Monday, 30 May 2016

Flowers galore

Once again, back from a long walk thinking how lucky I am to have all this variety on my doorstep. This time, my destination was a beautiful wet meadow in the Ebble Valley that, being a bit further to walk to from my parents' house, had meant I haven't visited it for a while.

The walk starts with the usual yomp up Harnham Slope - a County Wildlife Site for its mixed semi-natural woodland, which I believe harbours a small population of dormice. You get great views across Salisbury from it, and the paths take you past active badger setts, and through bird-filled woodland. However, today, I veered off up onto the Avon Valley Path, taking in vistas across the sweeping hills, with hawthorn blossom very much evident in the thick, ancient hedges criss-crossing the landscape.

Crossing the main road to Blandford, I continued along a very poorly-maintained path - beware stinging nettles! - before heading out across arable fields. Although on first appearances a wildlife desert, the hedges and some field corners provide welcome respite for species - poppies of course, but whitethroats, chifchaffs and lots of singing skylarks attempting to nest in the barley and wheat fields - let's hope they make it!

Finally, the end was in sight - looping around a pretty little farm and into the meadow. For those of you in the know, I would say MG5 - ragged robin, meadow buttercup, red clover, cuckooflower, a great variety of fine grasses, and meadow thistle. I ventured a little further, crossing over the Ebble itself, spying water crowfoot and flag iris in places, before retracing my steps. 

I did call in on Salisbury Chalkpit just before heading for home - this is a geological SSSI (in that it is legally protected for the rock strata - here Cretaceous layers of chalk great for sea urchins). It being chalk, in varying stages of recolonisation with vegetation, it is also very interesting botanically - common milkwort, hawkbits, bird's foot trefoil - and I know common spotted orchids come along in a little while too. It's a shame it's also the local youths' hang out - lots of detritus around.

So, all in all, a most satisfying day filled with many species to prepare me for surveying on Martin Down later this week, having become very rusty on that front!

Monday, 23 May 2016

And relax...

Bit of a crazy-busy weekend, across in Essex for my brother's wedding. We did manage a spot of walking along the coast on Mersea Island, and it was nice to be staying so close to the shore you could hear the oyster catchers calling in the evening and morning.

I wisely decided to take today off to recover and allow normal life to resume - this, of course, means a quick potter on Martin Down!

The cowslips have been quite patchy this year, and are already going over, but the anthills seemed covered in speedwell, with patches of milkwort, kidney and horseshoe vetches scattered about. And one bank was just covered in early purple orchids, but no others seen elsewhere. It was quite sheltered in some spots along my walk, meaning that the butterflies were out and about - orange tips, brimstones, holly and common blue, and quite a few dingy skippers too.

This was accompanied by skylarks, ravens, yellowhammers, whitethroats, chifchaffs, a cuckoo and several turtle doves. Summer is here! I always find it amazing when you hear so many birds that have made their way - battling against the Maltese/Italians/Greeks shooting at them on hillsides- from sub-Saharan Africa to the Down. Sadly, numbers of many species (particularly turtle dove) are decreasing, and I can't contemplate a time when the reserve doesn't have a gentle background purring when walking.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

More bluebells!

Despite things taking a while to get going this year, the flowers are certainly making up for it by flowering for an extra-long time.

Last Sunday we made our way to Bentley Wood - scene of much getting-lost in the past! This time, in the baking heat (hotter than Ibiza!), we pottered on a vague quest to find bluebells. It's a much trickier place to find them than, say, Garston Wood, due to the mosaic of conifer plantation, native woodland and grassland, all crossed with numerous tracks and paths,

We did locate some along old boundary earth banks, among the ancient hazels and oaks, but not the great swathes we know exist here. Looping around, and with not a soul encountered on our delightful walk amidst much birdsong, we did come across some pockets, beautifully lit by the afternoon sun in among the beeches.

We successfully retraced our steps back to the car (yes!) and even the drive home along the country lanes was accompanied by drifts of bluebells on the ancient verges - once again, so so lucky to live in this country!

Friday, 6 May 2016


Finally, could this be summer?!

We spent a blustery Bank Holiday Monday, exploring Holly Hill Woodland Park near Bursledon, before battling our way along the Hamble estuary. The woodland park is a Victorian ornamental park, featuring much exotic planting and carefully crafted lakes, grottoes and sunken gardens. It makes for a beautiful stroll, and blends seamlessly with areas of semi-natural woodland, before you're disgorged into the open saltmarsh and vegetated shingle along the Hamble.

The River Hamble is a smallish river, exiting onto the busy waterway of Southampton Water, with 'interesting' views of Fawley Oil Refinery and power station opposite. The combination of coastal grassland, shingle, saltmarsh and scrub forms a great habitat for many species. We noted curlew, shelduck and various gulls. It was certainly a bracing walk!

And by contrast, I was determined to enjoy some of the sunshine, having been stuck indoors much of the week. On my way back from Dorchester yesterday, I had to call into Martin Down (handy). I was the only person enjoying Kitt's Grave - the patch of woodland, scrub and grassland across the A354 from the rest of the reserve. Not only did I see a good variety of flowers - hawthorn blossom, primroses, wild garlic, dog's mercury carpets in the ancient woodland, patches of cowslips finally coming out (taking their time) and my first early purple orchid - but the accompanying birdsong was a beautiful cacophony. Nothing rare really - song thrush, blackbird, robin, chiff chaff, chaffinch, blue tit, great tit, green finch, gold finch and my first cuckoo of the year! They all seemed to be trying very hard, with the song thrushes being particularly creative with their repetitive calls. It is a magical moment when you're enjoying the sights and sounds with nobody else around you, and the troubles of the civilised world seemingly far away. Let's hope this weather lasts.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Yay - bluebell time!

This is an excuse to wax lyrical about this most wondrous of annual spectacles and post lots of lovely pics. I think anyone who doesn't look forward to this time of year is a little bit odd - so much colour!

And the wonderful thing about bluebell carpets is they come accompanied with a beautiful subtle scent. I think it's brilliant that most of the UK population enjoys a good bluebell walk (my Facebook feed is chocker with pics) - especially as we have 40% of the world's population of this protected species. Good to know we don't take it for granted. However, as per usual, it is under threat from the dreaded Spanish bluebell (no scent, less intense blue, no yellow anthers, wider leaves and less droopy flower heads), which hybridises with the native one, as well as loss of the ancient woodland habitat. Although, driving around Surrey and Sussex they don't seem to be in short supply - every wooded road verge or patch of woodland was a blue carpet. You lucky people!

Last weekend, after a particularly stressful day, we managed to finally get out to Garston Wood (we go there every year - I swear I have pics of the same trees going back at least a decade!!). This RSPB reserve is usually crammed, but there was a distinct advantage to going right at the end of the day as the car park was emptier! Although the light was fading, we enjoyed a de-stressing, scented walk, marvelling at the combination of yellows (primroses still going strong - amazing!), white (wood anemone) and the bluebells.

And then this weekend, I've just got back from visiting friends in Crawley - we had a surprisingly long walk yesterday along a dismantled railway line, again with many flowers.

Today, still in wonderful sunshine, we opted for a slightly different affair and visited the Devil's Punchbowl. Here, the A3  has been undergrounded through the Hindhead tunnel, with the old road above restored to grassland and heathland. This compliments the heathland and ancient woodland mosaic. Although no bluebells (a different sort of wood), it was very atmospheric and the views were astonishing across the Surrey Hills.

We constantly said how lucky we were to live in the UK, and particularly to have such wonderful scenery on our doorsteps.