This is the second installment of my first day botanising the New Forest with Tony Davis (relax - it's also the last installment). So we'd dropped in to Beaulieu River and Hatchet Pond and seen Dwarf Spike-rush, Yellow Azalea, Hampshire Purslane, Lesser Water Plantain, Coral Necklace, Many-stalked Spike-rush, Nuttall's Waterweed, Shoreweed, White-beaked Sedge, Pale Butterwort and Coloured Water Lily in the first part of the outing - all of which were lifers for me. And not forgetting the Medicinal Leech which was also a lifer. Next stop was Crockford Bridge where Tony was promising a completely different assemblage of plants. I was buzzing for more!!
I knew next to nothing about Crockford Bridge. I had read that Southern Damselfly occurs and that the 'lawn' held good plants. That was it, really. Luckily Tony was somewhat more clued-up than I was. We arrived at the car park whereupon he immediately set to locating a small specimen of Trailing St John's-wort (Hypericum humifusum), gleefully calling me over to 'tick' it. "I've seen masses of that stuff in Scotland" was my reply. Haha - revenge for his disinterest in my Pale Butterwort discovery! Tony seemed slightly sceptical that I'd already seen the species, surely if his plant list is bigger than mine I couldn't have anything up on him? Bloomin' cheek... We cut through some low trees, passing a number of flooded hollows with the gentle noise of Wood Crickets (Nemobius sylvestris) all around. We emerged back by the road and Tony pointed at the ground at our feet. Umm - grass? He pointed again, surely he didn't expect me to ID a grass??? Then I noticed a curled blade and did a massive double-take - I was staring at a lawn of Pillwort (Pilularia globulifera), a bizarre fern and not grass at all. Wow, I've looked for this before (and been confused by various grasses) but this was the real deal. And masses of it! I pulled a small clump up and found the 'pills'. Brilliant, I've wanted to see this for a long time!
Gorgeous stuff, I love the way it unfurls! I had no idea it could form large carpets as found at Crockford Bridge. My fave fern after Wall-rue (and I like Wall-rue a lot, lol)
We briefly wandered across the road in search of Unbranched Bur-reed (couldn't find any despite it being a known site) before I spied a fish in a pool by the bridge. I was still in my wellies so slipped in for a closer look. Happily it stayed put and allowed me to have a closer look. My notebook scribbles state, "goby-like fish, red eye from above, long and dark-spotted jagged dorsal, 7", on bottom, largish pecs, mottled body" Then it swam at my foot, headbutted my wellie (!) and disappeared into some waterweed in a swirl of silt. I suffered a complete mental block - what could it be? I could only think Bullhead, yet I knew it wasn't one of those. I was stumped. Back home that evening I figured it out - it was my first ever Ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua) (apparently they are commonly caught at Beaulieu). Better still, Tony only saw the swirl of silt - ie untickable views - and still needs it. Happy days! :D
Tony led us back through the trees and flooded hollows, out onto heathland and aimed us at a large expanse of mire. There were a couple of lifers out there for me and Tony was keen to take me to them. I wasn't complaining! First up was a pale patch of sticky-up stuff visible from a few hundred metres away. We soon found ourselves in very wet mire, I almost went over a couple of times and we had to take great care where we stepped. I had visions of dead faces following me through the swamp with the words "stupid hobbitses" echoing through my mind. Surprisingly we made it to the pale sticky-up stuff and I added Black Bog Rush (Schoenus nigricans) to my lifelist. I'd noticed a quiet 'tutt' noise coming from the wetter patches of mire, as though someone were displeased with my actions. It sounded insect-like but I had no idea what the species might be. Tony soon answered that particular question, "keep an eye out for Large Marsh Grasshoppers in this area. They're huge buggers and this is where I've seen them before" - aaahhh!!! Typically the mire fell silent but I did manage to flush a few large grasshoppers into flight. Thankfully 15 or 20 feet seemed to be about the limit of their flight capabilities and before too much longer I was grinning at my first ever Large Marsh Grasshoppers (Stethophyma grossum) and what stunners they are. The females are HUGE!!!
Female Large Marsh Grasshopper in typical wet Sphagnum 'n ting habitat. Bigger than a Cocker Spaniel, these things absolutely rock!! :)
We slowly edged our way back to terra firma before heading through gorse and onto the famous Crockford Bridge Lawn, a large expanse of short horse-cropped grass with several rare (and small) species hiding in plain sight. Just a case of finding them, probably wouldn't take long....
....a long time later we finally gave up looking for Yellow Centaury, a tiny plant with a 2mm diameter flower that occurs here. Somewhere. But it wasn't all bad news. We found lots more Coral Necklace and I found a few plants of Allseed (Radiola linoides) which was new for me. Here's another wee pic, taken by putting my 10x handlens in front of my clickamatic camera's lens
Tony was keen to find some more aquatics, so we re-entered the trees and searched the flooded hollows once more. Despite having seen a single plant of Unbranched Bur-reed just the week before, Tony couldn't relocate it. We did however stumble across a few plants of Brookweed (Samolus valerandi) which was yet another new one for me. Tony was highly unimpressed at my low-listing status. But I'm catching him up - slowly! Here's a rubbishy pic of the Brookweed in a flooded hollow. Apologies for the state of my fingernails...
We wandered back to the car with a few more destinations in mind. Back at Hatchet Pond we zeroed in on a patch of Duck Potato (Sagittaria latifolia), rather like a broad-leaved Arrowhead without the purple patch on each petal base. I have absolutely no idea how it came to be established at Hatchet Pond, but it's there in quantity and I was glad to see it at long last (there had been a fair bit of Facebook banter about this species and it's unlikely name). Here's a pic of the mighty Duck Potato in all its glory!
Tony had plans. It seemed he'd become enthused by the huge number of new plants I'd seen so far. Checking a map he quickly said "hop in" and led me to a site south of Brockenhurst. "Walk between the trees and the path and keep your eyes open" was all he would say. I walked. I kept my eyes open. I walked. I stood on my next new plant! Thankfully there were quite a few present and in no time at all I was taking pics of my first ever gentians - Field Gentians (Gentianella campestris) I counted almost 20 flowering plants in one small area and here's the first pic I took of the wee stunners!
Stunning! Tony was keen to move on, but just before we returned to the car we found three ponies being hassled by a large, pale fly. I could see that the legs of the ponies were covered in botfly eggs. Watching this large fly in action we quickly came to the conclusion that it was a Horse Botfly - hovering close to the ponies' forelegs and flicking its arse end at the hide, presumably scattering the adhesive eggs? Tony made a bold decision - he was going to net the fly! Moments later, to our mutual surprise, he succeeded. I've never seen three horses jump the way these three did, lol!!! We tubed the fly to find that we had indeed secured a female Horse Botfly (Gasterophilus intestinalis). If you want to make yourself feel ill, Google the life cycle of this pleasant insect. Here's a really poor pic of the fly in a tube.
I know of one PSLer who's 'ticked' Horse Botfly via the eggs without seeing the beast itself, but let's not dwell over the actions of desperate folks like that....(sorry mate, couldn't resist!!!)
The light was starting to fade as Tony launched up the road and on to yet another site. The prize this time? Pennyroyal. In my mind I associate all members of the mint family with watery habitats. So I was shocked to discover that the site Tony had taken me to was a field full of Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Eh??? Despite this, we wandered around for a few minutes before we found a few clumps of Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) growing close to the Stocks Cross signpost. At the time I failed to appreciate just how rare a plant this is, and it smells absolutely divine - particularly with the Chamomile also filling the air with it's perfume. Here's my pic of the Pennyroyal. It doesn't do it justice at all.
Tony had one more plant to show me in the evening sunlight. Jumping back into the car we headed for the final rare plant of the day, this one easily visible from the car itself! All along the roadway, growing in a slight depression in damp conditions, were hundreds of Small Fleabane (Pulicaria vulgaris) plants. Many were past their best, but some were still in flower and absolutely lovely to see.
And so ends my amazing tour de force of the New Forest and its plants! I managed 19 new plants, a fly, a grasshopper and a leech. What an amazing day, many many thanks go to Tony Davis for sharing his knowledge of The Forest's plantlife with me and for being ultra-patient with this bumbling buffoon of a botanist. Anyway, the botfly was new to Tony, so he got something out of it!