Two Bonus Birthday Hills

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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.

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Violets.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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…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…

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And I did!

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But also, on an old Yew, a new Yew…

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And…

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….something else, I’m not sure what.

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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.

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

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…and I couldn’t resist them!

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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.

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Arnside Tower and Blackthorn blossom.

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Honeysuckle.

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

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

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Primroses.

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…

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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…

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This…

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…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.

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Cherry Blossom on the cricket club grounds.

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Primroses on a Cove Road verge.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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.

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Two Bonus Birthday Hills

Even Toothache….

…has its compensations. Having not slept well through the wee small hours, when I woke again at 5 with a proper face-ache I decided to get up and have done with it. After a leisurely pint of tea to wash down a tablet breakfast, I was soon at Leighton Moss under immaculate blue skies. There seemed to be more small bird activity along the causeway path then I would usually expect. I saw several warblers at unusually close quarters. I was heading for Lower Hide. On the path round I passed several….

….tall common valerian plants.

Just behind the hide I watched for quite some time as a bird circulated between several high treetop and shrub perches, singing the whole time. The song was a complex mix of sweet notes and the guttural whirrs and clicks that some warblers make. The flights seemed to be some sort of display with a climb at roughly 45 degrees, a similar descent, rapid wing beats and continuous singing. I took several photos, which, whilst not great, are sufficient to show that the bird was a sedge warbler. I subsequently found that sedge warblers were sometimes know as mock nightingales because of their fine singing.

From the hide I watched a great crested grebe in the mere and a marsh harrier flying beyond it, but it was the birds in the reeds which really caught my attention.

Particularly these reed buntings.

And the blue tits which were briefly with them.

I think that this is a juvenile, because of the lack of blue on the head.

I also took no end of shots of a reed warbler singing energetically from the reeds, sadly none of them came out too well.

When I eventually dragged myself away from the hide and started for home and family and breakfast, I found that the sedge warbler was still energetically circuiting the same few perches singing every bit as enthusiastically as before. I also startled another roe deer with fawn, but this pair were away very quickly – there was no question of me getting any photos.

I would have said that this was limestone woundwort, but I see from ‘The Wildflower Key’ that in fact it is marsh woundwort. The leaves and flowers are slightly wrong for limestone woundwort.

 

 Star sedge (I think).

 Meadowsweet.

These flowers, on tall stems, looked rather insignificant at first glance, but on closer inspection are rather cheery. I think they might be nipplewort, in which case I was lucky to catch them on a sunny morning since they are reluctant to open in cloudy conditions or afternoons.

I had a brief but stunning view of a marsh harrier, then spotted this male broad-bodied chaser sunning himself by the path.

Frustratingly, I also had good clear view of a male reed bunting singing from a prominent perch on a shrub and of another path-side broad-bodied chaser, this time a yellow female, but couldn’t get decent photos of either. Another time.

Even Toothache….

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…

..an 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.

 Figwort.

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.

Nearby…

..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

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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

An Eaves Wood Stroll

We were all off last week and holidayed at home. We managed to fit in some kite flying, some beach cricket, quite a bit of cycling, some lounging in the garden and one trip to the Duddon valley of which more later. We didn’t do a great deal of walking, but we did take one stroll in Eaves Wood. Before we even really set-off I was distracted – on the glorious lupins which TBH has planted by our garage a bumblebee caught my attention, or rather the very bright pollen basket by its hind legs caught my attention.

Before we reached Eaves Wood we had called on a couple of friends, who joined us, and walked past the garden of another friend who also decided to come along so that when we entered the woods we were eight in number, three adults and five children. The children were very happy and soon disappeared, exploring and playing imaginative games.

Meanwhile I’m taking my first faltering steps in trying to identify grasses etc. I think that this might be the female flowers…

…and the male flowers…

..of glaucous sedge, which is apparently very common, and likes calcareous soils, which is generally what we have, although confusingly, it was growing close to…

…bell heather which needs acid soil so make of that what you will.

We paused for quite some time on Castlebarrow, the adults sitting, chatting and taking in the view, the children running around and generally expending some energy in a healthy way.

On the way down, almost inevitably, we stopped at the big coppiced beech, officially Eaves Wood’s second best climbing tree, for some clambering and swinging etc.

Great fun was had by all.

An Eaves Wood Stroll