Week 20 Roundup

Week 20 Roundup: 5th August

She’s right, of course. Everyone has their favourite season, it’s just that this one isn’t mine! But, yes, as Ellen points out, ‘high summer’ does indeed have its delights and compensations. Two weeks ago, for instance, I was lamenting the general lack of birdsong, but now—as if from nowhere—Wood Pigeons have stepped in to fill the breach: Tim Dee, this time in Four Fields, refers to late-summer pigeons playing “again and again [their] cracked tuba,” to produce  “… a lullaby sung on an iron-lung.” Apart from the pigeons, there’s still the odd Blackcap, an occasional Chiffchaff, and the wheezy rasp of Greenfinches. And then yesterday, down by the river, in an old apple tree, I heard my first ‘post-moult’ Robin. Further along the river, in a bramble patch, a Wren made a hesitant, half-hearted stab at singing again.

The world’s still turning, then, and these scraps of birdsong make up, just a little, for the sudden absence of Swifts. Last Thursday there were dozens in the skies above Taunton; on Friday and Saturday they could still be seen, and heard, as they careered and screamed around the streets at rooftop height, as well as larger numbers at higher altitude, probably feasting on flying ants. (On Friday, the gulls were gorging themselves too, strutting around the outfield at the cricket ground, picking off ants as they crawled across the grass.) On Sunday, the local air-space had become quiet, just a single sighting of one Swift, late in the day—plus, for good measure, a ‘mewing’ Peregrine that circled high above the street, before landing on the church tower opposite, causing consternation and panic amongst the local gull population. On Monday, two Swifts, early in the morning, then nothing for the rest of the day; yesterday, four birds first thing, then nothing; and finally today, nothing, nothing, nothing. So, it seems our local Swifts spent the weekend fattening up on ants, then skedaddled.  

Of course, we may yet glimpse the odd singleton passing through, but there’s no getting round the fact: they’ve gone. As Peter Brown puts it, in Swifts Round a Tower: “Three precious months / Is all that they could stay, / May, flaming June / And hot July. / Now swifts have left / To our dismay.” At this point in the year, the ‘Taunton Deane Swifts’ WhatsApp group becomes a support network for those of us struggling with the harsh reality of a world without Swifts. It happens every year, of course, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

There have, though, been arrivals as well as departures. Georgina had her first Clouded Yellow, Colias croceus, on the 30th, at Draycott Sleights—amongst “hundreds” of Chalkhill Blues, Polyommatus coridon—while Keith Gould saw a female Clouded Yellow at Roughmoor on the 22nd. He also reports that in the last week at Thurlbear there has been the beginnings of a partial second brood of Dingy Skippers, Erynnis tages. Usually this butterfly has just a single generation each year, in the spring (April-May), but in especially hot summers second brood adults can occasionally be seen on the wing in southern England in August. Plants can do something similar, re-enacting spring with a second burst of flowering late in the season, like Val’s Spring Cinquefoil, Potentilla verna, at Velvet Bottom on the 31st, or Helena’s ridiculously late (or early?) Cowslips, Primula veris, in the Cam Valley today.

It’s been another week of thin pickings on the first-flowering front. Between us we saw just four of our target species: Georgina and friendsactuallyrecorded Common Sea-lavender, Limonium vulgare, and Sea-blite, Suaeda maritima, at Sand Bay on 23rd July (so in Week 19); Dee reported just-flowering Common Sea-lavender at Clevedon on the 3rd; I saw my first Hop, Humulus lupulus, at Longrun Meadow on the 1st, followed by Trifid Bur-marigold, Bidens tripartita, between Obridge and Creech Castle on the 4th. The last of these was next to a fine patch of Water Mint, Mentha aquatica, which was flowering profusely despite having been noted as not flowering just four days earlier—which highlights how rapidly things can change, even when nothing much seems to be happening! The 4th was a good day for Water Mint, with Helena and Val both ‘WhatsApping’ reports of having seen it flowering in VC6, the latter at Catcott Heath.

What else? I recorded Sneezewort, Achillea ptarmica, at Ruggin SWT reserve this morning—although I expect someone will surely have an earlier date for it? There was a second record for Harebell, Campanula rotundifolia, this time from Liz at Westbury Beacon on the 4th. My own first-flowerers this week included Carline Thistle, Carlina vulgaris,on the 31st (Thurlbear), Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Kickxia elatine, on the 1st (Corfe), Dwarf Spurge, Euphorbia exigua, on the 4th (Staple Fitzpaine), and Sowbread, Cyclamen hederifolium, today (Angersleigh). Elsewhere, Margaret saw Bifid Hemp-nettle, Galeopsis bifida, at Redding Pits on the 3rd, while Georgina et al. had Henbane, Hyoscyamus niger, at Sand Bay on 23rd (Week 19); and, most exciting of the lot, perhaps, was a message (and lovely photo) from Clive on the SRPG WhatsApp group reporting the discovery by Brian Lancastle of flowering Autumn Lady’s-tresses, Spiranthes spiralis, at Sand Point on the 27th—two days earlier than Andrew’s record of it at Purn Hill.

Ellen, in her email last week, noted the joy to be had from walking through grassland in summer, and I get what she’s saying, I really do. It’s interesting to note the subtle shift in the nature of this experience as the season advances. The sound changes: in May and June, tramping through grass produces a soft, juicy-green swish, swish, swish,whereas now it makes a much harder, drier, scrunch; and each scrunch, each foot fall, is accompanied by an explosion of grasshoppers, like fire-crackers going off.

She’s right: each season really does have its compensations.

Have a good week, everyone.


Weeks 20 and 21 Preview

Weeks 20 & 21 Preview: 30th July – 12th August

We have five species to carry over from our Weeks 18/19 target list:

Nodding Bur-marigold, Bidens cernua; Trifid Bur-marigold, Bidens tripartita; Goldenrod, Solidago virgaurea; Sea-purslane, Atriplex portulacoides; Sea-blite, Suaeda maritima.

To which we can add:

Hops, Humulus lupulus; Sea Wormwood, Artemisia maritima; Glasswort, Salicornia agg.

Plus, while we’re tramping across the saltmarshes, can anyone come up with a plausible date for first-flowering Common Sea-lavender, Limonium vulgare, or Rock Sea-lavender, L. binervosum agg.? They should have started flowering in mid-July…

Hope you have a good fortnight. Do let me know—by 3 p.m. on 5th and/or 12th August if possible—if you see any of these species in flower, preferably by email to simonleach@phonecoop.coop

All the best.


Week 19 Roundup

Week 19 Roundup: 29th July

Perversely, just as we’re able to get out more and range more widely around the county again, so there are less and less first-flowerers still to be found. But there are fruits galore. Among blackberries, ‘Himalayan Giant’, Rubus armeniacus, has been yielding abundant ripe fruit for about three weeks now, while Dewberry, R. caesius, is also fruiting well in the Taunton area. Even the berries of Elm-leaved Bramble, R. ulmifolius, are starting to ripen up nicely. Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia, trees are sparkling with their heavy load of orange-red fruits, wild plums are soft and sweet, and beneath every roadside ‘Gean’, Prunus avium, there’s now the stain and smudge of wind-fallen cherries. Hedgerow brambles and flowery banks are alive with butterflies, too, with Gatekeepers, Pyronia tithonus, particularly abundant at the moment. My own butterfly highlight, though, was a spanking new second-brood Brown Argus, Aricia agestis, at Thurlbear Wood on the 27th.

Amid all this ‘fruitfulness’, it’s been another week of latecomers to the summer ball. Of the target list, we found just two of the seven species we hadn’t already encountered during Week 18. Corn Mint, Mentha arvensis, was spotted by Linda at Combe St Nicholas on the 26th, and by me at Thurlbear on the 27th, while there were also sightings of Thorn-apple, Datura stramonium, from the Taunton area on the 23rd (me) and 28th (the latter reported by a friend of Linda’s, Jan Fawcett) and—more surprisingly—a record via Steve of a singleton that had been seen flowering in a driveway in the Crewkerne area on or around 24th June. That’s five weeks ago!

Thorn-apple is instantly recognisable by its white trumpet-shaped flowers and large spiny fruit capsules. There’s nothing else quite like it, really. It’s a plant that draws you in and pushes you away at the same time. Its reputation for being seriously poisonous resulted in the Crewkerne plant being removed, while one of the party finding the plant/s on the 28th pointed out that, not only was it poisonous and hallucinogenic, but that “gypsy horse traders used to push the seeds up the backsides of ancient nags to give them a thrill and make them behave like two year-olds!” Roy Vickery’s Folk Flora is less entertaining than that, merely stating that Thorn-apple was grown for various ‘medicinal purposes’ from about the 16th century, and that in the Channel Islands, at least, the stems and leaves used to be dried and smoked like tobacco as a remedy for asthma. I’d sooner use Ventolin, frankly.

The Thorn-apple colony found on the 23rd comprised at least 30 plants on disturbed former arable land adjoining a new housing development. I’ll not mention its exact location, but can’t resist noting that it lies within a cricket-ball’s lob of the farmhouse where Walter Watson resided almost exactly a century ago while teaching at Taunton School.  Is it too fanciful to imagine that these plants might be direct descendants of Thorn-apples, or ‘Devil’s Trumpets’, seen by Watson—maybe from from his bedroom window—shortly after the end of the Great War?

Other finds reported during the last week include more Heather, Calluna vulgaris, seen by Linda near the Wellington Monument on the 27th , and by me, today, on the Quantocks at Dead Woman’s Ditch; and another record of Blue Fleabane, Erigeron acris, this time by Andrew at Cross Quarry on the 24th. Also today, we’ve had a third record of Autumn Gentian, Gentianella amarella, this time from Georgina at Ubley Warren. Chris had Gypsywort, Lycopus europaeus, on the 25th at Langford Heathfield—a late-summer-flowering species that not many have reported yet.

Amongst Andrew’s FFDs were a few ‘stragglers’ from earlier weeks: Bifid Hemp-nettle, Galeopsis bifida, and Devil’s-bit Scabious, Succisa pratensis, at Catcott on the 14th (Week 17), and Hoary Ragwort, Jacobea erucifolia/Senecio erucifolius, in Brent Knoll village on the 16th (Week 18). The first-flowering of Devil’s-bit Scabious is proving to be a long-drawn-out affair, beginning on 14th June when Helena and Fred found it to be already flowering at Long Dole Meadow. Andrew’s on 14th July was followed by Chris’s at Langford Heathfield on the 25th: “At last, some Devil’s-bit Scabious!” she said, adding “… I don’t know why I say that, it’s still very early!” Watson’s FFD for it in the 1920s/30s was 5th August.

Hoary Ragwort, on the other hand, is a species that seems to have gone the other way, flowering much later now than in Watson’s day. Unless it’s a typo—and without seeing the original data we can’t rule that out, of course—Watson’s ‘big table’ lists the FFD of J. erucifolia as ‘26/6’, i.e. 26th June. Our earliest record this year was Dee’s at Clevedon Pill on 15th July, followed by Andrew’s a day later, and my own, at Thurlbear Quarrylands, on the 27th—a full month later than Watson’s date. This lateness is backed up by my own records for the period 2008-2019, with FFDs ranging from 13th July to 14th August. So, while most species seem to be flowering much earlier today than in the 1920s/30s—or, for that matter, Roe’s 1950s—Hoary Ragwort, along with a handful of others, emphatically bucks that trend; the exception that proves the rule. (Or else a most unfortunate typo…)

And just now, I decided to make one last check of the emails and, blow me down, another message had come in from Andrew: “Somewhat to my surprise,” he wrote, clearly trying to down-play his excitement, “this afternoon [29th] produced the first Autumn Lady’s-tresses, Spiranthes spiralis, at Purn Hill.” Somewhat to his surprise? I dread to think what ‘very surprising’ might involve—a Green-winged Orchid in January, perhaps?Anyway, Watson’s date for Autumn Lady’s-tresses was 6th September. Roe had five FFDs for it in the 1950s, ranging from 19th August to 22nd September. By any standard, then, this is an exceptionally early date.

So, there we have it, the third and last of our targets with autumn in their English names: first there was the Hawkbit (14th June), then the Gentian (12th July), and now the Lady’s-tresses. Clearly, as already noted, summer is becoming more ‘autumnal’ by the day.  

Our spring is nearly done.

Week 18 Roundup

Week 18 Roundup: 22nd July

A proper ragbag of first flowerings this week. It begins to feel like we’re trying to keep a register of guests attending a summer ball: we’re down to the last few stragglers who every year seem to make a habit of turning up this late, but there are others who must have sneaked in earlier—and it’s only now, when their names are called out, that we realise they’re already here.

Among the perennial latecomers, Helena spotted Common Hemp-nettle, Galeopsis tetrahit,at Mendip golf course on the 15th, while on the same day Jeanne and Tim had Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Kickxia elatine, in a field border between Old Cleeve and Washford. Chris L’s and Karen’s just-flowering Broad-leaved Helleborine, Epipactis helleborine, near Huish Moor on the 18th, is another in this group, as is my own Common Reed, Phragmites australis, at Roughmoor Pond, also on the 18th. The dates for all of these are well ahead of Watson’s, and mostly they’re earlier than my own in previous years.

The second group includes Helena’s Bog St John’s-wort, Hypericum elodes, at Yarty Moor on the 10th, Maureen’s Heather, Calluna vulgaris, at Staple Plain on the 11th – both in Week 17 – and Chris and Linda’s Blue Fleabane, Erigeron acris, at Milverton on 27th June (Week 15); as well as Helena and Margaret’s Saw-wort, Serratula tinctoria, at Strode on the 1st (also Week 15), which Margaret says had probably started flowering some days earlier. Chris had first-flowering Saw-wort at Langford Heathfield on the 4th.  Also, it appears that Dodder, Cuscuta epithymum, started flowering earlier than suggested in last week’s roundup: Jeanne reports having had it at Cleeve Hill on the 5th (Week 16).

Amongst my own catch-ups this week were Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare, and Fennel-leaved Pondweed, Potamogeton pectinatus, between Obridge and Firepool Weir on the 20th. Which reminded me that we’ve been rather ignoring pondweeds, so if anyone has first dates for any of these, do please let me know.

While we’re at it, here’s a quick update on numbers of records of the various colour forms of Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis—this time displayed as a pie chart that faintly resembles a particularly lurid decarrhabdotus!

Field Bindweed, interim scores up to end of Week 18

Not much happening in the non-botanical world this week, although this morning’s first Jersey Tiger, Euplagia quadripunctaria, was a joy to behold. And since the 17th we’ve had (more or less) daily sightings of Migrant Hawkers, Aeschna mixta, in the garden.

More than anything, though, it’s an absence I have to report. Yesterday, I was listening to birdsong in Longrun Meadow. There were Blackcaps in the riverside Alders, Greenfinches rasping from the hedgerows, and a single Song Thrush still triumphantly proclaiming its territory from the top of a crack willow. But there weren’t any singing Robins or Chaffinches, and—worse than that—there was a strange and total lack of Blackbirds

When I got home I checked back through the diary, to find that the last reference to our back-garden Blackbird had been in late June. Exactly on which day his chimney-pot monologue ceased, I cannot say. But if he sang in early July, I didn’t hear him; or else, if I did hear him, I made neither physical nor mental note of it. I kick myself that he became utterly silent—at the start of his post-breeding moult, presumably?—without me really noticing.

It may be true that recording the end of something is harder than recording its beginning: the first Lesser Celandine is easy, the last is much trickier. But does this Blackbird oversight also have something to do with our emergence from lockdown? As general ‘busy-ness’ resumes, it feels as though some of the little things that, during lockdown, assumed huge significance are starting to become small again. Odd, really, that as the world opens up—enlarges—there’s also this shrinking.

All the best for the coming week.


Weeks 18 and 19 preview

Weeks 18 & 19 Preview : 16th – 29th July

Just two spp to carry over from last week:

Corn Mint, Mentha arvensis; Thorn-apple, Datura stramonium.

To which we can add the following 12, giving us a target list of 14 for the coming fortnight:

Nodding Bur-marigold, Bidens cernua;Trifid Bur-marigold, Bidens tripartita; Heather, Calluna vulgaris; Common Hemp-nettle, Galeopsis tetrahit; Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Kickxia elatine; Goldenrod, Solidago virgaurea; Blue Fleabane, Erigeron acris; Saw-wort, Serratula tinctoria; Sea-purslane, Atriplex portulacoides; Sea-blite, Suaeda maritima; Broad-leaved Helleborine, Epipactis helleborine; Common Reed, Phragmites australis.

Oh yes, and we should be getting Devil’s-bit Scabious, Succisa pratensis, more widely soon, too. So far, we’ve had just a single record of it.

I was almost tempted to add Autumn Lady’s-tresses, Spiranthes spiralis, to the target list, but it’s very unlikely we’ll get it flowering before the end of July. Worth keeping half an eye out for it though? It would be brilliant, too, if we could get a first date for Goldilocks Aster, Galatella linosyris (= Aster linosyris), and—while we’re at it—what about Sea Wormwood, Artemisia maritima? Both of these we’d expect to start flowering sometime in August, but you never can tell…

Do let me know—by 3 p.m. on 22nd and/or 29th July would be ideal—if you see any of these (or other) spp coming into flower over the next fortnight, preferably by email to simonleach@phonecoop.coop.

Many thanks, and best wishes.


Week 17 Roundup

Week 17 Roundup: 15th July

The last time pubs, cafes and hairdressers were open there were flowering Lesser Celandines, Ficaria verna, everywhere, and many of us were eagerly anticipating our first Moschatel, Adoxa moschatellina. For the last seventeen weeks—from Moschatel to Mugwort—their doors have been locked, their windows shuttered. But now, gradually, we emerge blinking into the light to enjoy a pint and get our hair cut; and maybe it’s time, too, to get that dandelion-clock tattoo we’ve all been hankering after.

Most of us are beginning to get out more, seizing opportunities to meet friends and family for socially-distanced gatherings in each other’s gardens, or in the park, or else heading into nearby countryside for walks together. Even sharing meals together… For months we’ve tried to restrict ourselves to activities deemed to be ‘essential’, but the definition of that word seems to get broader and looser with each passing week. Last Friday I even stepped inside a supermarket, for the first time since 15th March.

So, despite the indifferent weather—not to mention the cricket—I’m feeling much more upbeat about things; last week I was hurtling toward autumn, but this week it’s been almost like spring again. The butterflies have helped: there have been newly-emerged Brimstones, Gonepteryx rhamni, on the wing—offspring, presumably, of those we saw while hunting for Moschatel—along with second-generation Holly Blues, Celastrina argiolus, and Common Blues, Polyommatus icarus.  

Many ‘high summer’ butterflies have also been much in evidence. Still inordinate numbers of Marbled Whites, Melanargia galathea, but now joined by a crowded rabble of Gatekeepers, Pyronia tithonus—much perkier and more richly coloured than the now drab and rather tired-looking Meadow Browns, Maniola jurtina. This week, too, from the 12th, there were sightings of Silver-washed Fritillaries, Argynnis paphia. We’ve found them in good numbers up at Thurlbear, and at Orchard and Henlade Woods (the latter a Woodland Trust reserve).

Roesel’s Bush-cricket, Metrioptera roeselii, continues to expand its distribution in Somerset. First reported from the county in 1996, and a real rarity until at least 2010, there were sightings of it in the Taunton area in 2018-19, at Longrun Meadow and in fields near Staple Fitzpaine. This week I’ve started hearing its distinctive high-pitched ‘buzzing’, on the 12th in an area of rank Arrhenatherum grassland at Thurlbear Quarrylands, then the following day near Orchard Wood. Marshall & Haes’s description of its song is worth quoting: “an intensely penetrating and continuous, if high-pitched, stridulation … the sound has been likened to that of an electrical discharge such as is emitted by pylon-cables in damp weather.” Definitely one to listen out for in the next few weeks…

When it comes to first-flowerings, it’s been a surprisingly productive week. Between us, we’ve seen 12 of the 14 spp on our target list for Weeks 16 and 17, five of them for the first time during the week just gone. Here are some of the highlights, following the usual roughly alphabetical order, and with Weeks 16/17 target spp emboldened.

‘A’. Following Chris’s exceptionally early Wild Angelica, Angelica sylvestris, on 29th June, the rest of us are slowly catching up, e.g. I had it at Staple Hill on the 9th, while Alastair picked it up today, the 15th, at Wimbleball. Also today, a second record for flowering Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris, this time from Dee at Clevedon Pill.

‘C’. A couple of thistles: Georgina’s Carline Thistle, Carlina vulgaris, at Ubley Warren on the 11th; and my own Woolly Thistle, Cirsium eriophorum, near Orchard Wood on the 13th – in an area that used to be a tree nursery, then became overrun with brambles, and is now an ever-improving mosaic of scrub and calcareous-clay grassland with hundreds (probably thousands) of Pyramidal Orchids, Anacamptis pyramidalis, and dozens of Bee Orchids, Ophrys apifera. Also a good week for Common Calamint, Clinopodium ascendens (or Calaminthain old money), with first-flowering records from Bleadon Hill on the 6th (Hilary), Wellington on the 9th (Linda), and Avon Gorge on the 14th (Georgina). And the first Dodder, Cuscuta epithymum, was also on the 14th, at Thurlbear Quarrylands.

I’ll spare you a further update on the colour forms of Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, except to say that f. quinquevulnerus, the one colour form that hadn’t been reported yet, was seen at Henlade Wood on the 14th. The ‘ticked’ forms are still outnumbered by the ‘unticked’, although there have been lots of records of f. notatus and f. pallidinotatus in the last couple of weeks. Could ‘ticked’ forms be later-flowering than ‘unticked’?

‘E’. I was up at Staple Hill on the 9th and noticed several flushes with just-flowering Marsh Willowherb, Epilobium palustre. Not one I usually record, but Walter Watson gives it as the latest-flowering of the willowherbs, with an average FFD of 22nd July, so possibly the 9th is quite an early date for it? Has anyone else seen it yet?

‘G’. Alastair reported Marsh Fragrant-orchid, Gymnadenia densiflora, from near Watchet on the 4th (so in Week 16).  Between 2008 and 2019 my earliest FFD for Autumn Gentian, Gentianella amarella, was 27th July, while Watson’s date for it was 15th August. So to find it just starting to flower at Thurlbear on the 12th came as quite a surprise—although Captain Roe’s FFDs for six years in the 1950s did include one amazingly early date for it, in 1958, when he recorded it at Goblin Combe on 8th July.

‘H’. Trailing St John’s-wort, Hypericum humifusum, wasn’t on our list of targets, but probably should have been. We may have missed its earliest flowering, but this week two of us recorded it for the first time: me at Staple Hill on the 9th, and Linda at Wiveliscombe on the 11th. It’s one of the latest Hypericum spp to flower, only Marsh St John’s-wort, H. elodes, being later—for which Watson’s FFD was 10th July. Have we missed that one too?

‘I’. Ploughman’s-spikenard, Inula conyzae, was flowering up at Thurlbear on the 12th, the first record of it since Andrew’s on 8th June at Purn Hill.

‘J’. (a.k.a. ‘S’) Dee has had flowering Hoary Ragwort, Jacobea erucifolia, today, the 15th, at Clevedon Pill. Still in bud around Taunton, but we can expect more records of it in the next week or so. This is one of about a dozen species flowering later now than in Watson’s day. Another, from the opposite end of spring, is Colt’s-foot, Tussilago farfara.

‘L’, ‘M’ & ‘P’. Alastair’s highlight of the last fortnight was on the 8th, when he came across more than 150 plants of Weasel’s-snout, Misopates orontium, at Porlock Marsh.More mundanely, it’s been a week of ‘catch-up’ for me, with Purple Moor-grass, Molinia caerulea, on the 9th at Staple Hill, Burnet-saxifrage, Pimpinella saxifraga, also on the 9th at Orchard Portman, Wild Parsnip, Pastinaca sativa, on the 12th at Thurlbear, and Amphibious Bistort, Persicaria amphibia, on the 13th between Obridge and Creech Castle. Amongst Linda’s ‘catch-ups’ was Water Mint, Mentha aquatica, on the 9th at Wellington, while Andrew’s included Common Fleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica, at Rooksbridge on the 13th. Dee saw Common Toadflax, Linaria vulgaris, on the 14th at Uphill—the first FFD of a species that should probably have been on the target list but wasn’t. Oh yes, and this morning I noticed lots of Water-pepper, Persicaria hydropiper, flowering in scrapes and hollows, and around pools, in Longrun Meadow.

‘S’ is for Sison. Stone Parsley, Sison amonum, has been spotted coming into flower round right across the county, including in Wellington on the 9th (Linda), Lilstock on the 12th (Ro), Brent Knoll village on the 14th (Andrew) and Clevedon today (Dee).

‘T’. At last, Wild Thyme, Thymus drucei, is flowering at Thurlbear, but good grief it’s taken its ‘thyme’—probably because of a severe infestation of the mite Aceria thomasi which causes woolly-haired shoot-tip ‘rosette’ galls. These can affect the flower buds, apparently. Andrew, meanwhile, has had first-flowering Thysselium palustre (= Peucedanum palustre) on Catcott Moor on the 14th. I’ve never recorded an FFD for it, but Watson’s date in the 1920s/30s was 28th July.

And lastly ‘U’ is, once again, for Ulex. Following Helena’s Western Gorse, Ulex gallii, on 27th June we’ve since had reports of it from Staple Hill on the 9th, and from Staple Plain, Quantocks (Maureen Webb), Oakhampton Wood (Linda) and Langford Heathfield (Chris), all on the 11th

As if to prove the point that spring isn’t quite over yet, Helena sent me a photo via WhatsApp of a still-flowering Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, which she found in the Blackdowns on the 12th. She thinks this could be a record last flowering date… I wonder, can anybody find a later one?

Week 16 Roundup

Week 16 Roundup: 8th July

With today’s return of Test match cricket, everything suddenly seems terribly normal again. Even the inevitable rain delays add to the sense of ‘business as usual’. We’ve won the toss and, despite a forecast of intermittent mizzle and generally muggy conditions, we’re going to bat. West Indies would have fielded anyway, apparently, so everyone’s happy. I’m off to listen to the opening exchanges.

Well, play eventually started at two, and they were off by quarter past, England scoring one run and losing one wicket in the process. Another half hour lost to rain, then two more overs and now they’re off again. Just two runs added to the total.

Turning away from the cricket for a moment, if you can bear it, Georgina had her first Harebell, Campanula rotundifolia, on the 6th at Blackmoor, Mendip; but she summed up the general mood when she said: “… it always feels like autumn when I see one.”

And I felt a similar ‘stab’ of autumn too, on the 4th at Orchard Wood, when amongst trackside Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, and Upright Hedge-parsley, Torilis japonica,I found my first heads of Common Fleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica. Linda and Chris had already recorded it flowering near Milverton, on 27th June, so I’d been on the look-out for it. What surprised me, though, was how the sight of those flower heads triggered an unexpected flood of memories of childhood summer holidays in Devon, of ripening blackberries, cream teas, scrabble and Ambre Solaire. But those striking yellow blooms brought to the surface less pleasant feelings, too, a stabbing sensation of summer being almost gone—marking, as they always did, the beginning of an unstoppable countdown to the start of a new term, a new school year…

Things may have stalled a little on the first-flowering front in recent days, but here’s Georgina again, who has “nesting spotted flycatchers in the garden plus three baby tawny owls … One of the adults was spied by me early one morning … attempting to catch serotine bats returning to roost, so plenty of nature to amuse me even if I can’t find many new plants.” The first Gatekeepers, Pyronia tithonus, have been seen this week, too.

Yet despite the ‘go slow’, there are still first flowerings to be had: from our target list, I had Stone Parsley, Sison amonum, at Corfe on the 6th, and Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris, and Water-pepper, Persicaria hydropiper, beside the River Tone on the 7th. Round-leaved Fluellen, Kickxia spuria, was a bonus while tramping the field-borders between Corfe and Pitminster. Also on the 6th, Andrew saw first-flowering Tubular Water-dropwort, Oenanthe fistulosa, at Max Bog, and Amphibious Bistort, Persicaria amphibia, at Mark Moor. The day before, there were reports from Ro of Burnet-saxifrage, Pimpinella saxifraga, flowering abundantly at East Quantoxhead, and Hawkweed Oxtongue, Picris hieracioides, at Kilton, while Georgina, at Ubley Warren, had her first Stemless Thistle, Cirsium acaule.

And then this morning, Andrew spotted the first few flowers on his local Water Mint, Mentha aquatica, in Brent Knoll village, while I came upon two plants of Small Teasel, Dipsacus pilosus, their flower-heads just beginning to ‘burst’. What a gorgeous plant Small Teasel is, with its understated ‘globose’ heads and whitish flowers, and lacking the brashness and over-confidence of its much larger cousin. Walter Watson’s first flowering dates (FFDs) for Water Mint and Small Teasel in the 1920s/30s were 30th July and 5th August respectively. Capt. Roe’s dates for Small Teasel in the 1950s were even later than that, with six of his eight FFDs being in September.

It may only be the second week of July, but we’re closer to autumn than we think.

England have progressed to 35-1 off 17.4 overs. Bad light’s stopped play, and there’s more rain around, so they’re taking an early tea. I think I’ll do the same.

Have a good week, everyone.


SRPG WhatsApp

Any member who would like to join the SRPG WhatsApp group, please contact me. All committee members are listed under the “About Us” heading. ( Or send a message via website enquiries if necessary ).

You can brag about your finds, first flowering ones perhaps, ask for ID help, or just see what others are up to.

For example, here is Cath Shelswell’s photo of buttercup achenes found at Rumwell near Taunton which was confirmed as Ranunculus sardous.

I’m assuming that any photograph which appears on the WhatsApp group can be used on the website or Newsletter, so only post if you’re happy with that.

Christine Loudon

Weeks 16 & 17 Preview

As spring shifts towards autumn, so the pace of first flowerings begins to slow down, which makes me think it probably makes sense to do another list to keep us occupied for at least the next fortnight. First of all, here are the three species we’re carrying over from Week 15:

Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris; Tubular Water-dropwort, Oenanthe fistulosa; Stone Parsley, Sison amonum  

To which we can add the following 11 species, making 14 in all:

Common Calamint, Calamintha ascendens; Hoary Ragwort, Jacobaea erucifolia; Water Mint, Mentha aquatica; Water-pepper, Persicaria hydropiper; Amphibious Bistort, Persicaria amphibia; Corn Mint, Mentha arvensis; Woolly Thistle, Cirsium eriophorum; Carline Thistle, Carlina vulgaris; Thorn-apple, Datura stramonium; Autumn Gentian, Gentianella amarella; Dodder, Cuscuta epithymum

As well as the above, it would be worth keeping an eye out for species already recorded by one or two of us, but which should be coming into flower more widely very soon, e.g. Common Fleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica,Burnet-saxifrage, Pimpinella saxifraga, Western Gorse, Ulex gallii, Hawkweed Oxtongue, Picris hieracioides, and Devil’s-bit Scabious, Succisa pratensis.

Do let me know each week—by 3 p.m. on 8th and/or 15th July would be ideal—if you see any of these (or other) spp coming into flower over the next two weeks, preferably by email to simonleach@phonecoop.coop.

Many thanks, and best wishes.