Monday, 26 June 2017

Buttermere and Walbury Hill

This walk was a record breaker. Although not in distance (only 13 miles) it broke my long standing record for total ascent set on the very first walk posted here (8th October 2009). In this case I climbed (and descended!) a total of 1,644 feet (501m) - the London Shard is a mere 1,004 feet high. It also took a total of 8 hours - only really possible near mid-summers day. I took 148 photographs and have had trouble whittling this down to this limited selection. Here is a map of the route:

As a final trek during the main orchid flowering season I decided to visit three nature reserves and three counties (Berkshire, Wiltshire and Hampshire). I started at the top of the downs near the village of Ham. The morning sun and breeze gave excellent views.

view

Just a few hundred yards from the car a bird was calling from a hogweed plant. I guess it was a Whitethroat but I could well be wrong.

whitethroat

I walked to the village of Buttermere, no not the one in the Lake District, the one in Wiltshire. This one does also have a ‘mere’ but only the size of a tennis court. In the churchyard there was a pretty trailing plant - Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia).

creeping jenny,Lysimachia nummularia

Buttermere church that serves only a dozen or so houses was more like a chapel. It had been recently re-roofed and re-pointed.

buttermere church

That was the last village I passed for the next 12 miles. I then followed ‘Buttermere Bottom’ which runs along the valley bottom. In places there was fine meadows with some wild flowers dotted within it, including Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris).

self heal,Prunella vulgaris

The closest I saw to a ‘mere’ was a rather small pond. However it did have a plant I don’t remember seeing before - I think it is Greater Spearwort (Ranunculus lingua), this is now widely planted in ponds but out here it may well be native.

greater spearwort,Ranunculus lingua

Another nice wild-flower that was growing here and there in the meadow was Musk Mallow (Malva moschata).

musk mallow,Malva moschata

I then reached my first ‘nature reserve’, even though there is nothing to say it is managed for wildlife. There was a very good range of plants including Fragrant, Pyramidal and Common Spotted orchids. There must have been hundreds of pyramidals, many be a thousand common spotted but only a few dozen fragrant. This is an almost white Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii).

white common spotted orchid,Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Another nice plant to see was Centaury (Centaurium erythraea).

centaury,Centaurium erythraea

And especially Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata).

clustered bellflower,Campanula glomerata

Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris) is a plant usually see at the seed stage, this plant was still flowering.

bladder campion,Silene vulgaris

I could have included many more flowers from this excellent little sloping meadow but will limit myself to Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) with its purple anthers - and a hoverfly.

mullein,Verbascum thapsus

I continued following the valley bottom. As this is chalk country it is completely dry, last seeing water at the end of the last Ice Age. Along the track was patches of the feared garden pest - Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), but still rather pretty all the same.

bindweed,Convolvulus arvensis

I then headed up an ancient trackway into some welcome shade. Along the track there was a remarkable amount of Redcurrant (Ribes rubrum). This is considered an indicator of ancient usage as it spreads very slowly and our forbears must have brought it there long ago.

redcurrant,Ribes rubrum

I then reached my second Nature Reserve - West Woodhay chalk pit. However there was much less to see than I expected - I have visited three years ago and thought there could have been more to see. However I did see four species of orchid so must not grumble! Common Spotted, Fragrant, Bee and Twayblades.

I then followed Wayfarer’s Way to Walbury Hill - my high point of the walk at 974feet and the highest natural point in South East England. Common Spotted orchids were here and there along the path. Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) was coming into flower.

knapweed,Centaurea nigra

Just by the car park for those who take the less strenuous route to the top were about half dozen flowering spikes of the parasitic Knapweed Broomrape (Orobanche elatior).

knapweed broomrape,Orobanche elatior

Combe Gibbet stands on the summit of Walbury Hill and it has fine views over the land that falls away dramatically to both north and south. This is the view to the south, by this time it had started to cloud over.

view Walbury Hill

Continuing west along the ridge there are a few farm buildings and by them used to be a bank of vigorous plants. Unfortunately the farmer had decided to chop them back severely but I did find one or two flowers of what I think is Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris). There must be an artificial pond nearby as this was near the top of a very dry chalk hill.

marsh woundwort

You may have noticed the distinct lack of butterflies in this post. This is extremely misleading as I saw loads on this walk. However it was fairly warm and they did not settle for long. My species list for the walk was Meadow Brown (loads), Ringlet (loads), Marbled White, Large Skipper, Small Skipper (may be Essex could not be sure), Red Admiral, Small Heath, Brimstone, Comma, Meadow Brown, Silver Washed Fritillary and Small Tortoiseshell. Normally I count myself lucky to see three Small Tortoiseshells (Aglais urticae) in a day, on this walk I lost count and would say I saw at least 50. Sometimes three or four were busy chasing each other around. So it is appropriate that a highlight of the walk was a pair of Small Tortoiseshells that came and rested close by.

small tortoiseshell,butterfly,Aglais urticae

My last stop was a part of the Ham Nature Reserve which I had visited last August and the year before. Orchid seed heads had been seen there so it seemed an excellent opportunity to see which type they were. They turned out to be Common Spotted with a very good number of Pyramidal Orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) too.

pyramidal orchid,Anacamptis pyramidalis

I had vaguely hoped to see a much rarer orchid in these parts - the Lizard orchid. I had read a report of a single plant seen there some years ago and it would certainly have been an exciting find if I had found it, but alas no. I rather wearily climbed back up the steep slope and back to the car - exactly eight hours after I had set out and with only a short lunch break out in the wilds.

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