Friday, 26 June 2015

Field Cow-wheat on Portsdown Hill

We had to go to Winchester earlier this week to help Martha move house (yet again!) and as usual I found time on the way to visit a good site for botanising. This time I chose Portsdown Hill near Portsmouth, where I could easily have spent all day. Fifty hectares of the south face of the hill are a site of special scientific interest owing to its chalk grassland habitat. I only visited a tiny fraction of it and saw lots of wildflowers and butterflies. I'll definitely be going back soon to have a proper look around. The target species of my flying visit was Field Cow-wheat - Melampyrum arvense, a very rare plant in the UK. It was introduced at this site many years ago and is now fully naturalised. I had read recently that it was dwindling in numbers so I was somewhat surprised to see three large groups of it covering quite an extensive area. It was in full flower and looking every bit as spectacular as I'd hoped. Also in the vicinity were a couple of groups of Straw Foxglove - Digitalis lutea naturalised on a roadside verge and a couple of clumps of the striking yellow form of Ivy Broomrape - Orobanche hederae.

One of the large groups of plants.

Some plants were very large like this three stemmed specimen.

Close up they really are stunning.
 I've been wanting to see these for years now and am so pleased I finally made the effort to find them.

Field Cow-wheat - Melampyrum arvense.

Straw Foxglove -  Digitalis lutea 

Ivy Broomrape - Orobanche hederae. 

Thursday, 25 June 2015

West Cliff Branscombe and Retail Park Bee Orchids

I've been along the clifftops to the east of Branscombe many many times but I've never been to the clifftops to the west before. Rather unsurprisingly this area is called West Cliff and it's a very steep climb up from Branscombe Mouth. I decided against this route and instead walked from Berry Barton to the west and followed the coast path to the east. I was hoping to find Henbane, which I'd heard has been seen in the vicinity and it would have been a new plant for me. Unfortunately I didn't find any but I did stumble upon another new plant for me the rather scarce Wild Clary. If I hadn't seen much of interest it would still have been worth the walk for the lovely view over Branscombe.

There were plenty of Common Spotted Orchids along the route.

And I had some good views of a flock of delightful Goldfinches feeding on the seeds of Slender Thistles.

 The clifftop above Branscombe was superb for wild flowers and there was an especially nice display of Viper's Bugloss - Echium vulgare ... 

 ... which is always very popular with bees.

This plant was growing in an unusual shape spreading instead of the usual tall spike.
I think it looks even  more attractive in this form.

Wild Clary - Salvia verbenaca

The previous morning I made the short trip to an Exeter retail park to see a very fine display of Bee Orchids. Some of the nicest specimens of this species I've ever seen, really tall and colourful. They were surprisingly difficult to spot in the long grass considering how brightly coloured they are. There were hundreds of plants, I counted one hundred in just one small area. If only more verges and embankments were left to go wild like this one. There were lots of other wildflowers but I' didn't have time to have a really good look. 

There are at least fifteen plants in this photo, not that easy to see as they blend into the grasses

 Huge plants and very brightly coloured to boot! 

Common Centaury - Centaurium erythraea   

Common Field Poppy - Papaver rhoeas

Friday, 19 June 2015

Dunscombe Cliffs and Lincombe

A new favourite walk for me is the one which goes along the clifftops to the west of Sidmouth and the east of Weston, an area called Dunscombe Cliffs. There is also a deep valley called Lincombe with a good area of marshy ground at the bottom. A large part of the area is National Trust but unlike Salcombe Hill it isn't packed with people the whole time. It isn't totally secluded though as it forms part of the Southwest Coast Path. That said, most people stick to the well trodden path. I've seen some nice butterflies and wildflowers there in the last couple of weeks, but the wildflowers are having to contend with the attentions of six Exmoor ponies, so there aren't as many as I'd have hoped for. The few that have survived are either right on the cliff edges or on very steep parts wher the ponies spend less time grazing.

Looking down into Lincombe. 
I went down to explore the marshy area at the bottom a couple of weeks ago.

The ponies were down there on this occasion and had eaten a lot of the vegetation but I was able to find a couple of nice flowers.

Southern Marsh Orchid - Dactylorhiza praetermissa

Ragged Robin - Silene flos-cuculi

A few days ago I went looking for wildflowers on the cliff top area and did quite well considering the ponies have grazed the turf really short in places.

Here they are again on the fascinating hummocky terrain of Dunscombe Cliff.
These humps and hollows are the remains of the lime working which went on here for centuries.

The only areas where I could find flowering plants were the steepest slopes like this one.

Common Cudweed - Filago vulgaris

 Common Rock Rose - Helianthemum nummularium

Salad Burnet - Sanguisorba minor
Male flowers.

Long-stalked Cranesbill - Geranium columbinum

View to the east showing Weston Cliff and beach.

And to the west showing Dunscombe cliffs The headland in the distance is Straight Point.
There were some nice flowers on these cliff edges including...

Lots of the local specialty Nottingham Catchfly - Silene nutans

Ivy Broomrape - Orobanche hederae

On Monday I went over to Exmouth sea front to look for a flower that I'd been told about four years ago! Better late than never. That flower was Bithynian Vetch and was one I've never seen before, I was surprised to find it so easily given my information was four years out of date. A real bonus was another new plant for me in the shape of Pale Flax. So a really worthwhile short trip!

 Bithynian Vetch - Vicia bithynica

Pale Flax - Linum bienne