Perfoliate alexanders

Early on in lockdown a lady phoned to ask if I could help to identify a plant from some photos. I recognised the odd-looking yellow-green umbellifers as perfoliate alexanders (spelled here with a low case A despite the name coming from the Egyptian port of Alexandria).
Perfoliate alexanders is a flower I hadn’t seen in the form shown here, though it is similar to a flower I know from Crete. More of that later.
The photos had been taken by Roger Jones, and I know Roger & Jenny well. They live not far away and often come on the guided walks at NWT Thorpe Marshes, contributing their knowledge and enthusiasm there and, like me, on the NWT’s blog and elsewhere.
Roger had photographed the perfoliate alexanders near the River Wensum in central Norwich, not far from picturesque Pull’s Ferry. Armed with a name, he quickly tracked some other records by experience botanists in a national database. One of those noted that the plants had been removed. I expect that is because this species is clas…

Bee orchids bonus in lockdown

I admit to being less optimistic than usual when I looked for bee orchids by Big Yellow Self Storage on Canary Way in central Norwich. This year is the 12thseason that I’ve kept tabs on this at first sight rather unpromising piece of rough grassland opposite Norwich City FC’s football ground.

Pessimism soon turned to delight. There they were, and after several attempts to count them I can confirm 19 flowering spikes of bee orchids showing on 11th June 2020. That’s not as many as last year but more than the year before. My initial doubts were for two reasons. One is that I’d noticed that the grass and flowers had been cut around the end of April and again more recently. It turns out this was an oversight during lockdown. The second thing was this year’s unusual weather – the sunniest and driest May on record for England. Bee orchids can often be a bit hit and miss, and in dry conditions far fewer blooms are likely.
The original group of bee orchids were on the south side of Big Yellow’s w…

Valencia diaries, final instalment: Sunday-Tuesday, days 6-8

Sunday 15 March – hills above Pego It was a day of various stops for pottering or particular wildlife highlights, with sites for particular orchid species often prompting the locations. The first of these, in an open area having driven up through woods, was for conical orchid Orchis conica. The orchids were rather underwhelming, though the general area was so nice it hardly mattered. The supporting cast of flowers, outshining the orchid, included the silver-leafed pea argyrolobium, star-of-Bethlehem and a red-flowered houndstongue. A broomrape didn't seem to fit any in the book and Pau checked with a friend who confirmed it as Orobanche lastiquama, parasitic on rosemary, and not in the book. A trilling sound revealed at least two crested tits that fed for a while in an open tree. Beyond them, Christina picked up on two distant raptors which, as they neared us, proved to be short-toed eagles. Cynoglossum cheirifolium
We moved onto Vall de Gallinera where orchards of cherries in blosso…

Valencia diaries: Saturday, day 5

Saturday 14 March – El Fondo Natural Park Jillian left for home this morning, partly as El Fondo is a place she visits from home and on account of wider coronavirus developments. All cafes and restaurants were shut today and until further notice, a reaction to growing fears about the spread of Covid-19.
We had an early start, eight o'clock, for a longer journey today, south on the motorway past Alicante and the skyscrapers of Benidorm. Part of El Fondo that previous Honeyguide groups had visited was not open, a coronavirus casualty, so the first stop was to another new wetland called Paratje Natural Municipal del Clot de Galvany, adjacent to a typical coastal collection of apartments and houses. Winter rains meant a rich mix of ruderal plants, including dark-centred tolpis, Fagonia cretica, joint pine and bright patches of purple vipers bugloss. The first hide overlooked a lagoon that seemed to be under restoration, though it still had three cattle egrets and half a dozen wintering…

Valencia diaries: Friday, day 4

Friday 13 March - Pego Marsh and Gandia A slightly earlier (8:45) start to meet members of Pau's ringing group, Pit Roig, at Pego Marsh, as they'd set up the mist net before dawn. Driving there through dry paddy fields there were several glossy ibises with the expected little egrets, plus Audouin's gulls standing on a dry field. Juan from Pit Roig had four birds in bags, and Brian, a qualified 'C' ringer, was invited to 'process' them: check rings, measure and weigh. He started with two re-traps, a chiffchaff, released by Dawn, and a Cetti's warbler. The next bird was a new one for Brian: a female bluethroat. Another grade A bird followed: moustached warbler, a generally resident species with an important population added to by wintering birds from the Camargue. There was also a moustached warbler singing, like a slow, relaxed sedge warbler. A pale phase booted eagle flew over, a marsh harrier drifted by and the zip zip zip sound of a fan-tailed warbler …

Valencia diaries: Thursday, day 3

Thursday 12 March – Mediterranean garden and Calpe
We had a relaxed departure as our first destination wasn't open until 10 o'clock. The L'Albarda garden, not far from Dénia, is a rich man's project: an Italianate garden that failed when originally planted but now developed with Mediterranean species adapted to survive in the local climate. Our guide, Àngel, showed us around and tolerated the wildlife digressions with patience. These started as soon as we arrived with singing firecrest, blackcap and chiffchaff and displaying serins. The clipped hedges of myrtle, trained wisteria and bougainvillea and the other features were elegant, though there was more formal garden I'd prefer to see. However Àngel's assertion of the wildlife-friendly, pesticide-free management was fair. Highlights included a geranium argus around a pot of pelargoniums, Cleopatra butterflies and Iberian water frog, though these were topped by the horseshoe whip-snake that slithered through a s…

Valencia diaries: Wednesday, day 2

Wednesday 11 March - butterfly reserve and micro-reserves for flora We had a generous breakfast at the hotel at 8am and Pau joined us at nine o'clock to load up picnics, including natty little Casa Babel backpacks, and help to release the minibus from the hotel's parking compound a short distance away.
We drove to the new butterfly reserve that Pau has been instrumental in setting up, a partnership between butterfly conservation NGO Zerynthia and Gandía Council. The person from the council who was supposed to meet us didn't turn up, but it didn't matter very much. Pau’s vehicle was allowed in and the rest of us walked up the road alongside botanically rich hillsides. Those hillsides had been hit by serious fires in August 2018, and the charred remains of pines and of damaged buildings were evidence of that, though natural regeneration was in full swing. Bright blue beautiful flax and aphyllantes (sometimes called blue grass-lily) mixed with white sage-leaved cistus, spl…