Not sure what happened during the first half of February. Rain probably; by the bucketload. The most significant thing to happen over half-term is that my parents came to visit, which was terrific – it had been a long while since we had seen them.
I think we had some mixed weather that week, but I managed to get out for several local walks and even saw some blue skies and sunshine.
I wondered whether all the tree-felling by Hawes Water would affect the Snowdrops there, but fortunately it doesn’t seem to have had any impact.
I know this second photo looks much the same as the first, but there’s an insect on one of the flowers in the centre of the photo. Perhaps a drone fly. I thought it was pretty unusual to see a fly outside in the middle of February.
This is Jelly Ear Fungus or Wood Fungus. It’s allegedly edible – I have eaten it, in a restaurant years ago and I can’t say I was impressed.
These black cords, called rhizomorphs, are how Honey, or Bootlace, fungus spreads. They grow beneath the bark of an infected tree, but can also spread beneath the soil to reach new trees. Honey fungus will kill its host tree. I think it’s quite common in this area.
Honey Fungus mushrooms are bioluminescent (the gills glow in the dark), although their ghostly greenish light emissions are usually far too weak to be visible to the human eye in a normal woodland environment, even on a moonless night. To see this effect it is necessary to sit close to some of the mushrooms in total darkness (in a windowless room) until your eyes have become accustomed to the dark and your pupils are fully dilated.
A rash of fungus appears along Inman’s Road, the path along the bottom edge of Eaves Wood, every autumn. I think it’s Honey Fungus. It’s never occurred to me before to bring some home to test the bioluminescence, but I think this year I will.
I think that this might be Lumpy Bracket fungus, partly because in the same way that Jelly Ear fungus usually grows on Elder, this fungus typically grows on Beech, especially stumps, which is exactly what was happening here. Where a large number of Beeches have been (controversially) felled by Hawes Water, many of the stumps now host this fungus.
I thought, obviously mistakenly, that Hawes Villa had stopped keeping pigs. Happily, I’m wrong.
Walking along Bottoms Lane I was struck by the abundance and diversity of the mosses and lichens living in the hedge.
Because there were cold winds blowing all week, my Dad, who really suffers with the cold, was understandably reluctant to venture out. TBH had the bright idea that the gardens at Sizergh Castle might be relatively sheltered. She was right.
A is in a wheelchair – lent to us by the National Trust for our visit – because she had broken a bone in her ankle whilst dancing. Little S (you can see here how diminutive he is!) delighted in pushing her around at great speed and alarming her with his ‘driving’ skills.
Four fields between Holgates and Far Arnside had been seeded with what looks to me like Ribwort Plantain. A bit of lazy internet research reveals that it can be used as fodder. Certainly, when we’ve been back to the fields, after stock have been introduced, the leaves have been pretty thoroughly stripped off. I read that growing plantain can improve soil structure. And also, more surprisingly, that its seeds are used as a thickening agent in ice-cream and cosmetics.
The weather le me down a bit here. I walked around the coast in glorious sunshine, but by the time I’d climbed the Knott from White Creek, not the longest of ascents, it had completely clouded over.
And finally, on a very damp final day of the break, the flocks of Starlings which roost at Leighton Moss briefly gathered above the field behind our house, so that we had a grandstand view from our garden.
The day after my Hawes Water wander. Another attempt to replicate the fun I had in the meadows of the Dordogne. It started, in rather gloomy conditions, in our garden.
When the weather brightened up, I set-off for a short wander, taking in Lambert’s Meadow, my go to spot when I’m hoping to see dragonflies in particular, and a wide selection of insect life in general, and a trip to the Dordogne is not on the cards.
In my post about the meadows around the campsite we stayed on in France, I began with a photo in which I’d caught five different species all in the one shot, which I was delighted by, because it seemed to represent to me the sheer abundance and variety of the wildlife to be seen there.
I’ll confess, I was bit shocked that Lambert’s Meadow could match that tally…
So…what have we got here? I think that the two black and white hoverflies may be Leucozona glaucia. I think the bug closest to the middle could be the sawfly, Rhogogaster Picta. I wondered whether the tiny insect at the bottom might be a sawfly too, but the long antennae and what looks like an even longer ovipositor have persuaded me that it is probably some kind of Ichneumon wasp. But that’s as far as I’ve got (there are apparently approximately 2500 UK species). I think the social wasp at the top is probably Vespula Vulgaris – the Common Wasp.And about the insect on the top left I have no opinions at all – there isn’t much to go on.
I always assume that very pale bees like this are very faded Common Carder bees, but I’m not at all sure that’s correct.
I think this might be a Large Rose Sawfly, although surprisingly it seems like there might be several UK species of insects which have a striking orange abdomen like this. I’m also intrigued by what the funky seedheads are. I suspect that if I’ve written this post back in August, I probably would have had a pretty fair idea because of where they were growing in the meadow.
There’s around 300 species of cranefly in the UK. Me putting names to these is essentially a huge bluff – I have even less idea than usual. I’m reasonably confident that they are at least craneflies and that the first is a male and the second female, but after that I’m pretty much guessing, based on a little bit of internet research.
This is a hoverfly which I often see and which is sufficiently distinctive that I can actually be confident about my identification. Especially since I found this very helpful guide. The common name is apparently Pellucid Fly, which is odd; pellucid means translucent or clear, as in a pellucid stream, or easy to understand, as in pellucid prose. I’m not sure in which sense this fly is pellucid. The females lay their eggs in the nests of social wasps like the Vespula Vulgaris above. The larvae grow up in the nest, from what I can gather, essentially scavenging – so a bit like wasps round a picnic table. Even wasps get harassed!
I am going to have to bite the bullet and shell out for a proper field guide to hoverflies I think. They are so fascinating. Well, to me at least! These two, at first glance both black and yellow, but then so differently shaped and patterned, but I don’t have a clue what species either might belong to.
This, on the other hand, also black and yellow……
…is clearly not a hoverfly. Don’t ask me how I know. Well, go on then: it’s extremely bristly, and it has a chequered abdomen. At least it’s quite distinctive. My ‘Complete British Insects’ describes it as ‘handsome’ which even I can’t quite see. It’s a parasitoid, which is to say that its larvae will grow up inside a caterpillar.
Apparently Eristalis arbustorum “can have quite variable markings on its body and some can be almost totally black”. (Source) Which makes my heart sink a bit – what hope do I have if members of an individual species can vary so much? At least this genuinely is handsome.
A couple more unidentified bees to throw in.
Up to this point I’d been slowly pacing around the meadow, snapping away. I hadn’t walked far at all. As I approached the large area of Guelder Rose in the hedge, my pulse quickened a little, whilst my pace slowed even more. This is an area in which I frequently spot dragonflies. And the area just beyond, of tall figworts and willowherbs, is possibly even more reliable.
There were a few dragonflies patrolling the margin of the field. And a some Common Darters resting on leaves quite high in hedge, making them difficult to photograph from below. But then…result!
Sometimes hawkers visit our garden, but it’s rare that I spot them when they aren’t in motion, hunting.
An absolutely stunning creature.
A little further along…
Our friend P has hives in Hagg Wood, not too far away. Minty honey anyone?
Views from the walk home…
Well, I’ve enjoyed choosing this selection of photos from the hundreds I took that day. I hope you did too. I don’t know why I didn’t spend more time mooching around al Lambert’s Meadow last summer. I’m looking forward to some brighter weather already.
I was missing the flower rich meadows of the Dordogne and the multitude of butterflies and moths and other insects which the abundant flowers attract. So I set out for a short meander around Hawes Water, with my camera with me for once, with the express intent of finding something interesting to photograph.
Some patches of knapweed growing between Challan Hall and Hawes Water gave me just what I was after.
Mainly bees, which by late summer have faded quite a bit and so are even harder to identify than they are earlier in the summer.
Not to worry – I very happily took no end of photos.
I think this is a Green Dock Beetle. Pretty colourful isn’t it? I took lots of photos of this charismatic (or should I say prismatic?) little fella. With hindsight, I think the patterns on the knapweed flowerhead are pretty special too. Apparently, the larvae of these beetles can strip the leaves of a dock plant in no time flat. Likewise the massive leaves of a rhubarb plant. I don’t recall seeing them before, but shall be checking out docks more carefully this summer.
And finally, the hedgerow close to home which was cut down has new fences along each side and there’s plenty growing in that space – whether or not that’s the hawthorns and blackthorns of which the hedge was originally composed remains to be seen.
Some plants in the garden are fantastic value, not just in themselves, but for the wildlife they attract.
I think these tall yellow daisies are Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’. Related to sunflowers, they’ve spread like mad in our garden, giving a long-lasting bright splash of colour in mid to late summer.
This is what the BBC Gardener’s World website has to say about them…
Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ is known for attracting bees, beneficial insects, birds, butterflies/moths and other pollinators. It nectar-pollen-rich-flowers and has seeds for birds.
The long stems seem to be good places for dragonflies to rest. And they are certainly attractive to pollinators.
Marjoram also seeds itself quite freely around the garden and seems to be particularly attractive to bees. I hope this is a Garden Bumblebee, seems appropriate, but the white-tailed bumblebees are difficult to distinguish between.
And, completely unrelated, TBH booked us all in for a family session of Foot Golf at Casterton golf course. As you can see, the views there aren’t bad at all.
We were all a bit rubbish at the golf, but we had a good giggle.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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…
The day after my Arnside Knott walk was another cracker. I was out three times, twice around home and also for a short stroll in Kirkby Lonsdale whilst B was at rugby training.
I was revelling in the abundance and variety of the wildflowers on my home patch after the relative dearth beneath the trees in the Tarn Gorge. I took a huge number of photos, of which just a small selection have been chosen for this post.
Nipplewort is a tall straggly weed, without, at first glance, a great deal to offer, but the small flowers are well worth a closer look.
Conspicuous by their absence from my last post – I know, my last epistle was quite some time ago, suffice to say that online teaching is, despite what the gutter press seem to think, pretty all-consuming and involves spending most of the day stuck in front of a screen, so blogging has dropped out of favour as a spare-time activity – anyway, as I was saying, notably missing – notable, that is, to long-suffering followers at least – notably missing from my account of our trip to the Dordogne last summer were the plethora of wildlife photos which usually occupy around nine tenths of most of my posts. Fear not, that’s because I’ve saved them all up for one gargantuan holiday-snap snore-fest, with no people or views at all! (You can’t say you weren’t warned.)
This first photo neatly epitomises one of my favourite things about our trips to France – the sheer abundance and variety of the flora and fauna, well – particularly the insects.
Although there’s a lot of photos here – some might say too many – it’s a tiny sample of the many I took. Whilst my family and friends were floating down the river on rubber rings, or reading their books, or swinging through the trees doing their best Tarzan impressions, I wandered around the local woods and fields, camera in hand. Sorting through the vast assortment of resulting shots, choosing some favourites, and then trying, with varying degrees of success, to identify some of the more exotic species has been a highly enjoyable but fairly lengthy process. Not that I’ve restricted myself to the more exotic species here, I’m almost as happy to be photographing things which are very common at home…
I generally consider my memory to be atrocious, but weirdly, I’m confident that I can remember where each of these photos were taken. This Horse Mint, for example, grows behind the wall which runs alongside the road into the village. Whereas this thistle..
…was growing in a field next to the river, upstream of the campsite, a particularly happy hunting ground.
Every trip seems to bring something new. I didn’t know, for example, that there was such a thing as a Pale Clouded Yellow.
Ordinary, bog-standard Clouded Yellows sometimes appear in Britain as migrants. I saw one near Arnside once, a couple of miles from home, which really confused me at the time, because I knew what it was, but really didn’t expect to see it flying in a field in Cumbria, having only previously spotted them in France.
I don’t think that Cleopatra’s occur in the UK, I’ve certainly never seen them before.
They proved to be quite elusive, so I was quite chuffed to catch this one on my phone, although, with its wings closed, it looks very like a common-or-garden Brimstone. When they open their wings however….
…they’re quite different.
We were a few days later into the summer this trip. It’s amazing what a difference those few days made. Some butterflies have a brief lifespan in their adult phase. On our last trip we saw quite a few Swallowtails and Scarce Swallowtails, as well as numerous Silver-washed Fritillaries. Not this time.
But I did see lots of fritillaries. At the time, I was convinced that there were two different species, but looking at the photos now, it seems to me that they are probably all Knapweed Fritillaries.
I usually saw them in pairs, and often with one of the pair raising the back of its abdomen in what I took to be part of some sort of wooing process.
This little chap was compensation for a long and fruitless chase of a much larger butterfly, which may or may not have been my first, and so far only, sighting of a Camberwell Beauty.
I’d already had an uncommonly good summer for spotting and photographing Common Blues around home, and they were abundant again both in the Dordogne and then, after we moved on, in the Tarn Gorge. Somehow their blue seemed even more vivid in the French sunshine.
If anything, grasshoppers were even more abundant, more elusive, more variable and more difficult to identify than the butterflies.
Some of the larger ones have very striking red or blue wings, sadly only visible in flight.
There are thousands of species of Assassin Bug apparently, of which this may be one.
My first thought was that this was a Carder Bee, but it has no pollen baskets, so now I’m wondering if it’s even a bumblebee at all. I’ve concluded that, not very confident at identifying bees on my home patch, I shan’t even attempt to do so with these French bees.
I will say that this isn’t a bee, but something imitating a bee’s markings. I’m not sure whether it’s a bee-fly or a hoverfly, although I’m inclined to the latter.
I saw a few of these large and strikingly ugly black and orange flies.
As with the bees, I saw a number of wasps, or wasp like creatures, which don’t seem to be in my ‘Complete Mediterranean Wildlife’ guide. There were some very thin waisted black and orange bugs which I think were ichneumon wasps of some kind. But I’m not sure whether the black and white creature below, sharing a flower with a burnet moth, is a wasp or a sawfly…
…with a fritillary. And something similar, but yellow and black…
Last time I took lots of photos of damselflies, dragonflies and demoiselles. Not so much this time, although the demoiselles were still present in large numbers by the river. Here’s a solitary damselfly…
And what I thought was an unusually hairy, stunted and unglamorous dragonfly…
…but which I’m now pretty sure is a species of Robber Fly. Having said all those uncharitable things, I should say I’m actually quite chuffed to have spotted this, if only because I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. That short, stout proboscis is for piercing prey and injecting venom. And the stiff hairs on its face, visible here, are called the mystax, from the Greek mystakos, also the origin of our ‘moustache’, via Latin, Italian and French. Which is the kind of trivia I find very satisfying.
All of which brings me to the last section of my insect photos, the moths.
One of the wildlife highlights of our last trip had been the almost daily sightings of Hummingbird Hawkmoths, This time, the Meadow Clary which they seemed to favour had mostly finished flowering and to begin with I saw far fewer. Then, after my pursuit of the suspected Camberwell Beauty, I wandered into a part of the campsite I hadn’t previously ventured into. Having said there would be no views, here it is…
It was unmown, full of wildflowers and a haven for butterflies. And in one corner, there was lots of Meadow Clary still in bloom, and loads of Hummingbird Hawkmoths too..
I have to confess that I was fascinated by them.
An example, I believe, of convergent evolution, Hummingbird Hawkmoths have evolved in a similar way to hummingbirds in order to occupy a similar ecological niche. Like hummingbirds, they use very rapid wingbeats to hover close to species of tubular flowers and use their long tongues to reach the otherwise inaccessible nectar.
I guess they must land and rest sometimes? But those legs don’t look particularly practical.
Whilst the insects sometimes left me bewildered, the flora is even more diverse and confusing. I think I would have to move to France, massively improve by rusty schoolboy French, buy a comprehensive local field guide, live in the Dordogne for a decade or two, and then I might muster the same semi-confident familiarity that I’ve grasped with the plants around home.
A couple of very distinctive species did stand out however…
This one, it turns out, is no more at home in the region than me, being native to North America.
I was struck by the way the seedpods form in the nodes, where the stems branched, which seems unusual.
Don’t be fooled by the presence of the word ‘apple’ in its name, because apparently the whole plant is poisonous.
They were growing in amongst the sunflowers and where the height of the sunflowers had forced them, they had grown to around two metres high.
Although I think this is Field Eryngo, I actually saw it, not in the fields, but growing in clearings in the woods. It looks like a thistle but is actually related to our own Sea Holly.
Unfortunately, I have no idea what this plant is, with its striking red stems, tiny white flowers and colourful berries.
It was growing by the cycle path at the edge of the village, and I suppose might have been introduced.
These four photos are all, I think, of the same lizard, which was basking on the wall one morning when I walked past on the way to the bakery and still in the same spot when I came back.
This last is on the wall of the Chateau we visited, so definitely a different lizard!
And finally, this toad had apparently been our lodger and was revealed as such only when we took the tent down in preparation to move on the Tarn Gorge.
The summer holidays arrived and, unfortunately, Wales was still closed to visitors so we couldn’t make our usual pilgrimage to the Llyn Peninsula. Happily, TBF came to our rescue and booked us all places on Sytche Campsite on the outskirts of Much Wenlock in Shropshire.
We arrived late on the Saturday night, having missed the bad weather which the others had endured. After that the sun shone and we took the opportunity to laze around the campsite and play Mölky and a never-ending game of Kubb, which had to be abandoned from time to time to make time for inconvenient things like eating and sleeping. TJS, a physicist, seems to have adopted a probabilistic, Quantum Mechanics philosophy of playing in which there is no skill involved and Schrödinger’s block only gets knocked over if the thrower of the stick is ‘lucky’. I shall just say that some players seem to be a lot luckier than others.
Before we set off, I’d looked at an OS map of the area and noticed, with some alarm, the many contour lines sweeping across the campsite. In the event, the field had been very cleverly terraced so that the pitches were level despite the slope. We were at the top, with a pleasant view.
In between the terraces the steep banks had been sown with wildflowers and were busy with butterflies, bees and other insects, so I was in my element.
After so long confined to barracks, it was great to see our old friends again, catch-up and chill-out. We managed a couple of excursions too, of which more to follow.
After the sad demise of Toots Hibbert I wanted to post a Maytals song. But which one? ‘Funky Kingston’ is one of my favourite songs, in any genre, so that would be the obvious choice. But then ‘Pressure Drop’, ’54-46′, ‘Monkey Man’, ‘Time Tough’, so many to choose. And then there’s their great covers, of which ‘Country Roads’ is my favourite. In the end, I’ve plumped for this…
…because I’ve recently been listening to Chaka Demus and Pliers brilliant 1993 album ‘Tease Me’ which has some brilliant covers including this…
In an effort to start catching-up, I’ve shoved photos from at least three different walks into this post.
If you click on the photo and zoom in to enlarge on flickr, you will see that, unbeknown to me when I took the photo, two of the flower heads are home to ladybird larvae, of which more later in this post.
I was very chuffed to spot this rather small, straggly Helleborine – at least, that’s what I think it is – by the path into Eaves Wood from the Jubilee Wood car-park, because although I know of a spot where Broad-leaved Helleborines grow every year, by the track into Trowbarrow Quarry, I’ve never seen one growing in Eaves Wood before.
Dewberries are fantastic, smaller, juicier and generally earlier than blackberries, every walk at this time offered an opportunity at some point to sample a few.
These are some of the afore-mentioned Helleborines, not quite in flower at this point, in fact I missed them this summer altogether.
I missed the Lady’s-slipper Orchids too. Some leaves appeared belatedly, after the rains returned, long after they would usually have flowered. I don’t know whether they did eventually flower or not.
And I kept checking on the few suspected Dark Red Helleborines I’d found at Gait Barrows, but they seemed reluctant to flower too.
As well as the Dewberries, I continued to enjoy the odd savoury mushroom snack.
I thought that this might be Yellow Slime Mold, otherwise know as Scrambled Egg Slime or, rather unpleasantly, Dog Vomit Slime, but I’m not really sure.
Spying this Honey-bee on Ragwort flowers, I was wondering whether honey containing pollen from a highly poisonous plant might, in turn, be toxic. Then I began to wonder about the many insects, especially bees, which were feeding on the Ragwort: are they, like the Cinnabar Caterpillars, impervious to the alkaloids in the Ragwort.
It seemed perhaps not; although there were many apparently healthy insects on the flowers, now that I started to look, I could also many more which had sunk down between the blooms. Some were evidently dead…
Whilst others were still moving, but only slowly and in an apparently drugged, drowsy way.
If the Ragwort is dangerous to insects it seems surprising that they haven’t evolved an instinct to stay away from it.
The leaves of single sapling by the roadside were home to several Harlequin Ladybirds in various stages of their lifecycle. Unfortunately, the leaves were swaying in a fairly heavy breeze, so I struggled to get sharp images.
Fascinating to see, but the Harlequin is an invasive species from Asia, so worrying for the health of our native ladybirds.