Thursday, 9 June 2016

30 Days Wild | Day 9 - commute orchids

For day 9 of 30 Days Wild I checked in on some orchids growing by the canal towpath that I walk to work along. I first came across them during last year's 30 Days Wild so now I know they are there, I've been keeping my eye on them over the past few weeks and watching their progress. They've just started flowering within the last couple of days and are looking lovely! I think there is one Common Spotted and two Southern Marshes. The Southern Marshes are growing behind a somewhat unattractive fence so my photos aren't the best, but the orchids themselves are very attractive indeed. After I photographed them I continued along the towpath, hearing a Chiffchaff and a Whitethroat singing, and spotting one of the University of Birmingham Peregrines soaring overhead - hopefully they've got chicks up in the clock tower!

Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii).
Southern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa).
Southern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa).
Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii).
Southern Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza praetermissa).

30 Days Wild | Day 8 - The Pea family

Today for 30 Days Wild I had a go at another of my Identiplant assignments, about Fabaceae - the Pea family. I'm fairly familiar with this family as many of its members grow near my office so I thought I should be able to get through it fairly quickly. For the first part of the assignment I had to find three of the four species Medicago lupulina (Black Medick), Trifolium dubium (Lesser Trefoil), Lathyrus pratensis (Meadow Vetchling) and Lotus corniculatus (Bird's-foot Trefoil), and describe their diagnostic features. I think these can all be found near my workplace but I haven't spotted any Meadow Vetchling this year, I don't think it is in flower yet - so I found the other three. For the second part of the assignment I had to find either Vicia sepium (Bush Vetch) or Vicia cracca (Tufted Vetch) and key it out using the Wild Flower Key; I found Vicia cracca.

Diagnostic features of the pea family (generally):
  • Usually compound pinnate or trifoliate leaves.
  • Unique flower structure: 5 sepals fused into tube, 5 free petals – upper standard, 2 wings on either side enclosing keel formed from 2 lower inner petals. 10 stamens within keel – lower 2/3 of all or sometimes all but one fused into tube surrounding carpel. 
Diagnostic features of Medicago lupulina:

  • Leaves have mucronate tips and are downy.
  • Flowers/fruit-heads stay upright once flowering has finished.
Black Medick (Medicago lupulina).
Diagnostic features of Trifolium dubium:
  • Leaves have no mucronate tips are are mostly hairless.
  • Flowers/fruit-heads droop down once flowering has finished.
Lesser Trefoil (Trifolium dubium).
As the previous two species are so similar, the diagnostic features are those which are crucial in telling the two apart. The difference between the flowers/fruit heads wasn't one that was particularly highlighted in the Wild Flower Key but it's one that I noticed in real life - we'll see what my tutor thinks of it. There are other diagnostic characteristics too, to do with fruit structure, but for these assignments I am only supposed to highlight features that I have actually observed - and I didn't find any ripe fruits yet!

Diagnostic features of Lotus corniculatus:
  • Yellow flowers with orange/red tinge – red buds.
  • Trifoliate leaves but with extra leaf pair at base of stalk.
  • Hairless oval leaves.
  • Solid stems.
  • Sepal points are erect, not reflexed as in L. pedunculatus (another very similar species).
Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).
I managed to successfully key out Vicia cracca using the Wild Flower Key. I won't post the whole sequence here, here's a pic of the start of the pea family key though - I am getting better at using these having never really got to grips with keys before this course, you can see why it's so important to be familiar with the terminology!

Start of the pea key!
Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca).
Then just for fun I also found two more pea family members!

Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia).
Hop Trefoil (Trifolium campestre).

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

30 Days Wild | Day 7 - Bee Orchid quest & an escapee plant!

On day 7 of 30 Days Wild I was volunteering at EcoRecord, for the last time before I start my new job. I've only been volunteering there since April but it's given me experience that I think was probably crucial in helping me gain my new job and I've really enjoyed it! I wasn't sure yet what I would do for 30 Days Wild today but in the end actually did a couple of things.

In the morning as I was walking from Five Ways railway station in Birmingham to the Wildlife Trust offices (where EcoRecord are based), I spotted an interesting plant growing in a bit of waste ground next to the pavement. It didn't look like anything I'd seen before so I took a couple of photos. I showed it to a few people in the office at the Wildlife Trust and the consensus was that it looked like a garden escape of some kind. Luckily Ian Trueman popped in later in the morning and he helped narrow things down by suggesting that it looked like something from the Scrophulariaceae (Figwort) family. With this information and Google I identified it as probably Moroccan Toadflax (Linaria maroccana) which is indeed a fairly common garden plant that comes in many colours.

Moroccan Toadflax (Linaria maroccana).

Moroccan Toadflax (Linaria maroccana).
At lunchtime Andy, James and I took a short walk out of the office to a nearby grass verge. Last year Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) had been discovered growing here and they were back! A small area had been left unmowed at the top of the bank and there were three Bee Orchids growing there with perfect flowers. I think if more of the bank hadn't been mowed there would maybe have been more orchids too. 

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera).

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera).

Monday, 6 June 2016

30 Days Wild | Day 6 - Identiplant scavenger hunt 4

Today for 30 Days Wild I was once again on a lunch break quest to find plants with certain characteristics for one of my Identiplant assignments. I went to the railway embankment again and found a plant with tendrils (Hairy Tare - Vicia hirsuta), one with leaves that have a mucronate tip (Black Medick - Medicago lupulina), and one with leaves that have a cuneate base (Russian Comfrey - Symphytum x uplandicum). Tendrils are pretty self-explanatory; a mucronate tip is a little point or bristle on the end of an otherwise round or blunt-ended leaf; and a cuneate leaf base is pointed or wedge shaped.

Hairy Tare (Vicia hirsuta).

Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum).

Black Medick (Medicago lupulina).
Hairy Tare (Vicia hirsuta) showing its tendrils.
Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) and
Black Medick (Medicago lupulina). View full size and you should be able to see the tiny mucronate tips of the Black Medick leaves.

30 Days Wild | Day 5 - stroll in the sunshine

For day 5 of 30 Days Wild I went for a stroll in the early evening sunshine as a reward for having spent the afternoon having a bit of a clearout ahead of moving house. We live in Bournville, Birmingham (currently!) where we are spoilt with numerous lovely parks. Today I walked across Rowheath playing field and did a loop around an area of rough grassland, before heading back across to Rowheath Park where I checked out some more rough grassland before finishing off with a quick look at the pond.

Over both areas of grassland there were a lot of speedy orange flutterers; without my binoculars it was hard to tell what they were but I think probably Large Skipper. I also saw a Holly Blue at the edge of Rowheath playing field and Common Blue and Green-veined White in Rowheath Park. I spotted a couple of Stock Doves and some Swifts during my walk, as well as one solitary Greylag Goose among the Canadas by the pond, unusual around here.

Here are a few photos!

Rough grassland on Rowheath playing field.
Rough grassland in Rowheath Park.
Nice area in Rowheath Park.
Common Vetch (Vicia sativa) in Rowheath Park.
Yellow-rattle (Rhinanthus minor) in Rowheath Park.
Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris) in Rowheath Park.
Solitary Greylag in Rowheath Park.

30 Days Wild | Day 4 - Rowley Hills wander

Today I went on a guided walk jointly arranged by the Friends of Rowley Hills (who I am closely involved with) and Sandnats (who I would probably be involved with if I had more time/wasn't about to move to Malvern!). The day was cloudy, still and humid, but to begin with we didn't see many butterflies. However as the afternoon wore on, the temperature rose and the butterflies started to become more active. Small Heath was the species we saw the most of, and we also saw a few Common Blue, a Large Skipper, a Large White and a few Green-veined Whites. There were also a few day-flying moths about - loads of Burnet Companions and a few Latticed Heaths, and lots of Burnet (Five/Six-spot) caterpillars and chrysalises. Along with the large range of wildflowers and grasses on display, it all made for a most enjoyable walk!

Soft Brome (Bromus hordeaceus).
Goatsbeard (Tragopogon pratensis).
Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).
Common Cat's-ear (Hypochaeris radicata).
Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella).
Silver Hairgrass (Aira caryophyllea).

Yellow-rattle (Rhinanthus minor).

Tall Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Hieracium praealtum).

Lesser Trefoil (Trifolium dubium).

Burnet Companion (Euclidia glyphica).

Hard Rush (Juncus inflexus).
Red Fescue (Festuca rubra).
Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus).

Caterpillar of a Five- or Six-spot Burnet Moth.
Spheroidal weathering of dolerite (HDR).

Spheroidal weathering of dolerite (HDR).
Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus).
Great Lettuce (Lactuca virosa).
The Rowley Hills (HDR).

Friday, 3 June 2016

Kings Norton Nature Reserve 30/05/16

On Monday I was back at my local patch for what I think will probably be my last visit before we leave Birmingham in a few weeks' time :o( it was a lovely visit though with plenty of cute baby birds! I saw 35 species in all, here are the highlights:
  • The first baby birds I encountered were more Long-tailed Tits - I'd gone into Pinehurst Meadow which I don't visit very often, and whilst walking between the large bushes on either side of the path was surrounded by a family of Long-tailed Tits. I even managed to get an OK photo of one of the juveniles!
  • In the same area a couple of metres down on the other side of the path was a family of noisy Robins.
  • In some trees overhanging the path near Merecroft Pool near the Beaks Hill Road entrance, I eventually spotted (after listening to their high-pitched squeaky calls for a while) an adult Goldcrest feeding juveniles.
  • Similar squeaky rackets alerted me to a family of Treecreepers also near Merecroft Pool, and a family of Nuthatches in the Peafields/West Extension. Brilliant!
  • Although the reed-fringed pond in the Peafields/West Extension nearest to Wychall Road is difficult to see into, a Moorhen flying into it carrying food alerted me to the presence of more chicks in there! I managed to get a peek of the fluffy black chicks coming out of the reeds to eat.
  • Still two juvenile Coots on Merecroft Pool, looking quite big now.
  • The Great Spotted Woodpecker nest near Merecroft Pool was silent this week, so I think they have fledged and left the nest.
  • Likewise for the Grey Herons - I only saw one adult this week on Wychall Reservoir, so the juveniles are probably out exploring their world. 
  • Didn't see so many butterflies this week - just Large White.

I was also once again on the lookout for plants for an Identiplant assignment on the Campion family, and was pleased to find one of them - Ragged-Robin - in the lovely marshy area just north of the Merecroft Pool dam.

Ragged-Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi).
Pinehurst Meadow.
Long-tailed Tit.
Juvenile Long-tailed Tit!
MORE Speedwell fun! Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga).
Grey Heron on Wychall Reservoir.
Two juvenile Treecreepers!


Blackbird Great Crested Grebe Mallard
Blackcap Great Spotted Woodpecker Moorhen
Blue Tit Great Tit Mute Swan
Bullfinch Greenfinch Nuthatch
Canada Goose Grey Heron Robin
Carrion Crow Herring Gull Song Thrush
Chaffinch House Sparrow Stock Dove
Chiffchaff Jackdaw Treecreeper
Coot Jay Whitethroat
Dunnock Lesser Black-backed Gull Woodpigeon
Goldcrest Long-tailed Tit Wren
Goldfinch Magpie