Friday 16 December 2016

A Somerset Selection

Here's a selection of sightings in the county of Somerset all from this year.

Five Head Arable Fields

I've been here several times over the last few years but never managed to see the elusive Broad-fruited Cornsalad. There's plenty of Narrow-fruited Cornsalad at the site and the main difference in the two is obviously (the clue's in the name don't you know) the size and shape of the fruits. These are difficult to see without giving the plant a real close up look and doing this for every plant seen can be a bit time consuming, but eventually I found a couple of good examples. The Corn Buttercup was putting on a nice display as usual and the star find was a lovely almost white Scarlet Pimpernel. It's always a thrill to find a nice colour variation in this charming little flower.

Broad-fruited Cornsalad - Valerianella rimosa

 Corn Buttercup - Ranunculus arvensis

Scarlet Pimpernel Anagallis arvensis var.pallida


I'd seen Lesser Twayblade on Exmoor a good few years ago so it was nice to catch up with it again this year. It's a very difficult plant to find on Exmoor but I had the help of local orchid enthusiast Chris Gladman, author of the excellent book Wild Orchids of Somerset.

Lesser Twayblade - Neottia cordata  

It was a case of fourth time lucky with Cornish Moneywort, we were beginning to think we'd never see it after visiting several sites where it is supposed to be found but failing to find any. Once we did find some we realised why. It is a very inconspicuous ground cover plant which at this site on Exmoor was growing around the base of a clump of rushes, a very easy one to walk straight past. We were doubly lucky because one of the plants had a couple of flowers out too. The flowers are tiny, about 2-3mm across.

Cornish Moneywort - Sibthorpia europaea

Pen Mill Trading Estate Yeovil 

An unusual place to be botanising, we were looking for the white form of Moth Mullein, which grows around some of the industrial units here. It certainly brightens the place up a bit.

Moth MulleinVerbascum blattaria 

Cadbury Castle 

We visited here looking for another mullein, this time, Twiggy Mullein which grows on the south facing ramparts of this impressive hill fort. It's a pretty impressive flower too!

Twiggy MulleinVerbascum virgatum

Aller Hill

We visited Aller Hill to see Rough Mallow also known as Hairy Mallow a very rare flower found at only a few sites in southern England. The site here is very large and we had no idea whereabouts the plants were on the reserve but luckily after a long search we found some. They are a really pretty delicate flower and the reason they are called Hairy Mallow is very easy to see!

Rough Mallow - Malva setigera

Polden Hills

In late June I visited a reserve in the Polden Hills with Dave Land to look for Large Blues, although the weather was pretty cloudy and it rained for a time, it was also very warm and we were lucky enough to get some great views of both Large Blues and a variety of other fauna and flora. 

Large Blue egg-laying on Thyme flowers.

Large Blue - Maculinea arion

 Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris

Marbled White - Melanargia galathea
Sitting out a rain shower. 

Cut-leaved Selfheal - Prunella laciniata  

 A pair of amorous Bloody-nosed Beetles photobomb my Cut-leaved Selfheal photo.

 Bloody-nosed Beetle - Timarcha tenebricosa

Cheddar Gorge

Finally a few bits and bobs from the area around the village of Charterhouse and Cheddar Gorge.

Cheddar Pink - Dianthus gratianopolitanus
Overlooking Cheddar Gorge in the background, I've seen this plant on Sand Point but it may have been introduced there so it was great to see it in its natural habitat at last.

Wood Bitter-vetch - Vicia orobus

Wood Bitter-vetch - Vicia orobus white form.

Chimney Sweeper - Odezia atrata.

Forester Moth - Adscita statices

One I've wanted to see for ages but it has eluded me until this year. It was very intent on nectaring allowing for some close up photos.

Thursday 15 December 2016

Cattle Egrets

I was out today looking at birds, yes, you read that correctly, birds! Well mostly, I was also looking at a rare fungus too. I was with Dave L who'd had some good views of the seven Cattle Egrets at Teigngrace yesterday and after we'd seen and photographed the fungus (coming up in a later post) we parked up by their favoured fields and waited. They were nowhere to be seen at first but after a short wait we spotted one having a bit of a fly around. It never landed in view but gave us hope of seeing others. Just as we were about to give up due to an approaching rain storm they appeared. Four landed in the field in front of us and three others in a field over the road but out of view. Then the heavens opened and we got soaked but at least we got some shots of them albeit in the rain.

I could only get three in a photo at once.
Here just before the rain started...

... and then in the deluge.

Monday 5 December 2016

Three From South Wales

Back at the beginning of July we spent a day in South Wales, with three target species all of which we managed to find. The first stop of the day however was at the Alun Valley near Bridgend, where we were hoping to see High Brown Fritillary. We were a bit early to be honest and after a lot of walking around eventually managed to see a couple of freshly emerged males. It looked to be a superb site and hopefully I'll get to see it at its best one day.

High Brown Fritillary

A Marsh Thistle showing fasciation, a mutation causing 'bundled growth'.

The first target species of the day was Tuberous Thistle, a rare thistle of old chalk and limestone grassland which only grows in Wilstshire and on the coast of Glamorgan. We found it in good numbers at Nash Point. It looks very like the more common Meadow Thistle but has different shaped leaves to that species. The leaves are typically 'thistle-like' in shape but only have very few spines. Nash point was a beautiful setting and made for some very scenic thistle photos!

Tuberous Thistle - Cirsium tuberosum

Tuberous Thistle leaf showing the sparsity of spines.

I inadvertently intruded on a private moment here!

Next on the list was an even rarer plant namely Viper's Grass, which only grows in Glamorgan and Dorset, in Purbeck in fact, and is one of only a handful wildflower species growing in Purbeck that I haven't seen. I'm not likely to either as when we inquired to the RSPB at Arne about visiting the reserve where the plant grows, they totally ignored my e-mail inquiry and my friend was told we could pay £50.00 each for the privilege of helping them count the plants after they'd flowered! So we decided to see them in Wales instead. We were a bit late and feared the worst when we entered the correct set of 'rhos' pastures and couldn't find any. Eventually perseverance paid off and and a couple of late flowerers were spotted, not in the best of condition but definitely identifiable as Viper's Grass.

Viper's Grass - Scorzonera humilis

Although it looks a lot like a Cat's- ear or Hawkweed it has thin grass-like leaves hence the name.
You may be able to make them out in the photo below, not easy to see though.

The final plant of the day was White Mullein, not as rare as the others but quite scarce and very showy, a truly stunning plant. I've seen this plant in bud near Arundel in Sussex and in seed near Frome in Somerset, always 'close but no cigar'. There is a large stand of them near The Discovery Centre in Llanelli and we timed it perfectly. They were in full flower. An added bonus was that several of them were covered with Mullein Shark Moth caterpillars. 

White Mullein - Verbascum lychnitis 

Mullein Shark - Shargacullia verbasci