I've spent the last twelve days road-tripping down to the south of England and back, hence the rather lamentable absence of recent blogposts. I'm not quite back yet, though I am back in Scotland. The snow has started and last night's temperature of -2 made kipping in the car just a tad cool. Always a thrill when you wake up to find ice coating the inside of the windows... I'm currently lording it up in a swanky Premier Inn room for the night, with electricity, a toilet, a shower and a bed. Get me!
There are certain things I can't easily do from Skye, visiting Specsavers being one. So, with a heavy heart and a not inconsiderable degree of trepidation, I bravely entered the butchers (doh!) and then Specsavers to have my eyes tested for the first time since I was a schoolkid many aeons ago. I'm fed up with not being able to see small detail at close range, I've even begun to squint wiring up a plug, FFS. Anyway, eye test complete and +1.25 'reading goggles' were duly made overnight ready for collection the next day. My distance vision has grown a bit soft around the edges too, turns out both eyes are at -0.25 which is too small a prescription for contact lenses. I'm now the proud owner of a pair of 'for driving' glasses too. Pffffffft. On the other hand, I'm once again viewing everything in HD.
I caught up with a few mates in Epsom, I'm the kiddo of the gang being the youngest by three or four years. It was great to catch up, not so great being informed about the existence of a few other "hidden joys" of becoming an old duffer. Seems that worsening vision hits many men in their mid-forties. I can live with this, not happily, but I accept that your eyes just start wearing out. What I'm not so thrilled to hear is that my chest hair is doomed to turn grey and that I'll be lucky to make it through the night without needing to get up and pee at least once (probably three times) and that when I think I've finished peeing, I'll randomly dribble some more down my leg. OH SUCH JOY!!! Meh, so do I order the man-size nappies now or just get a catheter put in? Sheesh, sometimes life is harsh. It's not as though women have to go through this kind of shit when they get older......ahem.....
|Helped my mate dismantle his car - it's what we soon-to-be bedwetting, half-blind, greying chaps do for one another|
But anyway -
I also met up with a few naturalist friends (as opposed to beer buddies with bladder issues) at the wonderful Portland Bird Observatory down in Dorset. It's having a facelift at the moment, so isn't currently at its very best - though it soon will be
|I asked the gaffer if it was alright to climb the scaffold. He said no. Arse.|
I teamed up with fellow PSL nutters Kev and Debs Rylands, so funtimes were always guaranteed. We were joined by SpiderLord Matt Prince and Nicola Queen of the Lichens. We spent an amazing day down in Church Ope Cove clambering through rocks and scrutinising the soil for all manner of rare and inconspicuous lichens. I had my doubts at the beginning, but it ended up being a terrific day, even though Kev and Debs clearly couldn't take the pace - as can be seen below
|It's all too much for the Rylands as Nicola finds yet another unpronounceable lichen|
We all (well, apart from Kev) managed to find our own examples of the incredibly localised liverwort Southbya nigrella, known from 55 discrete patches amongst the rocks and in real danger of being lost beneath invading Cotoneaster scrub. Here's a poor pic I took of this absolutely miniscule wee beastie
|Southbya nigrella - it's the dark green overlapping leaves. Tiny!|
|That's me on the prayer mat, offering thanks to Pan, god of lists (pic courtesy of Debs Rylands)|
|Mitostoma chrysomelas - attempting to hide beneath a snail shell|
I also managed to finally meet up with Dorset Dave, author of DMC Journal, one of my fave blogs. We only just made it too, having already missed each other a couple of days earlier. I was throwing the stuff into the back of the car about ready to shoot off as he arrived, a close thing but great to put a face to a name at last! After waving goodbye to everyone, and to Portland itself, I headed off to Purbeck for a bit of botanising. Rue-leaved Saxifrage on a pub roof, Toothwort in a Hazel wood and Dorset Heath on a Dorset heath were all lifers for me
|Toothwort - a bizarre, chlorophyll-lacking parasite found here growing on buried Hazel roots|
With time to kill I headed up to Blashford Lakes late afternoon and found myself staring down the barrel of some kind chap's telescope and at the Thayer's Gull which turned up a few weeks back. This is an incredibly rare bird this side of the Atlantic, a real Mega in fact. Only problem is the BOU have downgraded it from full species to sub. Bastards. I didn't manage a pic, you'll just have to take my word that it was spectacular. Or you could Google an image and discover the truth for yourself...
I kipped in the car up near Staines that night and woke vaguely refreshed and cold. Still, within twenty minutes of waking, I found myself looking at this damn fine beast!
|American Horned Lark - MEGA!!!! (almost...)|
This is not a Shorelark. Well, it is a Shorelark at the moment, but hopefully not for much longer. This individual isn't of the subspecies you'd ordinarily find in Europe. This is an American race of Shorelark, or American Horned Lark as they call it out there. Genetic investigations would seem to imply that there are several species currently lumped under the heading of Shorelark/Horned Lark, so other than being a very smart bird to see it's also (someday) going to be a "new" bird for my British PSL. An armchair tick, in fact. All I know is that I've seen Eurasian Shorelarks whilst freezing my 'nads off along Norfolk beaches and now I've seen American Horned Lark whilst freezing my 'nads off along Staines Reservoir causeway. I sense a theme developing with these buggers. I make that two untickable bird lifers in two days, both utter Megas too. Bloody BOU, I ask ya...
Next, I teamed up with my ol' buddy Tony Davis and met Josie Hewitt for the first time. We had a day's worth of New Forest botanising lined up, though first port of call was the back end of a delightful housing estate in Swaythling, just on the outskirts of Southampton. Tony had done his homework well, he'd located a plant I've previously tried for without success.
|Purple Toothwort - four feet up a tree!!!|
This is the alien Purple Toothwort, long known from the riverside pathway at Monksbrook. It's a bit early yet, it will look better in another couple of weeks time, but this was the best clump we saw. More clumps were emerging through the soil (which is where I expected them to be, not up a tree!) but barely showing signs of opening up, certainly no colour yet. What a bizarre plant, even freakier than yesterday's Toothwort beneath Hazels. Good man, Tony. Next?
We sped off to a secret site in search of a secret plant, but failed. We figured that it was just a bit too early in the season. Just have to come back some other time, ideally April/May, I guess. But that won't be this year, sadly. However, Tony did pull out another botanical lifer, seen and identified from a moving car (and he was driving too!) A handy side turning allowed us to slam over and jump out to key through what, it transpires, is really quite a common tree and one I've simply overlooked for many years
|Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera - note the green twigs and the fact that it's in flower already|
I ran it through the keys to be certain, but everything pointed to Cherry Plum. There were loads of them all along the roadside verges, Tony kept saying, "oh look, there's another one..." I've just never really looked at them before, I guess. Glabrous, green young twigs, small brown scale buds, blossom appearing as the leaves burst, the early flowering...yep, definitely Cherry Plum! Bit embarrassing really, I wonder what else I've been overlooking that I should have nailed years ago? Bound to be a few.
We then spent a bit of time looking for a rare moss that grows on Beech bark, but failed to convince ourselves of finding the right stuff, before heading off to Blashford Lakes. Not for another look at the Thayer's Gull, we were after snowdrops in a churchyard.
I admit, I was a bit sceptical about ticking off churchyard snowdrops. Naturalised apparently, but still within the churchyard - hmmmm. Despite this, I soon joined Tony and Josie and began checking through the drifts of white flowers for signs of any that were different. Before too long, Tony found a clump of Greater Snowdrop, a lifer for all of us
|Greater Snowdrop - Galanthus elwesii with extra green patch on the petals|
In addition to the extra green patch midway down the inner petals (Snowdrop has a narrow green mark above the apical cleft but no other petal markings), Greater Snowdrop has huge wide glaucous leaves, over 2cm wide in fact, and broad rounded leaf tips. Whilst oohing and aahing over these, we noticed the deep green, hood-tipped leaves of another snowdrop clump nearby, also naturalised amongst the drifts of Snowdrop. This keyed straight through to Green Snowdrop - another lifer for us!
|Green Snowdrop Galanthus woronowii - note the green not glaucous foliage in the background|
We ventured off to Blashford Lakes reserve itself, being handsomely rewarded with excellent views of Bramblings at the feeders before wandering down to the river in search of whatever caught out fancy. Josie mentioned that she only had one fish on her PSL, Tony and I decided we could double that without too much effort, this being a very reliable spot for Bullheads. Tony waded in, the water never more than halfway up his wellies - when suddenly he walked off the edge of an underwater shelf and disappered knee-deep into the water, only barely keeping his balance and not falling in completely!!! One look at the shocked expression on his face and Josie and I burst out laughing, haha - so many times I've been the one falling into mud or muck or, indeed, into rivers. Now - finally - it was the mocker's turn to be mocked!
|Whoops a daisy.....Pahahahahahaaaa :D|
It's a good thing that it wasn't already a really cold day, or that Tony didn't have a spare pair of jeans or socks to change into. Coz yeah, that would have been really bad. For Tony, I mean. Oh dear.
Anyhow, eventually I stopped laughing and promised not to publish the picture (haha, as if!) and that was that. Lovely to meet Josie, she's very good at not taking the piss out of folks who fall into rivers. I could probably learn something there, but where's the fun in that?
And now I'm back up in Scotland. I have two immediate thoughts, one involves an iconic mammal that I've only seen once before. The other involves a potentially long, physical battle but would reward me with what could be Species of The Year for me. I have to be back at work after the next couple of days or so and the weather is set to close in. Hmmm, I should probably head back to the safety of Skye before it gets too bad. Probably....
There were two options for tonight's song, that I could see. So here you go, take your pick. As always, enjoy!
I have to confess, Angelo is one of the very earliest songs I can recall from my childhood (though I'd always thought it was by Abba). Hearing it now brings back a strong memory of being in my dad's Capri whilst heading up the Wolverhampton Road. Bizarre but true!