Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Two Tiny Gems

Slender Parsley-piert, Aphanes australis.  Joyden's Wood, 27 April 2015
Slender Parsley-piert, Aphanes australis.  Joyden's Wood, 27 April 2015
Joyden's Wood is a very pleasant and varied environment.  You can walk through the woods, past an area of heath, or examine the very short grass in what is known as the Picnic Area.  There, you can find several tiny plants, two of which I have not seen anywhere else.  This is not because they are rare, but because you have to look hard to spot them!  The mosses in this photo will give you an idea of the scale. 

This green plant, Slender Parsley-piert, has flowers which are also green, helping its disguise.  In the top photo, it is in full bloom.  But it is widespread here, which helps it to be seen.

Slender Parsley-piert, Aphanes australis.  Joyden's Wood, 27 April 2015
Slender Parsley-piert, Aphanes australis.  Joyden's Wood, 27 April 2015
Here's an enlarged picture with flowers at the centre.  The lobes surrounding the flowers are oblong, distinguishing this from Alphanes arvensis, Parsley-piert without the slender, which has triangular lobes. 

This plant is widespread in the Picnic Area, but there is another which seems to be a lot less prolific.

Bird's-foot, Ornithopus perpusillus.  Joyden's Wood, 12 May 2015.
Bird's-foot, Ornithopus perpusillus.  Joyden's Wood, 12 May 2015.
You might think this Bird's-foot, having a coloured flower, would be easier to spot, but the whole rosette is only 3 cm across and the flowers are about 2mm each, so in fact you have to get down on your knees to be sure they are there at all.

Bird's-foot, Ornithopus perpusillus.  Joyden's Wood, 12 May 2015.
Bird's-foot, Ornithopus perpusillus.  Joyden's Wood, 12 May 2015.
The plant is named after the appearance of the seed pods, which will be along later.  It is a lot less common than the Slender Parsley-piert, but still has 44 known sites in Kent, for those prepared to get down and look. 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

More Late Spring Flowers

Common Bird's-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus.  Hayes Churchyard.  4 May 2015.
Common Bird's-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus.  Hayes Churchyard.  4 May 2015.
 Some more of what's flowering all around.  This Bird's-foot Trefoil even grows in lawns, as long as the owner doesn't use a selective weedkiller.  It's the seed pods that resemble a bird's foot; not visible yet.

Three-cornered Leek, Allium triquetrum.  Roundabout Wood, 8 May 2015.
Three-cornered Leek, Allium triquetrum.  Roundabout Wood, 8 May 2015.
This Three-cornered Leek (or sometimes Garlic) has a strong oniony smell and is quite edible.  It turns up in many local woods and although it is decorative, it's an invasive pest, so why not eat it to death?  Well, local woods are usually well used by dog walkers, so some caution and a thorough washing would be advisable.

Danish Scurvygrass, Cochlearia danica.  Verge of Heathfield Road, Keston.    4 May 2015.
Danish Scurvygrass, Cochlearia danica.  Verge of Heathfield Road, Keston.    4 May 2015.
Many roads are lined by this small white flower, Danish Scurvygrass.  It spreads along the very edges of the grass verges because it is tolerant of salt and its seeds are spread by traffic, which taken together are making it very successful.  Without the roads it would just live at the coast.  It contains vitamin C and (it is said) used to be eaten by sailors to prevent scurvy.

Sheep's Sorrel, Rumex acetosella.  Keston Common, car park and grass nearby.  4 May 2015.
Sheep's Sorrel, Rumex acetosella.  Keston Common, car park and grass nearby.  4 May 2015.
This humble plant gives a reddish tint to areas of acidic grassland.  Those lovely leaves are described as "hastate."  That ought to mean "like a spear" but in botany, it means having the shape of a halberd.  But if you look up halberds, you will be hard pushed to find one of this shape.  So, that name for the shape is not entirely helpful.

Common Vetch, Vicia sativa.  Keston Common, grass near car park.  4 May 2015.
Common Vetch, Vicia sativa.  Keston Common, grass near car park.  4 May 2015.
This is one of several vetch species in this area, and so far this year, the only one I have seen in flower. 

The last one today, Wood Speedwell, is similar to the Germander Speedwell shown in the previous post.  The differences are, this one has evenly hairy stems, leaves with stalks, and flowers which are more mauve than blue.  But they are close enough in appearance that many people confuse them, especially when not in flower.

Wood Speedwell, Veronica montata.  Roundabout Wood, 8 May 2015.
Wood Speedwell, Veronica montata.  Roundabout Wood, 8 May 2015.
Despite the Latin name montana, it does grow in the woods.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Late Spring Flowers

Meadow Saxifrage, Saxifraga granulata.  Hayes churchyard.  4 May 2015.
Meadow Saxifrage, Saxifraga granulata.  Hayes churchyard.  4 May 2015.
Many Spring flowers are all around, and the full Summer bloom is not far away.   Here are some I found at the start of May.  The first, Meadow Saxifrage, is scarce in Kent but can be found in (at least) two places near me.  This group is in the churchyard in Hayes, where it is widespread and well established.

Cuckooflower, Cardamine pratensis.  Hayes Churchyard.  4 May 2015.
Cuckooflower, Cardamine pratensis.  Hayes Churchyard.  4 May 2015.
It competes in size and location with the Cuckooflower, also called Milkmaids or Lady's Smock (Why, I wonder?).  In Latin it's the Meadow Cardamine.  The colour of the flower varies from white to this slightly bluish pink.

But one of the biggest hits of this season is the glorious Bulbous Buttercup.

Bulbous Buttercup, Ranunculus bulbosus.  Keston Common.  4 May 2015
Bulbous Buttercup, Ranunculus bulbosus.  Keston Common.  4 May 2015.
This is the earliest buttercup to flower en masse.  The woodland Goldilocks Buttercup is earlier, but that is scarce and fleeting.  This one can fill fields with its bright golden glow.  It can be told apart from the Creeping Buttercup, also common, by its fully reflexed sepals, all turned back to touch the stem below them; and most of the Creeping Buttercups come out later.

Germander Speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys.  Hayes Churchyard.  4 May 2015.
Germander Speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys.  Hayes Churchyard.  4 May 2015.
Also coming out now, following on from the Common Field Speedwell (which is a foreigner from Persia) is this small bright blue flower, Germander Speedwell, sometimes called Bird's-eye Speedwell.  There are half a dozen common Speedwells and several scarcer ones which are not all that difficult to find, and actually people sometimes mistake this Germander for the Persian species, so you can tell this one by: 1. Flowers in racemes - many of them developing in turn from one flower-stem. 2.  Leaves with no stalks, or hardly any. 3. Twin lines of hair on the stems, on opposite sides, their positions alternating between leaf nodes. 

White-flowered Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum var. bernettii.  Keston, 4 May 2015.
White-flowered Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum var. bernettii.  Keston, 4 May 2015.
Last for today: an unusual variety of a very common little Geranium, Herb Robert, that normally has reddish-purple flowers.  There are two white-flowered varieties.  The other one, var. alba, is sometimes sold commercially as Celtic White; it has no red pigment at all in the leaves or stems.  This one, var. bernettii, does, as you can see. I saw this in the same spot four years ago, so it seems to be persistent, not just an occasional sport.

Monday, 4 May 2015

A Couple of First Sightings

Flame Shoulder, Ochropleura plecta. Hayes, 29 April 2015
Flame Shoulder, Ochropleura plecta. Hayes, 29 April 2015
I'm not seeing many moths yet in my garden trap, but here are a couple of common favourites turning up again for the first time this year.  These are both fresh and pretty specimens and more of them will keep coming for several months. 

The Flame Shoulder is easy to recognise with its distinctive striped wings.  The caterpillar eats a range of plants and has no trouble finding food.  The caterpillar of the Pale Mottled Willow eats seeds of many sorts and can establish itself where humans store grain, for example.

Pale Mottled Willow, Paradrina clavipalpis. . Hayes, 25 April 2015
Pale Mottled Willow, Paradrina clavipalpis. . Hayes, 25 April 2015
This one is on my measuring paper, with 5mm squares. This is a lot easier than trying to get a moth to pose next to a ruler.  Beginners sometimes have trouble recognising it, but those white flecks around the kidney-mark are very distinctive; there may be one or several and they might be in different positions, but if you see them you will know.  There is a row of dark triangles along the leading edge of the wing to confirm the ID.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Early High Elms

Conservation Field, High Elms, with cowslips, 21 April 2015.
Conservation Field, High Elms, with cowslips, 21 April 2015.
High Elms Country Park looks bare at this time of year because so much has been mown or grazed.  This has mixed results, but it does allow a lot of early flowers to flourish where they might otherwise become overgrown.  This is what they call the Conservation Field, taken with my iPhone, full of cowslips.  This composition isn't great, being pretty much bare in the middle ground, but I wanted to get a cowslip in focus.

Cuckoo Wood with bluebells.  High Elms, 21 April 2015.
Cuckoo Wood with bluebells.  High Elms, 21 April 2015.
Here's a similar shot of a beautiful bluebell wood, also part of High Elms.  The iPhone is limited as a camera, but very good for taking photos that you can then email to someone straight away.  But I also had my proper camera with me.

Common Dog-violet, Viola riviniana.  Burnt Gorse, High Elms, 21 April 2015.
Common Dog-violet, Viola riviniana.  Burnt Gorse, High Elms, 21 April 2015.
Violets are flourishing just now; in fact some of them are already over or hard to find.  The chalk meadow at Burnt Gorse has Hairy Violets, a chalk-loving species, but when I went on 21st April I could only see hundreds of these Common Dog-violets.  Their distinguishing features are: a light coloured, notched spur behind the petals; pointed sepals; leaf-stalks not noticeably hairy; and large sepal appendages, one of which you can just see here sticking up where the flower stalk joins the flower.  There are four common wild violets, some of which can be hard to tell apart unless you check all these details.

Bee-fly, Bombylius major.  Burnt Gorse, High Elms, 21 April 2015.
Bee-fly, Bombylius major.  Burnt Gorse, High Elms, 21 April 2015.
This Bee-fly was just interested in whether it had nectar.  It is a fly that looks and acts like a bee, though bees do not have that long sharp-looking snout.  They are a pleasant sight, buzzing about in Spring and hovering by flowers.  This shot shows that the fast-moving wings may be holding it up, but it is also positioning itself and perhaps being steadied by its legs; so it's not a fully committed hoverer like a hoverfly.

Some common flowers are about in the woods.

Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata.  High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2015.
Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata.  High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2015.
The young leaves of Garlic Mustard are usable as a salad plant.   It's also called Jack-by-the-Hedge, which accurately tells you where else you can find it.

Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum.  High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2015.
Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum.  High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2015.
Herb Robert grows all over this area, mostly in woods and hedgerows.  At the back left is a rosette of Wood Avens leaves. They are also very common and will flower later.  In fact, there is some in the previous photo too.

Toothwort, Lathraea squamaria.  High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2015.
Toothwort, Lathraea squamaria.  High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2015.
Toothwort only grows near trees, usually Hazels, because it is a complete parasite.  It has no chlorophyll of its own.  It is a very early flowerer and its season is almost over.  This specimen only has a few open flowers left, and most of those I saw were completely finished.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

West Wickham April Moths

Lunar Marbled Brown.  In the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
Lunar Marbled Brown.  In the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
Last time we were able to put out the trap in April on West Wickham Common we only caught two moths, both Oak Beauties.  They are nice enough, but that was a meagre catch.  This year we had a second chance and it was a warm night .. there were nearly 100 moths, and ore than 40 of them were this species, the rather pretty Lunar Marbled Brown.  Here it is on measuring paper.

Lunar Marbled Brown.  In the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
Lunar Marbled Brown.  In the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
The lines are at 5mm intervals.  It is of the family Notodontidae, which typically have those beautiful antennae and furry forelegs. 

We picked up one scarce specimen:

Dotted Chestnut, Conistra rubiginea.  In the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
Dotted Chestnut, Conistra rubiginea.  In the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
Not really rare, but nice to see.  It was quite lively and I was only just able to focus and shoot before it scuttled off the edge of the paper. 

This next one looks superficially like the Lunar Marbled Brown, but the antennae are tucked away and the legs are less furry.

Brindled Beauty, Lycia hirtaria.  In the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
Brindled Beauty, Lycia hirtaria.  In the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
The Brindled Beauty is from the large family Geometridae.  We also had one representative of the Nolidae, an Oak Nycteoline, an unremarkable-looking moth except from the front:

Oak Nycteoline, Nycteola revayana.   In the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
Oak Nycteoline, Nycteola revayana.   In the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
When it looks rather menacing.  And there were some micromoths.  This green one is of the family Tortricidae:

Acleris literana.  Near the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
Acleris literana.  Near the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
It is a little aged and worn.  It stood out on the paintwork, but among lichen it would have been invisible.  (Mothers would say "It is a Tortrix," and my rather convoluted phrasing is intended to give the full correct family name.)

And the last one, family Eriocraniidae (yes, two i's together) which can be seen flocking in oak woods in Spring.  The larva feeds as a leaf miner on oaks.

Dyseriocrania subpurpurella.  Near the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
Dyseriocrania subpurpurella.  Near the West Wickham Common light trap on 15 April 2015.
Those vivid purple dots only stand out like that in the camera's flash, but then they are a useful pointer to identification.  Lots of moths are about this size and shape.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Herald and Plumes

Herald, Scoliopteryx libatrix.   In my garden light trap on 15 April 2015
Herald, Scoliopteryx libatrix.   In my garden light trap on 15 April 2015
When I put out a trap on my small balcony, I catch a different range of moths than when it is sheltered down below.  Most are the same, but I get more micromoths and a few beauties.  This is such a moth.

The Herald overwinters as an adult, and comes to light in the spring, showing its dead-leaf shape and beautiful autumnal colours in quite the wrong season.  Hibernating butterfiles also have dead-leaf disguises, but none quite so lovely.  I photographed this on one of my collection of bark backgrounds.

I am also seeing some plume moths.

Common Plume, Emmelina monodactyla.   Near my garden light trap on 9 April 2015
Common Plume, Emmelina monodactyla.   Near my garden light trap on 9 April 2015
This Common Plume was on my garden seat, resting in its typical geometrical shape.  Plume moths roll up their wings like umbrellas when at rest, giving this T-shape.  (You might also notice that my garden seat has a thriving population of very tiny beetles, as small as a moth's foot, not identified.)  Here is a slightly more fancy plume moth:

Beautiful Plume, Amblyptilia acanthadactyla.   Near my garden light trap on 9 April 2015
Beautiful Plume, Amblyptilia acanthadactyla.   Near my garden light trap on 9 April 2015
The Beautiful Plume does not furl its wings quite so tightly, leaving gaps at the end between fore and hind wings.

This year I also saw a March Moth for the first time.

March Moth, Alsophila aescularia.   In my garden light trap on 24 March 2015
March Moth, Alsophila aescularia.   In my garden light trap on 24 March 2015
It's not rare, but there are so many species of moth that often it's pure chance whether one comes to my trap.