Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Mining for information

Yesterday morning saw another visit to the banks of the River Mole, between Mickleham and Westhumble. Bird-wise it was very quiet, no flocks, little singing or calling, all-in-all hard work. Even the expected Little Egrets were lethargic, all nine huddled up roosting in a farmyard tree. Thankfully the moths came to the rescue.

Armed with my copy of 'Langmaid, Palmer and Young', and thanks to a tip-off from Seth and Skev, I approached a Holm Oak in the knowledge that I should be able to find the feeding/mining signs of several species of moth. And so it proved. The top photograph shows clearly the larval mines created by the micro Ectoedemia heringella - the thin, dark meandering scribbles. There were also signs of feeding by two other species, Stigmella suberivora and Phyllonorycter messaniella. Bouyed by such success I then visited a wooded bank (within Norbury Park) that is clothed in Hart's-tongue Fern. The image below would suggest that Psychoides verhuella has been feeding on the fronds, although I couldn't possibly rule out Psychoides filicivora. According to my 'Smaller Moths of Surrey' the former species has been recorded in this area, but not the latter, which has only been found in the north of the county. I'm not competent enough to tell the difference. There are two websites that are excellent for checking any leaf mine against to try and discover which moth (or fly) has created them. Here are the links:



I did find one adult moth, and a species that I do not see all that often nowadays - an Early Moth (below), found resting in the A24 underpass at Burford Bridge. According to the newly published 'Atlas of Larger Moths', it has declined 47% in distribution and 90% in abundance since 1970. Long gone are the days when I used to find up to 20 of them huddled together at Banstead Station during the winter.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Falling giants

In 1960 construction started to take place on the nuclear power station at Dungeness. The sleepy coastal community of fisherfolk were about to get one almighty shake up. Aside from a part of their skyline being obstructed by the new building, those at sea also lost their sightline between Lydd church tower and the lighthouse (which they had used as a navigational aid). Thus, to compensate for this loss, a series of wooden and iron structures were erected along the beach, to aid the safe and speedy return of the small fishing fleet. These were, after all, pre-GPS days!

As long as I have been visiting Dungeness, now 44 years and counting, these strange sculptures - to me more art installation than working structures - have been as much a part of Dungeness as have the lighthouses. But now they are falling. One by one the shifting shingle is taking them down.

I'm indebted to Dungeness resident David Gower who this morning sent me the image above, captioned 'the remains of what was once a very majestic structure'. David and I both share an appreciation and love of such things, and particularly for this deserted part of the western beach, between the power station and the Dengemarsh coastguards station. His picture shows what is left of the 'Diamond' marker. It used to look like this:

Even here, as upright as it appears, the loss of wooden slatting and the rusting of the structure is clear to see - years of salt spray and gale force winds have taken their toll. But the hefty concrete base is still standing strong, but here we can see an inherent weakness - the supporting shingle is missing. Once upon-a-time this would have been mostly hidden, cocooned by the beach. In the 60-odd years in which these markers have been standing, the western beach at Dungeness has been man-managed. Believe it or not, the power station was built on a receding beach. When I first visited Dungeness in the mid-70s (and well into the 1980s) there would be a daily procession of ARC lorries bringing shingle ballast from inland to dump on the beach, trying to replace what the sea was scooping out and moving over to the eastern flank of the peninsula. The height of the beach has waxed and waned since then, sometimes due to storm action, at other times at the behest of men with large machinery. Here's an illustration of how it has altered with the help of another marker, 'Mr. X'.

Taken by me in 2010 - you can just see the top of the diamond in the distance.
...and a few years later, taken by David Gower. The protecting bank has gone...
...and Mr X last week, still protected (just) by a shallow shingle bank. But for how long?
(Photo courtesy of Owen Leyshon)
There are some who will say that these markers have had their day, are no longer of use and the fact that they are collapsing is of no consequence. To David and myself it is a part of Dungeness that is sadly disappearing, a reminder of old ways, of how things once were. They are echoes of the past, ghosts of the old fleet. I for one will mourn them. You can, however, see at least one marker that is still in rude health, affectionately known as Mr T, which stands upright at the point, just east of the New Lighthouse. I wish him well. Here is one more image of that fallen giant, the diamond marker, taken last week and soon to be claimed by the sea.

(Photo courtesy of Owen Leyshon)
I'm indebted to both David Gower and Owen Leyshon who have both provided images and information for this post. Both of them men of the shingle.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Ruptureworts. No wow factor...

Number three in this occasional series of rare plants that I saw/recorded before 2010 features a pair of Herniarias that are high on rarity but low on the wow factor. Both similar, but to identify them it is a case of looking to see if the leaf edges are fringed with hairs or not. Possibly.

After this I'd better take a rare plant break and start blogging about things that I am seeing right here and right now. Maybe even some birds! Now there's a thought...

Fringed Rupturewort (Herniaria ciliolata ssp ciliolata) 26 May 2005 Lizard, Cornwall
Recorded in fewer than 15 different 10x10km grid squares in the British Isles since 1987.
It used to be the case that the hairy leaf edges were enough to clinch this from the next species, although geographical range is enough in all honesty.
Smooth Rupturewort (Herniaria glare) 1 July 2007 Cranwich Heath, Suffolk
Recorded in fewer than 15 different 10x10km grid squares in the British Isles since 1987.
You can see the lack of hairs at the leaf edge compared to the species above. And, if in doubt, call up the geographical range card...

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Botanical rarities (2)

More 'old' rare plants. More blog filler.

Diapensia (Diapensia lapponica) Fraoch Beinn, Grampian 26 June 2006
Only known from this very site, a mountain top at 760m.
Try as we might to find a flower, it was over, apart from a couple of buds that had not yet opened -  a few mostly covered petals being seen. Desperate botanising. It's a fair climb and descent, no paths, so I doubt that I'll be going back!
Drooping Saxifrage (Saxifraga cernua) Ben Lawers, Perth 12 July 2008
Recorded in fewer than 15 different 10x10km grid squares in the British Isles since 1987.
I know I said that there would be no Ben Lawers stuff in this mini-series, but I've not published this image before, as it isn't that good. And the reason for it not being that good is that it was taken in driving rain in a force 6-7 wind, so it's surprising that the image came out at all! A terribly shy flowerer, most botanists just get to see the red bulbils, as this photograph shows.
Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria) Somewhere in Kent 2010
Recorded in fewer than 100 different 10x10km grid squares in the British Isles since 1987.
This flower pops up in Kent (among other counties) in various places but is vulnerable where it does so, hence no site given. It is always good to see a pink, especially if you’re not expecting to.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Botanical rarities (1)

The last 20 hours has seen some of the wettest and windiest weather that I have had the misfortune to experience here in Banstead. There has been windier, and there has been wetter, but not sustained over so many hours. As the weather quietens down, there are signs of its passage everywhere - a downed fence panel, water incursions on the south-westerly corner of the house, overturned pots in the garden - but compared to floods, bush-fires and drought these are mere trifles, I know.

So, as an antidote to this misery I have been looking through some old botanical rarity photographs, those that pre-date the second coming of this blog, all pre-2010. I might be able to milk a few posts out of this. I have already posted about my time on Ben Lawers here, so will not feature any images from that wonderful site. All the species featured will be out-and-out rarities.

Alpine Milk-vetch (Astragalus alpinus), Ben Vrakie, Perth 15 July 2008
Recorded in fewer than 15 different 10x10km grid-squares within the British Isles since 1987. According to Stace 4, found in only four locations in central Scotland.
The view from the ledge where I saw this rather fine plant wasn't bad either (see below)

Alpine Woodsia (Woodsia alpina) Meall nan Tarmachan, Perth, 13 July 2008
Recorded in fewer than 15 different 10x10km grid-squares within the British Isles since 1987.
I was quite lucky with this plant. I had very vague directions on where to look, and on arrival bumped into a ranger, who knew where the plant was but refused to help me locate it, not even giving me a clue as to which part of the cliff face to search. I joined three other hopeful botanists, one who had been searching for several hours. We split up and within an hour I located it. Cheers all round! 
Coral-necklace (Illecebrum verticillatum) 25 June 2002 Pilley Pond, Hampshire
Recorded in fewer than 15 different 10x10km grid-squares within the British Isles since 1987.
There are few more pleasurable botanical moments than when you stumble across this delightful species. A rare denizen of damp sandy ground, particularly in the New Forest. It can often be found growing alongside Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
More will follow as and when...

Monday, 13 January 2020

An annual pilgrimage

Every January, since I first saw them in 2015, I return to one of the small woods on the slopes of Walton Downs, and pay my respects to the tidy clump of Green Hellebore. As to why I have gone back these past six Januarys is beyond me, I just do, a pavlovian reaction at the start of the year. It might have something to do with the fact that they are in full flower in the depths of winter, and not many species are doing that right now - so maybe it is a reminder of the seasons yet to come. Whatever the reason, here they are in all their finery this morning.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

On Fire(thorn)!

I took delivery this morning of 'Micro-moth Field Tips' by Ben Smart and immediately had a flick through the book. For micro novices like myself, he has thoughtfully divided up the pages into monthly sections, so a peruse of January and February has already given me plenty of projects for the next few weeks. My attention was taken by a page devoted to Phyllonorycter leucographella, a micro that can be found in its larval state at this time of year on Firethorn (Pyracantha). Now, my neighbours have a splendid Pyracantha growing around, and over, their front door - why not nip out and take a look? The photographs in Ben's book had already alerted me as to what to look for - white, papery mines on the upper side of the leaf - so more in hope than expectation the short walk to next door's Firethorn was made. A quick check revealed a number of likely candidates.

Everything seemed to match up with what I had read. Even if the mine was untenanted, then at least I could record the presence of this species for the garden. However, my own self-imposed rules to be able to allow the species onto my list (going for the 1,000 remember) is to observe a living creature. I held the leaf up to the light, hand lens in hand, not really expecting that the first leaf on the very first attempt would reveal a larva burrowing away inside, but.... bloody hell, there it was, a dead ringer for the book's illustration (black abdominal markings all present and correct, pictured below), moving around before my eye. A few hurried images were then taken. It cannot always be as easy as this, can it?

874 Firethorn Leaf Miner (Phyllonorycter leucographella)

and another;
875 Phyllonorycter lantanella