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For my walk ... with the U3A nature recorders group November 2022

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  Photo: Peasland Knapp (not taken on the day hence blue skies) The Knapp and the Cemetery On the morning of Wednesday, 2nd November 2022, I joined my first outing with the Sidmouth U3A (University of the Third Age) nature recorders group. We met at 10.30 in the Knowle car park under overcast skies and with a very blustery wind. Mercifully the rain help off for our walk only setting in once we were all safely back at home! We set off up Peasland Road and entered the Knapp through the gate to the reserve and then climbed the steps encountering a fine display of fleecy milkcap fungi near the top. On a brief detour on to the Peasland Knapp wild flower area we found the 'iconic' toadstool, fly agaric, under the birch trees. It was good to find a specimen in pristine condition. Moving on we walked down through the orchard stopping to admire the impressive array of lichen growing on the older fruit trees and then along the woodland path to the gate into the cemetery. The best area fo

On my walk ... the jackdaw

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  The jackdaw is a familiar sight about the cliffs, and also the various green spaces, around Sidmouth. A party of six are regular visitors to the grounds here where I live to feed on grubs they find in the lawns. This is a sociable little crow, not only enjoying the company of its own kind but are often found with flocks of rooks on farmland and less frequently with carrion crows. Despite their gregarious nature they can also be encountered in pairs, especially during the breeding season of course. They have lovely blue eyes and are quite endearing. They seem to be quite pompous as they strut around as if they own everything that they can see. They are also very intelligent and are known to be 'thieves' in a similar way to magpies.  The origin of their name is a little obscure and may have come about from a couple of sources. Daw is a country name for a crow so that part is obvious but Jack may come from the distinctive harsh 'jack' call they make. On the other hand ja

On my walk ... the hart's-tongue fern

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  One of the more common plants one will encounter when walking around Sidmouth is the hart's-tongue fern [Phyllitis scolopendrium]; it is common throughout the south west of England. Hart's-tongue is, in fact, a 'spleenwort' which is a sub-family of the fern group.  It can be found in woods, especially woodland on hill sides, hedgerows, among rocks, on walls, on the sides of ditches, even inside water wells. In short, it likes warm, darkish, damp places. It is an indicator plant of ancient woodland so where it occurs in woodland it is likely the woodland dates back over 600 years. Hart's-tongue can be abundant where the environment is suitable.  Unlike the 'classic' ferns that have rather complex leaf structures the hart's-tongue has a smooth, shiny, undivided leaf in its familiar 'deer's tongue' shape which is so unique and enables it to be easily identified. The Hart's-tongue is 'evergreen' and is in leaf all year round but pro

On my walk ... the lichen Xanthoria parietina

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As the leaves fall from the trees and hedgerow shrubs in autumn other life forms become more apparent, especially lichens. Lichens may not look much; just some crusty, dried up vegetation but they are quite fascinating. A lichen is actually two living organisms, an algae and a fungus, which live together for mutual benefit, it is called symbiosis. To survive they need a host (or substrate), which may be vegetable or mineral, from which it can derive support and moisture and so they can be found on tree bark, fence posts, bare earth, amongst mosses and grass, on walls and on tombstones. Lichens are not parasitic and do not harm their host and each species has its own preference for substrate on which to grow.  Identifying lichens can be a real headache and is a somewhat specialised field but there are some common ones that the causal observer like me can recognise and this one is Xanthoria parietina. Its yellow/orange colouring is the clue but it is not the only species coloured like th

On my walk ... the rock samphire

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  Walking the paths by the sea even though it is getting late in the season it is still possible to see this 'iconic' flower of the seaside, rock samphire [ Crithmum maritimum] . It is one of those plants that seems capable of growing in the most extreme conditions and, indeed, only grows in extreme conditions, on rocks, walls, shingle and barren conditions exposed to the weather and sea spray. Rock samphire looks as though it is not quite in flower even when it is! The flowers are cream or green and are umbrella shaped which is quite typical of the carrot family to which it belongs. Unlike other carrots however the leaves are very fleshy and this helps it store moisture and so thrive where other flowers cannot. It is also known as sea fennel and sea asparagus or just plain samphire but the name samphire is also used for other seaside plants such as glasswort. There is also a golden samphire which is totally unrelated.  This was once a popular food plant and was harvested and s

On my walk ... the autumn cranefly

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  This time of year countless 'daddy-long-legs' appear; they all seem to hatch about the same time in one huge awakening. This is probably the most common species of crane fly found in Britain and whilst it can be seen during the summer months it is certainly abundant in autumn. They are attracted to light like moths are and can often be found around buildings, especially those with an outside light. This particular species is probably  Tipula paludosa . It has a close cousin, Tipula oleracae which is virtually identical but my book says oleracae has thirteen segments in its antennae and paludosa has fourteen. Try counting them without a microscope ...! Paludosa has wings a little shorter than its body whereas oleracae has wings a little longer. It is difficult to be sure from the photograph but given that paludosa is most common in autumn whereas oleracae is more frequent in spring I will stick with this being paludosa until someone can positively identify it otherwise for me.

On my walk ... the rock pipit

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  As you walk along the Clifton Walkway from the end of the prom towards Jacobs Ladder you will often encounter active little brown birds flitting around amongst the sea defence rocks. These are what are known in birding circles as LBJs, 'little brown jobs', and they are one of several species that are similar but these are rock pipits. The pipits are all much the same really, streaky brown back with a 'thrush-like' spotted front. Telling rock pipits from other members of the family can be a bit daunting until you realise that rock pipits are found amongst rocks, meadow pipits in grassy habitats and tree pipits in trees. If only it were that simple for some other species; a garden warbler in a garden for example? I don't think so! Rock pipits and water pipits are named as separate species but are often considered to be the same but water pipits are usually found inland at fresh water sites in winter only. They often occur in places like watercress beds. Like other p