A collection of wildlife photographs

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Hibernating bats

As the frosts roll in with winter, many animals go underground to hibernate. Bats are no exception. On a trip to several bat hibernacula today, I came across 4 species: Daubenton's Myotis daubentonii, Natterer's Myotis nattereri, Brown Long-eared Bat Plecotus auritus and Common Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus. These photos were taken under the supervision of a licenced bat worker.

Daubenton's bat Myotis daubentonii
There were abundant Daubenton's bat in the caves, tunnels and ice houses. This species can be identified by its relatively short ears that lack the curled tips of Natterer's. Its face is quite dark, and Daubenton's has large feet which it uses to catch insects with whilst foraging over water.
Daubenton's bat Myotis daubentonii
Daubenton's bat Myotis daubentonii
The relatively large feet of Daubenton's bat Myotis daubentonii

Natterer's bat Myotis nattereri
There was a frequent number of Natterer's bat in the hibernaculae. Compared to Daubenton's, this bat species has longer ears, with curled ear tips. It also has a relatively pink face.

Natterer's bat Myotis nattereri

Brown Long-eared bat Plecotus auritus
There were occasional Brown Long-eared bats in the hibernacula.This species is notorious for its large ears. This species has a niche hunting strategy, instead of using echolocation as much as other bats with smaller ears, it uses its large ears to listen to its insect prey. This is effective as insects cannot hear this quieter predator, until it is often too late. When hibernating Brown Long-eared Bats often tuck their large ears behind their arms to reduce heat loss. The photograph below shows this - just the tragus of the ears is sticking up.

Brown Long-eared bat Plecotus auritus

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The edge of agriculture

Common Toadflax Linaria vulgaris
Scarlet Pimpernel Anagallis arvensis
Redshank Polygonum persicaria

RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

On the 12th July we went to the Hampton Court Flower Show. This event reels in hundreds of thousands of people each year, and 2014 was no exception. There are many show gardens, rated by the judges for several categories, in addition to flower stalls. The following comprises some of my favourite plants and gardens from the event.

One of my favourite gardens in the flower show was the Jordan's Garden. This was designed by Selina Botham, who described it as having 'wild flowers on the outside but building in intensity of colour towards the centre'. The species of the outside include Wild Carrot Daucus carota, a distinctive umbellifer with bracts potruding from the bottom of this flower, as well as Yarrow Achillea millefolium, and Wild Thyme Thymus polytrichus amongst Cornflower Glebionis segetum and others. The flowers in the center of the garden included Meadow Sage Salvia nemerosa, with its purple flower spike and Culver's Root Veronicastrum virginicum 'Album'.
The Jordan's garden
Corn Marigold Glebionis segetum
The photo above shows Corn Marigold iThe Flintknapper's Garden designed by Luke Heydon. This was another wildflower garden, and was arguably the best of the show.

Below are some of my favourite flowers from the stalls.

Bugle Ajuga reptans
Variety of Eastern Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea 
Pride of Table Mountain Disa uniflora

Japanese shield fern Dryopteris erythrosora
Spinning Gum Eucalyptus perriniana
Spinning Gum Eucalyptus perriniana

To maintain these leaves which are centered on the stem, this variety of Eucalyptus must be pollarded to its base every year. This is because the leaves are characteristic of a juvenile Spinning Gum Eucalyptus perriniana, and the adult leaves are long, drooping and sickle shaped.

Fuschia Fuschia sp,
Bunny Tail Lagorus ovatus

Cowslip Primula veris
Ragged Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi
Turkish Sage Phlomis russeliana

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A botanical excursion to Fulbourn Fen

On 29th June, I went to Fulbourn Fen to look for Orchids. Although this Fen is currently owned by the Wildlife Trust, it previously supported the large Dunmowes Manor in the Medieval period. This manor had a moat, used either for defence, keeping out wild animals, or the projection of high status. The Fen is now home to a high diversity of plants because the grassland on this site remains unimproved by fertilisers, pesticides or livestock.

Woodruff Galium odoratum
The entrance to the site is through some woodland, where abundant Woodruff Galium odoratum grew. Woodruff is an ancient woodland species (see Rose, 1999 for comprehensive lists), and so this piece of woodland is likely to have been growing here for at least 400 years. However, the presence of multiple ancient woodland indicators are generally required to unequivocally classify a habitat as ancient woodland. Woodruff can be identified by its whorls of 6-8 elliptical-lanceolate (lance-like) leaves growing outwards from a single point on its stem. These leaves have pointed tips, as shown in the photograph to the right, and are 25-40mm in length. When the leaves are bruised they release a vanilla scent, and when mature, the plant is between 15 and 45cm in height.

Field Scabious Knautia arvensis
The path then spilled out into a calcareous grassland, indicated to by the abundant Field Scabious Knautia arvensis. Its distinctive lilac flower make it a conspicuous member of calcareous grassland communities. The leaves on its stem usually unlobed but sometimes have blunt lobes. Its leaves are opposite and coarsely hairy. Additionally its stem is densely covered in hairs, as shown in the photograph to the right.

Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria
Also in this grassland was frequent Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria. Its leaves which are shown in the photograph to the right, are divided into 2-5 pairs of main leaflets, with tiny leaflets of 1-4mm length between these. Its leaf stalks smell strongly of germolene antiseptic creme when freshly broken. The flowers of Meadowsweet are creme in colour and arranged in a similar way to umbellifers (plants from the carrot family), despite this species being from the Rose family. This herbaceous perennial grows best in damp ditches, meadows and riverbanks.

Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria flower

Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium also grew in this calcareous grassland. It has distinctive basal leaves, which are once-pinnate (i.e. each leaf is divided just once into opposite leaf lobes and each lobe is not divided a second time to contain another set of opposite lobes) as shown in the photograph below. Hogweed is roughly hairy on its stems and produces white or pinkish umbel flowers. This species is commonly found growing on  roadsides, hedgebanks, grasslands and woodlands.

Another species, Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum, appears similar to Hogweed apart from being larger, growing to 3m in height, and having red spots on its hairy stems. However, Giant Hogweed is highly invasive and can cause rashes and blistering, by causing the skin to become overly sensitive to UV rays, so should be avoided. If found growing, Giant Hogweed should be removed by an invasive species specialist, as it is listed as an invasive non-native species under Section 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).

Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium

White Bryony Bryonia alba
After going on up to Fleam Dyke, an enbankment previously used to divide two separate Anglo-Saxon territories, I discovered numberous climbers amidst the hedgerow. The first I noticed was White Bryony Bryonia alba which has bristly stems which are angled as shown in the photograph to the right. This perennial has spirally-coiled tendrils, which are used to grip on things to help the species climb, growing from the side of its leaf stalks. The leaves of White Bryony are palmately lobed (i.e. five lobes like the palm of  hand). Its flowers are pale green, with both male and female parts. The male flowers have 5 sepals as shown in the photograph below, however the female parts of the flower are oval, dark green and have 3 stigmas (the extensions which trap pollen and stimulate them to germinate). This species is typically found on hedgebanks, scrub, the edges of woodland and appreciates calcareous soils.

Traveller's Joy Clematis vitalba
The next climber I spotted was Traveller's Joy Clematis vitalba. As shown in the photograph to the right, the compound leaves are arranged in pairs of opposite leaflets, which are narrow, oval and pointed. The leaves can be toothed, although those in the photograph are not extensively so. The flowers are fragrant and have 4 creme-green sepals (the whorl of floral leaves below the petals), with hairs on their upper and lower sides. The flower supports many long stamens from its centre, and often the petals drop, so that the flower is comprised primarily of these extensions. Although originally introduced to the UK as a garden plant, its seeds soon escaped the gardens and now this species is found frequently on chalk and limestone soils.

Black Bryony Tamus communis
Further along the embankment I found frequent Black Bryony Tamus communis. This perennial climber twines clockwise and lacks the tendrils of White Bryony. Its leaves also differ from White Bryony; the leaves of Black Bryony are cordate (i.e. with a heart shaped base), pointed, and very glossy as shown in the photograph below. The flowers of Black Bryony are yellow-green in colour, bell-shaped and have 6 perianth lobes (perianth being the collective term for sepal and petal segments, when they are indistinguishable in colour and form). The male parts of its flower are on stalks and the female parts are more or less stalkless. Black Bryony produces poisonous red berries, so do not go near it if foraging. It has also been introduced to the UK, and is typically found in open woodlands, scrub, hedgebanks, particularly on calcareous soil.

Then finally, after arriving at the Marshy part of the grassland, there were several Orchids. At this stage in late June, most of them, such as the Southern Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa and Early-purple Orchid Orchis mascula had gone over, and their flowers had wilted. However, some Bee Orchids Ophrys apifera, were still in vibrant flower. This species produces large several conspicuous flowers per plant, positioned up the stem. The sepals of its flowers are rosy pink to whiteish and slightly pointed, as shown in the photograph below. The lip of its flowers is reminiscent of a bee, being furry and rich-brown in colour, giving this species its common name. A pale-yellow U or W-shaped area is superimposed onto the rich-brown lip. The Bee Orchid grows to 10-40cm in height, with grey-green leaves which are elliptical-oblong in shape. Bee orchids tend to grow on calcareous grasslands, dunes, disturbed ground and quarries, and are an attractive botanical addition to all habitats in which it is present.
Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera
This was a species-rich grassland, and the careful management by the Cambridge Wildlife Trust made sure that it lacked improvements through fertilisers, pesticides and the excrement of grazing livestock which would alter the soil and act to reduce botanical diversity. The protection of some areas from such 'improvement' is vital in conserving some species, which only grow in unimproved grassland.

Rose, F., 1999. Indicators of ancient woodland: the use of vascular plants in
evaluating ancient woods for nature conservation. British Wildlife. 241–251.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Grass identification in Epping Forest

On the 7th and 8th June, the Field Studies council led a grass, sedges and rushes identification course in Epping forest, on the outskirts of London, next to the M25. It was an informative couple of days, and we documented some specimens to enable future reference to their characteristics. Grasses have economic importance in the production of grain, are often abundant in habitats, and can be used as habitat indicators. Thus, learning how to identify them is worthwhile.

Wavy Hair-grass, Deschampsia flexuosa
Wavy Hair-grass is indicative of acid grassland. It grows to between 20 and 45cm tall, and has long pointed ligules (ligules are membranous, or sometimes hairy, barriers between the leaf blade and the stem, which prevent water running into the leaf sheath and causing them to rot). The leaves are very thin and wiry, as shown in the photograph below, which helps distinguish it from Tufted hair grass, Deschampsia cespitosa. 
Wiry leaf blade of Wavy Hair-grass, Deschampsia flexuosa 

Tufted Hair-grass, Deschampsia cespitosa 
Tufted Hair-grass is found on more neutral soils than Wavy Hair-grass and can also grow taller, to between 20 and 120cm. Despite both plant species having long pointed ligules, these two Hair-grass species can be told apart by their leaves. Tufted hair grass has wider leaf blades (2-5mm) than the needle-like leaves of Wavy Hair-grass.
Flower head of Tufted Hair-grass, Deschampsia cespitosa
Long, pointed ligule of Tufted Hair-grass, Deschampsia cespitosa.
Note the wider leaf blade than Wavy Hair-grass
Sheep's Fescue, Festuca ovina
Sheep's Fescue is found on both calcareous and acid soils. The spikelets (small, subunits of a grass flower) of Fescue species, are distinctive, in that they are long, slender and pointed. One of the most reliable ways to tell Sheep's Fescue from Red Fescue, is that Sheep's Fescue plants are not linked by below-ground rhizomes or above-ground runners. 
Flower head of Sheep's Fescue, Festuca ovina

False Oat-grass, Arrhenatherum elatius 
False Oat-grass is indicative of neutral grassland, and is widespread, flowering in June and July. The spikelets are 7-10mm long, and one conspicuous, bent awn (stiff, bristle-like projection from a spikelet), of 10-20mm length, protrudes from the lower lemma. The lemma are a pair of scales that enclose the floret, yet another pair of scales, called the palea, are located within the lemma, also enclosing the floret. The upper lemma of False Oat-grass does not typically have an awn, and so there is generally just one awn, on False Oat-grass spikelets, as shown in the photograph below. False Oat-grass can grow tall, between 50-150cm in height at reproductive maturity. Each spikelet contains just 2 florets (small, individual parts of a flower).

 Spikelets of False Oat-grass, Arrhenatherum elatius
Meadow Foxtail, Alopecurus pratensis 
Meadow Foxtail is also indicative of neutral grassland. It appreciates ancient grasslands, or rich, moist soil. It has a dense flower head, so that spikelets are very close together, and this flower head typically tapers slightly to its tip. The photograph below shows that at the correct developmental stage, the plant is covered in red-brown 'anthers', which contain the pollen essential to pollinate the stigmas of a plant, before seeds can be produced. As shown in the lower picture, its ligules are short and truncate, between 1-2mm in length.
Flower head of Meadow Foxtail, Alopecurus pratensis
Short, truncate ligule of Meadow Foxtail, Alopecurus pratensis

Yorkshire Fog, Holcus lanatus 
Yorkshire Fog is typically found on neutral and improved grassland. Yorkshire Fog is easy to identify both in and out of flower. Its vegetative structures are covered in dense white hairs, depicted in the photograph to the right, and thus its stems and leaves feel furry to the touch. Other indicators of neutral grassland include Cock's foot, Dactylis glomerata and Crested dog's tail, Cynosurus cristatus.

Hairy stem and leaves of Yorkshire fog, Holcus lanatus

Perennial Rye-grass, Lolium perenne 
Perennial Rye-grass is indicative of improved, or amenity grassland. Improved grassland has been altered in terms of its species composition from unimproved grassland, by the application of fertilisers or herbicides or even high densities of grazing. Amenity grassland is regularly mown to be used as a park or football field. Perennial Rye-grass is easy to identify when in flower, because the spikelets are alternately positioned up the stem. Couch Grass, Elymus repens also has alternately arranged spikelets. However, the spikelets of Perennial Rye-grass are positioned with their narrowest side to the rachis of the flower head, and the spikelets of Couch Grass, as shown in the picture below, can be distinguished from Perennial Rye-grass by being fixed by their broadest side onto the rachis.
Perennial Rye-grass, Lolium perenne
Couch GrassElymus repens assessed from couch

Red Fescue, Festuca rubra 
Red Fescue is also indicative of improved grassland. As mentioned earlier, its confusion with Sheep's Fescue, can be avoided by looking to see if plant individuals are joined by stolons or rhizomes. Red Fescue has below-ground rhizomes or above-ground runners between plants, whereas Sheep's Fescue plants are not linked. 

Barren Brome, Bromus sterilis
Barren Brome is common in disturbed sites, such as by footpaths. It has a distinctive loose and drooping flower head, with V-shaped spikelets, that are 40-60mm in length. The leaf blades and sheaths are both hairy. However, the stems are hairless, so can be separated from Yorkshire Fog, which has entirely hairy leaves and stems.
Loose and drooping flower head of Barren Brome, Bromus sterilis 
Wall Barley, Hordeum murinum
Wall Barley is another species abundant in disturbed sites, such as on waysides or next to buildings. All True Barleys have spikelets arranged in two clusters of three, one on each side of the flower head. The flower head is covered in tough spikey awns, different to Meadow Barley, Hordeum secalinum and Sea Barley, Hordeum marinum, which have soft awns, but similarly to rare alien, Mediterranean Barley, Hordeum leporinum. Wall Barley can also be distinguished from other native forms of True Barleys, because its glumes (the pair of scales that enclose the entire spikelet - not just the floret as the lemma and palea do) have hairy edges towards their base.
Flower head of Wall Barley, Hordeum murinum

Timothy, Phleum pratense
Timothy, also known as Cat's tail, is often found in field margins, prone to disturbance in the form of trampling. Timothy has a cylindrical flower head, to 15cm in length. The photograph below shows that the spikelets are densely packed into the flower head. Its leaves are hairless, and both the stem and leaves are smooth to the touch. The ligules of Timothy are blunt, to 6mm in length. Additionally, the lowest three internodes (sections of stem between nodes) are short, and bulbous.
Dense flower head of Timothy, Phleum pratense
Blunt ligules of Timothy, Phleum pratense

Creeping Soft-grass, Holcus mollis 
Creeping Soft-grass is often found in disturbed habitats, as well as in meadows, and is in the same genus as Yorkshire Fog. Instead of being completely downy like Yorkshire Fog, it has 'hairy knees', in that its nodes (the pronounced points on the stem where a leaf is attached) are hairy, as shown in the photograph below. Its ligules are reasonably blunt, but longer than those of Yorkshire fog.
The 'hairy knees' of Creeping Soft-grass, Holcus mollis
Soft Brome, Bromus hordeaceus
Soft Brome is the most common form of Brome in UK. Frequently found on waste ground, meadows and arable fields, Soft Brome grows to 10-100cm. It has compact, oval spikelets, characteristic to Brome species, which in this species are typically covered in soft bristles. Unlike the drooping flower head of Barren Brome, its flower head is erect, yet still nods slightly in the wind. Soft Brome flowers between June-August.

Flower Head of Soft Brome, Bromus hordeaceus
Rough Meadow-grass, Poa trivialis 
Rough Meadow-grass is another species that can be identified through touch. When the plant is flowering, its leaf sheaths become very coarse, as its name suggests. Additionally, its spikelets are oval shaped, characteristic of all Meadow-grass species. The ligules of Rough Meadow-grass are long (between 4-10mm) pointed and membranous, as shown in the lower of the two photographs. Rough Meadow-grass is another plant which can propagate vegetatively, through over-ground stolons (i.e. runners). It is common on meadows and pastures or cultivated land.
The oval spikelets of Rough Meadow-grass, Poa trivialis
Long, pointed ligule of Rough Meadow-Grass, Poa trivialis
Grass species can be difficult to identify, but whilst in flower at this time of the year, identification is readily achievable. Although there is a conception that grasses all look the same, it is important to take away from this, that there are morphological differences between species which enable them to be clearly distinguished from each other. They are so abundant in most habitats, that getting your eye in to them, unlocks a whole new world at our feet.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Newquay roadside and Trelissick gardens

Whilst on holiday in Cornwall, I was staying in Newquay. 

Tree-mallow, Lavatera arborea
Tree-mallow, Lavatera arborea
Tree-mallow, Lavatera arborea  is pictured below, growing alongside a tarmac track. This shrub-like biennial produces leaves with 5-7 rounded-lobes, spreading from their centre like fingers on a hand. This analogy assists with remembering that leaf lobes which radiate from their centre are classified as 'palmate' lobes. The leaves of Tree-mallow are folded in a similar way to a fan, and are velvety to the touch because of being covered by soft hairs. 

As the top photograph shows, Tree-mallow has a stout, woody stem. This species does produce purple-pink flowers of 3-5cm length, but not until late April during the second year of its growth. The distribution of tree-mallow is limited to coastal regions up to 150m above sea level, and is typically found growing on waste ground, such as this track-side site. 

Silverweed, Potentilla anserina
Silverweed, Potentilla anserina is a perennial species with pinnate (oppositely arranged) leaflets. Its toothed leaflets are distinctively silvery-green in colour, with a conspicuous silver-white colour on their underside. As with Tree-mallow, Silverweed also has downy leaves (i.e. they are covered in soft, fine hairs), which causes them to be silky to the touch. In this case, these hairs also give the leaves their silvery sheen. When in flower, Silverweed produces 5-petalled yellow flowers. This species grows best on neutral soil in open grassland, wasteground and roadsides.

Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum
Wild teasel, Dipsacus fullonum shown on the right, has concave leaves which form a basal rosette. Its leaves are situated on short stalks and water is able to pool in a 'cup' where they all meet. When this biennial herb produces its prickly stalk in the second (and last) year of growth, it grows up to 2m in height. The flower of teasel may appear similar to that of a thistle, but its leaves lack such spiky edges. Instead, teasel's leaves have swollen prickles on their upperside, and along the midrib of their underside. This species grows primarily on dry soils in lowlands that are neutral to basic. It is commonplace alongside roads, woodland and fields, particularly those prone to human disturbance.

Ivy-leaved speedwell, Veronica hederifolia
This intriguing verge-side habitat also supported several Ivy-leaved speedwell, Veronica hederifolia individuals. This annual has palmately lobed leaves, which appear similar in shape to those of an ivy plant, and generally have 5 lobes. The leaves of Ivy-leaved speedwell are oppositely positioned up its stem, and at  ~1.5cm in length, are longer than the stems they are fixed on. As with all speedwells, the ivy-leaved variety produces blue flowers. The stem and leaves are also profously hairy, as shown in the photograph to the right. Ivy-leaved speedwell is most commonly found on waste ground, open woodland and along the edge of hedgerows.
Ivy-leaved toadflax, Cymbalaria muralis
The next day, we took a daytrip to Trelissick gardens located on the Fal estuary. This land was owned by the National Trust and was well kept, not only hosting naturalized plants, but a vast array of natural species. On the way into the gardens, a Ivy-leaved toadflax, Cymbalaria muralis individual grew climbing up and along a stone wall, shown in the photograph to the right. This hairless perennial has leaves of ~2.5cm length, which are situated on long stems. Similarly to ivy-leaved speedwell, the palmately-lobed leaves of ivy-leaved toadflax resemble those of ivy, as their common names suggest. Ivy-leaved toadflax produces solitary flowers, which range from white to lilac, all the way through to violet in colour. This low growing plant is adapted to grow on shaded rocks and other sites with shallow substrate, which do not readily collect water.

Navelwort, Umbilicus rupestris
Navelwort, Umbilicus rupestris has circular leaves attached by stems from their centre. This species is aptly named after the unmistakable navel-like 'dimples' in its leaves. The evergreen leaves of this perennial are 1-7cm across and are edged by rounded teeth. To the touch, Navelwort's leaves are of fleshy-texture, and are smooth and shiny in appearance. In summer, Navelwort plants produce cream coloured flowers on a long spike. This plant often grows on shaded rocks and walls in the SW of Britain, particularly those which are neutral to acidic. It is shown in the photograph to the right growing from a moss-clad wall.

On the way out of the gardens, we passed a flower rich meadow hosting bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta,  Daisy, Bellis perennis and Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria among some naturalized plants. There were several Common dog-violet, Viola riviniana plants growing in this artificially sown sward. The leaves of Common dog-violet are situated on long stems, which support  2 narrow stipules (leaf like appendages growing at the base of the leaf stalk). This species of violet has a characteristic pale cream 'spur' jutting out from the back of its flower, as shown in the photograph below. In the wild, Common dog-violet is usually found on neutral to basic soils in woodland, scrub and short grassland.
Common dog-violetViola riviniana
Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris 
This site also accommodated an abundance of Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris plants. This erect and hairless perennial grows to 20-40cm in height and has a few alternate leaves growing from its stem. Fritillary plants also have a solitary attractive, and drooping flower. Its flower is typically checkered pink and brown-purple, yet can sometimes be entirely white, as shown in the top left of the photograph below. They are native to meadows, particularly those which become inundated during the winter months. This was the first time I had set eyes on so many Fritillaries in one place, and was certainly a reason to visit more meadows in the future. 

Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris 

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