Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Dover White Cliffs - 30/06/18

There is a beautiful flower filled walk along the white cliffs of Dover from the National Trust car park above the docks to St. Margarets Lighthouse a few miles away with wonderful views. There are several routes you can take and each has its own attraction. The whole area comprises of typical rich chalk grassland flora and associated insects with some arable verges as well that are worthy of a look aorund. Species such as Early Spider Orchid, Field Pepperwort and Hoary Stock can all be found here (see previous blogs).

We found so many wonderful wildflowers, but I'll only show you those I haven't recently featured along with some fine views.

Kidney Vetch with its cottony fluffy bits between the flowers - it's the food plant of the small Blue butterfly caterpillars. 

Anthyllis vulneraria

The Slender or Seaside Thistle.
this is as about open as the flowers get.

Carduus tenuiflorus

The dead looking bronzed Carline Thistles were in bud, but none were in flower yet.

the beautiful open rays of Greater Knapweed adorned the cliffs, a favourite with bees.

Always check the lower leaves as Common Knapweed flowers can also look the same as this but the leaves are quite different.Lobed on C. scabiosa, unlobed and strap shaped on C. nigra agg.

Centaurea scabiosa 

Some of the views from this walk follow.

Wild Basil was just coming into flower.

Clinopodium vulgare

Field Bindweed is a troublesome garden and arable weed that is difficult (impossible) to eradicate. However, no-one can deny their flowers are very attractive, especially when they flower en masse in a small area.

Convolvulous arvensis

I didn't notice this until later but this Bindweed has a bright red throat to the flower and I think it may be Convolvulous sagittaria which is actually a garden escape.

Convolvulous sagittaria (possibly)

A nice display of Perforate St. John's Wort.

There are lots of St. John's worts to find. A tip is to gently feel the stem:

round and hairy - Hairy St JW
square - Square stalked St JW
round with opposite ridges - Perforate St JW
feeling square but with opposite pairs of wings down stem - imperforate St JW
Great big bush, large flowers - Tutsan
Creeping along the ground with runners - Trailing St JW
There are other Hypericums I haven't mentioned as well.

Easy eh!

Hypricum perforatum

Hedge Bedstraw displays are usually small affairs with sprays of small flowers hardly noticeable in the surrounding vegetation.

However, here we found huge drifts of them turning the area white with their four-petalled flowers. Beautiful.

Galium album


On an arable field edge were Common Poppies, Wild Mignonette, Scarlet Pimpernels, Field Pansies and much more. Here's a Round-leaved Fluellen ( a type of Toadflax) as well.

Kickxia spuria

Here's the key to maintaining the species rick chalk grassland - grazing by Konig ponies. This prevents the area scrubbing over and turning into a comparitively dull forest within 20 years or less.

A Large Skipper butterfly on a Pyramidal Orchid.

Another Large Skipper, this time on Meadow Vetchling

And a Marbled White on Greater Knapweed.

 The small native prostrate form of Sainfoin was dotted among the grasses.

Onobrychis viciifolia

The Wild Marjoram were just coming into flower.

Origanum vulgare

As were the Wild Thyme

Thymus polytrichus

The South Foreland Lighthouse comes into view signifying the end of the walk from Dover. A cream tea in the tea rooms and back to Dover along another route.

There is a fantastic tour of the lighthouse which is still a working (though decommissioned) one. It's worth spending the time to do the tour. National Trust members get it for free and there is a fee if not a member.

On the old wall around the lighthouse were some nice White Stonecrops in flower.

Sedum album

My final plant for this trip is the Scented Mayweed. It's flower is much smaller than Scentless Mayweed and its receptacle is hollow and nicely scented.

Matricaria chamomilla

There were lots more plants to see and more to come such as Autumn Gentian. I thoroughly recommend a visit to this wonderful area.

Take care

Saturday, 11 August 2018

North Essex and the Suffolk Brecks - 23/06/18

This was a follow up trip from the 1st May to the Brecks to find some other later flowering rarities. We had a good idea of where to go but will give special thanks to Karen Woolley and Brian Laney who helped out with specific areas at some locations. On a single day trip, there isn't much time to explore and find one's target plants without such information.

One such tip Karen gave us was to stop off en route in North Essex to see some magnificent rare plants. On the way to it we passed numerous Knapweed Broomrapes, sadly gone over. Needless to say I got lost, but eventually found an unassuming country lane with  an unmown verge.
This is that verge!

This is the amazing Crested Cow-wheat, a hemiparasite and very rare. It is absent from Kent and East Sussex and there are only a few colonies left in Essex and the surrounding counties.

Given its rarity and beauty, forgive me for adding several photos of it.

 Melampyrum cristatum

If that wasn't enough, there was another very rare plant hiding amongst the Cow-wheat, Sulphur Clover.

Similar to White Clover, but with bigger flower heads in a sickly yellow colour - like sulphur!

 Trifolium ochroleucon 

The next photo shows both the Crested Cow-wheat and Sulpher Clover growing together.

A habitat photo for both of these rare plants.

We then drove North to a venue on the Brecks in Suffolk. The grass was parched, brown and pretty much dead, but several wildflowers were shrugging off the drought conditions.

This is a Musk thistle with its obvious nodding flower heads.
I have seen it in Kent but it's quite rare to find it locally to me.

Carduus nutans

and a close up shot of the beetle in the last photo.

Near to the car park were hundreds of Maiden Pinks. This is another very rare plant in Kent and one I've yet to find in my own county. Here there were so many that there were plenty of colour variations in the flowers, though the scorching sun made photography challenging to saay the least and I failed to get decent photos of the all white variants.

 Dianthus deltoides

When looking at my photos later when we got home, I was alarmed to see several ticks on the flowers. The photo on the right shows a red tick on one of the anthers.
Be careful before you sniff one up into your nose!!!

All joking aside, take precautions against ticks as they can carry Lymes Disease. Google it and you can see how nasty this infection can become.

I rarely wear shorts when out, even in intense heat, and tuck my trousers into my socks. Check your arms over after laying down taking photos of plants as well.

Ticks are numerous where there are animals such as sheep or wild animals like deer, as here.

Along a road verge I found Alfalfa or Sickle Medick, the yellow flowered and much rarer form of Lucerne.

Medicago sativa subsp. falcata

We drove on to another venue after this

This spindly looking plant is related to Red and White Campions, it's the Spanish Catchfly, another rarity and speciality of the Brecks.

It was quite breezy and an open meadow, so photos were very difficult, but a fast shutter speed got me some nice shots. This species features in the Back from the Brink project mentioned in a previous blog.

Silene otites

Close by in another meadow were at least a hundred Purple Milk Vetch, one of the species very much on my wish to see list.

Photographs on line and in books tend to give the impression that this is a relatively large plant, but it certainly isn't.

Most were less then 3" tall and hidden amongst the dead grasses.

 Astralagus danica

To spot them, look for small specks of purple in the grasses and eventually you get your eye in and see them easily.

Rosebay Willowherbs look great against a skyline, right in the car park.

 Chamerion angustifolium

There were supposed to have been another target plant here, the Proliferous Pink, but unfortunately they had all been burned off by the relentless sun and high temperatures of the 2018 drought.

There were some very weak and spindly Pyramidal Orchids that I didn't photograph at all due to their poor condition.

Here's another car park plant that had deep roots and thus able to prosper in the heat, the Foxglove.

Again, getting under the plant to only have the sky behind it removed the clutter of vegetation from the composition. It forces the eye to focus on the detail of the Foxglove and not on its surroundings.

Digitalis purpurea

Onto another venue, this time near Santon Downham where the heat had burned off the Annual and Perennial Knawels and the expected Tower Cress was nowhere to be found.

However, we did find these rare plants, the Small Cudweed. Only a few inches tall and some as thin as a matchstick, they were difficult to photograph.

Not much of a photo but the best I could do in the hot breeze.

It wasn't a case of looking intently trying to find these tiny plants. There were so many (thousands) that you couldn't fail to notice them. They grow in and around the dry and dusty areas of paths and other worn areas.

Filago minima

 The last flower I photographed was the Sand Spurrey - Spergularia rubra, just a few left  with the rest all shrivelled up in the sun.


So ended another fantastic trip to Breckland.
I didn't see everything I had hoped for, but that will draw me back next year when hopefully weather conditions will be less adverse. I hope you enjoyed the photos and proof that there are wonders to be found North of the River Thames!

Once again, many thanks to Karen Woolley @Wildwingsand and Brian Laney @BrianLaney2 from Twitter for their help with venues.