Friday, 11 September 2015

Isle of Wight, 2015 Part 1

For the last four years Chris and I have accompanied our friends Ann and John Pymm to the Isle of Wight, staying in West Cowes. Their daughter and son-in-law have a lovely house there and we are able to use it from time to time, and when we set off on Sunday, 6 September the weather was glorious and set fair.

The property makes an excellent base for exploring the island and, with splendid views from our bedroom window over the busy Solent, there was always something of interest.

The crossing from Southampton was easy, with very calm conditions and we spent a lot of time on the top deck taking in the sights of this very busy stretch of water.

I was delighted to see this False Widow spider in the
bathroom. Cowes, Isle of Wight. 6 September, 2015

We had our first surprise on entering our bathroom. A False Widow Spider, Steatoda grossa, was clinging to the sink. For rather obvious reasons I didn't try to manually manoeuvre it into a suitable position so the photograph, in the half-light is less than satisfactory. It was a female and, as the epigyne (external female sexual organs) were not fully developed, it was clearly sub-adult.

Steatoda grossa - not as dangerous as some would have
us believe.  6 September, 2015

The media have produced several alarmist reports about this species but, although it is quite closely related to the notorious Black Widow spider, Latrodectus mactans, and can inflict a nasty bite, it is unlikely to do so unless hurt or alarmed. They are quite common on the Isle of Wight and along much of the south coast and appear to be spreading northwards.

Monday was the first full day and we visited Newtown. This is not to be confused with Newport, the island's 'capital' and in fact there is no settlement as such, Newtown having been gradually abandoned as the nearby river estuary silted up. So we have the strange phenomenon of a rather attractive town hall - and no town!

What was once a busy harbour is now an area of salt marsh and mud flats. Adjacent to the sea are old hay meadows and woodland such as Walter's Copse, and the whole area is now a National Nature Reserve. We were fortunate in that it was a lovely sunny day; we were less fortunate with the bird life as most summer migrants have now departed and the winter visitors have yet to arrive.

Red Admirals were common on the reserve. Newtown,
Isle of Wight. 7 September, 2015

The hay meadows are carefully managed with Belted Galloway cattle and Hebridean sheep used as appropriate and there is a wealth of insect life to be seen. We failed to see any of the Silver-washed Fritillaries, Argynnis paphia,  for which the area is well-known and had to be content with the beautiful but commonplace Red Admirals, Vanessa atalanta, flitting from flower to flower.
Beechwod Sickener? Newtown, Isle of Wight.
7 September, 2015

This fungus is probably a Russula species and my guess is that it is the Beechwood Sickener, Russula nobilis.  Some Russula species are edible although this one is poisonous - hence the common name, but for certain identification a spore print is useful, and the specimens were not yet mature enough for spores.
View across the salt marsh, Newtown, Isle of Wight.
7 September, 2015

Once through the meadows and woods we came out to the estuary with its salt marshes. The bubbling of curlews was heard but the birds could not be seen. We did get distant glimpses of egrets. They seemed rather large to me and could have been Great White Egrets, Ardea alba. This is perhaps wishful thinking but they have become increasingly common in recent years and now nest in Britain.

The tide was almost at its lowest. Newtown, Isle of Wight.
7 September, 2015

The tide was well out and birds might have been seen feeding on the exposed mud but it was not to be.

L to R: John. Ann and Chris. Newtown National Nature
Reserve. 7 September, 2015

Perhaps sombre, olive-green clothing could have helped, but we had not come prepared in any way. Nevertheless it was a lovely walk.

Reserves like this depend heavily on voluntary help and donations. Grouse moors, designed for the slaughter of birds, are subsidised by the public to the tune of £56 per hectare! Sorry to inject a political note into this blog but it makes me genuinely angry.

So, our first full day was thoroughly enjoyable and produced some unexpected sights and pleasures.

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