Friday, 15 July 2011

Highgate Common 14th July 2011

Sorry for the long absence, I've been quite busy lately but I hope to be able to do more frequent blog updates through the end of July and into August as I have some leave booked off from work.

Yesterday I went over Highgate Common once again, but this time I thought I would look at identifying and photographing flowering plants.

One of the quieter parts of Highgate Common

I must admit that I am not overly familiar with flowering plants, which is one of the reasons that I chose to look at them yesterday. I am probably not as bad as some though as I have picked up a bit of the terminology along the way. For example I understand what an inflorescence is and if pressed (and in the possession of a hand lens) I could find a ligule on a grass specimen. However, to a beginner like me, the technical language used to describe the parts, structure and even colouration of a plant can seem overwhelmingly vast and sometimes a little confusing. For instance, I knew that a ligule was to be found at the junction of a leaf blade and leaf sheath on grasses, but until just now (when I was looking up the correct spelling of ligule) I didn't know that it was also the term used to describe the fused petals of a ray floret in a composite!

I find that in comparison, identifying many (but not all) birds is child's play. For a start there isn't as many species.

I now see my lack of botanical skills as a gaping whole in my skill set which needs filling, but even as little as 6 or 7 years ago I remember telling a Travelling Naturalist/Limosa tour group "plants are boring as the don't move". I hope they realised that I wasn't really being serious as I did say it with a smile on my face!

I never thought that this was truly the case, it was more the fact that I find it quite hard to identify plants (because of the reasons above) and I simply couldn't find the motivation to learn.

I understand the need to study and conserve plant life as it is the base to most food chains (bacteria often plays an important part as well, and lets not forget fungi), without it we would all undoubtedly perish.

My increasing interest in arthropods (invertebrates) and the natural world in general has now given me the incentive to learn.

Anyway enough of me waffling on and on to the fun stuff.

I must admit that I couldn't help but get slightly distracted by interesting insects I saw along the way. One of the first things I saw was an interesting brown beetle hanging out on some Ragwort. It was almost certainly a click beetle and was possibly Prosternon tessellatum.

Prosternon tessellatum?
I should point out at this stage that a lot of my photos aren't up to my usual standard. It was quite breezy which made it very difficult to get sharp, in-focus photos :( These are simply the best of a bad bunch. Also it should be fairly obvious that any Latin names with a question mark next to it means that I am uncertain as to the identity of a specimen.

Funnily enough I didn't think to get any photos of the Ragwort, but this is how I knew it was Ragwort and not something else.

Cinnabar moth caterpillar (Tyria jacobaeae)
There were also lots of Common Red Soldier Beetles around (Rhagonycha fulva). Indeed there were so many around that you'll see them in some of my other photos in this post.

Rhagonycha fulva
As Highgate Common is predominantly fragmented heathland with areas of woodland, one plant in particular is fairly common, especially after a lot of hard work from the management team and volunteers to remove invasive braken and trees. Common Heather or Ling (Calluna vulgaris) is now fairly widespread in Highgate, especially in the area I chose to study. There was also small amounts of Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) but I didn't get a photo.

Calluna vulgaris
Calluna vulgaris

In and around the same area I found some Compact Rush growing (Juncus conglomeratus). Rushes and sedges tend to be more spiky and erect than grasses. Compact Rush is relatively easy to identify as the inflorescence forms a tight or "compact" head.

Juncus conglomeratus
Juncus conglomeratus
There are lots of tracks running through Highgate Common and at one time people could drive their cars right across it. This is no longer the case, but the remaining tracks do open up space for other things to grow. No doubt the sides of these tracks were once a dumping ground for all sorts of rubbish, garden or otherwise, but thankfully that is no longer true. Alongside these tracks there were at least two, if not three, species of thistle growing.

The first specimen I am not entirely sure on the ID. I have added it to iSpot as a possible Plymouth Thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus), but this is quite rare/causal outside of the Plymouth area so I have my doubts. So far it is two-a-piece for Plymouth Thistle and Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense). If anyone has any ideas on the ID then please add it to the comment section. It had some winged spines on the stem, which Creeping Thistle isn't meant to have, but equally the involucral bracts look too short for Plymouth Thistle, making me doubt my initial ID.

I have been reliably informed via iSpot that the next thistle is Creeping Thistle. You will notice that the flower heads are very similar to the first thistle above.

Cirsium arvense
Cirsium arvense
Cirsium arvense
Cirsium arvense
The last thistle I noted before leaving was Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare). The flower head on this plant was obviously larger. The leaves were hairy and spear like in shape.

Cirsium vulgare

Obviously all of these flowering thistles were bound to attract some insects. One of these was a very pretty (or should I say handsome) bee feeding on the thistles. Due to the wind I struggled to get any photos that would do it justice. It turned out that it was a male Large Red Tailed Bumble Bee (Bombus (Melanobombus) lapidarius).

 (Bombus (Melanobombus) lapidarius)
 (Bombus (Melanobombus) lapidarius)
I thought that the workers were pretty but the male bee is really stunning.

I also observed a fair few Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) butterflies feeding on the thistles. Below is a male Small Skipper.

Thymelicus sylvestris
The Small Skipper is very similar to Essex Skipper (T. lineola) but the males can be told apart by the difference in size and shape of the male sex-brand. The sex-brand is the black line running through the middle of the fore-wing, but ending before it reaches the tip. It is longer and more distinct in Small Skipper.

Back to plants and I was quite excited to find this little gem of a plant (below) hiding away amongst some grasses. I didn't have a clue what it was, but it didn't take long for an iSpot member to identify it as Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris). Apparently most of the flowers had fallen off but I still thought it looked rather nice.

Prunella vulgaris
Prunella vulgaris
Now I have come to the end of this "little" post so I would just like to take the opportunity to thank all the members of iSpot that have helped to identify, or confirm the identity of many of my sightings. Without their help and support I would not be able to put names to some of these photos, and the blog would be much poorer as a result.

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