Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Hoya Serpens

Flower of Hoya serpens.
Flower of Hoya serpens.
Not a wild flower at all, at least not in the UK, but I think Hoya flowers are wonderful.  This one, Hoya serpens, is an unassuming trailing plant with small, rather fleshy round green leaves.

Flower cluster of Hoya serpens, in bud.
Flower cluster of Hoya serpens, in bud.
This cluster of buds is 3 cm across.  The individual flowers are less than a centimetre.

Flower cluster of Hoya serpens, in bud.
Flower cluster of Hoya serpens, in bud.
The buds don't give any clue about what is coming.

Flower cluster of Hoya serpens.
Flower cluster of Hoya serpens.
But it's this!  They have a very floral scent which is apparent in the early morning.  Some species are much more strongly and crudely scented.  I have a Hoya curtisii which has a similar habit of growth but prettier leaves, and when that flowered my first thought was that I must have spilled a whole container of washing-up liquid.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Some Spurges.

Flower of Caper Spurge, Euphorbia lathyris.
Flower of Caper Spurge, Euphorbia lathyris.
Spurges, plants in the Euphorbia family, have inconspicuous green flowers.  Even when Euphorbias look showy (as with Poinsettias), it's not the small flowers themselves that have the colour, but the bracts around them.

This is something of a technicality, as the same purpose is served whether it's petals or bracts that are coloured.  But this post aims to show that even when there are no colourful bracts, the flowers and their appurtenances are still lovely.  Of course you have to see them magnified to appreciate that!

Clockwise from top left: Caper Spurge, Sun Spurge, Wood Spurge and Petty Spurge.
Clockwise from top left: Caper Spurge, Sun Spurge, Wood Spurge and Petty Spurge.
Here are four local wild spurges, all common and easy to find, and at the top and below are their flowers.

Flowers of Sun Spurge, Euphorbia helioscopia.
Flowers of Sun Spurge, Euphorbia helioscopia.
They all have glands in shapes unique to the species.  Like the bracts, they are not strictly part of the flower.

Flowers of Wood Spurge, Euphorbia amygdaloides.
Flowers of Wood Spurge, Euphorbia amygdaloides.
They have a number of tiny male flowers surrounding one larger female one. The female flower is usually easy to spot. It has a stalk, a rounded ovary and a group of stigmas.

Flowers of Petty Spurge, Euphorbia peplus.
Flowers of Petty Spurge, Euphorbia peplus.
You can hardly see the actual flowers at all on a Petty Spurge, but those horned glands are distinctive.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Riddlesdown Quarry, Early Summer

Riddlesdown Quarry, 9 June 2016.
Riddlesdown Quarry, 9 June 2016.



Walking into Riddlesdown quarry in summer is a completely different experience from a winter visit. It is a few years since I had seen it in this season.  I was invited to join Andrew, one of the rangers, for a butterfly walk.  My aim was to photograph anything interesting, not just butterflies!  We did see some of the scarce Small Blues, the main reason for this walk, which I managed not to photograph.

Even before the walk I had taken a couple of shots on a nearby bank. This is Crested Dog's-tail, Cynosurus cristatus.  It's a common grass, but very showy.


Burnet Companion, Euclidia glyphica.  Riddlesdown quarry, 9 June 2016.
Burnet Companion, Euclidia glyphica.  Riddlesdown quarry, 9 June 2016. 
Inside the quarry we soon saw lots of these moths, Burnet Companions, common day-fliers in grassland.  I was pleased to get a close photo, which I had not managed before.  

I saw a couple of spiders ..

Crab spiders, Misumena vatia.  Riddlesdown quarry, 9 June 2016
Crab spiders, Misumena vatia.  Riddlesdown quarry, 9 June 2016
In the middle of this Oxeye Daisy is a crab spider, Misumena vatia.  Crab spiders are ambushers.  They wait in a flower until an insect comes along, then pounce.  This species can change its colour to yellow, but I have only ever seen white ones, whatever colour flower they are on.  Of course that might just mean that I have missed some well-camouflaged specimens!

The larger one is a female.  The small striped one is a male, which I found wandering around on a different flower.

Jumping spider, Heliophanus species, with prey. Riddlesdown quarry, 9 June 2016
Jumping spider, Heliophanus species, with prey. Riddlesdown quarry, 9 June 2016
Jumping spiders creep up on their prey and then jump at them.  They are fast.  This Heliophanus has what looks like a small fly.

Brimstone caterpillar, Gonepteryx rhamni, on Common Buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica.  Riddlesdown quarry, 9 June 2016
Brimstone caterpillar, Gonepteryx rhamni, on Common Buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica.  Riddlesdown quarry, 9 June 2016
Andrew pointed this out to us.  It's the caterpillar of a Brimstone butterfly, lying along the leaf of a small Buckthorn.  This and the related Alder Buckthorn are its only food plants.  The caterpillars were hard to see until we were right up close to them.  Soon afterwards, we watched a female Brimstone lay a single egg on a Buckthorn leaf.   That's it inset into this photo.

Weevil, Tychius schneideri.  Riddlesdown quarry, 9 June 2016.
As well as white Oxeye Daisies, the quarry was full of yellow flowers.  All up the slopes were masses of Kidney Vetch, the food plant of the Small Blue butterfly.  

We looked inside a few of the flower heads, searching for caterpillars, but didn't find any.  It was only a quick look, not a proper investigation.  But I did see this little weevil, Tychius schneideri, which is known to favour Kidney Vetch.

There were many yellow-flowered dandelion lookalikes, and the floor of the quarry had a healthy population of Rock Rose.


Common Rock-rose, Helianthemum nummularium.   Riddlesdown quarry, 9 June 2016.
Common Rock-rose, Helianthemum nummularium.   Riddlesdown quarry, 9 June 2016.
And, of course, there were many other things.  I have carefully avoided repeating things featured in the previous summertime post linked to at the top.  


Sunday, 5 June 2016

A Walk to Nash

Path to Nash.  Steps down from Westerham Road.  2 June 2016.
Path to Nash.  Steps down from Westerham Road.  2 June 2016.
This post is just a pile of iPhone shots from a walk that took me past the tiny village of Nash.  I had walked nearly all of this route in sections in the past, at different times as parts of different routes, and the section leading to Nash only once a few years ago.  There had been a lot of rain over the past two days which made the idea of going to look at woods and farmland sound really muddy, so I did this instead.

I took  a bus to the end of Keston Common and found a steep path  down from the main road.  I was immediately in a very moody tunnel of trees (shown above).

Path to Nash.  Down from Westerham Road.  2 June 2016.
Path to Nash.  Down from Westerham Road.  2 June 2016.
A side view opened up showing a field of buttercups.

Path to Nash.  Down from Westerham Road.  2 June 2016.
Path to Nash.  Down from Westerham Road.  2 June 2016.
But mostly I was walking between two very tall hedgerows.  It came out to a road at the bottom, and another path was available after a couple of hundred yards.  This ran between less tall hedgerows but it was still hemmed in, so it was good to be able to hop over a piece of missing barbed wire and get a wider view of the fields.

Path to Nash.  From Jackass Lane to Fortune Bank Farm.  2 June 2016.
Path to Nash.  From Jackass Lane to Fortune Bank Farm.  2 June 2016.
Mostly it was like this.

Path to Nash.  From Jackass Lane to Fortune Bank Farm.  2 June 2016.
Path to Nash.  From Jackass Lane to Fortune Bank Farm.  2 June 2016.
The recent rain had caused a lot of the flowering plants to lean over.

Path to Nash.  From Jackass Lane to Fortune Bank Farm.  2 June 2016.
Path to Nash.  From Jackass Lane to Fortune Bank Farm.  2 June 2016.
The path took a right angle and ran along a more open section.  There's a rather pretty small Hawthorn in flower, and you can see in the distance the pylons that distribute power across the London Borough of Bromley.

Path to Nash.  From Jackass Lane to Fortune Bank Farm.  2 June 2016.
Path to Nash.  From Jackass Lane to Fortune Bank Farm.  2 June 2016.
Then another right angle, and I was back to this. Someone must be taking regular care of this path, or it would soon be one solid impenetrable hedge.

Path to Nash.  From Jackass Lane to Fortune Bank Farm.  2 June 2016.
Path to Nash.  From Jackass Lane to Fortune Bank Farm.  2 June 2016.
A LOT of the Cow Parsley that looks so pretty on this route had been bowed down by the rain and had to be brushed through.

Path to Nash.  From Jackass Lane to Fortune Bank Farm.  2 June 2016.
Path to Nash.  From Jackass Lane to Fortune Bank Farm.  2 June 2016.
Resulting in wet legs and feet .. At this point I had emerged onto a farm track and saw signs of (modern) life; a delivery van went past me.

Fortune Bank Farm, Nash, 2 June 2016.
Fortune Bank Farm, Nash, 2 June 2016.
The path actually goes through the farmyard, which as you can see does business as riding stables.  This is as much of Nash as I saw, and there is actually not much more to see!  Then, another short road section.

Nash Lane, 2 June 2016.
Nash Lane, 2 June 2016.
The country roads are all narrow and have high hedges.  Soon I turned off onto another track which joined another path, one I had walked several times between Well Wood and Coney Hall.  Parts of it were strewn with petals, and though that was not specifically for me I still felt good.

Path from Well Wood to Coney Hall.  2 June 2016.
Path from Well Wood to Coney Hall.  2 June 2016.
 I turned towards Coney Hall. 

Path from Well Wood to Coney Hall.  2 June 2016.
Path from Well Wood to Coney Hall.  2 June 2016.
 Now houses were visible over the hedge.  This is Coney Hall.

View over fields to Coney Hall.  2 June 2016.
View over fields to Coney Hall.  2 June 2016.
Though I was still very much in the countryside.  Past this field I emerged into a road, and stuck to roads for a while to get a closer view of an interesting house I had caught a glimpse of - you can just see it two photos back.

House on Harvest Bank Road, Coney Hall, 2 June 2016.
House on Harvest Bank Road, Coney Hall, 2 June 2016.
 Very interesting, part brutal and part deco, not at all like the 1930s mock Tudor things to the sides.

Hayes Common, 2 June 2016.
Hayes Common, 2 June 2016.
Then back to the woods for the last familiar section through Hayes Common.

Well, I enjoyed that!



Thursday, 2 June 2016

Bluebells

Bluebells in Hangrove Wood, Downe Bank.  Hyacinthoides non-scripta.  Asparagaceae.  16 April 2016.
Bluebells in Hangrove Wood, Downe Bank.  Hyacinthoides non-scripta.  16 April 2016.
The bluebells have mostly died back by now.  There are some quite spectacular bluebell woods in this area.  This one can be seen to the sides of the track leading down to Downe Bank, one of Charles Darwin's haunts. 

These are the true English bluebells.  In Scotland, you call Bluebells what we English call Harebells.  They are just as pretty individually, if not more so, but they don't carpet the woods like these ones.

If you have bluebells in your garden, they are probably hybrids.  Here is the English bluebell.

English Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta.  Hayes Common, 27 April 2016.
English Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta.  Hayes Common, 27 April 2016.
English Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta.  Hayes Common, 27 April 2016.

Narrow leaves.  A long slender stem that is weak at the top, so that the flowers usually nearly all droop to one side.

The petals only curl open at the tip, because the anthers are attached to the insides of the petals for most of their length.

This is illustrated in the photo on the right.

There exists a much more robust bluebell, the Spanish Bluebell.  I only have one photo because they are not commonly seen.

Spanish Bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica.  Hutchinson's Bank, 20 April 2016.
Spanish Bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica.  Hutchinson's Bank, 20 April 2016.
And unfortunately this grassy trackside had been mown not long before I came along!  But you should be able to see wide leaves, stout flower stems and wide-open flowers that don't droop at all.

Spanish Bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica.  Hutchinson's Bank, 20 April 2016.
Spanish Bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica.  Hutchinson's Bank, 20 April 2016.
And blue anthers, unlike the English Bluebell's yellow anthers.  The flowers can open wide because the anthers are not attached, or only at the base of the petals.  And the flowers don't droop to one side because of those strong flower stems.

Garden bluebells are often mistaken for this robust flower, but in fact they are a hybrid between the two species and have completely intermediate characteristics.

Hybrid Bluebell, Hyacinthoides x massartiana.  Hayes, 25 April 2016.
Hybrid Bluebell, Hyacinthoides x massartiana.  Hayes, 25 April 2016.
The stems and leaves are strong, but not as solid as the Spanish species.  The flowers don't droop to one side, though they droop a little on their own individual stems.  They open a bit more widely than the English bluebell ..

Hybrid Bluebell, Hyacinthoides x massartiana.  Hayes, 25 April 2016.
Hybrid Bluebell, Hyacinthoides x massartiana.  Hayes, 25 April 2016.
Because the anthers are only attached for half the length of the petals.  This gives them more visual impact per plant, while still looking fairly delicate.  And this is a tough plant that likes to spread.  It survives handily even when not well cared for, and will spread into the woods given half a chance. 

It comes in white and pink varieties.  The native bluebells throw up occasional white flowers,  but if you see pink, you'll know it's the hybrid.


Sunday, 29 May 2016

Hutchinson's Bank

Wild Strawberry, Fragaria vesca.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
Wild Strawberry, Fragaria vesca.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
As you walk onto Hutchinson's Bank from a convenient parking spot, the sides of the path are lined with wild strawberries.  These should be fruitful later on.  The fruits are small, but tasty.  However, I am wary of eating fruits which are positioned where dogs can be walked.

Beefly, Bombylius major.   Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
Beefly, Bombylius major.   Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
In the chalk cutting, there is what looks like a discarded piece of concrete, though it might have some purpose; this is a well-cared-for spot and rubbish would have been removed.  This Beefly was basking on it.  It might look a bit like a bee, but closer up it can be seen to have a fly's antennae and only two wings.

Beeflies lay their eggs in the holes made by solitary bees, and their larvae eat the bee larvae when the eggs hatch.   That long proboscis is not a sting.  It is used by the fly to eat pollen while hovering above a flower.

Horseshoe Vetch, Hippocrepis comosa.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
Horseshoe Vetch, Hippocrepis comosa.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
Horseshoe Vetch and the rather similar Kidney Vetch grow here.  These are the larval food plants for Chalkhill Blue and Small Blue butterflies.  The butterflies are only found in association with these chalk-loving plants.

Sainfoin, Onobrychis viciifolia.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
Sainfoin, Onobrychis viciifolia.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
Along the top path is a stretch rich in Sainfoin, a plant in the pea family that looks similar to a Lupin. 

Woodruff, Galium odoratum.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
Woodruff, Galium odoratum.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
A triangle of woodland at one end of the bank has several ancient woodland indicator species, including lots of Woodruff, its white flowers making light patches in the shadier spots.

Wood Sanicle, Sanicula europaea. Chapel Bank, 24 May 2016.
Across the road is another special site, Chapel Bank.  The path leads through an area rich in Sanicle, another ancient woodland indicator species.

Grizzled Skipper, Pyrgus malvae.  Chapel Bank, 24 May 2016.
Grizzled Skipper, Pyrgus malvae.  Chapel Bank, 24 May 2016.
On a chalk slope on Chapel Bank I photographed this Grizzled Skipper, another butterfly with a limited distribution. 

An unusual feature of Chapel Bank is a swathe of Marsh Thistles on one of the slopes.  When mature they can overtop me, and en masse they can be quite imposing.  At the moment they are still quite immature.  There is a much smaller stand of these plants in Beacon Wood, and even they were impressive.

Bank of Marsh Thistles, Cirsium palustre.  Chapel Bank, 24 May 2016.
Bank of Marsh Thistles, Cirsium palustre.  Chapel Bank, 24 May 2016.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Glanville Fritillary

Glanville Fritillary, Melitaea cinxia.  Female.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
Glanville Fritillary, Melitaea cinxia.  Female.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
Glanville Fritillaries are rare in the UK, occurring naturally in the Channel Islands and the south coast of the Isle of Wight.  There is a small colony on the Hampshire coast, probably re-introduced there, and two other sites where it has been introduced.  One of these happens to be a couple of miles from my house.

They are pretty creatures.

Glanville Fritillary, Melitaea cinxia.  Male.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
Glanville Fritillary, Melitaea cinxia.  Male.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
I actually went there to look for Small Blues, but didn't see any.  What I did see was people in search of the Glanville Fritillary.  I knew it was there, but I did not know that this was its peak time.  There were at least half a dozen specimens flying and basking in a small chalk cutting, and I photographed three.

Glanville Fritillary, Melitaea cinxia.  Male.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
Glanville Fritillary, Melitaea cinxia.  Male.  Hutchinson's Bank, 24 May 2016.
I was told that they were introduced here in 2011.  Five years is the blink of an eye for a species, but so far they seem to be doing well.  This cutting catches the sun, and I have seen other scarce-ish species here; the Small Blues that I missed this year, and Chalkhill Blues.

It's a nice spot and I took some other photos too, some of which I will show in my next post.

Glanville hunters in a chalk cutting on Hutchinson's Bank.  24 May 2016.
Glanville hunters in a chalk cutting on Hutchinson's Bank.  24 May 2016.