Thursday 15 March 2012: Hairy violet
I had a relatively quiet day at home, once I'd dropped Alex at the station. The morning was spent sorting out the kitchen cupboards and cooking various dishes aimed at using up various bits and pieces that I'd unearthed. I made mango and lime jelly (to use up some leaf gelatine a little past its best before data), pasta salad (to use up one of the many half-eaten bags of pasta I found) and mushroom soup (using some dried mushrooms that had been hanging around for far too long). Tomorrow I think a carrot cake will be made, once the impenetrable block of dark brown sugar has softened.
The day had started cold with dense fog, but after lunch the sun broke through and the temperature soared to the dizzy heights of 15C. I spent an hour or so in the garden, and then Chris and I went to Castor Hanglands to see if there were any toads in the pond. As we walked through the NNR we spotted a pair of marsh / willow tits, but they were too elusive to photograph. The atmosphere was quite strange, the sun veiled by a high mist, no breeze and very little birdsong.
The first few ponds were devoid of toads, though I was pleased to see that all now contained some water, although three were still very low. When we arrived at the main pond we heard the tell-tale piping call of toads, and soon tracked them down to a well vegetated corner. Once we'd got our eye in there were lots, including a toad ball. This occurs when a few males clasp one female, forming a "ball" of toads. The smallest males are forced out by larger individuals, who then pass on their genes to the next generation. Unfortunately the light levels had dropped dramatically by then, and the toads were all underwater, which prevented the capture of any good images.
As we headed back the high mist became thicker and the sun was enveloped by a fog bank. However, there was just enough light to capture this lovely clump of hairy violets. This species is restricted to limestone and chalk grasslands, and is one of the earliest violets to flower. It is one of the few violets to have hairy leaves (the other being sweet violet which is generally a species of woods and hedgerows and has strongly perfumed dark violet or white flowers) and has very characteristic blue-violet flowers.
The weather had been so spring-like when we left, that I'd rashly decided to cast aside my fleece. By the time we got back to the car the sun had virtually disappeared, the breeze had got up and the temperature had dropped by 5C. I was so cold, and for once was pleased to be back in the car heading home!