The Commercialisation of Blogging

Following  the recent wide-spread debate and discussion on several outdoor blogs, I thought it best to state…Nah! Only kidding!

The day after my afternoon stroll with A (so only a week and a half ago – I’m catching up!), I set-off, reasonably early, to have another go at spotting the ospreys, bearded tits and otters at Leighton Moss. This time none of the kids opted to join me. Maybe they were wise: it was bright enough, but the ground was super-saturated and my progress was accompanied by a rhythmic squelch, squelch, splot, splosh, squelch, squelch, squelch…

When I reached the Moss, and the point on the causeway where a grit tray is positioned to attract bearded tits, I paused dutifully. But no tits. After that I stopped at each of the places where a gap in the tall reeds gave a view onto open water or broken reeds. And there…a small lithe bouncing thing, surprisingly pale, almost beige, with a distinctive dark tip to its tail: a stoat.

I stopped for a while in the public hide. A great crested grebe was diving right in front of the hide, I trained my camera on it as it disappeared under the water, and waited…and waited…It apparently didn’t resurface, at least not where I could see it.

Back on the track, another mustelid, I think a stoat again, bounced along the track ahead of me. I was able to watch this one for quite a while as it stayed on the path. I even got a photo, but it was so far ahead that the photo is pretty useless.

Where the track comes downhill from Grisedale Farm and enters the reserve, it had become a stream. I noticed lots of tiny black shapes swirling in the flow. What were they…seeds, or….

P9180418

…creatures! I’m guessing that they are some sort of insect larvae, but I don’t know. The camera, always more observant than me, noticed a red worm in the water snaking towards the larvae (or molluscs or whatever).

P9180415

On my way round to Lower Hide I enjoyed watching many small birds bobbing about amongst the trees and shrubs. I was intrigued by several birds with black wings and lower back, a white wing bar and a striking white rump. I took lots of photos of one particular bird which had settled down for a meal…

Juvenile bullfinch?

It was only after I had taken all the photos and had moved on that it occurred to me this could be a juvenile bullfinch – I’d been fooled by the drabness and the lack of bold cap, but young birds don’t have the cap.

From lower hide I didn’t see any ospreys, or any otters. The grebes were there, but too far away for a decent photo. Also some swans, a few goldeneye, a lone cormorant. A heron sailed over and landed on the edge of the reeds very close to the hide.

Heron

Regular readers will know that I feel a great affection toward herons. I took numerous photos. I hoped to see the heron catch a fish, or better yet an eel – if you’ve ever seen a heron with an eel you’ll know that it’s a titanic struggle that they fight. I didn’t.

Striking heron

But I did get this photo of the heron trying to catch something (you’ll have to imagine the lightening fast strike at the water).

And just as I was thinking of leaving, the heron began to stalk towards the hide…

Heron

Any masochist who has stuck with me through the nearly five hundred posts of wittering and wandering and misidentification and muddle will have seen countless attempts to photograph herons, none of them a patch on this, and would perhaps appreciate why even an otter or an osprey would have been hard-pressed to provide the satisfaction that this did.

When I finally left the hide, I continued round on the path which would take me to Storrs Lane. It was underwater. Bizarrely, my boots, which are normally about as waterproof as your average teabag, kept my feet dry. Explain that.

On a small wooden bridge I encountered this large beetle…

P9180524

…with striped brown wing-casings and a black head, which was very fast moving and hard to photograph. With it being both large and quite distinctive, I thought I might be able to identify it using my insect field guide, but I can’t.

Horsechestnut leaves

At the end of the path I passed under a huge, gnarly horse chestnut tree and onto Storrs Lane. Where, in the hedgerow I found…

Crab apples

..crab apples…

Damson

…and damsons. The latter were juicy and very tasty.

Speckled wood

Speckled wood butterfly.

I walked back via the golf course and Park Lane. I passed numerous clumps of ivy. Some were relatively quiet and others were thronging. Wonder why that is.

Bluebottle 

Bluebottle.

Honey bee

Honey bee. (Or is it – where’s the nectar basket?)

 The future's so bright I gotta wear shades...

And imitator.

Wasp

Wasp

Shiny blue fly

Another shiny blue fly.

Hoverfly

Slender, pale hoverfly.

Scaeva pyrastri

Could be sceava pyrastri?

As to the other thing (reviews and all that) – I have a pair of boots, supposedly sporting cutting-edge waterproofing technology, which aren’t remotely waterproof and which after a year’s not particularly heavy use are falling apart, a coat which was waterproof but which now leak’s like the proverbial sieve and a rucksack (very expensive) in which the flimsy zips are all now useless. Why would anyone take gear advice from me? For my hard won experience as an imbecile?

“I don’t have any advice,” I said. “I travel. I look. I record what I see. Then I describe it. I am not a preacher.”

Yes. I liked that. I had nothing to say. I knew nothing.

Lost Cosmonaut Daniel Kalder

The Commercialisation of Blogging

Every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth

Hoverfly on ivy flower

After one particularly punishing, protracted period of profuse precipitation I proposed, to my precocious progeny, a peregrination, a perambulation, a postdiluvial promenade to the Pepper Pot.

Only A took me up on the offer. We went to Eaves Wood, did all the usual things: climbed trees (her), photographed drips as they dangled from twigs and leaves (me) and watched a soaring raven from a vantage point on Castlebarrow (both of us). But what will stay in my mind are the creepy-crawlies we saw in the hedgerows before we’d left the village, particularly a thrumming patch of ivy where the ugly bug ball* seemed to be in full swing.

Not, of course, that any of the assembled minibeasts were actually ugly. Certain species seemed to predominate. There were lots of these handsome hoverflies…

P9171953 

…of I don’t know which species, but I am pretty sure that they are imitating honey-bees.

P9171956 

There were a few bees too but they never rested for long and were consequently much harder to satisfactorily photograph.

These black and orange flies were also plentiful…

Mesembrina meridiana 

They’re easier to identify too, with those distinctive bases to their wings. These are the fly mesembrina meridiana.

This fastidious chap was cleaning his visog…

P9171945 

…before giving his hands a good wash….

P9171946 

Or maybe he was jiving?

Greenbottle 

Greenbottle

Look Dad 

A little further on A spotted something more conventionally beautiful…

Small tortoiseshell on buddleia

Small tortoiseshell.

But nearby was this Cyrano of the insect world…

Rhingia campestris

rhingia campestris.

Not all of the bugs were enjoying the party however…

Come into my parlour...

* Click on the link – it’s Burl Ives!

Every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth

The Flood

And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.

Pah! They got off lightly, ol’ Noah, ‘n Ham, ‘n Jehoshaphat …and Nelly…and Uncle Tom Cobley and all that lot.

Over here in the North Wet we seem to have had many more than our allotted forty days of damp. Which at least means I have some chance of catching-up on my blogging deficit since I am (as usual) weeks behind.

B and I had a walk at Leighton Moss. We hoped to see the ospreys that have been regularly hunting there, or the family of otters which have been disporting themselves in broad daylight, or the bearded tits which ought to have been swallowing grit with gay abandon. But although it wasn’t raining for a change, it was extremely windy and even the joys of grit-swallowing couldn’t entice the wildlife out from in front of Celebrity Apprentice Kitchen Wars On Ice. We had to make do with a few disconsolate gulls and a despondent heron. Oddly, perversely even, we still enjoyed ourselves and made plans to come back to not watch wildlife again.

The annual church picnic, outing, beano, junket, to Brown Howe on the shores of Coniston Water still went ahead. The kids all donned wetsuits and dived into the flooded lake. Most of the adults (myself especially) cowered under a gazebo which R had thoughtfully erected (he was out on the lake in his dinghy). I had vowed that this year I would definitely not, under no circumstances, swim in the lake this year. But I did pack some trunks, just in case, and then at round six in the evening the hills on the far side of the lake appeared for the first time, and blue sky broke out all over and I succumbed. It was absolute magic – not as cold as I had expected with marvellous views. I swam well out into the lake and watched the National Trust’s gondola steam past a couple of times.

The Flood

Gait Barrows Puzzles

On the Sunday after our picnic, there was a sheep-dog trial on in the field behind our house. (Photos of a previous trial are here if that floats your boat.) Our house is separated from the field by a sort of ha-ha wall topped with both a hedge and a fence. Somehow however, our friend E, whose Dad organises the trials, came through a ‘gap’ to play with B. I’d planned to take B to Haweswater, hoping that he might have a chance to see some lizards – E was happy to join us, so we all went.

When we arrived on the boardwalks, we were a little too early: the sun had yet to climb high enough over the trees to warm the boards and there were no lizards to be seen. B expressed a desire to go to the ‘limestone place’ so we agreed to have a wander around Gait Barrows and then return, hopefully to find our quarry.

We followed a high hedgerow, vying with each other to be the first to spot the many dragonflies that were hunting around the hedge. Unlike the darters I had photographed earlier in the week, which settle on a perch for much of the time, waiting for an opportunity to pounce on passing insect prey, these were hawkers which stay on the wing for much longer and so are much harder to photograph. Fortunately, E spotted this one apparently taking a rest…

Dragonfly - migrant hawker?

I suspect that this is a male migrant hawker, the small yellow triangle at the front of the abdomen is distinctive apparently. My field guide has  a map which shows the distribution of this species extending from the South West below a line which runs roughly from the Bristol Channel to the Humber, which would mean that I wouldn’t see them in Lancashire, but a quick search reveals that they are now regularly found further north in Cumbria, especially close to the coast.

The boys were great company. I like to walk and gawp, but they were even slower than me – they not only wanted to stop to look, they were also keen to have hands on experience. Here…

What do you reckon that is then? 

…I think that they were investigating a puddle, possibly releasing a toad they had caught into the puddle in the (possibly mistaken) believe that it would be happier there than elsewhere in the field.

Exploring the limestone pavements, Gait Barrows 

The limestone pavements were a huge hit and in fact after we had explored for a while, they were reluctant to leave. I resigned myself to admiring the views, near and far, for a little longer.

View from the top 

Eaves Wood and Arnside Knott.

Guelder Rose berries 

Guelder-rose berries.

Isn't water great? 

Meanwhile they had found some little rock-pools and were enjoying playing with the water.

We found a few curiosities which had us stumped, at least for a while. These tiny delicate stars…

Old biting stonecrop flowers

…had me thinking that I had found a species of flower which was new to me. It was only when I looked at the photos at home that I realised that I was being fooled again by biting stonecrop – these white husks being the remnants of the yellow flowers. (This is the where and when and why of how they puzzled me earlier this year)

One of the puddles…

What? 

…was full of these rather unpleasant looking balls.

Any ideas? 

It occurs to me now that maybe they were rabbit-droppings washed here by rain, but if anyone knows better….?

When I thought that I had persuaded the boys to head back towards Haweswater and ultimately home and lunch, they discovered, on the path by the limestone pavement, lots of dark stones (“Gemstones Dad – we’re rich!”) with which they proceeded to fill their pockets, and would have filled mine had I let them.

Another puzzle 

Some were greeny-black…

Greeny black stone 

Some were rough and pitted…

Pitted stone 

And some were shiny, smooth and black…

Shiney black stone 

What they are, and why they can be found here amongst the limestone I don’t know.

Halved hazelnut shells.

We also saw many heaps of empty hazelnut shells, some of them quite sizeable. According to ‘The Collins Guide to Animal Tracks and Signs’ shells which have been spilt in half like this, rather then gnawed through, are the work of squirrels.

Eventually I managed to coax the boys back to the boardwalk, by which time the sun was lighting the boardwalk and there were a few common lizards about again. Marvellous.

Gait Barrows Puzzles

Viviparous or Common Lizards

Two common lizards

Three species of lizard are native to Britain, the sand lizard (which I suspect is what A and I saw at the Parc du Marquenterre), slow worms, and the viviparous or common lizard. In addition there are a few naturalised populations of wall lizards, like the two we saw in Jersey. Jersey also has an indigenous population of green lizards, normally native to the Mediterranean but through some quirk of fate managing to hang on in Jersey as their range has headed south with changing climate.

Viviparous Lizards are not truly viviparous in giving birth to live young, but, like Adders and many other reptiles, they appear to do so, the eggs hatching as they are deposited.

The Viviparous Lizard is one of the most widely distributed vertebrates in the world, occurring across Europe and Asia; it also lives further north then any other species of reptile in the world.

Fauna Britannica Stefan Buczacki

Uniquely adapted to the cold presumably, which might explain why my recent sightings have been on Carn Fadryn, and halfway up Meall nan Tarmachan in early March. When I lived in Manchester and walked regularly in the Dark Peak, I would see them on sunny days basking on areas of bare peat.

There is a wide variation in the colouring of common lizards, but the majority of the ones we saw, the relatively small ones, had brown bodies shading subtly into green tails.

Small lizard 

They all also had one particularly long toe on each foot.

Long-tail 

This pale brown lizard was medium-sized…

A paler, medium-sized common lizard

…much bigger then the diddy ones, but not quite as big as…

Old new-tail 

…this chap. Common lizards can shed their tail to rid themselves of a predator, and the tail will subsequently regrow…

A new tail 

…as you can see this one has.

Probably a tale to tell there eh? Eh?…..Oh – please yourselves!

Not all of the larger lizards had such strong, dark markings…

Common lizard

When they want to be, these lizards are very fast moving (although a couple of days later, B did manage, very briefly, to catch one). But they were also quite patient and let me get quite close and take many photos. Most of which are included in this slideshow…

With thanks to Sheila for her technical assistance – expect more embedded slideshows in future!

Viviparous or Common Lizards

Perfect Day

Perfect picnic

I’ve whittled on before about the elements which combine to make a ‘good day on the hoof’. This was hardly a day on the hoof: a short bicycle ride to the end of Moss Lane, a picnic on a bench on the boardwalk overlooking Haweswater and then a circuit around the lake and across the fields and back to Moss Lane. A short walk; very leisurely. Lots of sitting around, lots of blackberry picking, lots of stopping to gawp at nature. But before our jaunt was even half way through TBH had already begun to describe it as a ‘perfect day’.

Whilst we were eating our lunch we were entertained by a multitude of dragonflies hunting over the grassland by the lake, and also watched several butterflies flutter by – a brimstone, a peacock and the only one which had the courtesy to pose for a photo…

Small tortoiseshell on devil's-bit scabious 

…this small tortoiseshell. It was sunning itself on a devil’s-bit scabious, which, from previous visits, I expected to find flowering here early in September, although many of the flowers were not yet open…

Unopened devil's-bit scabious 

…and as many again were only beginning to open…

Partially opened devil's-bit scabious 

It was also no surprise to find grass of Parnassus flowering…

Grass of Parnassus 

…no surprise, but absolutely delightful!

But I was rather taken aback to find this bird’s-eye primrose still flowering…

Late-flowering bird's-eye primrose

…long after it’s usual May and June season.

A picnic with S is a long, drawn-out affair, since he doesn’t like to sit still for too long: a little light grazing, a look around, another morsel of food, a bit more exploring – that’s his modus operandi. He’s keen on company on his mini-forays and whilst exploring we found this…

Hoverfly - helophilus pendulus, probably 

…dapper hoverfly, probably helophilus pendulus, meticulously cleaning itself – first wiping its abdomen with its rear legs, then its face with the front pair. ‘Helophilus pendulus’ is ‘dangling swamp-lover’ apparently. I think Mr Knipe might be described as helophilus. (I’ll leave it to Mike to do gags about ‘dangling’ – he’ll do it better then I will.)

Whilst I photographed the hoverfly, S noticed this female common darter…

Female common darter 

…which seemed very happy for me to get really close to take pictures.

Female common darter again 

There were other species of dragonfly about, big green and blue ones (that’s the official dragonfly fancier’s name for ‘em), but they wouldn’t play ball and land for a photo.

After watching a brimstone several times, seeing it apparently disappear near to a shrub, but then fail to find it’s landing spot, I finally traced one to a spot in the grass behind a bush…

Brimstone 

When we finished our protracted repast and moved on, we found that the common darters were very fond of the boardwalk and would hover just above it before landing briefly, but for long enough for me to get several photos of both males and females, of which this was the sharpest…

Male common darter 

Male common darter.

Strangely, I had a premonition that the dragonflies might not be the only ones enjoying the sunshine on the boardwalk and sure enough…

Common lizard

…there were many common lizards sun-bathing on the timber ‘kerbs’ which run along the edges of the boardwalk. I have occasionally seen them here before, singly and briefly, but this time there were probably about 20 here and we were able to watch them for quite some time, despite S’s best efforts to catch, poke, chase and otherwise rile them.  Naturally, I took loads of photos and will include more in a forthcoming post.

Having expended lots of energy chasing after a brimstone butterfly for a photo, we now watched one alight on knapweed right beside the path. Since it wasn’t buttery yellow, I assume that it’s a paler female. If you look closely you can see the great long, black, bent drinking-straw tongue.

Brimstone feeding 

We’d seen quite a lot of tiny frogs and/or toads in the grass by the shore. In the soggy field at the end of the lake I disturbed a sizeable adult frog, quite pale, almost yellow, with really striking dark blotches, but sadly it had gone long before I had my camera ready.

With lunch over, it was time to consider tea, and to collect blackberries for a crumble.

Blackberrying

In the meadows by Challan Hall, S and I caught one of the tiny toads…

Small toad 

..perhaps we shouldn’t. But somehow, when you’re only wee yourself, there’s something very thrilling about handling the wildlife you see.

Small toad again

Back on Moss Lane, blackberrying and slowly heading back towards our bikes, I was distracted from fruit-picking by these…erm, well, I wasn’t sure what they were…

Field garlic?

I thought of garlic for some reason, and now I think it may be field garlic, allium oleraceum. If I’m right, then these are bulbils, essentially small bulbs. Usually there would be flowers amongst the bulbils, although it being rather late in the flowering season for field garlic, maybe the flowers had been and gone.

Well – no sangria in the park, didn’t need to go to the zoo to see the animals, ‘problems all left alone’? Check. Perfect day? Pretty close.

Perfect Day

Hutton Roof from Plain Quarry – with Forest Bug Sequence

Hutton Roof Trig Pillar

This used to be a favourite walk of mine: park at the long disused Plain Quarry, walk up to the top of Hutton Roof Crags, down to Hutton Roof village (by one of several different possible routes) and back below Park Wood (a National Nature Reserve). Then Cumbria Wildlife Trust bought Hutton Roof Crags, many trees were felled and if I remember right, access to the quarry was closed off for a while. It’s obviously a long time since I’ve been this way, because the quarry had a make-over several years ago and is now an official car-park complete with interpretation boards and public sculpture.

On this occasion we needed a shorter walk, so up and down by the same route was deemed sufficient. The upper slopes, as the path approaches the top, are still rather unkempt and bleak with some cut logs still piled about and many small tree stumps still jutting up. TBH was quite critical; I think she was put in mind of a Paul Nash painting of a Flanders battle field. No doubt that will soften over time as new vegetation is established, and the lack of trees does mean that the panorama opens up before the summit is reached, and what a panorama it is with Ingleborough dominating to the south east and clockwise from there the Forest of Bowland, Morecambe Bay, the Lakeland Fells, the Howgills and the quiet hills of the western edge of the Pennines. (It wasn’t the clearest of days but there are pictures from a previous walk here.)

Only S was with TBH and myself – his siblings were spending the week doing exciting outdoor activities with Dallam School: canoeing, caving, climbing, ghyll scrambling and kayaking. Lucky them.

When I stopped to photograph this moss…

Moss

…growing from one of the remnant tree stumps, S discovered that the wood was soft, rotten, and could be kicked, or pulled apart quite easily. His excavating revealed…

Slug

..this large, and not entirely unattractive slug, with it’s tiger-striped sole. I can’t identify which sort of slug it is, so if anyone can help….?

I can’t identify this very pale bee either…

Pale bee on herb robert

S was very taken with the limestone pavements and enjoyed scrambling, and alarmingly, running over them. Next time we visit a more extensive exploration of Hutton Roof Crags is on the cards.

Limestone pavement playground 

Like buses, forest bugs seem to come in twos – having seen and photographed one for the first time a couple of days before, I saw one again on this walk. I tend to think that bugs, like me, are plodding earth-bound creatures, but this one came whirring over my shoulder, and like a trapeze artist landed grasping a grass stalk.

Forest bug on grass seedhead

I watched  with admiration as it…

 Forest bug again

…turned itself about…

More forest bug action

…and headed down the stem…

Forest bug - going down.

Almost there...

...just...

Down!

..to the ground.

Lady's mantle with water

Celestial water.

Medieval alchemists collected the dew from lady’s mantle at dawn and used it in their experiments to manufacture gold from common metals. They called it ‘celestial water’, for obviously it has strange properties: lady’s mantle leaves bore big pearls of dew when all the other leaves had none. The reason for this is a process known as guttation. It occurs in conditions of high humidity when water cannot be lost from the leaves as vapour, and lady’s mantle forces water out of the tiny leaf-holes through which it ‘breathes’.

Reader’s Digest Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain

If you are interested in walking on Hutton Roof Crags, or the neighbouring Holme Park Fell (which is Farleton Fell as far as I am concerned) you might be interested in this leaflet, jointly produced by the many conservation groups which own some of the land here.

If you are venturing onto Hutton Roof Crags be warned that the attractive map on the leaflet isn’t much use for navigation and, unusually, the OS map isn’t a great deal better. But this map, produced by the Whittington Website, is superbly detailed, it’s only a shame that it doesn’t extend to show Dalton Crags or Lancelot Clark Storth.

Hutton Roof from Plain Quarry – with Forest Bug Sequence