Saturday, 11 May 2013

Bowdown Woods

In the past week the weather has changed from hot sun to wind and cloud with Atlantic low pressure systems dominating. This was the weather pattern that became stuck last year giving record rainfall. I joined a local natural history group walk on the fringes of Greenham Common (famous as the site of the American atom bomb planes). Bowdown Woods has an area that was used for housing the American air force personnel and is now an interesting nature reserve. With cool conditions and strong winds the opportunities for photographs were not as good as earlier in the week. Looking at my statistics this is the 100th posting on this web site. Does not seem all that long since my first post in October 2009.

The area is known to be good for seeing snakes (grass snakes; adders) and lizards, but with it being so cool the chances of seeing them in the open was slight. However the wildlife groups that manage the reserve had placed small sheets of corrugated iron and plastic in places where the snakes could hide and warm up in the mornings. So we lifted a number of these to reveal what was underneath; mainly there were ant nests but a couple had slow-worms. Slow-worms (Anguis fragilis) are limbless lizards (reptiles) rather than true snakes. .

slowworm

A lovely Spring flower that is a good contrast to the blue of bluebells is the Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea).

stitchwort

There was an oak tree festooned with a lichen (Evernia prunastri) known as oak moss, and now considered a gastronomic delicacy.

oak moss

The same oak tree was covered in flowers, these are not often easy to see.

oak flower

Close by was a tree in tight bud, not sure what, I'd guess a Sorbus.

flower bud

We saw a couple of spots with tiny Moschatel (Adoxa moschatellina) flowers. Also known as five-faced bishop and town-hall clock as it has a flower pointing in all four directions as well as upwards.

moschatel

Pignut (Conopodium majus) is a fairly uncommon plant of ancient woods. The 'nut' is its tuber underground much loved by pigs. The flowers were still in bud.

pignut

The botanical theme continued with Three-veined Sandwort (Moehringia trinervia). A small flower which has leaves with three distinct veins (or 'nerves') which you can just about see.

three-veined Sandwort

Earlier in the week I went out looking specifically looking for Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula) and I found some just a few miles from home. There were about five flower spikes in Bowdown woods and they were a little further on than my local ones.

Early Purple Orchids,Orchis mascula

In the damp margins of little brooks running down the hillside were some Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium). The rarer Alternate-leaved form is believed to be on the reserve but we did not see it.

Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage

Bluebells were much in evidence, but as my previous post was full of them (and in sunshine) I'll limit myself to one more.

bluebells

In these more open areas the bluebells will soon be replaced by another plant:

bracken

This strange looking thing is a bracken shoot already to unfurl itself and cover the bluebells.
I only saw one Cuckoo flower, and very strangely I did not notice until I looked at the photographs when I got home that it had a female Orange tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) sitting on top of it. The females do not have the conspicuous orange wing tips of the males. Pleasingly all the front head part of the butterfly was in focus showing a good clump of hairs and antennae. The Cuckoo flower is one of the main feed plants for the Orange Tip caterpillars.

Cuckoo flower,orange tip butterfly,Anthocharis cardamines

Finally another nice bright flower along the marshy parts of the reserve - a Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) or Kingcup.

Marsh marigold

Monday, 6 May 2013

Aston Upthorpe and Bluebell woods

The sun continues and the heat has intensified, it is now the weather for shorts and sun tan oil. I went on a butterfly counting trip in the Blewbury-Aston Upthorpe area and although I had little luck in catching them on camera there were quite a few around: Brimstone, Grizzled skipper, Comma, Peacock, Large white, Green Veined White and Green Hairstreak; all rather encouraging, considering the recent cool, damp weather.

Ground ivy was one of the most conspicuous flowers and one patch had a lot of solitary bees feeding on it.

ground ivy

The dry conditions had forced a number of slugs and snails out into the open in full sun as they desperately sought food.

snail

We walked up a chalk valley running south into the downs.

Aston Upthorne

On the side of the valley was an enclosure where conservationists were trying to protect a colony of Pasque flowers. Mesh had been placed around the plants to keep the rabbits and deer off. They are very rare in the wild and restricted to a few location so this re-introduction to chalk downland may help re-establish these lovely flowers .

pasque flower,Pulsatilla vulgaris

Here is the only shot I took which you can vaguely see a butterfly clearly, it is a Comma (Polygonia c-album). We also saw a Common Heath moth, and this is unusual to see on chalk downs.

Comma,butterfly,Polygonia c-album

Many of the trees were bursting into leaf, a quite rapid change over the last few days. The silver leafed Whitebeam was one of the more dramatic.

whitebeam

We then, after lunch in Blewbury, moved on to Oven Bottom, another dry valley in the chalk download. There were good views over to Wittenham Clumps.

wittenham clumps

There were only one or two butterflies and moths in flight (but including the Common Heath moth). There were many cowslips, and with other wild flowers still in bud, including milkwort with electric blue buds.

milkwort

I also spotted these rich coloured seed-heads.

We then returned back to Reading, and I decided with the sunny weather scheduled to end I ought to explore the local Sulham woods and see if the orchids I had seen last year were in flower. In fact the day turned out to be ideal for seeing bluebells.

bluebell

Black bryony (Tamus communis) was beginning to grow rapidly with its dark green glossy leaves

black bryony,Tamus communis

Just when I thought I must have missed the Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula) I found them again. They cover only a small area (about 5 square metres), I could not see any others close by. The flowers were just beginning to open out.

Early Purple Orchid,Orchis mascula
Early Purple Orchid,Orchis mascula

However, it was the mass of bluebells which was the real attraction. At a few places in Sulham Woods they are there in their thousands, more in one place than I have ever seen before.

bluebell

bluebell

This time last year I saw quite a few Yellow Archangels (Lamiastrum galeobdolon) in flower. This year they were mainly in bud, I only spotted one clump out yet.

Yellow archangel,Lamiastrum galeobdolon

The evening light was beginning to fade and I offer one more bluebell picture in a darker section of the woods, the weaker sun makes the blue seem deeper.

bluebell

As Sulham Woods are primarily noted as beech woodlands, I thought I would end on some beech trees just coming into leaf.

beech