Thursday, 28 April 2016

Strood Area of Kent: 18/04/16

With the longer, but not necessarily warmer days now, there is enough time before work to visit more than one venue. We started off in Strood, Kent. Not an obvious choice for botany as it's quite built up, but the Western end of the town backs onto countryside with a mix of habitats from the Eurostar railway line to ancient woodland to disused brownfield land.

Betula pendula

When looking for flowers in Spring, it's wise not to always look down. Many trees are coming into flower now, like this lovely Silver Birch. The catkin is the male flower with pollen, and the shorter stumpy spike contain the female flowers with purple styles. There are actually 2 types of Silver Birch, one being a Downy Birch, so bear that in mind when photographing them. Leaves, bark and twigs are all slightly different in each species.

Back on the ground and these sedges look quite nice and they were abundant on the footpath through some light woodland. Sedges, rushes and grasses can all have attractive flowers but I find them hard to differentiate. I've now ordered a book to help me out, suggested by my BSBI County Recorder.

Colour Identification Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns of the British Isles and North Western Europe - by Francis Rose

I hope it helps me out!
This is Wood Sedge

Carex sylvatica

Sunning itself on the path was a Comma butterfly. It's a bit worn, but then so would you be if you'd hibernated all Winter like these do.

 Polygonia c-album

Another common flower now is the Blackthorn, which can carpet whole hedgerows and road verges in white flowers, always nice to see, but mind those spikey spines!

Prunus spinosa

I almost missed this next flower. With many areas carpeted in the similar yellow flowers of Lesser Celandine, it's easy to zone out and miss other small yellow flowers.
This is the Yellow Pimpernel, found in woodland.

Lysimachia nemorum

The tiny flowers of Early Forget-me-not by the railway line. There were hundreds in flower. Check out my last blog for how to identify them from others in the family.

Myosotis ramosissima

Also along the railway line were numerous Wild Strawberries, most in flower. When I eventually decided to photograph one I ended up photographing a Barren Strawberry by mistake. It was a single plant growing in a mass of Wild Strawberries, just to confuse any would be botanist coming by.
The foreground leaves belong to the Barren and the larger glossier leaves in the background to the Wild Strawberry.
There are other differences, but I'll leave you to look those up!

Potentilla sterilis

Bang in the middle of the grass footpath along the railway was a Broad Bean! I've no idea how its large seed got there. The nearest arable field where they are grown is over a kilometre away. I reckon walkers picked some bean pods last year then discarded them on their walk. This one managed to flower despite being trodden on several times by walkers.

Vicia faba

These are the beautiful flowers of another prickly bush, Hawthorn. Like many plants there are different species such as Midland Hawthorn and its hybrid with Hawthorn itself.

Leaves are a good indicator of which species it is and also Hawthorn only has 1 style, whereas Midland and hybrid have 2 or a mix of 1 and 2 for the hybrid. These had just the 1 style.

Crataegus monogyna

Several Peacock butterflies were seen and I finally managed to snap one on the ground.

Again, these are over wintered insects that hibernated through the cold months.

Aglais io

The path entered Cobham Woods, much of which is ancient woodland where you will find indicator species such as this Bluebell. There were carpets of them in places with a heavenly scent.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta

I was lucky enough to find a white one as well. I think the statistic is something like 1 in 100,000 Bluebells is likely to be white. This still means most woods have a few white variants in them as the Bluebells can be most numerous.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta var. alba

Among the Bluebells were the gorgeous Yellow Archangels. Much like the White Dead-Nettle but in sunshine yellow with orange/red markings on the lower petals.

If you find some with white or silvery blotches on the leaves it is the garden variant which has escaped from gardens into the wild in quite large numbers.

Lamiastrum galeobdolong

We then came into a clearing which I knew contained the rare and beautiful Lady Orchid. It will still be a few weeks before they come into flower, but it's nice to see the rosettes coming up again.

Orchis purpurea

Nearby were a few Early Purple Orchids. It's often the case that these two orchids grow in the same habitat, but this one is far more common than the Lady.

Orchis mascula

While in this small clearing, we were delighted to see our first Orange Tip butterflies of the Spring. I managed to photograph this one, though they rarely rest longer than a few seconds!

Anthocharis cardamines

On the edge of the clearing were plenty of violets, mainly Common dog Violets but also these Early or Wood Dog Violets.

Viola reichenbachiana

The final flowering plant was the Field Maple, a bushy hedgerow shrub/small tree with Sycamore type leaves.

The flowers aren't fully open here and it was breezy so the image isn't as sharp as I would have liked.

Acer campestre

That was about it for this walk. It's amazing what's coming into flower now, with a lot more to come soon. Spring can be a wildflower gorgeous time of the year!

Twitter:   @Barbus59

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Early Flowering Coastal Plants, Isle of Grain, Kent - 13/04/16

It had been raining hard for a few days, so when we planned a morning walk we didn't fancy anywhere muddy. This ruled out most of Kent at this time! So we drove off to the Isle of Grain, a small country park on the North Kent coast on a promonotory of land between the tidal Thames and Medway. This has a nice level path along the sea wall with no mud at all!

There are extensive mud flats, some salt marsh, 2 sea walls and a mix of fresh and saline ditches behind it, so there is a variety of different habitats.

However, it was the sea wall we were interested in today, for species which show in early Spring then disappear until next year.

First up was Sticky Mouse-ear. It's actually quite common, but easily overlooked or mistaken for Common Mouse-ear.

This tended to grow on the top of the higher sea wall, away from the salt spray of a high tide.

It wasn't long before I found my first Sea Mouse-ear, substantially smaller and mostly in the spray zone or just above it.

You can see small cockle shells in the photo washed up from a storm.

Then I found a very common flower at this time of the year, a Common Whitlowgrass. Most people have no idea about them, as on average they are about 3-4" tall. The flowers are less than 5mm wide for the most part.

You can see it's already going to seed, soon to disappear. It's found on pavements, walls, waste ground, anywhere the soil is thin and poor so other species can't take over and drown out such a little plant.

Erophila verna

Alexanders is a bit of a nuisance as it spreads like wildfire, but it is an important source of food for insects and most plants will have several inects on them.

Beetles and flies in particular like them.

Smyrnium olusatrum

Field Horsetail can be a pest in gardens and towns, it's fronds (it's a fern) can even break through tarmac and lift paving slabs.

Here there were 20 metres or so of them growing out of the sea wall. These are there means of reproduction, the leaves will come up later, like a green horses tail!

Near the power station outflow was a stand of Red Valerian, a quite showy flower, but very hardy and it can dominate some areas extensively, such as Dungeness in Kent.

Flowers can be red, pink or white.

Here you can look across to Sheerness Docks on the Isle of Sheppey. I guess this tug was practising firefighting?

It must be quite a deep water channel in the Medway as this large ship came up and docked at sheerness at low tide.

On the back-side of the sea wall is the usual grassed bund. Growing in this were a few stands of Milk Thistle, an arable escape from years ago.

These are the only thistle to have visible obvious veins on the top surface of the leaves.

It's way too early for flowers, but it was interesting to find one in a maritime setting, instead of the usual arable one.

Silybum marianum

We walked back along the grass to see what we might find. Common Chickweed was very numerous in the longer grass areas, some had over 100 flowers out now over several yards.

Stellaria media

This is the Early Forget-Me-Not, relatively easy to identify as it flowers early and the petals are very tiny!

The more common garden escape of Forget-Me-Not flowering now has much bigger flowers.

I spotted a couple of Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. Unfortunately they didn't settle long enough for decent photography.

I did notice that the Small Tortoiseshells only fed from Red Dead-Nettles and no other flower in the area.

This shows how important a common "weed" can be to the food chain.

Lamium purpureum

The final flower of note was the first Germander Speedwell I've seen this year. They look much like Common Field Speedwell but these have 2 lines of paralell hairs up the leaf stems and bright azure blue flowers that are a bit bigger than the other species.

Veronica chamaedrys

This is the Common Whitlowgrass from earlier. However, when I looked closely I saw what I thought was a tiny beetle on a petal. These petals are 0.5-1mm wide so you can see it was very small.

It turns out to be a species of Thrips, something I'd not heard of, but gardners and farmers really don't like. They can reach high numbers and decimate crops and flowers. I expect Ladybirds will eat them if they can though!

That was about it for this before work walk. It was a beautiful warm sunny Spring day and lovely to be out. It was a shame that since then it's rained every day and now turned very cold to boot!


Saturday, 16 April 2016

Around Longfield, Kent - 05 to 08/04/16

Th disadvantage of a job is that the time available for my hobby is now limited. The advantage is that when time is limited I make the most of what is around me locally. I live in the North Kent urban fringe only a few miles from Greater London but within yards of beautiful countryside and chalk downland.
My first stop was the local Churchdown Woods near Fawkham. I've extensively surveyed the OS map grid square this is in and added over 30 unrecorded plant species last year to the records.
The North West part of the woods come alive with Spring flowers now and they were already in bloom.

 Carpets of Wood Anemones were out, dancing in the light breeze and reflecting beautifully in the dappled sunlight  beneath the trees.

Anemone nemorosa

As quickly as they appear, they will go. Once the leaves start to open on the trees, cutting off the light, they will all seed very quickly.

Parts of the wood were also carpeted in a mix of native and hybrid Bluebells, the scent of the natives wafting like pleasant perfume through the air.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta

There's still plenty more to open as well, so it should be a fine bluebell display in North Kent this Spring.

Most years there are about 100 or so Early Purple Orchids that flower here amongst the bluebells.
They're a bit behind them this year but this one is about to open its buds.

There was a report of a single Birds Nest Orchid here a few years ago but it seems to have vanished, I'll keep my eyes peeled though, it might come up again!

Orchis mascula

The yellow of the Lesser Celandines mixed with the light blue of the Bluebells looked very nice

Ficaria verna

That was it for Churchdown Woods.

A quick visit to New Ash Green provided me with a chance to walk around the car park of the shopping area. There were Bluebells here as well along with these tiny gems, Moschatel or Town Hall Clock.
These have flowers on 5 sides of a cubed like flower and are the only member of the Adoxa family growing wild in the UK.

Adoxa moschatellina

Cow Parsley was coming into flower along the verges, in a few weeks great swathes of white flowers will line rural road verges.

Anthriscus sylvestris

I also spotted, Common Dog, Early Dog and Sweet Violets and Ivy-leaved Speedwell flowering here.

A couple of days later we were out for a drive and popped into Kent Wildlife Trust's Sevenoaks reserve for a walk.

It's a good place for wildfowl and fungi but there wasn't much botanically to see just yet.

Here's a flowering Common Storksbill, a tiny flower growing in the shallow soil of the path.

Erodium cicutarium

The bright blue flowers of Green Alkanet also grew along the path. These aren't native but have escaped and naturalised into the wild over the years.

They can spread rapidly, but competing with nettles and brambles meant this colony hasn't spread too far.

Pentaglottis sempervirens

I spotted some Alder in flower with both male catkins and female cones on the same branch.

On the way back from there we stopped near Shoreham in the Darent Valley for a look around. On a railway bridge I found several mosses like this one. Very tiny and cute!

Bryum capillare (right)

Close by was a cushion type moss. Looking through the macro lens I found some with fruiting bodies, each only about 1mm wide! From a distance the white hairs made it look like a hairy cushion on the masonry.

Grimmia pulvinata (below)

At the base of the railway bridge some naturalised Common Comfrey was growing and flowering. Always check the upper stem leaves with Comfreys to see how far (if at all) the leaf runs fluted down the stem. It helps identify them! This one runs all the way down the stem to the next leaf. If it didn't it could be the native Tuberous Comfrey

Symphytum officinale

On some fly tipped soil were these mega Bluebells, which are in fact hybrids. Unlike most of the woodland hybrids, these are 95% Spanish Bluebell, with just the slight reflexing of the petals hinting at some native genes. Unlike natives, their flowers are saucer shaped, hardly rolled back with thick stems and wide leaves.

Hyacinthoides x massartiana

 The final plant of note on this short trip was the lovely but small, Sweet Violet. These have leafless stems, rounded sepals and sometimes scent. This distinguishes them from the other wild Spring violets in flower now.

Viola odorata

 So, even if you have limited time like me, there's still plenty to see.


Thursday, 14 April 2016

River Bourne, Basted, Kent 3rd April 2016

Tucked away in rural Kent is a delightfull small river that runs through a quiet bird song filled valley. A public footpath runs parallel to the stream, most of it shaded by the Alder that loves wet ground. Yet this delightful oasis is but a few minutes from the M20 and M26!
The wet and boggy ground habitats gave me a chance to find wildflowers I normally miss, as most of my local area is dry chalky soils. Growing in a bog to one side of the river were several Marsh Marigolds, their bright yellow flowers standing out in the drab boggy ground.

These are native to the UK but are often found near habitation as escapes from garden ponds or Council planting. These were truly wild though and a delight to see.

Caltha palustris

All over the place were carpets of Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage. These have no petals on their flowers but the anthers glow gold in sunlight giving the appearance of thousands of tiny yellow flowers.

Chrysosplenium oppositifolium

Here's a tiny fly, I don't know what species, pollinating them. In turn these provide food for nesting woodland birds. The food chain all links back to plants in the end. Wipe out the plants and you wipe out everything else up that chain, simple really!

Another plant that loves damp areas is Ramsons, a type of wild garlic. There were thousands of them by the river and in a few weeks when they all flower, the valley will be filled with a lovely smell of garlic.

Allium ursinum

I then started to find these weird looking spikes. They are Great Horsetail, and actually, they are a fern. In a few weeks big feathery fronds will come up around the spikes (which release spores like any other fern).

While common, they aren't often seen in my part of Kent.

Here's a close up.

Equisetum telemateia

There was plenty of entomological interest as well. This is an Eristalis species of Hoverly on a Blackthorn flower.

Ground Ivy is a common plant but at this time of year, their tiny fresh flowers are quite attractive and an important nectar source for insects.

Glechoma hederacea

Garden escapes are numerous in the wild and many have completely naturalised, such as this Russian Comfrey. It has spread right along the river from a garden well upstream.

Symphytum x uplandicum

For a week or so I had noticed Yellow Archangel leaves in woodlands but here is the first open flower of 2016 I have found.

When in full flower, they have a whorl of these flowers wrapping around the stem at intervals up it, they look fantastic.

Lamiastrum galeobdolong

After about a kilometre, I came to an old ruined watermill with a small weir. This gave me an excuse to muck around with the shutter settings on the camera to make the water look fluid in the photo.

While down low I noticed numerous small black spiders running about quite fast. I finally crept up on one to take its portrait.

It's a type of Wolf spider.

Pardosa species

Moschatel or Town Hall Clock grew in abundance. This is a shade loving species and grows in dry areas as well. It's easily missed as the flowers are green and they are about 3-6" tall, so quite small. They are uniqur in that they have a cubed shaped flower, with 5 sides flowering!

Adoxa moschatellina

At the end of the river valley, I climbed a hill to drier chalky soil and under Hazel I found these stunning Toothworts. These have no chlorophyl, they don't need energy from sunlight as they tap into the roots of the Hazel tree and get their energy there. They don't seem to harm the tree and are now becoming quite uncommon.

The flowers all grow on the same side of the stem causing the plant to droop.

Everything about this plant is weird, even the flowers themselves. I don't know what insects pollinate them, but I suspect flies and hoverflies as the plant grows in shady areas.

Lathraea squamaria

As I retraced my steps, the final thing of interest was this Bee Fly. I was fortunate that its pose was all inline so it's pin sharp from the tip of that huge proboscis to it backside. They are quite harmless to us, they don't bite! However, they flick their eggs into solitary bee nests and when they hatch they eat the bees young!

Bombylius major

That was about it for that day, a very enjoyable walk. Nature is fast waking up and soon the woodlands will be saturated in Spring flowers, making the  most of the time before the trees come into leaf, I'm looking forward to it!