Friday, 3 July 2015

Inverts and Wildflowers on Portland and Berry Head

As promised here's a blog post not entirely about plants. Earlier this week I went to Portland with Dave and Hazel to look for Silver-studded Blues. We get these much closer to home on the East Devon Commons but the ones on Portland are thought by some to be a different race. We were going to have a look to see if they looked any different to us. The answer to that is yes, they seemed to be a bit smaller and appeared to be a slightly different blue, more like the colour of a Common Blue in some specimens. But having said that, who really knows? There always seems to be quite a lot of colour/size variation in any population of them. We were also hoping to see Lulworth Skippers too but only saw one or two and I wasn't able to get a photo of any. Perhaps there will be a few more later in the season, then again maybe not because I have read today that the population in West Dorset is down by 70% this year. I was also keen to do a bit of botanising and came away having seen three new flowers, two of which we wouldn't have seen if we hadn't bumped into Portland aficionado Ken Dolbear. He also showed us the rare Down Bug which feeds exclusively on a scarce plant called Bastard Toadflax which looks way nicer than its name would suggest.

Small Blue

Small Blue
 Egg-laying on Kidney Vetch Flower head

Silver-studded Blue

Large Skipper

Marbled White

Fairy FlaxLinum catharticum

 Grass Vetchling - Lathyrus nissolia

 A stunning group of Pyramidal Orchids - Anacamptis pyramidalis

Yellow-wort - Blackstonia perfoliata

The three new plants for me were:

Yellow Vetchling - Lathyrus aphaca

Yellow Vetch - Vicia lutea

Bastard Toadflax - Thesium humifusum

Down Shieldbug Canthophorus impressus

Yesterday myself and a fellow wildflower enthusiast spent four hours on our hands and knees on Berry Head. You may well ask! Well, we were looking for the rare and very tiny plant, Small Hare's Ear - Bupleurum baldense. We didn't see any. It may have 'gone over' or we could easily have been looking in the wrong place, seeing as the detailed information we were working from was over twenty years old! A tad optimistic to say the least!! We did ask two wardens neither of whom had even heard of it or for that matter white rock rose. Glad to know they have such an in depth knowledge of the site they are wardening! Perhaps I'll try again next year...then again.... 
There were some very fine Dropwort flowers, which are always a delight to behold and we also found an interesting day flying micro- moth which we identified as the 'very local'  Sulphur Pearl - Sitochroa palealis.

 Dropwort - Filipendula vulgaris

Sulphur Pearl - Sitochroa palealis.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Pheasant's Eye and White Viper's Bugloss

We had to go to Winchester again on Sunday and this time we came back via Salisbury Plain so that I could have a quick look at the Pheasant's Eye site that I know of there. I'd already heard from a contact that there are flowers this year and as I hadn't found any last year this encouraged me to make the return visit. The plant is so rare in the UK that each time I see it may well be the last! Unfortunately there wasn't a very good show of other 'arable weeds' on the site this year especially the rarer species of poppy but a good number of the Pheasant's Eye certainly made the trip well worthwhile. When I first learned of the site quite a few years ago I was told that a white form of Viper's Bugloss also grows there and until this visit I hadn't seen any. Actually the white flowers were not strictly speaking white but very, very, very pale pink. I suspect that just the blue pigments are missing in these particular specimens. It was late in the afternoon when we arrived there, and cloudy, so there were hardly any butterflies about. So it's just flowers again in this post. Butterflies coming up from a trip to Portland on Sunday though...stay tuned!

Pheasant's Eye - Adonis annua

Viper's Bugloss - Echium vulgare

Common Toadflax - Linaria vulgaris

Field Pansy - Viola arvensis

Friday, 26 June 2015

Field Cow-wheat on Portsdown Hill

We had to go to Winchester earlier this week to help Martha move house (yet again!) and as usual I found time on the way to visit a good site for botanising. This time I chose Portsdown Hill near Portsmouth, where I could easily have spent all day. Fifty hectares of the south face of the hill are a site of special scientific interest owing to its chalk grassland habitat. I only visited a tiny fraction of it and saw lots of wildflowers and butterflies. I'll definitely be going back soon to have a proper look around. The target species of my flying visit was Field Cow-wheat - Melampyrum arvense, a very rare plant in the UK. It was introduced at this site many years ago and is now fully naturalised. I had read recently that it was dwindling in numbers so I was somewhat surprised to see three large groups of it covering quite an extensive area. It was in full flower and looking every bit as spectacular as I'd hoped. Also in the vicinity were a couple of groups of Straw Foxglove - Digitalis lutea naturalised on a roadside verge and a couple of clumps of the striking yellow form of Ivy Broomrape - Orobanche hederae.

One of the large groups of plants.

Some plants were very large like this three stemmed specimen.

Close up they really are stunning.
 I've been wanting to see these for years now and am so pleased I finally made the effort to find them.

Field Cow-wheat - Melampyrum arvense.

Straw Foxglove -  Digitalis lutea 

Ivy Broomrape - Orobanche hederae.