Perhaps it is inevitable that these notes should open with a comment on the weather. As July turned into August, it just got hotter and hotter, peaking at somewhere around 34 degrees in Norwich. With little or no rain, gardens became drier and drier. But what short memories we have! We need only go back to 9 July to find that we abandoned a walk in the rain. Looking at our diary, we got very wet several times at the beginning of that month. And, sitting here, writing these notes as we approach the Bank Holiday weekend it’s pouring down again.
With lockdown becoming a memory, we started to venture wider, though we continued to follow several of our local walks. Thorpe Marshes remains a favourite and we often go along the River Wensum to the New Mills Sluice and back. This did not give us total freedom. On 4 July, having visited Aylsham, on the way back we noticed the traffic heading North was very busy and included numerous caravans and motorhomes. Was this the start of the invasion of our coastal areas? Caution suggested that we should steer clear of the busier places where social distancing seemed to be a forgotten rule.
We do still walk along the river though the swans have gone after the loss of their cygnets. The kingfishers have not been seen for weeks; presumably their brood has flown the nest. Going in the opposite direction, Thorpe Marshes became rather quieter. The corncrake and Savi’s warbler had long gone but two grasshopper warblers were still calling as late as 19 July. As the birdsong faded, we concentrated on other things. Many flowers coloured much of the area yellow and pink, including birdsfoot trefoil, meadowsweet, purple loosestrife, hemp agrimony and great willowherb (aka codlins and cream). Added to these were a number of great water parsnip plants which had been grown by local school children who were not able to plant them themselves because of the school closures. These seem to have established well and flowered although not yet reaching their full height of 2m.
And another little plant, red bartsia, is having a wonderful season at Thorpe Marshes; small amounts have been there in the past but almost every path is lined with it this year. Red bartsia is particularly associated with trampled areas at the edges of tracks. It is a hemi-parasite of grasses. And it has its own bee – the red bartsia blunthorn bee, a solitary mining bee.
As to our own nearby trips, we went to Wheatfen on 17 July. Having questioned last time whether 2020 was a butterfly year or not, we hit this one right. We counted ten species in all but peacocks were so numerous that we weren’t sure whether we should count them in hundreds or thousands! We also went to Strumpshaw where a large tortoiseshell had been seen but we failed to spot it, partly because we had no wish to stay with the crowd who were gathered round.
We did comment previously that we have been following the fortunes of an unusual parasitic plant, the common broomrape, in the Rosary Cemetery this year. Despite some unfortunate mowing we did eventually find 60 spikes using winter heliotrope as their favoured host. Another patch of around 15 spikes seemed to host on red clover.
Our garden has continued to provide interest in the last few weeks. We have had baby robins and blackbirds sheltering on the fences in the shrubbery and tentatively testing their flying abilities. A neighbour has a collared dove’s nest nestled securely behind a satellite dish. Latterly, all blackbirds have disappeared from our garden – gone somewhere quiet to moult?
On returning from a walk round a very quiet Redgrave & Lopham Fen, we were amazed to find a white-letter hairstreak taking nectar from marjoram on our front lawn. We have had regular visits in the last few weeks of brown argus and small copper butterflies. We wonder if they are breeding in our garden but don’t have their larval foodplants of common rockrose and sorrel. Brown argus larvae are also known to feed on cranesbill and we do have dovesfoot cranesbill in the lawn. The only known foodplants for small copper are common and sheep’s sorrel and occasionally broad-leaved dock but we don’t have any of these.
And possibly the oddity of the year. We often walk through Lion Wood and frequently use a particular path where there is a well-rotted tree stump. One day in mid-August as we approached, we were attracted by a large patch of something bright yellow on the stump. Two days later the colour was diminishing, and it was decreasing in size, and to cap it all it had moved! No, we were not going mad; once included with the fungi, it is a slime mould. This is an informal name given to several types of eukaryotic organisms that can live freely as single cells but can aggregate together to form multicellular reproductive structures. This one is Fuligo septica
or dog’s vomit. And within a week it was all but gone.
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Header image: Purple loosestrife, by Elizabeth Dack