Saturday, 16 December 2017

Dartford Heath, Kent - 24/10/17

This ancient heath in North Kent is now virtually surrounded by urbanisation, but it still holds several rare and threatened species, such as Upright Chickweed and Petty Whin. Being well into Autumn I didn't expect to find much of note, but as usual I was wrong!

Michelmas Daisies aren't hard to spot, however, it can be tricky working out which type of Aster they are, and this day I didn't have time to do that.

Aster agg.

These were well into the heath away from the car park, so they may have naturalised there from wind blown seed from the urban gardens less than a mile away.

When I took this photo, I thought it was of a patch of Red Dead-nettles as they were only a few inches high. However, they were actually Black Horehound. The area had recently been mowed, hence the low growth and late flowering of these plants.

Ballota nigra

It was very pleasing to see plenty of Harebells still fluttering in the breeze. Though locally common, they are now declining rapidly throughout England, mainly from habitat loss, thus are now on the Kent RPR as a result.

Campanula rotundifolia

Here and there were a few late flowering Common Centaury, their bright pink flowers (occasionally also in white) only fully open in bright conditions.

Centaurium erythraea

Here's one of those difficult to determine yellow crucifers from the Cabbage Family.

It's leaves showed it was definitely one of the Rockets, but which one?

Thankfully, there were plenty of seeds. These are often vital to make a firm ID and make it much easier to do so.

Look closely at where the pod meets the pod stem. There's a small gap between the pod and stem showing this to be Perennial Wall Rocket.

Other Rockets don't have this gap.

Diplotaxis tenuifolia

In the more acidic areas, there was plenty of Heather and Bell Heather, all in seed.

So I picked a couple and placed them side by side for comparison, with Bell Heather on the left and Heather on the right

I had hoped I might still find some in flower, so I kept on looking.

I failed to find any flowerinf Heather, but I did find several Bell Heathers still going strong on another part of the heath.

Erica cinerea

Some splashes of colour were in a hedgerow, with the appropriately named Hedgerow Cranesbill providing it. Superficially, it looks very similar to Dovesfoot Cranesbill, but the whole plant is much bigger, more erect and with much larger flowers than Dovesfoot.

Geranium pyrenaicum

Hypochaeris radicata

Cat's Ear was present along a road verge adjoining the heath.

This is relatively easy to tell apart from similar species with the most obvious feature being small scale like bracts up the flower stem with a solitary flower on top.

Other species don't have these scales on the stem.

This one was helping out an Autumn Marmalade Hoverfly.

I was rather surprised to find this beefy looking Prickly Lettuce as I'd not seen one for a while, all having gone to seed elsewhere and withered away.

There were flower buds present, but none were open. For such a big plant, it has very small Dandelion like flowers, but lots of them in big sprays above the leaves.

Incidentally, the leaves on this species rotate throughout the day to face the sun!

Lactuca serriola

Here's another non-flowering plant. I looked long and hard for a flower as they are beautiful, though very small, but I failed this time. This is Birdsfoot, which produced white, yellow and red flowers in late Spring. It likes sandy soils and was abundant on parts of the heath.

Ornithopus perpusillus

Just so you know what to look for, here's one in flower on the heath from May 2016. Note that the flowers are probably only 5mm across.

I first noticed them when I bent down to tie a shoelace!

On bare sandy areas, I found a few Mouse-ear Hawkweeds in flower, so called as their leaves have long upright hairs on them and are allegedly shaped like a Mouse-ear.

Pilosella officinarum

Another common plant, but one that usually doesn't flower profusely is Creeping Cinquefoil. It spreads rapidly by sending out rooting runners and is very common all over Kent in a variety of habitats, though in very acid soils, it is replaced by the 4 petalled Tormentil.

Potentilla reptans

Leaves had begun to fall in earnest now. 

Norway Maple

Acer platanoides

Ragworts provide food for pollinators well into most Winters.

This one is Hoary Ragwort, which typically flowers abundantly form late Summer to late Autumn, just as Common Ragwort is dying off.

Senecio erucifolius

Whereas, this Ragwort is an alien invader from South Africa called Narrow-leaved Ragwort. It's been in the wild for a while now, and is spreading rapidly in North Kent.

Senecio inaequidens

A White Campion put in an appearance.

Silene latifolia

Black Nightshade was in flower and fruit on the same plant. The berries give it its common name.

Solanum nigrum

Common Chickweed - Stellaria media

Gorse - Ulex europaeus

The heath can be a good place to find fungi. Here's just a few of those I found.

Finally, some Cladonia lichens.

So although Dartford Heath can now almost be called an urban amenity area, it still holds plenty of wildlife. It's size and history gives it several different habitat types allowing a good range of wildlife to thrive.

so long as it doesn't become degraded through neglect or made smaller by building on the edges, it should survive.

Check out your own local urban heath, there's plenty to see.


Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Dungeness, Kent - 07/10/17

In 2016 I stumbled across the rare Knotted Pearlwort at Dungeness ARC site. Unfortunately, they have white reflective flowers and as it was a sunny day, the photos weren't up to much, so I hoped to find some still in flower today. I had re-visited in September but none were to be found with the ground very dry.

As this area was mined for gravel, there are numerous lakes and wet areas following extraction years ago. This has lead to having very wet/damp habitats next to desert like conditions amongst the shingle.

I didn't take landscape shots, so these are from a visit I made in 2016. At the far end of one of the lakes is a stand of Southern Marsh Orchids, though I always seem to miss them in flower.

Near the car park was a bunch of escaped Michaelmas Daisies, which I didn't have time to identify to species level, but attractive nonetheless.

They could have arrived on wind blown seed, on the feet of bird watchers (or botanists) or possibly fly tipped as they were near the car park itself.

I've seen these growing happily in the wild in several places in Kent recently.

Aster agg

Viper's Bugloss does very well at Dungeness, the dry conditions suiting it well. I think the purple/pink stamens poking out from the pale blue petals are very attractive. You can get very tall or bushy plants earlier in the year full of flowers, and you don't have to be on the coast to find them. Ranscombe Farm near Strood have a fine display in their wildlife friendly arable fields each year.

Echium vulgare

I then noticed these amazing seed heads which I could tell straight away were either from a Cranesbill or Storksbill flower.

A nearby flower confirmed Common Storksbill, their small bright pink flowers catching the eye as I walked past.

Erodium cicutarium

Sea Buckthorn is a Kent RPR species, though determining whether they are wild or introduced can be tricky, as they have been planted in many places where they can become rampant and have to be controlled, Camber dunes is an example.

I've never managed to photograph a flower, I guess I've not looked at the right time. However, the flowers are not much to look at and very small, unlike thier berries which glow like mini oranges in the Autumn sunlight. No doubt they will sustain many birds and small mammals over the Winter months.

Hippophae rhamnoides

I'm not that good on identifying grasses, but some are so distinctive, ID is easy.

Here's Harestail grass, now in seed.

Lagurus ovatus

Most of the pea family plants had gone to seed now, however, I did find some very small flowering Common Birdsfoot Trefoil.

They are very easy to find with their bright yellow petals reminding me of Summer.

It's always worth checking leaves and sepals to determine which Trefoil you've found as there's a couple of different ones, like Greater and Fine-leaved Birdsfoot Trefoils.

The seeds and leaves in the photo are from a nearby Common Storksbill.

Lotus corniculatus

Another very common small yellow flower (though there are numerous flowers in one flowerhead) is the humble Black Medick.

The easiest way to tell it part from similar species while in flower is to look for a mucro (small bristle tip) in the centre of each leaflet. This photo shows it well.

Of course, once in seed, it's the only species of Medick  with a bunch of black seeds, hence its name.

Medicago lupulina

This tall plant can't be missed at Dungeness, Greatstone and many other places from mid Summer onwards. It's an Evening Primrose.

There are several types of these, but only this one has the anthers (bits with pollen on the end) poking out from the flower above the stigmas (female bits below).


The photo below from a side view shows this well, proving it to be a Large-flowered Evening Primrose.

Oenothera glazioviana 

Here's another common plant, mainly found on the coast, but also inland on chalk turf and some arable fields, the Common Restharrow.

It's delightful flowers remind me of a rhinoceros horn.

Ononis repens

The flower below looks big, but it is in fact only about 2cm across, it's Creeping Conquefoil, found just about everywhere. Oddly though, in many places it doesn't flower very often if at all. It can propogate by sending out runners which become independent plants, hence the name "Creeping".

Potentilla reptans

There are plenty of blackberries (often called Brambles) to be picked at this time of the year, but these plants will put up flowers well into the Winter. Sometimes they can be pink as well.

Rubus fruticosus agg.

They are called "agg" as there are actually 334 micro species of Bramble (caused by natural cloning) and differentiating them takes someone dedicated to that species or an expert. Figure taken from "Harrap's Wild Flowers".

This late in the season means it's not all about wildflowers. There were numerous fungi to be seen, though given the sparse, dry habitat, most were quite small.

A Shaggy Inkcap in a damp area.

Some Waxcaps, with my favourite fungi shot of the day below.

Also in a damp area was a huge Perennial Sowthistle at around 5 feet tall. The weight of the flower bending over the stem, making a photo a bit easier.

You can just about make out the yellow gland tipped hairs on the bracts which make this a very easy plant to identify.

Once you get your eye in, you can tell from afar that this is this plant simply from the large shaggy mophead of a flower. It's larger than all the other Dandelion like flowers.

Sonchus arvensis

I finally found my target species, hiding away on very short, rabbit grazed turf, Knotted Pearlwort.

Don't be fooled by the leaves in the photo, they don't belong to the flower! The leaves are Common Birdsfoot Trefoil, through which the flower is growing. 

Sagina nodosa

Bearing in mind I had seen them here the year before, I still had difficulty finding them due to my memory playing tricks. I seemed to recall them being a bit bigger than the flower of a Scarlet Pimpernal, however, they were actually about half the size, actually quite tiny!

From this photo you can see how the plant gets its name as the bunches of leaves appear like small knots up the stem - Knotted Pearlwort.

I'm still not happy with the photos, so I'll return again next year to try again. Hopefully it will be a cloudy day to make photographing a reflective white flower a bit easier.

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed it.