Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Anglesey Adventures - The Great Orme - 28/06/17

Having left Snowdon, we headed North towards Llandudno and the Great Orme. This photo was taken a few days before from Mariandrys nature reserve on Anglesey with Puffin Island and the Great Orme behind it. It's an imposing headland that can be seen for miles down the Menai Straits.

The Great Orme is a massive limestone outcrop jutting out into the Irish Sea and supports several rare plants. I did have a small hope of perhaps spotting a very early Dark Red Helleborine, fingers crossed. We headed towards the South facing slopes of the Orme first to check out a site there that a botanical friend Owen Leyshon had told me about months previously.

There were great views here but the weather was really quite atrocious now. The wind was gusting not far off gale force and it was raining constantly.

We had only gone about 20 yards from the car when I spotted several plants that were most definitely on my to find list!

These are the very rare Spiked Speedwell. As you can see they weren't much taller than the surrounding grasses, I suppose about 8" tall.

 Listed as Nationally Scarce.

Unfortunately, due to the high winds, I couldn't get pin sharp photos, but I think these are good enough to convey their beauty.

I failed to find them elsewhere on the Orme, so I was very lucky to find some so easily on my first try.

Veronica spicata

Nearby and quite numerous were the beautiful flowers of Dropwort. Their white petals tinged pink in bud giving them a two tone pastel colour effect.

Filipendula vulgaris

This is Limestone Pavement. It erodes leaving fissures and gullies that are home to rare plants such as Dark Red Helleborines. I spent quite some time looking around them. However, there was another plant I wanted to find here, not a showy orchid, but a plain ordinary flower that most people would pass by as another Dandelion type plant.

About 4 feet down a sheer limestone cliff face I found this wonderful plant, appearing to grow out of the rock itself.

This is Spotted Catsear, another rare and declining plant.

 Hypochaeris maculata

It was very difficult to photograph on this cliff but I managed to find a leaf facing me to show how it gets it name. The black spots are very distinctive.

I wanted to change the camera lens to take some view shots, for although the weather was dire, the views were still spectacular. I was delighted to find a small cave in the cliff to shelter out of the wind and rain and change the lens safely. I must admit, I spent a while just sitting here taking it all in. Beautiful.

Blotches of a lovely purple colour in the limestone cracks of the cliff caught my eye. They were the lovely Bloody Cranesbill, and there were lots of them. If I see these in Kent they are almost always garden escapes, but these ones belonged here.

Geranium sanguineum

While on the lookout for the Dark Red Helleborine, I came across another rare and declining plant. Unfortunately it had no flowers or fruits, but it was a great find nonetheless. It's a Juniper, which can grow to a small tree size but in coastal areas it tends to be stunted and look rather like a Bonsai tree!

I've only ever seen them on the SE Kent coastal cliffs before. Each tiny leaf is like a pine needle and is tipped by a very sharp bristle. I found this out when testing them to see what it was for sure, ouch!

Juniperis  communis

I was surprised to find a Broomrape in flower nearby and initially thought it was a Common Broomrape. However, it was growing on Ivy and a closer look at the flower showed that it was indeed an Ivy Broomrape.

This Broomrape tends to be found on Hedera hibernica here (Atlantic Ivy).

Quite common in the West of the UK but rare in Kent. Oddly, there are several colonies of it growing in the Dartford area but there they grow on Hedera helix (Common Ivy). I guess they don't like H.helix much as there is masses of Ivy everywhere in Kent but very little of this delightful Broomrape.

Orobanche hederae

That was it for here, we failed to find Dark Red Helleborine and another rare species, White Horehound, both previously found here. To be honest, I was a week to 10 days early for the Helleborines, so I didn't really think I'd find any flowering.

From here, we drove up to the Great Orme summit car park. Standing on the summit just past the playpark, I could lean 45 degrees into the wind. Needless to say, I wore full waterproofs all day as well.

As I walked around I found a large amount of White Horehound in an unlikely place. On the steps leading to the children's playground were numerous bunches of them, all in flower. I'd only ever seen this once with a single plant at Boxley Warren in Kent, so it was great to see a whole stand of them.

They do look a bit similar to Black Horehound (Ballota nigra) which can have white flowers occassionally, but the leaves on the White Horehound are very crinkled, a bit like Wood Sage leaves and paler than Black Horehound as well.

Marrubium vulgare

This is another Nationally Scarce plant and great to find here.

This was as close as I got to the very rare Great Orme Cotoneaster, growing in their wildlife garden on the summit. The weather was so bad, I didn't fancy hunting for it. It's our only native Cotoneaster plant and our rarest.

Cotoneaster cambricus

 We then drove away from the summit and took the coastal road around the Orme. The weather was so bad even the toll collector had gone home for the day. No doubt thinking no one would be so stupid as to visit on a day like this. Well, people don't talk about extreme botany lightly!  Having survived horizontal rain and gales at Mount Snowdon's summit earlier this day, a mere sea gale and rain was nothing......

However, the up side of the weather was that we were the only car about. That meant I could stop virtually anywhere and have a look around near the car.

This was one of a group of lovely Musk Thistles on the Orme by the road. Of course, they were blowing all over the place, so photography wasn't necessarily quick!

Carduus nutans

Here's another thistle that I usually see on chalk or shingle in Kent. It's the Carline Thistle. These aren't open yet, but when they do open they actually look rather dead and dried up.
Look closer (when they are open) and there's a ring of purple tiny flowers around the dead looking centre disc. Bees love them.

Carlina vulgaris

This was my final photo of the day, the humble Field Scabious, common on chalk turf and quite numerous around the Orme as well.

Even this plant is rapidly declining now though.

Knautia arvensis

 That was it for the day, and after some lovely fish and chips in Llandudno,  we made our weary way back to Anglesey to rest for the next day's adventures, hoping the weather might improve a bit.

We never did find a Dark Red Helleborine, but I wasn't bothered about it. It had been a fanstastic day and there was always another time to look for those species I missed.

The Spiked Speedwell was without a doubt the highlight for me of the Great Orme. I'll be back one day, hopefully when the weather is nice!

Take care,

Monday, 14 August 2017

Anglesey Adventures - Snowdonia 28/06/17 - Part 2

The first part of this day was to be spent riding up Mount Snowdon on the cog railway from Llanberis. This was our second day in Snowdonia (see part 1 below) and I wondered what botanical gems I might find up a mountain.

I was rather discomforted to find it cost £98 for 4 of us to go up on the train (£30 more by steam engine) but my partnr and the Grandchildren really wanted to go, so off we went.

 It was a reasonably nice day in Llanberis, but we could see the clouds covering the mountain tops, so knew it would be rather wet at the summit. As such, I took full waterproofs with me in a rucksack.

There are several little "stations" on the way to the summit and ideally I would have liked to get off one stop before the summit where I knew (from research) there were lots of alpine flowers. Unfortunately, due to high demand for seats that wasn't going to happen. So off we went on an hour long climb to the summit.

There were some lovely views on the way up.

Unfortunately, as we got higher, we entered the clouds into thick fog and rain. The windows steamed up and it was difficult to see anything. However, I did see at least two Snowdon Lillies out of the window growing on the rock cutting of the railway track. I looked for the emergency stop cord but there wasn't one and I don't think anyone on board would agree with me that it was an emergency to stop the train for a Snowdon Lily!

When the train reached the summit, about 80 feet below the actual mountain top, we had a measly half an hour to explore. Amazingly most people went to the cafe to get a cup of tea! I quickly donned the waterproofs and set out to see what I could find.

The fog was very thick ( well we were in the cloudbase), yet it was also very windy. The rain was coming down near horizontal and it was quite unpleasant.  I found the highest flowering plant in England and Wales to be Heath Bedstraw!

Galium saxatile
(one of my library photos)

Due to the conditions they were all very tiny and very very short plants.

However, looking around a bit more, just below the summit, I found another real jewel of a flower.

This is Mossy Saxifrage, a native plant found up to 1210m high
Listed as Vulnerable to Extinction.

I was laying flat on the rocks taking these photos with people nearby, yet amazingly no one asked if I needed an ambulance.

The botanists reading this will know exactly what I mean!

I rattled off lots of photos in awful conditions, trying to keep the lens and camera dry.

I eventually found lots of them carpeting a slope, stunning!

Saxifraga hypnoides

All too soon it was time to board the train to descend again. I don't think passengers were too impressed with my dripping wet clothes, but I did take them off and stow them in my rucksack!

As we descended, we got the views again.

Botanically, that was it for Snowdonia. Of course, I saw lots of other plants from the train, but many have already been covered in Part 1, such as Bog Asphodel and Heath Spotted Orchids.

We still had an afternoon left, so we headed off North to the Great Orme near Llandudno.
However, the rain had now set in at lower levels and the wind was gusting near gale force.

To be continued.....

Take care,

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Anglesey Adventures - Penmon & Snowdonia 27/06/17 - Part 1

The adventure continues......

This day we went to Snowdonia and in the late afternoon we explored Penmon Point on Anglesey. As Part 2 also covers Snowdonia, I'll write about Penmon first.

Penmon Point is on the extreme North Easterly point of Anglesey with a lighthouse, a fine view to Puffin Island and the Great Orme beyond. We even saw a Porpoise running the tide close to the lighthouse. There's plenty to see!

You park near the lighthouse and on the grassy cliffs was a profusion of Pyramidal Orchids.  Surprisingly, I didn't see that many of them on the island.

Anacamptis pyramidalis

The coastal turf was species rich, helped along by species such as Eyebright which weaken grasses, allowing other species a chance to grow.

Euphrasia agg

The next plant was actually growing on the shingle beach above the high tide mark. They are White Stonecrop, a species very common in Kent. However, it's not often I can get a decent photograph as they're small and usually surrounded by other plants. Not here though, I'm quite pleased with how this photo of them came out.

Sedum album

Wild Thyme also grew in dense mats along the cliffs and short turfed areas.
It's very common across Anglesey as it is in Kent. Though in Kent some care is needed as Large thyme also grows amongst it and looks very similar.

Thymus polytricha

However, perhaps the most enduring botanical memory from here will be the sight of hundreds of Common Spotted Orchids. Walk from the lighthouse towards an old quarry and the ground is covered with them in places, a real treat.

Dactylorhiza fucshii

I didn't take many photos of them, I already have over a hundred of this species. However, each seems to have a slightly different pattern or loops, dots, dashes and lines; plus a range of colours from white to deep purple, such that I never tire of looking at them.

That was about it for Penmon Point as the light was fading quickly now. One last photo of Herring Gulls framed by the lighthouse and some beach art built by an unknown soul....

As I said above, I'll now revert to the morning's activities. We had decided to visit Mount Snowdon and why not!  Given that we didn't have the time or equipment to safely walk it, we enquired about taking the train from the beautiful town of Llanberis. This little town is situated on a lake with two steam railways, one around the lake and one for going up the mountain.
Unfortunately, the mountain train was fully booked, so we booked tickets for the next day and decided to explore Snowdonia by road with perhaps a walk later on.

As such, we drover out of Llanberis heading East into the hills. I decided to pull over wherever I could and have a look around near to the car as my health still wasn't great.

Here's what we found at one such stop, it wasn't all plants.

Some semi tame Chaffinches wanted (and got) some of our lunch.

By the car park, I was most perplexed with a tiny Speedwell plant that I found. As I looked about I found dozens.  They looked like Thyme-leaved Speedwells but I'd only ever seen these with lilac striped white petals and these were bright blue.

On reaseraching them later back at the cottage, I found that they were indeed Thyme-leaved Speedwell, but that those at altitude are blue - a mountain variant, stunning!

However, for the botanists reading this, I didn't realise I needed to distinguish between Ssp. serpyllifolia with mountain blue flowers and Ssp. humifusa which is a very glandular mountain sub species.  I think on balance, looking through Stace Vol 3, that this is the former.

Veronica serpyllifolia Ssp. serpyllifolia

Navelwort is very uncommon in the SE of England, but quite common in Wales. I can't resist photographing it when I see it though. It is a fascinating plant with tubular flowers that looks rather like an odd pale green Foxglove.

It grows in cracks on bare rock, or like here on a dry stone wall near the car park in Snowdonia.

Umbilicus rupestris

Here's a close up of inside the tubular flowers. Love 'em!

If you're eating, look away now!

The lower plants were well represented in Snowdonia, with many a gooey mess of primeval algal slime adorning the permantly wet areas on the slopes.

I then came across a lovely combination of two miniature plants in flower. The larger, tinged pink flower is English Stonecrop, with the other being Heath Bedstraw. There were carpets of both species intermingled in several areas.

Sedum anglica and Galium saxatile

There was another area where I could pull over and have a look around where the road ran parallel to a fast running stream, bubbling across its rocky bed and splashing noisily over many small waterfalls.

I explored the area in the foreground, which was wet and boggy.  I really wanted to see Common Butterwort, so kept an eye out for it.

However, I was stunned by my first find here, a species incredibly delicate, yet beautiful, and one I hadn't thought I would find unless I went mountaineering!

The stunning Starry Saxifrage, a beautiful name for a beautiful flower.

Each tiny flower had bright (like starlight) white petals, each dotted with two yellow blotches; a ruby red centre and anthers.

These were well out of sight, growing in a tiny sunken ditch that meandered through the bog to the main stream. Of course, I made the classic mistake of moving back just a bit more to get a better photo and my boot sunk deep into the bog in this ditch. All credit to my boots which stayed dry, but my jeans were soaked with foul smelling bog mud half way up my shin.

The stunning Saxifraga stellaris

Now I had a wet leg, I didn't mind if I got even muddier, so I had a look at a wetter part of the bog and not only found Common Butterwort, but one in full flower.

What is special about this weird plant is that it's actually carnivorous to some degree. The bog soil is very poor in nutrients, so it gets what it needs by trapping insects on its very sticky pale green leaves. It then dissolves them on its leaves and absorbs their nutrients. Nice!

Pinguicula vulgaris

Knowing I might not find another in flower at all on my holiday, I rattled off around 20 pictures. Not easy when you're off balance due to both feet slowly sinking in the bog. Of those 20 or so pictures I got just this one in focus.

As we drove a circular route from Llanberis, we came to the Watkins Trail, a long, arduous route to the summit of Snowdon.  However the map indicated some large waterfalls not far from the road, so we thought we'd have a walk and hopefully see them as well.

One downside of the area (like many tourist areas) is that for each layby and car park  you had to buy a parking ticket. This got quite tiresome and I got through several pounds in change this day.

A change to accepting contacless cards is long overdue in car parks.

Anyway, I digress. We started a slow ascent on this trail on a nice tarmac path and almost straight away, I found numerous Common Cow-wheat growing along one edge.

This is another semi-parasitical species, though I couldn't determine the host for sure. I think it may have been a variety of trees nearby.

Melampyrum pratense spp. pratense

As ever in Snowdonia, there were some fantastic views, made all the more dramtic due to low clouds rolling in.

On a grassy ridge, we found a number of Heath Spotted Orchids brightening up the path.

Dactylorhiza maculata

We then got sight of the watefall and what a sight it was. Falling over a hundred feet in several stages it looked fantastic.

Of course, with all this water around, there were a number of boggy areas where water pooled as it flowed off the hills.

In places were fine stands of Bog Asphodel. the bright yellow beacons of the bog, beckoning you to them with their alluring golden hues.

Be careful though! They grow in bogs and bogs mean you sink and get wet.

Yes, I got a wet leg again, but it was worth it.

Narthecium ossifragum

I got surprisingly close to this Grey Wagtail by the path, succh a beautiful bird that bobs up and down as it walks or stands, hence its name.

The final plant in this part of my blog, is the Round-leaved Sundew. Rare in Kent, there were thousands of them here growing on sphagnum moss.

Unfortunately and tantalising, almost every one had flower stalks in bud, but I couldn't find any with open flowers.  I think most people know that these also eat insects, catching them on the sticky blobs on its circular leaves. The blobbed stalks then fold into the centre of the leaf where the unfortunate insect is devoured slowly.

Drosera rotundifolia

We walked back to the car and then drove back to Anglesey.

It's been hard trying to select photos for this blog as there were so many stunning views and numerous photos of each wildflower.

I hope you enjoyed the selection, though I'll leave you with a final view that hopefully imparts some scale to the hills and mountains here.

Snowdonia is a wonderful place that makes the North Downs of Kent seem like a minor inconvenience rather than the big steep hills that they actually are.

Part 2 of Snowdonia will follow soon I hope.