Tuesday 16 March 2021

August 2020: Dune Villa, Long-tailed Blue (I wish!) and Berry Catchfly.

Didn't get out much in August but three outings were memorable:

Dune Villa in Exmouth.

Dune Villa is a scarce Bee fly which is only found in large coastal dune systems. I knew that there were records from The Maer in Exmouth so drove over there for a look on 8th August, a very sunny but rather windy day. At first I thought it was just too windy and after about half an hour of searching I was about to give up.  Then just as I turned to head back to the car I spotted one! All I needed to do now was get close enough to get some photos, easier said than done! Got it the end though.

First I took one from a distance just in case I couldn't get closer. 

This is a female and she is collecting sand on the tip her abdomen where she carries an egg. The egg is covered with the sand and then carried away and flicked onto the ground. I don't think a lot is known about what species they parasitize, it's thought to be species of moth.

I watched this one flicking eggs into some low vegetation.

Dune Villa - Villa modesta

Long-tailed Blue Search:

Long-tailed Blue has become my bogie butterfly. In 2019 there were several seen at Axmouth and they were there for a couple of weeks, the only problem for me was that I was in Vietnam! The very first time the sun came out after my return I was down at Axmouth, but I was too late. Then last year one was spotted in the same place but I didn't find out until I saw a photo on Twitter. That was on the 16th, but the sighting was from the 12th and it had been seen a few days before that too. The next day I was back at Axmouth and very hopeful. It was warm, sunny and there were a few butterflies about. I saw:

Holly Blue
The right colour at least.

Silver-y Moth
Wood White.
It was worth the trip though because I had my first sighting of another species of Leaf-cutter Bee

Patchwork Leaf-cutter Bee - Megachile centuncularis
This is the nearest I got to seeing a Long-tailed Blue. It's an empty egg case and the newly emerged larvae which you may just be able to spot between the two sepals to the left of the egg. The adult female that had been seen had most likely died because she wasn't there. I was too late again!

I do still love this patch of Everlasting Pea.
 Even though it's always minus a Long-tailed blue.
Maybe one day...

Later in the month I drove over to Somerset to look for Berry Catchfly. Not a native plant but one which is naturalized in a few places in the UK. It's main stronghold was in Norfolk but it appears to have died out there. So this population in Somerset may be the last in the UK. It was a new species for me too!


Berry Catchfly - Cucubalus baccifer

Saturday 13 March 2021

July 2020: Perennial Centaury at Gwennap Head, Cornwall

On 11th July we took a drive down to the far west of Cornwall, to Gwennap Head to look for the rare plant, Perennial Centaury, one I'd never seen before. In the UK it only grows in two sites as a native species, one in Pembrokeshire and this one in Cornwall. It was only discovered at this Cornish site in 2010. Numbers fluctuate from year to year depending on grazing pressure and weather conditions and with the warm dry spring we'd had there was a chance I wouldn't find any.

We arrived very early as it was going to be a hot day and we expected it to become crowded later. We were rewarded for this early start by bumping into a family group of Coughs on the coast path. My best ever and closest views of these awesome birds. Unfortunately I didn't have my best birding camera but they were so close I got some nice shots non the less.

The grass did look very parched and the only wildflower which appeared to be doing well was Wild Carrot (on account of its tap root) there were swathes of it everywhere!

A profusion of Wild Carrot
The plant I was looking for was somewhere on this parched slope.
 And here it is! It's the bright pink flower in the foreground. Back in 2010 when the plant was discovered there were hundreds, I only counted two. Hopefully it was just a result of the dry spring.

Perennial Centaury - Centaurium scilloides
On the way home we dropped in at Penzance where I looked for Green Field Speedwell, totally in vain as usual. It is the commonest plant that I have never knowingly seen, however it is scarce and declining in the west of Britain. I did  see my first 'wild' Maidenhair Fern though.

Maidenhair Fern - Adiantum capillus-veneris
Another new plant was Perennial Flax which I spotted at the side of a country lane locally.

Perennial Flax - Linum perenne

Friday 12 March 2021

June 2020: Botany and Bees

I ventured out a bit more in June and saw two new plants and several new species of bee. Firstly in early June I visited one of my favourite reserves Fivehead Arable Fields. I saw some wonderful rare arable plants but nothing new. 

Corn Buttercup - Ranunculus arvensis
Dwarf Spurge - Euphorbia exigua
Sheherd's Needle - Scandix pecten-veneris
Slender Tare - Vicia parviflora
Stinking Chamomile - Anthemis cotula

Nearer to home I found some superb arable strips around a couple of fields near Weston. These were originally sown I believe and contained some nice arable plants including...

Corn Spurrey - Spergula arvensis

Corn-cockle with some dramatic storm clouds in the distance. All the Corn-cockle plants I've ever seen have been sown ones like these. The plant has been almost totally eradicated from the wild in the UK. One I'm probably never going to see growing wild.

Corn-cockle - Agrostemma githago
My first new plant of the year involved a trip to Dorset to see. It was growing on a bank/verge of a small country lane near Batcombe. I had seen it in profusion up in the highlands of Scotland but it wasn't in flower so that doesn't really count. 
The plant is Wood Vetch and in my opinion it's the most beautiful of the pea family and definitely worth the drive to see. I've looked for this at a couple of sites in Devon in the past with no luck, so when I got the gen on this site I just had to go!
Wood Vetch - Vicia sylvatica
My next new plant was also a vetch and also on a road verge this time in Devon, near Staverton.  
 This is Fodder Vetch. It looks very much like Tufted Vetch but is a much deeper shade of purple. It has other more subtle differences so needs to be looked at very closely. Unlike Tufted Vetch, Fodder Vetch isn't a native and is rare in Devon but much more common in the South East and London area I believe.

Fodder Vetch - Vicia villosa
On Monday the 15th of June I had an absolutely amazing afternoon on Beer Head. I went in search of the rare plant White Horehound which I have seen once before in Purbeck. That was before I knew that it also grows, almost right on my doorstep, on Beer Head. I found the plant with relative ease because at the time the grassland there was being absolutely grazed into oblivion by hundreds of sheep! It's such a shame because the chalk grassland flora here would be amazing given half a chance. Fortunately for White Horehound it is totally unpalatable, even to sheep! Therefore the only flowering plants to be seen were thistles and the White Horehound. Because these were the only flowers in the area, they were also covered with insects and I found three new species of bee too! Happy Days!

White Horehound - Marrubium vulgare
Although the flowers are very inconspicuous they are very attractive to bees. This is the Coast Leaf-cutter Bee a new species for me.

Coast Leaf-cutter Bee - Megachile maritima
Spined Mason Bee - Osmia spinulosa
 New species number two.
Slender Thistle - Carduus tenuiflorus
Also popular  with the insects, and it was on these that I saw my third and best new species of bee for the day. I heard it before I saw it because this species of bee has a really loud and high pitched buzz. It also has bright green eyes!

Green-eyed Flower Bee -
Anthophora bimaculata