Sunday, 28 August 2011

Three men in a hut

Minding my own business in the Restharrow Scrape hide at Sandwich, watching a good selection of waders pass in front of me, dodging the showers.
There was a Greenshank, another Spotted Redshank (after the one seen at Oare in the week),
... and a Little Stint with a party of 10 Dunlin - the Little Stint looked slightly larger than the Dunlin, so I was scratching my head a bit.
Also a Ringed Plover, a Little Ringed Plover and two Green Sandpipers, so all in all a good showing.

Anyway, these two blokes came in, and the usual pleasantries were exchanged. I noticed that one had a namebadge saying "Duncan" on it (don't know why he was wearing it - an aide-memoire, perhaps) and it so happened that I had been exchanging emails with a Duncan about the Grass-poly at Fowlmead [remember the Grass-poly?]

Indeed it was the same, so hands were shaken and notes exchanged. He's recording stuff at Fowlmead and has found the stunningly-rare Fiery Clearwing moth there, and this is one of his photos:
After a polite interval, the other chap asked me whether I might be Kingsdowner, and after denying it for a while I owned up - it turns out he's been reading the blog for years, amongst other local ones, while ex-patting in Singapore. You would have thought he would have learned his lesson, but maybe he's hoping it will eventually improve.

So a warm hello and thank you to Ian, the other reader.

Also notable on the weekend, two fresh Painted Ladies,
one Sweet Scabious plant on Ramsgate cliffs (thanks to Phil, the junior botanist for the tip-off, to what is I believe the only site in Kent),
the emergence of Wasp Spiders,

and a showy Whinchat at Hope Point.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Apple-scented roses

Another visit to the lovely downs above Lydden, and more signs of autumn are evident.
One of my obsessive habits is crushing and sniffing rose leaves, to check if the plant is a Dog Rose or a Sweet Briar. The latter smell strongly of apple, rather surprising if you're expecting rose perfume.
The scent seems to come from the tiny nodules on the edges of leaves, and along the stalks.
This rose is also known as Eglantine, which sounds rather romantic.......

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.

..... until you find out that it derives from the French "aiglant" meaning thorny.

Pause for the usual cliches about roses between thorns.....

By the way, in case you're wondering, the poem isn't one of mine. It's out of copyright though.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A pome

The returning sun was welcomed at Oare,
where Black-tailed Godwits were to the fore
(that rhymed, did you notice?).
For once, the visit was on a rising tide,
and the sun, in the west, was on the right side.

A Redshank was Spotted quite near to the road,
its eyestripe and plumage its identity showed.
(This is starting to get painful)

Avocets chased their neighbours around,
and Blackwits had bling that looked too loud.

A hop-garden nearby stored up two surprises:

Dwarf mallow, annual nettle.... and I think that suffices.

I promise never, ever, to do that again. I'm truly sorry.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Less is more

Phil of the White Cliffs Countryside Project came up with another gem for me this week, and guided me to a small population of Lesser Centaury on the downs above Folkestone. All of a sudden my difficulties in trying to distinguish Lesser from Common vanished, as they are stunningly tiny little plants, unlike the larger commoner version.
To assist, the flowers were placed side-by-side, and the Lesser immediately seems smaller, narrower petalled, and a deeper colour.

Lessons are quickly forgotten, however, and when I don't have the two together I start making mistakes again. These on the rifle range were appropriately small, deep coloured, but just look at those petals.
A blokish hour or so was spent watching migrant warblers at Hope Point, with the usual banter. A Lesser Whitethroat was relatively showy and exercised the paparazzi, while I was happy with what I managed from a sitting position.

On one lawn on the clifftop are about 400 Autumn Lady's Tresses spikes, while at the two gardens in the village are 38 and an estimated 500 plants, compared with 44 and 150 last year. They have emerged about a week earlier than in the last two years.
At Lydden, a smattering of Tresses have popped up, with Autumn Gentians also looking more frequent than in previous years. Devil's Bit Scabii are slowly blooming. On the butterfly front, however, Chalkhill Blues are almost absent now, having had a numerically very poor year I think, but Adonis Blues......
.... and Silver-Spotted Skippers are around, perhaps in lower numbers than last year but it's early yet.

The cloud cover was capricious, but the breeze was lovely and warm and the weekend finished with a fine sunset.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Not rare, just different

When conditions conspire against you.... it helps to have a back-up plan. And even then it helps to be able to appreciate your surroundings even if you can't find what you're looking for.

Even in lowering clouds over the South Downs on Lullington Heath where, surprise, no butterflies let alone Graylings were braving the misty gale, there were things to see.

The sward was spotted with Round-headed Rampion, and not far away was the clump of Sweet Scabious to admire. Moved on to another spot, tried hard to find a Brown Hairsteak. Not a sniff, even though the weather had improved by then, but still there were good things around. Just as I was idly thinking that Wild Parsnip is my favourite umbellifer (it passes the time).......
...I saw a wispy little plant that I've not noticed before. Sure enough, Spreading Hedge-Parsley is not a Kentish species. Very delicate.

Another day, another site..... Otmoor, Lewis Carroll's chess-board of fields which we helped to "save" in the '80s, when the planned M40 was eventually moved north of the wet meadows. I still own part of Alice's Meadow. Part is now owned or managed by the RSPB, and there is a huge new hide which is the height of luxury. Naturally, there was little to see as the early morning's waders had flown.

But don't give up, tucked away beside the path was Sneezewort, another new one on me.

Moving on to Noar Hill, a "reliable site for brown Hairstreaks" failed to live up to its billing. There were more butterfly hunters than butterflies.

Nil desperandum, there were lots of Autumn Gentians, including a handful of white ones.

Furthermore, as well as Nettle-leaved Bellflowers.......

.... there were Clustered Bellflowers, keeping their heads down unlike their cousins. Tick.
On one of the bellflowers was an interesting-looking bee, but I'm not going to hazard a guess.

Drove the night towards my home, by the seaside. The first Autumn Lady's-Tresses have popped up by the prom at Walmer, and they are reported in the usual blessed Kingsdown gardens.

And finally, just to remind myself of what butterflies look like, a textbook photo of Common Blues.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Grass-poly - back from the brink

So what was I doing in the drain last week? I had been told that a rare plant had been sighted somewhere on the Fowlmead site so I dutifully went searching.
The plant is Grass-poly Lythrum hyssopifolia, which was last recorded in Kent in 1913 and was down to just one small area in Cambridgeshire until recently - coincidentally the area was by the similarly-named Fowlmere, the RSPB reserve. It was worth a look, then. But being a maximum of six inches tall with tiny flowers, the chances were pretty slim.
It previously grew in muddy circular hollows in fields that dried out in summer, charmingly called pingoes. These were another victim of modern agricultural improvements, and the plant died out with the habitat. Where to look, on the large coal tip? I saw a dry ditch and started to walk along it.

And there, in a small area of bare mud, were about 110 small plants that matched the description. Photos were duly taken, and sent to the county recorder who of course wanted more details to distinguish it from False Grass-poly (what? I had hardly heard of the real Grass-poly).
So off I went again, but it had rained overnight and the dry ditch was inundated. I have observed the experts studying tiny plants with magnifying glasses, their noses pressed to the earth, but this was not going to happen here - you'd drown in two inches of water.
But today the water had flowed away, and there are still a few plants in flower, so better pictures are taken and the details checked. When the plant was first mentioned I recalled reading about it in Peter Marren's Rare Flowers book, and he gives a good account of the attempts to recover the species from the brink of extinction. If I may paraphrase it, in 1977 it "seemed to be one of the rarest and most endangered British plants.... It may have survived, largely unnoticed" at the Cambridgeshire site for 300 years since John Ray recorded it.

But then it started turning up at other sites, in Oxfordshire, West Sussex and Jersey. And then it was found at Slimbridge, where it has spread successfully by the wildfowl areas, and there are now "a total of 700,000 plants, admittedly most of them by a single pond, placing it among the numerically less rare species in the Red Data Book".

A scientific report is in the Journal of Ecology.

Presumably the seeds arrived at Slimbridge on the feet of geese or swans, but I wonder if we'll ever know how Fowlmead got its plants. My congratulations to the knowledgeable and sharp-eyed lady who saw it here.