Week 21 Roundup

Week 21 Roundup: 12th August

By some margin, the hottest week of the year. I’m in the study sweating profusely, and with every intention of being here for as short a time as possible. Drafting first-flowering updates is not for the faint-hearted…

Actually, there’s really not much to report, as everything—and everyone—seems to have been struck down by the heat. So to keep it brief, this week’s summary can take the form of a diary, lifted mainly from the ‘NoteBook’ app on my phone—not much in my ‘real’ notebook—plus various texts, emails and WhatsApp messages. All very modern, all very ‘twenty-first century’.

Thursday, 6th. 25°C. Spent the afternoon in friends’ back garden in Rockwell Green. Chicory, Cichorium intybus, on verge of ‘ring road’ was my first of the year. They have a garden pond, in which Water Mint, Mentha aquatica, is flowering. They also have Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, which they’re keen to get rid of, so I try to convert them by saying that it’s f. pentarrhabdotus. Not sure they were terribly impressed, to be honest.

Val finds his first Common Fleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica, in flower, on Chasey’s Drove, along with Amphibious Bistort, Persicaria amphibia, galled by the midge Wachtliella persicariae.

Evening: sitting in another garden, this time in Colin Avenue, Taunton, eating a Gurkha 3 takeaway and discussing Test match—while keeping an eye on the sky. At least five Swifts repeatedly circling, the first birds for a couple of days. Clearly, they haven’t gone after all. A huge relief.

Friday, 7th. 27°C.  Early morning: an email from Andrew to report that he and others had seen Common Sea-lavender, Limonium vulgare, flowering at Uphill on the 4th, while there was Flowering Rush, Butomus umbellatus, on Allerton Moor on the 3rd, “… just when I’d given up hope of seeing any flowering locally [this year.]” Also, in response to my rather late FFD for Sneezewort, Achillea ptarmica, last week, he says that he’d recorded it flowering at Edford Meadows on 7th July.

Late morning: to Thurlbear Wood, trying to find some shade. First-flowering Creeping-Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, at last! Dark Bush-crickets, Pholidoptera griseoaptera, ‘chirping’ in the brambles, plus late-summer generation (partial second brood) Small Heaths, Coenonympha pamphilus, and Dingy Skippers, Erynnis tages. Freshly emerged Brimstones, Gonepteryx rhamni, as well—two brightly-coloured males—it could almost be spring again.

Meanwhile, Toby posting on WhatsApp: “Afternoon all, first few Goldilocks Aster [Galatella linosyris] out at Brean Down today!”  And another post, with photo, this time from Helena at Harptree Combe: “Pretty stars in the grass for you! Campanula patula [Spreading Bellflower] at its only Somerset site.” And then another, less pretty, from Dee in Clevedon, who has Fuschias in her garden afflicted by the rather grotesque galls of the dreaded Fuschia mite, Aculops fuschiae. At which point, Steve decides to wander into his garden in N. Petherton, only to find that he’s got Fuschia gall mites too.[1]

Late afternoon: more Swifts, a tight group of at least fifteen. First one, then two, then three ‘mewing’ Peregrines, circling lazily, until one suddenly plunges into a stoop and aims directly at three, maybe five, Swifts dashing at rooftop height down Gordon Road. They scatter in all directions and the Peregrine—presumably a young bird from the nest on St Mary’s church tower—gains height again to re-join its siblings, with nothing to show for its efforts. Friends had come over for a back-garden cuppa but hadn’t bargained on such wildlife spectacles. Neither had we.

Saturday, 8th. 29°C. Listening to Test Match Special—England closing in on a most remarkable win against Pakistan—while also watching Taunton Deane narrowly lose to Taunton St Andrews. Then a couple of pints of cider on the outfield, which may explain the lack of Swifts this evening…

Sunday, 9th. 26°C. Morning: Longrun Meadow, thistle-down everywhere. Thistle heads looking like particularly dishevelled prime-ministerial hairdos. Small Teasel, Dipsacus pilosus, still flowering nicely.

An email from David Reid, to say that he has Cowslips, Primula veris, flowering in his garden. And then Margaret posts a ‘selfie’ on WhatsApp, showing off her splendid new botanically-themed face mask. It looks so much better than my own (probably useless) black snood—unless you’re needing to look like a bank robber, in which case mine’s perfect. Oh, and she also had flowering Water Mint at Blagdon Lake.

Evening: supper in the garden. Three Swifts, very briefly, swoop down to chimney-pot height, calling madly and giving the impression of being local birds.

Monday, 10th. 24°C, the coolest day of the week, but still oppressively humid. Barrington Hill. Autumn Lady’s-tresses, Spiranthes spiralis, flowering nicely: maybe 50+ spikes along top edge of Hilly Field, and smaller numbers in Clover Ground and the bottom field. Lower flowers on some spikes already going over—so may have been flowering for a week or more? Abundant Strawberry Clover, Trifolium fragiferum, now living up to its name: ‘strawberries’ everywhere.  Gilly’s ears covered in Agrimony, Agrimonia eupatoria, burrs. Brilliant view of a Barn Owl, flushed from a hedgerow Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna. A Skylark singing, briefly, and a Robin; otherwise, very little bird noise—apart from numerous Wood Pigeons. Blackthorns, Prunus spinosa, laden with sloes; Oaks, Quercus robur, laden with acorns, many of them sporting knopper galls caused by the gall-wasp Andricus quercuscalicis. Also, several ‘pepperpot galls’ in the flower-heads of Common Fleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica, caused by a tiny fruit fly now known as Myopites apicatus (previously M. inulaedyssentericae). [2]

On the way home, more Chicory, in a field border near Staple Fitzpaine. Also a Jersey Tiger, Euplagia quadripunctaria, perched on Hoary Ragwort, Jacobea erucifolia. Various colour-forms of Field Bindweed, the best being f. notatus. Two male Clouded Yellows, Coleas croceus.

Late afternoon: 4.51 pm to be precise.  Steve’s on the wireless, BBC Radio Somerset, talking about the recent re-appearance of Lesser Water-plantain, Baldellia ranunculoides, at Shapwick. Excellent interview. Steve, afterwards, on WhatsApp: “stiff drink required.”

No Swifts: stiff drink needed here, too.

Tuesday, 11th. 33°C. Sweltering… No desire to do anything today, really. First adult Speckled Bush-cricket, Leptophyes punctassisima, calling faintly from the flower bed.

A flurry of excitement on WhatsApp following Val’s posting of photos of Broad-leaved Ragwort, Senecio sarracenicus (= S. fluviatilis), beside the River Brue at Baltonsborough. The Floras have it as an alien, the Atlas as a neophyte; yet its early introduction (before 1600) and first date in the wild (1633), combined with its decline nationally, suggest that it could be close to the fuzzy margin between neophyte and archaeophyte…

Meanwhile, Steve is beavering away in N. Petherton, dealing with a “freedom on information request.” Another stiff drink called for, perhaps?

Skies empty again, no Swifts.

Today, 12th. The air today is unbearably heavy and humid. Didn’t sleep well. Overnight low of 19°C. Early morning: up to Thurlbear Wood. Very little to report. Blackcaps: tchack, tchack … tchack alarm calls, like someone flint-knapping in the trees. Other birds are lying low: just a few hard-to-locate and impossible-to-identify ‘seep’ calls from the undergrowth. A startled Blue Tit. A brief snatch of Robin song against the background noise of jumbo jets passing overhead—normality raised another notch.

It’s now mid-afternoon, and the temperature has risen to 35°C.

I can’t stay in this room any longer, so we plan an evening dash to the coast.

Some while later…

We’ve been to Watchet. The smell of seaweed, views of the Welsh coast, ammonites, Sandwich Terns, and at least a dozen Swifts. And, later, fish and chips. Our second, but much-needed, visit to the seaside in nearly six months.

Meanwhile, David H is actually in Wales, sending us WhatsApp ‘postcards’ from Llyn Fanod, Ceredigion: Lesser Skullcap, Scutellaria minor, Water Lobelia, Lobelia dortmanna, Floating Water-plantain, Luronium natans

And then Helena, on her second Cam Valley Botany Walk of the summer, not only avoids the brewing thunder storms but also turns up flowering Autumn Lady’s-tresses, Harebell, Campanula rotundifolia, and Clustered Bellflower, C. glomerata. Clearly, a good week for bellflowers.

No preview needed for the coming week. Nothing much still to be seen, frankly. A few odds and sods, a few stragglers. And Ivy, Hedera helix, of course: the final piece in spring’s jigsaw…

[1]  Worth keeping an eye out for this gall. It’s a horticultural pest, and apparently spreading rapidly in southern Britain. First record in Somerset was in 2010 (Minehead), first record in Taunton area was in 2017. I think Dee’s may be the first record of it from VC6 but, as demonstrated by Steve, it can be easily overlooked! Dee says: “I can’t remember seeing it in my garden before, though perhaps I might not have noticed a low level of infection. Certainly it’s pretty widespread in Clevedon: walking this morning, I noticed quite a lot of plants infected.”

[2]   Most easily searched for later in the autumn, after the flower-heads have begun to fall apart, but worth looking for it now if you enjoy a challenge. Work your way through a patch of Common Fleabane, pressing down on the disc of each flower-head. An ungalled head will feel slightly spongy, and if you strip off the disc florets you’ll find the base of the flower-head (the receptacle) is small and relatively flat. A galled head will feel hard and swollen beneath the disc when you squish it, and removing the disc florets will reveal the galled receptacle, usually with a few tiny holes where the adult flies have exited the gall—hence the nickname ‘pepperpot gall’. Apparently quite scarce in the UK, M. apicatus is rare in central and northern Europe, but more frequent in southern Europe. First record in Somerset was in 2015, but a thin scatter of records in recent years suggest either we’ve been overlooking it or that it’s spreading. If the latter, might be in response to climate change?