Thursday, 30 June 2016

Dungeness & Dengemash, Kent - 15th June 2016

Dungeness and the surrounding areas are a special place for wildflowers and wildlife and as such the area forms a National Nature Reserve. There are vast areas of shingle jutting out several miles into the English Channel off the South Kent coast, formed from depositions over thousands of years.

Not much rain falls here compared to other areas and it is the only desert in England, however, the water table here isn't far down and excavations of sand and shingle over the years has left lakes and ponds scattered over the landscape. Most of the larger lakes are on the RSPB reserve to the North of Dungeness.

I had come here today to find the Marsh Cinquefoil, a rare plant in Kent that I'd never seen. I had good directions from the Romney Marsh Ranger @LeyshonOwen and knew they were in flower.
It's still a fair trek across difficult terrain though.

There were plenty of wildflowers to look at on the way as well, like this Vipers' Bugloss amid a carpet of Birdsfoot Trefoil, a lovely combination of colours.

Echium vulgare and 
Lotus corniculatus

Another rare plant for Kent is the Nottingham Catchfly. It's a sticky, glandular hairy plant with rolled up petals. These open out as daylight falls and are pollinated by moths I would imagine.

Silene nutans

They are closely related to Campions and can be found here in their thousands.

Clover and Trefoils were abundant and though I looked hard, I couldn't find any rarities. However, the Hop Trefoil is majesty in miniature, resembling a tiny yellow hop flower.

Trifolium campestre

Another little beauty were mats of Haresfoot Clover with its purple softly hairy bracts and tiny white flowers within them.

Trifolium arvense

As we walked along the shingle ridges carpets of Birdsfoot Trefoils added colour to the grasses.
Even the sun came out to brighten up the scene.

Butterflies were plentiful, though as is often the case, I didn't get close enough to photograph most of them!

This is the Large White Butterfly.

Pieris brassicae

In the grasses I saw the occassional
odd looking flower, quite small and sprawling. It's 4 petalled flowers in keeping with the Cabbage Family it belongs to.
This was a Smith's Pepperwort which I'd seen in Hampshire recently, but hadn't seen in Kent before.

Lepidium heterophyllum

Stonecrops do well on the shingle and thin soils here, as they do on walls and old concrete of brownfield sites inland.
This is English Stonecrop with its shade of pink in the petals and few flowers on each low growing stem. This differentiates it from the taller, umbel like flowers of White Stonecrop, which as the name suggests lacks the pink tinge as well.

Sedum anglicum

The other Stonecrop here was Biting Stonecrop with its dazzlingly bright yellow flowers forming carpets of yellow wherever they occur.

Sedum acre

Reflexed Stonecrop was also nearby but only in bud as yet.

In the lakes themselves were these stunning White Waterlillies which I had always thought were introduced, but apparently they are native to England.

Nymphaea alba

In the margins of the lake I found several Water Crowfoot in flower. These can be tricky to identify as many have floating and submerged leaves. This one just had submerged weeds and luckily I photographed them to discover it was a Fan-leaved Water Crowfoot, determined by the thin leaves branching only twice at each junction. Half moon honey guides (in the yellow parts) also identified it as this, plus it was in fresh water and not brackish water.

Ranunculus circinatus

Several Small Heath butterflies flitted about. I managed this photo but unfortunately it closed its wings, hiding the lovely orange markings it usually shows on the fore wings.

Coenonympha pamphilus

Here and there were the big yellow flowers of the Yellow Horned Poppy, usually found on coastal shingle beaches, however, this beach extended a few miles inland as well!

Glaucium flavium

Purple Toadflax is an alien species, escaped into the wild many years ago. However, it does not seem to have any adverse effects on other wildlife. It grows in a slim tall spike with small strap shaped leaves up the stem, so it doesn't shade or crowd out other plants. Some years ago, this species seeded itself from the wind into my patio pots in my garden, and I've had them ever since.

Linaria purpurea

We then came to the area Owen said the Marsh Cinquefoils could be found. I'd never have thought of looking here without his help as it's hidden from any path in acres of dry shingle ridges.

It's a shallow gulley that just reaches the water table, causing it to be permanently damp. As such, there were many marsh plants to be found here.

Thousands of Marsh Bedstraw couldn't fail to catch the eye. Their leaves (and habitat) differentiate them from similar Bedstraws with them having forward facing prickles and a blunt leaf tip (no bristle points).

Galium palustre

I then found a Speedwell in good numbers, that I hadn't seen before, so had to look it up later. It's Blue Water Speedwell, with distinctive dull green strap shaped leaves and small blue speedwell flowers.

Veronica anagallis-aquatica

And then, there they were. Several clumps of Marsh Cinquefoil, a beautifully coloured flower and member of the Rose Family.

While more common the further West you go, they are really quite rare in the South East. This colony is the first time it's been seen here in the last 35 years and follows scrub and willow clearance form this wet shingle slack.

Comarum palustre

These wonderful things happen because volunteers give up their time to improve habitats to bring diversity back to the areas they love and live in. Why not do the same where you live and see what flowers the following year?

The final marsh plant of note was this Greater Spearwort, often growing a metre tall with big long strap shaped leaves.

Ranunculus lingua

So we headed back to the car, and I photographed this Meadow Vetchling along the way, distinguished by the leaves being grass like, completely unlike most other Vetch type plants.

Lathyrus pratensis

This is the final plant I photographed here, but had to drive around the ponds a couple of miles to see it, Sheep's Bit. Another uncommon plant in Kent, it's only a few inches tall and is quite happy on thin soils.
In Wales recently it was growing in cracks in slate cliffs and in rockfall areas on acid soils in the Welsh hills. I guess that's how it got montana in its name..

Jasione montana

From here we drove to Dengemarsh, miles by road but about a mile or so in a straight line from where we were earlier.

This borders a military area and farming is limited here. Of course, the closer to the sea you go, the less soil there is.

Thrift thrived along this road verge. I particularly liked this photo of it with Birdsfoot Trefoil and the military barbed wire of the perimeter fence just behind it.

Armeria maritima

Thrift also grew amongst Forget-me-nots, though I didn't examine them closely to determine which species they were.

Myosotis sp

A Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly posed for me on the warm shingle. Being first landfall from France for many butterfly and moth migrants, you never quite know what rare or unusual species might turn up, I'll keep my eyes open!

Aglais urticae

Comarum palustre

So ended our trip to a fantastic place where there are always exciting wildlife species to see, be it wildflowers, insects, amphibians, birds or mammals (including dolphins). There's even a great display of unusual fungi in the Autumn, especially by the RH&DR railway station at Dungeness itself.

I'll leave you with another Thrift photo (below), an iconic coastal plant often planted inland in rock gardens or in pea shingle pots.


Tuesday, 28 June 2016

An Oasis near the Mayhem of Medway 13th June 2016

When the HS1 Eurostar railway line was built there was a huge hoo-hah from everyone about the damage it would cause to the environment and to some extent that was true. What was also true is that mile upon mile of new habitat was created along its banks and cuttings. Furthrmore, trees are the last thing they want growing along a high speed rail line so the line is regularly cut. Being on chalk here, this management meant a huge variety of chalk grassland species taking a hold here.

In amongst all these were some real gems.

While common in North Kent, Pyramidal Orchids are always a delight to see, their pink hues boldly standing out among the grasses saying I'm here!

They have a very slight scent to attract insects to pollinate them, but they then cheat the insects in that there is no nectar!

When, for whatever reason, the councils miss mowing verges for a while, these tend to pop up to brighten up our roads.

Anacamptis pyramidalis

This is Yellow-wort, another flower of the chalk. It's single bright yellow flowers only open in the morning sun. Their grey green foliage is distinctive as are the flower stalks that appear to grow out of the centre of the leaves.

Blackstonia perfoliata

Tiny Thyme-leaved Speedwells were abundant with their spikes of tiny blue flowers and strap shaped leaves.

Veronica serpyllifolia

Quaking Grass was everywhere too, it's tiny flowers quivering or quaking in the slightest breeze. Luckily this day was quite calm, so there were no quakes around today!

Briza media

This is the most showy of the wild Geraniums, the Meadow Cranesbill. Whether it arrived naturally, or as part of a seed mix, I'll never know, but they look nice.
On a recent trip West while going through the Chilterns, I saw mile after mile of road verge with these flowers all along the road, what a sight!

Geranium pratense

Common Broomrapes were numerous, invariably growing on members of the pea family such as these Hop Trefoils. They lack chlorophyl and draw what they need from the host plants.  Last year I saw some of the rarer Knapweed Broomrapes on the railway tracks here as well.

Orobanche minor

Some of the other grasses were eye catching as well. Now I'm working, I just don't have the time to look them up, but maybe I will come Winter!

Dotted here and there all along the railway were over a hundred Bee Orchids, and what a beautiful sight they were. They are the favourite orchid for many and one that can be found over much of the UK at this time of the year.

Ophrys apifera

Because I can't resist them I took a lot of photos of them!

Bee Orchids have a few known variants which are quite rare, such as Belgarum, bicolour, wasp and chlorantha to name a few.

As such, I feel obliged to check each plant to see if I can find one locally to me, but with no luck so far.

When I found this flower, I got a bit excited, as it is similar to O.apifera var. trolli or Wasp Orchid. But it turned out to be a mutation as another flower on the same spike was completely normal

As this photo shows!

That was about it for this short walk before work.
On the way back I spotted a very small blue butterfly, not much bigger than a small moth. At first I thought it could be a Green Hairstreak and followed it until it settled.

I was amazed to find it was a Small Blue Butterfly, a species I'd never seen before, let alone in North Kent.
Their caterpillars feed exclusively on Kidney Vetch which before the railway line wasn't here. However, there was now a large population of it on the embankments behind the barbed wire fence of the railway.

Then to put the icing on the cake I saw a few more, stunning!

 Cupido minimus

Unfortunately, I couldn't get one to pose with its deep blue wings open for me, but I'll settle for this shot.

Until next time.


Chailey Commons, East Sussex, 11th June 2016

Chailey Common is one of the largest commons in the south of England and was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 1966. It's actually several commons loosely linked together with acid loving plants and wet boggy areas, all worth a look at.

On the commons were ponies and cattle, but in numbers designed to aid the management of bracken and scrub, so enabling wildflowers to flourish.

Most livestock farms are intensive and there's nothing to see in most sheep fields for example.

Prolific everywhere were mats of Heath Bedstraw, subtly different to the usual Hedge Bedstraw found on the chalk of Kent. The key to finding these fifferences in not in the flowers but in the leaves. Each has tiny bristles and teeth and these vary in each different species, so take out your eye glass and examine the leaves carefully. There's several different bedstraws, but the habitat you find them in will rule many out.

Galium saxatile

Marsh Thistles were abundant, however their name is misleading. They can be found in all types of habitat from wet to bone dry, acid to alkaline, but their tall unbranched stems are distinctive. Usually they have pink to purple flowers, but you can sometimes find all white variants like this one.

Cirsium palustre

Foxgloves thrive on poor and acid soils and sure enough there were plenty to see. These are poisonous and used to be used in heart medications so please don't pick them then bite your nails! One of a numerous amount of species found in gardens and roadsides that are poisonous, but then, who eats them?

Digitalis purpurea

Cross-leaved Heath brightened up the wet grass areas. There are q few similar species but again, it's the leaves that are different. These have 4 leaves in whorls around the stem, whereas the closely related Bell Heather has just 3.
The flowers are usually a light pink, but I seem to have found another species with albino genes!

Erica tetralix

Another plant with small differences is Heath Milkwort, closely related to Common Milkwort but smaller with smaller flowers and lower leaves opposite.

Polygala serpyllifolia

I then came to a stream which ran into a boggy area. Lesser Spearwort were numerous, closely related to buttercups they like very wet areas and have strap like linear leaves to help tell them apart.

Ranunculus flammula

In the sodden rain these Ragged Robin flowers looked very ragged indeed.

Silene flos-cuculi

A roar overhead distracted me for a fly by of the Red Arrows, perhaps to honour the dedication I have to wildlife and botany? Or perhaps something to do with the Queen's birthday more likely.

Growing on the stream edge was this Fool's Watercress, which is actually not a watercress but a Carrot family member. This was the best photo I could do in the rain leaning over the edge of a stream while sinking in a bog!

Apium nodiflorum

I then found several Heath Spotted Orchids, always a delight to see, especially as they are quite infrequent in Kent.

They look a bit similar to the Common Spotted Orchid but Heath has a narrow middle lobe on the lower lip with much wider side lobes, often frilled. Patterns are usually spots but can be loops, lines and dots - they are quite variable.

Where found with Common Spotted orchids they can hybridise with them making identification sometimes impossible.

Dactylorhiza maculata

I'll visit again when I get the chance. There aren't many habitats like this left in Kent now, but the further West you travel, the more acidic environments there are to be found along with different species to those found on the chalk.

Take care