Monday, 26 August 2013

The Holies in Late Summer

Normally I stay in on a Bank Holiday to avoid the traffic grid lock. This time the warm sun tempted me to out to look for an Adonis blue butterfly that I saw three years ago on a local National Trust nature reserve: The Holies. I went there at the end of May this year, when I bemoaned the late Spring and lack of flowers.

To extend the walk a little I included a section out to Stichens Green to form a three mile circular walk.

The first part took me through an old beech wood and then out onto a lane with many wild flowers still out. I get confused with the mint/nettle family still. I am told this is probably Black Horehound (Ballota nigraha).

hemp nettle

Further along and another striking flower, which this time I could identify, it is Common Burdock (Arctium minus).


The weather was of cumulus 'fair weather clouds' slowly moving south. I took this shot of the sun about to burst out from behind a cloud. I was not too sure how it would turn out.


Another plant and another mystery. I reckon this in the vetch family, probably Crown vetch (Coronilla varia). It could be a garden escape as it was in the verge of a lane.


The aim of the walk was to track down the brilliant blue Adonis blue butterfly. Regrettably all I got to see were many hundreds of Common Blue butterflies. I chased quite a few glimpses of bright blue only to be disappointed. I may have seen one Adonis, but it disappeared before I could get close enough to be sure.

common blue butterfly

Snaking up through this area was excavations for a new water pipeline. I included this 'artistic' shot partly because it shows the thin soil over solid chalk rock and also because it is so striking.


Now while I was disappointed with Adonis Blues I did have more luck with Small Copper butterflies (Lycaena phlaeas). These are a pleasure to see and my firm favourite as at last I have a reasonable shot of them.

Small Copper,butterfly

And not just one, but two.

Small Copper,butterfly

The other butterflies I saw were Meadow Brown (hundreds); Gatekeeper (loads); Small white (hundreds); Large white; Brimstone; Small Tortoiseshell; Common Blue and Speckled Wood. There were so many Meadow Browns that they were a bit of a nuisance because when I approached a clump of flowers they would all take to the air, together with the ones I was trying to sneak up on.

Back to flowers, and I do like the tiny flowers of Vervain (Verbena officinalis). Apparently a common name is 'Holy herb' due to its medicinal properties that are reputed to have been used on Christ's wounds.


My favourite flower at this time of year is the tiny orchid-like flowers of Eyebright (Euphrasia).


Another flower that is fairly small yet striking close up is Pale Toadflax (Linaria repens).

pale toadflax

One sure sign of late summer is the appearance of Autumn Gentian (Gentianella amarella), I prefer to call it Felwort. Now these could be Chiltern Gentians, they are quite hard to tell apart, and also hybridise to complicate things more.

felwort,autumn gentian

From 'The Holies' you get some good views across the Thames to Hartslock and Goring, reminding you that this is the 'Goring Gap' which is the closest the Thames ever gets to running through a gorge.

Hartslock view

Just by the car was another harbinger of autumn, the seed cases of White Campion (Silene latifolia).

White Campion

Finally a couple of 'cheat shots' to sneak in. Two days previously I went on a Natural History society walk north of Reading. It was rather damp and the light was poor, however there was a star attraction: Violet Helleborines (Epipactis purpurata) a strange member of the 'orchid family' that seems to like deep ditches in chalky woodland. The violet colour is because the amount of chlorophyll is very low, they do not need it; instead they feed by mycorrhizal symbiosis - tiny root bound fungi. Flowering is irregular and plants long lived. If they happen to grow in a light area they will be greener. They are rather rare plants and good to see about 30 plants in all.

Violet Helleborine,Epipactis purpurata
Violet Helleborine,Epipactis purpurata

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