Wildlife of Gosport, Hampshire and Beyond!
John Norton's wildlife blog and photo gallery
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Following on from my discovery of Dune Fescue on Hill Head beach (see 21st June) I went back this afternoon to show Debbie. The plants are dead and disintegrating now, but we managed to plot the colony over a distance of about 200m of the beach. We also had a nice colony of Ray's Knotgrass Polygonum oxyspermum, but I didn't take photos due to the overcast, cold and windy conditions. Examining the spikelets of the Vulpia under the microscope again, I have now managed to find the elusive lower glume of this species. The photos below show a particularly well-developed example – but still only about half a millimetre long!
I took an early morning walk to the east side of Browndown Ranges in bright sunshine, luckily getting back just before heavy rain came in. English Stonecrop Sedum anglicum is now in full flower everywhere and Viper's Bugloss Echium vulgare has some fine shows. I was reasonably pleased with some close up shots of Small Cudweed Filago minima. Most of the other acid grassland plants are now well over.
Browndown's main speciality, Nottingham Catchfly Silene nutans, is also now in full flower (see 29th May) and with a bit of difficulty in the light breeze I managed to get some nice shots by pointing the camera upwards into order to photograph the drooping flowers. Being early morning the petals were still largely unfurled.
A patch of Broad-leaved Everlasting-pea Lathyrus latifolius was also absolutely stunning.
As some of you who may be reading this know, I am a bit of a bramble enthusiast. I hadn't thought about brambles much yet this season, but today I noticed several familiar species coming into flower, such as Rubus leightonii, a particulary showy species which is abundant here. This is one of the species featured on my Brambles of the British Isles web site, which I have now started updating. It is likely that most of this blog will be devoted to brambles for the next month or so!
After spending some time in the garden (see below) Debbie and I took a quick dog-walk to the Leesland area. I showed her the Narrow-leaved Pepperwort Lepidium ruderale in the industrial estate (see also 3rd June), unfortunately on the shady side of the road, and at the former allotments (now mainly a bramble jungle) I photographed Loganberry (Rubus loganobaccus) already with ripe fruit.
She then showed me a gravelly unused area just at the edge of the industrial estate which was now a sea of Rat's-tail Fescue Vulpia myuros – quite photogenic as it blew around in the strong wind.
Then a quick sortie into the adjacent streets where she had found an interesting cudweed a few days earlier. Amazingly, this was Jersey Cudweed Gnaphalium luteoalbum. It used to be a very rare and protected species in the UK, where presumed native in a few places, but it is now spreading as an alien in urban habitats. We had both seen it before in London, but it may still be quite rare in Hampshire. As can be seen it was growing between two kerb-stones, but the parts of the plant that hadn't been trampled had flopped over the kerb. It is quite a tall-growing plant – up to about 30cm and much bigger than the Common Cudweed photographed at Priddy's Hard on 22nd May. It was just a quick shot, so I neglected to move the fallen leaves out of the frame. A look on the other side of the road revealed where it had come from. There were several more plants growing in the pristine and presumably relatively new front driveway of a house, made from block paving. It seems quite likely that seeds were present in the sandy material used to fill the gaps between the stones. This may also explain the origin of the Common Cudweed at Priddy's Hard.
After dull and rainy weather over last two days I had a chance to test out my new lens again this afternoon in Debbie Allan's garden in sunny conditions. It's not brilliant for small things (not a macro) but I obtained some passable shots of a few insects – apart from the Hummingbird Hawk-moth which only made a fleeting visit and was flying around like crazy in the gusty wind. Also a couple of plant shots.
Allium ampeloprasum (Babington's Leek)
Hordeum secalinum (Meadow Barley)
I went for a late afternoon walk along Lee-on-the-Solent beach, continuing NW from the section I had visited on 4th. I had just purchased a new zoom lens for plant photography and wanted to test it out. However, the strong wind and hazy sunshine was not ideal for this. Nevertheless I took some pleasing wide angle shots of Yellow Horned-poppy Glaucium flavum and a patch of Seaside Daisy Erigeron glaucus which had escaped from Elmore sailing club compound.
Near to the hovercraft slipway I was pleased to find a small patch of Sand Couch Elytrigia juncea, growing near larger patches of the much more common Sea Couch E. atherica. Previously I've seen one well established patch in a different place, but this was a new plant. This part of the beach normally has a colony of another sand grass, Hare's-tail Lagurus ovatus, a particularly photogenic species, but I couldn't see any – perhaps it was late to germinate this year?
I walked on past the slipway venturing 100 metres or so into the borough of Fareham (I was now in Hill Head). Here I noticed a large patch of a distinctive looking grass with long awns, which I immediately knew was Dune Fescue Vulpia fasciculata, a species which I had actually been hoping to find here. As its name suggests it is another characteristic grass of coastal sand; however, because we don't have much sand in Hampshire it is rare here – I had only previously seen it at its best locality on the east side of Hayling Island. I looked around and realised that there were in fact several patches covering many square metres – clearly it had been well established here for some time.
I collected a single spike to look at under the microscope to check out the all-important glumes, in particular to make sure I wasn't confusing it with Squirrel-tail Fescue V. bromoides. However, my specimen clearly did not have any lower glumes present. The BSBI grasses handbook gives the size of the lower glume as 0.3–1.5mm; however, I think those on my specimen must have either not formed at all or dropped off! Not surprisingly this species was previously known as One-glumed Fescue Festuca uniglumis. In addition to the other sand dune species mentioned above, Lee-on-the-Solent beach also supports a suite of other characterstic species, including Sand Sedge Carex arenaria, Sea Bindweed Calystegia soldanella, Sea Spurge Euphorbia paralias and Sea-holly Eryngium maritimum. I could only find three plants of Sea Spurge, which was much more plentiful a few years ago, and I didn't notice any Sea-holly on this occasion, though it is easily overlooked here.
POSTSCRIPT DECEMBER 2016: I've now realised this part of the beach is still within Gosport Borough. For years now I've mistakenly assumed that the boundary with Fareham Borough was at the slipway, but in fact it is about 350m further NW. This means that all of this colony of Dune Fescue is in Gosport!
Fine display of Hairy Buttercup Ranunuculus sardous on Gilkicker and Stokes Bay fields at the moment.
I joined Felicity Woodhead for some 2020 atlasing at a private site in the Avon Heath area, SW of Ringwood. The Avon Valley holds some of the best acid grasslands in Hampshire, but I had never previously botanised in this area. We had a very productive day, refinding a colony of the very rare and nationally Endangered Deptford Pink Dianthus armeria at a presumed native site, but unfortunately it was not in flower. I was interested to see that Lotus subbiflorus was frequent everywhere on the sandy acid grasslands, but there was no sign of any L. angustissimus (see recent posts). I was pleased to find Hypochaeris glabra in two places (inexplicably rare here considering the ideal habitat) and my favourite find of the day was the easily overlooked Flattened Meadow-grass Poa compressa, the third time I have found this in the past couple of weeks. We were both amazed, however, at the sheer abundance of Wall Bedstraw Galium parisiense, which was in all the gravelly areas along tracks, paths and roadsides. Apparently it had not been recorded here before. Also of note was the alien Pirri-pirri-bur Acaena novae-zelandiae, an invasive species of sandy heathland, which I hadn't seen in Hampshire before.
Acaena novae-zelandiae in fruit
I was carrying out a survey of part of the North Kent marshes, which coincidentally I had first surveyed 20 years ago in 1996. This was only a preliminary look but I was pleased to find Hairlike Pondweed Potamogeton trichoides, a species that I hadn't seen before. This species was much easier to identify than I thought it might be. It is easily told by the wide central vein which occupies about a third of the leaf width and bulges prominently on the underside. As the photos show, the leaves are up to about 1mm wide with a sharply-pointed tip. They were much longer than the similar shaped leaves of Potamogeton pusillus. This species has increased in Kent and other counties in recent years, but is still very rare in Hampshire, so something to keep a look out for here. It was growing with other species of eutrophic still water, including Myrophyllum spicatum and Elodea nutallii.
Potamogeton trichoides leaf section
On the way back into Gosport we stopped off at the KFC site again very briefly, finding a few additional species not seen on 2nd June, including Lesser Quaking-grass Briza minor, spotted by Debbie, which had just come into flower. Another new species for Gosport! We found two plants. This is a rare arable species possibly native in the UK, which is still frequent in the Sowley area of Hampshire but rare elsewhere. I hadn't seen it as a casual like this before. My phone camera wouldn't focus, so the shot below just shows a few spikelets held in my fingers. I couldn't resist photographing the Polygon monspeliensis again.
Whilst carrying out a small survey near to where I live I was pleased to see one of my favourite plants, Weasel's-snout Misopates orontium. This species can almost be classed as a Gosport speciality because it still thriving in the borough, whilst in the rest of the county it is uncommon and elsewhere it has strongly declined and is now listed as Vulnerable on the England Red List of vascular plants. It is a species primarily of arable habitats, but in Gosport survives on the allotments, which we are fortunate still to have substantial areas of. It also grows in gardens and in one place on a concrete area by a pavement.
Misopates orontium growing with Anagallis arvensis (Scarlet Pimpernel) and other annual
Debbie and I took a circular walk west of Fort Brockhurst, taking in Heritage Way and the relatively new business park there. It was very productive with probably four new plants for Gosport, though these included a garden escape and a variety of something previously recorded. I took a quick shot of the west side of the moat, where the Azolla previously mentioned is completely dominant.
Within the site where a house used to stand by the A32 we found some naturalised Cotoneaster integrifolius. Although this species is included on the Schedule 9 list of invasive non-native species I hadn't actually seen it naturalised in Hampshire before. Of course this doesn't really count as properly naturalised, although there were several bushes present, including one that was climbing through some bramble to a height of nearly 2 metres (most plants were creeping over the ground). Nearby we also noticed a single spike of what appeared to be the yellow form of Ivy Broomrape Orobanche hederae. Previously we had only seen the native purple flowered form in Gosport, but I think I read somewhere that the yellow form was probably introduced to this country via the horticultural trade.
Cotoneaster integrifolius flowers
Yellow-flowered form of Orobanche hederae
Orobanche hederae showing yellow stigmas
All the mown road verges in this area and areas of lawn within the business park support abundant Knotted Hedge-parsley Torilis nodosa. This diminutive relative of Cow Parsley is mainly native to coastal areas in southern Britain, and is an example of a warmth-loving Mediterranean species that is spreading in this country due to global warming. It is a difficult plant to photograph due to its 3-D form and the fact that it blends in with the grass blades. As the photo below shows, it is particularly fond of the warmest part of the verge, next to the pavement edge.
Torilis nodosa flowers with spiny fruits just starting to develop
On Heritage Way we couldn't help but notice a single plant of Great Lettuce Lactuca virosa growing in the roadside ditch (not fully grown but exceeding a metre high). This species may have originally been native to some parts of the UK, but is widely naturalised as an alien in disturbed sites, especially in London and the Home Counties. It is however, quite rare in Hampshire (I think I've only seen it once before) and a surprising discovery for Gosport.
We came across a small ditch that we hadn't noticed before, which together with a grassy bank, serves as a pedestrian cut-through from the business park to Heritage Way. The ditch had obviously held water until very recently but had almost dried up. Growing on the damp mud were large mats of a water-starwort, identified later as Callitriche obtusangula. I think this may be new to Gosport, but it is certainly the first time I have definitely seen it here. Because it had abundant fruits and also some flowers still present we were able to confidently identify it as this species. The BSBI Callitriche handbook is useful for the identification of this genus, though it is a bit technical in places and there are some pitfalls that I have discovered. The first of the two images below shows a photo taken in shade, in natural light. This seems to show the greyish-green colour of the leaves, a distinctive feature according to the handbook. Also note the very broad leaves – including some which are slightly angled on the sides, giving a rhombic shape. This is the only British species with unwinged fruits and elongated pollen. I was able to confirm these features under the microscope, but found that the fruits have a broad ridge instead of a wing, which when viewed from the side looks exactly like a narrow wing. I also noticed that with transmitted light the epidermis of the fruit is translucent, again giving the effect of a wing. Other plants of interest here included Water-cress Nasturtium officinale and Spiked Sedge Carex spicata.
Callitriche obtusangula pollen (divisions 10 microns) (has mostly elliptical pollen, but some are nearly round and many are imperfectly formed)
Callitriche obtusangula fruits (1mm scale) (note false wings)
A Hampshire Flora Group visit to this heathland area in the north-east of the county. A boggy pond had a superb display of Common Cottongrass Eriophorum angustifolium.
Nearby, Cranberry Vaccinium oxycoccos was in flower. This is probably the best-known Hampshire site for this mainly upland/western species. Surprisingly it doesn't occur in the New Forest. We also admired the impressively large leaves and red flowers of Marsh Cinquefoil Comarum palustre, a Near Threatened species now in England.
Prior to the afternoon stroll around Kingsley Common some of us stopped off to see one of the last remaining colonies of Tower Mustard Turritis glabra in the county. This species of disturbed sandy places overlying chalk and limestone is now so rare in the country that it is classed as Endangered. This is first time I'd ever seen it and I was lucky, because this year there was only a single plant present as the site had scrubbed over.
Turritis glabra (tip of 1 metre tall plant)
Turritis glabra flowers
I keep a register of the best acid grassland sites in Gosport Borough and this afternoon I took a look at the Elmore end of the Lee on Solent seafront where there is an interesting area of acid grassland on the bank above the promenade. I added a couple of things to the list for here, but the main species of interest was a tussock of a fescue, which after much deliberation and a return visit to collect better material I realised was Hard Fescue Festuca brevipila. I tried to make it into the rare Festuca longifolia, which is very similar, without success. I've seen F. brevipila a few times in Gosport before. It looks like a hairless form of Red Fescue but with slightly shorter awns and shorter branches in the inflorescence but the sheaths are open down the stem, making it more similar to the Festuca ovina group. It is not a native species and is commonly used in grass seed mixtures. Unfortunately I didn't take any photographs.
I noticed that Lee on Solent beach was looking particularly fine. In the last 10 or 15 years sand and grit has mixed in with the shingle here, providing the ideal substrate for grassland and short herbaceous vegetation to become established. In fact the dominant species in this turf is Sea Fern-grass Catapodium marinum, but it also supports abundant clovers, Bird-foot Trefoil and many other species and is home to the famous Gilkicker Weevil. On the deeper, looser shingle there are some nice clumps of Sea Kale Crambe maritima, which has flowered quite late this year, and other shingle plants, but surprisingly several species of sandy shores have colonised in the past 10 years or so including Sea Holly, Sea Spurge, Sea Bindweed, Sand Sedge and Marram Grass – maybe I will try to cover these in a future blog.
I walked north-west along the shingle and suddenly at my feet I noticed a plant of Starry Clover Trifolium stellatum! This must have spread from the colony at the western end of south Browndown, which I helped discover many years ago. I searched around and found one other plant. Both were mostly finished flowering and despite their spectacular appearance (due to the spiky red calyx) blended into the grassland remarkably well. I later worked out that these plants were 780 metres from the main colony. I searched on the way back but couldn't find any others, and I took some more photographs of the Browndown plants. This common Mediterranean species has long been known from the Shoreham area in Sussex and has always been assumed to have been introduced into this country (e.g. with ship's ballast) but I suspect it could be a true, very rare native.
Trifolium stellatum just finished flowering
Trifolium stellatum flowerhead
After spending the best part of the day report writing I popped out to take a quick walk around the Stokes Bay area. The only photos taken were of a little crucifer that I had not seen for several years and had been looking out for since last summer. I managed to find one plant and got a couple of quick photos. This is Narrow-leaved Pepperwort Lepidium ruderale, a non-native species which occurs mainly in lowland areas, especially near the coast. According to the New Atlas and the BSBI Crucifers handbook it is salt-tolerant and also occurs along salted road verges. At Gilkicker car park it is also dog-wee tolerant and grows on the bare areas on the grassy verges around the inshore rescue building. The flowers only have rudimentary, very tiny petals or no petals at all. They seemed to be closed up in my photo. The deeply divided leaves are probably the most distinctive feature of this plant.
Postscript. On 17 June I noticed several plants growing on the traffic island on the main Forton Road going into Gosport town centre, and another in the nearby industrial estate.
On the way back from Portsdown Hill Debbie and I stopped off at the new KFC on the A32 into Gosport. Not to buy a takeaway of course, but to look at patch of undeveloped land that I had had my eye on for a year or more. These types of sites are a goldmine for plant hunters because the disturbed conditions with plenty of bare ground are ideal for seed germination.
This site at first glance seemed very promising, as it consisted of levelled off hardcore without any nutrient-rich topsoil to encourage the larger weeds. We were not to be disappointed, as after a quick look at a weedy
flower bed we walked across the area and almost immediately found a large plant of Hairy Bird's-foot Trefoil Lotus subbiflorus! This was only a few days after discovering a new colony of Lotus angustissimus in Gosport (see May blog). Like that species Hairy BFT is a native, mainly coastal species of acid grassland and coastal soils in the UK and in Hampshire it is fairly rare. This is only the second time we'd seen it in Gosport. It's occurrence here is quite suprising, but as the site is only 400m from Fareham Creek it could have arisen from long-buried seed. The site was formerly part of a large factory, and this bit was grassland with ornamental trees until it was cleared in 2014.
We stayed on the site for nearly two hours and eventually found three plants, all with exceptionally long trailing stems radiating outwards from the centre. The stems were covered with very long spreading hairs and rough to the touch. The flowers were noticeably more orangey in colour those of L. angustissimus and characteristically in bunches of 4 rather than 1-2 in that species.
We also found several other native legumes, including one plant of Clustered Clover Trifolium glomeratum (a nationally scarce, but increasing species), Grass Vetchling Lathryus nissolia, both the common tares and a few days later during a very brief stop-off I added Knotted Clover Trifolium striatum. There were also several plants of Small Toadflax Chaenorhinum minus, a decreasing species of arable and disturbed base rich soils, which is quite rare in Gosport.
Surprisingly, there were relatively few alien plants present, except for the now ubiquitous (in urban habitats) Water Bent Polypogon viridis and also its less frequent relative Annual Beard-grass P. monspeliensis. Both of these grow in bare habitats that are wet in winter, but seem to be adapting to drier conditions in towns. I have even seen the latter species growing on the top of a wall. One other noteworthy alien was Bastard Cabbage Rapistrum rugosum, which was just starting to produce its characteristic pods.
Surprisingly, there were very few garden plants present, the only notable exception being Californian Poppy Eschscholzia californica.
I was surveying an extensive waterworks site on Portsdown Hill, north of Portsmouth, where the highlight was large quantities of Sainfoin Onobrychis viciifolia, doing well in both pony-grazed and infrequently mown turf. This species is often sown in wildflower seed mixtures and is a relic of cultivation in some parts of the country, but here it is almost certainly native. Another nice find was Dwarf Spurge Euphorbia exigua on an area of thin, parched soil along with the rare and easily overlooked Flattened Meadow-grass Poa compressa. The first two species are undergoing strong declines and both are listed as Vulnerable on the England Red List of Vascular Plants.
Closer view of inflorescence
Euphorbia exigua plants viewed from above
Bee Orchids Ophrys apifera have just come into flower. The photo below shows two flowers with the pollinia still intact. This is not unusual, but does indicate that there are not many bees visiting the flowers. It was only afterwards that I realised I had not seen a single bumblebee during the survey – though this may have been because I was busy recording plants. However, during similar surveys last year I noticed that there was a dearth of bumblebees in the Hampshire and West Sussex countryside and I fear that neonicotinoids are having a serious impact in these counties (where intensive arable farming is predominant).