Wildlife of Gosport, Hampshire and Beyond!
John Norton's wildlife blog and photo gallery
Text and images © J.A. Norton unless otherwise stated. Please contact me if you would like use any of these images on your web site or purchase for publication/reproduction. Comments and enquiries to:
blog at jnecology dot com.
Debbie, Eric and I accompanied three other botanist friends of ours on a tour of Gosport. The weather was nice and sunny, but cool with a strong breeze. I didn't take too many photos, but have included a few shots of species not previously featured on this blog below.
Debbie spotted a pale-coloured Stork's-bill Erodium on the beach, which on closer inspection seems to be the hybrid between Common and Sticky. We also found numerous flowers of Smooth Cat's-ear Hypochaeris glabra, a species which only opens up its flowers during sunny weather in the morning.
Nottingham Catchfly Silene nutans was just coming into flower – this species is abundant over south Browndown, growing on the shingle at the edges of gorse and bramble scrub. The flowers droop down, hence the scientific name which means 'nodding'. Like most catchflies the flowers only open properly at night.
I took some more pictures of the Lotus and Galium found two days earlier. The photo of the Galium shows the minutely spiny-edged leaves with the hairs all pointing forwards. This species also has a longer spine at the leaf tip.
Insects of note included Violet Ground-beetle Carabus violaceus and Lesser Treble-bar Aplocera efformata, a moth which feeds on St John's-worts Hypericum. This was the first Violet Ground-beetle I'd seen for many years. I used to see them regularly when I was a child, though I think mainly at night in my parents' back garden (and I don't go out at night much these days!).
After lunch we walked to Gilkicker Fort, via the marsh, where the highlight was hundreds of Adder's-tongues Ophioglossum vulgatum along the edge of the scrub and rough grass by the golf course. Other species here included Divided Sedge Carex divisa and Slender Spike-rush Eleocharis uniglumis, but we failed to find Long-bracted Sedge Carex extensa. We also paid homage to the clump of Great Fen-sedge (aka Saw Sedge) Cladium mariscus. This is an outlier of the main Browndown Fen colony, a very rare species in southern England and one of only about 4 or 5 extant populations in Hampshire.
One of the star plants at Gilkicker is Small-flowered Catchfly Silene gallica. It was discovered here in 2007 by an unknown person who had shown it to local naturalist David Tinling, who then showed it to us. There are historical records for Gosport in the early part of the last century which could well relate to this colony. The species was classified as an 'archaeophyte' in Britain (species known or suspected to have been introduced prior to 1500AD) but its habitat has been misunderstood by most botanists and ecologists (in my opinion) due to its present-day occurrence mainly on disturbed, arable soils. In fact, it is likely that it is a rare, fully native species of coastal dry grasslands, which was overlooked by early botanists and doesn't show up in the pollen record. Such species have often spread into arable habitats over time, especially on light, sandy soils. This seems to have been the case on the Scilly Isles and in East Anglia. According to the New Atlas it still occurs on semi-natural sand dune habitats in the Channel Islands. Archaeophytes include many other declining arable species and despite being categorised as non-native are still regarded as
conservation-worthy. The range of Small-flowered Catchfly has declined by 79% in England recently and this attractive little species is now classified as Endangered on the England Red List of Vascular Plants.
Some of party departed, but the rest of us dropped by Haslar Cemetery to see how Gosport's largest colony of Green-winged Orchids were doing (they were nearly over and I didn't take any photos). We then finished up at the Italian Catchfly Silene italica colony above the shore of Haslar Lake – making it three rare Silenes in one day. The wind made photography difficult, but I managed some nice shots. This is a very rare (presumed) alien – the only other well documented colony being in Kent.
During my last visit to south Browndown on 8th May I had lost a lens cap, but the site had been closed by the MOD over most of May, and I hadn't had the opportunity to go back to look for it, so late this afternoon I took a walk with Debbie to have a belated search. As soon as we got onto the beach we were amazed at how things were moving on, particularly the Myosotis ramosissima, which had only begun flowering three weeks ago and then only apparent in a few places, but now abundant everywhere and nearly over. All the poorly vegetated shingle at the eastern end of the site was covered in the tangled, prostrate stems, looking very different from the Myosotis discolor, with its more intense blue, very tiny flowers. Burrowing Clover Trifolium subterraneum was much more evident and in full flower, whilst Suffocated Clover T. suffocatum was completely over, with the leaves starting to brown off.
Also near the eastern entrance Burnet Rose Rosa spinosissima had come into flower. The flowers are huge in comparison with the relatively small leaves, which resemble those of Greater Burnet. The lower photo also shows the densely spiny stem.
We also photographed Silverweed Potentilla anserina, which always flowers profusely on the otherwise bare shingle just behind the beach, where brackish water accumulates in winter.
We couldn't find my lens cap, and I was keen to give up and get back for tea, but Debbie persauded me to carry on a bit further as the sun was still strong enough for photography, even at 5.30pm. As we were approaching our favourite area, I noticed a patch of short grassland by the main track studded with bright yellow single pea-flowers. This could only be either a Medick or one of the two rarer Lotuses. A closer look quickly confirmed the latter – it was Slender Bird's-foot-trefoil Lotus angustissimus.
This is a rare and Near Threatened species with fewer than 30 extant localities in the UK (50-60 recorded since about 1980), all in southern England. Our friend Eric Clement had previously found a colony at north Browndown, which also extended alongside the southern end of the new road (Cherque Way) to the west of there, though has now probably mostly gone. This new patch was at least a few square metres in area and was looking extremely smart in the early evening sunshine. The pods were only just starting to develop, but were characteristically long and narrow, helping to separate it from Hairy BFT Lotus subbiflorus.
On the way to this area we had also seen the first Smooth Cat's-ear Hypochaeris glabra of the year in flower (being late in the day these were, however, tightly closed) and also the first Heath Bedstraw Galium saxatile flowers. I was sitting looking at the Lotus when I noticed some stems of a bedstraw amongst it in front of me. These didn't look quite right for Heath Bedstraw, being more slender and a different, yellow-green colour. I went through possibilities of rare species that could occur at Browndown and also suggested that it would be ideal habitat for Wall Bedstraw Galium parisiense to occur. I hadn't actually twigged that this was indeed what I was looking at until Debbie pointed out that all the stems were upright – a feature of this species we had noticed before at a site in West Sussex. Eventually we realised that some of the stems had at least one flower open – the greenish colour and lack of petals helping to confirm the identity. A search in the failing light revealed it to be locally frequent over a small area, especially in rougher grass and scrub nearby. This is only the second record for Gosport after our initial discovery in 2005 (with Martin Rand) at an MOD base.
Wall Bedstraw is a rare native, though it has been spreading in southern England recently. In addition to a site in West Sussex I found it at a site in Fareham a couple of years ago and I think that a couple more colonies have been discovered elsewhere in Hampshire. Both my sites were quarries, though at the latter site it was in paving cracks (where the stems were lying prostrate). It grows in disturbed sandy and chalky habitats and is one of the famous Breckland specialities. My feeling is that being a Mediterranean species it has started to do better with recent climate change but must have always been thinly scattered in Hampshire on the chalk but clearly overlooked. We probably would not have spotted this patch if it were not for the Lotus! It could well be native at Browndown, where the so-called acid grassland developing on the shingle is actually mildly calcareous in places. Whilst looking for stems we noticed a shoot of Fern Grass Catapodium rigidum which is another characteristic species of calcareous dry grassland, mentioned as one of the more frequent associates of Wall Bedstraw in An Ecological Flora of Breckland.
Surprisingly, Wall Bedstraw is classified as Vulnerable on the England Red List of Vascular Plants, due to a 45% decline its area of distribution in recent decades; I presume that this is due to a strong contraction in its East Anglian stronghold, especially in arable habitats.
A return visit during late afternoon to photograph Alliums along 'Lifeboat Lane'. During our previous visit on 11th May, Debbie and I were walking back along the car park access road and were remarking on the recent spread of Three-cornered Garlic Allium triquetrum along the road bank (which was supplemented with topsoil some years ago). Rosy Garlic Allium roseum was also just coming into flower and we also found leaves of the common native species A. vineale (Wild Onion).
I then noticed an unfamiliar Allium with white, opened-out petals, each of which on closer inspection had a pink line running down the centre. There were only a few heads, so we didn't take a specimen, but using Stace this seemed to key out to A. subhirsutum. However I didn't remember seeing hairs on the leaves so suspected this was wrong (and it didn't match photos on the internet). I phoned Eric Clement later that evening, who immediately suggested Allium trifoliatum. This is a Mediterranean species that has started turning up in southern counties over the past few years. It is not included in Stace's key and it is likely that A. subhirsutum has been recorded in error for it in some cases. It has been mentioned in BSBI News under Adventives & Aliens News (no 2 in issue 126 & no. 4 in issue 128) over the past couple of years (I don't think it has an English name). It was only today that we both had time to return to take better photographs; however, there were only two flowerheads left, which had lost some of their flowers and started producing bulbils. Quite an attractive plant!
Debbie and I took a walk around Fort Brockhurst to photograph damselflies and other insects. The local angling club don't seem to be too worried by the fact that the Lesser Bulrush Typha angustifolia which colonised the moat only a few years ago has now spread right across the channel. This species can grow in much deeper water than the common Bulrush T. latifolia. I am also surprised that the anglers haven't made any attempt to clear the Water Fern Azolla filiculoides, which appeared in 2015 and last autumn completely covered the moat in a thick reddish scum, though the activities of the water birds has opened up some patches of open water. This species is on the Schedule 9 invasive non-native species list; however, in my experience it often disappears as quickly as it arrives. Other alien or introduced plants here include Fringed Water-lily Nymphoides peltata and Bogbean Menyanthes trifoliata, which was in flower.
I didn't get many good shots, apart from the hoverfly, below. A Brown Rat on a fishing platform provided some amusement. We were excited to see a Mother Shipton, as this day-flying moth seems to be rare in Gosport; however, I could only manage a distant record shot.
On the broken down wall of adjacent store the Anisantha madritensis (Compact Brome) (discovered here a few years ago) was doing well but photographing it was difficult due to the wind.
The second outing of the day to take Debbie's daughter's dog for a walk. We came across a huge colony of around 80 plants of Corky-fruited Water-dropwort Oenanthe pimpinelloides on a wide road verge (not photographed). This species has increased dramatically in Hampshire in recent decades but in Gosport we have previously only found small colonies at about three locations. I did, however, photograph an unusual Daisy Bellis perennis, where all the flowerheads were fused into one.
We also came across a new, large population of Common Cudweed Filago vulgaris, which in Priddy's Hard seems to like to grow in the cracks of the block paving used extensively on the estate.
I joined Felicity Woodhead and others to help record vascular plants and bryophytes on Stanpit Marsh Local Nature Reserve. Although located within the administrative county of Dorset, this site is within the South Hants vice-county (VC11). There was heavy rain on the drive down, which eased shortly after the 10.00 start time, but unfortunately it started up again after lunch and continued all afternoon, making finding and recording plants a little more difficult. I'd only visited this site on about two occasions before; I think one of these was a rare bird twitch, but I can't remember what it was or whether I even saw it. Today we started at the depot area, where there was a good variety of species of calcareous grassland (sown or introduced here), including some garden escapes, such as the Bloody Crane's-bill Geranium sanguineum shown below. I also took some quick shots of a particularly strongly purple-tinged Poa humilis panicle.
Bloody Crane's-bill flower (c.3cm diameter) and leaves
In the afternoon we walked over some of the huge expanse of grassy saltmarsh and looked at the acid grassland on Crouch Hill, where there was a good range of clovers and other typical species such as Moenchia erecta and Montia fontana. Bryophyte finds included the saltmarsh species Hennediella heimii on the boardwalk on Priory Marsh, along with abundant Leptodictyum riparium and some Syntrichia latifolia which is more usually on asphalt. My total list for the day was 31 species. The best vascular plant find of the day was a nice colony of Mousetail Myosurus minimus next to the river shore here, found by Felicity and new for the site. We also saw young leaves of Mudwort Limosella aquatica , which was new to me, but a bit underwhelming!
Prior to a visit to a local supermarket I had a walk around town to check up on a few Gosport specialities. The Italian Catchfly at Haslar Lake was just coming into flower, so hopefully I will put up some shots of that in due course. At the ferry taxi rank the weeds had been sprayed off, so no sign of the Rostraria cristata (Mediterranean Hair-grass) there. I walked round to its other site along Harbour Road, where despite a new development and new fence around the boatyard, plenty of plants had come up and were flowering. This is likely to be a bird seed alien but has survived here for many years. I only had my mobile phone on me, so could not get a good sharp close-up.
Whilst out surveying in a wet woodland in Berkshire I took the opportunity to take some comparison shots of Impatiens seedlings with my phone camera. Impatiens glandulifera is of course the well-known Himalayan Balsam, though historically it was always known as Indian Balsam in this country and according to a Himalayan expert friend of mine is actually quite rare in that region. It is particularly associated with winter-flooded woodland and carr along river banks and is included on the statutory list of invasive non-native species in the UK. Impatiens capensis (Orange Balsam) is also a non-native species and occurs in similar habitats, though in my experience it is more strongly associated with tall herb fen habitats, often in quite nice examples, alongside species such as Yellow Loosestrife Lysimachia vulgaris.
Debbie and I had a late afternoon walk over to Gilkicker Point where we saw Smith's Pepperwort Lepidium heterophyllum in flower and a patch of Traveller's-joy Clematis vitalba on the beach (previously only recorded here on disturbed ground by the golf course road). At the edge of the saltmarsh, NW of the fort, we saw Sea Arrowgrass Triglochin maritimum in flower and Sea-milkwort Glaux maritima in bud. Whilst searching for Viola canina (Heath Dog-violet) (apparently not up yet) I picked a specimen of a moss growing in small cushions in the brackish ground here between clumps of Gorse. Under the microscope I confirmed it was Tortella flavovirens, an uncommon but probably overlooked species of saltmarshes in Hampshire. Debbie and I had been lichen hunting at Gilkicker with Neil Sanderson on 3 July 2005 when Neil mentioned he had found some, but at that time I wasn't paying attention too much to mosses and didn't know exactly where he had found it. I had searched for it again many times without success, until now. Interestingly, on that day Neil also spotted Sagina subulata growing on the beach, still in flower, which at the time was a new record for Gosport (see below for recent photo).
Tortella flavovirens is easily identified by its habitat (saline soil) and V-shaped division between the upper green cells and the basal translucent cells of the leaf. The leaves are also a dingy olive or olive-yellow colour and curl up when dry. The leaf in the photo is exactly 2mm long. On my Hampshire Bryophytes web site I have included a series of bryophyte habitat lists, which includes saltmarshes.
Tortella flavovirens leaf base
Debbie and I took advantage of warm, sunny conditions to spend a long afternoon photographing miniscule flowering plants and one or two insects. A strong wind was troublesome but I managed to get quite a few decent shots. We were amazed to find large patches of apparently newly-colonised Crassula tillaea (Mossy Stonecrop) on the tracks near the rifle range – an area we check every year for Sagina subulata (Heath Pearlwort), which is now in full flower. We didn't spot any Crassula when we went by here on 20th April, though the shoots may have been green then and much smaller. The last time we definitely looked closely at this spot was in April 2014, so it is likely that the Crassula has colonised since then.
Crassula tillaea (branches are just over 1cm long).
Most of the acid grassland clovers and other specialities are in flower now, including the difficult to find Spring Vetch Vicia lathyroides. There are also some impressive displays of Myosotis discolor (Changing Forget-me-not), including one superb patch on an old mound of rabbit-droppings. The Teesdalia is still putting on an impressive display and has starting producing seed capsules. I managed to photograph an obliging Small Copper butterfly (one of about six seen), but on the way back a Green Hairstreak evaded us. NB. English names of clovers can be deduced from the scientific names!
Another brief afternoon walk in hazy, warm sunshine. Highlight was a small adder and two slow-worms. A large patch of the invasive Amelanchier lamarckii (Juneberry) is now in full flower and the Aira praecox (Early Hair-grass) has anthers visible. I also attempted to photograph some Vicia sativa subsp. nigra (Common Vetch) and Aphanes australis (Slender Parsley-piert) with my compact zoom camera.
A brief walk following a trip to the local tip. Trifolium ornithopodioides (Bird's-foot Clover) and Ornithopus perpusillus (Birds's-foot) are now in flower following a week of dry, less cold weather with some sunshine.
I was over Debbie's garden at lunchtime and managed to get a cracking shot of a Box Bug Gonocerus acutangulatus. This species is now about the fourth commonest species in gardens in the borough, having once been extremely rare in the UK. However, I was amazed to see a photograph of it in last month's British Wildlife illustrating the fact that it had been recorded for the first time in Dorset in 2015. It is similar-looking to the Dock Bug, but a bit slimmer and paler, with yellow-orange legs.
I met up with my friend Peter for a walk in Emsworth to look for Hennediella macrophylla (see 24th April), but couldn't find any. Then looked at Brook Meadow where the only moss of any interest was Drepanocladus aduncus in the small patch of saltmarsh there, growing amongst Divided Sedge Carex divisa. The leaves seemed more falcate than usual. Only managed a poor photo, but the cup fungus looks interesting.