On Stopping, Looking and….Knowing Stuff

There are several reasons why I like to stop and look at flowers. Perhaps the principal one being the stopping.

I was commuting home from Carnforth, over Warton Crag, and it being a Thursday the sun was beating down from glorious blue skies. (That’s the rule around here: Thursday afternoon = sunshine.) I thought that I was walking at a modest pace, but sweat was dripping from my brow and I desperately needed an excuse to pause and rest for a moment. Conveniently, at my feet tiny spots of pink and yellow demanded attention.

Unidentified tiny yellow flowers. Notice the fly which has helpfully posed in the background to give scale.

Looking, or to be more exact, taking photos is important too. My digital camera and its close-up lens have enhanced my walking pleasure no end. Then of course, there’s the flowers themselves in all their variety of form and colour.

Perhaps less obviously and slightly paradoxically (if it’s possible to have a ‘slight paradox’?), there’s the equal and opposite satisfactions of ignorance and knowledge. The tiny pink flowers I thought were dove’s-foot crane’s-bill. I knew this, or suspected it at least, because I’d seen them before in a meadow near the house, had photographed them and had then searched through my field guides until I found what seemed like a good match. The little yellow flowers I’d noticed  before, a while back, growing near the milkwort I photographed at Jack Scout. On that occasion none of the photos I took of them were very successful. None-the-less, I’d rifled through my guides – I’d found several plants with flowers which looked right, but none of them were described as creeping, low-growing plants, which is what these are. So they remain a puzzle.  And now I’m falling back on my standard method when I hit a dead-end and appealing to the clever people who read my blog to see if they have any bright ideas?

My enjoyment of this process – finding new and unfamiliar things: plants, birds, bugs, butterflies, fossils, clouds etc. – identifying and finding-out about them, is part of the reason that I keep obsessively quartering my home turf. And it’s predicated on ignorance: if I knew it already there would be no surprises, no conundrums and no need for the post-walk detective work. Maybe ignorance really is bliss. When I finally know it all, ennui will no doubt soon set in. No danger of that, fortunately.

Yet another advantage of leavening one’s walking with a little gawking, is that when you stop to look at one thing you soon notice other interesting things nearby. Like several 7-spot ladybirds down in the sward. Or, on the limestone edge, a natural rock garden…

The yellow flowers at the back…

…,which were widespread right along the length of the edge in a fetching yellow carpet, I thought I knew to be horseshoe vetch and I see, know that I can consult ‘The Wild Flower Key’, that not just the flowers, but also the leaves with their little indent at the end are very distinctive of that species.

The other oddity…

…didn’t seem to have leaves at all…

…and I was content to assign it to the vast collection of things with which I am not yet familiar. ‘Probably a lichen or some such,’ I thought – and since I can’t identify any lichens and don’t (yet) have a book to help me, effectively giving up on it, at least for now. But then the following night, when I was walking at Gaitbarrows (pictures and post to come), I was thinking about some flowers that TBH and I had seen on Loughrigg terrace. The flowers looked like a stonecrop, and when I looked in the books, like biting stonecrop in particular, but the plant we saw had narrow leaves which didn’t fit the bill at all. I remembered that I had seen, and naturally photographed, biting stonecrop at Gaitbarrows last year and went looking for the same plants to make a comparison. They weren’t flowering yet, but as soon as I found them – sprouting from the same cracks in the limestone pavement as they were last year – I recognised them as the same plant I had seen in abundant mats the preceding afternoon. So biting stonecrop then. The plant we saw on Loughrigg Terrace is still unidentified, for now at least.

Blue skies over Ingleborough.

On the short turf close to the edge tiny flowers were the order of the day. There were, amongst others,…

…rock rose..

…bird’s-foot trefoil…

…and eyebright. The eyebright is a good example of another phenomena I have noticed. I was very excited when I saw it and photographed it a few miles away in Langdale, but afterward realised just how common it is close to home. Since I finally ‘got’ the chiff-chaff’s song last year I now hear chiff-chaff’s for large parts of almost every walk I do, at least at this time of year anyway. When I photographed a scorpion fly in Eaves Wood last year, I saw it – with its huge proboscis – as something out of the ordinary, exotic, a lucky find – but now that I know what I’m looking for, I’ve seen several this summer already…

It seems that once I’m able to put a name to something, I’m more likely to notice it in future.

I broke off writing this post here, and tootled off to bed – it being well past the witching hour. As always, I needed a few pages to settle down with. I’m reading ‘Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It’ by Geoff Dyer. Almost the first words I read were:

Do you see things if you don’t know what they are?

And then:

Without words are you not only mute but partially blind too?

Dyer was thinking about architecture, rather then natural history, but it was startling to be presented with this thought just as I had been considering it myself.

Anyway, as I said, it seems to me that once I’m able to put a name to something, I’m more likely to notice it in future. So to that end, I think the green and slightly sparkly beetle on the bird’s-foot trefoil may be Oedemera Nobilis. If it is, it’s a female because the males have swollen rear legs. I’m not sure that Latin names have quite the same effect however, because I can’t usually remember them.

Eventually I turned away from the edge and the vegetation changed, alternating between open areas of bracken and dense thickets of briar and shrubs. There were still bluebells and early purple orchids. There were also, maintaining the theme of tiny flowers, although the plants are taller…

St. John’s wort.

I was soon at the top, where the views were, as they usually are, excellent. It had clouded over a little though and they weren’t as photogenic as they can be. I concentrated on the close at hand…

Red Admiral

On the verges of the Occupation Road, the bridleway which crosses the crag, I found more tiny flowers…

Thanks again to Fred Fly for posing to give scale.

…not especially pulchritudinous admittedly, but I liked the architectural spikiness of the leaves…

This, I’ve subsequently discovered, is common gromwell.

Down by Barrow Scout Fields I watched a lapwing flying acrobatically and an oystercatcher picking about on the exposed bed of one of the shrinking pools. The previous evening I had been on the Wednesday Walkabout at Leighton Moss. Very fine it was too with red deer, marsh harriers, a great egret and the wonderful rosy colouring of the breeding plumage of godwits. We’d seen and heard sedge warblers in the reed beds and the leader of the group had described how to distinguish the songs of reed warblers and sedge warblers. ‘The reed warbler’s song is a bit monotonous whereas the sedge warbler’s has a lot more up and down.’ Now there seemed to be warblers singing in every direction and I was sure that I could tell them apart. Now that I’ve listened to them both on the RSPB website I’m sure that I was deluding myself, but I was excited at the time. I spotted a couple of the birds in the reeds, and was pleased to get a photo, however imperfect…

Can you see it? It was a flash of white breast which caught my eye.

Here’s a cropped version…

Not great – but you can see a bold eye stripe, it’s under-parts are white and it’s singing from a prominent perch; all of which suggest that it is a sedge warbler. Perhaps I should keep a blog tick list for species of birds which appear in photographs here, rather like my Birkett tick list.

Of course, I’d stopped now and so began to notice things in the hedge in front of me…

…like an orb spider. And more small flowers…

..(with another extra) this time on a tall plant which I thought might be a bittercress of some sort, but I can’t find anything in my books with leaves like these…

So I’m stuck. For now. This plant was very populous. I was puzzled by…

…this striking stripy…what? It took me a while to work out that it might be a spider. Now I suspect that it is Tetragnatha extensa which:

When alarmed, typically aligns itself along plant stem with legs outstretched.

Collins Complete British Wildlife

Nearby an orange fly with a bold black strip and delicately veined wings like intricately leaded windows eluded a focused photo sadly.

As I crossed Quaker’s Stang an elegant copper boomerang winged overhead and then resolved into a hovering kestrel. Climbing towards Heald Brow I passed an area blushed blue with speedwell, and was then compelled to stop again by…

This gives me a first opportunity to use my ‘Collins Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns of Britain and Northern Europe’ by Fitter, Fitter and Farrer. So…I think that this might, I stress might, be quaking grass and now I’ve seen what it might look when fully emerged I know that I need to go back to confirm that opinion. Obviously, you’ll be anticipating that having stopped I would find other things to hold me a while. Well, your right. I did. More tiny flowers…

This is salad burnet. The flowers are packed together in a ball – the red here are the stigmas of the female flowers. Here only one flower has opened…


..and you can see that it has two stigma. I thought at first that these might be male flowers…

..but now I think that they might be seeds.

Nearby there were clumps of stems with curled purple heads, the overall effect of which I have totally failed to capture. The individual flowers were worthy of attention too however…

Look closer still…

…and aren’t they a tiny forget-me-not? Early forget-me-not perhaps. I’m not sure.

Also close by..

….tiny white flowers on a plant with leaves making a pleasing star around the stem.

I would say that it’s woodruff, except they were so small and I thought that woodruff was taller.

And finally…

..one that I do know, and which ahs appeared here a few times before – but these photos are better then any I’ve taken before.

Ground Ivy

On Stopping, Looking and….Knowing Stuff

7 thoughts on “On Stopping, Looking and….Knowing Stuff

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Hi Alistair,
      I’m so pleased that it’s not just me on the ‘naming and noticing’ front. Thanks for the tip, I shall check that out.

  1. Lovely images of your local flowers and insects. Like you, I too enjoy the challenge of identifying unknown (to me) flora and fauna. One aspect of checking others’ blogs and photos is seeing vegetation from other parts of the country and which is different to here. From my knowledge of that part of Lancashire, (I spent the first few years of my life across the bay, near Barrow in Furness) I believe your stomping patch is limestone and base rich soil – which contrasts to the acidic soils here.

    So, after that preamble. I looked through my copy of The Wildflower Key and wonder if the wee yellow flower is Black Medick. The individual florets have that folded tube-like shape similar to clover and it’s found on base-rich soil.

    The salad burnet is a lovely flower as are the forget-me-nots. Since you’ve captured both pale-yellow/cream and blue flowers on the forget-me-nots, I wonder if they are Changing Forget-me-nots (Myosotis discolor)?

    I think the last wee white flower is related to Woodruff, ie one of the bedstraws (Galium ssp). It looks like Heath Bedstraw, but that usually grows on acid soil. It’s hard to say without knowing how tall it is and whether is sprawling or not.

    Funny you mention seeing eyebright everywhere once you know it! I only learned to ID that about 5 years ago. Prior to that I didn’t notice it even though we have lots in our back lawn!

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Yes – the busines with the eyebright is exactly the sort of thing I meant – what a relief that it’s not just me!
      We do have basic soils here, although there are some patches of acidic soils caused by ash deposited by the former volcanos which are now the Lakeland hills.
      My best guess was black medick, but I didn’t have the courage of my convictions – I think that I was thrown by the 25cm given in the description and glossed over the fcat that it is preceded by 5cm – although even that seems excessive.
      I looked at the bedstraws and relied chiefly on the drawings – I thought heath bedstraw looked like the closest, but as you say it prefers acidic soils and the leaves look a little too narrow. This was a very small and low-growing plant. Looking again I wondered whether Limestone Bedstraw might be a better guess but I’m still unsure. I’m quite pleased with bedstraw though and to have learned about the general family resemblance.
      As to the forget-me-not (which I thought at first glance was an attractive grass!) I couldn’t decide between early forget-me-not and changing forget-me-not and for some reason I plumped for the former, but I can’t remember now what the reason was.
      I’m finding the Wildflower Key really helpful, even though I haven’t really got to grips with the keys yet and I find the vocabulary and abbreviations quite challenging. Thanks for the suggestion.
      And thanks for the very detailed and informative comment!

  2. What a post – great photos and information. One thing it does highlight is how much variety there is in lowland areas, hedgerows, forests, fields and the like and how relatively sparse the upland areas can be. I try and keep an eye out for interesting stuff when I’m out walking but as I tend to stick to the hills it’s not as easy to come across the kind of variety you see in your posts.

    I totally understand the naming and noticing idea. You know what you’re looking for and make an effort to find it again with sense of satisfaction when you do. While you’re looking you see other new and interesting stuff you don’t recognise, find out what it is and the cycle starts again. I need to start using the Macro on my camera and learning more!

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I think that you’re right – my hill-walking posts tend to have fewer flora and fauna photos. There is stuff to see however – I think often in the hills, (between the lengthy stops) we tend to be quite single minded about keeping moving. And our eyes are drawn to the views. If you’re on your own and in the right frame of mind I think that you will find interesting stuff however. On my round of Hawewater I didn’t see the resident Golden Eagle (which was seen here in Silverdale on Bank Holiday Monday) but I did find cuckoo flowers at over 2000′.

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