US social scientist Kenneth Boulding : ‘If you believe exponential growth can go on in a finite world, you are either a madman or an economist’.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

30/9/10: Danson Park aliens, new plant records and fungi

There were a lot of aliens in evidence at Danson Park, Bexleyheath, this afternoon. Apart from the Canada Geese, Ring-necked Parakeets and Grey Squirrels (slightly fewer after a dog-owner sat impassively on a bench while her mutts chased and killed one), there were a pair of Egyptian Geese which are turning up in parks all over London (but this was my first record of the species in Bexley Borough - no doubt it's been 'clocked' by serious local Twitchers already, however), a bevvy of Norway Maple seedlings, lots of Turkey Oak saplings seeded from the mature specimens and various clumps of Michaelmas Daisies.

A pair of Egyptian Geese (Alopochen aegyptiacus), with Danson Mansion in the background. The natural range of the species is mainly the Nile Valley and south of the Sahara.

In the Old English Garden there was the alien Narrow-leaved Ragwort, which is now all over the north of the Borough, at least from Erith to Belvedere/Abbey Wood, and which top botanist from the BMNH Mark Spencer says will probably be a major invasive nuisance in 20 years. In the 'potager' (mixed flower and vegetable) border of the OEG were some 8 plants of Fool's Parsley. I've only found it in 4 other places in London so far (of which 3 are in Bexley), and only a single plant in each case.

To the north west of the Mansion, where a lot of grit has been spread on the ground, both Swine Cress and Lesser Swine Cress were found, along with a lone Garden Radish.

Other new plant records for me from the Park (all on the sandy mounds/bare ground on the mini golf course near the Crook Log entrance) included Parsley Piert, Weld, a single Common Stork's-bill and 14 plants of Annual Nettle (Urtica urens), the latter probably under-recorded as it looks similar to seedlings of the usual large perennial one, but now I've got my eye in for it, I still think it's uncommon in Bexley - and this is only the third place I've found it in the Borough.

Annual Nettle (Urtica urens), Danson Park mini golf course

There were also several species of fungi out, but I'm no good on ID-ing these so readers will just have to enjoy the pictures without knowing what they are (but if you do, please leave comments .......)

Various Fungi at Danson Park

Sunday, 26 September 2010

26/9/10: Crouch End turns up 'new' Impatiens

Another Mark Spencer-led LNHS meeting to record less intensively botanised parts of the capital. Quite a large group of people met at Highgate station, some of whom were on a 'breakaway' trip to look for fungi.

View from a small park off Shepherd's Hill, Highgate, looking north. Alexandra Palace in the distance on the right.

The park looked like it had had a couple of patches sown with a meadow mix of some sort, as Meadow Cranesbill (Geranium pratense) and other unexpected species were present.

I didn't keep a full set of the day's records myself, instead contributing to the filling in of a pre-prepared tick-box list of species.

Notable was the finding of escaped Impatiens balfourii (a Himalayan annual variously known as Balfour's Touch-me-not, Poor Man's Orchid, and Kashmir Balsam), which Mark said was a new record for Middlesex.

A few of us stayed on in the rain to have a quick look at a coppiced area in Highgate Wood, where Himalayan Honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosana) was a non-native occurrence, and Broad-leaved Helleborine was seen.

26/9/10: Barnehust Bush Vetch

The west end of Barnehurst station's 'down' (Dartford-bound) platform is bathed in September sun. Oak and Silver Birch in evidence.

Bush Vetch (Vicia sepium) in flower on the 'up' (London-bound) platform.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

25/9/10: Hounslow - Heath, and I find a very rare London plant in the town centre

London Natural History Society visit to Hounslow Heath for insects, though I was hoping to see some Adders.

We found a few interesting specimens, such as Gargara genistae:

There were some butterflies about. I saw 2 Meadow Browns, there were also Speckled Woods and a number of Small Coppers - their larval food plant, Sheep's Sorrel, was in evidence. A Sparrowhawk was seen overhead. I spotted a couple of Common Lizards in rather long grass.

Besides the Heather and Gorse. there was a large patch of Chinese Mugwort (Artemisia verlotiorum), a first for me.

As it happened, I got temporarily detached from the other 4 attendees, and during this time came across a local person who is keen on the snakes. He showed me what he thought was the best location and we did see a small Adder, probably 2 years old, even though the weather had become unfavourable.

Better was yet to come, as on the way back to a railway station I found several Hoary Cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea) by a car park just off the Staines Rd near Hounslow town centre. There were only 7 bona fide records in Burton's 'Flora of the London area' based on 1966-1976 records, and some of these were outside what is (now) the Greater London Authority boundary. It was said to be declining then. I showed the Natural History Museum's Mark Spencer (who is working on a new London Flora) a small sample at the LNHS meeting the next day, and he was very pleased because of the rarity and the fact it's within his own recording patch. He has subsequently confirmed that my identification is correct and it's not some similar foreign species I didn't know about. No photos I'm afraid, as it's only the second time I've seen the species, and it hadn't really clicked what it was until I got home and looked it up in my ID book.

Monday, 20 September 2010

2/9 - 20/9/10: Barnehurst garden wildlife round-up

More records from my north Barnehurst garden. Bit of an upturn in moth species at the windows after dark lately. Plus second year of Southern Oak Bush Cricket records - a flightless species that is somehow spreading considerably.

2/9 :-

* Southern Oak Bush Cricket in a potted Rush plant

3/9 :-

* Slow Worm under black plastic bag on pile of dry vegetation for the first time in a few checks over the summer months
* 5 Long-tailed Tits foraging
* Male Southern Oak Bush Cricket nymph on Euonymus japonicus hedge after dark
* A rather worn and rather 'late' Wormwood Pug moth (I've got some seed-raised Wormwood plants in pots in the garden ....)
* 1 x Vine's Rustic moth
* 1 x male Willow Beauty moth

4/9 :-

* 1 x male Orange Swift moth

5/9 :-

* Female Southern Oak Bush cricket on Euonymus japonicus hedge after dark

Female Southern Oak Bush cricket (2009 photograph)

10/9 :-

* 1 x fresh Speckled Wood butterfly
* An adult Slow Worm on each of the two plastic-bag-covered piles of dry vegetation
* Field Mouse in compost heap

12/9 :-

* 1 x Blood-vein moth
* 1 x Square Spot Rustic moth

13/9 :-

* A Green Shieldbug nymph

15/9 :-

* Both Slow Worms under the same bag (above photo)
* 2 Wood Pigeons

16/9 :-

* An Elephant Hawk moth caterpillar on the ground, seeking a pupation site

20/9 :-

* 1 x Speckled Wood buttefly (above - basking on the arm of a plastic garden chair)
* 1 x Small White butterfly

Saturday, 18 September 2010

18/9/10: 'The Old Orchard' south of Hall Place, east of the A2

Another visit to the scrubland south of the railway track that runs past Hall Place, on some maps called the 'Old Orchard'. I spent a bit of time here watching the trains go by when I was a teenager. In those days (the mid 70s) people used to dig here for old bottles, so I presume it was a Victorian rubbish dump. Now it has a diverse - if somewhat eclectic - flora with large bushes, medium-sized trees and some areas of thin soil, sparse vegetation and rubble, backed by oak woodland on what I assume is the southern valley side of the River Cray floodplain.

Crayford 'Old Orchard' scrubland, looking south-east to the oak-covered ridge

Noticeable today - having 'clocked' it for the first time on a recent LNHS trip to Bookham - was a lot of Red Bartsia, a plant I've not found in Bexley Borough before. There were still a few flowers hanging on.

There were Common Toadflax, a few pale cream Lucerne x Sickle Medick hybrids, two Asparagus, four Lesser Swine Cress, Hop and a lot of Common St. John's-wort, the latter in flower. A single, 'dwarfed' plant of Upright Hedge Parsley was found in a rabbit-grazed patch. Other singletons were a Hoary Ragwort and a Vervain. A few Marjoram plants were still in bloom, both pale purple-violet and white variants. Geranium rotundifolium was noted, and several Geranium pyrenaicum occurred along the track between the railway and pumping station towards Crayford. Shrubs included a Spindle, Dogwood and Sloe. Field Maple was also present. A few clusters of fungi were also noted.

Common Toadflax on a mound, looking north to the ridge atop Gravel Hill on the horizon

Subtle colours of some fungal fruiting bodies

Deciding to explore more of the site than previously, I eventually headed up a track at the west end of the site, parallel to the A2 Rochester Way (which veers slightly more westward as the Dartford by-pass), which eventually led to a scrappy industrial site at the southern end of the remains of the original Rochester Way. A large White Poplar had fallen across the track, which was bordered on each side by non-native, planted shrubs and trees - including saplings of False Acacia and Tree of Heaven.

Fallen White Poplar with attractive lenticel pattern on the trunk

Towards the industrial estate I found some open ground smothered in Common Stork's-bill. There were also several Wild Parsnip and some Soapwort. Just before the estate were a couple of suspected non-native grasses and, the the northern end of the old Rochester Way, some Ribbed Melilot.

Looking rather like reed Canary Grass, the flowers of this largish unidentified species were far spikier

Round the corner, by the road into the industrial area, were Small Ranunculus moth caterpillars on Prickly Lettuce.

By poking about in an unpromising-looking, shady, shallow sandy pit where rubble etc. had been dumped some time ago, I found a single plant of Stone Parsley which I believe to be uncommon in the Borough, also Greater Celandine and the herbs Spearmint, Lemon Balm and Feverfew.

Further on was a larger, open sandpit with a couple of Vervain, some Wild Carrot, a few Sheep's Sorrel and a self-sown Snowberry.

After some more persistence I came across an out-of the-way track atop a south-facing steep sandy bank, overlooking a housing estate. This had several large Broom plants on it, and most interestingly, it was smothered with Hare's-foot Clover, a definite London rarity, and also lots of mining bee nests holes. A good end to the afternoon, by which time there wasn't enough light to take a decent picture on my mobile phone camera.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

3/9 - 14/9/10: Several more Small Ranunculus moth locations

To re-cap, the Small Ranunculus moth became extinct in the UK in the early part of the 20th century but has recently been making a comeback in Kent and Essex, around the Thames. I've found several more Small Ranunculus moth locations in the last few weeks, all by checking Prickly Lettuce.

3/9 :-

* Barnehurst Station: 9 half to full-sized caterpillars on a circa 6.5' tall plant at the top of the cutting side by the Station Approach fence
* Top of Hornbeam Lane by the Red Barn pub (other side of Barnehurst station): 1 caterpillar on one 3' plant, 2 on another, none on 12 other plants
* Erith Rd, bottom of the hill from North Heath: 1 caterpillar on a single plant by the 'garden gate' of a private dwelling
* Erith Rd, top of the hill towards North Heath: several plants, two with caterpillars, of which there were 3 in total
* Erith Rd, on 'the flat' towards North Heath: single plant at the edge of a front garden, 1 caterpillar

5/9 :-

* Colindale Avenue, Barnet, nearly opposite Colindale tube station: 3 caterpillars on plants at the edge of a field
* Slade Green railway station, grassy verge at rear of 'down' platform: several Prickly Lettuce but only 1 caterpillar found

7/9 :-

* St. Paulinus Churchyard, Perry St., Crayford: 2 plants. 9 caterpillars (8 of which rather small) on one, 4 large and 1 smallish on the other
* Crayford, Maxim Rd., by River Cray: Several tall plants. 10 caterpillars on 6 plants, the most being 4 on one plant

14/9 : -

* Kidbrooke, Birdbrook Rd.: Several large plants ('going over') outside the gate of the nature reserve, just one smallish caterpillar

14/9/10: 'Moonlighting' in Kidbrooke

I'm always happy to do hands-on conservation work outside of the 'Bexley Borough line', especially when it involves a reptile-and-amphibian-rich site like the Birdbrook Nature Reserve in Kidbrooke (London Borough of Greenwich) and is only a short ride down the railway line from Barnehurst.

This interesting plot of land shows remnants of past industrial use in bits of concrete path and various cultivated plants, such as Mediterranean Broom and a collection of Sedum species. On what is a damp site in parts, with some sort of spring or drainage pipe coming in from the west end, there was a varied flora including my third London record of Crown Vetch, also Purple Loosestrife, Sorrel and Wild Carrot.

The tasks at hand, organised by Froglife, were deepening a pond on heavy clay, which occupied most of the volunteers, and restoring a bank back to its formerly excellent status for reptile basking by cutting down the thicket of bramble now enveloping it.

General view of part of Birdbrook Nature Reserve, looking south-east

Yours truly (right) posing with trusty slasher, and a London Wildlife Trust worker, after clearing a reptile basking bank of bramble top growth (photo by Sivi Sivanesen, Froglife).

I also thinned out a stooled Sycamore on the right to let in some evening sun from the west, whilst leaving enough stems to maintain an enclosed feel to the site and shelter from northerly breezes once the foliage thickens out again next year.

The adjoining path back to the railway station sported a number of species frequent in this part of London, including Geranium pyrenaicum and Spotted Medick, along with the fine fungus pictured below .......

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

7/9/10: Gorilla conservation: join me sponsoring Miriam for 7K run

Miriam Mesa, a fellow London Natural History Society member, is running 7km (4.3 miles) in central London on 26th September in aid of Gorilla conservation, including projects that help improve local people's standard of living in ways that reduce their impact on Gorilla habitat.

Miriam, who will be running in a Gorilla suit, hopes to raise £400, and is now just over half way to meeting her target. If you would like to sponsor her please go to

where you can make a donation on-line and get more details.


Tuesday, 7 September 2010

7/9/10: More from Barnehurst and Cray valley - with Lizards and new TRW invert records

A sunny morning as I set off for more volunteering work on the River Cray.

Breasting the hill on Barnehurst Golf Course there were a lot of Roesel's Bush Crickets buzzing in the grass at the margin of the 'rough' (wildlife area). A quick search yielded a 'visual' on one specimen just to be sure. A great view of a Jay carrying an acorn in its mouth was had on the eastern margin of this patch. A Chiffchaff was heard calling from the mature Poplars here.

Pellitory-of-the-wall living up to its name at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford

An 'escaped' Antirrhinum was also in growing out from the wall here

By the Cray along footpath 106 were Trifid Bur-marigold and various 'escapees' such as single plants of Wheat, Oats (presumably from bird seed) and a Hollyhock.

Down at the Thames Road Wetland (TRW) one of the self-appointed 'Conservation Grazing Managers' had reappeared, and was happy to follow me around the east end of the site - which is cut off from the rest by the River Wansunt and a short stretch of barbed wire 'fence' - but he wasn't quite trusting enough to let me get the punk 'bling' of Burdock seeds out of his mane and tail.

The inquisitive TRW 'Conservation Grazing Manager' sports a mane full of Burdock seed heads

Here on the east side of the Wansunt I added another two species to the TRW tally, a female Wasp Spider in her web, and Long-winged Conehead Crickets at the margins of a Reedmace bed.

Female Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi), and her shadow, on the east bank of the Wansunt, at TRW, in the late afternoon sun

Elsewhere in the valley of the Cray today, a number of Common Lizards were seen basking on various bits of 'rubbish'.

Three adult Common Lizards bask together on a discarded black plastic bin

A juvenile makes use of the thermal properties of an old tyre

Sunday, 5 September 2010

5/9/10: Barnet botanising - checking out Colindale captures (un)Common Calamint

An LNHS meeting in Colindale, London Borough of Barnet, led by BMNH botanist Mark Spencer.

Mark is leading on the new Flora of London project (the last ran from 1966 to 1976), and the purpose of the visit was to get more records from a poorly-studied area that is within his own recording patch.

There was quite a big turnout, and by doing my usual thing of hanging off the back and side of the main group I found quite a few of the more interesting things that might otherwise have been missed including Stone Parsley (Sison amomum), Slender Trefoil (Trifolium micranthum) and Common Stork's-bill. Also Water Soldier (though this latter will have been put in the pond in Rushgrove Park deliberately). There was what I felt to be a disproportionate amount of interest the Swine Cress (Coronopus squamatus) I discovered hidden under some overhanging branches here - but apparently it's infrequent in north London.

Mark himself was excited by the Common Calamint (Clinopodium ascendens) I spotted in a front lawn on Colindeep Rd., because he says it's very uncommon in this part of London that was Middlesex, and various members started taking photos of it (luckily the residents didn't come out to ask what on earth was going on ....).

Later I went up to Edgware and Burnt Oak on my own and found a young Milk Thistle outside Burnt Oak Library in what appeared to be recently (re-)sown grass and a Wall Rue fern (Asplenium ruta-muraria) in the Watling Rd. railway bridge brickwork (pictures below).

There was a Little Egret in the Silk Stream near the Colindeep Road bridge, and a Long-winged Conehead cricket in Rushgrove Park.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

1/9/10: Along the Cray and to the Wetland

An adult Swan with 6 Cygnets was on the river behind the houses on Barnes Cray Road, presumably the female as the male died of an infection a while ago.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker was sat calling from right at the top of a tall garden conifer near the Riverkeeper's yard on Footpath 106. A Dock Squashbug and a Speckled Bush Cricket were in the yard. A Common Blue butterfly was feeding on a Common Ragwort on the riverbank opposite the gate.

A male Migrant Hawker was patrolling FP106 in an open area where a path goes off to Crayford Way. Several Trifid Bur-marigold plants were noted at the water's edge.

Several Common Darter Dragonflies, a couple of Migrant Hawkers and a Blue-tailed Damselfly were seen along By-way 105 and a Roesel's Bush Cricket was heard then found.

A Red Admiral butterfly was in the Pallet Yard south of Thames Rd Wetland.

In the bowl of the Wetland several matt black caterpillars were at the tops of the stems of what I think is Hoary Mustard, where a few flowers were still in bloom.

24/8 - 1/9/10: Recent run of moths, several Small Ranunculus sites

Despite, or maybe because of the recent cooler, wetter weather, there has been an upturn in the number of moths at the lounge window after dark.

24/8 - These two largish Noctuids were at the window. Look like they may be the same species, but I have been unable to identify them from my ID book ....

25/8 - A Small Dusty Wave indoors. This Willow Beauty at the window after dark ....

26/8 - A Vine's Rustic at the window after dark.

30/8 - A Male Orange Swift ditto

1/9 - Small Ranunculus moth caterpillar hunting has turned productive. 4 lots of caterpillars were found on Prickly Lettuce in 3 disjunct locations today. The largest number were in the otherwise rather bare surroundings of the Cray Riverkeeper Volunteers yard by Footpath 106 behind Crayford Way, with 11 on one plant and 2 on another. There was a single caterpillar further along the riverbank towards Crayford town centre. 2 were on the tallest of several Prickly Lettuce in a shrub bed at the junction of Iron Mill Lane and Thames Road. 4 more were on a circa 4' tall specimen on the demolition site where until recently stood 'The Harrow' pub on Northend Rd.

There were several 20mm long matt black caterpillars at tops of Hoary Mustard flowering stems at Thames Rd Wetland, occuring singly where there were still flowers open at shoot tips. These have yet to be identified.