30 Days Wild – Day 4 Far and Wide

A very varied day for me today, I started with a farmland bird survey on the Hampshire chalk, almost on the Wiltshire border, then to Blashford working with the volunteers and finally a guided walk at Hurst Spit.

The farmland survey is always enjoyable as I get to see species that I otherwise rarely come across, in this case yellowhammer, corn bunting and grey partridge. It was a fine, if cloudy morning and it would have been completely enjoyable, if it had not been for getting soaked by the heavy dew as I pushed my way through waist-high goose-grass.

At Blashford we were working on the design of a new tern raft, I think we have more or less cracked it now! I also had to check the fences for the soon to arrive ponies and in doing so I found over 100 bee orchid! They grow in several places around the reserve but typically in small groups.

bee orchid

bee orchid

After a speedy lunch it was off to Hurst Spit to lead a guided walk. I walked the length of the shingle rather than going by ferry, this seemed a mistake as light rain started to fall. Fortunately the rain eased and then stopped allowing us to see at least some of the wildlife of the stabilised shingle at the end of the spit.

The stabilised shingle has a very distinctive flora with zonation from the high tide line back into the grassy areas via damper dips with areas of saltmarsh vegetation. We found a good few broomrape plants, seemingly parasitic on wild carrot, so I assume the coastal version of common broomrape.

common broomrape

common broomrape

Broomrapes are weird plants, they have no chlorophyll so cannot produce their own food, they live parasitically on other plants, tapping into their root systems. There are a number of species and some are very specific about the hosts they exploit, the common broomrape is one of the less fussy ones.

More typical shingle beach plants included some magnificent sea kale, huge, glaucous, leathery leaves and a great froth of white flowers.

sea kale 4x3

sea kale

We also saw lots of sea beet, and yellow-horned poppy.

yellow-horned poppy

yellow-horned poppy

As you can see it is a yellow flowered poppy, the “horn” is the seed pod, which can extend to 20cm or more, quite different from the typical, more spherical, seedhead of most other species of poppy.

It was not all plants though, we found three cream-spot tiger moths, a pale form of mullein wave and lots of the small coastal Pyralid moth Platytes cerussella. The area around the castle has lots of rock pipit, I am sure they have become more common  since I was last out there.

Walking back up the beach I came across a jellyfish in the tideline. I have not heard of many along the coast, but perhaps this is going to be a “jellyfish year”, one of those when they arrive in hundreds of thousands. I have always dreamt of seeing a leatherback turtle in such a year, as these huge reptiles will follow their jellyfish prey as far as our shores. Although reptiles, it seems they have the ability to regulate their body temperature, keeping it at around 26 degrees Celsius, allowing them to come into colder waters than their smaller cousins.

jellyfish 4x3

jellyfish

30 Days Wild – Day 24 – Up on the Downs and Down by the Sea

We travelled up to Martin Down in the morning, specifically Kitts Grave the part of the reserve that belongs to the Wildlife Trust. This area of the reserve is a patchwork of chalk grassland and scrub, this type of diverse, herb rich habitat with lots of shelter is preferred by lots of insects, it offers lots of possibilities.

musk thistle with marbled white 2

musk thistle and marbled white

Plants like thistles and knapweeds are very good nectar sources used by lots of insects.

greater knapweed

greater knapweed

The scrub offers both shelter and an additional variety of flowers, bramble being very important and popular. I found the large hoverfly Volucella inflata feeding on a bramble flower.

Volucella inflata

Volucella inflata (female)

As I was photographing it a male flew in and mating took place.

Volucella inflata pair mating

Volucella inflata pair mating

A few years ago when at Old Winchester Hill I found a rare bee-fly, the downland villa Villa cingulata , at the time it was only the second Hampshire record in recent times. It appears it has been spreading as I found several, easily five or more, egg-laying females at Kitts Grave, I am not sure if they are recorded from there before.

Downland Villa

Downland Villa Villa cingulata

We saw a good range of butterflies including very recently emerged silver-washed fritillary and white admiral.

We retired home during the heat of the afternoon so I was briefly in the garden….

What’s in My Meadow Today?

One plant I was keen to establish was lady’s bedstraw, it has tiny yellow flowers unlike most of our bedstraws which have white flowers. It grows on dry chalk soils mainly but also turns up on dry sandy areas even in acid areas.

lady's bedstraw

lady’s bedstraw

I seem to have only got one plant to establish but it is spreading to form quiet a significant patch.

Once the day started to cool we ventured down to the coast to Lepe Country Park. Years ago I established another meadow area at this site, although in this case it was from a deep ploughed cereal field, it is now a SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation) for its wildflower community. Creating grasslands of real wildlife value is relatively easy and gets quick results, helping to redress the massive loss of these habitats. Planting trees is much more popular, despite the fact that it will probably take hundreds of years for them to achieve significant value for wildlife. As anyone who manages open habitat will know trees will colonise and grow quite happily without encouragement. In fact colonising trees are one of the threats to herb-rich grasslands.

However we were on the beach, looking at beach species. Stabilised sand and shingle has its own specialist plants, one of which is sea spurge.

sea spurge

sea spurge

Rather more attractive is the yellow-horned poppy.

yellow-horned poppy

yellow-horned poppy

The long pods which give this poppy its name can be seen in this shot.

It was getting late and there were lots of small moths flying about, in the end I managed to get a picture of one, it was a Pyralid moth, quite a common one found in a variety of dry habitats, called Homoeosoma sinuella.

Homoeosoma sinuella

Homoeosoma sinuella

Off the beach an adult gannet was flying about, quite a regular sight in The Solent these days.

30 Days Wild – Day 17: Lepe and a Jumper

A day off and mostly spent in the garden, I had intended to do some work but it was too hot to do very much. It was even too hot for most insects apart from bees. I did see a very few butterflies, two meadow brown and single, rather worn, male common blue.

common blue

A slightly tatty male common blue.

My pond is dropping fast, it is only shallow with very sloping sides meaning it has a large surface area relative to volume. I fill it from water collected off the roof, but in this weather it does not last long. Despite not having much water it still attracted a male keeled skimmer, which stayed for several hours.

keeled skimmer

male keeled skimmer

In the evening we headed down to Lepe Country Park to enjoy the sea breeze. Many years ago I used to manage this site when I worked for Hampshire County Council. It has changed a bit since then. The sea defences I put in to the east of the lower car park have finally been abandoned. On the cliff top, the meadow area behind the car park has developed from the deep ploughed cereal field that we took over and seeded, to a really successful flower-rich grassland divided with hedges that provide shelter and cover for nesting birds.

Despite the beach being small and very popular it still has sea kale and yellow-horned poppy, two plants typical of shingle beaches and usually the less disturbed ones.

yellow-horned poppy

yellow-horned poppy

Walking east to the Mulberry Harbour casson construction site I looked for the broad-leaved heleborines that used to grow straight out of the shingle, I found one very large plant hard against the brick wall.

broad-leaved heleborine

broad-leaved heleborine

I was also pleased to find several little robin plants at the very far eastern end, this smaller relative of the common herb Robert is a bit of a Solent coast speciality.

little robin

little robin

I was also searching the shingle, as many years ago I found a jumping spider here that was a new record for Hampshire, however all I could find was a few of the common zebra spider.

zebra spider

zebra spider

They may be common but I can spend a lot of time watching these spiders as they stalk their prey, they are formidable predators at their own tiny scale.