Simon’s roundups for weeks 1 to 20

Week 20 Roundup: 5th August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good week, everyone.

Simon

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Week 19 Roundup: 29th July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week 18 Roundup: 22nd July

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

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

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

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

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

Field Bindweed, interim scores up to end of Week 18

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

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

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

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

All the best for the coming week.

Simon

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Week 17 Roundup: 15th July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week 16 Roundup: 8th July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good week, everyone.

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Weeks 14 & 15 Roundup : 1st July

“This is a marathon, not a sprint.” Admittedly, that statement was being used in relation to our slow emergence from the Covid-19 pandemic, and to highlight the need to remain vigilant as the lockdown eases. But it could equally well apply to first flowerings. In the last two weeks we’ve slipped beyond the summer solstice. Tim Dee would declare this to be the time when things start to unravel and fall apart; when the surge of spring that’s been carrying us forward suddenly seems to dissipate, and we’re left to face the long trudge toward autumn. Well, I’m as prone to ‘PSD’ (post-solstice doldrums) as anyone, but I’m not prepared to give up on spring just yet. The pace may have slowed, but there are ‘comings’ still to be had amid all the ‘goings’. As the politician said: a marathon, not a sprint.

So, we’ve reached that point in the year when (in a parallel universe) our thoughts would turn to Wimbledon and Glastonbury and Lord’s. Roger Federer, Kaiser Chiefs, Jonathan Agnew… The weather has had a distinctly summery edge to it: hard to pin down or predict with any certainty, frequently wet, sometimes windy, and occasionally hot and humid. Just enough rain, probably, to turn Worthy Farm into a steaming mud bath. We had a particularly drenching day on the 18th, when it rained from start to finish, then on the 25th we endured the hottest-yet day of the year (32°C in Taunton); when UV levels were supposedly the highest ever recorded in the UK, and when too many of us decided to head out for a day at the seaside. Some roads were gridlocked, car parks and beaches were packed. Throughout lockdown many have struggled with the concept of ‘two metres’, but we’re now expected to re-calibrate to a new measurement called one-metre plus—which, once the pubs open and the summer holidays begin, could very quickly come to mean ‘no distance at all’. If we can avoid a second wave it’ll be a miracle.

In the last update, I got so carried away with Captain Roe’s index cards that I forgot to report on non-botanical matters. These included first ‘hearings’ of Meadow Grasshoppers Chorthippus parallelus and Field Grasshoppers, C. brunneus, on the 14th—at Longrun Meadow in the south, and Long Dole Meadow in the north. Also on the 14th there were Small Skippers, Thymelicus sylvestris, and Six-spot Burnets, Zygaena filipendulae. In Weeks 14 and 15 the ‘buzz’ of high summer continued with  Ringlets, Aphantopus hyperantus, from the 22nd, while Ro had her first Humming-bird Hawk-moth, Macroglossum stellatarum, nectaring on Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber,on the 26th. Several of you have commented on the exceptional numbers of Meadow Browns, Maniola jurtina, and Marbled Whites, Melanargia galathea. Apparently this is the second good summer on the trot for Marbled Whites; anyone living in Taunton would normally expect to have to head into the Blackdowns to guarantee seeing this butterfly, but in the last few weeks they’ve been popping up all across the town—in Vivary Park, Goodlands Gardens, between Obridge and Creech Castle, Longrun Meadow and Roughmoor. Since mid-June there’s also been a flurry of records of ‘summer brood’ Commas, Polygonia c-album, perhaps a couple of weeks earlier than usual. These are the offspring of over-wintering butterflies that emerged in early spring.

The dog’s ears are a good barometer of the changing seasons, too. Gilly is a cocker spaniel, and once past the summer solstice her ears start to become tangled with burrs. A walk of one hour can lead to a de-burring session at least as long. At the moment it’s mainly the burrs of Wood Avens, Geum urbanum, but within a week or two it’ll be Goosegrass, Galium aparine, soon to be followed by Agrimony, Agrimonia eupatoria, Enchanter’s-nightshade, Circaea lutetiana, and Burdock, Arctium spp. Each burr to its own season.

You’ve sent in many more records of Convolvulus arvensis colour forms in the last fortnight, and the scores are beginning to look less like football and more like rugby. So, here’s an update, this time headed up by Exeter Chiefs’ crucial game against Sarracens that lifted them to the top of the Premier League back in December. As before, teams wearing ‘unticked’ strips are on the left, those with ‘ticks’ on the right.

Field Bindweed, scores up to end of Week 15

Exeter Chiefs14v.Sarracens7  
f. arvensis20v.f. notatus3  
f. pallidiroseus9v.f. pallidinotatus5  
f. pentarrhabdotus17v.f. pentastictus1  
f. decarrhabdotus7v.f. decemvulnerus1  
f. perroseus11v.f. quinquevulnerus0  

Clearly, teams lacking ‘tick’ marks continue to outscore their ‘ticked’ counterparts, with a combined score of 64 records for ‘non-ticked’ colour forms and just 10 for ‘ticked’. In the latter group, only f. notatus and f. pallidinotatus are at all frequent, while those displaying five- or ten-point stars seem to be invariably tick-free. But maybe that will change as the season progresses…

Now for our first flowerings from the last fortnight.  Many thanks, as usual, for your records. This time we had 21 target species to search for, of which (amazingly) we saw all but three.

‘A’.  Our target list was awash with ‘A’s, and we saw all bar Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris. Chris had first-flowering Wild Angelica, Angelica sylvestris, on the 29th at Langford Heathfield. In Taunton, the two Burdocks had been stubbornly in bud for about two weeks, but the mini-heatwave produced a suddening ‘opening’ of Greater Burdock, Arctium lappa, on the 27th and Lesser Burdock, A. minusagg., on the 29th.  Meanwhile, Andrew reported first flowers on Spear-leaved Orache, Atriplex prostrata, at Burnham-on-Sea on the 21st. It was seen flowering in Taunton, too, but not until the 29th. Amongst other ‘A’s, there was a second record of Water-plantain, Alisma plantago-aquatica, this time from the pond at Roughmoor, on the 26th, to add to the Great Water Dock, Rumex hydrolapathum, which began flowering there on the 18th. And another ‘A’, Alastair, spotted first flowers on Sea Aster, Aster tripolium, at Wall Common on the 25th. (Watson’s date for Sea Aster was 24th July…)

‘B’. Hairy-brome, Bromopsis ramosa, is another grass that can be hard to judge the flowering of. It has such graceful, dangling inflorescences, but at what point, exactly, do you decide it’s flowering rather than merely about to flower? It’s certainly up and showing well, as Linda reported on the 28th, and I’ve seen it close to flowering at Thurlbear on the 29th, and again earlier today, but I’m not convinced yet. Andrew, however, had it flowering at Hollow Marsh on the 30th, so that’s great, and we can expect more records of it in the coming days. Flowering-rush, Butomus umbellatus, seems particularly shy this year, but I finally found a clump of it in flower on the Tone at Obridge on the 27th. Not an especially early date for it. Watson’s average FFD for Butomus was 7th July; Roe’s earliest in the 1950s was 2nd July. All much of a muchness, then.

‘C’. Just the one target species this week, given that Many-seeded Goosefoot is now Lipandra rather than Chenopodium. Fig-leaved Goosefoot, C. ficifolium, was seen first by Linda on the 23rd, in Wellington, then by me on a rare trip to the Levels, near Burrowbridge, on the 26th. Otherwise, ‘C’ is for ‘catch-up’, including my own first Greater Knapweed, Centaurea scabiosa, and Common Centaury, Centaurium erythraea, on the 22nd, Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare, on the 28th, and Stemless Thistle, Cirsium acaule, on 1st July. All of them at Thurlbear. Traveller’s-joy, Clematis vitalba, was flowering at Clevedon on the 18th (Dee), and at Sandford on the 25th (Ann Burman). And Pat, at Nettlecombe, had her first Spear Thistle, Cirsium vulgare, on the 28th, and Rose-bay Willowherb, Chamaenerion angustifolium, on the 30th, continuing the pattern of slightly later first-flowering in that area. These dates are very much in line with what Watson would have expected in the Taunton area in the 1920s/30s, his FFD for the former being 26th June, and for the latter 8th July. All very interesting…

‘D’ is for Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, with Ro delighted to spot her first “blue cummerbund” on the morning of the 20th. Later the same day, Andrew had it beginning to flower at Highbridge, followed by records in Taunton on the 22nd and Linda’s in Wellington on the 23rd. Among other ‘D’s was Common Sundew, Drosera rotundifolia, reported by Andrew from Westhay on the 23rd. I’ve no idea whether this is early or not, but I see that Watson’s date for it was 3rd July. Unfortunately, Roe’s dates from the 1950s all seem to be from locations outside Somerset.

How can we skirt past ‘E’ without mention of Andrew’s Marsh Helleborine, Epipactis palustris, at Berrow on the 24th?  The plants were small of stature, so the flowers were hidden in the herbage and hard to spot. Well worth the search though, and another one, like the sundew, for which the only FFDs we have to go on are those of Watson’s—his date for it was 11th July.

‘G’ and ‘H’. Just the one record so far of Marsh Cudweed, Gnaphalium uliginosum, seen flowering with Lipandra polysperma on a muddy field margin near Roughmoor on the 26th. (Also with lots of Bulbous Canary-grass, Phalaris aquatica—a new hectad record for this game-cover alien.)And, just in passing, I need to note further sightings of Hoary Mustard, Hirschfeldia incana, in the Taunton area. Is this a recent colonist, or have I been overlooking it? A couple of plants of it are in full flower on the A3038 dual carriageway between Wickes roundabout and the Shell garage, while there are great thickets of it alongside the railway line between Staplegrove Road and Silk Mills. The petals are a more delicate, slightly paler yellow than those of Black Mustard, Brassica nigra, with which it sometimes grows, while the little club-shaped fruits and greyish leaves help to distinguish it too. It seems to be more widespread in VC6 than in VC5; in The Atlas Flora of Somerset, the Green twins note that it’s “an increasing species in the county, especially in the Bridgwater area.”

Two other surprising ‘H’s to report: Frogbit, Hydrocharis morsus-ranae, on the 23rd on Mark Moor (Andrew), and the 26th at Burrowbridge (me); and, also on the 23rd, Helena and Fred had Marsh Pennywort, Hydrocotyle vulgaris, at Tyning Wood, near Gare Hill—not just flowering, but a first record for the hectad this century! Watson didn’t mention Frogbit in his paper on FFDs, which seemed odd; but a quick look at the BSBI Database revealed that there were only four records of this species for Somerset before 1930. It appears that Frogbit has become widespread across the Levels only since about 1950. I’d always presumed it to be a long-established native species in Somerset, but maybe that’s not the case?

‘L’. Many-seeded Goosefoot, Lipandra polysperma, had just started flowering out at Roughmoor on the 18th, in the pouring rain, with Marsh Cudweed following suit a few days later. Gypsywort, Lycopus europaeus, was also flowering there, beside the pond, on the 26th, as it was on the Huntspill River (Andrew). Another noteworthy ‘L’ in the last week was Common Sea-lavender, Limonium vulgare, seen by Alastair at Wall Common on the 25th.

‘M’. Just the one target: Purple Moor-grass, Molinia caerulea, which was seen by Andrew at Westhay on the 23rd. But a special mention, also, for Alastair’s White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare, at Wall Common on the 20th.

‘O’ for Oenanthe. Andrew saw Parsley Water-dropwort, Oenanthe lachenalii, on the 24th at Berrow; but Tubular Water-dropwort, O. fistulosa, still eludes us. A few catch-ups of my own too, with Common Restharrow, Ononis repens,on the 22nd and Marjoram, Origanum vulgare, on the 23rd. Plus, to add a dramatic twist, a large colony of Common Broomrape, Orobanche minor, in Taunton, in the Frieze Hill community orchard between Roughmoor and the Staplegrove Road allotments. A scarce species in Somerset, and a real rarity in Taunton, so a real treat to see 200+ flowering spikes of it emerging amongst the apple trees.

‘P’. Common Fleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica, was spotted by Linda and Chris at Milverton on the 27th. Also a ‘P’ that used to be an ‘S’: Rock Stonecrop, formerly Sedum but now Petrosedum forsterianum, was found by Alastair at Greenaleigh on the 14th.

‘S’. Just the one target, Marsh Woundwort, Stachys palustris, which was finally spotted in Taunton on the 20th (me), Minehead on the 23rd (Alastair), and Huntspill River on the 26th (Andrew).Even Watson would have been only mildly surprised by these dates, his FFD for it being 5th July. Three other first-flowering ‘S’s deserve a mention, all of them Andrew’s: Common Skullcap, Scutellaria galericulata, at Westhay on the 23rd, and Floating Bur-reed, Sparganium emersum, and Arrowhead, Sagittaria sagittifolia, both on the Huntspill River on the 26th

A couple of ‘T’s: Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare, was seen just beginning to flower by Andrew on the 30th at Highbridge, while I had Strawberry Clover, Trifolium fragiferum, at Upper Holway, Taunton, on the 29th.

And lastly, no ‘V’s this week, but a first-flowering ‘U’ instead when Helena had Western Gorse, Ulex gallii, at Stockhill on the 27th.

Apologies to anyone whose records I’ve overlooked. It’s been a distracting week, with too much going on, and it seems that one drawback to the lockdown being eased is the way in which normal life starts to intrude again.

I can feel ‘busyness’ returning, and I’m not sure I like it…

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Week 13 Roundup : 17th June

The air today is thick and humid, and there are distant—and then not-so-distant—rumbles of thunder. For the last ten minutes a peregrine has been lazily circling overhead, calling and pulling in a mob of agitated gulls. An absence of swifts, and the rumbling’s getting louder: the sky is dark to the west, darker still to the north-west. It’s dry here, for now, but it’s probably pelting on the Quantocks. Today’s brewing storm feels like it might be a reprise of yesterday’s cloudburst, with rain drops like gobbets the size of garden snails, or liquid marbles, each one producing its own miniature puddle as it hit the ground. Within a minute, down-pipes full to bursting, drains in the street bubbling up from below; and our blackbird dumb-struck and marooned in the depths of his holly tree.

Yet now, I notice, the rumbling has gone away, the air has cleared, the sun is shining again and next door’s plastic roof gutters are clicking in the heat. And that, really, sums up the week, a mixed bag of weather that each of us would probably describe quite differently; a week when it feels unsafe to generalise, when one person’s moment in the sun doubtless coincided with another person’s drenching. The only settled days, in Taunton at least, were on the 14th and 15th. Otherwise, we had rain here each day, with two days, the 11th and 12th, also quite windy. Daytime temperatures in the upper teens, peaking stickily yesterday at 24°C. Nights have been warm too, actually warmer than during earlier ‘heatwaves’, presumably due to the frequent overnight blanket of cloud.

Yesterday I was scanning the bookshelves for Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife. Ben used to have the boxed set, but only the first of the ‘Dark Materials’ trilogy—Northern Lights—is in the box, the other two have disappeared. Searching for something is always an opportunity to find something else that you weren’t really looking for, that maybe you’d forgotten you ever had… The Subtle Knife was proving elusive, but instead I came across something far more interesting: an old card index box, with pull-out drawer and covering of imitation snake skin. The box, I now remember, came to me on loan from Helena a few years ago. It had previously belonged to Captain Robert G.B. O’Neil Roe, BSBI’s Vice-county Recorder for VC6 1965-1993, and VC5 1978-1993.  Roe, like Walter Watson before him, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the flora of Somerset and was an assiduous keeper of records. The two men, luckily for us, also shared a particular interest in first flowering dates. But while Watson’s dates were eventually published (at least in summary form) Roe’s remained hidden away in this card index box. There are hundreds of 5” x 3” index cards, one for each species, and each one listing FFDs—with locations—for the period 1951-61. He had the neatest writing, and the smallest too. His records aren’t always straightforward to interpret, not least because in some years they were as likely to relate to places in Cornwall, or Wiltshire, as they were to Somerset. Also, his own ‘local patch’ was around Bath, whereas Watson’s was Taunton; and, as we’ve seen in our own records this year, dates are liable to vary considerably from one part of the county to another. But Roe’s record-cards nevertheless provide a rich seam of data that would merit much closer examination.

Interestingly, many of his FFDs seem to be as late, of later, than those recorded by Watson in the 1920s/30s. To take a random example: Tutsan, Hypericum androsaemum, was said by Watson to flower between June and August, with an average FFD of 26th June, whereas even Roe’s earliest FFD in the 1950s was 1st July. Sometimes he didn’t see it flowering until August, and his average FFD was 8th August, so about six weeks later than Watson’s. As a comparison, my own average FFD for the period 2008-17 was 6th June, while our earliest FFD for Tutsan this year was 18th May, three days earlier than even the earliest FFD during the period 2008-17. Watson would have been amazed, but Roe would have been flabbergasted!Anyway, be prepared, from this week onwards, for our own records to be cross-referenced occasionally with Roe’s as well as Watson’s dates.

Now, as you’ll be aware, the premiership football season gets underway again today, with some matches even being shown on terrestrial TV. In celebration of this long-awaited shift towards normality, I’ll start this week’s botanical summary by giving you the latest ‘state of play’ on Convolvulus arvensis colour forms. Assume that there are five matches, then, and that each match is being played between a ‘non-ticked’ colour form (on the left in the Table below) and its ‘ticked’ counterpart (on the right). So, for these purposes, you have to imagine that f. arvensis (all-white strip, without ‘ticks’) is playing against f. notatus (similar strip but with a rather smart ring of purple ‘ticks’ around the neck)…

Field Bindweed, interim scores up to end of Week 13

Aston Villa0v.Sheffield United0  
Manchester City3v.Arsenal0  
f. arvensis12v.f. notatus2  
f. pallidiroseus4v.f. pallidinotatus3  
f. pentarrhabdotus11v.f. pentastictus1  
f. decarrhabdotus3v.f. decemvulnerus1  
f. perroseus5v.f. quinquevulnerus0  

You can see from the above that all those teams sporting ‘tick’ marks (apart from Sheffield United) are consistently being thrashed by their ‘unticked’ rivals, giving a combined score of 35 records for ‘non-ticked’ colour forms against just seven for ‘ticked’. Oh yes, and while I think of it, to add to last week’s notes about how to distinguish between f. arvensis and f. pallidiroseus, it’s also worth stressing that the first has white anthers while the second has purplish anthers. This also holds good for the ‘ticked’ variants f. notatus (corolla and anthers white) and f. pallidinotatus (corolla ‘flushed’ palest pink, anthers purple).

Now for our sightings from the last week: scientific names of target species emboldened, other notables mentioned as and when, and, as usual, the whole lot in alphabetical order-ish. Between us, we saw ten of the 19 target species…

‘A’ is for Bent. On our target list we had Creeping Bent, A. stolonifera, seen on the 15th in Taunton, and reported by Andrew on the 16th fromLots SWT reserve—the latter along with flowering Common Bent, A. capillaris and Velvet Bent, A. canina. Amongst other ‘A’s, Andrew recorded the first few flowers on Water-plantain, Alisma plantago-aquatica at Brent Knoll village on the 14th. Pat, out at Nettlecombe, picked up Agrimony, Agrimonia eupatoria, on the 17th, amongst another really interesting batch of relatively late FFDs. Other species of note included Alastair’s Babington’s Leek, Allium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii, at Porlock Marsh on the 8th, a second record of Bog Pimpernel, Anagallis tenella, this one at Lots on the 16th, and Meadow Oat-grass, Avenula pratensis, another one of Andrew’s records, at Priddy Mineries on the 12th.

‘B’. Betony, Betonica officinalis, has now begun its ‘proper’ flowering season, with records from GB Gruffy on the 9th (Andrew), Ashton Court meadows on the 14th (David H), and at Long Dole Meadow, also on the 14th (Helena and Fred). Still no sign of it, though, at Thurlbear or Orchard Wood. One other ‘B’ of note was Rye Brome, Bromus secalinus, on the 17th, on a road verge in Taunton rather than in its usual arable habitat.

It was a week of ‘C’s, with four on the target list and all of them seen by at least one of us. Lesser Centaury, Centaurium pulchellum, was actually seen by Jeanne on the 7th (so in Week 12), at Blue Anchor; Stemless Thistle, Cirsium acaule, had begun to flower at Observatory Hill—so just in VC34—when David H visited on the 16th; first-flowering Traveller’s-joy, Clematis vitalba, clambering over a low shrub-border on the edge of Tesco’s car park off Wellington Road, Taunton, on the 14th; and Ro had Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare, at Lilstock, also on the 14th. Other noteworthy ‘C’s included Steve’s Whorl-grass, Catabrosa aquatica, near North Newton, on the 13th, and my own (very early) Fat-hen, Chenopodium album, near Creech St Michael on the 12th. Just for the record, Watson’s average FFD for Fat-hen was 8th July, while Roe’s earliest FFD in the 1950s was 9th July.

‘D’. Two reports of first-flowering Tufted Hair-grass, Deschampsia cespitosa, this week: GB Gruffy on the 9th (so actually Week 12), courtesy of Andrew, and North Newton on the 13th, with thanks to Steve. Another grass seen flowering for the first time this week was Heath-grass, Danthonia decumbens, at Thurlbear on the 15th and at Lots on the 16th. Also at GB Gruffy on the 9th was Wavy Hair-grass, Deschampsia flexuosa, which is now flowering well at several heathland sites on the Blackdown Hills, along with a couple of ‘E’s, Bell Heather, Erica cinerea, and Cross-leaved Heath, E. tetralix.

‘H’. This has definitely been the week for Square-stalked St John’s-wort, Hypericum tetrapterum, with records from Old Cleeve on the 9th (Jeanne), Creech St Michael on the 12th (me), The Quants on the 15th (Linda), and Langford Heathfield on the 17th (Chris). Another ‘H’ of possibly only ‘niche’ interest, was the discovery earlier today of a large roadside/waste ground population of (flowering) Hoary Mustard, Hirschfeldia incana, on Trenchard Way, close to the bridge across Station Road. This seems to be the first record of Hoary Mustard for the ST22 and the Taunton area since the turn of the century.

‘L’. First records this week for: Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca serriola, on the 17th on waste ground near the A38 at Creech Castle, Taunton; Yellow Loosestrife, Lysimachia vulgaris, on the 12th at Postlebury (Gill); and Water-purslane, Lythrum portula, on the 15th at Blackdown and Sampford Common—just over the border in Devon, I admit, but always considered, by me at least, to be part of ‘Greater Somerset’. Well, the parking place is in Somerset…

‘M’, ‘N’, ‘O’… Just the one target species: Marjoram, Origanum vulgare, which, like the Water-purslane fell just outside the county’s borders—this time at Observatory Hill, Bristol, where it was seen by David H on the 16th. Other than that, a motley collection including reported first-flowerings of Creeping Forget-me-not, Myosotis secunda, Water Chickweed, Myosoton aquaticum (Stellaria aquatica in Stace 4), Mat-grass, Nardus stricta, Bog Asphodel, Narthecium ossifragum, and Spiny Restharrow, Ononis spinosa.

‘P’. Included this week are sightings of two ‘P’s that would have been on later lists: Hawkweed Oxtongue, Picris hieracioides, on the 17th on waste ground and verge of the A38 at Creech Castle, Taunton; and Burnet-saxifrage, Pimpinella saxifraga, on the 12th at Priddy Mineries (Andrew). Linda found flowering Pale Butterwort, Pinguicula lusitanica, at Ring Down on the 13th, while there were also two records of Annual Beard-grass, Polypogon monspeliensis, from Stock Moor on the 14th (Steve), and on waste ground at Firepool Weir, Taunton on the 15th. The latter is an attractive and eye-catching grass that seems to be spreading, at least in parts of VC5.

‘S’.  Our target was Autumn Hawkbit, Scorzoneroides autmnalis, which was seen by three of us: Helena in Paulton on the 14th, me in Taunton, also on the 14th, and Andrew at Crook Peak on the 17th. This is exactly a month earlier than Watson’s average FFD of 15th July, and 3-4 weeks earlier than Roe’s dates in the 1950s. Its English name really ought to be Summer Hawkbit. Some really lovely ‘S’s tagging along too, such as Chris’s Lesser Skullcap, Scutellaria minor, at Langford Heathfield on the 14th, Helena and Fred’s Devil’s-bit Scabious, Succisa pratensis, at Long Dole Meadow on the 14th (a very early date), and—less lovely, but still noteworthy—my own Sand Spurrey, Spergularia rubra, on Blackdown and Sampford Common where it was growing alongside the Water-purslane. The only Marsh Woundwort, Stachys palustris, was in Surrey (!), so that one stays on the list for another week I’m afraid.

‘T’. Amongst her batch of ‘late’ FFDs, Pat also had our earliest FFD for Wood Sage, Teucrium scorodonia, on the 15th. Also, we had two more reports of Wild Thyme, Thymus drucei, both in Week 12: one from ‘near Watchet’ on the 8th (Alastair), the other, also on the 8th, from Purn Hill (Andrew).

‘V’. A strange absence of ‘V’s this week, apart from Gill’s Vervain, Verbena officinalis, at Truddoxhill, and my own Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca, which has at last begun to flower in the Taunton area.

The end of another week, each one now seeming a little more ‘normal’ than the last, despite the need for endless discussions about what’s acceptable and what’s not, how one defines a ‘bubble’, whether to wear a mask, which is the best hand sanitizer… not to mention daily amazement at some people’s interpretation of what is meant, exactly, by the term ‘two metres’!

Yet amid all the uncertainty and understandable worry, it’s good to see that a few of us are beginning to meet up with friends again for the occasional socially distanced botanical foray; and good, too, that the number of sites being visited seems to be increasing each week. A sure sign that we are returning—slowly, tentatively—to some of our old haunts and old ways.

Do keep the Convolvulus arvensis records coming in, by the way. It seems that f. arvensis may be destined to win the League—much like Liverpool—and that ‘non-ticks’ will ultimately hold sway over ‘ticks’. But, as football commentators always say following a late goal against the run of play: “it’s never over ‘til it’s over”…

And we still haven’t found The Subtle Knife.

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Week 12 Roundup : 10th June

It’s raining again. This time, a soft crackle on the tiles sounding like the sizzling tick and patter of an old vinyl record. An indifferent week, weather-wise—which, given what’s gone before, is surely noteworthy—often breezy, sometimes wet, not especially hot, and generally a fairly unpredictable mixture of cloud and sunshine. Which has given us new things to ponder, like whether it might be sensible to wear a coat of some sort. Or maybe take a brolly, just in case?

This week I’ve been reading Madeline Miller’s Circe,a (quote) ‘bold and subversive’ retelling of Homer’s Odyssey,writtenfrom the point of view of the goddess-witch Circe, the much-maligned daughter of Helios, God of the Sun. And, would you believe it? One minute she was giving birth to her son, Telegonus, via what appeared to be self-administered Caesarean section; the next, on the back path, I came across first-flowering Enchanter’s-nightshade, Circaea lutetiana. The link between the witch and the plant had never really occurred to me before, but is well summarised in Geoffrey Grigson’s Dictionary of English Plant Names. To quote: “The Flemish botanist Mathias de l’Obel (1538-1616) equated the Greek plant kirkaia, Latin circaea, used in charms, [at] first with Solanum dulcamara, the Woody Nightshade, then [later] with Circaea lutetiana. Kirkaia was taken to mean the plant of the witch or enchantress Kirke, or Circe…” Or, more simply, as noted on the Woodland Trust’s website: “Circaea relates to Circe, an enchantress sometimes depicted as the Greek goddess of magic, who was known for her knowledge of herbs.” Strange, anyway, that two such disparate worlds—of Greek myths and first flowerings—should collide in this way.

And Tim Dee’s two seasons of spring and autumn seem to be colliding too, which means that (despite this week’s weather) it’s really starting to feel like summer… And, as if to prove the point, Georgina reported her first Dark Green Fritillary on the 5th, at Blackmoor. There have been further sightings of Marbled Whites and Large Skippers, Ro’s had a Green Hairstreak, and suddenly Meadow Browns seem to be everywhere. Amongst other ‘miscellaneous records’, Helena and Val spotted a Swollen-thighed Beetle, Oedemeria nobilis, in Great Breach Wood on the 9th, while Andrew, on the same day, saw Chimney Sweeper moths, Odezia atrata, at GB Gruffy.  And Ro reports that she has tigers in her polytunnel, although in this case, thankfully, Scarlet Tigers, Callimorpha dominula.

In the next couple of weeks, if you find yourself tramping through rough grassland, listen out for the first stridulating grasshoppers and bush-crickets; Meadow Grasshoppers, Chorthippus parallelus, and Field Grasshoppers, C. brunneus, are the two commonest species in the county, and they’re also often the first to reach adulthood and make themselves heard. You’ll probably tell me now that you’re hearing them already…

On the botanical front it’s been a more straightforward week, with a shorter list of target species, and many of them big and blousy, so quite easy to spot, even at a distance. The rain has helped, too, to push things on a bit, and we’ve managed to record all but five of the 18 spp on our list. Another interesting week, too, for late first flowerings, particularly so for Pat over at Nettlecombe. She’s been noticing how delayed some of her FFDs are in comparison with those from coastal or more lowland areas to the east. Tutsan, Hypericum androsaemum, for example, came into flower at Nettlecombe on 7th June (cf. 18th May in Taunton). But, don’t forget, Pat also had the earliest FFD in the county for Creeping Thistle, Cirsium arvense, which shows that it’s never safe to generalise. I’ve had my own catching up to do this week, with one of my best finds being on the 4th, an extraordinarily late FFD for White Bryony, Bryonia dioica—five weeks after Linda’s FFD for it at Nynehead. Even Watson would have found my date unremarkable; his FFD for it was 2nd June. Being five weeks behind Linda is bad enough, but two days behind Watson? I’m beginning to understand how Pat and ‘ice-scraping’ Ellen must feel… But, anyway, it’s not a competition. Is it?

Here’s a summary of what we’ve all found this week. A bit shorter than usual, partly because there are less species to cover, but mainly because I’m hoping for an early night. Usual rules apply: scientific names emboldened, other notables mentioned as and when, and the whole lot in alphabetical order, more or less…

An Absence of ‘A’s. Well, not quite, but nothing from the target list other than more sightings of Agrimony, Agrimonia eupatoria, at East Quantoxhead on the 3rd (David H), and Stoke Hill, Stoke St Mary, on the 6th (me). David H also reported having seen Pyramidal Orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis, flowering at St George’s Flower Bank on 25th May, the same day as Andrew’s at Yarley. Potentially the most interesting ‘A’—although at this point there will doubtless be shouts of ‘L’ for Lysimachia—was Chris’s Bog Pimpernel, Anagallis tenella, at Langford Heathfield on the 9th. This isn’t one I usually record, but Watson’s date for it was 23rd June.

‘B’ for Brachypodium. Two reports of Tor-grass, Brachypodium rupestre/pinnatum, both in Week 11, and both from Crook Peak: David H on the 28th, and Andrew on the 31st. But Week 12 was certainly the week for Wood False-brome, Brachypodium sylvaticum. The first report of it was from Wellington on the 5th (Linda), which provoked an email discussion about when, exactly, a grass like this can be said to be flowering. Grasses are difficult, we decided; and while some are quick to reveal their sexual parts, others, including this one, can be decidedly coy about it. (Wall Barley, Hordeum murinum, is another.) Anyway, following Linda’s slightly optimistic record there was a flurry of sightings: David H in Leigh Woods on the 7th, Andrew at Purn Hill on the 8th, and then on the 9th there were records from Helena and Val at Great Breach Wood, Pat at Nettlecombe, and me at Thurlbear. The first flowering Butterfly-bush, Buddleja davidii, in Taunton, incidentally, was on the 5th.

‘C’.  Two of you have seen Greater Knapweed, Centaurea scabiosa, both records were on the 3rd, so actually in Week 11. In our far-eastern enclave, Fred had it flowering nicely while he was investigating broomrapes near Whitchurch, and the same day David H saw it at East Quantoxhead. As already mentioned, first records this week also for Enchanter’s-nightshade, Circaea lutetiana: Taunton on the 4th, Leigh Woods on the 7th (David H), and Paulton on the 9th (Helena).

‘C’ is also for Convolvulus. Several of you have been sending in records of the various colour forms of Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis. Early indications are that f. arvensis (white) and f. pentarrhabdotus (5-pointed star) are the most frequent, while those having ‘tick’ marks round the yellow throat are the least frequent. The scores at the moment are: f. arvensis = 8 records; f. pentarrhabdotus = 8; f. perroseus = 4; f. pallidiroseus = 3; f. decarrhabdotus = 3; f. pallidinotatus = 2; f. notatus = 1; f. decemvulnerus = 1; f. pentastictus = 1; f. quinquevulnerus = 0. Needless to say, these ten forms can seem like points along a continuum of variation, with the pink of some flowers being very pale, and tick marks faint, while others are much more strongly marked. The f. perroseus is particularly striking, the flower usually being a very pretty deep pink with contrasting white ‘star’ in its centre. The f. pallidiroseus can be hard to separate from f. arvensis, the pink ‘flushing’ often being very pale; yet, put one of these barely-flushed flowers next to a pure white f. arvensis and you can immediately see the difference: f. arvensis is the colour of an ‘ice white’ polo shirt, whereas f. pallidiroseus  is like the same polo shirt after it’s been through the wash with a pair of red socks. Also, I do wonder whether f. arvensis flowers tend to be slightly smaller than pallidiroseus?

‘D’ is for Carrot. Lots of records of Wild Carrot, Daucus carota, now, including Dee in her garden on the 1st, then at Clevedon Pill on the 7th, David H at East Quantoxhead on the 3rd, and Andrew at West Huntspill on the 5th.

‘E’. Hemp-agrimony, Eupatorium cannabinum, earlier today, on the bank of the river Tone beside Goodlands Gardens. I’d been watching it all week as it was ‘pinking up’, but only this morning did the first flowers begin to open. Also, following last week’s rain, Hoary Willowherb, Epilobium parviflorum, has finally begun to flower in Taunton; and a second record of Great Willowherb, E. hirsutum, this time in Brent Knoll village (Andrew). Oh yes, and a ‘first’, too, from Chris who has reported having seen Cross-leaved Heath, Erica tetralix, at Langford Heathfield on 26th May—so actually in Week 10. Very early! (Watson’s date for it was 23rd June.)

‘F’. Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, popping up everywhere now—even at Nettlecombe where first flowers were seen on the 10th.

‘G’. Galiums galore this week, with lots more records for verum, album, palustre and saxatile. Reed Sweet-grass, Glyceria maxima, like Brachypodium sylvaticum a rather ‘shy’ grass when it comes to exposing its anthers, is now beginning to flower along the canal in Taunton, near Firepool Weir. Panicles are nicely expanded, anyway.

‘H’. It’s also been quite a week for St John’s-worts. Plenty more Hairy, H. hirsutum, and Perforate, H. perforatum; plus lots of first-flowering Slender, Hypericum pulchrum, including Georgina on the 5th at Blackmoor, Pat on the 7th at Greencombe, Linda on the 8th at Wivvy, and Chris at Langford Heathfield on the 9th.

‘I’. An early FFD for Ploughman’s-spikenard, Inula conyzae, was Andrew’s from Purn Hill on the 8th. The yellow variant of Stinking Iris, Iris foetidissima var. citrina, has also been spotted again, this time by Helena and Val at Great Breach Wood: “Interestingly, we first started seeing yellow ones on the slope above the former Monocot Nursery … but there was quite a bit on New Hill, further along the slope, mixed in with blue ones.” Which leaves me still wondering to what extent this variety might have been preferentially taken into cultivation, from where it has then got back out into the wild as a garden escape or throw-out.

‘J’. Not a first-flowerer, but we can’t pass this point in the alphabet without a nod to David H’s discovery in Leigh Woods on the 7th of Janetiella lemeei, a midge causing little wart-like galls on Wych Elm, Ulmus glabra. This appears to be a new county record of a species for which there is only a handful of GB records on the NBN. (With thanks to Simon Haarder, a Danish cecidologist/dipterist, and Keith Harris for confirming its identity.) David also had a couple of nice midge galls on Lime, Tilia sp., Contarinia tiliarum and Didymomyia tiliacea, the latter also, possibly, a ‘first’ for the county.

‘K’. Field Scabious, Knautia arvensis, was on our target list, but probably shouldn’t have been, since David H had seen it flowering at St George’s Flower Bank on 21st May (at start of Week 10), and Chris saw it in Langford Budville on 28th May (at start of Week 11). My own FFD, in Taunton, was on 5th June.

‘L’. One species that’s begun to spread in these parts recently is Great Lettuce, Lactuca virosa. Previously a real rarity in VC5, the first record for the Taunton area was Graham’s on the day of our ‘last week hunt’ at the end of October 2018, in the Silk Mills park-and-ride car park. In 2019 we found it to be quite abundant on road verges near the Somerset Heritage Centre. And this week, to my astonishment, I’ve seen it in two new roadside sites on Obridge Road, and close to the junction of Priorswood Road and Lyngford Road. The plants were flowering well, but more than anything it was the height of the plants that really impressed: they were massive, with the tallest attaining a height in excess of 3 metres. A plant with real chutzpah! (For Bog Pimpernel, Lysimachia tenella, you’ll have to go back to ‘A’.)

‘M’. Two targets this week: Water Forget-me-not, Mysosotis scorpioides, which was found to be flowering well in the canal near Firepool Weir, Taunton, on the 4th; and Musk Mallow, Malva moschata, which started blooming with great synchrony this week, in Taunton on the 4th, Wivvy on the 8th (Linda), and Clevedon also on the 8th (Dee), to list but three. Lucerne, Medicago sativa subsp sativa, was also seen this week, like the Malva, in Taunton and Wivvy.

‘P’, ‘R’, ‘S’. One of each. Timothy, Phleum pratense, at last, was seen by Andrew on the 6th, at Highbridge. Wild Madder, Rubia peregrina, was picked up by David H on his highly productive visit to East Quantoxhead on the 3rd (Week 11), while I had it in a wood-border hedgerow at Thurlbear on the 8th. The only ‘S’ was Perennial Sowthistle, Sonchus arvensis, which was seen on the 6th in a road verge beside a bridge over the M5 between Stoke St Mary and Taunton. Marsh Woundwort, Stachys palustris, though, we’ll have to roll over to Week 13…

‘T’. Three extra-curricular ‘T’s this week: Hare’s-foot Clover, Trifolium arvense, in flower on Berrow golf course on the 7th (Andrew); Bulrush, Typha latifolia, in Taunton on the 9th;and, with thanks to David H’s father, a record of Common Meadow-rue, Thalictrum flavum, on Weston Moor on the 5th.

And, as ever, our ‘V’s of the week, and both Week 12 targets: Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, on 30th May in Wivvy (Linda), on the 6th at Highbridge (Andrew), and on the 8th in Taunton; and Vervain, Verbena officinalis, in Brent Knoll village on the 4th (Andrew).

Am I the only one to find that a good way to remain sane while in a traffic jam is to engage in roadside botany? Well, it paid off handsomely on the 8th, with my own first-flowering Verbena officinalis being the high point—along with Greater Quaking-grass, Briza maxima, and Wall Bedstraw, Galium parisiense—of an hour spent queuing to get into Priorswood Recycling Centre.

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Weeks 10 & 11 Roundup : 3rd June

The Blackbird isn’t singing. He was broadcasting from the TV aerial first thing this morning, but now the rain’s clattering on the roof and he’s made for cover. Eerily quiet, then, and a day quite different from every other day since the middle of March: overcast, wet, and much warmer indoors than out.  Somerset should have been playing a T20 today against Sussex at Hove, but it would almost certainly have been rained off anyway—a consoling thought. So we’ve given Hove a miss, and instead Ben and I have been walking the dog up at Staple Hill and Mount Fancy where, apart from a good crop of first-flowerers, I was particularly pleased to witness another excellent show of Stinkhorn fungi, Phallus impudicus, in the same place we saw them as a group almost exactly a year ago.

Taking the fortnight as a whole, today’s rain has been an aberration at the end of another prolonged period of dry, sunny, warm weather. You’ll have heard on the TV News that it’s been the sunniest spring on record (since 1929); and in Taunton, at least, ten of the last 14 days have recorded temperatures of 25°C or above. The lack of rain this spring has also been noteworthy. Effects on first-flowerings can be strange and unpredictable: while drought stress might cause one species to ‘stall’, another—sensing impending doom, perhaps—decides to flower as quickly as it can, resulting in a mixture of responses. Even a single species can behave quite differently in different places, blooming precociously early on a dry, sheltered, sunny, south-facing slope while remaining stubbornly in bud everywhere else.

This also means that different people can have wildly differing perceptions of how first flowering dates (FFDs) are progressing. So, while some of us have had rich pickings in the last fortnight, others have been complaining that they’ve found next to nothing. Today’s rain, especially if it’s the start of a period of more changeable weather, may even things up a bit. Expect the barrenness of recent days, if that’s been your experience, to be followed by a great flourish of new records in the next week or two… 

Turning to what we’ve seen in the last fortnight, let’s start, as usual, with things other than plants. At home—where, despite all this talk of ‘easing’, I still seem to spend much of my time—I’ve been mainly distracted by bees and blackbirds. In Week 10, continuing the ‘b’ theme, it was beetles. The first, appearing like a mislaid brooch on the doormat, was a Rose Chafer, Cetonia aurata, to be swiftly followed, in the back garden, by an equally iridescent and jewel-like Thick-legged or Swollen-thighed Beetle, Oedemera nobilis. They’re not thighs of course—beetles don’t have thighs, do they?—but the first segments of the male’s back legs (the ‘hind femora’, to give them their proper name) are noticeably swollen, making it instantly recognisable: a beetle that looks like it’s been seriously ‘working out’ at the gym. I’m sure I’ve been shown them on SRPG or SANHS field meetings, but this is the first time we’ve spotted one in the garden. It’s a ‘southern’ species, with a distribution centred on the Mediterranean region and southern Europe. In the UK, at its north-western limit, it used to occur only very locally in southern-most counties of England, but since the 1990s, presumably as a result of climate change, it’s undergone a rapid expansion of range. Now common across England and Wales as far north as a line running from the Mersey to the Wash, there are even scattered records into northern England, and (most recently) the extreme south of Scotland. Definitely one to keep an eye out for in your flower borders.

It’s been a good fortnight for butterflies. Georgina saw her first Small Blues and Large Skippers on the 25th at Stoke Camp, and first Marbled Whites and Meadow Browns on the 30th at Draycott Sleights. My own first Meadow Brown, at Orchard Wood, was on the 25th, followed by several at Thurlbear on the 27th. Keith Gould had Meadow Browns and Large Skippers at Longrun Meadow, Taunton, on 1st June. He also saw his first Emperor Dragonfly, Anax imperator, there on the 1st. On the 2nd, down by the river Tone at Obridge, we found there had been an overnight/early morning mass emergence of Banded Demoiselles, Calopteryx splendens. What a gorgeous insect this is! We walked between Obridge and Creech Castle and counted dozens and dozens and dozens (easily more than 50) where the previous afternoon we hadn’t seen a single one. The description in Cyril Hammond’s field guide is spot on: “females have a feeble fluttering flight … [but] males are much more active and engage in chasing one another and sometimes more than half-a-dozen may be seen involved in the chase which can last many minutes. Courtship is pretty to watch, the male vibrating his wings rapidly in front of or above the female before flying with her in tandem.” Their slow, bobbing, butterfly-like flight is distinctive, as are the broad bands on the wings of the males, which seem, like their bodies, to have been brushed with blue-black ‘Quink’.       

On the botanical front it’s been a busy two weeks, with 19 of you sending in a total of 225 records covering goodness-knows-how-many species. As already hinted, while some of you found target species elusive, others (including me) were having a field day. In all, we saw all but five of our 28 target species. The following gives you an idea of what we’ve all been up to, and what we’ve seen; as usual, target species have their scientific names emboldened, other notables are mentioned along the way, and the whole lot is stitched together in an order that’s vaguely alphabetical, except when it isn’t….

‘A’s abounding! Two reports of Agrimony, Agrimonia eupatoria, first seen by Kate Jeffreys at Stolford on the 23rd, and then by Andrew (another ‘A’) at Crook Peak on the 30th.  Pyramidal Orchids, Anacamptis pyramidalis, are beginning to flower all over the place, with many of you noticing how the first blooms open towards the base of the spike, even while the top of the pyramid is still tightly closed. The first was Andrew’s, at Yarley on the 25th, then me at Orchard Wood on the 27th, followed by Steve in Bridgwater on the 29th—right next to a courting couple, apparently! Keith Gould photographed a Pyramidal Orchid on the 1st in grassland out near the Silk Mills park-and-ride, which is currently being used as a coronavirus testing station. I had my first bulbil-laden head of Wild Onion, Allium vineale, in a Taunton roadside flower-bed on the 2nd. Also we’ve had two records of the much prettier Rosy Garlic, A. roseum, one in Taunton on the 24th, the other from Alastair in Minehead, actually on the 14th (Week 9). Fool’s Watercress, Apium nodiflorum, is one of the species that seems to have ‘stalled’ in the last week or two, but I did see it in flower on the 2nd in Taunton. Other noteworthy ‘A’s included: Fool’s Parsley, Aethusa cynapium, on the 31st in Bridgwater (Steve); Marsh Foxtail, Alopecurus geniculatus, on the 25th in Bridgwater (Steve) and 2nd June at Postlebury (Gill); and more Kidney-vetch, Anthyllis vulneraria, this time at Stoke Camp, Mendip, on the 25th (Georgina).

A paucity of ‘B’s. We had two to search for, and only struck lucky with one of them: Black Horehound, Ballota nigra, was starting to flower at Obridge, Taunton, on the 23rd, while Andrew had it at Berrow on the 3rd. Flowering Rush, Butomus umbellatus, we’ll have to carry over to Week 12… Amongst other ‘B’s, we’ve had first sightings of flowering Yellow-wort, Blackstonia perfoliata, in ‘proper’ habitat, i.e. NOT beside a railway line. Georgina had it at Draycott Sleights on the 30th, while the next day Andrew saw it on Crook Peak; for the record, it’s still only ‘in bud’ at Thurlbear. A couple of sightings of Borage, Borago officinalis, this week, from Steve and Linda, and also a surprisingly early record of Butterfly-bush, Buddleja davidii, on the 31st in Bridgwater (Steve).

‘C’ is for Convolvulus. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that Andrew is leading the pack when it comes to colour-forms of Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, with a score of 7/10. Looking at everyone’s records so far, f. arvensis and f. pentarrhabdotus seem to be the most frequent, followed by f. decarrhabdotus and f. pallidiroseus. Colour forms with tick marks round the throat seem to be scarcer than those without. Or maybe they just start to flower slightly later? Thanks to Andrew, Jeanne, Ro and Linda, in particular, for their records, many of them with accompanying photographic evidence. (Sorry, I said I’d spare you the details, then couldn’t resist giving you them anyway…)

Still on ‘C’s, and still on bindweeds, there have been several records of Large Bindweed, Calystegia silvatica, from Highbridge (Andrew), Wiveliscombe (Linda) and Taunton. I’ve been playing catch-up with my own ‘C’s, with Spear Thistle, Cirsium vulgare, on the 24th, and Basil Thyme, Clinopodium acinos, on the 30th, the latter in its usual spot on Thurlbear Quarrylands. Of our targets, Rosebay Willowherb, Chamaenerion angustifolium, showed its first flowers in Taunton on the 2nd (on our back path) but Enchanter’s-nightshade, Circaea lutetiana, (also on our back path) is yet to show itself. ‘C’ of the week, though, must surely be Steve’s Bermuda-grass, Cynodon dactylon, at Bridgwater docks on the 24th. Only the second record of this grass in VC5.

‘D’ is for Ellen’s exceptionally late FFD for Common Spotted-orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii. It was the same with her nettles, which you’ll remember were also very late. Rumour has it she’s still having to scrape ice off her windscreen each morning. For sheer classiness amongst the ‘D’s, though, what about Georgina’s Cheddar Pink, Dianthus gratianopolitanus, seen flowering in the Gorge on the 30th?

‘E’. I had thought Steve’s Viper’s-bugloss, Echium vulgare, on the 24th was a first for the year, until I looked back at Alastair’s records and discovered that he’d seen this species flowering at Dunster on 18th April. So that one shouldn’t have been on the list, really. Other than that, we’ve had our first Couch-grass, Elymus repens, in Taunton on the 29th and Highbridge on the 30th (Andrew), Great Willowherb, Epilobium hirsutum, in Taunton on the 30th, and Pale Willowherb, E. roseum, also in Taunton, also on the 29th. But still, amazingly, only a single record of Hoary Willowherb, E. parviflorum, which seems to have been badly affected by the prolonged dry spell. A couple of records of Caper Spurge, Euphorbia lathyris, on the 28th in Taunton and the 31st in Bridgwater (Steve). And, finally, a vaguely autumnal ‘E’ in the shape of Bell Heather, Erica cinerea, seen today at Staple Hill. This is usually the first of the ‘heathers’ to flower—even Walter Watson’s FFD for it was mid-June—but should soon be followed by Cross-leaved heath, E. tetralix, and then Heather, Calluna vulgaris. If you’re out looking for any of these, keep an eye out also for the first Western Gorse, Ulex gallii. Oh, and Slender St John’s-wort, Hypericum pulchrum, too…

‘F’. Just the one target this week, Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, which three of us have seen—me on the 24th in Taunton (in the same ditch as the Apium a week later), Andrew at Binham Moor, near Mark, on the 28th, and Steve in Bridgwater on the 31st. Others have commented on how it seems to have got ‘stuck’ in bud. Have another look in the next couple of days and you may find today’s rain has worked its magic…

One other ‘F’ in passing: a plant of the not-so-common Common Cudweed, Filago vulgaris, flowering in bare ground off Canal Road, Taunton, on the 1st. We’ve had records of it in previous years from road verges near the railway station, but this is the first in Taunton away from that area. It’s quite a scarce plant in Somerset, and ‘Near Threatened’ on the England Red List, so a nice one to have whether flowering or not!

‘G’. Three species of bedstraw, Galium spp, were on our target list for the fortnight, and Andrew managed to twitch them all! On the 30th he found Lady’s Bedstraw, G. verum, on Brent Knoll; the next day he had Hedge Bedstraw, G. album, on Crook Peak; and the day after that he picked up Marsh Bedstraw, G. palustre, at Wick Lane, Brent Knoll. And, not wanting to miss out completely on this sudden rash of bedstraws, I can also report seeing Fen Bedstraw, G. uliginosum, flowering nicely today at Mount Fancy, Staple Hill. To put these dates into some kind of perspective, Walter Watson’s FFDs for verum and album were 25th June, palustre 10th June, and uliginosum 3rd August.

Our only other target ‘G’ was Dyer’s Greenweed, Genista tinctoria, flowering at Thurlbear on the 26th and at Ellen’s place ‘up north’ on the 28th.  Amongst other ‘G’s, there were records of Goat’s-rue, Galega officinalis, in Minehead on the 25th (Alastair),

Gallant-soldier, Galinsoga parviflora, in Bridgwater on the 31st (Steve), Yellow Horned-Poppy, Glaucium flavum, at Dunster beach on the 25th (Alastair), and Corn Marigold, Glebionis segetum, near Nynehead on the 23rd (Linda). There were also three records for flowering French Oat-grass, Gaudinia fragilis, from Yarley, Brent Knoll and a field near Thurlbear. The last was in a new monad, in a field through which I’ve walked, probably every week, for the last 25 years. I’d like to think it must be a recent arrival, or else I’ve been extremely good at overlooking it all these years. I suspect the latter.

‘G’ is also for (botanical) Graffiti. Several of you have been in touch about the #morethanweeds campaign, becoming popular during lockdown, to chalk up the names of ‘weeds’ (sic) growing in urban streets, in pavement cracks and on roadside walls and verges. It’s simple really, you just head out with some coloured chalks, then write on the pavement or wall the English and scientific names of the plants you find. The hope is that people walking by will be encouraged to notice these street plants, and their names, and maybe come to value them more as a result. I mean to start my own campaign of pavement-scribbling soon, as well as posting a few pictures on our recently-formed neighbourhood WhatsApp group—Mexican Fleabane, Water Bent, Adria Bellflower, Ivy-leaved Toadflax, Argentinian Fleabane, Musk Stork’s-bill, etc, etc… And the odd dandelion too. But it turns out someone’s already on the case, as I’ve just come across an ‘annotated’ Herb Robert growing against a wall in Eastbourne Terrace. That’s got to be my plant of the week. And it was flowering too.

‘H’. Three target ‘H’s, and all of them picked up by somebody in Week 11. Bristly Ox-tongue, Helminthotheca echioides, was seen in Taunton on the 28th, and at Lilstock on the 2nd (Ro). Hairy St John’s-wort, Hypericum hirsutum, was on Crook Peak on the 31st (Andrew), and at Thurlbear on the 1st, while Perforate St John’s-wort, H. perforatum, was seen on waste ground in Taunton on the 1st, and in Langford Budville on the 2nd (Chris). We’ve also had records this week for Meadow Barley, Hordeum secalinum, in Bridgwater and Taunton. ‘H’ of the week, though, has to be Andrew’s Lizard Orchid, Himantoglossum hircinum, at Berrow on the 22nd.

‘H’ is also for Helena, who’s beaten her personal best so often in the last fortnight it’s making me dizzy just thinking about it.

‘I’. The normal colour variety of Stinking Iris, Iris foetidissima, is now flowering quite widely, following an early first sighting at Lilstock on the 19th (Ro), then Thurlbear and Orchard Wood on the 23rd (me) and Brent Knoll on the 29th (Andrew). Ro’s experience is worth sharing, since it shows the lengths to which we’re prepared to go when plant hunting: “I had one of those walks that just turns out horrid. An arable field edge … had become choked with tangled Alexanders and blackthorn suckers … and Brambles, so I had a hellish struggle to get round … I managed to collect two ticks and get stung and prickled.” But it was worth it, in the end, as she also picked up her first flowers of Stinking Iris—or Gladdon as she and several others have called it. This name is derived, apparently, from the Latin Gladiolus, and was formerly applied also to Yellow Flag, I. pseudacorus, when early botanists knew it as ‘water gladiolus.’ (With thanks to Geoffrey Grigson.)

‘J’. A rush of rushes this week, with first-flowerings noted for Hard, J. inflexus, on the 23rd (Kate), Soft, J. effusus, and Compact, J. conglomeratus, on the 26th at Thurlbear, and a trio of Toad, bufonius, Bulbous, J. bulbosus, and Jointed, J. articulatus all flowering up at Mount Fancy earlier today. Watson would have expected these to be coming into flower in the last ten days of June, except for J. bulbosus for which his FFD was the 16th. So they’re all jolly early, basically. Has the dry weather sped them up, I wonder?

‘L’. Grass-leaved Vetchling, Lathyrus nissolia, and Meadow vetchling, L. pratensis, are both flowering well now, while there have been further records for Fairy Flax, Linum catharticum (me, at Thurlbear), Honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum (Gill and Liz, at North Wootton) and Purple Toadflax, Linaria purpurea (Dee, Clevedon). The first flowering Purple Loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, was beside the river Tone on the 2nd.

‘M’. Tufted Forget-me-not, Myosotis laxa,this week, but still no Water Forget-me-not, M. scorpioides.  Alastair, by the way, had Bastard Balm, Melittis melissophyllum, at Sully on the 20th. (Helena had some in her garden, but that probably shouldn’t count. Lovely picture though.) We’ve also had further records for Dwarf Mallow, Malva neglecta, Wall Lettuce, Mycelis muralis, both in Bridgwater, andCommon Cow-wheat, Melampyrum pratense, in both the Blackdowns and the Quantocks. The Thurlbear plants could well be subsp. commutatum, which is the subspecies that tends to occur on calcareous soils. It needs checking though, so there’s a specimen in the press for Fred to examine later…

‘O’. More records for Corky-fruited Water Dropwort, Oenanthe pimpinelloides, including near Castle Cary on the 24th (David Reid) and Bridgwater on the 25th (Steve). Several records of Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera, too: Orchard Wood (me) and Yarley (Andrew), both on the 25th; Fiona’s lawn (no idea where she lives, maybe near Street?), on the 26th; and Chantry, on the 1st (Gill). And then, to cap it all, there was Jeanne and Tim’s Fly Orchids, Ophrys insectifera, on the 26th. And Andrew has just reported seeing first-flowering Common Restharrow, Ononis repens, at Berrow golf course. This would have been on next week’s list, had he managed not to see it. But he did, so it isn’t!

‘P’. We saw three of the four ‘P’s on offer: Canary Reed-grass, Phalaris arundinacea,was flowering well beside the river Tone at Obridge on the 29th; Selfheal, Prunella vulgaris, had just started flowering at Yarley on the 25th (Andrew) and at Orchard Wood on the 27th; and Greater Plantain, Plantago major, flowering (if you can call it that) on a road verge in Taunton on the 30th. Which just leaves Timothy, Phleum pratense, to carry over to Week 12.

‘R’. Interesting to note how much later-flowering Field Rose, Rosa arvensis, is than Dog-rose, R. canina. That was the case in Watson’s day, too. Whereas our first R. canina, was on 28th April (Watson’s = 22nd May), our first R. arvensis wasn’t until 28th May when Linda had it at Langford Heathfield (Watson’s = 7th June). The next day, on the 29th, Gill saw it at Truddoxhill, while my own first for it was on the 30th in Taunton.

‘S’. Firsts this last fortnight for Small Scabious, Scabiosa columbaria, on the 30th (Georgina, Draycott Sleights), Pepper-saxifrage, Silaum silaus, on the 23rd (Kate, Stolford), and Wood Club-rush, Scirpus sylvaticus, on the 29th (me, river Tone at Obridge). Nothing much else of note, although good to see that Ragged Robin, Silene flos-cuculi, now being widely reported, as also Common Figwort, Scrophularia nodosa, and Water Figwort, S. auriculata.

‘T’. A third record for Hop Trefoil, this one from Linda on the 30th in Wivvy. More significant, though, was Georgina’s discovery, on the same day, of Wild Thyme, Thymus drucei aka praecox aka polytrichus, just starting to flower on Draycott Sleights.

‘V’. And, as usual, ending with our ‘V’ of the week… This time, Andrew’s patch of Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca, at Wick Lane, Brent Knoll.

Many thanks, as always, for your records over the last fortnight, and apologies for any that didn’t get a mention.

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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?

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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 …”

Exactly. 

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‘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.

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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.

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‘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…