Wednesday 20 March 2024

Spring comes to Hawkshill


All the hard work over the winter is now worthwhile - the Primroses on the crew-cut bank are the most obvious sign of spring, but chalk downland specialists are flourishing. Knapweeds, Wild Marjoram, Salad Burnet, Kidney Vetch and Agrimony are showing well, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else comes up blinking in the unaccustomed brightness.

Chiffchaffs were singing and a Kestrel perched atop one of the Sycamores surveying the scene.

A quick pounce, but unlucky this time.

Butterflies were on the wing, with six in sight at one time - Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Brimstone all battled in the sunny ride which we cut through in the cold, wet months.  
There were at least two male Brimstones and one female flying up and down the path, but giving no chance for a picture. I've no idea where their food plant Buckthorn is.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Kingsdown Rifle Range

Large areas of the rifle range SSSI have been unnecessarily scraped off and removed by the new owner, apparently with the support of Natural England.  The original permission was to move boulders and parts of the chalk butts from one end to the other (south) end to fill the hole behind the sea wall.

Permission was given to create a single track from north to south...... but whole areas at each end have been scraped flat, crushing colonies of Kidney Vetch (with Small Blues) and Early Spider Orchids as well as many other species.
Astonishingly, Natural England had concluded that the grassland was not of any value and that the arisings should be taken off-site.

161 plant species have been recorded in this small area and it's heart-breaking to think how many have now been lost. 

It remains to be seen what may have survived, and hopefully at least most of the Oxtongue Broomrape areas have been avoided.  

And the huge gap in the northern part of the sea wall remains; will the contractors fill this in as well, and if so what materials will be used this time? I fear it could become a dumping ground for spoil from elsewhere.

Historic photos: 1929 showing vegetated shingle in 1929,

... and an aerial picture apparently showing clean chalk after works in the 1930s.

I don't think I'll see its recovery in my lifetime.

Thursday 15 February 2024

Back to Botany Bay

Back to Botany Bay (Margate) for the first time in a while - this was where I spent my lunch breaks in the mid-2000s, learning quickly from the Planet Thanet forum.

Fortunately it was full high tide, so Fayreness beach was protected from dog-walkers and other disturbance, giving the waders a chance to rest in peace.

The roost held 260 Sanderlings, 150 Oystercatchers, 57 Ringed Plovers, 20 Curlews, one Purple Sandpiper and an uncountable number of restless Turnstones.

This is a similar count to that reported on the blog back in 2008:

Love the way the Ringed Plovers hunker down in footprints to avoid the wind.

These Turnstones were some of the few that were not scuttling around, while the other species were taking their ease.

And just one Purple Sandpiper - good to see.

Tucked away under the cliff was a solitary Cherry Plum bush, anticipating spring like its relatives planted along the road verges. You can tell it's a Cherry Plum by its early flowering, and by the folded back sepals.

More frequent across the sand dunes was Sea Spurge, and there'll be a host of other interesting psammophiles ready to appear in the warmer weather.  I must return for a swim later in the year.

Saturday 6 May 2023

Flamingos and Garrigue

I can never come to terms with seeing flamingos by the roadside. They are such surreal creatures that being in commonplace locations seems wrong. But hey, so long as I don't drive off the road when I see sights like this, I'll put up with them.

A day's car hire was needed to get into the outback for some garrigue fun. This was only possible after a long lecture from the car hire rep who was clearly convinced that I would not be able to drive safely and return the vehicle in one piece. I didn't mention the flamingos.

The Natura 2000 website showed an interesting area called La Montagne de la Moure et Causse d'Aumelas near Sète, under both Habitats and Birds directives. In the event there were few birds - Black Kites and a couple of Short-toed Eagles - but there were plenty of butterflies and plants to keep me interested. Another feature that looked promising was the stream marked alongside the road, but given the lack of rain this was of course dry.
The usual rock / cistus / asphodel view

The stunning Provencal Orange Tip

These blues are apparently Baton Blues....

There were a few orchids.....
 Yellow Bee Orchid

Woodcock Orchid
Giant Orchid

But in fact the other plants (unknown to me and mostly still a mystery) were more interesting...

By Train to the Med

 Everybody's doing it so why not me? Train travel is so much more light-footed so given the choice, the time and a cost-effective solution it seemed sensible to try out a trip around France.

Walmer to St Pancras then back down the same line by Eurostar to Paris. Not an efficient start but not dissimilar to flying. Across Paris was simple, and with a few minutes to spare at Gare de Lyon where the booked seat awaited, on the top deck.

A gentle relaxed non-stop whizz down to the Med followed, through plenty of admitted-dull countryside improved by pleasant hills around Tournus and finally some garrigue south of Lyon, after which the extensive étangs from the Camargue filled the horizon. With flamingos.

And so the train pulled into Sète, the first stay, on time and just - um - 10 hours after setting off from Walmer.

Sète is a nice place, all canals and cafés and lots of boats. Not a rich place like the Riviera but down-to-earth and unassuming. Out of the town there are long beaches and behind these are the étangs. All very interesting and the swifts, swallows and martins reminded me that I had jumped a few weeks of spring.

Time was taken scuffling around the car parks and waste ground, of course, looking for the plants that thrive in such places. The favourite was a small park just the other side of the tracks, opposite La Pointe Courte (famous for a film of the same name) which had good flora including White Henbane and Italian Catchfly, as well as a singing Nightingale, Chiffchaff and a wheatear. And black redstarts were frequent on the buildings.

<To be continued>