Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Places less visited

Many times I've driven past this gate and wondered what it led to, but never before had I entered. Today I made time for it and was very pleasantly surprised.
It's somewhere south-east of Ashford (TR0635) and may have been created as part of the planning consent for housing on the site of the old prison (the internet is silent on its history, in fact on everything about it).
A line of pylons bisects the wood, creating a ride bordered by mature trees which is perfect for butterflies and dragonflies and the large anthills hint that the land was gently treated in the past.
A Scarce Migrant Hawker (I think) posed for pictures, as did a Brimstone. Sheltered sunny corners were alive with insects - the most numerous butterflies were Gatekeepers with a mixture of Meadow Browns, Red Admirals, Commas, Common Blues, Small Coppers and Marbled Whites for company. The surrounding oaks should have held Purple Hairstreaks but not one was seen.
Moving on to Dungeness, I walked around the Long Pit for the first time. Yellow Water-lilies covered the surface and again there were many dragonflies.
Each time I took a path to the water's edge, there was a plop of a green flog diving into the lake.
Parsley Water-Dropwort

On Dengemarsh Road (where the Great White Egret showed but the Purple Herons didn't) there are some strangely-sculpted Gorse bushes, not straggly as normal but tightly packed and smoothed by the wind. The branch in the photo is in fact the bush's stem.
Dodder flowered profusely, smothering Wood Sage, Nottingham Catchfly and anything else in its path. It was good to see this strange rare plant, as I can't find it on the East Kent beaches.

Talking of which...... the final Place Less Visited is on the beach halfway between Sandwich and Deal. There, standing proud among the low-growing vegetation in the middle of nowhere, are two tall spikes of flowers that I haven't seen before.
Twiggy Mullein I believe, which is an introduced species that pops up unexpectedly from time to time. A welcome arrival that gives status to an out-of -the-way place.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

A Scientific Tourist

The splendidly-named book "The Scientific Tourist through England, Scotland and Wales in which the traveller is diverted to the principal objects of Antiquity, Art, Science and the Picturesque" by T. Walford (1818) mostly dwells on old buildings and plants.

In the former section he dismisses this area as:
Deal.— A Castle. 2 m. s. is Walmer Castle. and describes Ramsgate as a "beautiful bathing place", which presumably at that time it was.

The second part lists 56 rare plants in Kent, of which only about half are still known in the county. Of the survivors, few appear to have increased their range, others unsurprisigly have reduced, orare not in the same places, or indeed with the same names - Purple Goats-Beard is better known as Salsify nowadays..Nottingham Catchfly is still on the cliffs but I've not noticed it on Sandgate Castle and Sea Pea is indeed still growing by Walmer Castle, and has not spread.

Wild Madder
is on the list "on the cliffs at Dover east of the caves" which would be a clear pointer if you knew where the caves are - perhaps the ones now surrounded by the railway sidings? But the plant has flourished along the new fencing beside the railway line at Samphire Hoe, so maybe it moved along the tracks in the last 200 years.
The Channel Tunnel workings created a huge amount of spoil, now flattened into Samphire Hoe, giving a new habitat to the area, with the opportunity for rare plants to thrive in conditions that are unsuitable for commoner, more successful species. Sea Lavender loves it here, giving a pink glow to the concrete apron.
In places the fallen chalk has given refuge to many small plants, like the clints and grikes of limestone.
The world has vastly changed since 1818 and some wonderful things have been lost, but it's good
to know that others have the strength to adapt to new opportunities.
The Kent branch of the Botanical Society has published its own list of rare plants, numbering 256 - in 200 years, how many of these will still be with us?

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Dread trade

Yes, it's Shakespeare Cliff time again...Samphire collectors should be scaling the treacherous cliffs to reap the bounty that nature provides for free. But no, it's a dead trade and only strange people like me take the trouble to pick some to enjoy at home.

After a scramble over the crumbling sea wall I found what I was searching for.... the pretty and rare Sea Heath. It's not a heath, in fact, but there's no reason to change the traditional name just because it is inconveniently etymologically incorrect.
There were five clumps (mats really) in a small area - there may be more further along the cliff face but as the tide was in, this couldn't be checked (wimp...that wouldn't have stopped Joseph Banks).
Sea Lavender is coming nicely into flower now, both on the cliffs and along the central reservation of the nearby A20.

Nearby, tree mallow

And this one seems familiar by the side of a path ...... can't think what it is, though.

While writing about sea plants, Sea Pea is flowering and setting seed on Walmer beach, while Sea Holly is at its best along the Sandwich Bay strand. Photos for Ann and our friends across the sea.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Lydden - Temple Ewell

Another couple of visits to the lovely Lydden - Temple Ewell reserve, choosing the less-walked north-eastern end for a change. This area is apparently not ancient chalk downland but is reclaimed, but while the grass is taller in places it's still got a huge variety of interest.
Although I did take my camera I tried not to let it spoil the atmosphere of the place. The herbs smelt heavenly, with thyme crushed underfoot and the occasional clump of Wild Basil.
Marjoram was covered in Chalkhill Blues, Marbled Whites or Burnet moths, and Squinancywort and the Bedstraws foamed across the downs.
Centuary seems to have flourished this year with more flowers per clump, but this is one plant that the insects ignore.

The main target of the visits was White-Letter Hairstreak, but although eaten Elm leaves were seen, the culprits were not found.

Other species of butterfly were, however, present in large numbers. gatekeepers have quickly outnumbered Marbled Whites and Meadow Browns by about four to one, while Commas, Red Admirals and Holly Blues seem freshly emerged - second generations.
And everywhere Chalkhill Blues, fluttering over the downs like blossom from a cherry tree.

One for the family scrapbook

Essex Skipper

Lydden is well known for its crickets (the Wart-Biters are the special ones) and a Great Greenie was seen crashing its way through the undergrowth.

Post script.
The Mediterranean Gull seen earlier in the week was ringed in Holland as a chick in 2005, has spent most of its winters near Boulogne, was seen variously at Folkestone and Oye Plage in its first summer but then seemed to spend the breeding seasons of later years around the Belgium/Holland wetlands.
Last month it was seen at its birthplace, and then turns up on Kingsdown beach. Its ring has been reported an impressive 107 times!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Breeze brings birds back

The breeze that blasted up the channel disturbed our gentle life, and presumably tired some of the birds out to sea. Among the gulls resting on Kingsdown beach was a smart adult Mediterranean Gull, bearing (surprise, surprise) a ring which I'll report to the usual authorities.
Six waders flew in and landed on the sea wall, then quickly were off again - Dunlin, perhaps.
Meanwhile, just inland at Lydden.....
.... the second wave of summer has arrived, with Lady's Bedstraw, Marjoram, Weld and Mignonette striving for the attention of bees and butterflies, including a few Gatekeepers and some early Chalkhill Blues which this weekend will probably be joined by hundreds more to make the downland burst into life.
Mental note, however..... I won't take my camera, but will just sit and enjoy the wonderful sight of these butterflies, and the blissful scent of the downland herbs.
Finally, a moff, disguised as a birds-foot trefoil seed pod, looking coffee and strawberry ice-cream flavoured, just waiting to be named.

Saturday, 10 July 2010


"The world according to the best geographers is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Romney March" (Rev R.H. Barham : Ingoldsby Legends). The day was hot, and was spent wandering around the Marsh and its environs.
Greatstone is a a beach where I spent some sunny days when I was young. There is now a "Greatstone Shingle" walk with signs like this one - most of the walk, I notice, is not on shingle but on roads or the sandy beach, but all three have some interesting if currently parched habitats.
Sea Rocket and Sea Sandwort braved the burning sand of the dunes, fated never to be cooled by the waves that lap across the beach.

Next, to Rye Harbour to twitch the pair of nesting Little Terns. Failed in this, but enjoyed the usual cacophany and chaos of the gull and tern colonies.
Presumably this scruffy individual is a newly-fledged Black-headed Gull. It could fly, but not much, and wasn't attended by parents during the time I was there.
A family of Tufties have quickly learned how to dive, just as the shutter clicks, just like the adults.
Only one yound Avocet was seen, but there's plenty of cover around the scrapes so there may have been more.

Leaving the cooling sea breezes behind, I drove to Orlestone Forest where the shade was pleasant but the temperature was high.
Now if this isn't good butterfly habitat, I don't know what is - dappled rides, plenty of brambles, hot sun. It's also good for horseflies which increased my year's quota of bites.
Sloughs alongside the rides held plenty of dragonflies, including Broad-Bodied Chasers pairing up, and these darters.

Many Meadow Browns and Ringlets of course, a first-of-the-year Gatekeeper, and six White Admirals were seen. Initially I despaired at getting a close view as they flitted along the rides, but then I realised that they had favourite leaves to rest on - generally hazel - so I set about waiting. Sure enough, they would come back to the preferred places, only to fly off again for a minute or two and then return.
The car's temperature gauge read 28º , but driving back past Capel-le-Fog the usual sea-fret appeared, plunging the reading down by ten degrees to 18º.
Having trouble sleeping? Come to foggy Capel!