Birds, birds, birds…and Primroses


Early April, when the branches are mostly bare and the birds are busy mating and nesting is a great time to spot and take photos of birds. This Bullfinch photo is a bit of a cheat, since it wasn’t taken on a walk, but through our window, by where I was sitting on a Thursday evening.

On the Friday, when I got home from work, having finished for the Easter break, I headed out for a wander round Heald Brow, to the south of the village.

View of The Howgills.
Forsythia catching the sun.
Hazelwood Hall.

I think someone had been doing some major pruning, because a better view of Hazelwood Hall had opened up from the adjoining Hollins Lane. My interest in the hall is due to the gardens, which I believed to be designed by Lancaster architect Thomas Mawson, although the current Wikipedia entry is slightly confusing on that score and seems to imply, in one section, that in fact Mawson’s son Prentice was responsible, only, later on, to state that it was Mawson himself who designed the garden working with another son Edward.

Hazelwood Hall 1926

Certainly the tiered terraces, the loggia and the use of stone pergolas are very similar to other Mawson gardens I’ve visited.


On Heald Brow, I noticed a Great-spotted Woodpecker in a very distant tree. I’ve included the photo, rubbish though it is, just to remind myself that I saw it, because, quite frankly, I was chuffed that I could pick it out in the tree-tops.


Likewise this Bullfinch. I know that it’s the second of this post, but I don’t seem to have seen many this year.

The Saturday was a glorious day, a great start to our holidays, so I set-off for Gait Barrows in search of birds and butterflies.


I did take no end of photos of butterflies and other insects and even more of birds, but above all else I took pictures of Primroses which seem to have proliferated all around the reserve.

Primroses with Bee-fly.
Blue moor grass – typical of limestone grassland.
Hazel catkins catching the sun
All that’s left of one of the former hedgerows. Still need to have a proper look at what’s grown back.
A Drone Fly, I think, but it’s the texture of the wood which I really like.

There were Drone flies everywhere and I took lots of, I suppose, quite pointless photographs of them, but then occasionally what I took to be another Drone Fly would instead transpire to be something more interesting, like this Bee-fly…


I was quite surprised to see this machinery in the woods by Hawes Water, but the path from Challan Hall around to Moss Lane, which is supposed to be wheelchair friendly, had been getting increasingly muddy and Natural England were having it widened and resurfaced, so bully for them.

Cherry blossom?

I can’t really identify lichens and, I think because I can’t, I don’t always pay them the attention they merit. I think this is Ramalina farinacea, but I wouldn’t take my word for it, and, looking again, I think there are probably at least three different lichens in the photo above.

Honeysuckle leaves, some of the earliest to appear, catching the light.

Although it was months ago, I remember my encounter with this Comma butterfly very vividly. It was sunning itself on some limestone, as you can see, and I slowly edged toward it, taking a new photo after each stride. Eventually, I upset it and it moved, finally settling on a nearby tree-trunk, at which point I started edging forward again.


What struck me was that, if I hadn’t seen the Comma land, I don’t think I would have picked it out. Whilst the underside of its wings are drab in comparison to the patterned orange of the upper wings, the underwings are beautifully adapted to conceal the butterfly in a superb imitation of a tatty dead leaf.



…is a warbler. I don’t think it’s a Chiff-chaff, they have a very distinctive song which I can actually recognise, so I can recall getting excited because this had a different song. Sadly, I can’t remember the song at all, and can’t identify which warbler this is without that additional clue.

No such confusion here…


…this is a make Kestrel. I wish I’d managed to capture it in flight when it’s colours looked stunning.

And I suspect that this is a Chiff-chaff…


Though I couldn’t swear to it.

Another mystery here…


…with a bone suspended in a Blackthorn bush. I know that Shrikes impale their prey on the thorns of this tree, but Shrikes are quite small and I think that this bone is probably a bit too big for that. Also, Shrikes are very rare in the UK these days and are not generally seen this far West (although I know that they have occasionally been spotted at Leighton Moss).

Ash flowers beginning to emerge.
More Hazel catkins.
And again!
White violets.

I was back at Gait Barrows the following day, but the skies were dull and I didn’t take many photos. On the Monday, I had another local wander, including a visit to The Cove…


The Tuesday was a bit special, so I shall save that for my next post…

Birds, birds, birds…and Primroses

Another Tour of Farleton Fell


Beetham Fell, Kent Estuary, Whitbarrow Scar and Lakeland Fells from Farleton Fell.

The Explorer Scouts, with A amongst them, were trying out scree running on the slopes of Farleton Fell. Since it would fall to me to either take A and her friends or collect them, I decided that I would do both, earn double the brownie points, and get out for a walk of my own whilst I waited for them to finish. I dropped them off near Holme Park Farm, but since there isn’t much scope for parking there, I drove up to the high point of the Clawthorpe Fell Road and left the car there (near the spot height of 192 on the map at the bottom of the post). After fulfilling a promise I made to myself not so long ago – of which more later – I set off following the wall which forms, initially at least, the eastern boundary of the access area on Newbiggin Crags.


There’s a track here, not marked on the map, close-cropped and with different vegetation than the surrounding area; I would hazard a guess that this is an old track, in long use.


It follows a level shelf which circles the hill and makes for very pleasant walking.


Scout Hill.

It was a gloomy evening, very overcast, but the forecast had said that it would brighten up, so I had high hopes.

Eventually, the track swings westward and climbs a shallow, dry valley with a low, limestone edge on the right…


The grassy slopes below the edge…


Had lots of orchids…


They were mostly quite dried-up and finished. These had me confused at the time, but looking at them now I feel sure that they must be Early Purple Orchids. In the fields around home these have long since shrivelled up and disappeared, but I suppose the extra bit of elevation must be sufficient to make the flowering both begin and end a little later here.

The path brings you to the little col between the twin summits of Farleton Knott and Holmepark Fell. If I’d had a little more time I would have stayed with the path – it drops down to the paths which follow the base of the western edge – but I was conscious of the time, and too tempted by the view from the top.



Farleton Knott.


Looking back down the dry valley, sunshine finally arriving.


Middlebarrow, Arnside Knott, Beetham Fell.


Looking along the edge to Warton Crag.


Hart’s-tongue Fern.


Meadow-oat Grass – I did learn something on my course.


Returning by a higher route on Newbiggin Crags. Ingleborough still in the murk in the distance.


Skylark – I think.


Coal Tit.


The sunshine has reached the hills to the east by the time I was approaching the car again. The wind had picked up too; the little wind-turbine in the centre of this photo was whizzing around now. I’d walked past it twice earlier – the first time it wasn’t turning at all and the second time only rotating lazily.

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You can see on the map above why I’d already walked past the wind turbine twice. I detoured down to Whin Yeats Farm, where there’s a…




An honesty box, a fridge, and milk and cheese for sale…


I’d seen this advertised on a previous visit to Fareton Fell and resolved to try this local produce when an opportunity arose. The next evening, the boys and my Father-in-Law joined me to sample the cheeses…


I think this is the Farmhouse on the left and the Fellstone on the right. Both very tasty. The consensus was that we preferred the Fellstone. B described it as being ‘like Manchego, but stronger’, which is high praise, because he’s very fond of Manchego. I shall be getting those again.


Another Tour of Farleton Fell

An Introduction to Grasses.


Exactly a week after my Grassland Monitoring course and I was on another course, organised again by Morecambe Bay Partnerships, this time on grasses, and based here in Silverdale.


Initially, there was a presentation in the Green Room of the Gaskell Hall, introducing a handful of species commonly found in the major habitats in this area. Then we progressed to The Lots to test our new found knowledge.

And finally, went down to The Shore to look at the grasses on the salt marsh.



I’ve had a couple of Field Guides to non-flowering plants – grasses, sedges, rushes, and ferns – for quite some time, but never seem to have got to grips with them. I still think that I’m going to find them challenging, but maybe now that I’m familiar with a few, I can start to slowly chip away at the others, like I have done with flowers.

Having said that, I didn’t make a good start – I took no pictures of grasses to add to this post, but when we got down to the shore and there were some flowering plants to see, out came my camera!


Sea Milkwort.


Sea Plantain.





These leaves, I was told, belong to an Orache. There are several, I’m not sure which this is. Not very exciting to look at I know, but it pleased me, because I knew I recognised the name and that I would find it, and I subsequently have, in the pages of the first field guide to plants which I bought – Richard Mabey’s ‘Food for Free’. Apparently, young leaves can be picked and used like spinach. Perhaps I should try it.


When we’d finished, I walked home by a circuitous route across the sands to The Cove. Many people were out making the most of the firm surface created by the long spell of dry weather we were enjoying. We were all surprised by two microlights flying surprisingly low above the beach, you can see one in the photo above.

An Introduction to Grasses.

Trowbarrow Views


The forecast promised that the weather was going to improve. I set out on trust, although there were still a few spots of rain in the fairly strong wind.


The hay has since been cut – they were collecting it in today – but then the grasses were long and swaying in the breeze. The dominant, red-tinged grass here is, I think, Yorkshire Fog, but I’m really not sure about the patch of pale grass standing out amongst the red. Cocksfoot?


Yorkshire Fog.




Leighton Moss.

Fortunately, by the time I reached Leighton Moss, the view to the west was finally looking promising…



The reeds along the boardwalk were looking tatty and half-eaten. It didn’t take much sleuthing to discover the reason why.

Alongside the reeds, there were lots of these large Dock leaves. (We have several Docks – I have no idea which these are).


Many of them were infected with a fungus causing red blotches on the upper sides of the leaves…


And crusty white rings on the undersides…


I’ve done my lazy research, and I think that it’s a rust fungus called Puccinia Phragmitis.


Common Spotted-orchid and Quaking Grass.


Red Wall.


Bee Orchid.

I was looking for the Fly Orchid which apparently flowers here. I didn’t find it, but more of the Bee Orchids had come into flower. Also, while I was poking about, I found a narrow path which I assume is the climbers’ descent route from the top of the main crag. I’ve never been up to the top before, but the views were excellent…



Humphrey Head.



Leighton Moss from Trowbarrow.


Common Spotted-orchid and Quaking Grass again.


And another (but quite different) Common Spotted-orchid.


Hedge Woundwort.


The clouds were back.


Six for gold.

Towards the end of the walk I came across a couple of bumblebees once again apparently asleep on flowers. It was very windy and when I grabbed one of the flowers to try to hold it still for a photo the bee waved one leg in a half-hearted fashion, like a person might if you tried to rouse them from deep sleep.


Trowbarrow Views

Two Bonus Birthday Hills


Cove Road Quince flowers.

So, I had a little op, part of my ongoing review of local surgery facilities. I had the same op 24 years ago. On that occasion, I spent a few days in hospital afterwards, and although the aftermath was a good deal better than the few days prior to the procedure, suffice to say that it wasn’t entirely comfortable. This time then, I knew what to expect. What’s more the surgeon had warned me that I would need at least a week off work to recuperate (and then scotched that silver-lining by sending me a date at the beginning of a two week holiday period) and I had been sent home with a handy collection of pain-killers to help me get by.



I went under the knife on the day before my birthday, so not much chance then of my usual walk on my birthday, and certainly no hill-climbing, at least that’s what I thought, which was why I was so keen to drag the kids up Pen-y-ghent and Helvellyn in the days beforehand.

But this time, the op had been performed as a day case, so at least I was sent home. And it had gone much better than expected and I wasn’t really experiencing much pain. A little discomfort would be nearer the mark.


This clump of sedge is close to the Elmslack entrance to Eaves Wood. I’ve walked past them countless times before, but never noticed them flowering, or are they fruiting? To the left of the rush the shorter, fine ‘grass’ is actually some kind of garlic or chive – it has a strong garlic flavour and smell.


A consultation of ‘Roger Phillips Grasses, Ferns, Mosses & Lichens of Great Britain and Ireland’ has led me to the conviction that this is Hairy Woodrush.

In fact, I felt pretty good. I’d been told I couldn’t drive for 24 hours. And that I couldn’t be left alone during the same period. But nobody had categorically told me that I couldn’t go for a birthday walk. And the sun was shining. Or at least, it was when I set off, although a wave of cloud was rushing in from the west, presumably carried in on a front of some kind.

I did go out on my own, which probably contravened the terms of my release, but I took my mobile so that I cold phone for help, if I fell unconscious or somesuch….

I planned to head up to Castlebarrow, giving me a hill, however small, as is my custom on my birthday and a vantage point to watch the weather change, but I was distracted by the area of fallen trees just off the path, which the children used to enjoy visiting in order to build a den between the roots of two large trunks.


There are several large fallen trees in the one small area…


The area around the trees is now filling up with a thicket of saplings…


…in contrast with other nearby areas where the mature trees still stand and the woodland floor is only covered with old leaves and the odd patch of Cuckoo Pint.

I expected to find fungi growing on the dead wood…






And I did!


But also, on an old Yew, a new Yew…




….something else, I’m not sure what.


New leaves…Hazel?

Because of all of my faffing about admiring dead trees and fungi, by the time I reached Castlebarrow, the blue sky had virtually all been enveloped by the cloud.



It was really too gloomy for taking bird photos, but there were a number of duelling Robins on adjacent small trees…


…and I couldn’t resist them!



Blue Moor Grass

From Castlebarrow I dropped down on to the northern side and took a dog walkers path into Middlebarrow which I may have followed before, but which I don’t know well. I heard a Green Woodpecker yaffle very close at hand. Scanning the nearby trees I was rewarded with a flash of exotic green and red as the woodpecker flew away. I frequently hear Green Woodpeckers but very rarely see them, so this was a special moment.


Arnside Tower and Blackthorn blossom.



Following the path which traces the northern edge of the Caravan Park I expected to see Green Hellebore…


Green Hellebore. No flowers in evidence. Too late or too early – I suspect the latter.



But certainly didn’t expect to see another Green Woodpecker. I heard it first, then tracked down its position due to the sound of it knocking persistently on the trunk of a tree. I could just make out it’s head…


And managed a frustratingly useless first-ever photograph of a Green Woodpecker. It soon flew off, and whilst I waited to see if it would return, and watched the antics of a dog which had skipped over the wall from the path and was gleefully evading its owners, I wondered about the ownership of a largish hole in the ground I could see just beyond the wall. I didn’t wonder for long…




…is the large Blackthorn where last year I watched for a while entranced by the huge and varied population of bees frequenting its flowers. It wasn’t fully in blossom this year and I was struck by its lichen bedecked branches.


Cherry Blossom on the cricket club grounds.


Primroses on a Cove Road verge.


Barren Strawberry on a Cove Road wall.

Briefly, as I neared home, the blue sky returned, but this was a very fleeting improvement in the weather – patches of blue appeared and then, in a matter of moments, virtually the whole sky was blue again, but only moments later it had all disappeared again.



Jack-by-the-Hedge, or Hedge Garlic, or Garlic Mustard. Supposed to be good to eat, but much too bitter for me.

There’d been a dispute, apparently, about who was going to cook me a birthday breakfast, but this was a bit of a pointless argument, since I don’t eat breakfast these days. However, A deferred her menu choice and served up a very creditable Spanish omelette for lunch. We now just need to work on the other 364 days of the year.

When I’d bought the boys new boots the day before, S fixed the shop assistant with a glare and asked, “But are they waterproof?”

To which he responded; “Well, you’ll have to wax them.”

I’m glad that they got this from someone else, because I doubt they would have taken it half so seriously if I had told them. Anyway, B, particularly, was very vexed that he had scuffed his boots on Helvellyn so I decided to take advantage of their enthusiasm for their new boots and they washed them, and then applied two coats, one of a leather treatment and softer, and one of wax.


Which, in turn, encouraged me to do the same to mine!

I’ve kept my ‘cleaning kit’ – wax, rags and brush – in the box my own relatively new boots came in, in the summer house and said box had two sizeable residents spiders…


I think they have been living in here a while because the box also contained a couple of shed exoskeletons. I suspect that these are some kind of wolf spider, but I don’t have even a remotely comprehensive guide to British spiders, so really, I’m just guessing.

Later, A had a dance lesson in Milnthorpe. Whilst she was there, the boys and I had a simple straight up and down walk up Haverbrack…


So, rather unexpectedly, I managed two hills on my birthday, only the modest heights of Castlebarrow and Haverbrack, but it’s a good deal more than I anticipated.

Two Bonus Birthday Hills

Foulshaw Moss and Meathop Moss

Pond at Foulshaw

Two nature reserves, which, as the crow flies, are close to home, but being on the other side of the Kent estuary, have mainly passed under my radar until recently. Foulshaw Moss figures prominently as a vast yellow expanse in the winter view from Arnside Knott.

 Foulshaw Moss 

Whilst there’s potentially a wealth of wildlife to spot here, the most notable inhabitants on my recent evening visit were the damselflies.

Large Red Damselfly 

The large red damselflies were numerous. but quite hard to spot since they seemed to prefer a partially concealed perch, under a leaf or in the midst of a clump of reed or grass stems. 

Large Red Damselfly III 

Large Red Damselfly IV

The blue damselflies were much more brazen, with clouds of them occupying prominent positions across a bush or some reeds.

Azure damselfly I 

Azure damselfly II 

Since there are several species of blue damselfly I’m usually very tentative in any identification.

Azure damselfly on bog myrtle

But I’m reasonably confident that these are azure damselflies, the U shape on the second abdominal segment is the give away. There were some blue-tailed damselflies about too, but they were very wary of me and my camera.

As for this one….


…I’m not sure…a female?


I’ve had no luck with the identity of this fly or this…

Unidentified Moth

….delicately pretty small moth.

But I think that this…

Broken-barred Carpet?

…might be a broken-barred carpet moth.


I guess that this is a hoverfly, but that’s as far as I’ve got.

Bog myrtle flower (?)

Male catkin, bog myrtle.

Bog myrtle

There’s quite a bit of bog myrtle about. It has a wonderful pungent aroma when the leaves are brushed. Apparently it was used to add bitterness to beer in the days before hops were used. (And, I’ve discovered, Fraoch’s scrumptious Heather Ale uses bog myrtle as a well as heather.)

Meathop Moss is, like Foulshaw, a raised mire, with sphagnum moss retaining water and creating peat – up to a depth of six metres apparently.


Vegas-era-Elvis insect. You’d think this would be distinctive enough for me to be able to find it in my field guide. You’d think.

Meathop looks more like a sphagnum bog than Foulshaw….

Meathop Moss Boardwalk, views to Cartmell Fell 

…with the kind of plants you would associate with that environment.










And others which I don’t know, like this grass.

This had me flummoxed…

Mystery flower 


Mystery flower II 

…I’m now thinking that it’s cross-leaved heather, and that these flowers aren’t open yet.

Another mystery flower 

These curious green-yellow flowers (?) are still puzzling me.

A curled leaf on a low shrub attracted my attention; inside this attractive spider…

Spider in rolled leaf 

The hedgerow near the entrance to the reserve (with it’s contradictory notices “Welcome” and “Members Only”, I chose to believe the former) was liberally arrayed in small silken nests.


No residents evident, so I tore one open and found lots of small caterpillars…

Tent caterpillar

Foulshaw Moss and Meathop Moss

Gait Barrows Colour

Orange Tip

An orange tip.

We’re spoilt for choice for places to take a wander in and around Silverdale: the limestone hills of Castlebarrow, Arnside Knott, Warton Crag, Beetham Fell, Cringlebarrow, and Haverbrack, the small cliffs of Jack Scout or Arnside Point, the vast expanses of the Bay, the meres amd reedbeds of Leighton, Silverdale and Hale Mosses, but more and more these days I find myself drawn to the Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve.

The modest route I followed there on this walk takes in some woodland, a lakeshore, wildflower meadows and areas of lowland limestone pavement.


 A big bumblebee.

 You ain't seen me, right.

This pheasant was attempting to hide in the grass. It was surprisingly successful, with the naked eye I was almost fooled into thinking that what I could see was a dead branch lying in the field, but something about how the wind flicked the bird’s tail made me wonder and the zoom on my little Olympus confirmed my suspicions.

Run pheasant, run pheasant, run, run, run.... 

The pheasant clearly twigged that it was rumbled and went haring away across the field, it’s little legs pumping furiously, to quite comical effect.

Gait Barrows nearly always provides me with something to puzzle over….

A hole...and bedding? 

On this occasion it was a hole in the ground a few inches across, perhaps a burrow, with a pile of soft, woolly, grey hair and straw beside it, as if bedding had been dragged out to be changed.

Gaitbarrows limestone pavement 

The limestone pavement.


Grike ferns.


Grass seedheads, I think possibly Mountain Melick which likes limestone – lovely anyway.

Pavement Ashtree 

The way that trees survive in this apparently not very promising environment never ceases to amaze me. This ash had new leaves appearing in the gaudiest of colours…

New ash leaves I 

New ash leaves II 

New ash leaves III 

Nearby, and not to be outdone, this oak sapling’s new leaves were also striking…

New oak leaves 

I had hoped to find lily-of-the-valley flowering, but although I found leaves…

Lily of the valley leaf 

…there were no flowers, which left me wondering whether I was too early or too late. The lengthy cold spell has certainly slowed some plants down: there were only a couple of flowers on the lady’s slipper orchids, well behind where they had been at this time last year.

Lady's slipper

Gait Barrows Colour

Life’s Rich Pageant

Thursday afternoon – blue skies and sunshine naturally.  Once again I was walking home from Carnforth. This time I decided to stop to look at the churchyard at Saint Oswald’s in Warton, inspired by Francesca Greenoak and the flower dappled  churchyard at Holy Trinity in Seathwaite. Sadly at Saint Oswald’s all is carefully manicured lawns – not much scope for wildflowers here. The churchyard is very large – not too surprising when you realise that historically Warton was a huge parish incorporating Silverdale, the Yealands and several other villages. Since the grounds were a little disappointing I popped into the church itself…

Apparently there may have been a church here since before the Norman conquest and the oldest part of the current building is 14th Century. The Stars and Stripes hangs alongside the Union Jack inside the church, sent by American servicemen after WW2 due to Warton’s connection to the ancestors of George Washington, also celebrated in the name of one of the village’s pubs…

On this occasion I wasn’t tarrying for a pint however: too much to see. Behind the pub the crag road climbs steeply and a little way up that road is a small car park, the back wall of which is liberally festooned with red valerian…

..which confusingly, can also be white… introduced species from the Mediterranean which is obviously very happy on these limestone cliffs.

I feel like I’ve turned something of a corner when it comes to identifying flowers – although I haven’t entirely got the hang of using the keys I have at least learned to look at the entire plant and I’m beginning to pick up on familial traits which give useful clues. I’m far from expert, but I’m getting better.

With grasses etc. I’m not even sure that I’ve made it to square one yet.

Could this be red fescue? Gettin to grips with grasses, sedges and ferns etc. is bound to be a steep learning curve, but I know that I shall enjoy looking. Already I’m quite taken aback by the huge variety I’ve discovered since I began to take more careful note.

Meanwhile the large clumps of biting stonecrop which I noticed on a previous Thursday afternoon’s Shank’s Pony commute…

…have begun to flower…

 Across Carnforth to Clougha Pike – must get back there sometime.

When I found these…

….before on Heald Brow, I tentatively identified them as quaking grass. I’m feeling much more confident now. After all the inflorescence (ooh I know – get me) is…

Inflorescence a pyramidal panicle, with very distinctive ovoid to broadly triangular spikelets 4 – 12mm, usually purplish, shaking in the wind on slender stalks *

They’re certainly very distinctive and rather handsome too.

Here on the crag they were plentiful too and since I first saw them they have grown and spread out like a child’s mobile so that they really do quake in the breeze. Quite hard to catch on camera the overall effect…

Of course, having boasted about my abilities as a plant identifier, I can’t trace this large and very vigorous one…

…which looks like it may be about to flower…


…so hopefully I can come back again soon and get some more clues. (The keys led me to a couple of plants neither of which quite seemed to match, but we shall see…)

No keys needed for red clover…


….I just enjoyed these three flowers, all on the same plant and seeming to offer an opportunity for a sort of faked time-lapse sequence.

I saw a number of butterflies and some damselflies but none would cooperate by sitting still for a photo. I chased one orange butterfly – some sort of fritillary I hoped, and when I lost it, noticed this large egg-shell down in the grass.

I thought that this might be flea sedge….

…but I searched for images and now I’m not at all convinced.

These tiny flowers are a bedstraw, but hard to decide which one. Heath bedstraw looks favourite except that it favours acid soils.

This had been one of my slower ascents of Warton Crag. Once over the top I was into the woods and the vegetation changed.

In the shade under the canopy, there’s lots of this…

..which I think is male fern…

This is black bryony…

…which is dioecious  (ie male and female flowers on different plants) , apparently related to the yam, although you wouldn’t want to eat it – the berries it produces are poisonous (other parts of the plant can apparently be safely eaten after cooking but would you want to risk it?) According to Gabrielle Hatfield** it has several uses in folk medicine including the treatment of bruises, hence the French name ‘herbe aux femmes battues’ – the plant for battered wives.

 Lakeland hills from Summer House Hill.

Walking down past Leighton Hall I was struck by a meadow blushed white by oxeye daisies….

On the opposite side of the driveway a similar effect was achieved by more daisies..

…a mayweed or a chamomile, but I couldn’t get the closer look needed to try what looks like the tricky task of deciding which this is.

Meadow vetchling. 

So confident am I feeling, in fact, in my ability to chase down the identity of flowers that I thought I might even take on an umbellifer. How difficult could it be? The flowers seem quite distinctive…

And the pinnate leaves….

The stem is grooved. It’s growing in a damp spot on the edge of the causeway path across Leighton Moss. Easy surely?

Well…I’ve tussled with it for ages. It looks like wild celery. I quite like this idea – it would give me an opportunity to tell the story of the ‘ancient Incan’ herbal tea I was given in Peru when I went down with Cuzco tummy, which it transpired was made by steeping celery leaves in hot water. Made me feel much better though. But…if this is wild celery then why can’t I find a picture of wild celery anywhere which shows these striking red stamens?

Because it isn’t wild celery at all, it’s Hemlock Water-dropwort. You wouldn’t be well advised to be drinking  a tea made by steeping these leaves in hot water. You might find yourself with a ‘dead tongue’ which is an old Cumbrian name for this plant. Or you might just find yourself dead, since this is one of Britain’s most poisonous plants.


There were several of these along the causeway too. If I had needed any convincing about ‘The Wild Flower Key’ after Sheila’s recommendation, I need only have flicked through the few pages on orchids, which I have just done – and now I can pronounce with confidence, rather than my usual bemused confusion, that these are common spotted orchid.

Reed-bed view.

I listened for quite some time to a warbler (I like to think sedge warbler but I know I’m only kidding myself when I think that I can tell the difference.) and was charmed again by a family of long-tailed tits chattering and hopping about in the alders on either side of the path. One of the marsh harrier was circling overhead. Generally they fly quite low over the reed-beds, but this was much higher than usual. Also it was calling, which I’ve never heard before, a rather plaintive cry.

I’ve written before about the wonderful spiral patterns in the centre of oxeye daisies.  On this occasion paying attention to the daisies yielded additional rewards…

I think that this is a honey bee. If you look at the wings you can see a long thin cell on the outside edge, a marginal cell, which almost extends as far as the wing-tip and then three sub-marginal cells next to that which apparently is characteristic of honey bees.

Frustratingly, I can’t find this natty pin-striped hover fly in my book. Ferdinandea cuprea has grey and black stripes on the thorax but a bronze abdomen whereas through the wings this seems to have stripes. Another hover fly rhingia campestris has a prominent snout, which this seems to have, but also a very striking orange abdomen. No mention is made in the description of either of banded legs. I shall call him Malvolio, for now at least, because he is cross-gartered and yellow-stockinged.

Where the causeway crosses a bridge and the view opens-out because there’s a gap in the reed-bed, I’ve learned to approach slowly and cautiously because that way there is often something interesting to see.

There were three red deer hinds in all. Unlike last time that I saw deer at close range here, the deer soon turned and disappeared into the reeds.

Even if there’s no wildlife to see, the view is special in itself.


This tall plant with flowers hidden behind it’s own long and abundant stamens is common meadow-rue.

I’ve drawn a blank with this too. It’s quite small, sitting on an alder leaf. I thought maybe a wasp, but I’ve got no further than that.


Pleasantly red – no idea what it is.

Bittersweet flowers are tiny but very striking. This plant is related to the potato and the aubergine, but again the berries it produces are best avoided. They cause sickness rather than death.

The plant’s species name dulcamara, is derived from two Latin words meaning sweet and bitter.

Because of the presence of the toxic alkaloid solanine in the stem, leaves and berries, they taste bitter at first and then sweet.#



Could this be star sedge?

In the hedgerow, a vigorous climber covered in lots of unopened flowers like the one above, and some open flowers….

 Tufted vetch.


..another purple vetch which I think is wood-bitter vetch.


This fern has grey-green patches where the leaves attach to the stem. Any ideas?


this apparently unperturbable bunny let me walk right up to it,

..and past…

..without ever being too distracted from the golf-course grass.

I noticed that many of the oxeye daisies I passed were infested with what I presume are aphids. Apparently there are around 550 British species, so I shall just content myself with ‘aphid’.

Whilst I was meandering home taking frivolous photos, the fields around the village were busy with the making of sileage…

* Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns of Britain and Northern Europe by Fitter, Fitter and Farrer

**Hatfield’s Herbal                   by Gabrielle Hatfield

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


It’s  all Andy’s fault.

He set me a quiz question and I enjoyed both answering it (even if I did have to cheat) and the discussion which followed.

So (and also by way of a trailer for the next post) how well do you know your Lake District?

Which valley are you in if you can see: Truss Gap, Seat Robert, Mosedale Beck Forces, Gouthercrag and Hobgrumble Gill?

Life’s Rich Pageant

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… 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


The day after we returned from Cornwall (so over a week ago now – as ever, I’m way behind) I took A and B for a walk in Eaves Wood. Of course they were there to climb trees and to revisit the den they had helped to build on our previous visit.

Whilst they were busy climbing I was at liberty to take a look around and see what I could find to interest me. Perhaps even more than spring flowers, it’s the emergence of leaves on trees which really heralds the arrival of a new season for me. In Eaves Wood the hazel leaves were out…

…but what is the hairy stemmed proboscis at the front?

I particularly like new beech leaves when they hang pale and limp, like washing hung-out on a windless day, but they hadn’t quite reached that stage and I was more taken with the colours and textures of the opening buds from which the leaves were emerging…

Sycamore buds are enormously cheerful…

And the leaves can be equally colourful, for a while at least…

Meanwhile, down amongst the leaf litter I noticed a great deal of activity.

I’m pretty sure that this is pardosa lugubris a wolf spider which doesn’t build a nest, but which hunts on the woodland floor. Lugubris is ‘mournful’ perhaps because of the very dark colouring?

I wonder, do wolf spiders hunt in packs? There were certainly a lot of them about in a very small area.

The kids were very busy now, having found another den which somebody had built. (We think that we know who.)

They were intent on adding a bark roof, but eventually I dragged them away and on up to the Pepper Pot.

Where the blue moorgrass (?) was flowering.

Yew flowers.