Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Orchids and other things

The weather continues to be mixed and rather windy. As in past years the plants have responded by growing rapidly - they prefer it to hot sun. The focus was on plants and in the last week I have been busy visiting four sites noted for orchids. The orchid season is pretty short - each species is in flower for only a couple of weeks

The first trip was to Pewsey Down in Wiltshire. I have visited the site twice before once in September 2010 and September 2005. One of the first things we saw was a Wall Brown butterfly, the first I have ever seen. It sat and posed during a brief spell of sunshine.

wall brown butterfly

A little later on and the clouds came over and the winds got up. An isolated Nodding thistle (Carduus nutans) had a large number of bumblebees burrowing into the flowers to keep warm and out of the wind. One flower had 11 bees, this one had only 6!

nodding thistle,bumblebee

There was an area of short turf where all the plants were of diminutive stature. Kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) was one of them.

kidney vetch

Another creature seeking refuge from the wind was a Forester moth (Adscita statices) on a Sainfoin flower (Onobrychis viciifolia).

forester moth,sainfoin,Onobrychis viciifolia

Here and there over the downs were Fragrant orchids (Gymnadenia conopsea).

fragrant orchid

One of the reasons for the trip to Pewsey Downs was to look for Lesser Butterfly Orchids (Platanthera bifolia). We found about eight in all over the western section not the masses we were expecting, however when we moved to eastern part we did find them - in their hundreds, a very pleasant surprise.

lesser butterfly orchid

Another target 'rare' plant was Field Fleawort (Tephroseris integrifolia). After scanning many hundreds if not thousands of yellow flowers, a few (only about half a dozen plants) were found. It is a small plant rather grey and hairy in leaf and stem.

field fleawort,Tephroseris integrifolia

A few days on and I joined another group of friends in a look for orchids and may be more Field fleawort. The first location was Old Burghclere Quarry. I have visited here a few times before, in 2012 ; 2013 and 2014. The main attraction here are the Fly orchids (Ophrys insectifera), with more pairs of eyes to look around, we found hundreds of them scattered over the site.

fly orchid,Ophrys insectifera

Another plant I have photographed there before is Knapweed Broomrape (Orobanche elatior) but we spotted more flowering spikes emerging than I had seen on my own.

knapweed broomrape

The next place we visited was Ladle Hill in the hope of seeing Field fleawort, Burnt tip orchid and Frog orchids. It turned out to be too early for these orchids, they were not showing at all. We only saw Twayblades, Fragrant and Common Spotted orchids. However there were excellent views to be had. In the middle distance in this view is Baron Andrew Lloyd-Webber's pad at Sydmonton.

Sydmonton,Lloyd-Webber

A nice little plant I spotted up on the iron age fort was Small Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria).

small scabious

The last site I visited was a site well known as one of only a handful of haunts of rare orchids. I walked through Homefield Wood six years ago and spotted some nice plants and butterflies but nothing special. An orchid I have not seen before is the Greater Butterfly orchid, it is subtly different from the Lesser Butterfly orchid (see above).

greater butterfly orchid

But the main attraction is large numbers of Military orchids (Orchis militaris) in two small meadows. They are mixed in with many Common spotted orchids. There were also a few Fly orchids, Fragrant orchids, Twayblades and Pyramidal orchids so all in all not a bad place for orchids.

military orchid,Orchis militaris

I looked at a few dozen Military orchid flowers and noted that there was quite a lot of variation, not just in size but in colour and shape. I would suspect there is some hybridization going on - quite common among orchids. Here is another military orchid showing quite a few differences.

military orchid,Orchis militaris

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Bramshill 2017

Well my prayers were answered in the form of a decent amount of rain in the last couple of weeks, not enough to make up for the long term deficit but enough to keep plants happy for the moment.

Each year I take a look around the Bramshill plantation just south of Reading. This year I chose to go a bit early on in the year on the basis that we have had some very hot days which should have brought on the plants to flower a bit early. It turned out a bit disappointing. The Forestry Commission have fenced off the most interesting pond (from a botanical point of view). The notices state that this was to keep dogs from spreading invasive pond weeds which I suppose is fair enough, but a shame walkers are excluded too.

The orchids were smaller than usual with shorter flowering spikes. This is a pair of Southern Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza praetermissa).

southern marsh orchid,orchid

There were a good number of dragonflies including 'darters' and 'chasers'. However the warm conditions caused them to rarely sit still for any length of time. I had to make do with a few of the smaller damselflies. This one may be Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo), based mainly on very dark colour, hard to be sure from this angle.

banded demoiselle

I saw no bee orchids at their normal spot by a pond, I looked for rosettes of leaves and saw none, so may be the dry winter and spring have discouraged the orchids from showing this year. The recent rains had created some pools and muddy areas. I looked in a known area for Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica) that likes the mud and was pleased to see a number of plants in flower .

Lousewort,Pedicularis sylvatica

Along the same track a damselfly was perched above me, this time bright green. This may make it an Emerald Damselfly, but can't be sure.

Damselfly

Previously I had seen Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica) in only one location, by a bit of good luck I was able to find it in three new locations which is good for this fairly scarce plant (at least in this area).

Lousewort,Pedicularis sylvatica

I had hoped for a better photograph of this subject. In this photo there is actually a moth and a butterfly, can you see both of them? The moth is a Burnet Companion (Euclidia glyphica). You can be forgiven for not spotting the butterfly, it is doing an excellent leaf impersonation - it is a Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) just to 'north east' of the flower.

Burnet Companion,Green Hairstreak

I spotted this pretty little flower, it looks like it may be a 'double' form of one of cinquefoils, not sure which one!

There were a good number of butterflies around, but most had no intention of staying still for very long. The species I saw were mainly Common Blue and Speckled Wood but I did see a very early Meadow Brown and of course the Green Hairstreak. It is the time that skipper butterflies begin to emerge so I was pleased to see a Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus).

Large Skipper,Ochlodes sylvanus

I was disappointed not to find Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) where I normally see dozens so I decided to look for them in an area I had previously seen one or two plants. I was pleased to find two orchids in flower and one in bud.

Bee Orchids,Ophrys apifera

Finally in this fairly brief walk I saw another moth/butterfly fluttering around. It was very small and I could not be sure of identification until I consulted the books. It is a particularly dark Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae).

Grizzled Skipper,Pyrgus malvae

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Ewelme and Brightwell Baldwin

The first long walk for some time was spurred on because of a forecast change to the weather - with hopefully some much needed rainfall.

The excuse for this particular route was yet again to extend the exploration of a long distance path, in this case Shakespeare’s Way. It follows a route that Shakespeare was most unlikely to have followed from Stratford-upon-Avon to London. Here is a map of the 11 mile route.

I started off at Ewelme. I have previously reported walks around this ancient village with its strong links to Chaucer. I looked at the magnificent church again - built in ‘Suffolk’ rather than local style and also at the grave of J.K. Jerome of Three Men in a Boat fame. Rather then repeat the same pictures, here is a detail of a gargoyle at the western end of the church.

Ewelme church,gargoyle

Following the Chiltern Way from Ewelme I climbed up to Swyncombe Down, a rich chalk downland. Here there was masses of Chalk Milkwort (Polygala calcarea).

chalk milkwort,Polygala calcarea

One of the rarer British butterflies is the disparagingly named Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages). I saw six individuals on the sunny south facing side of the nature reserve.

Dingy Skipper,Erynnis tages

Good views into Oxfordshire were to be had from this northern edge of the Chilterns.

I then followed the Chiltern Way to its junction with The Ridgeway. The ridge that leads to Swyncombe Down follows an ancient boundary with many veteran trees and woodland plants including carpets of Woodruff and Sanicle. As it is May, hawthorn was coming into bloom.

hawthorn

This stretch is not a Ridgeway and not an ancient route. I turned north off this excuse for a Ridgeway onto Shakespeare’s Way which here is an ancient track with some interesting plants along the way. The more common plants include Germander Speedwell.

germander speedwell,

The track brought me to the village of Britwell Salome and this time I remembered to take a look at an old yew in the churchyard of its small church. A recent survey (2013) considers the tree to be 1,400 years old. This is quite a good age but the oldest yew tree in the U.K. is now considered to be 5,000 years old so this tree is a mere teenager but it is still one of the oldest yews in Oxfordshire

Britwell Salome,yew tree

Shakespeare’s Way then continues north towards Brightwell Baldwin (the term ‘Brightwell’; ’Britwell’ refers to the clear, pure chalk stream water). It is another ancient track lined with trees and shrubs. Just leaving Britwell Salome the grass verge had a nice display of the Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) flowers. It was introduced from Europe and grown as a medicinal and ornamental herb; however there are closely related species that are native to Britain.

Star of Bethlehem,Ornithogalum umbellatum

A nice surprise was to see thee hares (Lepus europaeus) that I disturbed, one dashed off to my right while the other two ‘hared off’ across a field but one of them paused giving a brief opportunity for a photograph.

hare,Lepus europaeus

I joined up with a walk I did last December at Brightwell Baldwin. The small village has a number of fine houses including the pub - the Lord Nelson and the church is noted for having an inscription that may be the earliest written in the English language: 1371.

Lord Nelson,Brightwell Baldwin

I then took a track west towards Berrick Salome, on a pile of muck and straw was a bird, which I struggled to identify but with assistance now believe is a female wheatear on route to more northern climes.

wheatear

On the edge of a field I came across a plant that I don’t think I have come across before. I believe this very prickly customer is Bugloss (Anchusa arvensis) not be confused with the distantly related Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare), Bugloss is not native but was introduced so long ago it is definitely naturalised.

bugloss,Anchusa arensus

Walking south I walked past a field of hundreds of ‘free range’ pigs. I have concerns about how ‘free range’ this actually is, but in this case the young piglets were chasing each other around over a wide area and seemed fairly content. One sow had thirteen piglets, quite a handful. Probably a much less idyllic scene after periods of wet weather.

piglets

I saw a good number of butterflies, it was the first warm, calm, dry day for some little time. The butterfly tally was brimstones (20+); orange tip (20+); dingy skipper (6); peacock (2); red admiral (1); comma (2); small tortoiseshell (5). Here is a female orange tip (that has black rather than orange tips) with its mottled pattern on the under-wing.

orange tip butterfly

When I was approaching the village of Ewelme I decided to take a slight detour so I could explore the main street of this ancient settlement. The reason the village was founded here was because of water. A number of springs feed a duck pond and from there a stream flows east towards Benson where it joins the Thames. It’s name comes from Old English ‘Ae-whylme’ meaning ‘waters whelming’ and so probably should be pronounced ‘e-welme’ rather than ‘welm’. The water seeps out of the chalk downs to the south-east and is pure and clear. For this reason Watercress beds were built along the stream. Ewelme was the centre of the British Watercress industry in the 20th century but is now managed as a nature reserve by the Chiltern Society.

ewelme,water cress beds

The school at Ewelme has the distinction of being the oldest continuously functioning school building in the U.K.. It was founded in 1437 and is now a primary school. This is all rather appropriate for a village with such strong links to Chaucer. The coat of arms on the left -side of the right window is of William de la Pole, fourth Earl and first Duke of Suffolk. He set up a charitable Ewelme Trust with the King as patron, and so escaped the threat of seizure over the centuries.

Ewelme primary school

Last but not least I returned back to the car just by Cow Common at Ewelme. Ignoring the car with a radio blaring out at high volume I took a picture of Pineapple-weed (Matricaria discoidea) which looks and smells like a pineapple. It grows by paths and is a foreign import from N.E. Asia. It is a plant that tells you that you are back near human habitation as it seems to only grow on well trodden paths.

Pineapple-weed,Matricaria discoidea

Friday, 5 May 2017

Local woods in Spring

Every year since 2014 I have gone to see the bluebells in local woods, always great not to need to use the car. In 15 minutes I can be in good quality woodland with a wide variety of Spring flowers.

The first picture is of the fairly common Wood speedwell (Veronica montana), it has a delicate tiny flower.

wood speedwell,Veronica montana

Over the years I have taken many pictures of bluebells in these woods. I think the very dry conditions has resulted in a slightly less spectacular show this year.

bluebell,Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Here is a single plant just to show it is the dainty English variety (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) with no features of the Spanish form (Hyacinthoides hispanica).

bluebell,Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Having admired the very many bluebells I went to check on the two locations where Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula)grow. In the first location there were about 30 flowering spikes, and they seemed in good shape despite the dry conditions.

early purple orchid,Orchis mascula

The second location had only four flowering spikes but one of these was an 'albino' form. My picture did not do it justice so I moved into Boxgrove Wood which has many old box 'trees' although none are very old. The Box bushes (Buxus sempervirens) had already flowered and the curious shaped fruits from last year were still present.

Box,Buxus sempervirens

The path took me on through a mixture of habitats, in damper areas Bugle (Ajuga reptans) was in flower.

Bugle,Ajuga reptans

In some places there was considerable numbers of Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides) in flower, sometimes called 'the devil's cups and saucers' plant and you can sort of see why.

wood spurge,Euphorbia amygdaloides

Along the path I found a small tree (apple?) struggling with some sort of blight on the leaves, I do not remember seeing a fungus attack quite like it before.

blight

Yellow Pimpernel (Lysimachia nemorum) was out in flower already.

Yellow Pimpernel,Lysimachia nemorum

Another location I always like to check is a feral honey bee nest in a tree cavity. The bees probably took residence after swarming from a nearby hive. I first saw them here back in 2010 and then there was a gap where they moved on or died out. So I was delighted to see them at the same tree hole last year. A few bees were now active and so I suspect they over-wintered there OK. Opinion seems to be divided as to whether these feral colonies are a good thing because they may harbour pests and diseases that can then passed on to the 'managed' bees in hives; while others take the view that natural processes without any human interference may help select healthier honey bees.

feral honey bee

A plant you see here and there is the Wild Broom (Cytisus scoparius), I only saw the one plant on this walk and it had only one or two flowers on it.

Broom,Cytisus scoparius

In Sulham woods there is a considerable amount of Butcher's broom (Ruscus aculeatus) - it forms a hedge for quite a distance. Flowering was now over and the fruits were forming, by the end of the summer it will have turned bright red.

butchers broom,Ruscus aculeatus

Finally a hint of summer to come - a wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) in flower.

Strawberry,Fragaria vesca