Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Management styles

The final wood in my informal survey of A2 woods was the largest, so I left it until the Bank Holiday. What a waste of time.... once renowned for the richness of its flora, it has been firmly managed so it is now a dark mostly-silent place dominated by chestnut coppice, with only occasional bits of ivy, bramble and dogs mercury forming an apology for an understory.

There was not a sprig of sanicle or other ancient-woodland-indicator species to encourage further searching, and as for orchids, I saw just one twayblade.
The sole piece of interest was a calling woodpecker that I initially thought was a lesser-spot, but which turned out to be a noisy young great-spot shouting from its hole.

To recover from the soul-destroying walk around the dead wood, I crossed the A2 to Waterworks Wood, which was immediately lighter, more varied and full of interest. A line of hornbeam coppice along an old ditch and trackway provides a historical perspective too.
In the first wood, the only signs read "Private", but here there is an apologetic explanation of management practices.
Under the graceful beeches were plenty of white helleborines, and next month's budding broad-leaved helleborines were showing well.
Just one group of four bird's-nest orchids was seen......
... and a sunny nook held gone-over lady orchids, and three spikes of fly orchid.
This wood also had its young birds - in this case a family of marsh tits hassling the hard-pressed parents for food.

No prizes for guessing which wood is the more profitable, but also it's not a great leap of imagination from these to the future of the Forestry Commission lands.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Early lates

A quick check over the downs above Folkestone, just in case......... and sure enough the Late Spider Orchids are early this year.
Every bloom has its own anthropomorphic character. This one is a bride, don't you think?
Near the crop of five LSOs are half-a-dozen Man Orchids.
During the week I called in to Park Gate Down to remind myself of the differences between Military and Monkey Orchids. I was immediately struck by the crowded form of Monkeys - a real mish-mash in contrast to the Military.
A couple of geezers with posh cameras were there - good company and cracking photographic skills from Jamie and Martin. I despair.
A phone call alerted me to a young kestrel (I assume) on a neighbour's roof. Another mish-mash!

The first morning of the weekend was supposed to be a lie-in, but a calling cuckoo put paid to that. It was carving out a territory around the garden - a very welcome visitor but not conducive to sleep.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

More thoughts from abroad

"Much the same, only more so" is the impression of Normandy in May. Roadside verges are scattered with a liberal sprinking of Pyramidal Orchids on the chalk plateau that covers much of this region. Thank heavens for the end of municipal herbicides.
The Seine snakes ox-bow-like towards the sea from Paris, cutting deep gouges in chalk cliffs along the way through dense forests that are now mainly hunter-free. The forest of Ronde is criss-crossed with paths (yes, in France!) for exercise by foot or bike, and in an afternoon spent wandering along them I met precisely nobody.
The canopy held more birds than an equivalent wood in Britain, and provided me with good views of a pair of Wood Warblers both calling and singing, and of Crested Tits flitting above me with beakfuls of food for the family.
There were disappointingly few butterflies, but a pair of Black-veined Whites provided some entertainment.
Occasionally the path would sweep across a slope, creating a sun-warmed bank where a profusion of plants grow, like Lady Orchids, Deadly Nightshade, Bastard Balm (appropriate for Normandy - think about it) and plenty of unidentified sun-lovers.
These oases contrasted with the darkness of the woods surrounding them, holding occasional Bird's-Nest Orchids, White Helleborines and Spiked Rampions.A visit to the ruined Abbey of Jumieges not only provided more Military Orchids by the roadside, but also a large meadow of wild flowers dotted with Pyramidal Orchids and a group of Bee Orchids - and some of the relatively few butterflies to be seen on the trip.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Military orchids found in castle!

My Holy Grail was found last week - Military Orchids, appropriately in the grounds of a castle, Chateau Gaillard on the chalk cliffs above the north bank of the Seine in Normandy.
Since the castle was built by Richard the Lionheart to defend his (i.e. English) lands from the French, this clearly is a British tick.
The name derives from the "helmet" formed by the hood which is clearly different from the otherwise quite similar Monkey Orchid.
An area within a couple of hundred yards of the car park also held Fly, Lizard and Greater Butterfly Orchids and White Helleborines. A sign by the local conservation society effectively reads "the flora here is threatened by tourists - please tread carefully".

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Forgive us our trespasses

A few visits to East Kent woods looking for spring flowers, and there seemed to be a lot of self-imposed privacy. I'm a threatening presence as I aggressively impose myself on the landscape, malicious camera in hand.

A chap in a security company Landrover quizzed me, warned me of an escalating scale of fines for further offences, and then told me about his own cameras. Fortunately the land that he patrols has no obvious interest so I don't need to go there again.

Another patch of woodland near Coldred is protected by these all-embracing signs. It's a shame they didn't try a bit harder with the list of banned activities - how about picnicing, botanising, mothing, birding, dogging........?
Here there were Man Orchids and White Helleborines.
Wouldn't it be nice to find an area that has both Man Orchids and Lady Orchids?

The numbers of Small Blues by Campbells are growing daily - 12 seen yesterday, losing no time before reproducing as that's the meaning of life. Below is a tiny egg nestling in the cosy embrace of a Kidney Vetch flower.

Also seen....... 50+ Adonis Blues, a Grizzled and 5 Dingy Skippers at Lydden........

.... a few Early Spider Orchids and a profusion of Nottingham Catchfly over the cliffs at Dover.
After 40 days and 40 nights with no rain, we must be being punished for our sins. If anyone knows which particular of our sins has caused offence, please tell us so we can stop doing it - we need rain desperately.

Friday, 6 May 2011

We got the blues

I can't believe that, after such a bad winter, the blues have survived!
First a couple of Common Blues at Postling at lunchtime (no camera, so no undignified leaping and crouching), then two male and one female Adonis Blues at the north end of the Lydden reserve in the evening.
Hopefully when I return at midday tomorrow there will be more.
Also on the agenda for the weekend is a bit more woodwalking, and the promise of more plants like Solomon's Seal seen today near Shepherdswell.
And maybe more bugs to try to identify. This may be Cardinal Beetle pyrochroa serraticornis.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Seeker

I've looked under trees
I've looked under hedgerows
I've tried to find the plant
That's called the Bird's Nest Orchid

They call me The Seeker
I've been searching low and high
I won't get to get what I'm after
'Cos it's far too dry

I asked the KWT
I asked Plantlife
I asked Fred the Greenie
But he couldn't help me either
They call me The Seeker
I've been searching low and high
I finally found what I'm after
Near the "High and Dry"

Sunday, 1 May 2011

May Day!

Good morning lords and ladies it is the first of May,
We hope you'll view our garland it is so bright and gay,
For it is the first of May, oh it is the first of May,
Remember lords and ladies it is the first of May.

A lovely morning on the first of May, spent walking around Grove and Stodmarsh to the constant sound of birdsong - warblers, turtle doves, cuckoos and nightingales.

Wood sandpipers showed well on the watermeadows, and 14 greenshanks were scattered by a swooping peregrine. Common terns brightened up the main lake, and at least six marsh harriers cruised around, but the stars of the day were the hobbies taking dragonflies from the wind, up to nine in view at a time although some reported 20 or so.

A superb morning, and overall a credit to the warden and his helpers in maintaining such a variety of habitats.

A quick trip to East Blean Wood suggested that it's still too early for heath fritillaries, but this broad bodied chaser was some consolation; back in Kingsdown the first small blue of the year was seen braving the cool breeze.
And now you've seen our garland we must be on our way,
So remember lords and ladies it is the first of May,
For it is the first of May, oh it is the first of May,
Remember lords and ladies it is the first of May.