Friday, 29 July 2016

Bogs, Shingle & Sand Dunes, Kent 17th July 2016 Part 2 - Shingle

A large shingle habitat in Kent can only be at Dungeness, a huge peninsular of shingle deposited by the sea over at least 2 thousand years. Viewing maps from Roman times onwards, you can see how it has grown into the huge area it is today as shingle is swept from the Western side of Dungeness and deposited along the Eastern beaches.
The whole area is a National Nature Reserve, within which there is the RSPB reserve. This is a fantastic place for botany, but wasn't where I went this day. Opposite the RSPB main entrance is another less well trodden part of the reserve called Boulder Wall and was a former ARC shingle quarry/gravel pit.

The habitats range from the obvious dry, desert like conditions of shingle ridges, to sandy areas, left over from the gravel pit days and to lakes and ponds formed from deeper gravel extraction into the water table. This provides for a variety of species, many very rare in Kent.

 It was a very hot and breezy day to start with, so as a result not all the photos are super sharp.

The first species I noticed in numbers wasn't rare at all, but it can be tricky to identify. It's Canadian Fleabane, often found as an urban weed, it can colonise very dry areas, from the shingle of Dungeness to a crack in a town pavement or an old brownfield concrete area. There are two other Fleabanes that look very similar, Guernsey and Bilbao Fleabane. I won't go into the differences here but you need an eye glass to see the tiny flowers up close!
These plants were only inches high, but they can grow well over a metre tall.

Conyza canadensis

Another small plant that can colonise shingle is the Common Restharrow, also common in field edges and chalk grasslands. If you crush the leaves they smell of gone off lemons and are quite sticky from the glandular hairs all over it.

If handling these on the North Kent coast be careful, as there is a Spiny Restharrow species found there with vicious sharp spines that are as bad as Blackthorns!

Ononis repens

Nothing rare or unusual yet, but I'm sure I'll find something soon.

Sure enough I did. At first I ignored the multitude of these tiny white flowers thinking they were Sandworts, but eventually I had a closer look and found them to be Knotted Pearlwort, a Kent RPR species. Common in this area but missing in most of Kent.

Sagina nodosa

Unfortunately, the sun was shining brightly and bleached out the photos I took, but you can see the "knots" of leaves up the stem that give it its common name.

I then came across several Brookweed flowers, most of them very small. In the past I have only found these near water and they grow up to a foot tall with branched flowering stems. Later in this walk I did find many larger versions by water, but these were on the dry shingle, so seem stunted by comparison.

Samolus valerandi

This is Wood Sage and it dominated large areas of the open shingle ridges, literally millions of them all in flower. Quite a sight and the bees certainly liked them.

At Dungeness point last year I had found Common Dodder parasitising Wood Sage. Dodder is a rare plant so I kept a look out from now on for it.

Teucrium scorodonia

I then came across large numbers of two species of the Campion family. This one is Sea Campion. Superficially it looks rather like Bladder Campion, the main differences being that Sea Campion has:
leaves all in a basal rosette
a single flower to each stem
the "bladder" isn't inflated
the petals are more open and spread out.

Silene uniflora

This is the second Campion species, called the Nottingham Catchfly. It's another RPR species but is very common on the Dungeness NNR but hardly anywhere else in the county.

It's a very sticky plant, I believe, pollinated by moths. At night the petals unfurl and open out and a scent is emitted attracting night-time pollinators.

Silene nutans

Brambles are found just about everywhere and it's not often I photograph such a common flower. However, this one was such a bright pink, I felt obliged to honour it with a photograph.
Normally, the flowers are a dull creamy white and tatty looking. I have read that there are 334 apomictic micro species of Bramble (clones), virtually impossible for the likes of someone like me to identify.
This is why they are aggregated into one species called Brambles!

Rubus fruticosus agg.

I very nearly missed these plants altogether. They were only a few inches tall and without petals and being pale green, blended into the background. It's the Common Cudweed, another rare plant for Kent, though not restricted to Dungeness. I have found some in Darenth Country Park in North Kent in the dust of the car park!

I thought they might be the even rarer Small Cudweed, but nearby were taller, more mature plants to confirm the identification.

Filago vulgaris

Eventually I found over 50 of the plants.

While bent down looking at the Cudweeds, I noticed an even smaller flowering plant.

Always a delight to find, it was Lesser Centaury. They have much darker pink flowers than Common Centaury, no basal rosette and an elongated calyx below the petals.
They're also quite small!

Centaureum pulchellum

Blue Fleabane were also flowering in the dry areas, their flowers much more attractive than its Canadian cousin.

Erigeron acris

Butterflies were numerous. Photographing them was another matter, especially as they seemed very tuned into the crunch of boots on shingle and took flight at every step!

I saw Red Admirals, Skippers, Whites, two Small Coppers and this fresh Gatekeeper. These can be told apart from Meadow Browns in that the "eye" has two dots in it and it's a bit smaller than the Meadow Browns.

I then came to some wetter areas and found completely different botanical species.


I've yet to take a good photo of a complete Marsh Thistle. This is because they can grow so tall that to get them all in you have to be a long way back! Also, without some scale you can't really see how big they are, so I did a timed photo to include myself as scale.

I'm 6'2" and this Marsh Thistle must be about 7' tall, a very impressive size with deep purple flowers.

What you can't see it that by now my shirt was soaked in perspiration! Quite unusual at Dungeness to be so hot.

Cirsium palustre


Botanicus davidii

This is Marsh Pennywort, and viewed from the top is forms a carpet of roundish notched leaves. You wouldn't think it flowered at all. However, part the mass of leaves and underneath at this time of the year are numerous tiny off white/pink flowers. Being hidden and in the shade all the time, I would guess that midges and small bugs pollinate them. Bees and butterflies wouldn't be able to get at them at all.

Hydrocotyle vulgaris

Purple Loosestrife like it damp as well and there were big stands of these showy but untidy purple flowers around the lakes. Most were around 2 feet tall, but they can grow much bigger.

Lythrum salicaria

Around and in the lake margins were thousands of Water Mint. Of all of them I could only find this single plant with open flowers, but within a week or so, hundreds of them will be in full flower.

You can't mistake it being Mint, just crush and smell a leaf to remind you of a Sunday Roast dinner!

Water Mint has flowers in whorls up the stem but also a head of flowers at the top of the plant.

Mentha aquatica

Plants don't have to be rare or uncommon to be beautiful.

This is a stand of Rosebay Willowherb in bright pink hues with the yellow of Common Ragwort behind.

Chameroin angustifolium

I was then very surprised to find 3 Southern Marsh Orchids, unfortunately all in seed, but I'd not seen Marsh Orchids at Dungeness before.

I later checked the BSBI records and found they had previously been recorded from this area, so not unknown, but still uncommon.

Dactylorhiza praetermissa

Common around the lake margins were Branched Bur-reed, lots were in flower.

They looked like small pom poms in the greenery!

Sparganium erectum

Water Figwort is another lover of the damp. They can be told apart from Common Figwort by the leaves which are a different shape with auricle like bracts.

Figworts are quite tall plants but with tiny red flowers.

Scrophularia auriculata

This is the last plant I photographed in the wetter areas. It was very common there as well.

It's Marsh Bedstraw.

There's several species of Bedstraw and to separate them the key is the tiny prickles on the leaf edges, which way they point, if there's any at all, whether there is a point or mucro on the leaf tip, how many leaves in a whorl and so on.
I always photograph in detail the leaves to firmly identify a Bedstraw, though where you find it will rule out most species straight away as there isn't a lot of habitat overlap.

Galium palustre

As I walked a different route back and came back onto dry shingle again, I noticed several clumps of Common Dodder growing on the abundant Wood Sage.

Cuscuta epithymum


It's an RPR species in Kent and declining. I have also found it at Dungeness power station perimeter wall area, The Larches near Maidstone, at Kemsing Downs and Pol Hill near Sevenoaks, mostly on different host plants. These included Trefoils, Wood Sage and Broom.

Back at the car park and here is my final plant from this part of my day trip out into the shingle habitats of Dungeness, the humble Common Storksbill.

Quite small, they are a stalwart plant of the coastal areas, in flower from April right through to late Summer. The leaves are quite distinctive as you can see, separating them from the similar Cranesbills that might also be rather small.

Erodium cicutarium

 Dungeness is a massive reserve with many places to explore and a variety of rare species. Believe it or not, some people even go there to look at birds of all things!
I think we are part of the very few who joined the RSPB to "Give Nature a Home" not just birds like in years past. It's great the RSPB have expanded into nature in general, as without healthy habitats the birds won't come anyway.

I hope you enjoyed Part 2. Scroll down further to read Part 1 - Bogs and coming soon, as this day was not yet finished, will be Part 3 - Sand Dunes!


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Bogs, Shingle & Sand Dunes, Kent 17th July 2016 Part 1 - Bogs

As the title suggests I visited three distinct habitats on this day.  Part 1 of this blog details my first stop, which was to Kent's finest reserve for bog plants, Hothfield Heathlands, near Ashford.

This area is managed by Kent Wildlife Trust and they are trying to reclaim the bogs from ever encroaching scrub. As such, there are often horses and cattle grazing on the reserve. I didn't see any today, but evidence of large animals trampling down the scrub was very apparent. While this may do some short term damage, it definitely opens up areas to other flowers for the near future. I don't think people realise that without management, virtually every habitat would be forest within 20 years with a virtually barren flora underneath!

Erica tetralix

Very obvious, and scattered all over the wetter areas were these flowering Cross-leaved Heath plants. They have pink (sometimes white) bell shaped flowers that look a bit like a bunch of grapes on a stiff stem. The key to separating them from similar plants (like Bell Heather and other Heaths) is to look carefully at the leaves. Always take a good photo of the leaves, it will make identifying it very easy once the books are out at home.

Due to bog habitats being very rare in Kent, many of the plants found here are on the Kent Rare Plants Register (RPR) and this was no exception.

This looks like cotton wool stuck on some grass and is a very rare sight in Kent, but very common in bogs in the West of the UK.

It's actually a Sedge called Cotton Grass and the cotton wool is its seed disperal mechanism. I've always missed the flowers.

Eriophorum angustifolium

Another RPR species

Just coming into flower were the most delightful of bog flowers, the Bog Asphodel, with its bright golden yellow flowers poking up 8" or so above the squelchy bog.

Narthecium ossifragum

On a trip to Wales on 21st June these were in full flower, yet here they were only just starting to open. Most flowers tend to flower first in the warmer dry SE than other areas of the UK, but not bog plants!

It goes without saying - another RPR species!

I was then delighted to find my first ever Kent record of Lousewort. Another RPR species but another that is very common in the acid bogs of the west of the UK. I saw a huge amount of them in Mid Wales last month.

Oddly, this was the only one I found. Maybe there were more but not yet in flower. The leaves are tiny and from standing up height look like moss leaves - of which there were multitudes in the bog.

Pedicularis sylvatica

There were plenty of insect distractions, though photographing them was extremely difficult. When I stopped walking, my boots began to sink in the ooze. It was also a red hot suuny day with the temperature around 30 degrees. By now, sweat was pouring down my face and soaking my back. Lovely!

This was a Small Skipper butterfly, one of many. There were also Red Admirals, Small and Great Whites, a Peacock and hundreds of crickets and grasshoppers. Tunnel spider webs were commonplace, an entymologists dream of a place.

 Thymelicus sylvestris

Just take wellies and several litres of water if its hot!

In drier parts, Heather dominated the heathland. All of it was in bud and there will be an extremely fine display of colour by now if you visit such a place.

After a while looking, I eventually found a few spikes with open flowers, which are quite intricate really.
When you see Heather en masse, you miss the detail of the individual flower altogether.

Another RPR species due to the very few suitable habitats in the county.

Calluna vulgaris

Hothfield is known for its colony of Heath Spotted Orchids. Most had gone to seed, but there were still a few to see in their fully open glory.

 Dactylorhiza maculata

They don't grow in the boggy areas, but do like damp conditions around the bog edges. They are the acid soil version of the Common Spotted Orchids to which they are superficially similar. However, the 2 species do grow together in some places and then they can hybridise with each other, causing identification mayhem at times!

Rather than describe the differences between the two species, I was fortunate to find a Common Spotted Orchid a few feet away from this one.

If you compare the two orchids you can easily see the key differences and saves me typing a hundred words trying to do so!

Dactylorhiza fuschii

Where these two species grow together, hybrids are inevitable and sure enough I found one.

Dactylorhiza fuchsii x maculata  D. x transiens

I think the specimen shows it can't be one or the other of the parent species.

The lower lip is unlike either parent, the "wings" or sepals at the side are almost horizontal as in Heath spotted and the patterns are a mix of both parents.

However, identifying hybrids can be very difficult as species like these have a large amount of natural variation in the parent species. Further, a hybrid can back cross with either parent and become even more confusing to identify. As such,, and without a DNA kit, I just have to make the best guess I can on what I can observe.

Back in the wet areas again and I spotted a few of these delightful Bog Pimpernels (RPR species).

They can't be mistaken for other Pimpernels and are very distinctive. The leaves are hairy and compact but upright and the purple or lilac veined petals are fantastical in miniature.

Anagallis tenella

Here's the final flower I photographed in the bog habitat of Hothfield, the dainty Marsh St. John's Wort, which is the same family as the usual St John's Worts but looks totally different!

I guess at a biological level it fits into the family, but it doesn't seem very obvious to me.

Hypericum elodes

This was the final RPR species of the day. I did spend an hour looking for Round-leaved Sundew, which I know are here, but I can never seem to find, though I did find one easily on a trip to Wales but they still elude me in Kent.

Here's the Round-leaved Sundew I found in Wales but couldn't find in Kent. Striking plants that eat insects that get stuck on the sticky dew like pads. A Midge eater - I like those! I was eaten alive at one point at Hothfield.

Drosera rotundifolia

Keep a look out for Part 2 - the Shingle of Dungeness, coming soon!


Thursday, 21 July 2016

Orlestone Forest nr Ashford, Kent - 9th July 2016

This is a large piece of woodland South of Ashford in Kent, but we tend to walk the Southern end as it has wide open rides full of wildflowers, butterflies and other insects of interest. It's a lovely walk with a free car park, only ruined by some inconsiderate dog owners who leave copious amounts of dog mess on the paths, some of which I trod in this day. Apart from that, it's well managed for bio diversity.

The first plant I noticed was one that 99.9% of people will never notice! Lots of Marsh Cudweed, an insignificant little green plant with dusty brown flowers, it grows on edges of well worn paths and other dusty places. It seems to thrive in places where it gets trodden on or driven over by tractors, perhaps because such activity eliminates the competition?

The whole plant is usually only about 3" tall, but there's usually quite a few found after you spot one.

Gnaphalium uliginosum

Meadow Browns were abundant, as they are in many places at the moment, though all too soon they will be gone until next year.

There were several of these large yellow flowered umbellifers around, with their big leaves they are unmistakable as Wild Parsnip. They were the forerunners of the cultivated form that you may roast on a Sunday!

Pastinaca sativa

Along both edges of the path were ditches which remain damp, except in the driest of conditions. Here grew plentiful amounts of Lesser Spearwort. They look rather like tall, spindly Buttercups, which is no surprise as they are closely related. However, they have narrow, strap like leaves and often grow in the water as well.

Ranunculus flammula

In shadier areas grew Curled Dock. These are quite unimpressive when in flower as they have no petals, however, as they go to seed, they look quite colourful and are also much easier to identify from the seeds than from the flowers.

Also present in good numbers were Wood Sage which has aromatic leaves, smelling much like a Smudge Stick when crushed. Don't be fooled by its name though, you can find these in a large variety of habitats from woods to heaths, and from meadows to the shingle of Dungeness. They are very common, but I like their spikes of rather weird flowers.

We then had an insect distraction of this beautiful female Common Darter Dragonfly. A couple of years ago there were over a 100 seen on one of our visits, mostly the red coloured males dancing around potential mates; we timed it right for them that trip. We only saw a few this time around.

Common Birdfoot Trefoil is so common, that after it first appears you tend to ignore it. Huge mats can cover large areas and so they can be easily overlooked. However, this species has a tendency to go red as the flower ages and also show red tips when in bud, making a delightful scene. Also remember to check the leaves, it may be a different species altogether.

Lotus corniculata

I was very surprised to find a group of Bugles in flower. They are a Springtime plant that flower with the Early Purple Orchids.

While they were full of flowers, I did notice that the stems appeared to have been bitten off some time ago, perhaps by deer or rabbits. I think that is why they have flowered late. I've seen the same phenomenon in other species when the stem has been cut. Hogweed is a prime example after being cut on verges in Summer, they flower again in December!

Ajuga reptans

Another insect distraction were these tiny Potato Capsid Bugs on Red Bartsia, itself flowering in high numbers.

Closterotomus norwegicus

From tiny bugs and flowers to very tall ones. One area of the open woodland has a massive stand of these Purple Loosestrifes, an attractive plant that should be planted in gardens as I think they put on a very fine display of showy flowers and attractive leaf/stem colours.

Lythrum salicaria

All these flowers attracted a lot of butterflies. This is a pair of Ringlets doing what they need to do so that we see them again next season.

Another tall plant and one that is very common is the Great Willowherb. Their purple flowers with bright white centres stand out well in the shady margins of the forest. They are also found on waste ground, towns and city pavements, sea walls, arable field edges and so on. A very successful species as are most of the Epilobium family.

Epilobium hirsutum

This plant is actually in seed, but I took a record shot of it to remind me to record a sighting of it. It's a Heath Speedwell and is on the Kent Rare Plant Register due to habitat loss.

The spike of lilac flowers arising from a spiralling rosette of toothed oval leaves is distinctive.

Veronica officinalis

Sometimes mistaken for Great Willowherb, this is the Rosebay Willowherb. Where you find one you will find a lot! Another successful coloniser of waste ground in urban and wild areas alike, but they do put on a colourful display. When they go to seed, the pods split open and look fantastic as the fluffy seeds spill out.

Chamerion angustifolium

As we mad our way back to the car park on a different path I noticed Enchanter's Nightshade in the gloomy shadows of the trees. This plant thrives in deep shade, it has very big leaves for the size of the plant and forms dense mats along the ground in places. I'm told it's a nightmare "weed" in some gardens.

However, I just love the common name it has and also the tiny red tipped white flowers glow in the gloom, like tiny dancing fairies in the slightest breeze.

Circaea lutetiana

At first glance this looked like a late flowering Cow Parsley, but it's quite different. The leaves are thinner, more compact and pointed than in Cow Parsley, the flower heads smaller and the big bracts under the flowers confirms its identity.

The key to identifying white umbellifers is made easier by referring to when species are meant to flower and the habitat you find them in. The flowering times of many of these species do not overlap and many more grow in water or damp conditions which others do not tolerate.
Those hints will narrow your find down to just a few, instead of 20-30 species to look at!

My partner then pointed out to me the find of the day by far, an uncommon White Admiral Butterfly. It had come to the ground to lick salts from the damp soil but it spends most of its time high up in the trees. Up until this day the only photos I had of this species were a few blurred, long distance shots of them in the canopy.

It's also worth checking for the markings on them as the rarer female Purple Emperor looks remarkably similar.

That was about it for Orlestone Forest. I do like going there and it's a must visit place for Dragonflies and Butterflies for sure. There's plenty of botanical interest as well from Spring to Autumn. There were numerous Common Spotted Orchids in one area but they were by now well past their best so I didn't photograph them. Other surprises will be found at different times of the year as well.

We then drove South to a few other places which don't warrant a blog to themselves, so I'll just pop them into this blog as it was the same day.

The following photos were taken near Iden Lock, just into East Sussex.

The beautiful Marsh Woundwort, found in or next to waterways and very damp areas as its name suggests. These were lining the edge of part of the royal Military Canal.

Close to the Marsh Woundwort was a stand of the wonderfully smelling Meadowsweet, except it's really found mostly by water and ditches. No doubt in times past there were plenty of damp meadows around when it was named, however, such habitats are now very rare in Kent.

It's the wet habitat version of Dropwort that is found on the dry chalk. The plants look quite different, but the flower structures are very similar. Meadowsweet has lovely smelling leaves as well if you crush one for a sniff!

Filipendua ulmaria

The last photo is the Field Bindweed, literally a bind in farmer's fields, but elsewhere, the flowers look stunning. As the sun goes down the flowers close up into tight tubes. The flowers are very similar to Sea Bindweed, but the latter has small fleshy leaves of a different shape to Field Bindweed. So if you're away from the coast, it's almost certainly this species!

Convulvulus arvensis

That was it for the day, I hope you enjoyed the blog, I write it for you, in the hope that it may inspire you to go out and look at the wonders of nature for yourself. Take the kids or grand children with you and watch the wonder on the faces as they see their first butterfly, dragonfly or beautiful wildflower, it's well worth it.