Middlebarrow Fungi and Figwort

Tuesday. Off the train. I thought that if I took a walk into Middlebarrow wood, where lots of trees have been felled, I might find some toadstools, so I headed that way. On the way there, on the Row, an old neighbour asked me to take ‘a couple of hundredweight’ of his Laxton’s superb apples off his hands- it has been a bumper year obviously. I baulked at carrying that many and eventually settled on half-a-dozen – very nice they were too.

In fact I found as many toadstools in Eaves Wood as I did in Middlebarrow. In Middlebarrow Quarry saplings are beginning to establish themselves, more I think due to natural regeneration than to the thousands of trees in plastic cylinders which were planted here when quarrying ended. A huge buzzard must have been perched near to where I entered the quarry, and now, apparently effortlessly, coasted away to the far side of the quarry.

Where there were fungi in Middlebarrow Wood it was on old tree stumps rather than on the detritus left after the recent felling. However, there was more light for taking photographs than there had been in Eaves Wood.

I’ve been seeing tiny chocolate brown frogs everywhere I go. This one seemed to think that if it stuck its head out of sight, then I might leave it alone – a bit like sticking your head under the covers when there are unexplained noises in the house at night.

I had been thinking that it will be interesting to come back next spring to see what spring flowers appear in the newly open areas wehre trees have been felled. Unfortunately it didn’t occur to me that some plants might have taken advantage of the lack of cover this summer. There were many interesting looking plants which I didn’t think I would have seen here before. Mostly they had finished flowering so I didn’t think I would have much success identifying any of them.  One prevalent plant had small almost spherical seeds (or seed-cases?) sometimes green and  sometimes dried and black.

I didn’t recognise it until I found some plants which still held flowers:

Tiny…

…but none the less popular…

This is figwort – I’ve seen them locally before but not in the same profusion as on this occasion. Reading up on figwort I find that it grows from a rhizome, so perhaps isn’t as recently established as I was assuming. Apparently herbalists used figwort to treat scrofula or ‘The King’s Evil’. Handy to know.

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Middlebarrow Fungi and Figwort

Strange Bore

Friday night. Another afternoon commute walk. From the station I followed the main road as far as Hollins Lane and then took the path down through Fleagarth Wood to the salt-marsh. The weather was quite odd again: it was overcast, but looking east across Leighton Moss the sky was clear and blue. The limestone hull of Farleton Fell was shining white in bright sunshine, thrown into relief by the starkly contrasting black clouds behind.

I hope it has come through in my posts, but September seems to have been something of a bumper month – I’ve managed to get out for many walks and each seems to have brought something fascinating or surprising to see or experience. In fact, I’ve been thinking back over the year so far and realising that much the same can be said for the whole year. Am I on an astonishing run of good fortune, or am I in some way more attuned to and observant of what’s going on around me? It would be nice to think that persistence pays off and that sustained attention promotes a connection which brings greater rewards over time.

On Friday, however there seemed at first to be nothing particularly diverting to see and I was preparing myself for a walk which would be – not mundane exactly – pleasurable, but perhaps run-of-the-mill. But then the skies started to clear overhead and the simple alchemy of sky reflected in water, which I have been very conscious of during my recent visits to Leighton Moss, worked its magic…

Warton Crag seen across Quicksand Pool.

…and everything was once again on the up and up.

There’s usually a heron in or around Quicksand Pool. Today was no exception. What was unusual was that when the heron was spooked by my presence and laboriously heaved its way into the air, it didn’t do so silently but loosed a series of harsh protesting calls. It came to rest out on the bay:

Grey Heron with Morecambe dragged closer than it really is by the wonders of telephoto.

Self-portrait with Warton Crag.

Morecambe Bay. Clougha Pike on the horizon right of centre.

Just past Jenny Brown’s cottages the road is screened by a row of trees, giving a good unseen vantage point out over the bay. A small flotilla of diving ducks (well six) were swimming down the channel towards me.

They dived continually, but the water is very shallow here and each dive was short-lived. Since they often went straight back into the water after surfacing, they looked a little like they were swimming butterfly. At any one time, two or three of the birds might be underwater. Occasionally they all were, but they still came relentlessly upstream and could be seen as a strange bore…

 

An egret joined the party. My colleague M, who is a proper birder, tells me that the comical movements of the egret are because the bird stirs up the bottom with its feet, hoping to disturb flatfish and other bottom feeders which it can then grab in its beak. This opportunistic egret followed along the channel clearly using the disturbance of the diving ducks to serve the same purpose.

I think that these are goosanders rather than the smaller but very similar mergansers, but as ever I stand ready to be corrected. I assumed that they were all female, since the males are whiter and have green heads, but at this time of year goosanders are moulting, are flightless for a month, and the males more closely resemble the females.

Eventually the goosanders stopped and settled to preening themselves.

I had been very much enjoying the show but was suddenly disturbed by a hullaballoo off to my left. At this point the screen of trees became a disadvantage and I struggled at first to see the source of the commotion, but then saw two birds , apparently locked together, plummeting toward the mud of the bay. The smaller, white and squawking volubly, was a gull of some sort. At first I thought that perhaps the larger, darker bird was a bird of prey – which had perhaps taken the gull in flight, but then it occurred to me that the other voice in the dispute sounded like the same raucous cries that I had heard from the heron earlier. Herons will eat young gulls, but also gulls will harry herons, I assume in an attempt to make them drop food. I lost sight of both birds. When I moved again, I could see a heron roughly below where the two had been falling. It looked unruffled and calm and not at all like a recent participant in a air-borne brawl. It was in almost exactly the same spot as the heron which I had watched earlier, so perhaps it wasn’t the culprit and perhaps I am simply mistaken in my assumptions. When I turned back to them, the goosanders were swimming rapidly downstream away from the fracas, and perhaps away from me now that I had blown my cover. The egret was less perturbed…

…and in fact  a second egret was now also near to the first by the stream.

I walked a little further along the road, my attention still held by the birds in the sunshine on the bay…

It was only when I reached by the small old quarry near to Jenny Brown’s Point that I realised that once again I was on the dividing line between two very different weathers – to the south sunshine and clear skies, the the north:

…the sky was ominously black.

Rainbow weather! But as it transpires, the rainbow never happened, not in a conventional sense anyway, although I did notice that this sign, which is white when seen end-on…

  …produces a rainbow from an oblique angle…

…and what’s more, that by moving to my left to a less oblique angle I could get more of the red end of the spectrum and equally by moving to the right get more of the violet end.

Another pair of egrets kept me amused for a while…

…they seemed to be racing each other back and forth in the stream. Occasionally, one of the birds would propel itself to the front with a quick flurry of wings…

…only to be thwarted in its ambitions by a similar tactic from the other bird.

I rounded Jenny Brown’s point and entered Jack Scout to find that I wasn’t the only one gazing out at the dramatic sky…

The strange garb is a costume – this is a performer in an outdoor dance piece which was being performed at Jack Scout all last week.

Jack Scout views.

Apparently there was a stunning sunset later, which I missed, having reengaged with quotidian necessities.

Strange Bore

On the Front Foot

Another Thursday evening walking commute home from Carnforth. A day of marked contrasts: TBH and I had breakfasted with an unappetising view of rain bouncing high off the patio beyond our kitchen windows, but by three o’clock the sun was shining and the temperature was mild. 

I opted to follow the road from Millhead bearing in mind my wading experience of the week before. Just beyond the Nib public house, I had a foretaste of what was to come when a sizeable host of sparrows lifted from a hedge and flitted across to the hedgerow on the opposite side of the road. On Warton Crag I followed a path, edged with wild marjoram, which runs parallel to the Crag Road and then turns steeply uphill when the quarry edge is reached. Once I was clear of the trees, it immediately became obvious that I had been sensible when opting not come over the fields from Millhead:

…the path I would have taken otherwise follows a hedgerow, seen here as the prominent dark line across the flooding. Even wetter than the week before!

A flock of long-tailed tits entertained me for a while darting about a holly nearby. Then a distant smudge perched high in a tree sailed away from it’s perch and ghosted down into the trees, resolving itself in the process into the lovely copper tones of a kestrel’s wing feathers. Whilst I was taking these photos a fine rain began to fall, but both the rain, and the rainbow which briefly appeared, were half-hearted affairs which soon left me to enjoy the sunshine undisturbed again.

Gaining the top of a low limestone scarp I was confronted with butterflies on all sides:

 Small tortoiseshell.

 Red admiral.

 Speckled wood with damaged wing.

As ever -  a bit of a poser: these look like male yellow dung flies to me. Golden fur, coarse hairs, red eyes.

But yellow dung flies eat other insects so what are these up to on this flower? Taking a well earned sweet-scented rest?

This dapper chap…

…is a hover-fly, possibly syrphus ribesii.

I crossed an area of the crag where scrub and open areas dominated by bracken alternate. Every time I turned a corner I seemed to manage to disturb a large charm of goldfinches, I think at least 50 birds. Eventually I got above them on the hillside and was able to watch from a distance as they would all move together down onto the bracken, and then apparently for no reason and with no signal, would all rise and sweep back to the treetops together. I took lots of useless photos and whilst this one doesn’t capture the magic, it will serve to remind me of it.

To reach the top of the crag I had to force my way through blackthorn thickets again – next time I really must remember to head further west to pick up the more substantial path from that direction.

I should perhaps have taken more note of the towering wave of cloud massing over the Lake District and hiding the Lakeland fells.

I took a path which dropped down to the knuckled ‘Easter Island Head’ rock and then on to Occupation Road. From there I took the same permission path I had the previous Thursday. There was lots of fungi about on the woodland fringe.

This one one the prize for its vast proportions: the cap was perhaps 7” across.

This won the prize for vivid colour.

I took a little detour to visit ‘The Three Brothers’ – large boulders. This was my favourite: like a pock-marked and enigmatic alien megalith-egg.

Walking along the road toward Summerhouse Hill it seemed that perhaps the weather was changing, with the sky darkening to the north, but a screen of trees prevented me from gaining a clear view. When I reached the crest of the hill I found that a great wing of cloud was folding over the Bay and enveloping the sun.

The sky to the north was very dark and clearly, just a few miles away, was full of rain.

Perhaps I should have been disappointed by the deteriorating weather, but frankly I was enthralled with the drama of it all.

The edge of the cloud was surprisingly clearly demarcated . I watched as the sun disappeared from view.

 

I paused to watch a woodpecker, with it’s fast oscillating flight, zoom from the Cringlebarrow woodlands to a small stand of trees on the hillside.

 Dryad’s Saddle growing on a fire-blackened tree stump.

As I continued to Leighton Moss it seemed appropriate to ask not ‘Will I get wet’?’, but ‘How Soon Will I Get Wet?’

By the bridge on the causeway there were many more fish rising than there had been a week before. This photo…

…contrasts sharply with the bright and sunny shot  I took a week before at around the same time of day. A lone egret high overhead looked impossibly white against the menacing blue-black clouds. By contrast a murmuration of starlings winged low overhead, just clear of the reed-tops – the whistle of their passing  and the whirr of their wings quite breathtakingly loud.

Ironically, when the rain finally arrived it was when the sky had brightened and had begun to clear a little. At first I could almost taste the rain: the faintest dampness on my lips, then a slight coldness on the bare flesh of my forearms, a whisper in the reed beds quickly rising in a gentle crescendo which just as quickly fell away again. The weather held its breath for a moment, gathering for a more concerted assault which duly arrived.

On the Front Foot

Spiders, Snails and a Puzzle

I didn’t manage six miles yesterday, but I did take a circuitous route home from the train station, taking me round Haweswater and through Eaves Wood. It took a while to get work out of my head and to start to fully appreciate my surroundings, but when I reached the open meadow alongside Haweswater I suddenly felt at home and began to relax. There were several large dragonflies quartering the area. I wandered across to the edge of the reed beds, hoping to perhaps find one at rest. I didn’t, but I did come across this magnificent spider…

Now I realise that some people don’t like spiders, but that’s a point of view which I have never understood. This is obviously an orb web spider, probably a female. Araneus diadematus have a white cross on their backs, the pattern here is not quite a cross – more a lizard splayed on a table for dissection, or perhaps a stylized aboriginal art lizard. So what kind of spider is this? – an amazing one.

This banded snail was right by the boardwalked path, and very fetching it is too.

The grass of Parnassus have mostly now finished flowering, but the devil’s-bit scabious is still going strong and the bumblebees were busy taking advantage.

The wet meadow at the end of Haweswater, at the moment partly flooded, is also a great place to find spiders and snails.

I think that this is a dark-lipped banded snail. The shell is a bit the worse for wear; I wonder why?

Having stopped to try to photograph this spider and the snail behind, I noticed this tiny caterpillar on a leaf above…

And this small, thin snail…

And another (different?) orb spider…

I was briefly in the woods…

Which gives me an excuse to post these extracts from Fresh Woods which I’ve been intending to quote for a while.

If we leave the little planting now, it will only be to go to another wood, and there are woods all round us in this rolling country, woods that have names, woods that thrust their pine spears into the sky and stand in solid ranks, woods that crowd the grey roads, woods that are silent and brooding, and others that are alive with the sounds of streams that pass through them. We are going to them all, for I want to take you stalking a hare in a wood, to glimpse the deer in the forest moor, the badger in the Welsh wood just a mile away, and the fox too. If you know how to make crab-apple jelly, or wine from the fruit of the bullace tree, come with me. Come with me to see the woodcock, the tree creeper, and nuthatch. If you are not afraid of a dish of mushrooms that were picked in the wood, or if you are in need of a faggot of kindling, we shall be in such a spot tomorrow, gathering a bag of hazel-nuts or a basket of giant blackberries.

There are other woods, fresh woods, woods in which I will stand tomorrow and the day after. There are always fresh woods, little corners of the countryside where the bird and animal kingdom hold sway, places where we can hear the dawn chorus, or the last little twitter before the birds sleep and the badger ventures on his round. Brush the moss from your jacket and throw away your whittled stick. What company you have been in! What an idle time-waster you have been these past few days! Haste you away across the field, back home with your bag of hazel nuts, your elderberries, your excuses for being where you have been.

In the meadow beyond the woods some tiny frayed edged toadstools were quite striking from above, the pale frills forming a corona around the grey cap.

Down in the grass there were a number of hard to identify plants. Is this a seed head?

This rose tinted leaf had me fooled at first – I thought it was a petal.

I thought that this was groundsel when I saw it, but now I’m not so sure.

I have no idea what this unusual plant is. Nor the tiny yellow spots under the leaves.

Spiders, Snails and a Puzzle

The Man In the Ion Mask

Ullswater.

Tiredness dictates a very brief post. Another Sunday off to go list-ticking in the Lakes. The weather was a bit poor, but the company was excellent – CJ and X-Ray completing a Last of the Summer Wine triumvirate.

We climbed Arthur’s Pike, diverted to Loadpot Hill (not part of our original plan) and then returned via Swarth Fell and Bonscale Pike, neither of which feel even remotely like separate hill in their own rights.

It was a rainbow day, although the top half of the rainbows invariably disappeared into the clouds.

Hallin Fell

CJ and X-Ray.

We saw a red squirrel on a dry-stone wall near to Howtown and possibly a peregrine on the slopes of Arthur’s Pike.

And the post title?* Well – I finally got round to replacing my last pair of walking boots ,which gave up the ghost at least five years ago. I splashed out on some Hi-Tech boots with the new-fangled nanotechnology waterproofing. A review may eventually follow. Or perhaps not.

* – The pun is entirely CJ’s work.

The Man In the Ion Mask

The Road to Happiness

A family of six goldfinches occupied one of our garden feeders for quite some time on Saturday. Whilst all are clearly goldfinches, the four juveniles lack the characteristic markings around their heads and have more a tawny back.

I think it’s true to say that goldfinches are now more commonly seen in our gardens and that can only be a good thing as far as I’m concerned. I think they’re irresistible.

———————————————————————————————————————–

A colleague prefaced telling me about a forthcoming local charity book fair by saying “I’m not sure whether you will be interested in this, but…”

Of course I was interested! (And I think that she knew full well that I would be.)

She also offered, in case I couldn’t make it in person, to look out for any particular titles which I might want, if I provided a list. But half of the pleasure of second-hand books is in the browsing. Another friend was telling me recently that she will soon be switching over from books to Kindle, but then: no searching through tables piled high with fusty old books, one of which might be an unexpected gem. It’s nice to find a book which is on your wish-list: I picked up ‘The Road’ and ‘Wolf Hall’ for a song recently – but I had known that it was only a matter of time before that happened. If the book is something I’ve wanted to read for a while then the find becomes a little more exciting – I’ve just bought ‘The Snow Leopard’ for less than the postage on Amazon Marketplace would have been, for example. But the books which aren’t on my wish-list because I don’t know about them are the principle reason I will hope to get to that book fair next weekend.

Recent purchases of this type include ‘Fresh Woods’ by Ian Niall which I’ve posted about before, ‘Cockley Beck’ by John Pepper, which I’m very much looking forward to reading, and ‘Between Earth and Paradise’ by Mike Tomkies which I have just finished reading, and which I enjoyed immensely.

Another recent find was ‘Portraits from Memory’ by Bertrand Russell. I’ve read and liked some of his essays before, and I was recently lent ‘Logicomix’ which is about the search for certainty in mathematics and is absolutely fascinating. What a treat then to find some autobiographical material by Russell. Scanning down the contents, an essay entitled ‘The Road to Happiness’ sprang out as an appealing place to start.

This was partly because there was an article by Adam Phillips in the Guardian Review recently about ‘the happiness myth’. (You can read it here). It left me somewhat bemused and confused: what is the central argument – that the unbridled pursuit of pleasure is a bad thing? I imagine that thousands of Guardian reading, hell for leather, break-neck hedonists were moved to pause and consider whether they should change their ways over their early morning snifter of cocaine on that particular Saturday. The article was thought provoking and I particularly liked the quote, from Larkin’s ‘Born Yesterday’:

……a skilled,
Vigilant, flexible,
Unemphasised, enthralled
Catching of happiness…..

But I find that I am much more in sympathy with what Russell has to say. You can read the entire essay here, but the following passages from near the end of the essay struck me as particularly relevant to this blog:

It is the simple things that really matter. If a man delights in his wife and children, has success in work, and finds pleasure in the alternation of day and night, spring and autumn, he will be happy whatever his philosophy may be.

Man is an animal, and his happiness depends upon his physiology more than he likes to think. This is a humble conclusion, but I cannot make myself disbelieve it. Unhappy businessmen, I am convinced, would increase their happiness more by walking six miles  every day than by any conceivable change of philosophy. This, incidentally, was the opinion of Jefferson, who on this ground deplored the horse. Language would have failed him if he could have foreseen the motor-car.

Mike Tomkies – who’s observations on wildlife on a island of the west coast of Scotland has gripped me over the last week – was troubled terribly by loneliness in his simple remote home. I think that he might have picked up some good advice on striking a balance between work and play, seriousness and fun, if he had read Russell instead of Gavin Maxwell and Thoreau.

The Road to Happiness

Round the Coast…Again

Sea Aster

Another wonderful sunny afternoon for a post work walk. I stayed on the train one extra stop and disembarked at Arnside to walk home from there. There are many possible routes home from Arnside, I was torn between going round by the coast again or climbing Arnside Knott for the views. Walking along the promenade in the village I overhead some holiday-makers excitedly discussing the tidal bore and its imminent arrival and that swung the balance – I would walk around by the shore. (As it turns out they out by a coupe of hours – I was almost home by the time I heard the coastguard siren warning of the incoming tide.)

 

The sea asters were flowering when TBH and I came this way recently, but are not mostly gone over to seed.

I watched a cormorant fishing in the Kent, but its appearances above the surface were so brief that I didn’t manage to photograph it until it was taking off to leave…

This black-headed gull was more obliging and posed for a close-up…

Further out along the estuary there are deadly nightshade plants again, in much the same place as last year…

The small field which borders the estuary and which is part of the Gubbins Wood nature reserve has a fringe of bracken on its southern side, along the edge of the wood. The sheltered environment there seems to be ideal for fungi, of which there were many specimens of many different varieties. The prize example was this large chocolate brown affair…

Entering the woods here, a soft kew kew from the tree canopy above had me confused until I traced it to a jay which was lustily pulling at acorns overhead.

This sea campion was growing on shingle above the river. Nearby there were also lots of plants with chunky red-green seeds and distinctive triangular leaves which I’m pretty sure must have been Good King Henry.

I wondered whether this…

…tree trunk had been deposited here by the heavy rains of earlier in the week.

There were many birds to observe in and by the river. I watched a black-backed gull fly upstream with something substantial in its beak. When I turned to look downstream I saw another black-backed gull also with a large piece of something or other.

It seemed to drop whatever its treasure was into the river and then repeatedly dipped down to return with something held in its bill…

At White Creek there was a vast expanse of firm sand to walk on.

Here and there the surface was broken by diminutive Christmas trees…

Which I think may be marsh samphire or glasswort and which is apparently good to eat. All of the plants were very small – is it really feasible to collect a decent meal of these? Apparently these plants were gathered and burnt and then the ash combined with sand to make a crude glass (because of the high soda content of the resulting ash).

Round the Coast…Again