• Back to those Doward whitebeams

    Had another trip back to The Doward to meet up with Dave Green to see if I could put names to some more of the rare Sorbus recently photographed. Although he now lives in Wiltshire, Dave used to live near The Doward for about twenty years and knows these woods like the back of his hand. So meeting up and revisiting many of the trees I'd already photographed plus several more that Dave had noted down the years was something of an education.

    In fact one of the species up here that Dave originally identified as having very specific characteristics back in 2011/12 has actually been named after him (not by him - that's very bad form in taxonomic spheres) & so at present we know of 59 specimens of Sorbus greenii.

    Dave confirmed my previous identification of Sorbus eminentiformis and also showed me Sorbus evansii (named after the botanist Trevor Evans who discovered it in 1983) and Sorbus herefordensis and Sorbus saxicola. These four, along with Sorbus greenii, have the majority of their world populations on The Doward; in fact greenii and herefordensis are found nowhere else in the world. The differences between many of these species (or micro-species, as some people like to refer to them) are often very subtle, as they all tend to grow in very similar locations and leaf shape and size, even on a single tree, can be quite variable. Fruit shape and size can be a useful identification marker, often the only acid tests in some cases are through genetic fingerprints and flow cytometry.

    From 2012/13 another new species was identified on The Doward - Sorbus parviloba had previously only been known on Coldwell Rocks on the Gloucestershire side of the Wye Valley, but now Dave was convinced he had found in on The Doward. After tests at Kew it would seem that some of Dave's discoveries really are parviloba, but others may be a hitherto unknown species. Maybe there's a greentwoii out there!

    Another fascinating and classically situated tree was Sorbus x tomentella (confusingly, once called Sorbus x vagenis, but latterly renamed Sorbus x decipiens) - a hybrid between Sorbus aria (common whitebeam) and Sorbus torminalis (wild service tree) - and there it was, flourishing only a few feet away from both of its two parent trees.

    I'll be heading back to The Doward in a month or so to see the trees in fruit as part of the prep. work for our proposed "Remarkable Trees of Herefordshire", but in the meantime just to say many thanks to Dave G. for his time, help and good company.

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  • At last they've arrived

    At last a couple of red admirals and a single peacock butterfly have arrived in the garden and they were greedily sipping nectar on the buddleia this morning. This one looks as if it's had a narrow escape from a bird.

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  • Greater Knapweed arrives on Bromyard Downs

    When you are very familiar with one particular site it tends to be very noticeable when changes occur, typically when a tree or plant is lost or a new plant suddenly appears. A couple of years back I discovered a single plant of monkshood growing near a car park on Bromyard Downs. How it arrived is pure speculation, but I suspect it was stuck in a car tyre, the mud on someone's boots or perhaps the coat of a dog. Anyway, it has continued to thrive, but has not yet spread.

    Walking the pups on the Downs yesterday I came upon two plants of greater knapweed - a species that I have never previously noted up there. Lots of the ordinary, smaller flowered, common knapweed, but never this plant and they were right next to footpaths so I think I would have spotted them previously. The plants were at least a quarter of a mile apart so very likely arrived separately.... but how?

    The only other colony of this plant locally, of which I'm aware, is in a floristically rich verge just up the road from our house. Twenty five years back there were a couple of large clumps of the plant and since then the seeds have been dragged over 100 yards down the lane in the backdraft of cars springing anew all along the hedges. Each year we chart their progress. The up side of continued belt tightening by local councils is that verges are much less often cut which means that wild flowers more often mature to reach the phase of producing viable seed. If that's the trade-off for unkempt verges long may it continue.

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  • Spotted flycatcher on the nest

    Our spotted flycatchers tend to move their nest sites around the garden. This pair raised their first brood in a gap in the gable end of the old brick privy. This must be the second brood I reckon and now the nest is in the hollow where a big bough snapped off one of the maritime pines last year. Was aware of them flitting in and out all day long, but they get very coy when they think you're really watching them, particularly with a camera. Waited and waited & no joy & then walking back up the garden at the end of the day just turned and there it was sitting on the nest edge.

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  • An excellent year for marbled whites

    On Bromyard Downs a couple of times this week and it's proving to be an excellent year for marbled white butterflies - don't think I've ever seen quite so many up there, with at least thirty spotted during a twenty minute walk. Strangely, this butterfly is one of the Satyridae family - commonly known as Browns - and all the rest family are some sort of brown. Lots of meadow browns and gatekeepers fluttering around, but unlike previous years haven't spotted any blues up there this year.

    Now that the knapweed is in full flower there are plenty of burnet moths around too. Their striking colours warn birds that they are distasteful... even deadly as their bodies contain hydrogen cyanide.

    Back home, and even though our buddleia is in full flower hardly a sign of any butterflies. No red admirals, no peacocks, not even any tortoiseshells, just the odd white flopping by... probably on the hunt for cabbages.

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