corn Bunting rattled, just to keep the others in tune. This is almost certainly a second singing male, in addition to the one on the clifftop.
Compare and contrast an early summer flower, with a late remnant of early spring.
The sunny day yesterday was spent with relatives, and had an added bonus of a visiting Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


While others are basking in warm sunshine, surrounded by orchids and butterflies, those of us in the Third World (east Kent) are still feeling the blast of wind off the cold North Sea. Could be worse, I suppose - could be in Northumberland.
The weekend was warm enough (if shelter be found) to dust off the bike for a jaunt along the Warren at Folkestone. Few images, but a pleasant time (especially since it is flat).

Half a dozen Lesser Whitethroats were heard or seen (no Commons yet) and a Common Redstart - no butterflies at all in this area usually rich with them. The insects that were around were keeping their heads down.
Back at base, a Corn Bunting clung to a perch to sing, into the the wind.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Sun is slowly fading

The sun is slowly fadin’ in the western sky
Sometimes it takes forever for the day to end
Sometimes it takes a lifetime
Sometimes I think I’ll never see the sun againIt’s enough to make a grown man sit and cry
It’s enough to make you wonder
There’s a heavy smog between me and my mountains
It’s enough to make the world roll up and die
I think it’s kind of interesting the way things get to be
The way that people work with their machines
Serenity’s a long time comin’ to me
The fact I don’t believe I know what it meansFrom the John Denver Image Rehabiliation Group

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Fear of rising sea levels

The "Deal with It" group hosted an evening of climate change talks last night, with presentations on changes in the past and predictions for the future, and another by the warden of Blean Woods on the impact on nature, in particular butterflies and birds.
Among many scary predictions were the impact of coastlines around east Kent if the all the ice on Greenland melts......... sea levels would rise by seven metres.
My more immediate concern about rise sea levels related to the fact that I was trying to walk around the cliffs at St Margaret's Bay to count kittiwakes. It was low tide and I would have had plenty of time, but I was defeated by the sheer size of chalk boulders to be climbed along the way. "The better part of valour is discretion" so I turned back, checking out the flowering wallflowers and three singing rock pipits on the way. OK, I bottled it.
From the top of the cliff a flotilla of 184 kittiwakes could be seen, presumably many of them non-breeding juveniles that turn up near the nest-sites some time after the adults have become established.
Three swallows flew north, two ravens flew south, and a lesser whitethroat was heard and then seen in the garden of the lighthouse.
Also along the clifftop it was good to see the flowers coming along, although it's difficult to recall their names after the long barren winter.

"Gor-blimey, this ring's tight - have I put on weight?"
"Well, now you come to mention it......"

The bird was ringed on 06/02/2010 at Pitsea Landfill Site in Essex by the North Thames Gull Group. This is the first sighting of this bird since ringing. You will be able to view information at:

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Danish Scurvy-Grass - a winner

The verges and central reservations of roads are in bloom -with a small, fast-moving plant called Danish Scurvy-Grass.
Eric Philp's Atlas of Kent Flora (1982) shows it only around Sandwich Bay and on the Dungeness peninsula, but now it can be seen lining the roads throughout the county. I look forward to the new edition.
Its success is based on its tolerance of salt which prohibits the growth of competitors, and on its seeds' ability to cling on to vehicles travelling along the roads. The end of the practice of spraying verges has also helped, of course.

A report by JJ Day in the Worcestershire Biological Records Centre illustrates the plant's spread in that county:

In 1989, it appeared on the M50 motorway, in the extreme southwest of the county.
By the mid-1990s it had colonised most of the motorway and dual carriageway network.
By the late-1990s it had spread to other A-roads and some B-roads.
There is now a spread into urban areas.

The average rate of colonisation was 30.5 km/year, or 3.5 metres per hour.

So far as I know, English Scurvy-grass (Cochlearia officinalis ssp anglica) remains in its normal habitat on sandy or muddy shores, while its Scandinavian cousin keeps on truckin'.

A similarly successful species is Oxford Ragwort, which used the railway system to spread from its initial toehold in Oxford to spread across the country. This particular specimen is just starting to flower, a few feet above the railway track at Dover.
And finally........ JMW Turner's superb paintings of sunsets benefited from the ash from volcanic eruptions in the nineteenth century. Now every amateur photographer will be shooting the sky.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

A plethora of habitats

A tour of east Kent took in a variety of habitats today.......
Sandstone cliffs provide Sand Martins with their nest sites - just starting to dig this year's burrows.
Of course, they could have used last year's holes, but the local residents have taken them over in the Martins' absence.
Woodland : Wood Sorrell is in flower, as the canopy starts to close over for the summer.
Woodland ponds : 'water weed' of all types is starting to grow now. In this small pond a large raft of Water-violet will soon be in flower.
Heathland and bog : Sundews are spreading amoeba-like. How do they grow before catching their first bugs?
Right, that's got that lot out of the way, so I can spend the rest of the year on my favourite habitat.....
Chalk downland: the emerging plants are late this year and will not be encouraged by persisting north-easterly winds.
The first Cowslips are starting to show, but there are plenty of Dog Violets (a good year, I think).
I found just one Pansy, nestling close to a violet.

And finally, one bird a long way from its normal habitat: a cockatiel, in the Copper Beech at the top of Upper Street. If you've lost it, you've got a long climb.