Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Scopolamine and hyoscyamine...

...are apparently just two of the toxins to be found in Deadly Nightshade, the North Downs very own package of poison. Although the roots carry the most potent doses, the whole plant is pretty noxious and you would be a fool to pick, chew, lick or digest any of it. And if you do, while you're at it, why not find a gang of adders to cosy up to just to increase the risk of hospitalisation.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Wild Liquorice

This is a plant that had eluded me - I'd searched the well-known Surrey site at Brockham Quarry several times, but had failed - that is until this morning. Thanks to a combination of scrub clearance and some kind and helpful directions, I was able to pay my respects to a sizeable clump (several square metres) just off of the footpath above Brockham Quarry, with a further plant some 10m away. It was a larger and more robust species than I expected and has become a firm favourite. There must be more to find...

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

If you go into the bracken today...

.. you could be in for a nasty surprise. And the same could be said if you mooch around in long grass. For, my friends, we are in the 'tick season', those tiny ectoparasite arachnids that feed on the blood of mammals - and, by mammals, that does include us! They will crawl up your legs, find a dark and warm place (thighs, waist and, er, other regions) and then start to take a slow, long drink.

It could be hours later (or even days) that the feasting tick will be noticed, as before they become engorged with your blood they can be but the size of a poppy seed, but after a few days will swell to the size of a small pea. And if you do find one, do not panic - they can be removed, with a special tick device or pointed tweezers. Apparently square-ended tweezers are not recommended (as you do not necessarily get all of the tick out with them) although I've never had any problem with them in doing the job, and I've just removed 22 of the little bastards from my body over the past 24 hours! Yes, that's right 22. I may not be finished with them yet! All the size of poppy seeds, all around my midriff, thighs and one that decided to get even more intimately acquainted with me - I just hope the swelling remains...

I had been botanising and moth-ing over the previous couple of days in bracken (Headley Heath) and boggy grassland (Thundry Meadows). I believe that I picked them up at Thundry Meadows, a place bedevilled with all sorts of large, biting flies. I've only come off worse in the Scottish Highlands with GBH due to assault by midges.

Most tick bites are harmless and will cause no further problems beyond giving some people the he-bee-gee-bees realising that they have been walking around with a vampire attached to them for a few hours. But some ticks can carry Lyme disease, a bacterial infection which, if left untreated, can lead to a life of debilitating illness.

The image above was taken in 2012, and is a tick that I found in my navel. It is engorged with my blood and, after a few days, a red ring appeared around the site. This is an early sign of Lyme disease. I went off to the doctors and was given a course of antibiotics. Six years later and I have had no suggestion of any symptoms. I was unlucky to have developed LD but fortunate to have known the signs in doing so.

So, if you are 'ticked', quickly remove the WHOLE tick. Bathe and clean the area. Look for any sign of activity (ie red ring, feeling 'flu-like') and if you do, seek immediate medical attention. If you act promptly then everything will be fine.

I will now endeavour to wear long-trousers when out in such habitats, tuck them into my socks and refrain from lying out across the ground. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to carry on with my body search. I bet there's at least another little sod lurking somewhere!

STOP PRESS: Two more found - I reckon some are so small that I'm not being able to see them until they have fed for a while and subsequently increased in size.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Thundry Meadows

Close to Elstead, on the banks of the River Wey, is situated a gem of a Surrey Wildlife Trust reserve. Thundry Meadows is largely comprised of water meadows and Alder carr, habitats that I rarely spend time in. My visit today was largely to try and find White-barred Clearwing, which has been recorded here in the past. Despite good weather, the lures remained un-visited.

It was good to get down with the plants, with much head-scratching involved at an assemblage that I do not immerse myself into very often. Highlights included plenty of Marsh Cinquefoil (above), Common Valerian, Fen Bedstraw, Fine-leaved Water-dropwort and Bogbean. I need to come back and spend time trying to come to terms with the sedges, rushes and grasses - groups that I have shamefully neglected.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Great Oak Beauty and pheromone success

A first for the garden last night in the form of a Great Oak Beauty (above) that absolutely dwarfed the Willow Beauties around it. The rest of the catch was also interesting, with a Brindled White-spot only the second garden record, plus other 'nice to see species' such as Peach Blossom, Figure of Eighty (below) and Varied Coronet.

This afternoon I took my pheromone lures off to Headley Heath in a search for both White-barred Clearwing (failed) and Large Red-belted Clearwing (success, to CUL lure, in an area of birch tree stumps).

Friday, 8 June 2018

A bit of a failure

The photograph above was taken this morning from the Thames tow-path at Ham in Surrey. It is looking north towards Richmond Hill, a place that my wife would like to move to. The one big flaw in her plan is our lack of the £3-5 million needed to secure even the most modest of houses looking down on the river...

My visit was botanically-themed, and I was keen to take myself out of my comfort zone and try to identify what I could on the river's edge, footpaths and nearby meadows. It had its moments, mostly courtesy of a few naturalised species. I was, however, disappointed with the time spent on Ham Lands, a sizeable grassy reserve to which I had access to a species list whose highlights I largely failed to find. It didn't help that I stumbled into a 'gay meeting place' and quickly left what looked like a promising (for plants!) area. I'm not in the least bit homophobic but do find these areas unnerving to be in, especially when 'loitering with intent' in the study of natural history.  I need to return after having done a bit more homework.