On Stopping, Looking and….Knowing Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The yellow flowers at the back…

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

The other oddity…

…didn’t seem to have leaves at all…

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

Blue skies over Ingleborough.

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

…rock rose..

…bird’s-foot trefoil…

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

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

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

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

And then:

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

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

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

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

St. John’s wort.

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

Red Admiral

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

Thanks again to Fred Fly for posing to give scale.

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

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

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

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

Here’s a cropped version…

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

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

…like an orb spider. And more small flowers…

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

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

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

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

Collins Complete British Wildlife

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Look closer still…

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

Also close by..

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

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

And finally…

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

Ground Ivy

On Stopping, Looking and….Knowing Stuff

On the Hoof

Three walks to report on. The first, late on Saturday afternoon, with friends small and large, from the Leighton Moss car park to Trowbarrow quarry and back via the golf course. Very much an amble this one with lots of opportunities for scrambling on the rocks and boulders of the Trough for the kids.

One surprise – this orange ladybird, halyzia 16-guttata, on a tree trunk on the edge of the quarry. It seems that this type of ladybird has become more common in the UK as it has begun to live on sycamore and ash. At this time of year ladybirds are usually dormant, so what this one was up to (not much whilst we watched) I’m not sure. Looking for information on ladybirds I found this helpful site.

 Trowbarrow Quarry.

Sunday afternoon’s walk took me past an old friend – the Cloven Ash. I think the gap is getting wider. But I might be wrong. We’d come via Eaves Wood and Haweswater and were now following the trough again (although a little further north). We followed it to this bridge – where R and S examined a geocache. R has placed a new geocache nearby, part of a series on or near the parish boundary which he is organising to celebrate the village bicentenary.

From the new geocache, we took a peek at the remnants of Coldwell Limeworks. Around the ruin there has been lots of tree-felling – R thinks that it’s the RSPB removing sycamores. Bad news for orange ladybirds! I knew that the RSPB had bought Silverdale Moss, but not that they owned this woodland too.

Yesterday after work, I left the railway station in the wrong direction for home, and took a turn instead around Leighton Moss. I was hoping to catch the starling roost. I only saw the starlings briefly. But for about 10 minutes, I watched them wheeling in a huge cloud, about 100 yards away across the reed-beds. They’re fantastic to watch, but also, as I watched, many of the birds seemed to alight on the reeds for a moment – the sound they made as they all lifted into the air again was amazing. Finally the original cloud of birds was joined by a zeppelin of starlings from the north, and moments later by a long worm from the south and the new larger host sped away westward across the moss and were lost to view.

On the Hoof