Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Never get enough bees

Whenever I see a Bee Orchid I think "I don't need another photograph of one of these" but I take one anyway because they are superb. Spider Orchids, both Early and Late, are strikingly similar but neither approaches the explosive zest for life that these little gems seem to show.
This week I've found them in a variety of habitats - in dry shadows beside the Channel Tunnel yards......
....and beside a lily pond......alongside the 14th fairway.
Also on the golf course was the greatest profusion of Goatsbeard clocks I've ever seen.

Returning to the Channel Tunnel, there is a line of this plant along the middle of the dry track (path, not railway). My original guess attracted some helpful corrections, and I now know what Common Cudweed looks like.

The Tawny Owl family is still around the garden, their strange noises accompanying the slurping of my cocoa.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Butterflies and moths (shock)

The start of summer here in the far East - coinciding with the end of summer for some inept footballers - was marked by the arrival in the garden of the first Red Admiral and a Small Tortoiseshell.
I hoped for the first Marbled Whites on the beach, and indeed they were there -just a few. Last year the first emergence was on 20th June, and by the 26th there were 200.
There are still a few Small Blues at the usual sites, and for a change I took interest in the many moths along the shingle, as the East Kent Mercury (a good local paper) had reported that Sussex Emeralds and Bright Weaves had bred in this area. The one below might be the latter, or maybe not.
A weevil on Kidney Vetch

The broomrapes have started to emerge, again about a week later than last year, and as usual I'll tentatively identify them as Ox-tongue Broomrape. They certainly grow very close to Oxtongue Hawkweed, one of their usual hosts.
A surprising find at Otty Bottom was a few stalks of Dropwort, a plant that I hadn't noticed here (or indeed anywhere else in the parish) before. Maybe I've previously been distracted by the orchids, of which I counted 9 Pyramidal and 130 Fragrant.
Despite the hot weather there is still a need to do some gardening, even if it is mostly pulling bindweed and Traveller's Joy (gardener's hate) out of the hedges. While doing this, I found a nest and a tentative fingertip touched something warm and downy.
I feel a webcam project coming on.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Belated Spider Orchids

At last...... finally...... after many hours of tramping the Folkestone escarpment of the North Downs, I've found one of the colonies of Late Spider Orchids. There's only a handful of small colonies in Britain, all on these East Kent hills, and although the one at Wye is well-known the others are understandably kept secret - hence my searching.
V.S. Summerhayes in his seminal book Wild Orchids of Britain describes the lip "which is thought to resemble the body of a large garden spider, is four-angled rather than circular [as in the bee orchid] and often widens somewhat towards the front. At the very tip it is furnished with an upturned fleshy three-lobed appendage". A true scientist, he comments on the fine detail but perhaps loses something of the jovial character and beauty of the flower.

I counted 28 spikes and in some places they were growing with Man and Pyramidal Orchids.


Notes from the shortest night..........

A Tawny Owl landed on a small tree as I sat on the patio in the dusk, drinking my late-night Ovaltine. It looked at me, I looked at it, then it silently flew back into the trees.

This was followed by some strange wheezing sounds, as if a child was quietly snoring. I found a torch and picked out a young owl on a branch nearby, still wheezing.

We visited Clowes Woods to hear Nightjars; shortest night/bright moon, so they were late - a Woodcock passed twice on its roding flight at about 10, followed by a Nightjar at about 10.15 - churring away on a high exposed branch.

Walking back to the car, we saw two glowworms in the grass, glowing - not flashing while flying like the ones I saw in Italy.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Ranscombe Farm

An afternoon looking for arable weeds - it's been done for centuries, since hunter-gatherers realised that they could stay at home and grow their own crops. It's a back-breaking task, and as civilisations and technologies have developed, so have the ways to get rid of the weeds in the fields.
At Ranscombe Farm near Rochester, however, they are encouraged because we've been so successful at pushing out the weeds, there are almost none left.
Some we have lost are large and lovely, like the corncockle and meadow clary (first recorded at this very place in 1792.
Some are, however, tiny and difficult to find, but not as difficult as providing conditions suitable for its growth. To encourage these tiny plants, the farm manager (on behalf of the charity Plantlife) sows low-density crops to allow space between them, and of course shuns fertilisers, insecticides and herbicides. The result is a sparse crop on poor soil that would struggle to feed a family, but that allows the rare plants to flourish.

Stinking Mayweed, above, and the optimistically-named Venus' Looking Glass, below
- the latter is very small and bears little resemblance to its romantic name.

Broad-leaved Cudweed is a particular success on this site, and has spread rapidly across the field where conditions have been favourable for it - it's very rare elsewhere in the country.

Field Madder

Dwarf Spurge

Corn Salad

Naturally the sensitive farming methods are attractive to bugs - I think the beetle is a female Thick-Kneed, but I'll avoid trying to identify the moth. [Thanks to Greg for correcting me - it's a Spanish Fly apparently]

Wild Liquorish

Sweet Briar, with its apple-scented leaves

A lovely place - an island in our intensively-farmed countryside, but clearly illustrative of how poor crops would be on the chalk downs without constant improvement.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

.... and a lump of limestone

The Serene Republic of San Marino consists mainly of a large lump of limestone, towering 2,500 feet up from the plain of the Adriatic coast. It seems to pride itself on its natural assets, and has five or six nature parks in its few square miles. Being on limestone, this is great for finding different species of plants and insects.
We stayed for four nights and were lucky enough to have a room with a view - in clear air we could see for miles over the Apennine foothills, and to the Adriatic coast. On the first morning, I walked around the nearest park of Turkey Oaks and pines, finding Italian Catchfly and Butchers' Broom in profusion, but also plenty of unknown plants that have had me poring over reference books and the net. I expect I've got some wrong, and some (like the knapweed above) I've not found at all.
Below the main town, the land levels out a bit, although the hairpinned roads are still treacherous. Agriculture is necessarily unintensive, and the verges are filled with wild flowers like Italian Sainfoin, while it seems that every tree and bush holds a singing nightingale.
Starry clover (also found on Shoreham Beach in the UK)

Most of the area is fascinating, but one particular patch of short turf held a profusion of orchids - including this one which I first assumed was a Late Spider but was corrected by a little research. I'm now assuming that it's a Woodcock Orchid, although there are many similar species in this group. [Fortunately there are readers who know about these things, and John of Banstead Botany Blog kindly informs me that they were Bertoloni's Orchids (Ophrys bertolonii) - Ed]
Now, I understand the concept of Bee Orchids (attracting bees), Fly Orchids (pollinated by flies), Spider Orchids etc, but woodcocks? The point eludes me.
Also in the clearing were serapias - tongue orchids - one of which I believe caused consternation in the Minster chalk pit in Kent one year.
This may be a bug orchid or a scented orchid (probably the latter, considering the habitat).

Violet Limodore / Violet Bird's-nest Orchid

?Oxtongue broomrape


Field Cow-wheat

Bastard Balm
But best of all, one of the parks is on the edge of the sheer precipice of Mount Titano, giving fine opportunities to scramble and climb. It's not near the usual British holiday haunts, but if you get the chance to visit please do so. Furthermore, if you stay overnight, the trippers soon depart for the coast, leaving the town quiet and peaceful.