TUESDAY 8TH SEPTEMBER 2020

RIVER TRENT, GIRTON TO HOLME. + DCW

The search for Oak-leaved Goosefoot continues. This time at low tide, based on the river below Cromwell Lock being 4-5 hours after the predictions for Hull. We started at Girton where the sailing lake, devoid of birds had two sizes of pond-skater and these are three of the bigger ones.

Gerris najas

The one I get on my pond and that I’ve seen elsewhere, I have always taken to be Gerris lacustris but it seems that G. odontogaster is a likely companion and G. argentatus is possible too. These though are 7 to 10mm long so the one in the photo must be the ‘widespread and abundant’ Gerris najas at 13-17mm.

On the walk northwards to the C. glaucum site we found a freshly deceased juvenile Blackbird with no external injuries and the conclusion of our post-mortem was an unexplained death.

Gall of Urophora cardui

This is the gall of the gall fly Urophora cardui on Creeping Thistle. The adult fly which emerges in June-July lays eggs between the immature leaves. The second-instar larva then burrows into the stem, inducing the plant to form gall tissue which is soft on the inside and woody on the outside with one to several chambers where the larvae then hide safely away, munching on the soft gall tissue. Safe that is until Eurytoma serratulae comes along. This is an ectoparasitoid chalcid wasp which induces U. cardui to form a puparium – in which it overwinters. But it doesn’t end there. Eurytoma robusta may come along and parasitise E. serratulae. As an endoparasitoid, it lays its eggs on the third-instar larva (of serratulae) or just randomly in the gall tissue with the larva consuming both the fly and the wasp – unless that is the puparium has formed in which case E. robusta doesn’t survive.

If neither of the chalcids get the fly, it has to hope that its mother chose to lay its eggs on a thistle that is growing in just the right place for the plant to wither into wet ground so that the gall is sufficiently dampened for that woody external tissue of the gall to become soft enough for the adult to tunnel its way out.

Mudwort

Mudwort Limosella aquatica is, as far as I know, much simpler. It likes shallow puddles. It is very scattered and decreasing and has tiny flowers but you have to lie down next to them with a lens to see them so I didn’t bother.

Bargeman’s Cabbage

Brassica rapa subspecies campestris can also be called Wild Turnip but it grows along the navigable stretches of the Trent and Bargeman’s Cabbage will be my preference.

Sedum sp.

Technically this should be Hylotelephium sp. as it has been re-christened by the latest Stace (formerly section Telephium).

It can’t be identified specifically without the open flowers, but the app, PlantNet thinks it is Orpine, Hylotelephium (Sedum) telephium which is the native plant though it is not native in this Trentside hedge-bottom. It had alternate leaves so if it’s not that it must be H. ‘Herbstfreude’, the hybrid between telephium and spectabile.

Sedum album and Sedum acre

These are still Sedums and the two commonest on dry, bare ground. Up close, White Stonecrop (on the left) and Biting Stonecrop are very different but from 5’9″ away, I find the difference not so obvious. Dave has zoom vision or a lot more practice.

Smooth Catsear

Smooth Catsear Hypochaeris glabra is another one that Dave shows me when we visit the sand lands north of Newark. It doesn’t much look like common Catsear to me but if needs be, the ray florets of the rare one are hardly longer than the longest bracts (which are purple-tipped). It only likes sunny mornings so goes to bed at other times.

Common Sallow

It became quite hot later in the day as we scoured the banks of the river in our quest for the elusive goosefoot near Holme. As well as Common Sallow moth, we found more Silver Y and a Blood-vein and butterflies included Small Copper with a couple of Common Terns, 8 Curlew, about 10 Little Egret, 1 Hobby and a Common Sandpiper.

Narrow-leaved Water-plantain

I got very mixed up on this one which I take to be Alisma plantago-aquatica but Dave seemed to be saying it was something else that I’d never heard of. I’ve now looked in the books for related species so now I must have heard of it but I still can’t see what it is!

I have been enlightened….This is actually Alisma lanceolatum Narrow-leaved Water-plantain and I must put it down to tiredness, laziness and confusion that I couldn’t see that for myself. I think reference to Rose et. al. may have been partly to blame but a re-read clarifies it. It is not that uncommon, but was quite unfamiliar to me. When I started out on birdwatching, I had already spent years of my childhood browsing bird books so anticipated many of those obscure and exotic species. Being aware of plants that are similar to the everyday ones is an important aid in picking out the scarcities.

The garden of the Muskham Ferry looked inviting but it would be a long swim as there is no sign of the ferry itself.

North Muskham
Holme

The telegraph pole means that I get nil points for composition in this picture and taking a chain saw to it would probably be easier for me than ridding it by photoshop. Maybe I should have used the picture of the very big Walnut tree near where I was stood?

What? This one?

Walnut in Holme village

TUESDAY 1ST SEPTEMBER 2020

TIDAL TRENT – DUNHAM TO COLLINGHAM + DCW

The objective of the day was to look at the plants on the shore line of the tidal reaches of the Trent but an untimely high spring tide had backed the river up and drowned out any hope of accessing the ‘beaches’. Despite the river flowing downhill by lunchtime, the levels remained too high even by the afternoon.

This was very disappointing for Dave who had hoped to check out the current status of Oak-leaved Goosefoot Chenopodium glaucum, a very rare plant away from some southern districts and one which he considers to be under-recorded.

Creeping Yellow-cress

I enjoyed the day however, visiting new sites on a day that was much warmer and sunnier than we were expecting and we started at Dunham. This is a very watery region with two large lakes between the silted course of the ‘Old Trent’ and a sweeping meander of the new one. Creeping Yellow-cress Rorippa sylvestris has slender fruits unlike the stumpy ones on Marsh Yellow-cress that we saw last week.

The lake margins had Marsh Cudweed Gnaphalium uliginosum, Grey Club-rush Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani, and Whorled Mint Mentha x verticillata.

As well as Round-fruited Rush Juncus compressus….

Round-fruited Rush

…and Toad Rush Juncus bufonius.

Toad Rush

Spiked Water-milfoil Myriophylum spicatum was in the lake itself and Sea Club-rush Bolboschoenus maritimus was in the old Trent.

Spiked Water-milfoil

The watery habitat, with a lot of willows too, explains the presence of this spectacular beetle; its size (at about 3cm long) does not come over in the photo but I knew I had never seen one of these before.

Musk Beetle

Musk Beetle Aromia moschata has a very scattered distribution in England and likes it wet; its larvae live in the healthy wood of willows. When it flew, it was even more spectacular.

Silver Y (on Musk Thistle)

Silver Y moths were abundant and we saw one Migrant Hawker before we moved on to North Clifton and South Clifton where we confirmed the continuing presence of an inland rarity.

Migrant Hawker

Calling briefly at the foot of the viaduct to confirm Annual Mercury Mercurialis annua

Annual Mercury

…which, if you like your plants alive, would be more delightful than the Slender Thistle Carduus tenuiflorus.

Slender Thistle

Though there were some rosettes of next year’s plants too.

We finished the day at Collingham where the Trent kept its shoreline plants secret but the final hour in the gravel workings was more interesting with 7 Little Egrets, one or two Curlews and a too distant godwit for a specific id.

WEDNESDAY 26TH AUGUST 2020

LANGFORD LOWFIELDS + DCW

Over the past few years when ‘square-bashing’ for the atlas was the priority, segueing into birds occurred later in the year than this. The objective of the day was the avifauna but there were lots of plants to see – and it’s just as well because birds were very unexciting, though it did begin well with several sightings of a Hobby or Hobbies.

We headed off to the Trent to begin with but the tide was in and the river had backed-up, covering the beaches that hold some interesting plants. However some were on show including Tasteless Water-pepper Persicaria mitis, Beggarticks Bidens frondosa, Marsh Yellow-cress Rorippa palustris and, I think Water-pepper Persicaria hydropiper.

Marsh Yellow-cress – Rorippa palustris
River Trent below Cromwell Weir

Anglers, we learned, come from far and wide (well Hertfordshire at least) to try for a big Barbel at what is the premier site for such a challenge, with a recent specimen approaching the national record (of 21lb 2oz).

Does anyone know what this is?

Dave brought it to my attention as looking ‘not right’ for a Herring Gull with a mantle that is too dark, but not dark enough for a LBB. I had a go at pinning it down but gull identification has moved on since I was keen and is now a subject in itself.

Trifid Bur-marigold

Trifid Bur-marigold Bidens tripartita is the native version of the American Beggarticks.

White Melilot

White Melilot Melilotus albus, is pretty easy as the others are yellow-flowered (but beware albinos, says Dave). I only saw the one plant.

The foregoing was before we entered the RSPB reserve which as I have already said, was rather short on interesting birds, though there were many more than the 10 Little Egrets that I managed to count (and we did see one or two Greenshanks and a Great Egret late on) but the flora was diverse thtoughout though without any really notables.

Greater Bird’s-foot Trefoil

On Greater Bird’s-foot Trefoil, the calyx teeth curve outwards (at least the lower ones) while in bud. These flowers are a little advanced but the character is still visible.

Greater Duckweed

Greater Duckweed Spirodela polyrhiza is said (by Dave) to be spreading. Here it is with Lemna minor and Lemna trisulca (though I can’t make the latter out in the photo).

There was reported to be a Caspian Gull in the area but don’t let that influence your gull id.

MONDAY 10TH AUGUST 2020

ANCASTER, LINCS +DCW

A return to Lincolnshire after just less than one week and we parked up outside Ancaster Church where a plaque draws attention to the Roman origins of this village at the crossing of Ermine Street (which I heard of when I was at school) and King Street (which I’d never previously heard of).

I had also heard of the Ancaster Gap, indeed it probably cropped up in some 1968 geography exam as being the place where the River Trent once flowed until a glacier blocked the passage and the mighty river had to find a new course to the sea – northwards to the Humber, which it subsequently found to its liking and has followed ever since.

The Ancaster Valley is another thing altogether. It is dry and its origins seem bathed in the mystery of ancient history, though melting glaciers may have played a part.

It is now an attractive nature reserve and SSSI that hosts a good selection of calcicolous plants; many that a botanist might predict and a few that a Nottinghamshire one might not be accustomed to.

Thus Dwarf Thistle, Common Centaury, Saw-wort and Agrimony were on the scene but Squinancywort (Asperula cynanchica) almost evaded us and Horseshoe Vetch (Hippocrepis comosa) (which evaded us last week) appeared readily once we had been enlightened.

Squinancywort
Horseshoe Vetch

Horseshoe Vetch is a favoured food-plant of both Adonis and Chalkhill Blue and Ancaster is the last known site in Lincolnshire for the latter species of butterfly. With the good management of the grasslands around Ancaster, might this species return?

Meadow Grasshopper

This one became quite a companion and continued to enjoy the valley from its elevated position during an interesting and prolonged discussion with an Ancaster resident and her Border Terrier (the latter contributed little to the conversation).

Some of that discussion related to bush-crickets, of which I have a working knowledge but it is rusty when it goes beyond coneheads and Roesel’s. So this one, I have only seen once or twice before and I’ve always understood it to be an inhabitant of shrubs and trees – they occur at Rushcliffe Country Park; this one was in the hot grassland.

Speckled Bush-cricket

Apparently quite common, its call is an intermittent beep, and hard to hear and hard to locate from a bat detector.

Ancaster is rightly proud of its Tall Thrift distinction (though BSBI online maps suggest there is at least one other plant just outside Aldershot).

MOOR CLOSES
For the last few hours we wandered the nearby Moor Closes nature reserve, which is a wetland site with Ragged Robin, Fen Bedstraw and a range of sedges as well as Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succissa pratensis).

Devil’s-bit Scabious

The final hour of so involved this incapacitated calf in a muddy drain. It had made a couple of attempts to get out but seemed tired and irretrievably stuck. My pulling on its neck and Dave lifting its haunches had no impact at all and following a message to the Lincs Trust we called 911 unsure as to whether we would be convicted for the abuse of public services but within moments Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue were on their way.

Emergency sirens were heard in due course and ultimately 13 personnel, two fire engines and a rescue boat were on the scene.

The calf seemed to know full well that all this commotion would see it freed from the mud and it contentedly chewed the cud like a wallowing water buffalo while beefy firefighters heaved and moved on to plan 2…… and 3…..

I was hoping to capture the moment that the grateful beast was released but tea-time tempted, and on the way back a Roe Deer played chicken on the A52, getting bowled over twice but seemingly getting to the other side with just a few bruises.

TUESDAY 4TH AUGUST 2020

RAUCEBY WARREN, LINCS + DCW

A drive of under one hour found us amid new scenery and a couple of fantastically rich Lincs WT nature reserves. Rich at least for the botany but the cloud stubbornly remained and a spitting drizzle accompanied an increasing breeze so the invertebrates mostly kept themselves hidden.

Ploughman’s Spikenard was the first notable plant, found near the western entrance.

Ploughman’s Spikenard (Inula conyzae)

Carex spicata was the most frequent sedge though Dave picked out C. muricata too.

Carex spicata on the left with Carex muricata

Sadly for the less sharp-eyed among us, the long bract on the spicata is not consistent and no help in identification. C. spicata has a ligule that is longer than wide.

Purple Milk-vetch (Astralagus danicus) is one of the specialities here being a local plant confined to old calcareous grassland, mainly in eastern Britain.

Purple Milk-vetch

The sun briefly promised a prolonged appearance and we managed 9 species in total including a couple of Essex Skippers, this one on a head of Yarrow.

The next one was a wonderful treat for me as I hadn’t seen it before (even though it can be found at Wilwell, a few miles from my home) and because I knew what it was without help – other than having it pointed out to me in the first place. In one area, Adder’s-tongue was truly numerous with hundreds of plants across the bed of the old quarry which over the winter is flooded; last winter, to a tremendous depth as evidenced by the snow-white mats of stranded algae.

Adder’s-tongue Fern

Here’s another scarce plant that I recognised though this time I have seen it before – as an arable weed in eastern Notts. This is Dwarf Spurge.

Euphorbia exigua

Two plants of dry calcareous soils, so not found in my neck of the woods are Basil Thyme and Knotted Pearlwort. Despite their habitat preferences their national distributions are quite different with Basil Thyme being southern with strongholds in the North and South Downs and along the Cretaceous chalk from Norfolk to the Cotswolds whilst the pearlwort is mainly northern, though both occur in the Peak District and so are well known to Dave.

Basil Thyme (Clinopodium acinos)
Knotted Pearlwort (Sagina nodosa)

The main objective of the day took some finding but Dave spotted it after about four hours of heads down. A lot of the plants mentioned today are small and low-growing but Smooth Rupturewort is diminutive in the extreme with flowers about 2mm across. Once spotted though, we readily found more at the eastern end of the reserve. Nationally rare, it is found at widely distributed locations throughout England with a minor stronghold in the Brecks.

Heriaria glabra – Smooth Rupturewort.

Determination of the identity was clouded in the field by the styles being indistinguishable with a x10 lens and the stems of the plant being quite hairy (not glabrous) but that is permitted.

Favourites of mine are the two fluellens. I think this is because I found one that was then the first scarce plant of my independent botanical efforts.

Sharp-leaved Fluellen (Kickxia elatine)

DUKE’S COVERT

For the final hour of out trip east of Grantham, we switched to another Lincs Trust reserve a short drive away that was surely the most floriferous place I’ve ever visited. I took many more pictures but I think three more is enough.

Duke’s Covert

Duke’s Covert is shown as scrub on the OS map and the Trust literature states that it had become overgrown and dominated by Bracken but good management has restored this site which has a lot of Perforate St. John’s-wort, Burnet-saxifrage and Common Knapweed along with Greater Knapweed, Field Scabious, Small Scabious, Harebell, Common Rock-rose, Dropwort, Dwarf Thistle and the very rare inland form of Thrift.

Dwarf Thistle (Cirsium acaule)
Armeria maritima ssp. elongata

This subspecies of ‘Sea-pink’ is classed as Critically Endangered and only found around here and at a site near Aldershot.

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.

Hieracium section Sabauda
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, Opilio canestrinii is a recent coloniser having first been found in the UK in 1999 but it is said now to be common and widespread and 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 Banded Demoiselle 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 size 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). [EDIT; It’s not because it has alternate (not opposite) leaves and is more likely to be the hybrid between telephium and spectabile known as Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’]

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 Pyrausta despicata, 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 Raven, plus Crosswort, Common Rockrose, Wild Thyme, Burnet Saxifrage, Wood Sage and Wild Marjoram … and this 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.