Sunday, 26 September 2010

Autumn Equinox and Harvest Moon!

To have these two come together on the same day is quite rare I think, and by happy chance I was not called to work today, so I decided to go for a ramble and see what the (now official!) autumn had in store.
I still haven't figured out how to organise the photos how I want them on the blog, so my walk is represented backwards pictorially!
It has been a fantastic year for fruit, sloes in particular, and the hedgerows are rich too with hips and haws, blackberries, guelder fruits and elderberries - an abundance of red and purple that is so good for us, particularly our blood vessels and immune systems. I've been busy making elderberry and hawthorn and rosehip syrups, and sloe gin and damson vodka - purely for medicinal purposes of course!
It was a beautiful day to start, and I walked along the banks of the Cam, through the meadow and into the Magic Kingdom (the site of the old railway track). It's magic to me because it grows different things to the rest of the land around, and is particularly beautiful - when the cows are pastured elsewhere and haven't churned it into a quagmire!
The butterbur by the Cam is dying back and looking beautiful as the leaves dry and curl inwards to form giant vessels. The Himalayan Balsam is still blooming and filling the air with the sweet smell and the hum of bees, and the brook itself was limpid and reflecting the fading leaves - a beautiful tapestry of pale greens.
Although I love the Balsam it is becoming invasive around here - spreading itself into the Meadow and along into Little Scotland (the wooded part of the Cam by one of the old slag heaps called 'batches'). It seems to be overtaking the wild angelica here, which is a shame.
As I walked along the meadow I noticed a fluttering in the grass. Looking down at my feet I counted five Small Copper butterflies sunning themselves on the ground. Some were very tattered and some were much smarter - is it an age thing or do some of them just lead a more rough and tumble life?!
The Magic Kingdom revealed more treasures - a wild pear tree that had tiny but perfectly formed windfalls - some of which I gathered and took home to stew - lovely. I also found a mullein blooming, which was handy as I have a friend who goes diving and has trouble with her ears afterwards. Mullein flowers are great for all sorts of ear troubles, made into an infused oil - I picked a few and took them home to do just that.
I also found some Field Speedwell (it has one white petal) and some Shepherds purse looking like a supernova!
As I left to go back down into the meadow the rain clouds were gathering, and two buzzards were wheeling and crying overhead, as if telling of the coming storm. Some claps of thunder made me hurry into the woods to shelter, and to watch the torrential rain making beautiful patterns on the waters surface.
As I headed home the rain eased and stopped and the sunlight broke through, making everything sparkle and glisten.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Birthday, Bugs and Butterflies

It was my birthday at the end of July. Some people don't take much notice of birthdays as they get older (and I am definately getting older) - but I still love the idea of a day to celebrate the beginning of that crazy interval we call life. Plus it's another new beginning in the year (I've never been 55 before!) and I love new beginnings. And I get to do what I like for the day, without feeling guilty.

Here is the beautiful birthday posy I got, with flowers from our garden.

Lucky Leo me, the sun shone, so I took my camera into the fields to see who was about. But first I must show you a picture of this little chap. He's a Mint Moth, although this one seems to prefer Sage. Apparently they like the whole mint family, and there are lots flitting about on the Marjoram too. They are such a gorgeous colour, and have sweet little beady eyes.

The butterflies are still stealing the show for me at the moment. Every time I see a new one I get excited and can't wait to check it out - they all look so exotic and fantastic to me that I'm always surprised when the book says 'common and widespread' - but so far that has been the case...

This one is a Gatekeeper - warming up on a bramble leaf, and dining on the bramble flower (one of their favourite foods apparently). My book says that their emergence is a sign that summer has reached it's height, and it certainly feels like that. Already in August, with Lammas come and gone, it feels like the year is waning, with the harvest in full swing.

This one is a female - you can tell them apart as the males have an extra dark marking on the fore-wings - there is a picture of one further on.

The magestic Burdock is flowering now, in it's second year, and the bugs and butterflies love it. My walk took me past several stands of these handsome plants, so I got to see a lot of them. Burdock is also a favourite with herbalists as an 'alterative' or tissue cleanser - and I have read that in Japan they eat the root as a vegetable - they must have very clean tissues!

There are two main types of burdock in Britain, greater burdock and lesser burdock, and you can tell them apart by their leaves (amongst other things). At least you can try...I think this one is the greater, as the leaves are broad and flatter. The lesser has narrower and more wavy-edged leaves. I have only just found this out so am very chuffed with myself!

The path leading to the Cam brook and the meadow is lined with Burdock...

Here is a Comma butterfly, looking fairly spruce for this time of year - I have seen lots of faded and tattered ones too. The Comma is easy to recognise by its deckle-edged wings - you can't see the comma until it closes it's wings, but it's a distinctive small white mark on the lower wing.

I was surprised to see one of these little people, I thought they would all be gone by now - this one, I think, is a broad-winged Damselfly - they always look so prehistoric to me!

-and a bee making a bee-line for the burdock flower - already in occupation by a green-veined white, hope they are happy sharing...

It seems hover flies are as keen on burdock flowers as they are on thistles - must be the colour purple...
Is this Episyrphus balteatus? Looks just like the one in my book...

Brace yourself for the next pic - I know these critters have some pretty nasty habits but they do have a part to play in the grand scheme of things too - and look at his beautiful coat!
He is in the Calliphorid or blow-fly family - can't decide whether he is a bluebottle or not because the description of a bluebottle (Calliphora vomitoria - yuk) says it has a dark or gray thorax and metallic blue abdomen, whereas this chap is metallic blue all over - maybe someone can clarify this...

From flies to shield bugs - you will have to wait for more butterflies! At least I thought it was a shield-bug till I looked in my book and it turned out to be a Squash Bug - same order (Hemiptera) different family (Coreidae).
Some of them like squash plants, others are rather partial to Agrimony, like this little fellow clambering over the seed pods - he didn't like having his picture taken, maybe he wasn't supposed to be there (I'll never live this down, I'm supposed to be on a squash plant)...

-and yet another bug...
'Aha! an Oil Beetle' I hear you cry - but no - it's a False Oil Beetle, silly...
and it's a girl, so I can't call this one a fellow or chap. It's a girl because she has slender knees, and the males apparently have big fat knees (femora). They feed on pollen, which this Woolly Thistle flower has in abundance. Her name is Oedemera nobilis, but you can call her 'ma'am'...

I was in the meadow by now, and chasing the elusive butterflies - it's certainly a good lesson in patience...
The butterfly below is one that I hadn't seen before, and caught my eye with it's rich dark orange colour - it doesn't show when the wings are closed but I just couldn't get a shot with them open. Thought again I might have found something a bit rarer but no - 'one of the commonest butterflies in the British Isles' !
I love its stripy antennae and big black alien eyes...

next I found a rather washed-out Ringlet...

and then the prettiest little blue lady - one of the hardest to track down, but eventually she had to rest, and I snapped her with her wings closed. In my book she looks more like the picture of a Silver-studded Blue, because she has more blue on her closed wings, but I imagine she is probably a Common Blue - as they are more common!

We have an old disused and dismantled railway running above the meadow. It used to be the most glorious wild-flower-filled place but for the past couple of years it has been used for pasturing cows, which turned it into a deeply rutted and cowpat strewn bare area. In the past year we have had all our stiles replaced with much more accessible kissing-gates, and the overgrown footpaths cleared. So when I got to the path that led to the old railway line and discovered it had been cleared I thought I would check it out. I climbed up the slope and through the gate and 'hey!' - the cows have gone and the wild plants have come back - it was magical once more! Loads of Teazels and masses of Melilot, full of busy humming folk whose sound filled the air - what a lovely birthday present.
The wild clematis or Old Man's Beard was clambering everywhere and that is where I snapped this male Gatekeeper - maybe he is the Gatekeeper to this magical land...

I walked further on and came to another big stand of Burdock, attracting lots of Peacock and Comma butterflies...

I was going to put a quote about butterflies here, but it seems I can't cut and paste onto Blogger - must try and figure that out...
Enjoy the last of the summer x

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

High summer

High summer, and the fields are already looking quite harvest-like - splashes of yellow among the darker green of the advancing year. I managed to get out for a walk this morning, first time in ages. Didn't get far, cause the exit from the field into wick lane had overgrown, so I had to walk right round the field (responsibly avoiding the growing barley crop) to get back to my entry point.
TS Eliot wrote:
'We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and to know the place for the first time'
Well I don't think that's the end of my exploring, but I did get to know the field better, and met a few friends along the way.
I had to watch my step all the way, as the dry weather has created deep cracks in the ground. Not sure why they develop in a zig-zag pattern!

This little yellowhammer was quite cross with me. I think it may have had a nest nearby, as instead of flying away when I disturbed it, it sat in the hedge chirruping to warn me off - and posing for it's picture too, of course.

The picture below, although pretty unclear, is to illustrate a very exciting encounter. I heard a bird song that I didn't recognise, and looked up to see two birds on the branches of a dead shrub. One of them, this little man, was cleaning itself vigourously and singing all the while (bird version of the shower!), while the other, similar but without the red throat, looked on from an adjoining twig. I had no idea what they were but lightened the pictures when I got home and looked them up in my book - oo-er I think they are linnets - male and female. I checked with my local wildlife group and it was confirmed. Very exciting, as I haven't seen them before, and they are on the red list of threatened species.
There are lots of butterflies around this time of year, some looking rather tattered from their exploits. Today I saw a speckled wood, a meadow brown and a small white, all of whom posed for me - and a comma who refused to pose, but did me the great honour of alighting on my shoulder for a second or so - magic.

This little ladybird was all on it's own in the barley, climbing up the awls, flying off, then climbing up the next one - looked like a pretty fruitless exercise - but maybe it was just exercise - he looks quite porky! Well actually it looks like two ladybirds facing one another but it is just one, crawling up like a schoolchild up a gym rope.

By the time I had got back to where I started it was time for breakfast, so I postponed the rest of my walk till another day - hopefully this week if the printers is still quiet.
Heading home down Vernal Lane I managed to get a shot of a hoverfly on a spear thistle - not my holy grail of one in flight, but it's a start!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Blossoms and Bluebells

As the bird, beast and insect activity has hotted up this month, the weather has cooled down, and the summery weather of April has changed to chilly winds and risk of frost – May is the cruellest month this spring! The green beings don’t seem to mind too much though – the trees have most of their spring green gear on, and the garden and countryside is filling out again.

We keep adding more fruit trees to our little cottage garden, and now have cherries, crab apple, damson and greengage. The blossom has been gorgeous – nothing says spring to me so much as fruit blossom, and it is all the more precious as it is so fleeting. If we don’t take time out to enjoy the spring blossom we have another whole year to wait! Maybe we should copy the Japanese and have cherry blossom festivals – bit chilly for picnics in the park just yet though…

The bluebells too are ringing out their brief but glorious song. Another must in the spring is a trip to a bluebell wood. Our Cam Valley botany walks always include one such trip, and this year it was to Rush Hill Wood, a private wood on the edge of a golf course – by courtesy of the owner of course! Packed with bluebells, wood anemones and primroses, it is also home to the pretty rare Herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia). The flower is very unusual, as the petals are quite inconspicuous and what stands out most are the reproductive parts. Maybe that is why it was used as an aphrodisiac! It has been used medicinally but is pretty poisonous, so it’s use nowadays is mostly confined to homoeopathy – Mrs Grieve says it used to be used in Russia to treat madness!

We have bluebells in our garden too, but they are the Spanish variety. You can tell them apart by the shorter, fatter flowers of the Spanish, and the fact that they grow around the stem, whereas our native bluebells grow from one side of the stem and have longer, more slender flowers. They can interbreed apparently, and so some people think we should eradicate the spanish variety – or maybe it’s like the red and grey squirrels, and the Spanish ones will take over. These immigration issues are not confined to humans! Should we become one big family melting pot, or isolate and keep our differences?...

Another plant we have in our garden now is Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus), courtesy of our friend Zoe. It’s a very striking plant and has beautifully-shaped leaves – be aware that it’s a strong coloniser though – if you have it in your garden you have to be vigilant with it’s offspring! It’s also fairly toxic, so maybe not one to have if there are children around. It has been used medicinally for centuries, and these days is mostly used by herbalists for liver complaints and externally for warts (the bright orange sap). One of it’s common names is Swallow Wort, presumably because of an old story about swallows using it. Medieval herbalist, Tabernaemontanus, wrote that swallows were seen to pluck off celandine leaves and rub them on unopened eyes of their young. This was then seen as an indication of it’s use as a medicine for eye complaints. I wonder if anyone these days has seen swallows do this!

Leaving on another birdy note, this pigeon wins the prize for best Obese Bird Impression!