Wildlife of Gosport, Hampshire and Beyond!
John Norton’s wildlife blog and photo gallery
Welcome to my blog! My aim is to showcase the amazing diversity of wildlife in my home town of Gosport, in the county of Hampshire (on the English south coast) – as well as that of neighbouring counties or other places I may happen to visit. Gosport is one of the most densely populated urban centres in Hampshire, but within its 27 square kilometres it contains significant areas of semi-natural habitats rich in wildlife. These include a river valley with fen and reedbed, ancient woodland, heathland, acid grassland, saltmarsh and coastal vegetated shingle. The urban environment is also surprisingly rich in species and a fascinating habitat in its own right.
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. Refresh your browser if you can’t see photos.
Another monthly summary which I compiled in early December. I managed to get out for short walks in the Stubbington area for exercise during the frequent sunny days, and later in the month also visited Warsash. I was mainly looking at bryophytes, but only photographed a few of the more interesting finds, including the first Hampshire record for Sematophyllum substrumulosum. Waxcaps and other fungi started to appear this month following much needed rain but I did not visit any of my good local sites and only photographed a couple of species, including one I'd never seen before.
Debbie and I took a sunny walk around Stubbington fields and she showed me some interesting Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium along Stroud Green Lane that she had come across a week or so earlier. The outer flowers in the umbels had unusually long petals, rather like the flowers of Tordylium spp. which we had seen before in France. I was later told that Hogweed is known to do this occasionally. The petals also had a pinkish tinge, just visible in these slightly overexposed photos. It is not unusual to see Hogweed in flower at this time of year, especially when it has been cut back on road verges in late summer.
A walk in cold, wet conditions to search for Sematophyllum substrumulosum. Earlier in the year I had arranged a meeting of the British Bryological Society Southern Group to search for this species in the eastern half of the woods (part of the ancient Forest of Bere), without success. Today I searched the western part. This species has long been known in West Sussex and the Scilly Isles, but in recent years has spread to South Wales and is now likely to be widespread across southern Britain. It is a continental species which has naturally spread to Britain through global warming, as predicted by some European researchers who had chosen it as one of several species to model climate change. At this time of year mature capsules are present, which help to pick it out amongst other mosses. It is known to prefer acidic, nutrient-poor substrates, growing on Yew at Kingley Vale and generally on conifer stumps and rotting logs. After walking pretty much around the whole of the western part of the woods and finding very little accessible conifer (most has now been removed), I came across a young plantation of Sitka Spruce, which had not yet been thinned. I decided to venture off the beaten track into the middle of this, discovering that although densely shaded, the ground and tree bases were covered with thick carpets of moss, due mainly to the wet clayey soil. I had actually given up looking for Sematophyllum, but was still on the lookout for anything to add to my general species list, when I noticed a small patch of something with abundant fruits on the base of a young birch tree growing under the spruce canopy. On closer inpsection this looked to be very promising for S. substrumulosum, so I collected a small specimen and later confirmed the identity under the microscope. I had stumbled across it almost by chance! The specimen will be sent to the national moss referee for absolute confirmation and for depositing in the BBS herbarium as the first record for South Hants (VC11).
Close-up of capsules
Leaf of Sematophyllum substrumulosum (about 1.7mm long). Identified by leaf shape, lack of nerve and the large, clear cells at the base.
Sematophyllum substrumulosum leaf – showing concave shape
In the same area I also photographed these two common liverworts on a stream bank. They look similar but Calypogeia arguta has smaller leaves than C. fissa, and they are more yellow-green in colour (not obvious in the photos), more widely spaced on the stem and with the two teeth widely divergent. However, the lower photo is probably a mixture of both species!
Another walk in fine autumn sunshine around some arable fields. This time I attempted a few macro photos of ephemeral mosses, including one of our smallest species, appropriately named Ephemerum minutissimum.
I popped over to my favourite local patch to take advantage of sunny conditions to photograph a few mosses. The best results were achieved for Syntrichia ruraliformis (a.k.a. Syntrichia ruralis var. ruraliformis), which is typical of dry, sandy habitats on the coast, though often found inland on artificial substrates. Recent rain meant these were in their more attractive moist state. This is one of several mosses that twist up tightly when dry but instantly revive when wetted.
I was also pleased to find a patch of Tortella flavovirens at the edge of a small saltmarsh depression, just behind the beach. This is one of the few British mosses that are completely salt-tolerant. As noted in my May 2016 blog, it also occurs at Gilkicker Point. It is occasional elsewhere around the Hampshire coast, but easily overlooked.
I also spotted a plant of Sea Rocket Cakile maritima on the beach, still in flower, so grabbed some photos of that as well. This fleshy-leaved sand and shingle native is only scattered around the Hampshire coast, and I see it only once or twice a year in the Gosport area.
Debbie and I took a short walk in the Titchfield area, in glorious sunshine, taking in the churchyard and a section of the River Meon. There was quite a good selection of common mosses on the red brick wall of church, recently wetted after rain, including two typical of this substrate, Barbula sardoa (a.k.a. Barbula convoluta var. sardoa) and Didymodon vinealis. I also photographed Fissidens crassipes growing on the concrete footing of footbridge.
Hampshire bryologist June Chatfield led a meeting of the British Bryological Society Southern Group at this picturesque location. Despite near freezing weather to begin with and recent heavy rain and gales, we had a very enjoyable meeting, taking in some of the local watercress beds and a section of the River Alre. Nothing rare was found but I photographed one patch of Plagiomnium rostratum (a moss that looks like a liverwort) at our lunch stop and some leaves of the willow carr species Oxyrrhynchium speciosum down the microscope which was collected in order to check it wasn't the much commoner O. hians.
This churchyard has some unusual mixtures of acid grassland, heathland and chalk grassland plants and is probably one of the best churchyards for wild flowers in the county. Debbie and I hadn't visited here for several years and had never looked for fungi here, until now, and it was her that spotted the star species of the day, a single fruiting body of Cordyceps militaris. This is one of the unusual group of fungi that grow inside the bodies of live insects, such as caterpillars, eventually killing them and producing the fruiting body. This example was relatively tiny, standing less than 20mm tall and hardly noticeable from a distance. Information on the NBN Gateway indicates that it is quite widely recorded in Hampshire, especially in the New Forest, though this could be a new record for the 10km square. Neither of us had seen it before.
We also recorded about five or six of the commoner species of waxcaps Hygrocybe, including H. ceracea, one of the smaller yellow ones that it very greasy but not sticky on the cap and stipe. These individuals were unusually deep yellowish-orange, but more typically are mid or pale yellow in colour.
One of the rarer acid grassland plants here is Burnet Rose Rosa spinosissima, which grows around a few of the graves, where presumably attempts to eradicate it have failed.
Just a brief look here prior to a shopping trip in town. On the top of the Ramparts I noticed a single sapling of Cotoneaster sternianus, a species I had not seen before in Gosport. This more or less
completes the set of all the commoner garden species seen as escapes here (about 8 or 9 species). I have been trying to collect photos of Cotoneaster species for a future article, so took some of this one, even though it only had a single berry left. This species is readily identified by the strongly marked veins on the upperside of the leaf, in combination with the leaf size and shape and the dense white tomentum underneath. It can grow to the size of a large bush or small tree. Another species, C. dielsianus, grows a few metres away by the site entrance off Haslar Road and C. horizontalis also grows at this site on brickwork. These species are most likely to have been spread by the local blackbirds.
I had been checking out this road a few times in recent days with the onset of colder weather and the hope of finding some Waxwings feeding in the numerous Sorbus trees planted here, many of which had retained good crops of berries. However, there had not been a particularly large influx of Waxwings this winter, and those that were in the country hadn't got further south than Scotland and the north-east. Nevertheless I couldn't resist taking a few shots of this particular Rowan Sorbus aucuparia tree, which had not yet dropped all of its leaves.
Debbie and I took a walk around this Fareham Borough Council nature reserve. I was on the look out for
foliicolous lichens (those that grow on leaves) as I had recently been prompted by someone to look for these. There are several species in Britain and more on the near continent that could occur, but no records in Hampshire. Lichenologists elsewhere in the country have found them to be locally frequent in parks and gardens. They occur on evergreen leaves of trees and shrubs, including conifers, often in conditions of high humidity. After walking round most of the site, we came to a bridleway which crosses one of the alder gullies inside the wood, leading up to Warsash church. Here there are extensive stands of Rhododendron lining the path, an ideal species to support foliicolous lichens. I searched several clumps of leaves with binoculars and eventually spotted a few leaves with some barely noticeable patches of a green, finely granular lichen. I picked two leaves for microscopical investigation and photographed these at home the next day. I could see several small structures which I thought were apothecia (the commonest type of lichen fruiting body), but which later I was told were pycnidia. When squashed under the microscope these released lots of small structures called conidia – each consisting of two cells. I sent the specimen to one of the country's leading experts, who was able to confirm the genus as Fellhanera, but not identify it to species. It wasn't one of the two commoner species he was familiar with, so sounds like it could be something unusual. More news hopefully next month!
I carried out a detailed hunt at this Gosport park for more lichens on leaves, without success – this site is evidently too dry. However, whilst searching I came across an unusual tree sapling, which after generating a lot of comments on Facebook I finally decided was closest to Sawtooth Oak Quercus acutissima, a north-east Asian species, though the leaves of that are usually longer. An important feature is that the leaves are glabrous and shiny underneath except for some tufts of hairs at the base of the veins, especially towards the base of the leaf itself, a bit like Lime. This helps separate it from Evergreen Oak Q. ilex which is very downy below, and I think also Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa, which it resembles. Galls on some of the leaves almost certainly belong to the gall mite Aceria quercina, which occurs on several species of oak. As yet I haven't been back to locate the parent tree, which must presumably be somewhere in the park or a nearby garden.
UPDATE JANUARY 2017. After returning to the site with Eric Clement we came to the conclusion that this was Quercus ilex all along! There are two saplings growing underneath a Beech tree. Although I knew that younger leaves of Q. ilex were spiny, I hadn't realised that the leaves could be so acutely pointed. Looking more closely at the saplings it was evident that the leaves varied from only slightly spiny to strongly spiny and the leaf size and shape was also variable. It also seems that the tufted hairs underneath the leaves don't fully cover the surface of these younger leaves.
I also took some photos of a Strawberry-tree Arbutus unedo, near the Alverbank Hotel, which was in flower and also producing suckers nearby. Interestingly, I had photographed this tree with ripe fruit on a similar date last year.