30 Days Wild – Day 8: Flowers in the Rain

Thursday is volunteer day at Blashford and it is well known that it does not rain when the Thursday volunteers are working, but today something went wrong and we got wet! We were continuing with our project to create a diverse new grassland along what used to be the entrance to the old concrete plant, we have spread seed and cleared brambles. Now we are going back to continue with cutting back the bramble regrowth and discourage nettles and some of the denser stands of creeping thistle.

A lot of the seed we spread has germinated but is has a lot that was already there lying dormant in the seedbank. This includes some with famously long-lived seed like poppies.

poppy

poppy

Poppies used to be a common “weed” of agricultural crops but these days are effectively controlled in most by herbicides. Another such agricultural weed was field pansy, which has also appeared.

field pansy
field pansy flower

Several species of thistles have grown up too, alongside the creeping and spear thistle there are a few musk thistle, not yet flowering, but the symmetry of their flower buds appealed to me.

Musk thistle bud

Musk thistle in bud

We also have a good showing of mullein plants with both dark mullein and great mullein, a few with mullein moth caterpillar on them. Both species have tall spires of yellow flowers, however the individual flowers are very attractive on their own.

dark mullein flower

dark mullein flower

I have high hopes for this area, it has many of the attributes you need for a herb rich grassland, a mostly poor, thin soil and a sunny aspect, if we can establish a tight sward it could become a real asset for to the reserve, good for plants, insects and close to the path and so easy to see.

My last shot of the day is also of a flower but in this case it is what was sitting upon it that was the main attraction. The flower is an ox-eye daisy and on it is a male red-eyed damselfly, I find this a difficult species to get a picture of, as they usually spend their time sitting on floating pond weed well out in the water, so one away from water was too good to miss.

red-eyed damselfly on ox-eye daisy

red-eyed damselfly on ox-eye daisy

This is what we should now call the large red-eyed damselfly, rather than the smaller newcomer to these shores, the small red-eyed damselfly, which tends to fly later in the season.

Although I did get wet, it was not cold and being out in a bit of weather from time to time has its own appeal, albeit in moderation. Let’s hope for a bit better tomorrow.

Mellow Yellow Day

It rained quite heavily overnight but was clearing as I arrived and I had a hope that it would, as we expect, clear in time for the volunteers work party. In fact it did and fifteen, more or less willing volunteers set off to start the annual task of controlling ragwort. On a site like Blashford on dry soils with a long history of disturbance total control will be impossible, the seed bank must be enormous and will last for tens if not hundreds of years. Despite this we do try to control growth along the boundaries where there is seen to be a problem with spread onto grazing land. Today we started on the western side of Ellingham Lake, the conditions were fine to start with but then deteriorated and suddenly the plants growing under the trees became the target of special effort. There was a short discussion about calling it a day, but Blashford volunteers are made of stern stuff and we carried on and then the rain stopped and we completed the whole length.

ragwort pulling in the rain

We walked back past Ellingham Inlet Pound, the very short vegetation around the eastern end has a lichen heath character, but includes some species not out on the main area of heath near Ivy Lake including one that was very striking in today’s dull light, the brilliant yellow biting stonecrop.

biting stonecrop

The rain returned for quite a bit off the afternoon and kept going right until the visiting school group left, when the sun came out! In the brief warm spell I noticed several tree bumblebee workers feeding at the flowers of the dark mullein near the Centre. The picture also highlights the amazing colour of the flowers.

tree bumblebee on dark mullein

The tree bumblebee is a recent colonist from the Continent and is now spreading rapidly northwards, last year we had a nest near the Centre in a bird box. On the same mullein plants there were also a few caterpillars of mullein moth, at this stage they seem to be eating the flowers rather than the leaves.

mullein moth caterpillar and honey bee

I had another good look at the common tern rafts again today and am now more or less certain that there are twenty-one pairs nesting now, sixteen with chicks and a further five late nesters on eggs. A good few of the chicks would be flying within a week, so it looks like it should be another good nesting season for them.