Monday, November 30, 2015

Giant Bellflower

Giant Bellflower is not common down south. This is the white form, Campanula latifolia var alba, which is often grown in gardens. Indeed this is likely to have escaped from a garden. It was found back in early July on the Downs near Lewes.

Lesser Skullcap

This is Lesser Skullcap, Scutellaria minor. It is not as common as Skullcap, which has toothed leaves and curved blue-violet flowers. 
I came across this by a stream when I did my National Plant Monitoring Scheme surveys in July. It took me a while to identify!

Common Chameleon

Common Chameleon, Chamaeleo chamaeleon, (and to a far lesser degree the African Chameleon, Chamaeleo africanus) is found in many Mediterranean countries. This one was picked up (literally) in Morocco where they are associated with the devil and a great deal of folklore

Friday, November 27, 2015

Butcher's Broom

I came across this growing at the base of a hedge bordering a driveway to some old cottages and the church at Compton Beauchamp. It's Butcher's Broom or Ruscus aculeatus. It is a peculiar plant. The 'leaves' are actually flattened modified stems (cladodes) in the middle of which the small whitish flowers appear. The red fruit look almost artificial in colour.
In many areas of the country it is an ancient woodland indicator. It used to be part of the Lily family but this has now been re-named the Asparagaceae family.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Red Kite

"Red Kite - Gigrin Farm" by Tim Felce (Airwolfhound) - Red Kite - Gigrin Farm. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons
I had to finish off my trio of birds from my recent trip to the Wessex Downs with the Red Kite, Milvus milvus. This magnificent bird is recolonising the country after near extinction save for a small area of central Wales centred around Gigrin Farm where this bird was photographed (and no doubt fed).
They remind me a little of Marsh Harriers with their striking wing markings and gliding habit of tail-twisting. In medieval times they kept the streets clean of carrion, helping to reduce the risk of water pollution and other sequelae of putrefaction.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


"Emberiza citrinella -New Zealand" by Alan Vernon - originally posted to Flickr as Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) in New Zealand, North Island. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons
A rather grey and occasionally drizzly walk today. The wildlife highlights were the prodigious numbers of spindle trees in the hedgerows (almost as many as the hawthorns) and the flock of yellowhammers, Umberiza citronella.
There were around twenty birds with half as many Chaffinch and a pair of Bullfinch. Certainly the largest flock I've seen to date. The intensity of the yellow male plumage is shocking when you first see it, making you think that this must be an escaped exotic such as a Canary.
They have a distinctive song which is usually rendered in the books as "a little bit of bread and chee-eese."
posted from Bloggeroid

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


"Turdus pilaris" by Arnstein Rønning - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
I saw my first fieldfare, Turdus pilaris, of the season today whilst walking along the Ridgeway above the white horse at Uffington. In fact I saw about 300, more than I've ever seen before in a flock. They made an impressive sight, outnumbering the starlings nearby.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Common Duckweed

This grows in the ditches down on the reserve at Lewes Brooks. It's Common Duckweed, Lemna minor. There are other Lemnas...Greater, Rootless, Least, Fat and Ivy-leaved. So you don't have to settle on this one. But you do need to get up close to discern them. Minor has three veins but minuta (Least) only has one.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Flowering Currant

I took this back in April. It's a garden escape because it isn't native here, originating from the western United States and Canada. It is Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum, and its attractive flowers and early flowering make it something of a  horticultural favourite. It was introduced to this country in 1826 with the first record of a naturalised plant in 1916. Since that time it has spread and can be found from the Highlands to the south coast.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


"2010-kabini-osprey" by Yathin S Krishnappa - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
Osprey may seem like an odd choice from here on the Moroccan coast, but we saw one atop its lookout by the side of the lagoon this afternoon from the boat. Its Latin binomial is Pandion haliaetus. I chose it because it is possible that this bird spent its summer in the UK, migrating as it does to breed in northern Europe.
Ospreys are unusual in that they can reverse their outer toes, like owls, to allow it to grasp prey with two talons in front and two behind. They are also unusual in being a single species found across the globe, although subspecies are recognised in most taxonomies.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Barn Swallow

"Rauchschwalbe Hirundo rustica" by Andreas Trepte - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons
I chose the Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica, today because there were large numbers over the house here in Morocco. Their chattering calls reminded me of spring back home, as did the weather: 20 degrees centigrade and blue skies.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

White Stork

"Ciconia ciconia - 01" by Carlos Delgado. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
This is a common bird too: White Stork, Ciconia ciconia. It has a predilection for building its enormous nest atop minarets and mobile phone masks. The nests are so huge that other birds nest within the superstructure; a nice example of commensalism. The species is migratory, flying to southern Africa for the winter. They can form impressive flocks crossing narrow points during the passage, forced as they are to travel over land as much as possible due to their reliance on thermals.

Common Bulbul

I am struggling to find a non-copyright photo of a Common Bulbul, Picnonotus barbatus, but there are some lovely images on this blog.
I too am in Morocco and this bird is a common visitor to the garden where we're staying. Its calls and song are loud and easily recognisable. The following recording was made in Oualidia where we are the guests of my old chum James (see Firecrest) at his remarkable villa overlooking the lagoon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


This is the third and final catch up species today: Buddleia or Butterfly Bush, Buddleja davidii. The irony is that although butterflies love it, it is often responsible for shading out the food plants of the caterpillars. It was introduced from China and is now an established invasive species. The French missionary and botanist, Jean Andre Soulie, who sent it back at the beginning of the twentieth century, was tortured and shot by Tibetan monks in 1905.


The second catch-up species - Pineappleweed, Matricaria discoidea, growing, characteristically, on a bare patch of path. 
When crushed it smells of pineapple, unlike the Buttonweed, Cotula coronopifolia, which is resembles. The latter is an introduced species found on damp muddy waysides and dunes.

Great Willowherb

Growing in the garden, this is Great Willowherb, Epilobium hirsutum. It is, as the binomial suggests, very hairy. It has large flowers with a distinctive large creamy stigma with four lobes that arch backwards forming a cross.
Willowherbs are a family in their own right, but the family name is Onagraceae.
This is one of three posts needed to bring the blog up to speed, having been a bit slack at the end of October.
I have also noticed that I've blogged one species twice. A big money prize for anyone who spots which it is.

Burnet Rose

This is Burnet Rose, Rosa pimpinellifolia, growing in dunes at Llangennith at the end of Gower. There were no cream flowers at the end of August when this photo was taken, but the distinctive black globose fruit and red stems with red-tinged leaves are distinctive. 
The Roses are one of the trickiest groups to identify accurately. There is a whole BSBI Handbook devoted to the matter by the inestimable Rev Dr Anthony Primavesi. They also hybridise, further complicating the issue.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Meadow Vetchling

Another August plant: Meadow Vetchling, Lathyrus pratensis. It's fairly common and is a scrambler rather than prostrate like Bird's-foot trefoil. The clue is in the tendrils, just visible in the photo on the right. It is a member of the Pea family, Fabaceae, and like all of them, fixes atmospheric nitrogen via bacteria-containing nodules in its roots.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Red Clover

Another common plant - probably our commonest clover - this may be the cultivated form which is larger with paler flowers and a hollow stem. It's Red Clover, Trifolium pratense (possibly var sativum). This was growing in sandy soil behind a beach.


Busy entertaining Beasley yesterday so didn't get to post (again). He'd come from Australia so it seemed reasonable to put the blog on hold (again).
This is another find in the annals: Common Bird's-foot-trefoil, Lotus corniculatus, also known as Bacon-and-Eggs. (cf. Common Toadflax). 
There is also Narrow-leaved BFT and Greater BFT, but this is Common and also common. It is an important food plant for many butterflies, particularly the Blues.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Common Restharrow

Another plant from the times of excess. This is Common Restharrow, Ononis repens, growing on the land previously occupied by the huge coal-fired power station at Burry Port on the north shore of the Loughor Estuary across from Gower. It is common and also grows in the verges around the corner from our house.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Horse Radish

Scraping the barrel a bit. It's definitely getting harder to find new species to snap given that my entomological skills are practically zero. So I've been trawling my photos for previously rejected material. This is one such: Horse-radish, Armoracia rusticana, growing on the site of a demolished power station on the north shore of the Loughor Estuary in South Wales at Burry Port. Its huge leaves are the distinctive feature, the flowers being rather dull white racemes of the typical crucifer sort. 
It's the tap root that you want. Long and usually very thin. We have some in the garden which never flowers and invariably gets demolished by the slugs and snails. It was introduced from south east Europe.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Upright Hedge-Parsley

Who said Umbelliferas weren't interesting? I think Cow Parsley has given them a bad name, being so apparently common. Things will change when Rape usurps Cow Parsley in our hedgerows. 
But this is Upright Hedge-Parsley, Torilis japonica, which takes over from Cow Parsley on the roadsides and hedges from July to early September. This one was growing in a protected spot at the base of a wall overrun with Vinca minor. 

Wild Basil

Not quite the mouthwatering herb we're familiar with in our pesto and shredded over tomato and mozzarella salad. This was just about flowering on a downland walk in October. Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Egghead Mottlegill

 This was growing in downland pasture back in October and is a member of the Panaeolus or Mottlegill family. It is Egghead Mottlegill, Panaeolus semiovatus and not the magic mushroom. The latter is not totally dissimilar but has a very obvious nipple at the crown of the cap. This one is common and grows on dung. It is not edible. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015


"Common kestrel falco tinnunculus" by Andreas Trepte, Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons
So here is our second commonest bird of prey - the Common Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus. It is the one seen hovering over motorway verges and other suitable habitats. It descends in steps before finally dropping onto its prey, usually a field vole or mouse.
There is a nest box used annually on the side of the Nuffield Hospital in Woodingdean and I often see one of the adults hunting in the fields around the racecourse on my way to work.