Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Growing old benignly

There comes a time in life when you have to admit that you are not a youngster any more. And I don't mean those 'life' milestones such as learning to drive, going to the pub or having children. I'm talking about creaking joints, getting up in the night for a pee, needing reading glasses, wearing 'comfortable' rather than 'fashionable' clothing, not knowing how to operate technological gadgets, repeating yourself, and, of course, repeating yourself.

But above all, the one that gives the game away and tells you that, yes indeed, you are getting old, is becoming a member of the National Trust. Visiting their properties. And cooing over the flower beds - pointing out what grows well here but not in your garden - and don't those dahlias look lovely! Just like I did yesterday.

For all those of you who are in a similar position, please accept a few filler pictures of said flower beds (left). Taken whilst drinking tea, eating banana cake, and looking out for the nearest toilets... but let's look on the bright side - another day closer to stairlifts, incontinence pads and copious nasal hair!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Escaping rarities at Wakehurst Place

Today, Katrina and I visited Wakehurst Place, Kew Gardens 'annexe' in West Sussex. It is here that the Millennium Seed Bank is held, where over 2 billion seeds are stored and the national collections of several plant families are maintained. As much as the manicured flower beds, walled gardens and arboretums are wonderful to behold and lose yourself in, this post mainly deals with the 'wild' side of the gardens.

At the northern end of Wakehurst is a designated nature reserve which encompasses part of the Loder Valley. A single observation hide overlooks a wooded lake, a sizeable area of reed and bulrush has a raised walkway through its middle and the waterside vegetation is truly wild. An antidote to the manicured and alien world to the south... although, the gardens themselves have plenty of wild areas left, be they un-mown banks full of wild flowers or large open meadows, as can be seen from the images below.

Red Campion, Corn Chamomile and Tufted Vetch abounds!
A wilder bank, full of Bird's-foot Trefoil, Tufted Vetch and Common Knapweed
Rides like this were full of invertebrates!
The area around the Seed bank is particularly interesting. Outside of the building are a series of raised beds that mimic varying habitats - so we have a shingle beach (just like Dungeness!), Heathland, Chalk Grassland, and so on. My favourite was the Arable bed, full of Field Cow-wheat (below), Field Woundwort, Thorow-wax and Weasel's-snout. And guess what? These rare plants like it here! They self-seed! The neighbouring paths, beds and walls are now home to liberated individuals - if you adhere to Wild Flower Society rules, all perfectly tickable.

The Seed Bank building is worth a visit. Apart from the obligatory interpretation boards, large glass panels allow you to look in on the scientists and botanists at work, unpacking, drying and storing the seeds, vital in maintaining the long-term safety of vulnerable species.

You can watch the staff saving species from extinction...
...while outside the raised habitat beds have encouraged some rarities to escape!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

A blizzard of carrot

Langley Vale Farm turned on the spectacle again today, with the No Home field an unbroken sea of Wild Carrot (above). A few weeks ago it was a blizzard of Ox-eye Daisy, a few weeks before that it bled with Red Campion (below). Such expanse of colour is truly memorable - and, unlike the industrial quantity colour hits of crops such as Rape or Flax, these wild flower meadows are more of a natural artistic statement. Last year this same field was dominated by Common and Opium Poppies, and they are much reduced in number this time round. I wonder what will flower in profusion next year? The Woodland Trust are behind this field turning on the botanical spectacle, as they laid down a seed mix in 2014.

Sometimes an insect stops you in your tracks. This afternoon, at Gatton Park, this hoverfly, Volucella pellucens, did exactly that.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Channel View

Channel View is a run-down dwelling that can be found on the beach at Dungeness, close to the new lighthouse. Last October I was lucky enough to find (or re-find) a Dusky Warbler in the vegetation just SW of the property, and the bird stayed for several days, loyal to the tamarisks and brambles in Channel View's front garden (when not in the nearby beach scrub). A constant stream of admirers passed through, standing around the edge of the abandoned building, waiting to hear the tacking call and latch on to the fleeting views of the warbler. Ever since then, when I visit the shingle, I search the same area I have described above, with the joy of that discovery still fresh in my mind. So I was more than interested to see this post on one of the Dungeness-themed websites.

I just hope that they haven't grubbed out the Dusky Warbler friendly garden!!

Friday, 22 July 2016

A virtual walk along a spectacular valley

Last Majorca-themed post for the time being, I promise!

I think it's a fair bet to say that any birder that has visited Majorca, especially if they have stayed (or visited) the north of the island, would have wandered along the Boquer Valley - situated just north of Port de Pollenca, it is in fact an easy stroll from the town itself. The entrance into the valley is at its narrowest point, via the gates of a lonely finca. This area has a number of orchards that are well worth checking, being the haunt of Woodchats, Wrynecks and Cirl Buntings. During spring and autumn some real surprises can pop up.

Once through these gates you pick up a path that runs along the valley to the sea (some 20-30 minutes of steady walking). If you are birding then that same walk can take a few hours! Throw in plants and inverts then you can write off a whole day! The main path is at a moderate elevation, and until you get to the sea there are few paths going higher - however, there are plenty of runs created by the goats that can take you down to the valley floor. Ready for a virtual stroll? Here goes...

Not far into the valley, a rocky outcrop act as a natural gateway to the wonders beyond.
The valley bottom. Home to, among other things, Stone Curlews
Looking to the left as we progress, this higher ground is the best for picking up raptors. I have seen Black, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Booted Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Peregrine and Eleonora's Falcons over the years from this very spot.
Looking right and here is the easiest place to see Blue Rock Thrush and Crag Martin.
Getting near the end and we are now entering prime Balearic Warbler territory.
The sea here is a dazzling array of blues and turquoise. There is a small beach if you so desire a dip.
Looking up towards Formentor. The breeding ground of Eleonora's Falcons.
The valley is not just about birds. There is a specialised flora, and the invertebrate diversity is high. I have only visited in June, July and August, so have yet to experience the area during the heights of migration. As you can see, it is a stunning site that is well worth a visit at any time of year.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Palm Moth

Many thanks to Graeme Lyons, who was able to identify my mystery Majorcan moth for me. I knew one of my cyber-contacts would know!

It is The Palm Moth (Paysandisia archon). Its native range is Uruguay and central Argentina, and was accidentally imported to Europe, first being recorded in France (mid 1990s) and then consequently in mediterranean Spain, Italy and Greece. The larvae feed on the stems and trunks of palms, and is causing concern because some damage is being reported to those of native provenance. There is a single UK record - from West Sussex in 2002. Whether more with turn up is open to speculation, although there are parts of the UK where palms do happily grow, and in number. If you do come across one, you will not miss it! As large as a Convolvulus Hawk-moth, with a rattling/rustle to the wings when disturbed - you have been warned!!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A Majorcan picture post

Thanks to Graeme Lyons for identifying this big beast as Palm Moth (Paysandisia archon). Three were flushed along the Boquer Valley in one afternoon.
One of the natural history highlights of the holiday - Violet Carpenter Bees! Very big and a deep, deep purple. A gathering of six in a hillside garden at old town Pollenca was unforgettable.
Audouin's Gull on Port de Pollenca beach - I only took my compact camera with me, so anyone with a 'big lens' could have really gone to town. A constant presence along the beach during the day, in the evening they would spend more time on the deck, polishing off any left-over food from the sunbathers. Would tolerate birders.
Lang's Short-tailed Blue - I found a couple in amongst 20 Long-tailed Blues, all feeding along a patch of Bramble.