WEDNESDAY 29TH JULY

GOTHAM + DCW

We must be getting well known here (though we do keep ourselves to ourselves largely) as we spent another full day in the parish starting with a search for a national rarity last recorded here by Dave 30 years ago. In looking, we (or rather, Dave) found this Hieracium – one of the notorious hawkweeds. This one had lots of leaves along its stem (mostly more than 15) and so is Hieracium section Sabauda and since H. sabaudum is said (by Stace) to be the common one in central England, it’s probably that one.

Common Carpet

This Common Carpet put in an appearance and as it is so fresh, I thought it should grace this page.

Having failed to find to find the intended plant, we explored the Sandbanks nature reserve finding Sanicle, Hay Rattle, Great Burnet, Burnet Saxifrage and a Marbled White that flitted about too much for a decent photo.

Marbled White

Disappointingly we only found the remains of last season’s Carline Thistle with no 2020 plants on show and neither did we find Common Twayblade but that may be because we didn’t look hard enough.

Chalcid Wasp?

This looks a lot like Torymus auratus in Brock’s Insect guide but I’m not putting money on it as there are 75 British and Irish species in its family (Torymidae). If I’m right about the family it is a Chalcid wasp; these are closely related to gall wasps but they do not produce galls but are rather, parasitoids of those that do. (Torymus auratus actually goes for various oak galls and since this one is hanging out on a lime leaf then I’m probably wrong about the id).

Here is another identification to be regarded with caution;

Opilio canestrinii

My first attempt at identifying a harvestman, and from a photograph at that is, I dare say quite risky but it looks close to other photos. If correct this is a recent coloniser having first been found in the UK in 1999 but is said now to be common and widespread and to be likely to oust the two native Opilios.

After a fill of chalky grassland and scrub, we set off for an afternoon session on the moors, passing by the location for the rarity and lo and behold, there it was. Lesser Meadow-rue (Thalictrum minus) where I had come across it a couple of years ago without realising the significance – or its true identity. This is a garden throw-out here though it is a native plant elsewhere but it is not the commonest garden Meadow-rue which turns out to be Thalictrum aquilegiifolium (French Meadow-rue).

Banded Demoiselle

I don’t recall seeing these so far from water but this one was in the village, some distance from the brook where I assume it originated.

The moor loop produced quite a big Wych Elm, loads of Greater Burnet-saxifrage, a Buff Footman and a pair of Yellow Wagtails. There was also lots of water-starwort in the dykes identified in the field (by Dave) as Callitriche obtusangula (Blunt-fruited Water Starwort),

Buff Footman
Blunt-fruited Water-Starwort (with Three-spined Sticklebacks)

An update from Dave will be of interest to Callitriche-philes: Dave took home five rosettes and found that 3 were C. stagnalis and 2 were C. obtusangula (all identified on pollen shape and/or fruit shape).

FRIDAY 24TH JULY 2020

DEEP DALE, DERBYS. + FAM

A very pleasant excursion to the Peak District. Just a little over 1 hour and 10 minutes drive found us parked up a little north of Ashford in the Water by 10am for a stroll into Deep Dale and within minutes, the first unfamiliar plant of the day; a tall thing with burrs on.

Slowly the inner computer processed this and came up with Small Teasel, and a check in the picture book (don’t tell Dave) found a close match. Wife and daughter would have wept if they’d had to put up with me trawling through a flora and Chico would have died of frustration on entering a wonderful new location and been told to sit.

Polypody and Orpine

I’m pretty sure I’ve been here before, and quite recently, but I must have just passed through on a long walk. Botanically it is a pristine version of Gotham Hills with plants that we struggled to find there on Tuesday being abundant here, with a few more besides. The Orpine (Sedum telephium) reminded me of our garden ‘Ice Plant’ that, as a child used to attract so many late summer butterflies to our garden. I think that one is Sedum spectabile (Butterfly Stonecrop).

Fern-wise there is no comparison and Zoe decided we should have a limestone rockery in the garden, clothed as here, with Maidenhair Spleenwort.

Sunshine was in short supply for much of the morning but there was enough to entice a few lepidoptera into activity including a Dark Green Fritillary or two and maybe a couple of Wall Browns but the breeze drifted them strongly and the latter’s determination must stay at uncertain – its flight period suggest this would be a late date for a spring generation and an early date for a second generation and in this century, I’ve had very little experience of the species.

Pyrausta despicata

This poor photo is of a moth I’ve not knowingly seen before but I’m reasonably certain of the id. It is described as being found in suitably chalky and limestone habitats throughout the British Isles and it would be interesting to know if that includes Gotham. Weirdly its food-plants are the ubiquitous plantains, begging the question of why it only likes plantains on chalky soils – perhaps it prefers Plantago media, which was showing well?

After a sluggish inspection of the dale, we set off for a more brisk walk up the valley to the village of Sheldon but the botanical interest remained and included this showy specimen.

Large-flowered Hemp-nettle

Galeopsis speciosa is a new one for me but easily achieved given its obvious affiliation to the lamiaceae and its showy flowers. Nationally it probably ranks as the scarcest plant of the day though for me, it was just as new as Wall Lettuce (Mycelis muralis) which stuck me as like Nipplewort but worth a closer look. Its leaves are totally different.

Stuff not already mentioned: a year tick for Redstart, the now expected Ravens, plus Crosswort, Common Rockrose, Wild Thyme, Burnet Saxifrage, Wood Sage and Wild Marjoram … and what I think is Brittle Bladder Fern:

Cytstopteris fragilis?

TUESDAY 21ST JULY 2020

GOTHAM + DCW

I thought Gotham was the ‘village of the goats’ but there are lots of interpretation panels around this attractive village surrounded by glorious hills to the north and west and fen-like moors to the east. One of these panels explains that Gotham was at a junction of routes from Nottingham to Loughborough and a branch off to Kegworth and Derby so the name comes from Danish ‘gata’ or road from which our ‘gate’ is derived.

Shaded Broad-bar

The day started sunny and despite a forecast of cloudy later, it remained largely so and we got a good helping of insects along with the plants that were our principal objective. Shaded Broad-bar is often disturbed during the day and we saw three altogether . Other moths were Mother of Pearl, Six-spot Burnet and lots of ‘crambids’ which are generally too much trouble but Crysoteuchia culmella was among them.

Image of Brimstone nectaring at Teasel.
Brimstone and Teasel

Only one Brimstone was seen but the species was among 13 seen on the day – all of which were predictable and I suppose Essex Skipper would have to be the most notable and Common Blue only just made it, being outnumbered 3 to 1 by Brown Argus.

Dave’s 35 years or so of field botany means that he has a sound knowledge of underlying rocks which so influences the flora and I had a lesson in the geology of these hills. We had elevenses on Jurassic limestone, having just crossed an outcrop of something else where I had found a piece of gypsum. That’s all I can remember. Anyway plants like Wild Thyme like it here, though they would like it more if it wasn’t dominated by Tor Grass and we only managed one little patch of it whilst Stemless Thistle was nowhere to be seen; perhaps its time is up.

Wild Thyme

Other notables loosely associated with the calcareous soil were Common Restharrow, Common Centaury, Burnet Saxifrage, Meadow Oat-grass (Helichtotrichon pratense) and Salad Burnet.

Field Madder

Sherardia arvensis has really tiny flowers and was growing next to the thyme.

Roesel’s Bush-cricket

I can’t resist intimate admiration of one of our most spectacular local insects.

Looking north-east from Cheese Hill with Brian Clough Way and poppies in the mid distance and Eastcroft incinerator stack to the right.
Thirteen species of butterfly on the day included Large White.
Amblyteles armatorius.

Amblyteles armatorius is an ichneumon wasp and a parasitoid of the pupae of noctuid moths. The rotter.

Meadow Grasshopper

I have said before about how the variation in colouring of our common grasshoppers causes me much confusion and my ‘Photographic Guide’ to the orthoptera contains none with this colour combination. It is an adult female because it is ovipositing in the soil there and its short wings support the identification as Chorthippus parallelus because females are normally short-winged (though there is a long-winged form!). The bulge on the costa of the short wing is another sign. The parallelus tag refers to the sutures along the top of the pronontum and these are reasonably parallel in this one but not easy to see.

When Dave stooped for a closer look at this, I thought he was going to tell me the time.

Taraxacum sect. Erythrosperma

There are 248 micro species of Dandelion though no-one in Nottinghamshire at least, can identify them. A simpler solution is to follow Stace who lumps similar ones into 9 sections and those purplish-violet achenes steer this one into section Erythrosperma.

Back off the hills, Dave insisted I’ve seen this before somewhere but I don’t remember it.

Narrow-leaved Pepperwort

Given its situation in the channel of the road, I has assumed that it liked salt but it’s just a generalist of ‘waste places, waysides and tips’. There was some shrivelled Lesser Sea-spurrey, which does like salt (or at least tolerate it) nearby.

Greater Knapweed

This much showier plant, had also been relegated to my memory’s dusty shelves as I know I’ve seen it before in exactly this same place! There is a form of Common Knapweed that has those rayed outer florets but that’s no excuse since everything else about it is quite different.

TUESDAY 14th JULY 2020

GIBRALTAR POINT + DCW

Before we set off for Skeggy, I should mention my temporary friend, the Summer Chafer (Amphimallon solstitialis) who attended my moth trap yesterday. It was a lot like the Cockchafers I get in May but smaller and hairier and more inclined to lie on its back and wave its legs around despairingly giving the impression of being dumb (as Trump people would call it) though he (or she) flew off with aplomb when the opportunity arose,

I don’t think I’ve seen one before.

At Gib, however, I saw a lot of plants that I have seen before (and once, probably could name in a casual, unreliable sort of way) plus many others that were unfamiliar, either because they don’t grow on shingle or because they are too small and obscure for a non botanist to be drawn to.

Salicornia sp.

Lots of non-botanists know this one, but by the name Samphire, because it is used in cooking and tastes nice raw (in the absence of a bag of salted crisps) if washed with rainwater . There are as many species as you wish because of their ‘great phenotypic plasticity’ but Stace reckons 3 is enough. We settled on one.

Here’s one that I’d never heard of, but have probably sat on in my swimming trunks…

Prickly Saltwort

Salsola kali grows on the strand-line of sandy beaches and here’s another that I didn’t know existed:

Rock Sea-lavender

Sea-lavender is well known as an abundant salt-marsh plant and after several years of residence in Essex and Sussex, I readily recognised it as such, but Limonium binervosum, its smaller relative, with different venation on its leaves (I looked, and it really is, easy to see the difference for once) grows right at the upper limits of the tidal range, leaving its big cousin to tough it out on the salt-marsh proper.

Sea Milkwort

I had heard of Glaux maritima; I must have read about it, or been shown it on a field studies course in 1974 or 1975, though the lessons never hit home and even one day after seeing it, I’d be hard pushed to find its name from my confused old recesses. Gib. Point was like one of my earlier days out with Dave, when the names came so thick and fast that only bits stuck.

If you are in this position, rest assured; stick with it and it does sink in eventually – even if the names obstinately refuse to regurgitate themselves on demand.

However; this one sprang forth with ease. At least its English name did; Sea Holly is so distinctive, it is easy…

Eryngium maritinum

And I also knew that this was Sea Bindweed, despite never knowingly having seen it before.

Calystegia soldanella

And finally, among the multitude of photos taken on the day that I can put a name to, one that really stood out as special.

Frosted Orache

I went for Sea Holly as plant of the day, in the car vote on our way back but I’m now revising it to Atriplex laciniatus which I have decided was the most distinctive, by far, of the new plants on the day.

There were lots of elusive grasshoppers also but very few birds worth a mention but for a gang of about 300 Sandwich Terns loafing about in the distance, one of which, was a year tick for me.

If your are off to Gib in July, here is a list of plants that Dave pointed out and that you won’t have seen in Notts.

Sea Purslane, Sea Milkwort, Annual Seablite, Sea Beet, Glasswort, Prickly Saltwort, Greater Sea Spurrey, Sea Pearlwort, Sea Sandwort, Lesser Centaury?, Rock Sea-lavender, Common Sea-lavender, Sea Heath, Cord-grass, Sea Arrowgrass, Marsh Arrowgrass, Hard Grass, Long-bracted Sedge, Sea Rush, Frosted Orache, Sea Rocket, Sea Holly, Sea Bindweed, Common Saltmarsh-grass and Shrubby Seablite.

I probably missed some.

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)