Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Perfoliate Honeysuckle

One of the great delights of nosing around in vegetation is that you can often come across plants that just shouldn't be there - such as this Perfoliate Honeysuckle, which was climbing up a mature hedgerow on the very edge of Epsom Downs. I would like to take credit for being aware of the 'alien/naturalised' species of Honeysuckle that are present in our countryside, but the truth is that I was shown Perfoliate several years ago in Suffolk, and, as can be seen in the picture taken this morning, it is quite an obvious plant to identify.

Monday, 25 June 2018


This morning was spent on foot - from the front door to the northern edge of Epsom Downs, across the race course to Langley Bottom Farm, then back again. This first part of the walk was dominated by Marbled White butterflies (below). It was only in 1999 that I saw my first one at this particular site, at a time when the species was starting to blaze its way into new areas locally. Since then it has really taken off, with at least 1,000 being counted this morning, the best area being the grassland that runs down along the road between the Grandstand and Langley Vale. There were moments when I must have seen 300+ butterflies in view at the same time, dancing around this grassy slope in a throwback to days gone by - mostly Marbled Whites but also good numbers of Meadow Browns and up to six Dark Green Fritillaries. A wildlife experience cannot be measured by volume alone, although there are times when sheer numbers can grab hold of you by the ears and shake you to attention. This was such a time.

The farmland at Langley Vale has recently been purchased by The Woodland Trust, and the ongoing saga of losing the breeding Lapwings and the threats to the superb arable flora that is present has been covered by this blog on quite a few occasions. When I now visit my attention is mostly drawn to the state of any of the arable plant fields (largely getting swamped by grass it seems) and checking any corner that seems to show at least some hope of supporting them. Two such places were found. The first was west of the track that runs to Langley Vale Farm and can be accessed by a footpath that is picked up by the farm buildings (the view below is looking back towards Langley Vale).

As you can see, the vegetation was broken up by a number of bare, open areas, which made access easier. I have never seen so much Fool's Parsley and Small Toadflax in a single field. Other species of note included Grey Field Speedwell, Green Field Speedwell and Black Bindweed. The next area that was worthy of checking was found to the east of the track that runs south from the Sheep Walk towards Little Hurst Wood (below). This was full of Sharp-leaved Fluellen, a smaller amount of Round-leaved Fluellen and, best of all, two patches of the blue-flowered form of Scarlet Pimpernel (bottom). To round off, who doesn't like a field of Common Poppies? The top image was taken from the top of the slope just east of the image below. Numbers. Sometimes you just cannot ignore them.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Langley Vale on a sunny Friday afternoon

It was too nice an afternoon to stay indoors and watch Brazil v Costa Rica, so I popped up to the farmland at Langley Vale, home to a wonderful arable flora. I didn't stay all that long and mostly checked the edge of the field where Field Gromwell (below) grows. It is still doing well, with maybe 100+ plants along the 100m section that I checked.

It is aways worth checking the fields by Nohome Farm, where a profusion of flower is almost a certainty. Today's display was dominated by Ox-eye Daisy (top).

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Down by the river, up on the chalk

I have a list of 'target' plants, mostly of species that occur in the south-east of England and which I have yet to see. So far this year I have been able to seek a few of them out, the most pleasing of which have been Clustered Clover and Wild Liquorice. Yesterday another one of them became reality, with White Horehound (above) at Arundel Park. Only two plants were found, both at the top of a steep chalky slope where the ground had been disturbed by rabbits.

The area around Arundel offers plenty of varied habitat, including wetland. Along the River Arun, and the adjacent wetlands, a fine cross-section of plants were found, including Arrowhead, Marsh Woundwort, Brooklime, Brookweed, Blue-water Speedwell and Amphibious Bistort. Also of note were a few spikes of Annual Beard Grass.

Annual Beard Grass - an rare relatively easy grass to identify
Marsh Woundwort - a magnificent flower

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

To blog or not to blog

Stewart, over at the excellent Stewchat/Boulmer Birder/From the Notebook blog, has used the medium of Twitter to canvass opinion:

Many of you are Natural History . I am wondering how Twitter and Facebook has affected your blog output? Im wondering if my blog has had its day, its been going 12 yrs with 750,000 views... Comments please.

Now, what is becoming obvious to me is that many of the blogs that I really enjoy - those that are a mixture of natural history observation that is laced with humour and entertainment - are withering on the vine. The bloggers concerned are either phasing, getting fed up or cannot find the time to craft posts. It can be a bit of a chore at times to pump this stuff out, and that is exactly what we shouldn't do - pump it out.

First up, why did we start blogging in the beginning? A few possibilities - the novelty of being able to contact like-minded folks across the globe; a platform to share thoughts and sightings; a vent for our frustrations; a chance to show off our writing, artwork, photography, 'brilliant' thought processes etc, etc. Let's face it, we love an audience, crave feedback and feed off the 'virtual profile' that we create. Sounds pompous doesn't it, but it's a truth.

So why stop, or at least think about stopping? Maybe the blogger isn't getting feedback. Fewer visitors. Cannot find the oomph to post. Might have said it all and finds themselves repeating the same old stuff. I know, I've been there - here's a picture of a Bee Orchid, it must be June...

But... sometimes you are reminded as to why you carry on. When you realise that you have a network of fellow bloggers and natural history friends that you've never actually met but feel as if you really know; when somebody meets you in the field and thanks you for the blog (yes, that has happened a few times); when you can disseminate information with ease (such as the Hawfinch paper); to share information on where to go and what to see; to try and inspire others to take up the natural history baton.

Blogs are still relevant. I like Twitter, but it cannot always say what I want it to say. Sometimes I need to expand. It's a bit like comparing 'news headlines' to a 'magazine feature' - if you just want the gist, then Twitter is fine, but blogging gives depth. Facebook is OK to expand on a theme, but you will end up arguing the toss with a number of keyboard warriors regardless of whether your posting was considerate or not.

So, to Dyl, Gavin, Jono, Stewart, Lee, Derek and all of the other bloggers out there - keep it up. If you need a break, fine, but come back refreshed and with the certainty that your voice, through the medium of the post, is welcomed across the globe, and in many more homes than you would believe.

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.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Hawfinch update

The Surrey Hawfinch irruption paper has been updated, with Wes Attridge's ringing data added. Please click on this link to download.

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.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

A Bedstraw double!

Bedstraws are not the most showy of plants. In fact, they are pretty nondescript members of the botanical world, easily overlooked and not straightforward to identify. I was made aware of a couple of rare bedstraws close by to me here in Surrey, so with a morning to spare I went to take a look.

First up was Slender Bedstraw (Gallium pumilum) on Colley Hill. This species is becoming very rare indeed, but a few hundred plants are currently on show. I was able to find some Hedge Bedstraw nearby to get my eye in, with the pumilum being much slenderer, longer and narrower leaved (above), with some of the leaves exhibiting the characteristic backward-curved prickles, a hand-lens being essential to see them. The flowers were difficult to photograph in the breeze (below). I also fancy I saw some long-leaved Hedge Bedstraw (ssp erectum?)

It wasn't all small-white-jobs, with the Meadow Clary, caged and at its only Surrey station,  in fine flower, plus a single healthy looking Ground-pine.

Being on a 'bedstraw-roll' I went and visited a small piece of open ground in Merstham where Wall Bedstraw (Gallium parisiense) is known. This species is even slighter than the Slender, with tiny flowers and forward-prickled leaves. The thin stem is also rough to touch. It is a difficult plant to photograph but hopefully the picture below conveys some of its character.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

County plant lists

I don't know why it has taken me until now, but I have never before assembled personal county plant lists. 90% of time spent botanising has been in my home county of Surrey, with most of the remaining 10% being in Kent and Sussex (with Dorset and Hampshire deserving an honourable mention). I have just completed the Surrey list (below), which has had the affect of inspiring me to seek out a few of the many glaring omissions! I still need to add precise data for the first date of recording to some species, but that can wait. It is also enjoyable going through old notebooks to check such mundane things as to whether or not I have seen Lesser Swine-cress in Dorset. I have hours more fun ahead of me to get the other county lists under way. Above is another one of those naturalised species - Californian Poppy at Priest Hill - used here as an excuse to pretty up an otherwise monochrome post and act as a red rag to those who believe such species to be a blight on our landscape. Me? I love 'em!

A species personally seen in the county it is highlighted in yellow. Other species that I've seen in the UK appear in both their common and binomial forms, all the rest are future challenges. The indication of an R, RR or RRR follows Stace's rarity categorisation.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Naturalised plants

I like nothing better than a patch of waste ground full of naturalised (or escaped) plants. They are generally bright and colourful and add a splash of vibrancy to what can be pretty forlorn places. Whether they appeared thanks to dumped soil, fly tipped waste or just bloody-minded opportunism, all are welcome. There is a patch of hard-standing at Canons Farm in front of Lunch Wood, where over the years mounds of concrete, tarmac and earth have been placed to deter squatters entering and setting up camp. This morning there was a fine show of plants amongst the undulating ground, with multi-coloured Foxgloves, Columbines of various shades, a blowsy and vibrant dark-blue geranium, Love-in-a-mist (above) and Fox-and-cubs (below). They beat Hogweed and Stinging Nettles!

Apart from a Hobby and two singing Yellowhammers (below) it was quiet bird-wise, plus a rather stunning Alabonia geoffrella (bottom). I doubt if there is a better looking micro moth out there.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Man alive!

I like counting things - birds, plants, moths, butterflies, it doesn't matter. I'll even count my books, CDs, fingers and toes if there is nothing else on offer. So when confronted with a fine show of Man Orchids on one of the lower slopes of Box Hill this morning, I started counting... a minimum of 350 spikes was the not to shabby total. I was also pleased to find my earliest ever Meadow Brown.

Afterwards a quick visit was made to the eastern-end of Denbigh's Hillside where I was able to count more stuff - Adonis Blues - with at least 45 being present, but only a small part of the slope was searched. Quite a few were resting on bare ground, but a stiff breeze made photography a little challenging. Only a couple of Bee Orchids (bottom) were found.