Week 17 Roundup

Week 17 Roundup: 15th July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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