When corn rigs are bonnie

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 21 June 2019 20:44

Last week I was up at Ken Hill again in Norfolk and had a great time setting up the vegetation plots. I used a high-accuracy GPS hired from SCCS who were exceptionally helpful. It all went rather well despite the horrendous weather in the first few days but it was the arable plants that really got my blood pumping. Above and below is the biggest patch of Corn Marigold I have ever seen. I have rarely seen this apart from occasionally seeing it around Rugeley when I was younger and then it was always only one or two plants.

What is it about arable plants? I think it's the fact there is a really useful index from Plantlife which works by accumulating the scores of qualifying plants for a site. So this clearly appeals to the collector part of my brain. So last week I was listing these arable plants like Panini stickers in my Transformers album when I was twelve. They are often quite restricted on sites too, persisting only in tiny pockets. So you really feel like you've found treasure when you get one of the good ones.

Before we go any further though, the title of this post comes not from the Robert Burns poem itself, but from the song from the opening credits of the film the Wicker Man. Someone once tried to tell me this was a horror film! Pah. It's one of my favourite movies and has such a magic folk music soundtrack. I always feel nostalgic for an era I never actually lived in when I watch this. Anyway, back to the arable plants...

So Corn Marigold scores 7 being red listed as Vulnerable.

Nearby there was more Stinking Chamomile than I have ever seen. I immediately called this corner of the field "Stink City" then realised it was time to stop talking to myself.

This stuff really does honk but I kinda like it. It's also red listed as Vulnerable and also scores 7. That's 14 in total. Here are the two growing together. 

Everywhere across the site is Corn Spurrey. I didn't manage a photo of this but it's there. It's another Vulnerable red listed species scoring 7. That's 21 for this field alone. Oh no wait, I also had my favourite arable plant there tucked a way in the corner. The fantastic Night-flowering Catchfly

You guessed it, it's another Vulnerable red listed species scoring 7. That's 28 for the field and site in total.

At the other end of the site I stumbled across a mass of the diminutive Field Woundwort in one plot. This species is red listed as Near Threatened and scores 6. That's 34 for the site. Not the best photo but my camera ran out of battery at this point. 

In the same plot was a single plant of Dwarf Spurge, also Near Threatened and scoring 6, that's 40. This is was taken on my phone so it's not great. 

And a single plant of Sharp-leaved Fluellen was also present here. A local species scoring 2. That's 42 in all.

Last month I found a few Prickly Poppies to the south, these are Vulnerable too scoring 7. So that's a score of 49. 

In the same sandy area to the south there was plenty of Venus's Looking-glass. This species scores 3 being local, making 52 for the whole site. Whichever soil type you assess this by, this is now considered of national significance by Plantlife.

Other species present that also score include:

Bur Chervil 3 - 55
Henbit Dead-nettle - 1 - 56
Black-grass - 2 - 58
Black Mustard - 2 - 60
Bugloss - 1 - 61
Common Stork's-bill - 1 - 62
Common Cudweed - Near Threatened scores - 6 - 68
Small-flowered Crane's-bill - 2 - 70
Dwarf Mallow - 2 - 72
Smooth Tare - 2 - 74
Wild Radish - 1 - 75
Field Madder - 1 - 76
Flixweed - 3 - 79

The fresh-hold for a site of international significance is 70 for clays and sandy soils that the site is best described as. All these species were recorded in four days in June so I suspect there will be more to be found in July. Late summer is often really good for arable plants so I look forward to the next visit.

And the first Hoary Mullein (nationally scarce) that I think I have ever seen up close (rather than at 70 mph on the motorway by Bury St. Edmonds).

I completed the third invertebrate survey and got the greatest number of field dets from a day's surveying that I have ever managed, 251 species in all. I wonder how much further this can go? Is 300 field dets possible? The highlight for me was seeing this awesome staph that I have wanted to see for some time. Oxyporus rufus. I picked this up on the lovely sandy field to the south using the suction sampler. It feeds on mushrooms. Look at those mandibles!

As if I didn't have enough leatherbugs last time I also picked up Spathocera dalmanni from the Plain  in the suction sampler (this one is a stock photo from Sussex). Yet another nationally scarce bug. Also in the same area I swept the tachinid fly Cistogaster globosa (along with plenty of it's host Bishope's Mitre Shieldbugs). That's 460 species of invertebrate from three day's surveying so far. This doesn't include the 24 tubes of specimens yet either. Of these 460 species, 25 (5.4%) have some form of conservation status.

This really is a great site with a wealth of interesting early successional species. Whatever will I find next month?! I am hoping for Red-tipped Cudweed which would be a lifer. A MASSIVE thank you yet again to the Padwicks for their hospitality. 

Oh I forgot, here is the GPS in use. I love that the accuracy (2 cm) is less than the thickness of the pole.


Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 5 June 2019 18:56

Yesterday morning was my first day in my part time role at the Trust. I started early by heading out to Butcherlands to finish the bird survey. I have, since the last visit I reported, confirmed breeding of the Dartford Warblers there. I was just getting to that area when in the distance, around 100 m away among the cacophony of Garden Warblers and Whitethroats, I heard what I thought was a Sedge Warbler. That was odd as I had a migrant Sedge Warbler last time. So I headed towards it and soon realised I had something quite different. It sounded like a Garden Warbler singing twice as fast but this was preceded by some unusual repetitive notes, not unlike Swallow or Starling alarm calls.

What on Earth was this? I can tell you hearing a singing bird in Britain that I don't recognise is a thrilling event. My heart was beating like a big clock in fear it would get away without me seeing it. It had moved from the big willow to the left of the image above and was moving away from me rapidly, singing from the bramble clumps. I headed towards it, filming to get a sound recording with my camera. It wasn't a warbler I knew from Europe, so it had to be one I had never heard singing. Through a process of elimination my money was on a Sylvia warbler and I thought maybe Subalpine Warbler. I rounded one bramble to see it sat right out in the open atop a bramble singing its heart out. A massive yellow warbler with a sharp crest and a big pale bill. Obviously a Hippolais warbler!!!

So that meant it had to be either Melodious or Icterine Warbler. I had good views but not good enough for a photo so I had to rely on behaviour, colour, timing, location and the sound recording. I was fairly convinced after listening to the two on Xeno-Canto that it was Melodious Warbler, which from memory was also more likely here, and this was soon verified by a variety of more experienced birders. How exciting. Here is the best of the recordings I made.

I have only seen one before in the autumn of 2001 when I was a volunteer at Dungeness RSPB at the start of my career. It was low down in some Rock Samphire in front of the nuclear power station, certainly not singing from the top of a bush. It felt like a lifer to be fair. All this happened between 7.00 am and 7.30 am and by 9.30 when I got back to the same location it was nowhere to be seen. So I think it is long gone. This was by far the best bird I have found on the reserves in the last 11 years. Being possibly my last time I do this survey, it was a real treat to see this and I did well up a bit with excitement. Butcherlands just keeps throwing up exciting records.

I didn't see or hear the Darfords this time, they have finished already. I did however add another new bird to the survey. A singing Reed Warbler in a hedge. Which makes NINE warblers this year from the survey. 

Also, some of those weird asperitas clouds I saw last autumn when driving. Strange that these are the most recently named clouds but are some of our most distinctive. And that I have only seen them in the last two years. 

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