Tuesday, March 01, 2016


Came across this growing by the side of a path on our way to the Half Moon in Plumpton. It also caught the eye of our friend who was visiting who runs Alexandra Nursery in Penge (think Petersham on a smaller community scale). I've not seen it before but recognised it from Mr Rose's book. My subconscious botanist suggested laurel-spurge but on checking I find it's actually Spurge-Laurel, Daphne laureola. It looks like a garden escape or an introduced species but in fact it's native in England and Wales. The only other Spurge-laurel in the UK is Mezereon which seems to be even rarer.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Rhizocarpon geographicum - Map Lichen

My annual Scottish winter trip was based in Tongue, Sutherland, at the end of January. Our time was bookended by two storms: Gertrude and Henry. Consequently we enjoyed spectacular weather: howling winds whipping the skin off the sea on Loch Eriboll; stinging rain on our coastal walk; spindrift off the mountainsides; snow; hail; sudden shafts of sunlight and cloudscapes to rival the dramatic scenery below. 

In the middle was a day of peace and an opportunity to walk upwards. We set our eyes on Ben Hope, the northernmost Munro and an easier walk than the lower, but more imposing, Ben Loyal. We returned to Tongue via Altnaharra on the longest single-track road segments devoid of passing places that I've ever been on. Quite what we'd have done had we encountered on-coming traffic I don't know. 

Just south of the starting place for the Ben Hope walk is a ruined broch: Broch Dun Dornaigil. Brochs are unique to the north of Scotland, the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. Most were built around 2000 years ago in the late Iron Age. Archaeologists still don't agree on their nature, although it is generally agreed that they are not militaristic. 

This one had an impressive array of lichens on one of the large stones on the southern side. There are a number of species but the obvious one is Rhizocarpon geographicum forming the appearance of a map of English counties. 

Thursday, February 04, 2016


A new species. Possibly not the first this year as I've managed to identify a few mosses and liverworts, but I was reminded of the blog by one of my erstwhile readers whilst we perambulated Box Hill in Surrey and nudged into action. 
Box Hill is famous for, and named after, the Box, Buxus sempervirens, which grows in profusion on its flanks. It is just north or Dorking and part of the North Downs chalk ridge. From it we could clearly make out Chanctonbury Ring on the South Downs.
Box seems to behave a bit like yew. The seedlings develop in areas of deep shade and, presumably because of its evergreen nature, can continue growing before the deciduous canopy gets the upper hand. The canopy here is mostly beech. There is also plenty of yew around.
Box is a smelly plant. It is slow growing, producing very hard wood which is especially valued by wood-engravers who carve into the end-grain of blocks formed from it. It is perhaps most familiar to people as a plant of topiary and parterres, leading many to think it must have been introduced. It is, however, a stalwart native with many places named after it. e.g. Bexhill, Bexley, Box Hill, Bix and Bixley.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Little Egret

"Little egret" by Karthik Easvur - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

So here is the 365th post for 2015. I have scratched my head about which species to make the last. All the species I have photos of have been included already and I didn't get out today to find a new one. 
The choice of Little Egret, Egretta garzetta, was made because birds were the first 'wildlife' I began to take notice of and their establishment as a breeding bird in the UK is a relatively recent phenomenon which many consider evidence of climate change. Their big cousin, the Great Egret, is soon to follow in its footsteps.
And it is its feet that are worth noticing. Usually you can't see them as they are wading about in shallow water, but they are bizarrely yellow. Perhaps because on light muddy or sandy shores it disguises them better? Not a strategy shared by other birds with similar feeding habits.

Will I post again tomorrow?

I have decided to stop posting 'daily' but to continue to post when I encounter a new species. It has been a great thing to do over the last twelve months and the aim, to enhance my appreciation of other living things, has been amply met. I have learnt a lot and developed an appetite to learn more. It feels like a proper beginning of something; it's not quite clear what.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Azure Damselflies

A pair of Azure Damselflies, Coenagrion puella, flying in tandem and laying eggs in the pond back in June.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Iris Rust

This Iris foetidissima leaf is infected by the Iris Rust, Puccinia iridis. It is the sort of life one overlooks, even as someone with an expressed interest in natural history. The Rusts are all in the genus Puccinia. They are all obligate parasites of other plants and part of the Fungus kingdom, in the Basidiomycota phylum. There are over 4000 species worldwide, many of the them significant economic pests.

Labyrinth Spider

You have to look carefully but when you do you can just make out the palps of a labyrinth spider, Agelena labyrinthica,  waiting patiently at the end its tunnel.
It is common in the south of the country and is often referred to, inaccurately, as a 'funnel web' spider. 

As usual, there is an impressive amount of information out there on the web, in particular the Spider and Harvestman Recording Scheme.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Neat Feather-moss

Another moss, this time collected on our Boxing Day walk across the Downs from Firle Beacon and back along the old coach road for a warming pint of Harveys in the Ram's snug. It is Neat Feather-moss, Pseudoscleropodium purum, and this is a terrible photo of one of the branches of it taken through the stereomicroscope. Through the hand lens it appears to have succulent overlapping leaves that completely obscure the stem, each with a small recurved mucronate point.
It is common throughout the British Isles.