Nature Notes from Argyll
(and occasionally other places)
Mon 11 Jun 2007 Downe Bank and High Elms (Day 2 of visit to Kent)
This is the area which inspired many of Charles Darwin's investigations into the natural world, and much of the chalk grassland and woodland has been preserved thanks to its association with his work.
We found five orchid species. Common Spotted Orchid and Common Twayblade were very numerous, and have featured here previously, but the three shown above are new. Pyramidal Orchid was just coming into flower and it was a while before we found one with a good number of flowers open. Fly Orchid has the flowers designed (whoops - evolved) to mimic insects, one of the petals supposedly resembling an insect's body and the other two reduced to "antennae". Darwin studied the pollination of both these species. The third orchid is the White Helleborine, whose flowers often do not open, and this was the case with the only specimen we found, in deep shade on the woodland floor.
Equally exciting was my first encounter with Toothwort, a plant which gets its nourishment from the roots of trees and so does not need green leaves of its own. The white-flowered shrub is Dogwood, which was common in hedgerows in the area.
A section of the radiating umbel of the Wood Spurge, a tall herb of shady places. Salad Burnet was plentiful in the meadows but only the odd one or two were displaying the bright red styles.
Two more specialists of chalky meadows, Common Gromwell and Common Rock-rose.
Common Milkwort was very numerous in the meadows and came in two colour forms, this delicate slaty blue and a bright pink. I was hoping it would be Chalk Milkwort but on examination both the ones I took pics of are Common M and probably all the ones we saw were. The colours are subtly different from the usual ones up here in Scotland, and the plants much more upright, so it was easy to believe they were a different species. But they look just as good whatever they are.
A couple of chalk-loving grasses: Crested Hair-grass and Quaking Grass
Rough Hawksbeard, the stoutest British Crepis species, and Hairy Tare, the smallest-flowered Vetch.
Thought this was just Pignut when viewing it from above, then decided it was Burnet Saxifrage. It is actually Corky-fruited Water-dropwort! Too early to see its corky fruits, but the remarkable difference between the basal leaves and the lowest stem leaves is shown in the RH pic. Its Latin name "pimpinelloides" means "like Burnet Saxifrage" so I wasn't too far out. It doesn't need wet ground like the other water-dropworts, but grows in grassy meadows.
Other plants seen in these habitats included: Fireweed (lots), Wood Dock, Dog Violet (sporadic in meadows), Field Bindweed, Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon, Marguerite (dominant in some meadows), Cow Parsley, Wood Melick, Greater Stichwort post-flowering along lanes, Lesser Stitchwort still flowering along lanes, Glaucous Sedge in meadows, Bladder Campion, odd patch at top of meadows, Yellow Rattle common in meadows, Creeping Thistle, Hoary Ragwort, Fairy Flax. Lots of Meadow Brown butterflies in meadows, some Speckled Woods in woods.
Too busy with all the new plants to look for insects but this Red-headed Cardinal Beetle was noticed on Fireweed. The Roman Snail was brought over by the Romans for food; it still thrives here and is larger than any native snail.
Another alien that I saw, and heard (they are very noisy) for
the first time was the Ring-necked Parakeet.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer