Simon’s roundups for weeks 1 to 9

Week 9 Roundup : 20th May

A tentative and partial ‘release’ from lockdown seems to have changed things quite dramatically for some of us, yet barely a jot for others. ‘Stay at home’ was a straightforward message, easily understood and (to a large extent) universally applied. Now it’s all got a bit more complicated than that. The roads are busier, and the daily routine isn’t quite as straightforward as before. There are more options, and apparently we now have to ‘stay alert’…

Well, nothing this week has seemed quite the same as last week. There’s the Blackbird, for a start. His endless ‘variations on a theme’ have been replaced by something a little more mundane, less adventurous, less musical somehow. It’s as though his heart isn’t quite in it any more. And while his stock phrases still ring out across the rooftops—especially very early in the morning when some of us are starting to wish he wouldn’t bother—in the middle of the day he becomes silent and skulking. He seems distracted, as if his mind’s on other things; and of course it is, since for the last couple of days we’ve been seeing them flying about with beaks full of nestling food. Once the eggs have hatched, there’s clearly more to life than singing. And so this weary rooftop flautist now has to spend some of each day food-gathering for  hungry nestlings, or else delivering his urgent chookchook-chook alarm calls from the deep cover of the neighbours’ holly tree. Which probably means cats are about. I fear this may not end well.

We have a hefty lump of flint on our garden table, collected some years ago from the beach at Sidmouth. It’s about the size of a butternut squash, with rounded knobbles and dark recesses and holes running through it. For us, it serves as a paperweight, but also, I’ve just noticed, it’s become a favourite resting place (or maybe nesting site?) for tiny bees. These little bees I’d been dismissing as flies; and they really are extremely small—probably no more than about 4-5mm in length. After much bee-watching, I’ve worked out they’re Hairy Yellow-face Bees, Hylaeus hyalinatus. It seems that telling one Hylaeus from another is a challenge – there are about a dozen species in Britain, each one sporting its own unique black-and-yellow face pattern. Males and females have different markings, too. Only one, thank goodness, has a hairy face like ours. Plate 2 of Steven Falk’s field guide, showing the faces lined up in six ranks of four, looks like something ripped from a catalogue of Darth Vader masks, or maybe one of those charts at Slimbridge  showing how to distinguish one Bewick’s Swan from another by its bill pattern.I’ve been mesmerised by these minuscule bees on their cobble of flint; if I hadn’t been instructed to stay at home I’d probably never have noticed them. Just imagine, for sixty-four years I’ve been totally oblivious to the existence of the ‘Hairy Yellow-face’. There’s always something, isn’t there? (Thank goodness.)

When it comes to botany, of course, I’d like to think I’m better able to pick up on these sorts of things. Yet, with apologies to Graham, Fred and Helena, I still happily turn a blind eye to Hawkweeds and Eyebrights. I just don’t get them. But you can’t hope to do everything, can you? You have to pick your battles…

Some battles, though, are more easily won than others, and Ro this week reminded me of one that, like getting to grips with Hylaeus, could be particularly well suited to this time of ‘staying put’: the colour-pattern variants of Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis. Mostly we ignore them, and yet Peter Sell took a particular delight in them, naming no less than ten easily recognised colour forms. We know we have many of these in the county, but which are common, and which less so? Could we perhaps, between us, work out a ‘league table’ for Somerset, from commonest to rarest? Do any of them have differing or particularly distinctive ecologies or habitat/soil requirements? To start the ball rolling, I’ll post on the website a home-made photographic chart depicting eight of the ten colour forms, plus a key to all ten so, if you’d like to, you can have a go at working out which ones you’ve got in your local area. I promise: they’re easier than dandelions…

Right, Week 9. Weather-wise it was like a back-to-front Week 8, so this time starting with a ground frost (1°C in Taunton on the 14th) and ending with a heatwave (25°C on the 20th). Another dry week too, and for the most part sunny. It pains me to say it, but still there’s been hardly a day of cricket lost to the weather, if only every day hadn’t been lost already—to the virus. Dragonflies and damselflies are really taking off now, if you’ll excuse the pun. I saw Broad-bodied Chaser, Libellula depressa, at Orchard Wood on the 14th, while Eve had depressa in the north of the county this week too. Several of you have reported seeing Beautiful Demoiselles, Calopteryx virgo, but not yet Banded, C. splendens. Of the damselflies, in Longrun Meadow Keith Gould—who I bumped into on Alma Street earlier this week—has so far recorded Large Red, Pyrrhosoma nymphula, Blue-tailed, Ischnura elegans, Common Blue, Enallagma cyathigerum, and Azure, Coenagrion puella.  Butterfly highlights of the week included two reports of Green Hairstreaks, one by a friend, Lynda Stewart, at Thurlbear on the 19th, the other by Georgina at Ubley Warren on the 20th. Georgina also had her first Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary on the 20th.

On the botanical front it’s been another busy week, with 16 of you sending in a total of 145 records covering 113 species. These included quite a few ‘late’ FFDs from higher altitudes of things recorded flowering in the ‘low country’ several weeks ago. It’s all starting to get terribly confusing, and hard to predict which species we need to be looking out for next. In all, we saw just 11 of the 20 species on our target list this week. The following summarises our Week 9 records: target species with their names emboldened, other notables slotted in as we go along, and the whole lot roughly arranged in alphabetical order by scientific name…

‘A’. Records have been tumbling in for Ground-elder, Aegopodium podagraria. Georgina says it was actually flowering in her garden last week, on the 12th, but others have begun seeing it this week, including Margaret at Strode on the 15th, Pat, also on the 15th, at Nettlecombe, and Helena with Dave Green on the 19th at Woolverton. The only other ‘A’ of note was Wild-oat, Avena fatua, in Upper Holway, Taunton, on the 18th.

‘B’. I’ve seen Meadow Brome, Bromus commutatus, in grassland near Orchard Wood on the 14th, also at Longrun on the 18th and Thurlbear on the 20th. Remarkably, also some very early Yellow-wort, Blackstonia perfoliata, in open stony ground beside the railway at Taunton station on the 15th. Watson would be spinning in his grave—his FFD for it about a century ago was 27th June!

‘C’. Linda very usefully picked up a couple of new sedges on a visit to Mount Fancy on the 16th, Common Yellow-sedge, Carex demissa, and Star Sedge, C. echinata. (Along with several other nice things, including Bog-bean, Menyanthes trifoliata, Lesser Spearwort, Ranunculus flammula, and Marsh Violet, Viola palustris. This is quite a late FFD for the violet, probably due to the fact that mostly none of us get to visit the right sort of habitat for it.) More sightings of Marsh Thistle, Cirsium palustre, this week included Linda at The Quants on the 13th, and me at Thurlbear on the 16th. Many of Pat’s FFDs at Nettlecombe are, unsurprisingly, lagging behind some other parts of the county, so all the remarkable that she recorded Spear Thistle, Cirsium vulgare, on the 15th, when Taunton’s plants—and I’ve looked at hundreds of them this week—are still stubbornly in tight bud. Two more records of Crested Dog’s-tail, Cynosurus cristatus, at Burnham-on-Sea on the 15th (Andrew), and at Lilstock on the 19th (Ro).

‘D’ for Dactylorchids…. Margaret has seen both Common Spotted-orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii, and Heath Spotted-orchid, D. maculata this week, the first at Winford (Redding Pits) on the 17th, the second on the 15th at Strode, where she also saw one of our target species, Southern Marsh-orchid, D. praetermissa. However, her first Southern Marsh-orchids were actually a day earlier, on the 14th, at Berrow, during her first botanical walk away from Winford since lockdown nine weeks ago. There have also been a couple more FFDs for Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea: at Ford Street on the 13th (Linda), and in Taunton on the 18th.

‘E’. Hoary Willowherb, Epilobium parviflorum, has at last been found flowering away from Fred’s ‘eastern enclave’, so in the part of Somerset called Somerset: Andrew saw it at Highbridge on the 19th. Helena visited Priddy Mineries on the 13th, with one of the highlights being Hare’s-tail Cottongrass, Eriophorum vaginatum. She says it’s normally an early-flowerer, but Watson would still have been mildly surprised, his average FFD being 30th May; although even ‘back in the day’ he did see it, very occasionally, flowering as early as April. More mundanely, I had flowering Californian Poppy, Eschscholzia californica, on waste ground in Canal Road, Taunton, on the 15th. (Nearby there was a lovely sprawling Sweet-pea, Lathyrus odoratus – a real rarity in the wild in Somerset, apparently.)

‘F’. Our target list included Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, but Hilary went one better, with flowering Dropwort, F. vulgaris, on Purn Hill on the 16th. No-one has yet seen Meadowsweet, although it was very close to flowering in Killams, Taunton, on the 19th.

‘G’. A sudden rush of records of Long-stalked Crane’s-bill, Geranium columbinum, this week: David H at Middle Hill Common on the 9th (so actually Week 8) was followed by Hilary on Bleadon Hill on the 14th, Chris at Langford Budville also on the 14th, me at Thurlbear on the 18th, and Gill up in the far north-east on the 19th. And a second record for Meadow Crane’s-bill, Geranium pratense, at Woolverton on the 19th (Helena).

‘H’. Margaret’s lockdown break-out to Berrow on the 14th also produced some flowering Sea Sandwort, Honckenya peploides, while there have been two records for Tutsan, Hypericum androsaemum, in Taunton on the 18th, and in Leigh Woods on the 19th (David H). Nettlecombe’s first Common Cat’s-ear, Hypochaeris radicata, was on the 17th, more than a month later than its first sighting in the Taunton area.

‘L’. A record from Fred of Grass-leaved Vetchling, Lathyrus nissolia, in Hants, but so far only a solitary Somerset record—that incredibly early one of Alastair’s in Minehead on 20th April. I have searched in several likely places, without success. But it must be flowering by now, mustn’t it? (And what about Yellow Vetchling, L, aphaca, too?) Meadow Vetchling, L. pratensis, has been remarkably slow off the mark, with Andrew’s record from Burnham-on-Sea on the 15th being the only one of the week. Privet, Ligustrum vulgare, was beginning to flower in Taunton on the 17th, while we also have a second record of Honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum, this time from Langford Budville area on the 14th. Marsh Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Lotus pedunculatus, seems to have flowered very much under the radar: David H saw it at Leigh Woods on the 19th, reporting that it had probably “been flowering for a while.”

‘M’. I saw a single plant of flowering Dwarf Mallow, Malva neglecta, growing around a roadside bollard in Upper Holway, Taunton, on the 18th. Ro was delighted to notch up Common Cow-wheat, Melampyrum pratense, on the 15th at Walford’s Gibbet where it was “… looking so pretty in dappled sunlight.” Linda also had Common Cow-wheat, at Thurlbear on the 18th. Following records in Week 8 of flowering Wall Lettuce, Mycelis muralis, in Hants and Bristol, we’ve finally had it beginning to flower in Somerset, in Gwynne Lane, Taunton, on the 18th.

‘N’. Yellow Water-lily, Nuphar lutea, was recorded by Val on the 11th (so Week 8) in the Glastonbury area, then on the 18th by Andrew on the Huntspill River. (Not one I usually record, but the White Water-lily, Nymphaea alba, was looking splendid on the pond at Roughmoor on the 17th.)

‘O’. Corky-fruited Water-dropwort, Oenanthe pimpinelloides, was just beginning to flower on the 18th in Trull.

‘P’. I had my first Hoary Plantain, Plantago media, at Thurlbear on the 20th, 11 days earlier than the 2008-17 decadal average FFD for it in the Taunton area, and more than 3 weeks earlier than Watson’s average FFD. David H’s record of Wood Meadow-grass, Poa nemoralis, in Leigh Woods on the 19th was similarly early. ‘P’ of the week, though, must surely go to Helena for her record of flowering Angular Soloman’s-seal, Polygonatum odoratum, in Cheddar Gorge on the 14th, while I had the first flower on Hoary Cinquefoil, Potentilla argentea, in Longrun Meadow on the 17th. Oh yes, and Andrew had Knotgrass, Polygonum aviculare, at Burnham-on-Sea on the 15th.

‘R’. Lots of sightings of Dog-rose, Rosa canina, this week, including Wellington, Glastonbury, Brent Knoll, Bleadon Hill and Leigh Woods. Only one more record, though, for Bramble, Rubus fruticosus agg. But, more interestingly, a ‘first’ for Raspberry, Rubus idaeus, at Nordrach on Mendip on the 15th (Georgina).

‘S’. It would be remarkable if Helena’s FFD for Mossy Saxifrage, Saxifraga hypnoides, on the 14th weren’t also its first flowering in the UK, given that Cheddar Gorge is an extreme southerly outpost for this ‘northern’ species. There have also been further sightings many other ‘S’ species, including Ragged Robin, Silene flos-cuculi, Bog Stitchwort, Stellaria alsine, Lesser Stitchwort, S. graminea, and Hedge Woundwort, Stachys sylvatica.  Plus, a cecidological ‘S’: in Leigh Woods on the 19th David H spotted galls on Wayfaring Tree, Viburnum lantana, caused by the gall-midge Sackenomyia reaumurii. I haven’t checked yet, but suspect this may be a ‘first’ for Somerset.

‘T’. Further records this week for Goat’s-beard, Tragopogon pratensis, and Salsify, T. porrifolius, as well as the hybrid between the two, T. x mirabilis. I have also been pleased to pick up flowering Hop Trefoil, Trifolium campestre, and Knotted Hedge-parsley, Torilis nodosa, on Taunton road verges, and Zigzag Clover, Trifolium medium, just beginning to flower on the 20th up at Orchard Wood. The most notable ‘T’, though, must surely be Steve’s ‘many plants’ of Woolly Clover, Trifolium tomentosum, at Huntworth, near Bridgwater Services, on the 17th – only the second record of this species in VC5 and Somerset.

‘V’. Helena, running more gently than usual, was able to spot Bithynian Vetch, Vicia bithynica, already flowering well on the 15th at Paulton. Other than that, the main ‘V’s this week have been Squirreltail Fescue, Vulpia bromoides, on a droughted grassy bank in Longrun Meadow on the 17th, and Rat’s-tail Fescue, V. myuros, which was seen on the 15th by Helena on her front path, and coincidentally by me on the same day on mine! And finally, the newsflash you’ve all been waiting for: on the 18th Helena ran 5 kms—that’s 3.15 miles—in under 35 minutes, and her first mile was 9 minutes 11 seconds, so two seconds faster than her previous best. I’ve never actually timed it, but suspect my own personal best over 5 kms is about an hour and a half. On a good day.

I’ll leave it to David H to wrap up this week’s report. On Sunday, 17th, he bravely “ventured into Wiltshire”, to visit Pewsey Downs…

“Couldn’t find a single orchid in flower … but did scratch out a few plants of Field Fleawort [Tephroseris integrifolia]. To be honest the best thing was the … Chalk Milkwort, Polygala calcarea, and Horseshoe Vetch, Hippocrepis comosa,stretching on and on, like a pattern infinitely repeated with slight variations. And … Marsh Fritillaries all over the shop, and [a single] Adonis Blue, like a scrap of the Aegean alighted on the Wessex ridge.”

Can we all go there next year, please?


Week 8 Roundup : 13th May

I have to begin with Blackbirds. Since the start of ‘lockdown’ eight weeks ago, one of the compensatory pleasures of being home-bound has been the opportunity—with the relative lack of traffic noise—to listen to birdsong. And even now, while I’m clack-clack-clacking on the computer keyboard, I’m aware of a more or less continuous backdrop of Blackbird song. From 5 in the morning until 9 at night, one particular Blackbird in our street is endlessly broadcasting its presence from various TV aerials and chimney pots. His song is both wonderfully varied and endlessly repetitive: he has two immediately recognisable ‘stock phrases’, both of them quite different to those of his neighbours. He can start to sound like a cracked record—the same phrases recurring ad nauseam—but listening more closely we’ve noticed that no two phrases are ever quite the same. Each time he repeats, he adds a squeal or a chatter drawn from an evidently limitless supply of ‘terminal flourishes’. So while one phrase might sound strident, like a statement of intent, the next—same phrase, but ending this time with an upward lilt—seems more like a question. Or, same again, but dipping at the end and melancholic in tone, might be followed by another that’s cheerily optimistic—like the punch line of a joke, complete with terminal chuckle. He seems to be playing with his song, testing out what works and what doesn’t, and keeping us on tenterhooks to find out exactly which phrase, with which flourish, he’ll choose to pull out from his bottomless song-bag next. He’s become the talk of the street. And during our VE-Day street party on Friday he was perched on the TV aerial adding his own commentary to the evening’s celebrations.

Week 8, and the start of the eighth week of lockdown, was dry and predominantly sunny again, the first half warm (26°C on Saturday), the second half less so. There was a ground-frost on Monday morning, the temperature overnight dipping to just 2°C in Taunton.  Sunday evening’s announcements on the gradual easing of the lockdown seemed to clarify and confuse in equal measure, but one thing we do know is that, from today, we’re free to take as much exercise as we like, and to drive as far as we like to take it – as long as that doesn’t involve driving into Wales, where the ‘stay at home’ instruction still applies. On the face of it, then, for some of us this may open up new possibilities for exercising/botanising further afield. I’m tempted, but I think for now I’ll be continuing to stick pretty close to home. Besides, I’m enjoying the lack of traffic…

Not many non-botanical highlights to report, although Helena seems to be chalking up a new ‘personal best’ of one sort or another each time she dons her Lycra. Her latest was a two-mile run, the first of which she completed in 9 minutes 13 seconds. (She doesn’t say how long the second mile took.) Usually she makes a few plant records while she’s out running—like we all do, I suppose—but now everything’s becoming a bit of a blur, apparently. We’ve also had three first-sightings of Common Blues, Georgina on the 7th, me on the 10th and Andrew on the 12th.  And I had a Red Admiral this morning, presumably a newly-arrived migrant rather than surviving over-winterer.

Right!  First flowerings. Another good week, but suddenly everything seems to be coming at once, and in no particular order. 123 records and 94 species. I’m beginning to lose track. Anyway, we saw 16 of the 20 species on our target list for Week 8, or 18 if you include records from the ‘eastern enclave’ otherwise known as Fred. Only Viper’s-bugloss, Echium vulgare, and Common Cow-wheat, Melampyrum pratense, seem to have evaded us altogether. The following summarises our Week 8 records: target species, as usual, with their names emboldened, other notables slotted in as and when, and the whole lot loosely arranged in alphabetical order by scientific name…

‘A’.  There have been patches of winter-flowering Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, on some road verges this year (my first record of Yarrow in flower in Taunton was between Christmas and New Year), but this is unusual and the decadal (2008-17) average FFD for it is 15th May. So the spring flush of new flower-heads noted in Taunton on the 7th and Wellington on the 9th (Linda) is much in line with expectations. Ground-elder, Aegopodium podagraria, has yet to be spotted flowering in Somerset, the only record so far being from the eastern bloc, in St Michael’s churchyard in Aldershot. Two more records for Black-grass, Alopecurus myosuroides, during the week, Helena in Paulton, and Jeanne between Blue Anchor and Watchet, both on the 10th.  Jeanne found it in a field of (flowering) Crimson Clover, Trifolium incarnatum subsp. incarnatum – a stunning plant which used to be much grown as a fodder crop. (Interestingly, on the 9th Maureen Webb, a member of Somerset Botany Group, had Crimson Clover in another field, near Kilve.) Georgina had a ‘hairy’ day in Mendip on the 7th, with both Hairy Lady’s-mantle, Alchemilla filicaulis subsp. vestita, at Black Rock, Mendip, and Hairy Rock-cress, Arabis hirsuta, at Velvet Bottom. Andrew recorded (and photographed) a gorgeous ‘Star of Persia’, Allium cristophii, growing beside a rhyne on Middle Street on the 9th – possibly a first or second record for VC6 and Somerset, and one of a number of unusual aliens to be mentioned in dispatches this week.

‘B’. This was the week for Quaking Grass, Briza media, with first-flowering records from Winford on the 9th (Margaret), Thurlbear and Brent Knoll on the 10th (me and Andrew), and Ubley Warren and Runnington on the 12th (Georgina and Chris L.). The unlikeliest ‘B’ came from Margaret’s garden in Winford, with a report of self-seeded Interrupted Brome, Bromus interruptus, now flowering in one of her flower pots!

‘C’. Spiked Sedge, Carex spicata, actually made its first appearance in Week 7, Margaret seeing it in Winford on the 7th, and Ro at Lilstock on the 5th.  Some species, though, really seem to be getting ahead of themselves, and I’ve had two this week, both bindweeds, both in Taunton: Hedge Bindweed, Calystegia sepium, on the 7th, and Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, on the 11th – the first in South Street, the second on Upper Holway Road. It’s been quite a week for thistles too: Spear Thistle, Cirsium vulgare, our ‘target’ thistle, was seen by Linda in Wellington on the 9th and by Val in Glastonbury on the 13th. Pat, also on the 9th, had a very early Creeping Thistle, C. arvense, at Nettlecombe, while Alastair saw flowering Marsh Thistle, C. palustre, at Crowcombe on the 8th.  And Georgina recorded Musk Thistle, Carduus nutans, in Cheddar Gorge on the 7th.  As if to emphasise how much later some parts of the county can be than others, Chris B. had her first-flowering Pignut, Conopodium majus, at East Harptree on the 10th, almost three weeks after its earliest sighting near Wellington. Finally, Alastair saw Hound’s-tongue, Cynoglossum officinale, starting to flower at Dunster beach on the 10th.

‘D’. Common Spotted-orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii, has been popping up all over the place – at Ivythorn Hill on the 8th (Fiona), Langford Heathfield on the 9th (Ian Loudon), Thurlbear on the 10th, and Middle Street, Brent Knoll, on the 12th (Andrew). Ian had flowering Heath Spotted-orchid, D. maculata, also on the 9th, and also at Langford Heathfield.

‘E’. I had Square-stalked Willowherb, Epilobium tetragonum, in Taunton on the 7th, while Fred reports it in flower in Bordon on the 9th. I know, I’d never heard of Bordon either. It’s between Alton and Haslemere. Chris B. had an Eyebright, Euphrasia agg., in East Harptree on the 10th, while Andrew reminds me that he saw early-flowering Euphrasia tetraquetra at Uphill on 23rd April.

‘G’. Huge excitement beside the river Tone on the 12th, with drifts of Meadow Crane’s-bill, Geranium pratense, just starting to flower—only 43 days earlier than Watson’s FFD for it! Also Flote-grass, Glyceria fluitans, in Taunton on the 9th, and Middle Street, Brent Knoll, on the 12th.  And Margaret had Plicate Sweet-grass, G. notata, at Dundry Hill on the 9th.

‘H’. Barely worth mentioning but, following last week’s flurry of records, I can report that Common Rock-rose, Helianthemum nummularium, was just starting to flower at Thurlbear on the 10th.

‘I’. I’m not sure what to make of the yellow-flowered variety of Stinking Iris, Iris foetidissima var. citrina. Margaret had a flower of it at Sand Point in March, and I’ve now found another patch – the first time I’ve seen it in the Taunton area – flowering nicely in a roadside hedge in Killams. I’m guessing it’s either deliberately planted there or else a garden escape/throw-out. Does this variety tend to flower especially early, I wonder? And is it generally regarded as a native variety, or as a plant in cultivation that sometimes leaps the garden wall?  Can anyone shed any light please?

‘J’.  ‘J’ is for Senecio… Two more records this week for Common Ragwort, Jacobea vulgaris aka Senecio jacobea – Linda in Wellington on the 9th, and Andrew in Highbridge on the 12th.

‘L’. Our first Meadow Vetchling, Lathyrus pratensis, was seen by Linda in Wellington on the 9th, while there were two further records for Rough Hawkbit, Leontodon hispidus, in Brent Knoll churchyard on the 6th (Andrew) and in Taunton on the 11th (me); also I’ve had our first Lesser Hawkbit, L. saxatilis, flowering on the road verge where I’d seen Sea Pearlwort, Sagina maritima, and Sea Hard-grass, Catapodium marinum a few weeks earlier.  We’ve also had Privet, Ligustrum vulgare, spotted by Val in the Glastonbury area earlier today.And finally, there was a precocious Honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum, flowering in a hedgerow at Killams, Taunton, on the 9th.

‘M.’ Common Mallow, Malva sylvestris, is now flowering quite widely, with records this week from Minehead (Alastair) and Middle Street (Andrew). Our only flowering Wall Lettuce, Mycelis muralis, was annoyingly from the eastern enclave, so remains on the list as one of our targets for Week 9.

‘O’. Once again, Brent Knoll leads the charge, with the county’s first (and so far only) record of flowering Corky-fruited Water-dropwort, Oenanthe pimpinelloides – on the 10th, in Brent Knoll village, where Andrew says, “I was amazed to see these plants, which went from basal rosettes to 18 inch stems and first flowers in less than a week!” A couple of alien ‘O’s too this week: Linda had flowering Star-of-Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum, on the 9th in Wellington, while I had Upright Yellow-sorrel, Oxalis stricta, on the 12th, growing as a pavement weed on East Reach.

‘P’. A motley collection of ‘P’s this week, only one of which was on the target list – Creeping Cinquefoil, Potentilla reptans, seen by Andrew on the 9th at Middle Street, and by me in Taunton on the 12th. Another Common Poppy, Papaver rhoeas, this time at Dunster beach on the 10th (Alastair), while Pat had an extraordinarily early Corn-parsley, Petroselinum segetum, at Nettlecombe on the 6th. Andrew’s Hoary Plantain, Plantago media, on the 10th at Brent Knoll, was also very early – its 2008-17 decadal average FFD for the Taunton area is 31st May.Lastly, I had Common Knotgrass, Polygonum aviculare, on the 8th on Cotlake Hill, Trull. Another early date: Watson would have been amazed, his own FFD for P. aviculare from the 1920s/30s was 16th June!

‘R’. Lots of Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor, seen this week, including Chris B. at East Harptree on the 4th, Margaret at Winford on the 9th, me at Thurlbear on the 10th, and Sue Carpenter (a new contributor) in St James’s churchyard, Taunton, on the 12th. Other than that, our first Weld, Reseda luteola, was flowering well on waste ground on Canal Road, Taunton, also on the 12th, along with my own first Bramble, Rubus fruticosus agg., which, as expected, was ‘Himalayan Giant’, R. armeniacus. And today, Alastair has seen Marsh Yellow-cress, Rorippa palustris, flowering at Wimbleball Reservoir.

‘S’. Like Chris B’s Pignut, so also Ellen’s just-flowering Elder, Sambucus nigra, on the 8th, which again illustrates the difference in FFDs between the ‘balmy south’ and the ‘frozen north’. A ridiculously late ‘first date’, really, given that our earliest FFD for it this spring was on Easter Sunday, 12th April—but even Ellen’s date would have seemed early to Watson, his FFD (from the Taunton area, don’t forget) was 20th May!  See also ‘U’, below.

More ‘S’s… First, Schedonorus pratensis, Meadow Fescue – and how did its old name sneak onto last week’s list? – which several of us have seen, including Pat at Nettlecombe on the 6th, and me in Trull on the 11th. And Fred’s had it in the Far East too. Ragged Robin, Silene flos-cuculi, was flowering in Longrun on the 7th, while Chris L. had Bladder Campion, S. vulgaris, at Thorne St Margaret on the 8th. Several more records of Bittersweet, Solanum dulcamara, this week too, including Taunton, Minehead and Aldershot. And early records for Branched Bur-reed, Sparganium erectum, in Taunton on the 9th, and Lesser Stitchwort, Stellaria graminea, at Nettlecombe, also on the 9th (Pat). We’ve had two records for Hedge Woundwort, Stachys sylvatica, at Sandford on the 7th (Andrew) and in Taunton on the 11th.

‘T’.  Andrew spotted first-flowering Knotted Hedge-parsley, Torilis nodosa, at Oldmixon on the 8th, and we have had another good record for Salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius, this time Linda in Wellington on the 9th. Our target ‘T’ was Hop Trefoil, Trifolium campestre, which Alastair spotted in flower on the 7th on North Hill, Minehead.

‘U’. Ellen would, I’m sure, want everyone to know that on the 8th, on Greendown, she saw Common Nettle, Urtica dioica. In an email entitled ‘Catching up with Taunton’, she says: “[I’ve had] my first flowering Urtica—and I had to go out of my way to find it out of thousands searched…” Here in Taunton, meanwhile, I’m struggling to find any that’s not flowering!  Interestingly, very few of you have reported this species, so I’m starting to wonder, could Taunton be out of kilter with the rest of the county? If it’s any consolation, Watson’s FFD for it was 22nd May—so you’re in good company, Ellen!

‘V’. Heath Speedwell, Veronica officinalis, seems to be flowering quite widely now, with records this week from Black Rock, Mendip (Georgina), Langford Heathfield (Chris L.) and Wimbleball (Alastair). Plus a record from Bramshill (Fred). And, for what it’s worth, I’ve finally seen Brooklime, Veronica beccabunga, at Thurlbear on the 10th.

Winding up for another week, here are a few lines from a poem, about spring, printed in last week’s Guardian Weekly:

“… the lights of the flowers / coming in waves / as I walked with the budburst / and the flushing of trees …”



‘Week 7’ Roundup : 6th May

I dived into my emails on Saturday morning and alighted immediately on an incoming message with the subject title “BOOM!!” It was from Linda. Two days before, on the 30th, she had emailed with a photo of her first – our first – Black Bryony, Tamus communis. I suggested, in reply, that all she needed now was White Bryony, Bryonia dioica, to complete the set. I imagined this would be unlikely so early in the week, and besides, I had my own plans for White Bryony; last year there had been a great sprawling, clambering – and early-flowering – patch of it in a riverside tangle at Roughmoor, so that was where I’d be heading. This would be one of the easier plants, I fancied, in the week ahead – just a matter of getting the timing right, really.

But the next day, May Day, Linda took a stroll out to Nynehead, where – expletives deleted – she stumbled upon the first flowering Bryonia of the year. In VC6 this would be called a squeak; in VC5, evidently, it’s now to be known as a BOOM. Attached to her email there were three photos: one of the plant, a close-up of the flowers, and one of a woman with a Cheshire cat grin, standing beside a hedge. The subject title, the message and the photos said it all, really, revealing both the plant and the pleasure, plain as day, in black and white – black one day, white the next… The complete set, damn it! 

Black Bryony has had quite a week. Along with its white namesake (no relation – one’s a monocot, the other’s a dicot),it was on our list of potential Week 7 first-flowerers. But whereas our first flowering dates (FFDs) for most species have tended to span several weeks – varying according to microclimate, aspect, altitude, distance from the sea, etc. – the onset of flowering of Black Bryonyhas shown a remarkable synchronicity across the county. Following Linda’s trail-blazer on 30th April, Val (Glastonbury), Ro (Honibere) and I (Orchard Wood) all reported it for the first time on May Day, followed by Liz (Wedmore) and Chris (Wiveliscombe) on the 2nd – and then Helena and Jim (Paulton) on the 3rd, who took a seven-mile hike to Chewton Wood and saw “nothing from the Week 7 list until we were almost home when … we finally found Tamus.”  So it’s a fair bet that others will start seeing it in the next few days. Note that the earliest flowers tend to be on the lowest (least conspicuous) axillary racemes, while the upper, more visible, racemes are still tightly in bud.

To put these FFDs for Black Bryony into context, in twelve years of recording first flowerings my earliest date for it was 29th April, in 2011, while the latest was 2nd June, in 2013.  For the Taunton area, the 2008-17 decadal average FFD for Black Bryony was 18th May; Walter Watson’s, from almost a hundred years ago, and similarly based mainly on observations around Taunton, was 2nd June. By any measure, then, for Black Bryony the spring of 2020 is proving to be an especially early one…

… Which is hardly surprising, given the weather we’ve been having. The long, warm, dry spell has been only briefly punctuated by cooler, damper conditions. We had a taste of these during Week 7, with fronts bringing cloud and rain on Thursday, Sunday and Tuesday, and with temperatures for the most part well down on previous weeks. One evening we even lit the fire. The rain was badly needed and, despite the cooler temperatures, has probably helped to further accelerate spring rather than slow it down.

Before we tackle the rest of this week’s hit-list, let’s quickly highlight a few other happenings in the natural world…

  • It’s been another good week for butterflies: holly blues are still in abundance, while I had my first Small Heaths, Grizzled and Dingy Skippers on the 4th at Thurlbear. Georgina reported her first ‘dingy’ on the same day, at Ubley Warren, but her first ‘grizzly’ was much earlier, on 19th April – same date as in 2019, apparently. Has anyone had a Common Blue yet?
  • And what about dragonflies? My first Beautiful Demoiselle, Calopteryx virgo, was on the 2nd, beside the river Tone at Obridge. No damsels, although surely others are seeing them by now?
  • If you’re on the Levels you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about, but in Taunton this year we appear to have at least four singing Cetti’s Warblers – one each at Hankridge, Obridge, Longrun and Roughmoor.
  • Last week’s Swifts vanished, so we had to endure several days of empty skies, until the 4th when there was a sudden arrival of new birds – and these turned out to be our birds! From midday onwards screamers were circling high overhead, while later in the afternoon some of the birds began hurtling about at rooftop height …
  • And then one of them peeled away from the rest of the group, suddenly dipping and dropping, then curving round and up for a first, hurried ‘fly-past’ of its nest-site. It’s hard enough to comprehend the length of the journey this bird must have been on since it was last here, yet harder still to appreciate the precision of its return; back from Africa, somewhere south of the Sahara, to the familiar, slightly warped fascia board on the gable-end of 16, Gordon Road, TA1 3AU.

This week, the seventh since the start of ‘lockdown’, produced the largest batch of first-flowerings yet: more than 160 records and about 100 species, shared between 18 recorders. We saw 16 of the 20 species on our target list. Here they all are, as usual in roughly alphabetical order, with a few ‘extras’ getting a mention along the way…

‘A’. At last, we’ve ‘ticked’ Black-grass, Alopecurus myosuroides. I’d begun to think we’d never get it. Ro was the first, at Lilstock, on the 4th, followed by Andrew in Highbridge and me in Trull, both on the 5th. The Trull plants were growing along an arable margin with new-flowering Black-bindweed, Fallopia convolvulus. Two days earlier, on the 3rd, Andrew also had Horse-radish, Armoracia rusticana, on Wick Lane, near Brent Knoll.

‘B’. White Bryony, Bryonia dioica. As a footnote to Linda’s record, my phone ‘pinged’ a few minutes ago and it was an incoming WhatsApp photo of a White Bryony flower, from Helena in Paulton. Which means we have now had two records for it this week, neither of them mine.

‘C’. This week’s sedges have included a very early Pale Sedge, Carex pallescens, recorded by Chris at Langford Heathfield on 30th April, and several records of False Fox-sedge, Carex otrubae, including Linda in Wellington on the 1st, Liz near Wedmore on the 2nd, and Ro at Lilstock on the 4th.  Remote Sedge, Carex remota, is now widely flowering in the south of the county, with records this week from Wellington, Langford Heathfield, Taunton, Thurlbear and Orchard Wood. Dogwood, Cornus sanguineus, has been slow to blossom, but Ro saw it at Lilstock on the 4th, while I had it the next day at Trull.  We’ve also notched up two of this week’s target ‘C’s. Smooth Hawk’s-beard, Crepis capillaris, was seen by Alastair in Minehead on 24th April (so actually in Week 6), while Dee had it in Clevedon on the 30th.  Crested Dog’s-tail, Cynosurus cristatus, was coming into flower on a road verge in Taunton this morning. But perhaps the most exciting – and certainly the most photogenic – ‘C’ of the week was Chris’s record of first-flowering Meadow Thistle, Cirsium dissectum, at Langford Heathfield. This isn’t a species I routinely record, so I’m not sure whether this is especially early or not – but Walter Watson would have been flabbergasted: his FFD for it was 12th June!

‘H’. In Week 6, Hilary visited Purn Hill where, on 23rd April, she recorded not only Common Rockrose, Helianthemum nummularium, but also White Rockrose, H. apenninum, and the hybrid between the two, H. x sulphureum. Andrew also saw Common Rockrose in Week 6, at Cross Quarry on the 25th, while in Week 7 Ellen had it at East Harptree on the 1st, and Anne at Broadmead Quarry on the 3rd.  It isn’t flowering yet at Thurlbear.

‘L’ to ‘P’.  Just the one record for Rough Hawkbit, Leontodon hispidus, Helena seeing it in the churchyard in Midsomer Norton this afternoon (6th). ‘L’ of the week, though, should probably go to Andrew for his first-flowering Pale Flax, Linum bienne,at Uphill on the 2nd. (The only ‘L’ I could produce was Rye-grass, Lolium perenne, in the back garden on the 2nd.)  Water-cress, Nasturtium officinale, was spotted by Liz on the 2nd.  The first record for flowering Corn Poppy, Papaver rhoeas, was also on the 2nd, as Gill pushed her bike up the hill coming out of Nunney. I had it this morning, in less desirable surroundings, on a road verge in Taunton. But ‘P’ of the week, although not on our list, must surely be Greater Butterfly-orchid, Platanthera chlorantha, recorded at Thurlbear Quarrylands (me) and Ivythorn Hill (Fiona Davis), both on the 4th – an exceptionally early first date. My decadal average FFD for Greater Butterfly-orchid is 28th May, while Watson’s first date for it was 4th June.

‘R’. The first bramble to come into flower is usually Dewberry, Rubus caesius. Watson’s dates were 5th May for Dewberry and 21st June for Rubus fruticosus agg. While the latter is now flowering much earlier than that, FFDs for Dewberry have hardly changed at all. Anyway, we’ve had both during the week: the first R. caesiusrecords were from Orchard Wood on the 1st, Roughmoor on the 3rd and Lilstock on the 4th (Ro), while the sole R. fruticosusrecord was from Station Road, Brent Knoll, on the 3rd (Andrew). Early-flowering ‘fruticosus’, at least in Taunton, tends to be the alien – and delicious – ‘Himalayan Giant’, R. armeniacus, which should start blooming within the next week. Elm-leaved Bramble, Rubus ulmifolius, usually follows about a fortnight after the ‘Giant’…

We had three ‘S’s on the list, and we found them all! Annual Pearlwort, Sagina apetala/filicaulis, was recorded in pavement cracks in Taunton on the 4th and Midsomer Norton on the 6th. White Stonecrop, Sedum album, was flowering on a road verge in Taunton, again on the 4th, and in Burnham-on-Sea on the 5th.  Chris had what seemed to be the first record of White Campion, Silene latifolia, at Runnington (near Wellington), on 30th April, followed by Andrew’s at Berrow, beside the churchyard, on the 4th. Then Alastair, in an email this afternoon, listed it with several other species as having been in flower at Dunster beach on 26th April (Week 6); but then another email, close on its tail, was to say he’d just remembered that White Campion was already flowering there several weeks earlier, on 27th March (Week 2) – and he attached a photo to prove it! That’s a very early record for it, but there’s no doubting its veracity. Another ‘S’ of note, by the way, was an early Bittersweet, Solanum dulcamara, recorded by Liz near Wedmore on the 2nd.

‘T’ is for Tamus. Nothing to add on that one. But a brief nod here to Goat’s-beard, Tragopogon pratensis, which several of you have reported for the first time this week, including Liz in Wedmore, Val in Glastonbury, Ro at Lilstock, and Andrew at Lympsham. It should probably have been one of our Week 7 targets. Another ‘T’, White Clover, Trifolium repens, is now popping up all over the county, from Nynehead and Lilstock in the south and west to Midsomer Norton in the far north.

And finally, ‘V’. This week’s ‘V’ is Heath Speedwell, Veronica officinalis, which was flowering nicely at Thurlbear Quarrylands on the 4th.

Amongst the other more interesting FFDs this week: Bugloss, Lycopsis  arvensis, at Dunster beach on 26th April (Alastair) and Wellington on 4th May (Linda); Downy Oat-grass, Avenula pubescens at Berrow on the 4th (Andrew); a second Rough Chervil, Chaerophyllum temulum, this time on Cotlake Hill, near Trull, on 30th April; Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, at Hurlstone on the 2nd (Alastair); Common Spike-rush, Eleocharis palustris, near Wedmore on the 2nd (Liz); Smooth Tare, Ervum tetraspermum (= Vicia tetrasperma), at Nettlecombe on the 6th (Pat);Tall Ramping-fumitory, Fumaria bastardii, at Lilstock on the 2nd (Ro), plus White R-f, F. capreolata, at Wedmore, also on the 2nd (Liz); Small-flowered Crane’s-bill, Geranium pusillum, in the churchyard at Berrow on the 4th (Andrew); Common Water-crowfoot, Ranunculus aquatilis, near Wedmore on the 2nd (Liz), and its coastal counterpart Brackish Water-crowfoot, Ranunculus baudotii, at Dunster beach on 26th April (Alastair); second records of Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor, from Chewton Mendip on the 1st (Ellen), and Wild Clary, Salvia verbenaca, in and around Ro’s garden at Lilstock on the 3rd; Common Figwort, Scrophularia nodosa, at Greenaleigh on the 1st (Alastair);Sea Campion, Silene uniflora, at Blackmoor, Mendip, on the 4th (Georgina);Bog Stitchwort, Stellaria alsine, on Croydon Hill, also on the 4th (Alastair); and Field Pansy, Viola arvensis, at Nynehead on the 1st (Linda).

Oh yes, and one more ‘first’ this week, from Ellen: “The first forage harvester heard howling on the hill beyond the village … [which] always marks the transition from spring to summer for me.”

Many thanks, as usual, for your records, and apologies if I’ve inadvertently omitted anything of particular interest. You’ve brightened up my week no end.


Week 6’ Roundup : 29th April

When I’m kerb-crawling I always think of Clive. I mean this, of course, in the nicest way possible. He and I share, along with many others in the group, a particular fondness for road-verge botanising, and this week I’ve been reflecting on why this might be so.  It may have something to do with the lure of the unexpected. Absolutely anything can pop up on the kerbside, so you never quite know what you might come across next. It could be a scarce alien, like the (flowering) plants of Annual Toadflax, Linaria maroccana, I stumbled upon a couple of weeks ago on the edge of Canal Road, near the site of Taunton’s old livestock market – only the third record for this species in VC5 this century! Or what about the Woolly Clover, Trifolium tomentosum, found last year, and again this, on the cut-and-scalped verge outside Wickes?

Aliens are all well and good, but often it’s roadside coastal plants that generate the greater excitement. This week’s offering (after last week’s Sea Fern-grass, Catapodium marinum, Sea Pearlwort, Sagina maritima,and Bird’s-foot Clover, Trifolium ornithopodioides) has included (fruiting) Sea Stork’s-bill, Erodium maritimum, on Trenchard Way – the new road on the south side of Taunton railway station – and Lesser Chickweed, Stellaria pallida,a sand dune annual masquerading as a pavement weed in Bridge Street near the wholefood shop. Botanically, these verges often have a distinctly maritime feel to their flora; so if, like me, you’re an inland dweller desperate for a whiff of sea air, a stroll along a (relatively) deserted highway could be the answer. You can’t go to the seaside, so why not investigate your local road verge and see if the seaside’s come to you?

Still on verges, several of you are noticing that flowery roadsides have (so far) escaped their usual ‘spring cut’. Not so in Taunton, where the mowing gangs – and the gang mowers – have been much in evidence this week; frustrating, I agree, if the plants you were willing into flower end up decapitated before their time, but a pleasing sight, for Clive and me at least, since many of the little annuals in these places – Knotted Hedge-parsley, Torilis nodosa, and Small-flowered Buttercup, Ranunculus parviflorus, for example – seem to thrive on a regular close shave – plus, ideally, a combination of spring/summer drought and the odd pinch of de-icing salt in winter.

Week 6. Another dry, warm week, until a late hiccup of rain yesterday and today which, in a parallel universe, annoyingly led to the final day of the championship match between Somerset and Hampshire being a wash-out. It would have fizzled out as a draw, probably. In this universe, Steve Parker spotted his first swifts while clapping for carers in N. Petherton on the 23rd.  Maureen Webb, who lives in Priorswood – a real hotspot for breeding swifts – had two flying over her house on the 25th, while we had high-altitude ‘screamers’on two evenings, the 24th and 27th, but despite much sky-scanning we have yet to actually see them. Anyway, the main thing is: THEY’RE BACK! Which, as Ted Hughes says, “… means the globe’s still working, the creation’s/still waking refreshed, our summer’s/still all to come …”

Other summer migrants touching down this week have included lesser whitethroats (Eve Tigwell’s on the 26th, mine on the 27th) and cuckoos (Eve, in Mendip, on the 24th; Maureen, on Cothelstone Hill, on the 25th). Still no sedge warblers though. And as for tree pipits, pied flycatchers, redstarts and wood warblers; well, for those of us unable to visit wooded combes on Exmoor or the Quantocks, these birds are the stuff of dreams…

Turning now to ‘first flowerings’, it is interesting to see how varied first flowering dates (FFDs) are from different parts of the county. Several of you have noted how onset of flowering is affected by altitude, distance from the coast, aspect, etc. As Ellen McDouall and Eve will testify, anyone high up on a north-facing slope a long way from the sea should expect to be perhaps 2-3 weeks behind the rest of us. Even in the ‘deep south’, this is the case. The moment of ‘peak bluebell’ at Thurlbear Wood (80-90 metres a.s.l.) was about 10 days ago, but at Cothelstone Hill (250 metres a.s.l.) they’ve only just begun to look their best, with the peak probably still a few days away.  It is noteworthy, though, that since the middle of March everyone has seen something in flower before anyone else – even those who feel that they’re generally trotting along about two weeks behind the rest of us.  

This week, the sixth since ‘lockdown’, was another bumper week for first flowerings, with seventeen of you contributing more than 110 records involving 86 species. Our target list for ‘Week 6’ comprised 24 species, of which 14 were seen and 10 weren’t. Here’s a summary of the 14 we did see, arranged, as usual, in roughly alphabetical order, with others of particular interest getting an honourable mention in passing…

Starting with the ‘C’s… Welted Thistle, Carduus crispus, was just starting to flower near Roughmoor on the 28th, where it grows in a scrum of tall herbage on the banks of the river Tone. Remote Sedge, Carex remota, is yet to start flowering in Taunton, but Andrew Robinson had it in Brent Knoll churchyard on the 21st.  Other sedges have been widely noted, and it’s been a good week, especially, for Grey Sedge, C. divulsa: Steve had it in N. Petherton on the 23rd, while Caroline Giddens, also on the 23rd, saw it flowering in Alcombe, followed by Dee Holladay in St Mary’s churchyard, and Liz in Wedmore, on the 25th

Following my (bracketed) mention of back-garden Starved Wood-sedge, Carex depauperata, Fred Rumsey – from his tiny enclave of would-be Somerset within a region otherwise known, apparently, as Hampshire – reports no fewer than 18species (or hybrids) flowering in his sedgecollection. Many are northern ‘exotica’ that aren’t found in Somerset, and, frankly, shouldn’t really be in Hampshire either, like Fibrous Tussock-sedge, Carex appropinquata, String Sedge, C. chordorrhiza, Bird’s-foot Sedge, C. ornithopoda and Sheathed Sedge, C. vaginata. Not to mention a Lady’s-slipper, Cypripedium, called ‘Hank Small’. On the 23rd, he saw Yellow Pimpernel, Lysimachia nemorum, and Marsh Valerian, Valeriana dioica, in a nearby local nature reserve. Talking of which… Back in Somerset proper, Gill Read encountered Marsh Valerian on the 28th at Postlebury. A really interesting ‘first’, this one, as it’s probably not something many of us are likely to come across on our home patches. It’s certainly not on mine!

Returning to ‘C’, the large form of Fern-grass, Catapodium rigidum,subsp. majus, was found flowering as a pavement weed on Holway Avenue, Taunton, on the 26th. It had been ‘in bud’ for about 10 days, and then suddenly – overnight – the yellow anthers emerged. These made the whole inflorescence look ‘gritty’, as if it had become covered with minuscule sand grains.

Moving on to ‘E’. Just the one this week, Broad-leaved Willowherb, Epilobium montanum, which was seen by Steve in N. Petherton on the 20th, in Week 5, but its identity wasn’t confirmed until the start of Week 6. I had it in Taunton, another pavement weed, on the 26th.  Then there’s a couple of grasses. Yorkshire Fog, Holcus lanatus, was seen in Taunton on the 26th and by Linda Everton in Wellington on the 27th, while on the 25th Andrew had Rye-grass, Lolium perenne, on Brent Knoll. Within a week or so it will probably be everywhere…

We did well with the ‘P’s: we had two to find and we found them both. Graham Lavender recorded first flowers of Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Pilosella officinarum, on the 23rd, and close-up examination of the hairs on the leaves identified his plants as subsp. euronota(described in ‘Sell & Murrell’, but not in ‘Stace’). Andrew also saw it on the 23rd, at Uphill, Dee had it in Clevedon on the 24th, Linda in Wellington on the 25th, and finally, finally, I saw it just coming into flower at Thurlbear on the 27th.  Silverweed, Potentilla anserina, was spotted by Andrew in a lay-by at Webbington, while Linda saw it in Wellington, both on the 25th.  Helena Crouch, also on the 25th, dashed past it while on a two-mile run with her daughter Jenny. Doubtless spurred on by the Silverweed, Helena notched up a new ‘personal best’ of 20 minutes 45 seconds.

We did even better with the ‘R’s. Two of you reported Celery-leaved Buttercup, Ranunculus sceleratus: Andrew in Brent Knoll village on the 19th (so actually in Week 5), and Liz McDonnell in Wedmore on the 28th. Dog-rose, Rosa canina(agg.), was flowering at Roughmoor on the 28th, and at Obridge on the 29th. I anticipate a flood of Dog-rose records during Week 7. The first Curled Dock, Rumex crispus, was on the 24th, in Taunton, although Graham or Clive might well have determined it as a ‘probable hybrid’. But as it was me determining it, this simplified things enormously!

One species I thought we wouldn’t get this week was Wild Clary, Salvia verbenaca. Certainly, its sites around Taunton are all too distant or difficult to get at easily. Anyway, I needn’t have fretted, as Andrew turned it up on his visit to Uphill on the 23rd – along with Honewort, Trinia glauca: another of those Mendip specialities that, to me, feel like the half-forgotten inhabitants of a former world, a world where Somerset would doubtless have trounced Hampshire within three days…

White Clover, Trifolium repens, on the other hand, is a plant we can all relate to, and one we’re all bound to get sooner or later. Probably sooner, since Andrew and I both had it on the 24th – me near Taunton railway station, and Andrew on Brent Knoll. Four days later it was coming into flower more widely in Taunton, including in Longrun Meadow.

And finally, our ‘V’ of the week was Guelder-rose, Viburnum opulus, reported from Bossington by Caroline’s friend Ruth Hyett on the 21st, Brent Knoll churchyard on the 24th (Andrew) and Roughmoor on the 28th (me).

Amongst the other more interesting FFDs this week: Kidney-vetch, Anthyllis vulneraria, at Uphill on the 23rd (Andrew); Lesser Pond-sedge, Carex acutiformis, and Oval Sedge, C. leporina, at Wedmore on the 28th and 27th respectively (Liz); a second FFD for Crosswort, Cruciata laevipes, this time at Ubley Warren on the 23rd (Georgina Shuckburgh); Swine-cress, Lepidium coronopus, in Trull on the 25th (me), and Wedmore on the 28th (Liz); Ivy Broomrape, Orobanche hederae, in Clevedon on the 23rd (Dee); Lousewort, Pedicularis sylvatica, at GB Gruffy nature reserve on the 26th (Georgina), and near Wellington on the 27th (Linda, with Tormentil, Potentilla erecta); Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor, at Uphill on the 23rd (Andrew); Ragged Robin, Silene flos-cuculi, at Rew Mead nature reserve, nr Wellington, on the 25th (Linda); Salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius, in N. Petherton on the 23rd (Steve); a second record of Brooklime, Veronica beccabunga, this time at Nettlecombe on the 29th (Pat Wolseley); a second record for Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus, near Wellington on the 25th (Linda), following a record on the river Tone in Taunton on the 20th; and, lastly, Biting Stonecrop, Sedum acre, on Priory Bridge Road, Taunton, on the 24th – that’s almost four weeks earlier than my previous-earliest FFD for it, and more than six weeks earlier than Walter Watson’s FFD in the 1920s/30s.

Contender for the strangest find of the week, though, was a Camassia, a single plant of which was discovered in a field/wood-border in Trull. I’m hopeless on garden plants, so didn’t have a clue what it was, but a WhatsApp photo pinged across to Helena produced an immediate response. The key in the European Garden Flora indicated that the Trull plant was most probably C. leichletlii, rather than C. quamash which curiously is the only Camassia species mentioned in ‘Stace’. Many thanks to Helena for sorting this one out. It’s a beautiful plant, so worth googling if you don’t know it.

Other than that, I’ve been playing catch-up for much of the week, with Lesser Trefoil, Trifolium dubium, on the 24th,Greater Celandine, Chelidonium majus on the 25th, Prickly Sow-thistle, Sonchus asper, on the 26th, and Yellow Pimpernel, Lysimachia nemorum, on the 27th.

Many thanks, as usual, for your records. And for your stories too.  On days when every piece of news seems destined to depress, there’s always fun to be had from peering into my in-box.


‘Week 5’ Roundup : 22nd April

This was the week when someone, maybe flagging just a little, asked the question: how long, exactly, is this first-flowering malarkey going to go on for? Until the end of spring, perhaps? Well, yes. Certainly let’s try to keep going until the end of spring. But what exactly is spring? And how can its end be best determined? Meteorologists keep it simple – four seasons, each one precisely three months long. For the weather-watcher, then, spring neatly starts, without fail, on the first day of March, then carries on until the last day of May. Come June, come summer! The rest of us do something similar, but using equinoxes and solstices as our seasonal dividers; so the start of spring coincides with the spring equinox, while the summer solstice marks its ending. 

Tim Dee, on the other hand, suggests in Greenery (p. 9) that the year may be more fittingly divided into two seasons rather than four

“But I see, and have always seen, the year in two halves. I feel it like that: a coming, spring, and a going, autumn; six months forward before six months back, six months up before six down, six months of lengthening days before six of longer nights, six greening months before six browning, six growing before six dying; in autumn things fall apart, in spring things come together …”

Viewed this way, it’s not that summer and winter don’t exist, exactly, but that they represent moments of overlap between spring and autumn. So ‘summer’ becomes the time when spring overlaps with autumn, while ‘winter’ is when autumn overlaps with spring. Maybe that’s why we so happily, and productively, begin our search for the ‘first signs of spring’ in the depths of winter. Equally, though less obviously, why we might discern the last signs of spring at the back end of summer, even though our chatter then is all about ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’, and the garden, each morning, is slung with spiders’ webs.

If anything speaks of springtime it’s surely ‘first flowerings’, yet there are hosts of plants that don’t start to bloom until long after the summer solstice, by which time many others are – to use Dee’s terminology – ‘on their way down’. So, perhaps we should stretch our notion of spring in both directions, not only by beginning it around Christmas-time with the first flowering of, say, Spurge-laurel, Daphne laureola, but also by not ending it until about the second week of September when Ivy, Hedera helix, begins to blossom. Which means that we can keep going for another four to five months if we want it to!

‘Week 5’ then: another dry, sunny week, except for Friday and Saturday that were grey, chilly, damp and, in Taunton at least, intermittently drenching. One of the stranger aspects of the last five weeks of coronavirus ‘lockdown’ has been how for almost all of this time we’ve been bathed in warm sunshine. It pains me to say it, but never has there been such a perfect start to a cricket season, weather-wise. It’s just the complete lack of cricket that’s the problem. Friday, on the other hand, felt like a throwback to another life, a day sitting in the pavilion watching covers being removed and replaced, removed and replaced, without a single ball bowled; a time for ‘business as usual’, reminding us – just for a day – of a pre-virus world marked by endless rain, rivers full to bursting, ground saturated, mud everywhere. Who would have guessed that we might hanker after such days, before the pause button was pressed, before the weather changed and everything else changed with it?  Anyway, yes, it’s been another mainly dry, fine week – and, it has to be said, another truly remarkable week for first flowerings too.

First, though, a nod to things non-botanical.  Vicki and I had our first swallow on the 16th, then on the 17th we heard newly-arrived reed warblers – several of them – chug-chug-chugging from riverside bramble patches between Obridge and Creech Castle, in the reed-beds and willow scrub behind B&Q, then on the 19th from the little patch of reeds around Roughmoor pond. No sedge warblers yet, which seem to have declined in this area as the reed warblers have increased. Still much activity amongst the mining bees and mason bees, while Eve Tigwell says in her area St Mark’s flies, Bibio marci, have been much in evidence in the last few days.On the 21st Vicki and I spotted our first dragonfly: a southern hawker, Aeshna cyanea, patrolling the herbage bordering the footpath through Orchard Wood – the place where, three weekends ago, we were due to hold our first field meeting of the year. My old dragonfly book suggests A. cyanea should be on the wing mid-June to mid-October, while the British Dragonfly Society website suggests May onwards. So, is 21st April especially early for it, does anyone know? A sign, perhaps, that not only wild flowers are quick to respond to such ‘unseasonal’ weather…

This week 21 of you, including two friends of Caroline’s, Ruth Hyett and Sue Lloyd, contributed more than 130 records involving 96 species. We had 15 target spp to look out for, 10 new ones and five rolled over from ‘Week 4’. Many of these were species of more open habitats, so it felt like we were finally emerging from beneath the trees. Early spring involves a lot of rooting around on the forest floor, but most woodland herbs have now been ticked off, and indeed many – like Moschatel, Adoxa moschatellina,Wood Anemone, Anemone nemorosa and Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta – are already at or well past their peak of flowering.

Of the 15 target spp, only Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Pilosella officinarum, White Clover, Trifolium repens, Black-grass, Alopecurus myosuroides, and Guelder-rose, Viburnum opulus, have evaded us this week.  Here’s a summary of the 11 we did see, arranged, as usual, in (roughly) alphabetical order, with various others getting a mention here and there…

Black Mustard, Brassica nigra, was seen by me coming into flower on the bank of the river Tone at Creech Castle on the 19th, but the more remarkable riverside find was the next day when Vicki and I witnessed the first fully-open flowers of Yellow Iris, Iris pseudacorus.The only sedge on this week’s list was Carnation Sedge, Carex panicea, recorded by Chris Loudon on the 20th at Langford Heathfield (with Pale Dog-violet, Viola lactea, and/or possibly the hybrid between lactea and Common Dog-violet, V. riviniana). But other sedges seen for the first time this week included Hairy Sedge, Carex hirta, at Longrun Meadow on the 18th, and two records of Greater Tussock-sedge, Carex paniculata from VC6, one by Steve Parker on a work trip to Shapwick.(And there’s Starved Wood-sedge, C. depauperata, in my garden – but that probably shouldn’t count, should it?)

Other‘C’ species included the first records of Pignut, Conopodium majus, seen by Linda Everton nr Wellington Monument on the 21st, and Sue Lloyd nr Selworthy on the same day. We also had second sightings for Rough Chervil, Chaerophyllum temulum, by David Hawkins on Tickenham Hill on the 19th, while Steve had Hemlock, Conium maculatum, in N. Petherton, also on the 19th.

Turning to shrubs… On the 16th Andrew Robinson recorded flowering Dogwood, Cornus sanguineus, in Burnham-on-Sea, while Vicki and I notched up Spindle, Euonymus europeaus, today, at Roughmoor. More of you are now reporting Elder, Sambucus nigra, including Ro in Lilstock and Steve in N. Petherton. Elder is one of a number of white-flowered shrubs/small trees – others include Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, Wayfaring-tree, Viburnum lantana, Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia etc. – that seem to be flowering earlier now than they did, say, fifty years ago.  I see that neither Elder nor Rowan are mentioned in the Ladybird book ‘What to look for in spring’, illustrated by Charles Tunnicliffe; instead they’re featured in the companion ‘… summer’ volume, published in 1960, with the telling comment that Elder blossom “… most distinctly speak[s] of June and midsummer…” Not any more, it doesn’t! (Although it may still do in other parts of the country, of course.)

Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill, Geranium dissectum, has been recorded beginning to flower this week on grassy banks, verges and arable field margins: the first sighting of it was on the 19th in Trull (me), then on the 20th in Middle Street (Andrew), and the 21st at Nettlecombe (Pat Wolseley).The plea for records of ‘proper’ Oxeye-daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare, was answered by Ro Fitzgerald on the 15th (Nether Stowey), me on the 19th (Taunton, various places), and Alastair Stevenson on the 21st (Hurlstone). Back beneath the trees, Yellow Pimpernel, Lysimachia nemorum, was spotted by two of you on the same day, the 20th: by Linda, in Wellington, and by Gill Read at Postlebury. I think Gill’s was probably first, though, as she’s usually tramping around her patch while the rest of us are still fast asleep!

Docks aren’t especially eye-catching, they’re easily overlooked and do little to raise the pulse. Nevertheless, several of us have turned up Sorrel, Rumex acetosa, this week: me and Andrew on the 16th, in Taunton and Burnham-on-Sea respectively, closely followed by Margaret Webster on the 20th in Winford, and Hilary Blewett on the 22nd at Uphill (where she also saw Green-winged Orchid, Anacamptis morio, and picked up a second very early record for flowering Betony, Betonica officinalis). We’ve also had a couple of other docks, Clustered Dock, R. conglomeratus, and Wood Dock, R. sanguineus, coming into flower this week, both on the 18th in Taunton, and surprisingly early – certainly the earliest recorded first flowering dates (FFDs) for these in at least the last twelve years.

Procumbent Pearlwort, Sagina procumbens, has now started flowering in many parts of the county, including Minehead on the 15th (Caroline Giddens), Taunton on the 17th (me), Wellington on the 21st (Linda) and Burnham, also on the 21st (Andrew). An exciting discovery was Sea Pearlwort, Sagina maritima, on the 22nd, growing on the verge of the A38 in Taunton.  Exciting, not because it was flowering, but because this appears to be the first record of it for the Taunton area. It was growing with Common Stork’s-bill, Erodium cicutarium, Sea Fern-grass, Catapodium marinum, and large numbers of tiny plants of (flowering) Bird’s-foot Clover, Trifolium ornithopodioides – the last was a big surprise, being only the second inland locality for it in VC5. (Also, while we’re on the subject of clovers…. Another of this week’s highlights, for me, was a healthy colony of now-flowering Least Trefoil, T. micranthum, within spitting distance of the Subterranean Clover, T. subterraneum, found a couple of weeks ago. But, amazingly, still no Lesser Trefoil, Trifolium dubium, in this corner of the county…)

Last but not least, I can report that Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia, was in full blossom in Taunton on the 17th, in the ‘children’s wood’ by the river Tone. Helena Crouch says that in the ‘far north’ many species seem to be behind in their flowering, but she reports that her garden Rowan is in full blossom.

Other highlights this week have included FFDs for (the highly photogenic) Herb-Paris, Paris quadrifolia, in Harptree Combe on the 14th (Chris Billinghurst) and at Long Wood, Mendip, on the 21st (Georgina Shuckburgh), and Purple Gromwell, Aegonychon purpureocaeruleum (= Lithospermum), on the 18th (Anne Cole). Liz McDonnell had flowering Blinks, Montia fontana, in two flower pots in Wedmore.In the far west of the county Alastair recorded Sheep’s-bit, Jasione montana, at Hurlstone on the 21st, and Grass-vetchling, Lathyrus nissolia, at Minehead on the 20th. Amongst my own ‘earliest yet’ FFDs were Wood Millet, Milium effusum, at Thurlbear on the 16th and Hairy Tare, Ervilia hirsuta (= Vicia), in Longrun Meadow on the 22nd.  Meanwhile, up at Portishead on the 17th, David had an unusually early Brooklime, Veronica beccabunga. More mundanely, we have two reports of (the easily ignored) Rough Meadow-grass, Poa trivialis, in flower this week – in Taunton and N. Petherton.

Apologies to anyone whose records I should have mentioned, but the night is no longer young and neither am I.

Week 4 Note from administrator: Simon, could you stick to the facts and stop making us all cry?

Week 1 : 25th March

A fantastic response!  I’ve been inundated, and some really good records too. I’m starting to wish we’d set up something like this a few years ago!  Thanks to everyone who emailed, texted or ‘WhatsApped’ during the week – in no particular order, Steve Parker, Liz McDonnell, Ellen McDouall, Georgina Shuckburgh, Margaret Webster, Caroline Giddens, Ro FitzGerald, Christine Loudon, Gill Read, Linda Everton, David Hawkins, Helena Crouch.  (Hope I haven’t forgotten anyone.)

In last week’s email I listed 9 spp that I had already seen in flower in the Taunton area, but which I would have expected, in a ‘normal’ year, to start flowering during the last week. Of these, no-one reported seeing Bluebell or Wood Spurge, but I think the rest were all mentioned ‘in dispatches’. Several people reported the first flowering of Moschatel: Margaret near Lords Wood on the 12th, David in the Portishead area on the 15th, Steve in N. Petherton on 16th or 17th, Gill at Postlebury on the 20th, Caroline at Tivington (nr Minehead) on the 21st, and Georgina at Nordrach on Mendip on the 23rd. (My own date in the Taunton area was the 14th, at Fyne Court.) 

Our Week 1 ‘target list’ comprised 19 spp, 12 of which were recorded in flower by at least one person during the week. This was clearly ‘wood-rush week’. Many people (although not me, sadly!) are starting to see Field Wood-rush, Luzula campestris,in flower. Unfortunately the places where I might go to see it here aren’t really within easy walking distance, and I now have no car – for reasons too complicated to explain here. (And not sure, now, how useful a car would actually be.) David had it – that’s Luzula, not the car! – in Portishead on the 15th, Liz in Wedmore on the 18th, Steve in N. Petherton around the 17th, Gill at Postlebury on the 20th, Margaret at Winford on the 21st, and Caroline, on her lawn in Minehead, on the 22nd. Hairy Wood-rush, Luzula pilosa, was also spotted in flower, by me on the 20th, at Thurlbear, and by Caroline at Tivington on the 21st

Cuckooflower, Cardamine pratensis, had already been seen by a few of you in ‘Week 0’, i.e. during the week prior to the start of Week 1: Georgina had it in flower at Hinton Blewett on the 11th, and Margaret near Lords Wood on the 12th. These are much earlier dates than my own in previous years for the Taunton area, but this is probably because it doesn’t seem to be terribly common around here – so the chances of stumbling across it when it’s just starting to flower are much lower as a result. 

Wood-sedge, Carex sylvatica,was seen just starting to flower at Thurlbear on the 20th, and then on the 22nd Margaret spotted it at Bithams Wood. She also spied a single flower of Goldilocks Buttercup, Ranunculus auricomus, and some (unusually early) Sweet Vernal-grass, Anthoxanthum odoratum. Also very early was Warfaring-tree, Viburnum lantana, seen by me near Corfe on the 19th – 13 days earlier than my previous earliest, in 2012.Cowslips, Primula veris,have been popping into flower all over the place, amazingly with three of us all reporting them for the first time in flower on the 20th: me at Thurlbear, Ro at Kilton Church, and David at Portishead. Caroline and Linda have both seen Common Dog-violet, Viola riviniana, with Linda spotting it in her garden – and she provided excellent photos to prove it! 

Only two people have so far reported Lords-and-Ladies, the species that set this hare running in the first place! Ro saw it, in all its glory, on the 22nd in the Kilve area, while Helena had it in her garden on the 24th, her delight at seeing it being pinged through as a WhatsApp message complete with a very nice photo!

As yet, we have had only singleton records for Common Stork’s-bill, Erodium cicutarium (Margaret, on the 20th at Sand Bay), Yellow Archangel, Lamiastrum galeobdolon ssp montanum (Linda, on the 23rd in woods up near Wellington Monument), and Galium aparine (me, in Taunton on the 22nd). 

Taken overall, these dates are mostly very early in comparison with 2008-17 average first flowering dates for the Taunton area. This week, Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, Common Dog-violet,Cuckooflower, Goldilocks Buttercup, Wood-sedge, Cleavers, and Bush-vetch, Vicia sepium, all recorded their earliest first flowering dates ‘since records began’ (i.e. since 2008!). And, last but not least, I had Wood Melick, Melica uniflora, on the 20th at Thurlbear – an extraordinary date, almost four weeks earlier than my previous earliest back in 2008 and 2011.

‘Week 2’ Roundup : 1st April

Each evening I peer into my email in-box to view the little parcels of unopened treasure lined up in a column, with subject titles like ‘flowering dates’, ‘first flowerings’, ‘FFDs’, ‘Carex?’ and ‘Only Charlock!’. It’s like Christmas come early, and almost as good as having been there in the field with you and seen them myself! It’s been a remarkably good week for records, too, despite the extent to which daily activities have obviously been curtailed by the Coronavirus ‘lock down’. In fact, you’ve sent in so many records I’ve had to construct a spread-sheet to hold them all; which means that I can now sort the records by date, species, recorder, etc. Mind-boggling stuff….

Anyway, thanks to everyone for sending in their records, not just to those who contributed in ‘Week 1’, but now also Ann Fells, Anne Cole, Chris Billinghurst, David Robins, Dee Holladay, Jeanne Webb, Pat Wolseley and Val Graham, who all joined in the hunt at some point during ‘Week 2’ (Apologies if I’ve missed anyone out.)

In all, you submitted more than 100 records in Week 2, covering at least 50 species. If ‘Week 1’ was wood-rush week, ‘Week 2’ was cowslip-and-foxtail week. As reported last time, Cowslip, Primula veris, was seen by three of us on the 20th, but these widely separated early records heralded a wave of first flowerings for this species across the county: Linda saw her first, near Wellington, on the 23rd, Helena had them already flowering well in her garden in Paulton on the 26th, and then there were records from Somerton on the 27th (David R.), and Chewton Mendip (Ellen) and Winford (Margaret) on the 28th. Meadow Foxtail, Alopecurus pratensis, wasn’t on the target list – omitted because it had already been found flowering exceptionally early, on the 18th, in Taunton. That didn’t stop a surge of first dates for it during the week, though, from Brent Knoll (Andrew), Winford/Frog Lane (Margaret), Postelbury (Gill), Paulton (Helena) and Clevedon (Dee).

Turning now to the 17 target species for ‘Week 2’, a total of 12 were seen either during the week or, in one or two instances, towards the end of the previous week. Running through them in alphabetical order…

Horse Chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum, began flowering in French Weir Park (Taunton) on the 30th. It always seem to be the same tree each year, but still a very early date for a species that should be at its peak of flowering at the start of May, just when the swifts return. (Something to look forward to, eh?)

Glaucous Sedge, Carex flacca, was seen at Brent Knoll on the 30th (Andrew) and at Kilve today, 1st April (Ro). Very early dates! Pendulous Sedge, Carex pendula, has been seen too, in Wellington on the 29th (Linda), and along the banks of the Sherford stream, Taunton, on the 31st (Simon). In a matter of days we’ll probably find it popping into flower right across the county. (Also on the sedge front, Andrew recorded Wood-sedge, Carex sylvatica, flowering at Brent Knoll; that’s a third record to add to the two from Week 1.)

So far, just the one record of Woodruff, Galium odoratum, from Wooten Hall on the 24th (Ellen). I saw it in bud in Thurlbear Wood on the 20th, but haven’t been back since, for obvious reasons. I imagine some of the woodland paths up there will be lined with its star-burst of flowers by now; I absolutely love Woodruff, and it’s intensely frustrating that I can’t pop out there to see it…

Or maybe Week 2 should be called the ‘week of the Geranium’. We had three of them on our ‘hit list’, and all of them have been notched up by someone somewhere in the county. Shining Crane’s-bill, Geranium lucidum, was seen by Margaret at Winford/Frog Lane on the 26th, and by Steve in North Petherton on the 27th. I’ve been searching hard for this in Taunton – as Vicki will testify – but maddeningly there’s been no sign of it in flower yet, although (slight digression) several patches of it have had leaf-roll galls caused by the mite, Aceria geranii. Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill, Geranium molle, is just starting to flower now in Taunton – first seen this morning, down near the cricket ground, while Andrew also had it today at Brent Knoll. The first sighting of it, though, was by Steve, in North Petherton, on the 28th.  Hedgerow Crane’s-bill, Geranium pyrenaicum, too, was on my tally of ‘new flowerers’ this morning, down at Firepool Weir, but Jeanne actually reported it already in bloom last week, on the 21st, on the roundabout at Tropiquaria – while, needless to say, she was out there sampling dandelions!

Meadow Buttercup, Ranunculus acris, has now been seen by three people: Caroline, in Minehead, actually saw it last week, on the 21st, while Steve saw it in North Petherton on the 27th and Gill, at Postelbury, on the 30th. In Taunton there’s plenty of Bulbous Buttercup, R. bulbosus, on the road verges especially, but still no sign of R. acris.

Of the willows, Crack-willow, Salix fragilis, catkins are about the last to appear. Goat Willow, S. caprea, and Sallow, S. cinerea, were both ‘flowering’ in the last week of February, but it’s only this week that Crack-willow has finally made its appearance. Jeanne saw it on the 24th in the community orchard in Old Cleeve, while I had it on the 28th, on the banks of the river Tone. Today, during daily exercise, I noticed that many Crack-willow trees were now in catkin, and looking very splendid too.

Dee got in touch to say she’d recorded Charlock, Sinapis arvensis, flowering in Clevedon on the 19th, at the start of ‘Week 1’, but the only other record for this species was today, from Helena. Ro had hedge Mustard, Sisymbrium officinale, at Kilve on the 22nd, while it was also seen in Taunton on the 27th (Simon) and North Petherton on the 28th (Steve).

Common Chickweed, Stellaria media, is a plant you can find in flower pretty much at any time of the year, but its larger cousin, Greater Chickweed, S. neglecta, doesn’t tend to flower until the end of March or early April. And, as if on cue, two of you have seen it this week: Steve in North Petherton, and Linda in Wellington – and both on the 27th.

Amongst the other noteworthy finds of the week were: Tormentil, Potentilla erecta, seen by Pat out at Nettlecombe on the 31st; Hemlock Water-dropwort, Oenanthe crocata,also by Pat, on the 26th, a very early record; Hemlock, Conium maculatum, by me, this morning, down at Firepool Weir where it was growing on waste ground close to the Hedgerow Crane’s-bill; and a second very early record for Wood Melick, this one by Anne from nr Rodney Stoke on the 25th.

We have also had records this week for Wild Strawberry, Fragaria vesca, while three more records for Wood Spurge, Euphorbia amygdaloides, and five for Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, provide ample evidence – along with the Woodruff and Wood-sedge already mentioned – that spring is galloping along in our woods.

The strangest find of the week for me, though, was on the 29th when I stumbled upon a young tree of Bird Cherry, Prunus padus, growing nr the river Tone in Taunton, in a strip of rough secondary woodland behind ‘Go Outdoors’. I was flabbergasted. And it was blooming nicely too! I was absolutely convinced this would be a new monad, and maybe even a new tetrad or hectad. No such luck; a quick look on the BSBI database showed that it had already been recorded, at that very spot, in 2019. What? I couldn’t believe it! Who could possibly have recorded it there? On my patch!

And then I looked again and saw, to my amazement, that the recorder’s name matched my own…

Week 3’ Roundup : 8th April

It’s amazing how no sooner than one week ends, the next one begins. There’s no let up, is there? A steady flow of emails and WhatsApp messages too! The spread-sheet is proving its worth, all the records neatly stacked and sorted. Without it I’d be in a complete pickle by now.

The warm weather, especially in the last couple of days, has really kept spring rattling along nicely. Not botany, I know, but yesterday several of you reported your first orange tips. (I saw my first this morning when walking out to Roughmoor.) Also yesterday we had our first small whites here, while two days ago there was a big arrival of willow warblers. We had one singing in a neighbour’s garden first thing in the morning; then along the river, between Obridge and Creech Castle, I counted at least twenty in full song where two days earlier there’d been none! Several of you have reported swallows, too, suggesting many summer migrants have been arriving in the last few days, no doubt helped on their way by the southerly breeze.

Despite the continuing ‘lock down’, 14 of you have submitted records during the week, which is a considerable achievement in the circumstances. It may be different in the countryside, of course, but in town the police are now a much more visible presence, with regular patrols of parks and open spaces to break up any gatherings and to check that no-one’s exercising further away from home than strictly necessary. For now, though, we have continued to be able to do our usual daily walks, which means being out of the house for about an hour-and-a-half. Having a dog seems to help, and it certainly feels easier botanising in town when Gilly’s trotting along beside me. It’s as if a dog provides an immediately obvious explanation for why one might be ‘out and about’, and so mucheasier to just say you’re walking the dog than having to admit that what you’re really doing is searching for flowers on some plant or other.

So, it’s been another good week for first flowerings. In all, we made more than 80 records in ‘Week 3’, and these included first sightings for more than two-thirds of the target species. But before we get to these, let’s have a quick look at some of the species you’ve found that weren’t targets. These include a few real rarities, like Spring Cinquefoil, Potentilla verna, which was recorded flowering at Black Rock (Cheddar) by Georgina Shuckburgh on 31st March – so actually at the end of ‘Week 2’ – and Alpine Penny-cress, Noccaea caerulescens, also found by Georgina, this time at Blackmoor, on the 2nd. And she attached a lovely photo to prove it, too. Such Mendip specialities seem a world away at the moment to those of us holed up in the ‘deep south’.

It’s also been a week of ‘strange umbels’, in that we’ve had some incredibly early sightings of three umbellifers (Apiaceae) that one wouldn’t expect to see in flower until late June, or even July!  Ro FitzGerald saw Wild Parsnip, Pastinaca sativa, in flower at Lilstock on the 5th, while Georgina had Rough Chervil, Chaerophyllum temulum, at Ubley Drove on the 2nd (both records supported by super photos); and then today, to cap it all, Andrew Robinson reported Upright Hedge-parsley, Torilis japonica, flowering at Brent Knoll. Extraordinary! Will these prove to be ‘one-off’ anomalies, I wonder? Certainly, it would be worth folks keeping an eye out for these species in the coming weeks.

An unusual record of my own, on the 6th, was Subterranean Clover, Trifolium subterraneum, several patches of which were flowering nicely in a road verge near the roundabout by the Shell garage on Priory Bridge Road, Taunton. It was growing there with flowering Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill, Geranium molle, and Scarlet Pimpernel, Lysimachia (= Anagallis) arvensis. Another highlight of the week was Crosswort, Cruciata laevipes, seen by Pat Wolseley at Nettlecombe on the 5th, while she was also able to confirm this week an earlier sighting of Three-nerved Sandwort, Moehringia trinervia, on 31st March.

For some species I’ve been playing ‘catch-up’ this week, including Cuckooflower, Cardamine pratensis (Longrun Meadow) and Goldilocks Buttercup, Ranunculus auricomus (Cotlake Hill), both on the 5th, and at last,Shining Crane’s-bill, Geranium lucidum, on the 6th, in a flower bed on Eastbourne Road, Taunton.

Turning now to the 15 target species for ‘Week 3’, the following 11 (names emboldened) were seen by one or more of us, either during the week or, in one or two instances, towards the end of the previous week. Running through them in alphabetical order…

Sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus, was recorded by David Hawkins on the 1st, at a location ‘up north’ to such an extent that it was actually just in VC34 apparently. We’ll let him have it though, shall we? On the 7th Anne Cole reported Sycamore flowering on Mendip, while I had two trees starting to flower in Taunton, also on the 7th. (Incidentally, Caroline Giddens, in Minehead, had her first Horse-chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum, flowers on 29th March, and she says that her earliest blossom, like mine, always seems to be on the same tree each year.)

Barren Brome, Anisantha sterilis, was actually seen by Andrew flowering on Brent Knoll last week, on 30th March, while this week we’ve had three more records for Sweet Vernal-grass, Anthoxanthum odoratum – Helena Crouch, in Paulton, Pat, at Nettlecombe, and me, in Longrun Meadow, all of them today. Helena has also notched up the first record of flowering Winter-cress, Barbarea vulgaris, on a road verge in Paulton, while interestingly David and Andrew both report having seen American Winter-cress, Barbarea verna, during the week. B. verna is actually quite a scarce plant in Somerset, and an alien, whereas B. vulgaris is a widespread native, pretty common through most of the county apart from in the far west. I’ve seen the latter in bud this week, but not yet in flower…

Chris Billinghurst had Greater Pond-sedge, Carex riparia, flowering in the Molly Brook – a tributary of the river Chew – on the 1st, while I had it just starting to flower on the river Tone in Taunton on the 5th. (Pendulous Sedge, Carex pendula, by the way, is now flowering in many places in the Taunton area, although it has yet to be reported from other parts of the county.)

I saw a just-opening ‘capitulum’ of Beaked Hawk’s-beard, Crepis vesicaria, in Taunton today, along with flowering Lesser Swine-cress, Lepidium didymum. Both of these I’d happily swap, however, for the Early-purple Orchids, Orchis mascula, seen this week – by Chris Loudon on the 2nd at Langford Budville, by Pat at Nettlecombe on the 5th, and by Hilary Brownett on Hutton Hill (nr Weston-super-Mare) on the 7th. Linda Everton’s Early-purple Orchids were in bud in woodland below Wellington Monument on the 7th, so will surely be blooming there by the middle of ‘Week 4’. (She also saw Wood Sorrel, Oxalis acetosella, on the 7th. Has anyone else seen this in flower yet?)

Red Clover, Trifolium pratense, is starting to make its presence felt, with records of it flowering on the 2nd and 5th in Taunton (me) and on the 7th in Wellington (Linda). Common Nettle, Urtica dioica, has also made its first appearance this week, being seen flowering in Taunton today (me).

And finally a couple of ‘V’s – Wood Speedwell, Veronica montana, which was seen by Anne at Hill Lane (Mendip) on the 2nd, and by Andrew on Brent Knoll today. And while Andrew was busy racking up first flowerers on Brent Knoll – lucky sod – I was scuffing about the not-so-salubrious verges of Taunton, with dog by my side, where as well as Beaked Hawk’s-beard, Lesser Swine-cress and Common Nettle I also spotted a single but very ‘showy’ flower of Common Vetch, Vicia sativa. The plant was growing on the grassy bank beside Tangier car-park, just a stone’s throw from Riverside Chambers, where Natural England used to have its local HQ, and where I spent many a long year filling in spread-sheets, writing reports and generally keeping my nose clean.

Those were the days….

Week 4 16/04/2020

This morning I took delivery of Greenery: Journeys in Springtime, a new book by Tim Dee. If you haven’t read anything by Tim Dee, he’s well worth a try. His latest book is a fitting accompaniment to what we’re trying to capture about this particular spring, the spring of 2020, in our ownparticular neck of the woods. Tim Dee lives for much of each year in Bristol, and his parents live in Minehead. So our own neck of the woods is his, too. You’ll find references in Greenery to many familiar places – Dolebury Warren, Dunkery Beacon, Black Down, Burrington Combe, and Ham Wall – as well as to many less familiar, in East Anglia, Africa and Scandinavia, for example. It’s a book about places, yes, but it’s also a book about life and death, about happy coincidences, about loss and longing. About spring, but also about the meaning of spring.

My own week has included several highlights, not all of them botanical, but the best of the lot came on Bank Holiday Monday when Ben persuaded me to ‘break cover’ and dare to head out of town to Thurlbear Wood. In the car it took us nine minutes to get there, and seven to get back – being downhill on the return leg – so it was, I admit, marginally further away from home than the five-minute ‘rule’ for how far you can drive to reach a place for purposes of taking your daily exercise. It was strange to be sitting in a car again – my first trip out on four wheels in almost a month – and when we reached the wood I felt slightly light-headed, woozy. The wide open spaces seemed to me to be somehow wider than I remembered them, the lush greenery seemed greener and lusher than I had anticipated. The bluebells, carpeting the woodland floor, were somehow bluer – but the star-bursts of woodruff lining the paths were just as I was expecting them to be. We walked in the woods for about an hour, Gilly having a field day with sticks, me having a field day with flowers. We met one other person up there, so social distancing was a doddle. I think it may have been the bluebells, but I got a bit emotional; and it was a reminder – if I needed it – to never take a place like this for granted ever again.

So, spring continues its glorious gallop towards summer, a fact reflected over and over again in this week’s batch of first flowering dates.  Of course, the weather helps, doesn’t it? It’s been a dry week, and for the most part remarkably sunny and warm; here in Taunton we had four days in a row – Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday – with temperatures above 23°C. By my reckoning, it was the warmest, and sunniest, Easter weekend for at least a quarter of a century.  And while the sunshine has continued, the last couple of clear nights have produced grass frosts, even here in the middle of Taunton.

Let’s begin, like last week, with a few non-botanical happenings. It’s been another good week for butterflies: orange tips all over the place, plus our first green-veined whites on the 9th, speckled woods on the 10th, and then this morning (15th) the first small copper of the year. Flower bees and bee-flies continue to patrol the lungwort and primroses in the back garden, while mason bees emerged about a week ago and are busy around the ‘bee boxes’. We’ve also noticed large numbers of mining bees nesting on areas of bare, dry soil. Many such areas seem to be far less disturbed/trampled than usual, so this could prove to be an excellent year for mining bees.

On the bird front, last week’s ‘fall’ of willow warblers proved to be a transient affair; no sooner had they arrived than they left again – and I haven’t heard one since. But other summer visitors have taken their place. On the 10th, sand martins were back at their little colony beneath a road bridge at Creech Castle, Taunton – their nest-sites situated in drain pipes set into a concrete retaining wall. Then today Vicki had house martins down near the cricket ground, while I enjoyed ten minutes listening to my first whitethroat, singing lustily from a hedgerow on the northern flank of Cotlake Hill, Trull. Whitethroats make me smile. They seem to take everything terribly seriously, and get so easily agitated – like me on a bad day.

Turning now to botany – “at last!” you cry – it’s been another bumper week for first flowerings. Very many thanks, once again, to everyone for sending in their records. During ‘Week 4’ we have made, between us, more than 130 records and at least 75 species. A fantastic effort! And who would have anticipated that this week’s offering would include rarities such as Petty Whin, Genista anglica (Langford Heathfield, on the 14th, seen by Chris Loudon), Soft-leaved Sedge, Carex montana (Ubley Warren, on the 8th, Georgina Shuckburgh), and Green-winged Orchid, Anacamptis morio (Stoke Camp, Mendip, on the 10th, seen by Georgina’s niece, with a pin-sharp WhatsApp photo to prove it)?

This week we had 16 target species to look out for, four of them carried over from ‘Week 3’. Between us, we saw 11 of them during the week. Here’s a summary, in (roughly) alphabetical order…

The first report of Bugle, Ajuga reptans, was on the 5th. It came from Libby Houston, who saw it in her garden – the proper wild plant, not a garden variety – but then she realised that it shouldn’t really count because she doesn’t live in Somerset! The first records for Somerset sensu stricto came a few days later, when Margaret Webster saw it at Winford on the 12th, and then it was seen at Thurlbear (me) and near Wellington (Linda) on the 13th.

I have still not seen Greater Celandine, Chelidonium majus, flowering in Taunton – although my chances have diminished significantly as a result of Vicki’s enthusiastic weeding of the back path (a former stronghold for it) over Easter weekend! However, Linda produced a photo of it in flower which she’d taken in Wellington on 21st March – a very early date for it – while Alastair Stevenson saw it flowering in Minehead a few days later, on the 25th.  The only person to see it coming into flower during ‘Week 4’ was Andrew Robinson, who recorded it in Brent Knoll village on the 9th.

And now for a few grassland species… I had my first Cat’s-ear, Hypochaeris radicata, on the 14th, in a front garden on South Road, while two of you recorded Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Lotus corniculatus, this week – Andrew at Cross Quarry on the 12th, and Hilary Brownett at Bleadon Hill on the 13th. No doubt others will follow in the days ahead. Smooth/Spreading Meadow-grass, Poa pratensis/humilis, was noted on Taunton road verges for the first time on the 14th, while Salad-burnet, Poterium sanguisorba, was one of a whole clutch of first-flowerers up at Thurlbear on the 13th, although Andrew had already seen it flowering on Brent Knoll on the 10th

Broad-leaved Dock, Rumex obtusifolius, and Common Comfrey, Symphytum officinale, were both found just starting to flower in Taunton, by the river Tone, on the 11th. The comfrey was more than three weeks later than last year’s first flowering date (FFD), possibly delayed due to high river levels and flooding in February and early March. Other early-flowering comfreys reported during the week included White Comfrey, S. orientale, and Creeping Comfrey, S. grandiflorum.

Elder, Sambucus nigra, was seen in Henlade on the 12th, the third earliest FFD for this species in the last twelve years. Pat Wolseley also had it on the 12th, at Nettlecombe, while Andrew saw it on the 14th, at Brent Knoll. Sanicle, Sanicula europaea, also recorded its third-earliest FFD, being about three weeks earlier than the average FFD for the last decade in the Taunton area. Helena and Jim Crouch were the first to spot it, ‘up north’ at Chewton Wood on the 12th; this was followed in the next three days by records from Nettlecombe (Pat), Langford Heathfield (Chris), Thurlbear (me) and Postlebury (Gill Read).  

Lastly, Anne Cole recorded Lesser Trefoil, Trifolium dubium, at Hill Lane, Mendip, on the 9th, while Pat had it at Nettlecombe on the 14th.

Of the target species from earlier weeks, you have been sending in lots of records this week for the likes of Sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus, Horse-chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum, Sweet Vernal-grass, Anthoxanthum odoratum, Pendulous Sedge, Carex pendula, Woodruff, Galium odoratum, Yellow Archangel, Lamiastrum galeobdolon ssp montanum, and Wood Speedwell, Veronica montana.  But the species with the most records, by a country mile, was Early-purple Orchid, Orchis mascula, with reports of it from Gill (Postlebury, 10th), Anne (Littlestoke, 10th), Georgina (Long Wood, Mendip, 11th), Helena and Jim (Chewton Wood, 12th), me (Thurlbear, 13th), Linda (Wellington, 13th), and Pat (Nettlecombe, 14th).

While on the subject of orchids, two of us – me and Chris – recorded Common Twayblade, Neottia ovata, in flower on the 14th. This compares with an average FFD over the last 12 years of 4th May, and Walter Watson’s date from the 1930s of 23rd May. Grey Sedge, Carex divulsa, was seen by me in Trull this morning (15th), the earliest FFD for this species in the last decade, and (like Common Twayblade) more than five weeks earlier than in Watson’s time.

We’ve had several notable records of summer-flowering species ‘getting ahead of themselves’, so to speak. The most extraordinary, surely, has to be Linda’s record of Betony, Betonica officinalis, which she found on the 13th near Wellington. To put her date into some sort of context, Watson’s average FFD for Betony in the 1930s was 9th July, while my own average FFD for the decade 2008-17 was 5th July. The earliest FFD in the last 12 years was 6th June!  Almost as surprising was Andrew’s report of Fairy-flax, Linum catharticum, on the 12th at Cross Quarry – a species that usually doesn’t start flowering until mid-May. Alastair’s Common Ragwort, Jacobaea vulgaris, and Pat’s Wild Carrot, Daucus carota, also seem to be in the same category; although some species, and maybe Common Ragwort is a good example, can sometimes continue flowering right through the winter, such that early flowering in the spring is perhaps best viewed as being exceptionally late flowering from the previous summer – since the flowers often continue to appear on the previous year’s shoots.

You recorded a number of other species during the week that are, broadly speaking, probably flowering at about the right time, but which weren’t on the target list due to a paucity of data from previous years – usually because they occur only very infrequently (or not at all) in the Taunton area. These included Lousewort, Pedicularis sylvatica,Heath Milkwort, Polygala serpyllifolia, Pill Sedge, Carex pilulifera, and Flea Sedge, C. pulicaris, all recorded flowering by Chris at Langford Heathfield on the 14th, and Bitter-vetch, Lathyrus linifolius, seen by both Chris on the 14th at Langford Heathfield, and by Linda on the 13th, on a lane bank near Wellington. Also Thin-spiked Wood-sedge, Carex strigosa, seen by Gill on the 10th at Postlebury, and by Chris on the 14th at you-know-where. And lastly, as a follow-up to Linda’s Wood-sorrel, Oxalis acetosella, on the 7th, there were two more records of it during the week, both of them ‘up north’: at Charterhouse (Georgina, on the 10th ), and at Postlebury (Gill, on the 15th).

Oh yes, and Pedunculate Oak, Quercus robur, was recorded coming into flower during the week too, the first records being from Chris Billinghurst by the river Chew on the 10th and from Steve Parker in N. Petherton on the 11th.  My own date this year was Easter Day, the 12th, in Ruishton and Henlade. It’s not a species I routinely record – heaven knows why not – but the dates I do have for it suggest very little variation from year to year, the FFDs normally falling (like this year) between 10th and 20th April.

Right, that’s it! I’ve run out of steam, and need to get to bed. Apologies to anyone whose records should have been mentioned, but weren’t – like Andrew’s Buck’s-horn Plantain, Plantago coronopus, and Common Milkwort, Polygala vulgaris,Alastair’s White Ramping-fumitory, Fumaria capreolata, Margaret’s Soft-brome, Bromus hordeaceus, my own Yellow Oat-grass, Trisetum flavescens, etc, etc…