Friday, September 25, 2015

Marsh Fritillaries

Marsh Fritillary, Euphydryas aurinia

I joined other Trust members on Tuesday for Marsh Fritillary habitat and larval web monitoring at Vicarage Meadows. This threatened species had been seen for the first time in ages there during a botanical outing earlier in the year - indeed the area was thought to be too remote from other populations to support the butterfly.

The search was on for the caterpillars feeding on their staple: Devil's-bit Scabious leaves. There is plenty of that species at Vicarage meadows so it took a lot of looking and, as it turned out, the expert with us, Russel of Butterfly Conservation, Wales was the only person to find any - but the rest of us enjoyed searching!

Marsh Fritillary or Euphydryas aurinia Caterpillars on Devil's-bit Scabious leaves.

Devil's-bit Scabious, Tamaid y cythraul or Succisa pratensis

The search

We also saw:
Saw-wort, Dant y pysgodyn or Serratula tinctoria

This plant was actually in the National nature Reserve beyond Vicarage Meadows but does occur at Vicarage Meadows as well.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Two weeks out and about

I've been out on my own the last two weeks. It probably means a lower species count than when I have company but rewarding nonetheless.

Last week it was a check of a (onetime) Road Verge Nature Reserve with query Bifid Hemp-nettle, Galeopsis bifida.

It was delight to walk along and record. (Do go and see - the Brecon end of the Taff Trail where it goes onto a public road. I was passed by two cyclists, the post van and two cars in the whole 3 or 4 hours I spent there - no walkers at all !)

Just one example:
Betony, Cribau San Ffraid or Betonica officinalis

The Galeopsis was all the more common species (there was a lot):
Common Hemp-nettle, Y benboeth or Galeopsis tetrahit

But we do get the other relative mentioned above in Brecknock. There is plenty of this plant around flowering at the moment - if the DARK markings extend to the edges of the lower petal let me know!

Then on Wednesday I went to a randomly selected square on the map near Cilmery for an initial look at the plants growing there. There was plenty and some varied habitat with a common to wander around at will and plenty of species rich road and lane verges. We will be back next year to complete this survey.
Comin Cefn-poeth from the top of the land.

I love these old Silver-birch trunks with knobbly bark and lichen. There was plenty of both Downy and Silver birch here.

There was an intriguingly marked "Sulphur Spring" on the map - which I take to be this pool full of Broad-leaved Pondweed. It was surrounded by an abundant Sedge I am still pondering over (only one very dead inflorescence and it looks like C. riparia or maybe a hybrid) as well as Yellow Flag Iris and other pond edge plants.
I fancied I got a vague sulphur smell at times but maybe my reading of the map is wrong - it's often hard to know exactly where a map a label this this is referring to...

Broad-leaved Pondweed, Dyfrllys llydanddail or Potamogeton natans

The common was not overgrazed by very sturdy healthy looking sheep leaving plenty to record including abundant Cross-leaved Heath. The sheep must prefer Ling as that was only to be found lurking in the Gorse.
Cross-leaved Heath, Grug croesddail or Erica tetralix

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Ellen Hutchins

After Cwm Oergwm we decided to drive over to West Cork for the Ellen Hutchins Festival which had started the previous Sunday (with a climb of Knockboy - the highest mountain in Cork where Ellen made some of her discoveries).

But I am ahead of myself:

The festival week was celebrating the 200th anniversary of the death of Ireland’s first female botanist, and promised to ‘follow in the footsteps’ of Ellen, visiting her favourite plant hunting grounds such as Whiddy Island and Glengarriff Woods. There were also to be talks, an exhibition about her life and work, visits to her birthplace, home and burial site, and an exhibition of her artwork.

So what was the significance for me and my wife? I had been hearing about the renowned local botanist, who was born a stone's throw from the house where Barbara's parents lived, since before my general interest in science morphed into a particular fascination with botany. And the more I have learned about the story of her life the more remarkable her achievements turn out to be. The festival last week filled in a lot of detail of a fascinating story.

"Ireland's first female botanist" is an interesting statement for a start. I tried to find out how many earlier female botanists there were at all in the world and it turns out that the newly emerging science of Botany was judged (by men!) in the 16th and 17th Centuries to be a suitable pursuit for young women to take an interest in and there were therefore earlier female botanists than Ellen*, but I am sure not many of them achieved what she did. And all by the age of 29 as the plaque mounted in the old graveyard in Bantry, where she was buried, attests:

The church is ruined and burials ceased altogether in the 1980s but Garryvurcha graveyard has been recently restored from wilderness. Unfortunately the actual site where Ellen was buried is now unknown beyond being described as "outside the southern wall of the old church"**.

The plaque had been unveiled while the Brecknock Botany group was exploring Cwm Oergwm and an exhibition in Bantry library was also opened before we got there:

For much more detail than I can give here see the Ellen Hutchins website but it is important to realise that, when she was living in West Cork, communications were considerably poorer than now and she and her family were very isolated in one house of two at Ballylickey about four miles from Bantry and a mile or so from a brother living at Ardnagashel. She was introduced to botany in Dublin by a family friend and also introduced by him to James Mackay, Curator of the Botanic garden at Trinity College, Dublin. Back in Ballylickey she pursued her botanical explorations from the age of 20 until illness prevented further practical work, but not her interest in the subject, eight years later. During this time she struck up a lengthy correspondence with another botanist, Dawson Turner a botanist in Great Yarmouth. Her letters to Mackay and Turner form an invaluable resource and insight into her life and achievements.

The first event we attended took us to Ballylickey:
Eliane Zimmermann and Madeline Hutchins start the walk.

The Ouvane river from Ballylickey House grounds

Ballylickey house, birthplace of Ellen Hutchins and more recently an exclusive hotel where John Lennon and Yoko Ono stayed (amongst many others). The house design is close to the original, barring the extension to the right, but has been rebuilt after a fire since Ellen's time.

Under one of the very large old trees in the grounds being told more about Ellen's life.

An exhibition of historical documents at the end of the walk.

The next event I attended involved a ferry trip to Whiddy Island:

The hilltop fort on Whiddy as we approached and where we would later be standing.

The walk was led by Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington (former National University of Ireland, Galway botany lecturer).
Walking up from Whiddy beach towards the old fort.

View back to Ballylickey House centre right - the speedboat is apparently making for it.

The old national school on the island, still active within the memory of some participants.

Several plants that Ellen first recorded on Whiddy can still be found where she reported them (one - Dwarf-elder grows nowhere else in County Cork).

Irish Spleenwort, or Asplenium onopteris, one that hadn't been characterised in Ellen's time as different from Black Spleenwort. This was found relatively recently on Whiddy by botanists from Sherkin Island. A few of us went to seek it out after the main walk.

Next, the seashore at Ardnagashel. Ellen became a particular expert on seaweeds (an interest of Dawson Turner's) and found many new species.
Here we are being ably led by Howard Fox of the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin 

A seashore lichen on rocks. Howard showed us that nearer the water line a black lichen grew - nicknamed "Tar Lichen" and was one that had to be pointed out to be natural and NOT tar after the Whiddy disaster.
Crab-eye Lichen, Ochrolechia parella

I thought I recognised the name of this - growing abundantly on an old tree in the Ardnagashel arboretum. (And a good illustration of the need for continuity of the growth cycle in woodlands as pointed out by Howard.)

We have one (?) tree with this in Brecknock!
Oak Lungwort, Lobaria pulmonaria

And this one is an orange Lichen - different chemistry I believe:
Golden hair lichen, Teloschistes flavicans which was known as Borrera flavicans in Ellen's day.

Next we went to Glengarriff Woods and were led by Dr Fionnuala O’Neill and Clare Heardman:
- and where we very soon happened upon Tunbridge Filmy-fern, Hymenophyllum tunbrigense on a tree trunk

Tunbridge Filmy-fern, Hymenophyllum tunbrigense (photographed in 2009 at Glengarriff)

We ended the walk at the waterfall which is believed to be the one described by Ellen as a very favourite place in a letter read out by her great great grand niece.
The waterfall in Glengarriff Woods
Madeline Hutchins reading from Ellen's letter.

We missed the exhibition opening at Bantry House of her botanical illustrations so went to that for a good look round on the Monday. The drawing are both beautiful as well as scientifically detailed and accurate - invaluable in the age before photography (and botanical illustration still is important I have to add).

We bought this reproduction of her drawing of Fucus asparagoides made in 1811 which was sold to help support the festival. I trust it is OK for me to show a scan here. It is, of course copyright of the Hutchins family.

Several algae and lichens are still named after Ellen and one vascular plant (my territory) used to be: - this one:
Hutchinsia, Hornungia petraea which was known as Hutchinsia petraea so the "Common name" 'Hutchinsia' has been assigned to it by the BSBI to preserve Ellen's name - I photographed this in Bristol in 2007 - it is  a very tiny plant and hard to find!

A lovely sunset the evening before we set off for Rosslare to return.
* See Famous Female Botanists for a list of famous female botanists; four of whom did pre-date Ellen (none were Irish).
** I have made some corrections to my earlier erroneous assertion that it is not known for certain whether Ellen is buried in the churchyard. Thank you to Madeline Hutchins for putting me right on this.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Cwm Oergwm

The Brecon Beacons summits form a long ridge with steep valleys to the northeast, interspersed with long parallel spurs and four round-headed valleys or cwms; from west to east these are Cwm Sere, Cwm Cynwyn, Cwm Oergwm and Cwm Cwareli.

Cwm Oergwm (Valley of the cold valley) was our object last week but we had to cross the stream from Cwm Cwareli to get there. This seemed a trivial matter when we did the recce in March. But August proved much wetter (particularly the night before our outing) and when we got to the ford it didn't look straightforward to cross at all so some time was spent fruitlessly looking for a better crossing point (and finding some new species to record naturally). So, in the end we returned to the normal fording place and took our boots off to cross carefully by wading.

We then made our way up the valley to the upper reaches of the Nant Menasgin, our main recording area, and previously a place where Bog Orchid has been found.
 Picture by Sue

We spent time down by the stream  as well as above it.

After some recording in the main area we had lunch by the stream
... and watched the bubbles in the water at the base of a cascade:

We explored many varied and species rich flushes near the stream but didn't find any Bog Orchid. Plenty of updated records for the 2020 BSBI Atlas were made though. (We found plenty of Sundew, Butterwort, Skullcap and a host of Rushes and Sedges.)

Heather, Grug or Calluna vulgaris

One flush seemed calcareous and had different species including this (mainly well past it like the example on the left) which had us stumped for awhile...
Marsh Arrowgrass, Saethbennig y gors or Triglochin palustris (Triglochin palustre in older books)

Sue and Meg among the heather.

It was much easier crossing back over the Cwareli stream going back as the water had already abated.

Anthony was the only one properly equipped for the ford as we found it.

The Bog orchid hunt isn't over yet - we didn't get to the very highest parts of the stream near the source and further exploration there next year is planned.

As always I owe thanks to my intrepid co-explorers who supplied knowledge, good company and six extra eyes!