Sunday, 22 August 2010

Different downs, and Moonweed

The Sussex South Downs are strikingly different to our North Downs - for a start they point the other way, with the scarp facing north not south. They tend to be short-cropped too with little of the tor-grass that blights our hills, so the low-growing plants get a chance to thrive.

On a dull and blustery day, I met up with another blogger, Charlie of Firle Birds, who generously gave up his afternoon to show me around his patch (less charitable souls might call it internet dating, but let's not go there). He watches his patch far more assiduously than I mine, and it soon became clear that he knows his stuff. Bizarrely, we also discovered that we went to the same school (albeit at very different times) and that he is a product of the legendary YOC group run by Mrs Duncanson and Mrs Bird at Loose.
Charlie's patch includes farmland, woods linked by old tracks and the broad expanse of Firle Beacon which has a good variety of wild flowers and insects, not all of which were put off by the winds and drizzle. This track up the side of the Beacon must have been etched into the hillside by carts over centuries.
I was pleased to see that there were still Round-headed Rampion flowers right on the brow of the beacon (which made photography tricky, requiring an undignified curl of the body around the delicate bloom to keep the worst of the wind off).
A highlight for me was, however, the slow passage of a Dor Beetle, (also called Clock, Dumble-Dor or Lousy Watchman). I assume that the name derived from the similarly dozy Dor-mouse, from the French dormir.

Taking my leave of Charlie, I drove up to Seaford Head from where there is the classic view of the Seven Sisters. Another blogger (The Lyons Den, or An Alternative Natural History of Sussex - a contributor of great quality) had written about a rare plant called Moon Carrot which is similar to our familiar Wild Carrot, and I'd like to see and compare it. The reserve had acres of Wild Carrots mixed in with Hardheads and the similarly-white Yarrow, but where were the Moonweeds?
As it happened, they were not with the many Wild Carrots, but dotted along the cliff edge, looking like small cauliflowers.
Dr McLeod in his Nature in Downland writes "Wait until dark arrives - travel by moonlight, a silver dance on the darkened Channel, to see Moon Carrot glow at night". Unfortunately the moon was unlikely to show its face through the cloud, but the plants did shine in the gloomy dusk.
Just time before nightfall to twitch one last rarity......
.... Red Star-Thistle on the road past Cuckmere Haven. It grows by the bus stop, and just to be even-handed it grows by the bus stop on the other side of the road too.

Previously, near Beachy Head, I found just a handful of strange Scabious plants clinging to a clifftop. I had been searching for Sweet Scabious (Scabiosa atropurpurea) which as its Latin name suggests is purple. Sometimes.
The flowers were white with pink patterning, and the seed heads were impressively shaped.
There was also a colony of Pointed Snails (Cochlicella acuta) hiding among the stems. Different downs, with different residents.


Steve said...

I apologise for imposing "Word Verification" on comments to the blog.
It has been resisted until now, but has become necessary to prevent spam (spam, spam, spam, spam....)
Comments are still warmly welcomed, of course, as how else could I correct my misidentifications?

DOT said...

We drove past Beachy Head yesterday - I need you to do a voiceover pointing out all the flora I am missing. A floral V/O as they would say in the movie business.

Anonymous said...

So, no mention of any birds in Firle. I'd say this was a gross misrepresentation, but.... it wasn't. Next time.

Rampion pictures came out pretty well, worth prostrating yourself on the Beacon for I'd say.

Kingsdowner said...

David, a floral V/O would have background noise of headscratching!
I can warmly recommend Seaford Head.

Charlie, a few mentions would have been good........ pheasant......pheasant?
It's an old adage that you see more when you're on your own. I look forward to your next patch-mega.

Anonymous said...

Outrageous Steve. What about those Linnets we saw? And... those.... other Linnets...?

Had a group of 15 Yellow Wags today. This passes for mega in Firle.