Friday, 31 July 2020

Return To Strumpshaw

July 22nd  Norwich

I spent the afternoon plant hunting in parts of Norwich I didn't visit yet. First was Earlham Cemetery where I was told broad-leaved helleborines had been seen up until last year when they were apparently mowed down before they could flower. Did the cemetery owners learned a lesson and left these scarce city orchids to recover? Not that I could tell. I couldn't find them in the whereabouts that I was directed to. So I think these orchids are no more sadly.
After walking to the market for lunch, I made my way to a patch of unused grass along Queens Road where I was told that narrow-leaved ragwort grew. I found the plant surprisingly easily. It has ragwort like flowers, but were more loose than growing in a cluster like most ragworts I've seen and the leaves were noticeably thin as the name suggested. However, when it came to looking it up in my plant ID books when I got home, I couldn't find it in any of them. I had to look it up online to learn more about it. Apparently, this is an escapee originating from South Africa that has now colonised across Europe.
July 28th  Norwich
A walk along the river Wensum. I didn't find too many new things for my plant list. However, I did discover new locations of plants that I found before such as fumitory, hare's-foot clover and flowering rush (that was growing much closer to my side of the river). New additions include upright hedge parsley, rose campion and teasel.
July 30th  Strumpshaw Fen
It feels like forever since I was last here. The last time I was at Strumpshaw was in March on the day they made the decision to close up half way into my shift due to lockdown. At the start of July, the reserve finally reopened itself to the public albeit with restrictions as the staff had to come up ways to follow regulation rules to keep everyone safe yet allow everyone to enjoy nature. Yesterday, I finally had the opportunity to visit with Dad to see what changes were made.

Reception Hide Post Lockdown
First thing I noticed was the Reception Hide area. Picnic benches were placed near the fence of the courtyard, signs were placed everywhere including one telling you that only one family/person was allowed in the toilets at a time and, perhaps the most drastic change, the blind by the hide (currently locked) had the back panel opened up for easy access for one family at a time to view the broad.
A one-way system was put in place across the reserve with arrowed signs telling you where and where not to go. At the top of Sandy Wall, you then had the choice to go either towards the pumphouse and the woods or along the river and down the Lackford Run. Either direction led to a long walk to get back to the reserve's entrance without disobeying the arrow system. I encountered only 2 families going back the wrong direction along Sandy Wall, everyone else seemed fine with this system. Another thing I noticed was that as all the hides were closed, the path leading to Fen Hide was now overgrown completely.
It was a very hot day on my return to Strumpshaw, a complete contrast to when I was last here in March. I have missed this place. I have missed the wildlife, the familiar faces I see every week and even the hectic chaos of the swallowtail season. Though, I did see a swallowtail at Hickling last month, it didn't have the same fanfare of having hundreds of people from far and wide armed with cameras crowding around one fluttering over the flower bed. The swallowtail season is now over (at least for the first wave) and now the baton is handed over to the next impressive butterfly on the reserve, the silver-washed fritillary. Though my priority was to explore post-lockdown Strumpshaw, seeing one of these butterflies would make my day even better.
Exploring the reserve on such a hot day was energy sapping and the wildlife mirrored this feeling. It was very quiet and only insects seemed to be the most visible lifeforms around, everything else appeared to be hiding, sheltering from the heat. Dad and I sat down on the platformed bench at the top of Sandy Wall for a moment. Suddenly, we noticed something cat-sized stroll by like a cat with a crow or something in its mouth, wings being dragged along the ground before disappearing part way down Sandy Wall into a reed bed. What was it? I wasn't sure, but I think possibly a mink, though it could also had been a stoat. All I saw was something brown with slightly fluffy or waterlogged fur and was as big as a cat, perhaps an inch or two smaller. It went by so fast in its leisurely pace that I couldn't grab the camera quick enough.
Silver-washed Fritillary
After lunch on the new-ish platform over a ditch after walking by the pumphouse, we continued our walk into the woodland trail. Along the way, our first silver-washed fritillary flew over us. It wasn't to be the last as we encountered a few more along a clearing with plenty of bramble bushes. We found yet another on the buddleia behind Reception Hide when we completed our guided loop around the reserve. We also saw a marsh harrier, a kestrel, orange balsam and a bunch of other plants that I can't include to my Norwich list and heard buzzards, Cetti's warblers, green woodpeckers and a kingfisher. We also made a short visit to Buckenham Marshes after our Strumpshaw walk, seeing a Chinese water deer and a strange swarm of flies flying over my dad's head like a moving black dotted cloud.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Lockdown Lifts, Plant Hunting Continues!

July 9th  Waterloo Park

The weather had been playing me around last week. It had been raining most days and last Thursday was no exception. I was making my way to work, opting to walking to the other side of the city and avoiding the bus where it is compulsory to wear a mask. But avoiding the mask isn't the real reason why I walk to work since lockdown began, it also gives me the chance to plant hunt. A good chunk of my plant findings is from these kind of walks.
Dark Mullein
During this particular walk, I made a quick pop in to Waterloo Park where I was told that there was a dark mullein nearby the main gate entrance which I had missed beforehand. It didn't take long until I found it in the spitting rain. Compared to the other mullein surrounding it, this was much smaller and daintier. A mullein on a diet. But what it lacked in size, it gained in attractiveness. The flowers are yellow like the other mulleins, but the anthers are reddish purple. I made a few quick photos with my phone before leaving.
July 11th Catton Park
I was back at Catton Park hoping to locate the three plants I was looking for during the weekend before. The sand spurrey and the flixweed still eluded me and what's more, the area I was told they were in was mowed down for the most part. However, it wasn't a complete waste of time as I discovered the fig-leaved goosefoot that was the other plant from that trio on my list. It didn't look like it was anything special as it was mostly leaves with barely anything that resembles flowers growing on it.
Thankfully, there were a few other more attractive plants in and around the park that I was more than happy to add to my Norwich plant list. First, a couple of stands of centaury with bright pink flowers poking out of the mowed grass in front of the park's lodge building. I was amazed on how they managed to escape the mower. Meanwhile, a walk along the horse paddock outside the park revealed a clump of thyme (I think) and a few fox-and-cubs (a bright orange garden escapee that has now naturalized).
July 14th  Cary's Meadow & Whitlingham Broad
Dad took me out plant hunting on Tuesday. Our first stop was Cary's Meadow. The orchids from last time were now gone, though I did find one pyramidal orchid. The site may have been lacking in orchids, however, this site was still producing new additions of other kinds of plants. Water mint, apple mint, vervain, ribbed melilot and red bartsia to name a few.
We then had a quick walk at some wooded footpath in Trowse, only adding an enchanter's nightshade. After that, we went around Whitlingham Broad. I showed Dad the pyramidal orchid field and the various other plants I found there and the edge of the main broad from my previous visit. On this occasion, I chalked up a few new species such square-stalked St John's-wort, meadow cranesbill, perennial sowthistle (which was like a very tall dandelion type of thing), snowberry and bristly oxtongue (another dandelion like thing but with spiky, hairy leaves). I couldn't find any bur-marigolds or any other things I was told to find, but I guess the car park ticket put pressure on our search as time on it was running out.
July 17th  Mousehold Heath
I could finally join Will the Mousehold warden to help him with a butterfly survey. During lockdown, he had been doing it by himself due to social distancing regulations. Today, he was confident to have me tag along. The only drawback was that I had to make my own way to and from Mousehold on foot as he couldn't pick me up due to these regulations. I was more used to walking everywhere at this point to really let that bother me.
The weather was good and it led to possibly the best survey we've ever recorded at Mousehold. In total, we counted 178 butterflies. This included 35 gatekeepers, 27 meadow browns, 26 large whites, 23 small whites, 10 ringlets, 10 purple hairstreaks, 10 holly blues, 9 small/Essex skippers, 7 speckled woods, 5 green-veined whites, 4 commas, 3 peacocks, 2 red admirals and 2 large skippers.
Purple Hairstreak &Sand Spurrey
I was also delighted to finally tick off sand spurrey off my list. A friend of mine found them a week or so ago nearby a particular oak tree and when I went with him on Saturday, they appeared to have finished flowering. So I completely surprised while doing the butterfly transect with Will that they were in flower once again. Are these extremely tiny flowers always this temperamental?

Sunday, 5 July 2020

July 4th & 5th Norwich

July 4th  Marriot's Way
After watching Norwich lose without scoring for the umpteenth time, I felt like I just had to get out and plant hunt to remove the thoughts of relegation from my mind. The weather was a bit gloomy, but I guess it matched the feeling I had for my team's performance. My route for this particular walk was to head to the river via Marriot's Way. 
A comment from a previous post of mine provided me a list of plants that I had know idea about which were all close to where I lived (thanks James). A couple of these plants were in front of a set of garages literally just around the corner from my flat. I never even heard of either of them let alone knew that they were so close to home. One, the dwarf mallow, was easier to find as it formed a small clump of leaves with tiny purple flowers by the garage door. The other, the common cudweed, was not quite so obvious. It was small and looked like something prehistoric but in miniature like a spiky club with minute flowers that are barely visible. Apparently, this strange plant is listed as Near Threatened though locally common in Norfolk.

Dwarf Mallow & Common Cudweed
When I eventually reached Wensum Park where I started to follow the Marriot's Way trail, the river looked picturesque. Lilly pads broke up the reflections of the surface. The water was crystal clear and you could see the bottom and the aquatic plants swaying in the current. Watercress clinged to the river sides with small white circles of flowers showing above their lush green leaves. Banded demoiselles fluttered above these plants in large numbers as if dancing a graceful ballet full of electric blue jewelled bodies with black patched wings doing semaphore-like movements in the air. There was even a Norfolk hawker patrolling part of this river, an insect that was once restricted to the Broadlands region. 
I followed the river on its journey under a busy road bridge and to a pumphouse. Once it flowed through this pumphouse, the river became more urbanised, seeming empty with plant life. The stretch of river before the pumphouse though had perhaps the best selection of plants on this city river.

Arrowhead, River Water-dropwort & Flowering Rush
Three special plants to note were found here between the road bridge and the pumphouse. The distinctive arrow-shaped leaves of arrowhead were everywhere here and I was pleased that some of them had spikes of white blooms with a blush of pink in the centres that I could easily see popular in someone's garden. Small cow parsley-like plants poking out the middle of the river turn out to be river water-dropwort, a scarce aquatic plant. And lastly, three or four pink bloomed heads of flowering rush could only be seen from one spot along this river. All three of these plants tell you that this river is healthy despite all the traffic polluting nearby and the occasional plastic bottle stuck within the vegetation while fighting the river flow.
July 5th  Catton Park and Waterloo Park
With success finding all the plants that were listed to me, I was given another list, a much larger list. The locations were a little bit varied too, ranging from nearby to being in another part of Norwich. So today I focused on the ones that were in two of my local parks. First up was Catton Park where I was told I could find fig-leaved goosefoot, flixweed and sand spurrey somewhere in the fenced off picnic area. I wasn't really familiar with any of these plants, so it was no wonder that I couldn't find any of them.
Hare's-foot Clover
I had more success at Waterloo Park where I not only found many really large great mulleins, but I also found a plant that was on my list at a different location. Along the sides of the disused bowling green and beneath the towering spikes of the mulleins were clumps of hare's-foot clover. The flowers were smaller than what I imagined and supposedly resemble the foot of a rabbit. I'm not too sure of this but I can't deny that they have this fluffy, cute kind of charm about them. For me, this is another one of those to add to my "I never knew that was in my neighbourhood" list that was growing day by day.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

July 1st Whitlingham Broad

I was back at Whitlingham Broad today. I was dropped off at the far end of the road. My aim was to walk back to the top to where the barn cafĂ© and car park is and to look for plants along the way. There was a hint of rain in the air, but it didn't lead to anything but a minor drizzle. A few hoary mullein stood tall like miniature trees with branches full of yellow flowers by the far car park at the start of my walk. As I continued, these were replaced by the even taller purple flowered stands of rosebay willowherbs and, later still, purple loosestrifes.
Crab Spider with hoverfly on a Pyramidal Orchid
The landscape of my walk changed from river and roadside to meadows and woodland to the broad itself. Behind one fenced off area during my journey was a small meadow. Within it, I could see the bright colours of purple and pink dotted within the long grass. They were so bright that you'd have to be blind not to miss them. These were the unmistakable flowers of pyramidal orchids, my 4th orchid species I've found in Norwich so far during lockdown (bee, southern marsh and common spotted were the others). These colourful orchids filled this mini patch of meadow like stars in the sky. Amazingly, despite being a little bit of a distance from the fence, I noticed that one of these pyramidal orchids had a bright white spot on it. Using my binoculars (and my camera), I could see that it was a crab spider. And what's more remarkable and despite standing out like a sore thumb was that this ambush predator had managed to catch a hoverfly!

It wasn't all orchids to be found in this small patch of meadow. Growing by the fence were a few new species for my list such as lady's bedstraw, agrimony and Perforate St John's-wort. I also found quite a few burdocks, but they were just a possible few days away from flowering.
Amphibious Bistort
Exploring the edge of the broad, there were a few great spots where I kept discovering some flower or another that were only just in bloom. Hemp agrimony (not even related to the agrimony earlier, which was yellow and not fluffy and pink like this species), lesser water parsnip (according to my app), celery-leaved buttercups, musk thistles, purple loosestrifes, meadowsweet and redshank (which I recognised from the black splodged leaves, but was seeing the small pink rods of flowers for the first time) were just some of the things that were displaying well by or near the water's edge. I also found a 'raft' of amphibious bistort floating above the surface of the broad and a few distinctive arrow-shaped leaves of arrowhead that weren't even close to blooming yet.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

The Plants Of Summer

 June 14th  Norwich & Whitlingham Broad
On Sunday afternoon last week, I decided to go for a walk along the River Wensum from Wensum Park to the centre of the city before meeting my parents who were going to pick me up so that we could visit Whitlingham Broad. My lockdown city plant list grows every week. I discover something new with every visit I've made at any location and this walk along the river was no different. Some, like buddleia, were as expected to be found in an urban environment, but there are many other things I didn't even know were found within Norwich. I wonder how many people even took any notice that there's biting stonecrop, hedge woundwort or even watercress growing along the built up, concrete banks of this part of the river?
Biting Stonecrop
 When I eventually got to Whitlingham, I had just enough energy to walk round the broad. There weren't too many new plants for my list, but I did find my first purple loosestrife of the year as well as musk thistle. The birdlife was pretty decent too with common terns, great crested grebes and so many mute swans to count and we also had an encounter with a tiny froglet hopping across the main path that must have seemed like crossing a couple of miles to this minute amphibian.
June 18th  Catton Park
After a morning of torrential rain, it was a surprise that the afternoon on Thursday was completely opposite. The sun had came out and I felt I couldn't waste the opportunity to not go outside. My local park beckoned me and I wondered what changes in its plant life was I to find this time. The bird's-foot trefoil, buttercups and cat's-tail were trying hard to make sure that the colour yellow was to dominate the park's fields if it wasn't for the tall seed heads of various grass species partly obscuring them. Small patches of purple were now trying to peek through the vegetation in the form of knapweed and rosebay willowherb, while giant stands of hemlock tower above everything except the trees. I also discovered field pansy and what I believe to be black nightshade growing around the edge of log that is used as a border for a path.
Cerceris rybyensis wasp on thistle
June 20th  Cary's Meadow & Thorpe Marshes
Dad took me out to Cary's Meadow, a small site managed by the Broads Authority on the edge of Norwich. If there was one place I knew for certain that could provide me with more orchids for my city plant list, it was here. I haven't been here for years after my last visit ended with disappointment with a landscape that was way too heavily overgrazed by cattle. I wanted to give this place another go though. Could I find orchids this time or will the cattle beat me to them? Well, thankfully not this time. No cattle in sight and after some searching, I hit the jackpot. Not only did I find several bee orchids (including some that were lighter variations), there were also a few common spotted orchids and a southern marsh orchid, too. As well as orchids, I also chalked up scarlet pimpernel, selfheal and a few other odds and ends too.

Common Spotted Orchid
Southern Marsh Orchid
Bee Orchid
Returning to the car, Dad then dropped me off to Thorpe Marshes, just a stones throw away from Cary's Meadow. My plant list was a side project at this point as I was here for birds. This place seems to be attracting a bit of attention amongst local twitchers just recently. First it was the corncrake (which I've heard twice on my previous last two visits) and now there was another scarce and equally secretive migrant paying this reserve a visit. A Savi's warbler has been heard singing throughout the week and occasionally poses for people to see. This is another one of your typical little brown jobs, but has a powerful voice. It sounds similar to a grasshopper warbler, which is described as a reeling fishing reel, but it is far more louder. If I could at least hear it, I'd be happy.

I only had two hours before I had to meet up with Dad, so I spent most of it waiting around staring at the bramble bush that I've been told that it spends most of its time in. Apparently, I learnt that this bird wasn't as active during the day that much, preferring to sing mostly at dawn and dusk. However, it did show well at midday yesterday, so I still had some chance. At least that was what I thought at the time of waiting. In the end it was a no show. I didn't even hear it sing once. The bramble bush attracted sedge warblers, linnets, reed buntings and even a kestrel hovering above it, but no Savi's.
On the plant side of things, I had more success. Marsh bedstraw, marsh valerian, common vetchling, meadowsweet and the leaves of what my app is telling me is of a plant called redshank.
June 23rd  Catton Park to Mousehold Heath
I went back to Catton Park to get a better photo of the black nightshade I found the other day. I had never heard of it before and thanks to my app, it has helped me discover something I never knew existed in my local patch. The plant is so small with dainty white flowers and is quite beautiful. It makes me wonder if anyone has ever noticed it before.
Black Nightshade
Catton Park was just a brief stop on my tour of my local area. My main destination I had in mind was Mousehold. There's a bit of a distance between the park and the heath, but walking to Mousehold made me discover even more plants to my list. Field scabious, reflexed stonecrop, large-flowered evening primrose, hoary mullein and goat's-beard. In fact, when I was at Mousehold, I didn't find too many more new things in comparison, just bell heather and a couple of new tree species. On the way home, I was really hot and tired at this point, but I still managed to locate great willowherb before I could finally put my feet up from a very long morning's walk.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Orchids At Last!

June 9th  Norwich

Common Broomrape
What I really wanted for my Norwich lockdown plant list are orchids. There were two places I knew where I could find bee orchids, but I soon discovered evidence of a lawn mower had been used on both sites. My heart sank. However, it turns out that one of these sites wasn't mowed completely and there were still patches of long grass untouched and left wild. My hopes were raised again. So, I went to this site on Tuesday to try my luck. After some searching, I found one, though it wasn't the best specimen with sepals (petals) missing. I also found one that was still in bud, but that was about it. I could not find any others hidden in the layer of grass. My mission was still successful though. All I wanted was an orchid and I found one.

With mission complete, I slowly made my way home, walking along the river and scanning every bare patch of ground along the way. From here on, I began to really appreciate these tiny patches of untamed land ranging from cracks in the pavement to edges of a car park. In front of a gym, I discovered a small cluster of broomrape (parasitic plants that have no leaves of their own) and bladder campion. Poking their tiny blue heads from the cracks of the pavement beside a hotel were lobelia, while under a flyway bridge was a colony of viper's bugloss. The best display, though, was the Anglia Square car park with the edges red with the flowers of poppies. I also found white melilot, mugwort, weld, hoary mustard and black horehound to name a few. It goes to show how amazing these little nooks and crannies in the city are. I just hope they avoid the council's mowers and pesticides.
While walking along the river, I also encountered a kingfisher whizzing low over the river alerting me with its high pitched peeping call as it went. Only the second time I've seen a kingfisher along this stretch of the river.
Wild Mignonette
June 12  UEA
After 2 days of rain, I was able to go plant hunting again. This time, I went to the UEA (University of East Anglia) with Dad for a walk around the lake and the surrounding playing fields. Wild mignonette and the yellow dandelion-like flowers of cat's-ear were on display within patches of long grass, providing valuable nectar for the bees, butterflies and other insects. Around the UEA lake, I found a few new species to add to my list such as white bryony, tufted vetch, common vetchling and white water lily.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

June 4th Hickling Broad


The swallowtail season is well and truly underway, but as Strumpshaw is closed due to lockdown procedures, I was fearing that I was going to go swallowtail-less for this year. However, while the RSPB have kept most of their reserves closed off to the public, the NWT (Norfolk Wildlife Trust) have opened some of theirs again but with a few changes. Hickling Broad is one such reserve allowing the public to walk around, though the visitor centre, toilets, hides and a few paths remain closed. To enforce social distancing rules, a one-way route system is set up, though the route does split up in places allowing you some freedom to explore the site. It is a strange experience, but if I was to find a swallowtail this year, this was my best chance and location to do so.
Bee Orchid
The weather wasn't exactly on our side as my dad and I arrived at Hickling. Grey clouds threaten to rain and it was a bit chilly and little windy. Not the best conditions for swallowtails. We made one circuit around the reserve, following the arrows and sections blocked off by tape guiding us. There were spells of drizzle, but it was brightening up as we returned to the visitor centre for lunch. We saw bearded tits, marsh harriers, sand martins, swifts, terns, reed buntings, reed, sedge, Cetti's and willow warblers, avocets, greylags with goslings, lapwings, shelducks, many dragonflies and damselflies and a couple of butterflies, but no swallowtail. There were also a few new plant species, but I'm not adding them as I'm out of Norwich.

After lunch, the weather was much improved and the sun was breaking through. It was now warm enough for swallowtails to possibly be on the wing. So, I decided that we do another walk. While starting off the route again, I discovered something that we missed the first time; a bee orchid! I wonder how many people have walked by and not noticed it? It was a great find, but I really want to find one in Norwich. As the sites I know of are now mowed down, I don't really know where else to go. These orchids will pop up just about anywhere, its like trying to look for a needle in a built up, urbanised haystack.

Mission Swallowtail 2020 was still going on with little luck going my way. All that suddenly changed when we reached a small boardwalk with yellow flag irises dotted around it. Immediately after making my first step onto the wooden path, I spot a swallowtail landing onto an iris. It was a bit flighty when I tried to sneak up to it and was tricky to get a photograph in at first. But then it landed onto the path just a few metres in front of me. Despite it facing the wrong way, I could finally get a few photos. Despite all the odds stack against me with lockdown and the weather, I was pleased that 2020 wasn't going to be the year I miss out on seeing a swallowtail after all. Seeing this one was like seeing all the rainbows done by children stuck on windows. It is bright, cheery and gives me some hope in these dark, uncertain times. Even with lockdown lifting, who knows for certain when life can get back to normality in its entirety.