Nature Notes from Argyll
(and occasionally other places)
Tue 12 Jun 2007 Folkestone Warren (Day 3 of visit to Kent)
Where the North Downs meet the sea - another chalk area, but with many differences in vegetation from yesterday's. At a guess the soil would be thinner here, at least in places, and the ground was rough and hilly.
These two low-growing shrubs, Wild Privet and Wayfaring Tree, together with Dogwood (shown yesterday) covered much of the ground, but with plenty of open grassland in between.
A couple more shots of Dogwood.
There is also some taller scrub and in its shade grows the Gladdon, which smells of slightly putrid meat but is a fine sight to see. It is our only native Iris apart from the common Yellow Flag, and has a liking for chalky soils. Other plants of these shady spots included Tutsan, Wood Spurge, and many huge fronds of Hartstongue Fern, much bigger than any you see in the north-west.
In contrast to Downe Bank, the only orchid seen today was the Common Spotted Orchid, which was very numerous and included some beautifully marked examples, but the one that finally got the camera out of its bag was this pure white one, with faint purple loops on some of the flowers, and a chalk rock-face in the background.
One of the most striking and ubiquitous plants of the chalk downland is Horseshoe Vetch, seen here from above with live flowers, dead flowers (middle left) and finally the fruits (middle and upper right) which are like horseshoes strung together. The leaves are vetch-like but do not climb; the plant is a low grower like Birdsfoot Trefoil which was also present. The RH pic shows galls of the mite Eriophyes viburni on a leaf of Wayfaring Tree.
Most plants of the Bedstraw family are pretty predictable but there's always one that breaks the rules. Like its relatives, Squinancywort has the leaves in whorls, but they are all on the same side of the stem instead of spaced evenly around it, and the leaves within any given whorl are different sizes. I had to break the rules myself to get a photo of how the plant is organised, as it sprawls among the grass where its narrow leaves and stems wouldn't show without a bit of a helping hand. The flower patterning is also unusual for a Bedstraw, or indeed for any flower.
I last saw Greater Knapweed at Bettyhill on the far north coast of Scotland, here it was again at the opposite end of the country. Doesn't look so elegant this time as the wind was blowing it about, but the closed involucres, which were far more numerous than the open flowerheads, looked very stately.
Rough Hawkbit, not to be confused with Rough Hawksbeard which we had yesterday! And Tor Grass, similar to the familiar False Brome of the woods, but upright and preferring to be out in the open on chalky soil.
Other plants on the chalk included Rock-rose (but much scarcer than at Downe Bank), Fairy Flax, Common Milkwort (Blue form), Quaking Grass, Salad Burnet, Rest-harrow and, surprisingly, Wood Sage, which I associate with the acid rocks of home.
This moth appears to be the Heart and Dart, though it lacks the "heart" marking. The caterpillar is that of either the 6-spot or the 5-spot Burnet, and was resting on a stem of Glaucous Sedge, perhaps preparing to pupate there.
Walking along a chalk path I saw an adder right in front of me. It didn't disappear right away - its tail slunk into the undergrowth just as I got the camera focussed on where it had been. The only bird I remember was a kestrel which tried a few hovering positions before heading off elsewhere. There seemed to be unfamiliar butterflies everywhere but I was concentrating on plants unless there was a chance to photograph an insect that wasn't on the move. Some of the butterflies were clearly Marbled Whites, from looking in the book, though I didn't know what they were at the time.
The rest of the pictures are not from the Warren proper but from the coast between there and the town.
A small sandy patch behind the sea wall was full of what looked at first like Annual Meadow-grass but wasn't quite right for it somehow. It turned out to be Fern Grass. The moth, fluttering about on bare ground for some reason, is the Cinnabar. The Ladybird is the melanic form of the 2-spot; it flew off before I could get any nearer.
Today's mystery plant is a thistle. The dense leaflike spines below the head may be fasciation, but they were present under all the heads on the plant. Even if they are disregarded, I can't identify it. The stems (RH pic) have short squamule-like spiny outgrowths, placed almost horizontally, never forming a continuous "wing". These resemble Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans), and so does the nodding head, but there is no sign of the reflexed bracts that are so prominent in that species - even if mine is a Musk hybrid you'd expect to see some reflexing of the bracts. The flowerheads were sometimes solitary but could be up to 4 together. It was growing between a tall-herb patch of mainly Alexanders and Nettle, and a mowed area of mainly Wall Barley, in an exposed place near the top of sea cliffs, on the outskirts of town.
Here is the afore-mentioned Alexanders, an introduced plant, as is the attractive Tamarisk which grows at the foot of cliffs nearer the town, along with other introductions such as the exuberant Hottentot Fig, a vivid blue-flowered purple-leaved Clary, and Hoary Cress.
As exotic-looking as any of those, but native, is the Tree Mallow. All its branches were well past flowering but the small shoot halfway up the stem had some late flowers.
Sea Beet at the edge of the sand, and Soft Brome, looking down on the Folkestone-Dover railway, with the famous white cliffs in the background.
More familiar plants noted along the shore were False Fox Sedge
and quantities of Great Horsetail.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer