Back to the Bela

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Another Monday night bout of ballet lesson related Dad’s taxi duties provided a window sufficient for a good long walk, but, unusually, wading through a quagmire of lethargy, I took a while to get going and then eventually set off to repeat the short circuit along the Bela to its confluence with the Kent and back via the Orchid Triangle and the road past the Heronry.

I was photographing a distant Little Egret when I noticed this Heron sat on the river bank. I adopted my standard iterative approach – take a photo, walk a few paces, take another, repeat. As a rule, Herons are very cautious and will soon fly away if you get very close at all, but this one was unusually forbearing, so that when it did take off I was poised to catch another picture…

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By where the Heron had been a sitting, a Mallard and her chicks…

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How many in her brood?

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Seven!

It seems to me that she must be a relatively successful parent, as Mallards go. These are not particularly young ducklings and she still has seven. I well remember the instructive experience of taking our small children to see the ducklings at Bank Well one spring back when we lived nearby. There were 14 little balls of fluff to begin with, the next day there were only 12. Then 10. And so on.  Eventually, there were none. Like ‘ten in the bed’, but more final. A harsh introduction to ‘nature, red in tooth and claw’ for the kids.

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A little further along the bank, a pair of Greylag Geese seemed to be without goslings.

The Heron meanwhile, had only moved on as far as the top of the weir.

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Below the weir, a pair of Mute Swans were feeding…

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The Bela and Dallam Bridge.

It not being as windy as it was last time I came this way, I was able to get some slightly better photos of the Oak Apple Galls

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When I was in my early teens, my parents let me subscribe to a partwork called The Living Countryside. I’d always loved books about animals and had quite a collection of animal encyclopaedias, but what I loved about The Living Countryside was the fact that it covered only British wildlife and brought everything closer to home. It built up into several large tomes, which sadly I no longer have. Apart from my general enthusiasm, I don’t remember many individual articles, but I do remember reading about gall wasps, because I was so astounded by their life-cycle.

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This gall contains numerous grubs which will eventually become gall wasps, both male and female. The female wasps are winged and can fly, but weakly. After mating they fly to the ground, burrow down to the roots of an Oak tree and lay eggs. A gall forms on the roots producing a new generation of flightless wasps, all female. This generation is agamic, that is asexual. The wasps crawl up the trunk of the tree and lay eggs on twigs. The eggs irritate the tree, causing it to form the gall around the eggs. And so on.

This seemed, and still seems to me to be more like something you might read in a Science Fiction novel than in a Natural History magazine.

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The Oak, meanwhile, has its own reproductive agenda and is busy flowering.

This patch of woodland…

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…is the site of the Heronry. I watched several Herons and Little Egrets fly in and out.

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I guess that they too have young secreted up there in the trees.

This Chaffinch…

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…was serenading me when I got back to my car and continued to do so whilst I changed my footwear.

Turned out to be well worth the effort to get out after all, despite my initial lethargy.

Back to the Bela

Still Trying – a very uninformative post.

The Cove – The Lots

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Small Tortoiseshell.

Sometimes just a short walk, to familiar places, can yield a great deal of diversion and interest. (This was back in October btw)

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There are nine species of social wasps resident in Britain; this is one of them, but I can’t identify which.

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Drone Fly?

If it isn’t a Drone Fly, it’s a similar hover-fly, hoping to be mistaken for a Honey Bee.

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There are four species of brown Bumblebees in Britain; I think that this is one of those.

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Apparently, it’s hard to tell them apart without a microscope, but the most common, and so perhaps the most likely, is Bombus Pascuorum, the Common Carder Bee.

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Another hover-fly imitating something with a sting.

Most of these (poorly identified) insects were photographed on a patch of tall daisies with Dandelion like flowers, growing on the rough stony ground at the back of The Cove.

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…I’ve always struggled with identifying the myriad different yellow daisies…

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…but I thought that with a few photos…

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…of flowers, seed-heads and leaves I would be able to track this one down. However, I’ve consulted four different books and numerous websites and whilst I’ve found several plants which almost seem to fit the bill, all of them have some disqualifying feature, or at least that’s what I’ve convinced myself anyway.

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“The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.”

Albert  Einstein

Although, in my case, it’s more a case of: the more I try to learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.

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Still, I enjoy the trying.

Still Trying – a very uninformative post.

Climbing Up on Coppet Hill

Coppet Hill

South of Goodrich, the Wye twists and turns in a series of extravagant meanders, almost enclosing Coppet Hill and Huntsham Hill. We’d finished our exploration of the castle just as a heavy shower began. We waited it out in the visitor centre before picnicking in the sunshine.  From the car park at the castle, a short stroll into Goodrich village brings you to the lane which climbs up Coppet Hill.

Bee

A bee spotted on a road-verge flower – could it be a honey bee? It isn’t very yellow.

It’s clear from the map that there are several options for walks on Coppet Hill, one of which would traverse the ridge before returning along the banks of the Wye. On this occasion, we needed a shorter route. We climbed steeply up to the trig point, the views and the weather improving as we did.

B on Coppet Hill 

The kids all had several turns at climbing onto the trig pillar.

Chilling out 

The Shandy Sherpa gave an expert commentary on what we could see – the Forest of Dean, and the Malverns, amongst them, as well as the more immediate wooded hills of the Wye valley.

Coppet Hill view I 

We watched a kestrel hover over the tangle of bracken and foxgloves on the hillside.

Coppet Hill view II 

Speckled yellow 

Speckled yellow, a day-flying moth. It’s food plant is wood sage, of which we had seen plenty.

We continued a little further along the ridge, past ‘the folly’, which is little more than a wall.

The path on the common 

The Wye from Coppet Hill 

Looking down on the Wye.

Common vetch 

Common vetch, with an ant! Confusingly, common vetch isn’t actually all that common and isn’t the most common British vetch. It’s not something I would expect to see near home for example.

Down again... 

The west side of Coppet Hill is a common, and seems to be criss-crossed by many paths. The one we took, which cut diagonally down across the hillside and back towards Goodrich, was at a delightful angle.

Wasp

A cracking little walk that. Both Offa’s dyke and the Wye Valley Walk pass nearby. The latter really appeals to me. It also occurs to me that a detour over Coppet Hill would make for an interesting variation in this part of the route.

Climbing Up on Coppet Hill

The Commercialisation of Blogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juvenile bullfinch?

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

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

Heron

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

Striking heron

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

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

Heron

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

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

On a small wooden bridge I encountered this large beetle…

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

Horsechestnut leaves

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

Crab apples

..crab apples…

Damson

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

Speckled wood

Speckled wood butterfly.

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

Bluebottle 

Bluebottle.

Honey bee

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

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

And imitator.

Wasp

Wasp

Shiny blue fly

Another shiny blue fly.

Hoverfly

Slender, pale hoverfly.

Scaeva pyrastri

Could be sceava pyrastri?

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

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

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

Lost Cosmonaut Daniel Kalder

The Commercialisation of Blogging

Sweet Amber, Dragon’s Spittle and Wasp Imitators

Saturday was Silverdale Field Day and despite gloomy forecasts the weather managed to stay dry through until quite late in the evening and everything went off well – a great relief. On Sunday TBH was doing a little of her own beating of the bounds, helping to supervise a D of E expedition around Austwick in the Dales. I’d been planning for this all week – I would take the kids to Martin Mere to have a go at their orienteering course, although we had to be back by mid-afternoon to ensure that A could attend an event with the Brownies (a badge was at stake, arriving late could not be countenanced). But then Sunday morning was drab and damp, the kids were quite happy to chill, watch telly, have a lengthy bath, make jigsaws and well…we never got round to setting off.

Since then my friend The Proper Birder, who at the time was exploring the dunes on the coast south of Southport (six different orchids to be seen apparently), has told me that the weather further south in the county was superb. Drat and double drat.

Not to worry: whilst we were eating lunch S suggested (well – if you know S you’ll know that demanded would be more accurate) that we go to an indoor play area in the afternoon. I offered this suggestion to A and B, but they outvoted their brother. Only a walk in the woods would do. I’m not sure whether they genuinely preferred the idea of a walk in the woods or whether they were being charitable, what with it being Father’s day, and my fondness for a walk being common knowledge. I don’t suppose that it really matters what their motivation was – it made me happy either way, and we all enjoyed our walk, even little S.

These flowers can be found on a shrub close to where we entered Eaves Wood, or, as A pointed out, also in our garden. Its Tutsan, and I’ve posted pictures of this plant, at various times of year, on several occasions before. Here’s some of what I said in May 2008:

Tutsan, from the French toute-saine meaning all healthy. Herbalists laid the leaves over wounds and it does have antiseptic properties. Tutsan has a reputation for inducing chastity. Apparently, men should drink infusions made from the plant, and women should spread its twigs below their beds. The leaves when dried are reputed to smell like Ambergris and so it is also called Sweet Amber.

One of my posts featuring this plant is one of the handful of posts which, with no apparent rhyme or reason, has a search-engine drip-fed life long past its sell-by date.

It is a plant which I find fascinating.

I like the way, as here, you can find unopened shiny yellow buds, the showy flowers and a flower seemingly becoming a berry. Also red berries and through much of the year older, dried, black berries. One day I might actually get round to drying some leaves to find what they smell like. I shan’t be able to compare the scent to ambergris. (In case you were wondering, I certainly was: a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull gray or blackish colour produced in the digestive system of and regurgitated or excreted by sperm whales – thank you Wikipedia.) But, assuming that there really is a similarity, it would be interesting to find out how what the Chinese called ‘Dragon’s Spittle Fragrance’ smells.

I’ve posted photographs of an insect like this before too. I think its a capsid bug, I’ve found images of the same bug on the internet labelled globiceps cruciatus, but whilst I think that this is probably a globiceps bug, I’m not sure that it’s that particular one.

Having dragged me away from the Tutsan, the kids had their own agenda to pursue – a spot of tree climbing. All wasn’t quite sweetness and light however, since each had their own idea about which characters they should imagine they were – A said Robin Hood and his merry band (soon to feature in the school musical), B said Tom and Elena (from the Beast Quest books – the height of quality literature as far as B is concerned) and S thought Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach. Whilst they ‘negotiated’, I found some peace in this speedwell…

…which I think is thyme-leaved speedwell.

But then I thought I might manage to get to grips with dandelion like flowers….

 

…by taking careful note of the leaves…

So…strong red mid-stem, no long hairs, but never-the-lass hairy. Slightly wavy edge. No red spots – hang on, maybe one or two – could this be spotted cat’s-ear?

Whilst I took that photo this fellow came hurtling past and alighted expertly on this grass stem. You wouldn’t see a finer acrobatic performance in any circus.  It’s a grasshopper, as opposed to a cricket, notice the short stumpy antennae…

..but which kind of grasshopper is still beyond me.

And nearby…

..another dandelion like challenge. Slightly paler flower. And…

Definite red spots, but rounded leaves without teeth. Could this be mouse-ear hawkweed again?

 Dropwort

Along the hedgerow on Townsfield ground elder was flowering, and was busy with wasps…

And wasp imitators…

I’m reasonably confident that the near one is myathropa florae, and that the other…

..is a drone fly eristalis tenax.

Sweet Amber, Dragon’s Spittle and Wasp Imitators

The Lots

A short evening fresh-air excursion across the Lots to the Cove. Once again the sun was shining brightly, having sunk low enough in the sky to be below the leaden clouds which were dotted about. On the Lots I was entertained by some restless goldfinches and by the mastery of a windhover:

in his riding / Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding / High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, / As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding / Rebuffed the big wind.

On the wall above the Cove, the ivy is flowering. This wasp, covered in pollen, is keeping it’s side of the bargain.

I think that this hoverfly…

might  be Ferdinandea cuprea.

From the Cove.

The Lots