TUESDAY 7TH JULY 2020

GRANTHAM CANAL + DCW

With rain anticipated for later in the day another stroll along the canal saved on wasted travelling time and today we walked from Hickling almost to Leicestershire. It was good to see the Old Wharf cafe open again after ‘lockdown’ and later on, The Plough was open too (but we were wet by then and wouldn’t have been welcome).

Hickling Basin

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is a lovely showy plant and we didn’t see it again until our return. There was plenty of Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata) around the basin and also along the canal.

Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile) is an uncommon plant which accompanied us for the first few hundred metres west of Hickling and it shared the bank with Field Horsetail (E. arvense) for much of this length.

There was a pen Mute swan not far into the walk, preening herself while her three cygnets slept the morning away. One of these was a ‘Polish Swan’ which is a rare, genetically determined variant in which the young birds are white, unlike the normal grey cygnets. Their sleepiness made the photo opportunity a failure and on the way back, when they had woken up but were seemingly intent on sheltering from the rain, the conditions were no better.

Syrphus sp. on Torilis japonica

Upright Hedge-parsley was abundant in patches and attracting hoverflies and other insects. This one is of the genus Syrphus and there are five species to choose from, two of which are very unlikely. Syrphus vitripennis seems the most probable on the grounds of time of year and habitat.

And this one, surely the most abundant hoverfly, is known as the Marmalade Hoverfly by some.

Episyrphus balteatus
Self-build Moorhen busily at work
Calystegia sepium.

Two species of Bindweed are common hereabouts, though this one, Hedge Bindweed, where the calyx is exposed by the bracteoles is perhaps slightly less frequent than Large Bindweed C. silvatica.

Carduus crispus adjacent to Clark’s Bridge

The Grantham Canal, constructed in 1797 was one of the very last canals to be built (the Nottingham Canal was opened a year earlier) and it took coke, coal and lime to Grantham in return for agricultural products like corn, malt and beans back to Nottingham. (This is straight off the information panel!).

The bridge used to have lots of Black Spleenwort attached to its red handmade bricks but these have been cleaned up and the spleenworts are no more.

We learned from two restorers of the lengthsman’s hut, that the canal fell into disuse because of leakage problems associated with the puddled clay not getting on with the underlying gypsum. I’m sorry that is so unhelpful but chemistry is not a strong point of mine.

Botanists likely to encounter aquatic plants carry a grapnel. This is a weighted hook or hooks attached to a line that is thrown into the water in the hope of dragging out the elusive, submerged plants. But better still, is a special stick, made for the purpose and left in strategic places for casual botanists to utilise on a temporary basis.

Dave and his prized stick.

Here, Dave demonstrates the technique with the “Hickling Standard Stick” and a successful catch of Nuttall’s Pondweed, Hornwort and Curled Pondweed (Elodea nutallii, Ceratophyllum demersum and Potamogeton crispus respectively.)

Chicory

We stopped for a chat with several canal lovers, some with dogs and some without, who were interested to know more about our intentions. One of whom mentioned a mysterious plant which we think could have been this Chicory (Cichorium intybus).

Plant of the day was Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae), though not for its appearance (as a dwarf, non-flowering miniature water-lily) but for its rarity and welcome spread along the canal from neighbouring Leicestershire.

And finally a couple of birds that I haven’t seen a lot of lately for some reason; Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

…and Sedge Warbler.

Sedge Warbler

Some years ago, I chatted to an angler at Hickling to see if anyone had recently seen Water Voles along the canal. I don’t think he had but it transpired that he had fished the canal for many decades and in the sixties he had seen a man carrying an empty sack along the towpath on some evenings and returning later with the sack apparently bulging. After some days of this he asked what was in the sack and he was told it was Grass Snakes which he had caught and would sell to pet shops in Nottingham.

Grass Snakes are still to be found along the canal (not so I think Water Voles) though whether even a skilled snake-catcher could now fill a sack in an evening seems very doubtful.

TUESDAY 30TH JUNE 2020

GRANTHAM CANAL + DCW

Our gentle meander along the towpath from Wilds Bridge to Kinoulton and back via the adjacent footpath turned out to be a lot sunnier than expected and that made the invertebrates a bonus.

A muck heap – home to nitrophiles.

But we started with the salubrious landscape of a muck-heap which produced the predictable Oraches and Goosefoots with some very showy Red Goosefoot and this Fig-leaved one…

Fig-leaved Goosefoot (Chenopodium ficifolium)

…and also the first real surprise of the day.

Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)

Thanks to my wife who is keen on weird plants, we have var. cardunculus in our garden which has spines on the leaves and phyllaries and is known as Cardoon.

Common Tern

This Common Tern must have been a long way from any breeding sites but there were some tern-sized Roach in the bits of canal that had a foot or so of water.

I’ve learned from Dave that botanists search every nook and cranny available, so if there is access (even if questionably safe) it is explored. Thus we found a new site for Woolly Thistle (Cirsium eriophorum).

Woolly Thistle and a female (green form) Azure Damselfly

I thought I knew my damsels and dragons well enough but the more I look at them the more problems they produce. Or is it profligate digital photos that creates the difficulties by capturing the variation among age, sex and forms?

Immature male Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans )

Even decent photos of caterpillars are giving me difficulties – at least this one did though I think I’ve cracked it. Ironically the most helpful resource turned out to be Porter’s Colour Identification Guide rather than the splendid looking new Bloomsbury guide (Henwood et. al). I’ve found larvae of Ruby Tiger in the past and readily identified them so I don’t know why this one gave me difficulties. Photos on the web don’t help to confirm the id but the book says that Ruby Tigers are partial to ragworts and this one is on what I think is Senecio erucifolius.

I saw a yellow composite and jumped to the conclusion that it was a Crepis but Dave told me to look at its hairs and here they are – clearly (or fairly so) forked.

Which makes it Hairy Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus).

There is an absolutely gorgeous meadow on the north side of the canal with loads of Pepper Saxifrage (Silaum silaus) and probably other nice plants but it seemed a shame to trample it in searching for them (especially as it was overlooked!)

This out of focus shot would normally have been binned but as it is a migrant hoverfly I’ve used it anyway.

Scaeva pyrastri

Like Painted Lady butterflies, it arrives most years but in varying numbers.

Elecampane (Inula helenium)

Elecampane is a garden relict at the derelict and dangerous-looking remains of Vimy Ridge Farm but it is spreading downwind almost to the canal and even into the edge of arable fields. It is a big, showy plant when in flower and an archaeophyte (originating in west and central Asia) so it features on the Notts. Rare Plant Register.

Flowering Rush

I thought Butomus umbellatus was quite scarce but it turns that this was because I only recognised it when it was in flower. I think I will now recognise the distinctive jizz of the foliage for there were actually loads of plants in the muddy bottom of the leaking canal.

The only dragons with a blue abdomen likely around here are this one, the Broad-bodied Chaser and the Black-tailed Skimmer. I wish I’d remembered that when I saw this one.

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)

MONDAY 22ND JUNE 2020

BINGHAM LINEAR PARK + DCW

David Bellamy opened this country park, a length of disused railway south of Bingham and notable for its flora, Grizzled Skippers and Marbled Whites. Formerly it was highly notable for the Four-spotted moth but alas, it hasn’t been seen here for years. It would also be notable if Dark Bush-cricket could be found again, as it was reported from here in 2003 by a reliable observer and unlike the Four-spotted (which is what attracted Paul Waring to the site) the bush-cricket could be overlooked.

The notable flora includes quite a few introductions (like the Marbled White?) as we shall see.

The first thing to catch my eye was neither insect nor plant but these:

Polyporus durus?

They were rather too big to bring home so I relied on a photo being adequate for an identification, though I struggled despite the black-based stipe, which I expected would be a help. In the end I decided it is a polypore and although there is one called the Blackfoot Polypore, these were bigger than the 2-7cm cap dimension given by Buczacki so I’m erring to Polyporus durus – the Bay Polypore. But don’t hold me to it. Most of the photos on the web look nothing like this but I did find one or two with a strong resemblance.

This seems not to be a fungus…

Woolly Aphid “fluff”

…but rather the fluff secreted by Woolly Aphids.

Yellow-juiced Poppy (Papaver lecocqii)

Yellow-juiced Poppy was first found here some years ago and it seemed an unlikely identification but it is now becoming apparent that Papaver lecoqii is quite frequent hereabouts and in arable fields as well as the linear park. It appears identical to Long-headed Poppy until a flowering stem is beheaded and the yellow juice becomes evident though with a lot of looking, a certain jizz is said to be discernible.

Trisetum flavescens

Yellow Oat-grass is quite frequent as is Upright Brome (Bromopsis erecta) though the latter is less photogenic.

Purple Crane’s-bill

Here’s one of the introductions – Geranium x magnificum. There are many of these and also an attractive mullein, Verbascum nigrum (Dark Mullein) as well as various mints and other herbs, one of which looks like Rosemary but turned out to be Winter Savory (Satureja montanum) and this aromatic shrub which proved to be Sage (Salvia officinalis).

Sage

This Mullein moth larva was on Great Mullein Verbascum thapsus. It apparently devours the introduced mulleins as well as well as figworts and buddlejas.

Mullein

This Lesser Marsh Grasshopper is fully developed and it is still only June.

Chorthippus albomarginatus
Dave and Lactuca virosa

Dave is 5′-9″, so we estimate these Great Lettuce were over 7 feet tall.

It was a good day for butterflies with 11 species including Marbled White and a rather common moth the Nettle-tap which is small and easily overlooked so I don’t see it much.

Birds included a few Buzzards, a Hobby, a calling Yellow Wagtail and a Little Egret that flew in to the River Smite for a spot of fishing. A rather random selection of plants not mentioned already are Smith’s Pepperwort (Lepidium heterophyllum), Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum), Burnet Saxifrage (Pimpinella saxifraga), Rye Brome (Bromus secalinus) and Meadow Brome (B. commutatus). My mentor suggested I took a sample of the latter two (which were in nearby fields rather than the nature reserve) for a spot of homework.

Sphaerophoria interrupta

There are 11 species of Sphaerophoria and ‘definite identification is only possible in males based on genital characteristics’ although, given the distribution and habitats of the others, I think it is a fair bet that this is the common, widespread one.

TUESDAY 17TH JUNE 2020

BEMPTON & FLAMBOROUGH + LYDIA

My first long-distance (>10 miles) trip for many months and the monotonous driving experience put me off doing another for many more.

The change of scenery was, however, very refreshing, though for the first hour or two there wasn’t much to be seen as the sea fog was slow to clear. Hence the quality of this early morning shot of a passing Fulmar.

Fulmar

At Bempton, the seabirds were wholly predictable with the exception of Shag which I didn’t see but I learned later that they aren’t many and they hide themselves away. (I did see some on my last trip here about twenty years ago.)

Here follows the clich├ęd set of photos that everyone with a camera comes home with:

Guillemots and Razorbills
Kittiwake
Puffin
Gannet
Fly-by Gannet

And one that probably doesn’t make it onto most photographers’ slideshow. I didn’t take a flora with me but I learned years ago that if you see a plant at the seaside and it looks slightly different to a familiar one, stick the word ‘sea’ in front of it and that’s probably what it is – hence this is Sea Mayweed.

Sea Mayweed (Tripleurospermum maritimum)

And this one, at Flamborough Head, is Sea Plantain. It was growing cheek by jowl with Buck’s-horn Plantain but doesn’t have the toothed leaves.

Sea Plantain

I don’t see many Rock Pipits, and especially not in summer and although they look pretty different I had forgotten, if indeed, I ever knew, that they have a song and parachuting display flight that is a lot like Meadow Pipit. This discombobulated me for a while.

Rock Pipit

I know Portland Bill much better than I know Flamborough Head and the latter is much more interesting and varied – and dangerous! The day’s deficiency in Shags was rectified here with one flying by just offshore.

Northern? Marsh Orchid

I cheated with this one as an information panel said that Marsh Orchids grow there and BSBI maps shows that Northern Marsh occurs in three tetrads around Flamborough (though there is a square for Southern nearby). The colour of the flowers, though, has not rendered as the “deep velvety magenta with a deep crimson tone when fresh” described by Harrap but Dave will sort it!

And Dave has! Northern Marsh Orchid.

TUESDAY 9TH JUNE 2020

COLSTON BASSET + DCW

A slow circuit of the agricultural lands between Colston Basset and Kinoulton taking in bits of the River Smite which is in a very sorry state having been greatly over-deepened and in receipt of a concoction of agricultural chemicals.

Botany on walls has the advantage of not involving bending, kneeling or crouching and a good close up can be had in comfort. This one had Sagina apetala and Sedum acre amongst others.

Biting Stonecrop (Sedum acre)

There was quite a bit of Marsh Foxtail and Meadow Barley (Hordeum secalinum) on the way down to the river along with quite a range of agricultural weeds

Alopecurus geniculatus (Marsh Foxtail)

There is lots of evidence of the depths of the winter flooding in the form of dried vegetation matted on to the hedges way above the channel and the crops are way behind where they would normally be in early June.

The response to this has been to deepen and clear the ditches and even spray out the vegetation beginning to make a home on the bare ditch sides, but this all seems quite pointless and self defeating; it will simply serve to worsen flooding downstream and if the river (more of a brook really) is full, then the ditches won’t drain into it.

This colourful crane-fly was very numerous as was the second generation of pristine Small Tortoiseshells which in places were in congregations of half a dozen or so. Other butterflies were Green-veined White, Large Skipper, Common Blue, Speckled Wood…

Tipula vernalis

… and Peacock if caterpillars can be included, though it looks like there should be plenty of adults in due course.

Peacock butterfly larvae

This rather striking bug attracted my attention. It didn’t stop long so I was pleased to have grabbed a usable photo which is enough to identify it as Corizus hyoscyami, yet another insect seemingly taking advantage of climate change as it was formerly restricted to the coast of southern Britain.

We also found a Roesel’s Bush-cricket nymph. Until this century, this species was restricted to salt marsh in the Thames and a few coastal locations to as far north as the Humber but it is now in rough grassland throughout south Notts.

Corizus hyoscyami

A single Chimney Sweeper moth was on a road verge in Kinoulton, a Yellow Shell was disturbed, a Drinker caterpillar was lurking in a hedge bottom and this Silver-ground Carpet put in an appearance.

Silver-ground Carpet

Flax (Linum usitatissimum) is very popular in Kinoulton and makes a change from other mono-cultures. According to Wikipedia it is grown for its seeds which are crushed to make meal (for animal feed?) and for linseed oil (for nutritional supplements and ‘wood finishing products’. I seem to remember rubbing it in to cricket bats and garden tool handles.

Flax

A final look around Colston Basset churchyard revealed that is a hot-spot for Hairy Hawkbit and Hoary Plantain.

Hairy Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus)

Hoary Plantain (Plantago media)

WEDNESDAY 27TH MAY 2020

COTGRAVE COUNTRY PARK + DCW

This very sunny and very dry spring continues with hardly a break and we met up for another session at this country park, discovering bits that we didn’t know existed – especially true in my case.

It was a remarkable day for lepidoptera with 10 species of butterfly that included a very early Meadow Brown, a Brown Argus and several Dingy Skippers and Green Hairstreaks at various sites around the park.

Brown Argus

There were also many Burnet Companions, a Treble Bar this Crambus lathoniellus, one of those little ‘grass moths’ that fly a short distance when disturbed and attempt to hide themselves away.

Crambus lathoniellus

This is a new one for me; a pyralid that was behaving much like the crambid above and that is expanding its range.

Homoeosoma sinuella

The bright sunshine brought the fish in the canal to the warmer layers and they included this motionless ‘jack’ pike, about a foot long….

Pike

…which was possibly expecting one of these little Roach to swim within range.

Roach

We found a long forgotten reptile mat which is past its purpose but these ants find it to their liking but went into a bit of a panic when we exposed them to the sunshine and began carrying their cherished pupae somewhere safer. We did of course cover them up again. I learned that ant pupae are often bigger than the ants themselves and much larger than the eggs. I don’t know the species.

Ant pupae
Great Pond Snail (Lymnaea stagnalis)

This Great Pond Snail was in a large pond known as Leaky Hollow.

TUESDAY 19TH MAY 2020

COTGRAVE COUNTRY PARK + DCW

Much warmer than expected especially early on, but the sunshine brought out the insects and I think this is my first Nottinghamshire Dingy Skipper. I’ve looked for them here in the past without success but recent sightings raised my optimism and I found this one within minutes of arriving at 09:30.

Dingy Skipper

Soon after I found Dave (we are following the rules and arriving under social distancing) we went into full entomological mode and got Burnet Companion….

Burnet Companion

Green Hairstreak….

Green Hairstreak

and Four-spotted Chaser:

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)

within the space of a few minutes and a Small Heath and a Holly Blue also put in appearances.

Things calmed down later as we further explored this rather interesting and extensive country park. The plantations are developing and the grasslands have a nice variety of wild flowers, although their origins are dubious.

I expect that this one, doing very well in the Grantham Canal that runs through the site arrived on its own.

Potamogeton crispus
Three-spined Stickleback

People seem to introduce fish into places where they would better not be (if wildlife is a consideration) but Sticklebacks are not on their list of desirables, so this one is certainly a natural resident.

Helophilus pendulus

This rather distinctive hoverfly with its striped thorax has few confusion species but the black line separating the abdominal segments makes it a male H. pendulus.

There were lots of damselflies both teneral and adult but of the three commonest confusion species, today’s seemed all to be Common Blue Damsels.

Following yesterday’s heron experience, today we watched a young mother take an interest in another Grey Heron and take what must have turned out to be a poor photo with her mobile phone, of a bird that had flown 25 metres to avoid her attention. She then called to her disinterested children, with a convincing demonstration from her animated, outstretched arms ‘it flew…. with its wings’: Clear evidence that lockdown is bringing nature back into our lives.

We chatted later, and her accent suggested east London origins so her delight in discovering what wings do and her confusion between pelicans and herons is perhaps forgivable. Or am I being unfair?

MONDAY 18TH MAY 2020

KEYWORTH

Another new species of moth for the garden brings the total to ….457!

Ochreous Pug

GRANTHAM CANAL, TOLLERTON

A wander around Blott’s Pit at Holme Pierrepont on a glorious morning didn’t produce much though a Cuckoo doing lots of cuckooing was cheering and there were some beautiful damsels about.

Enallagma cyathigerum

So I headed home but spontaneously decided to stop for a wander along the canal and I came across a very confiding Heron which merely flew to the other bank when I got too close. There it stood, motionless for five to ten minutes.

Ready, Steady

And so did I. Until I was joined by a pleasant passing jogger who joined me in the patient wait until…

Go

And the prize…

A big tasty Tench.

It was shot with 4k for stills but the mp4 works ok too:

And off it went to swallow it.

Like me with a spag bol.

THURSDAY 7TH MAY 2020

HOLME PIERREPONT

The circumnavigation of Blotts having produced only 1 Dunlin and 1 Common Sandpiper by way of migrant birds and this first of the year Small Copper, I set off in search of Green Hairstreaks.

Small Copper

I’ve only ever found them near the car-park but Alan Clewes kindly drew my attention to a couple in what he knows as a favourite bramble patch a hundred metres away.

Green Hairstreak

A subsequent search found no more but there was compensation with two more firsts of the year; this immature male Common Blue damselfly…

Common Blue Damselfly

….and a Small Yellow Underwing (moth).

Small Yellow Underwing

A few years ago, I found Changing Forget-me-not at Holme Pierrepont and its still there in good numbers and just coming in to flower.

Changing Forget-me-not

Aeroplanes are pretty scarce at the moment so I snapped this one but a Hobby got in the way and spoilt it!

Aeroplane

There were four or five Hobbys cruising around picking off airborne insects and they were joined by a few less accomplished Black-headed Gulls.

WEDNESDAY 6TH MAY 2020

BUNNY MOOR + DCW

A downturn in the weather now past, this was a long, ‘lockdown’ trek into the moors (or the nearest thing we have to moors) in the hope of some new locations for Grizzled Skipper.

male Swallow

After a Swallow and my first Cinnabar of the year, I bumped into Dave who coincidentally had the same idea so we tagged along for a while, exploring the currently inactive Great Central Railway together (at a safe distance) and especially an area cleared of invasive bramble and thorn but we found no evidence that the colonising food plant has attracted the desired butterfly.

Here we met the enthusiastic Paula Barnes of Gotham and had a long natter (from at least 10 metres apart) on the wonders of the moors’ wildlife – she saw a Hen Harrier here last winter.

This stuff causes my wife and me some angst.

Field Horsetail

Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is a nuisance weed in our garden but it has its place in the wild. These are the fertile, spore-producing shoots which come up early in the season.

I could hardly disguise Dave’s presence and at the same time profess to knowing this was Hieracium section hieracium (at least not without a rucksack weighed down with books and several hours at one spot.

Hieracium section hieracium

And this one is Crepis biennis – a simple jizz glance for him

Crepis biennis

I did spot what I am fairly certain was a Grizzled Skipper at Rushcliffe Halt though flight identifications of such a small and flighty insect are a bit ropy and this one didn’t settle in view, but my first Small Heath of the year obliged at its sun-lounger.

Small Heath