Wednesday, 30 June 2010


Alfafa (Medicago sativa) is an important forage crop throughout the world. A member of the pea family (there are so many of them), it is usually grown as a hay crop, or cut for silage, or simply grazed by cattle as a green feed. A huge quantity of it is grown world wide amounting to about 430 million tonnes per year. And, here in Shipley Park, it grows wild and beautiful in the dusty, abandoned old over-flow car parks of the American Adventure theme park. It also adds a pleasingly different set of colours to the more numerous yellows and whites of Summer. Some of its flowers are pale blue - almost white - but most are darker blues and violet.
Among the more usual, yellow flowers are these, belonging to yet another pea family member. The Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis) creeps and scrambles its way through and around the other plants, almost overlooked as its grey-green leaves merge with its neighbours.
Another yellow flower to raise its blooms to the sun at the moment, belongs to the Perforate St. John's-Wort (Hypericum perforatum). A beautiful plant, which gets its name from the minute perforations in its leaves. You can just make out these perforations in my picture, in the leaves on the right hand side.
More statuesque and stately, are the Rosebay Willowherb plants(Epilobium angustifolium). These too buck the trend of yellow and white with their pink flower spikes. Sometimes called Fireweed because it is almost always among the first large plant species to re-populate an area made barren by fire.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010


Malcolm and I set out this morning with the idea that we might have to cut our walk short if it started to rain. The clouds looked rather threatening to begin with, but as we walked along, the clouds dissipated and the sun came through, bright and strong.
There is one, big problem associated with the warm weather, particularly when walking near to the horse stables and farms of the area. That problem is Cleg Flies (Haematopota pluvialis). Even with a good covering of insect repellent before we set out, they were a nuisance this morning. This one was 'zapped' as it landed on me, so while it was still stunned, I took the opportunity to take its photo as it sat on my hand.
Closer inspection reveals a fantastically marked insect. Its wings are patterned and its eyes show the most vivid, iridescence. attracted to movement and also the carbon dioxide from our breath as we walk along, it is the female flies which are the problem. Males do not have the biting mouth-parts of the females. An adult female fly inflicts a painful bite as it makes a meal of blood which it needs to aid egg development, while the males feed on nectar and pollen.  By this time, the fly was beginning to 'come round' from its stupor so time was of the essence before it sank that needle-like sucker into my hand.....
But, just look at those eyes!
Returning home and there were more small creatures to be found around the garden. The Common Froghoppers (Philaenus spumarius), which have, until now, been in their larval form, hidden away within their frothy Cuckoo-spit homes, are emerging as adults.
These engaging little insects, are the true champions of the high-jump. At only 6mm long, they can easily leap 700mm. This is matched by fleas, but considering the flea is about 60 times lighter in weight, the Froghopper's achievement is all the more extraordinary. The G-Forces exerted upon the little insect as it leaps at such high speed, are incredible. An astronaut will experience forces of about 5G when blasting into space. The Froghopper, by contrast, endures forces in excess of 400G. In comparison, the flea, when it leaps only endures about 135G! Incredible forces which would crush a human instantly.
Lastly an extraordinary little moth which was on our shed door the other day. It is one of the Grass Moths (Chrysoteuchia culmella). Normally a nocturnal moth, this one was caught out in the daylight.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Butterflies and Vistas

In the warm sunshine of the last few days, there have been some wonderful, clear views across the countryside from our walks around the area. among the best views are to be had - as you might expect - from the top of Shipley Hill, as in this picture, looking through the trees and across the grassland, out over the Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire borders.
Shipley Hill itself is every bit as worthy of closer inspection. Rather than using it as a standing point to look out at the surrounding area, looking at the hill itself proves to be colourful and spectacularly 'Summery'.
Green fields, Greener hedgerows and blue skies abound. The birds sing from the bushes, the crows 'caw' at you from the tree tops and everywhere the grasshoppers are chirruping from the grassy edges.
The reservoir at Mapperley makes a welcoming, cool, oasis for the ducks, geese, swans, grebes, coots, moorhens and a pair of common turns.
The Butterflies are all busy flitting around the place too. This little, brown chap is a Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus). Rather common, but easily overlooked due to its rather drab colouring, the caterpillars of this species feed on a number of different meadow grasses, while the adults like to sip nectar from the Brambles and Wild Privet flowers.
another insect which seemed to take a shine to our windows and patio doors, was this Small Magpie Moth (Eurrhypara hortulata). Common in the South of Britain, it gets progressively less common, the further North you get. Rather more colourful than the Ringlet.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Flowers and Feathers

Whew! What a scorcher! It was very hot as Malcolm and I set off for our walk this morning. As a result of which, we didn't go far, but as we trotted through the glorious meadow of the local nature reserve known as Pewit Carr, the Orchids, Buttercups, vetches, brambles, thistles, grasses, etc, were all flowering their hearts out. among the Orchid species to be found are the Common Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii).
Larger flowered and a little darker in colour, the Heath Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata) is a member of the same family.
Strange how the scent of something can bring back floods of memories, probably better than any other stimulus. This was demonstrated to me the day before yesterday as we walked along Slack Lane, on our way home. As I caught this particular scent, I was immediately transported back to my childhood and my father, making Elderflower Champagne - a 'lively' brew which caused much merriment even before it was drunk as it exploded from the bottles, blasting the corks almost into space. Happy days!
Also to be seen along the same pathways, were the Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea). A handsome plant which displays its 'landing lights' to interested insects, in the form of spots and brightly coloured patterns. These act as a guide for insects to find the nectar within and also to the pollen for fertilization.
Lastly for today, another moment of 'cuteness' from around the Mapperley reservoir. This tiny Moorhen chick (Gallinula chloropus) couldn't have been more than a few hours old as it wobbled around beside its mother begging for food. What a little sweetheart!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

More Bugs

A couple more bugs today. Both of these were found in our garden yesterday, the first was on our patio doors when we returned from our walk. I wonder why so many creatures seem to like our patio doors! This little beauty is a Dance Fly (Empis livida).
Dance flies feed on a wide variety of things including nectar from blooms as well as other insects. Looking at it from underneath (made easy by the fact that it was sitting on the glass), you can easily see the huge mouth parts which it uses to probe for the nectar and the probe into the softer parts of its prey items. It looks horrific, as if it would give you a nasty bite, but it is harmless to humans.
Secondly, a large moth which fell off the door as we opened it. This one is a Dark Arches (Apamea monoglypha). The larvae of this moth feed on various grasses including Fescues and Tussocks.
Far more cute was this Canada Goose Gosling (Branta canadensis). It was intent on grazing the banks of the Mapperley Reservoir yesterday, while being looked after by its two parents. A formidable pair.
Cute again and a shot from Shipley Hill a few days ago. There were several Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) feeding on seeds which had been left for them on a fallen tree and didn't seem to be too bothered about me taking their picture - as long as it didn't interfere with their eating.

Friday, 25 June 2010


Malcolm doesn't like creepy-crawlies. I have to say, I have a fear of spiders, but they still hold a certain fascination to me. But Malcolm has an aversion to anything with more than four legs. So it is with apologies to him (as well as a warning to him not to look at the last picture today), that I write today's entry.
There are a vast number of insects and spiders about at the moment and most seem to be determined to make our home and garden, theirs. Firstly, a very colourful little spider which was found building a rather ragged web in our Juniper tree the other day. It is a Green Cucumber Spider (Araniella curcurbitina). An easy one to identify with its bright green colouration, tiny black dots on its abdomen and a small, red spot on its 'bottom' just above the spinners. This small spider relies on its colour to camouflage itself amongst the foliage.
Next, a larger creature. This is a Blue-Tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans). we found it on a tree trunk at the Straw's Bridge Ponds a few days ago, but they are flitting around all over the area at the moment, even in our garden. Carnivorous and quite voracious, they eat other small insects which they catch on the wing by out-maneuvering them and scooping them up in their legs. Quite deadly to other insects, but very beautiful. With such a fearsome reputation, one would think that the fly sitting next to it would be 'holding its breath' and hoping not to be seen!
Another spider next and one which was photographed on our patio door frame. It is a crab Spider of the family Xysticus (I think). Nasty-looking thing!
Lastly for today is a species of wasp. Malcolm has a particular aversion to wasps after a particularly nasty encounter with a nest of them as a child which resulted in a swift visit to hospital. This particular wasp is not the usual type which plagues us each summer and ruins a picnic. This is a Field Digger Wasp (Mellinus arvensis). This species doesn't normally bother people, being much smaller than a 'normal' wasp, but it is capable of stinging us - although it is not as bad a sting as the more usual Common, or German Wasps. The Field Digger Wasp uses its sting to immobilise small grubs, caterpillars, etc.  It then carries the unfortunate prey item into underground tunnels which it digs, to become food for its developing young. This particular insect seems to want to move in with us as it keeps flying back into the house every time I evict it.  I think it's a beautiful little creature, but just another warning to Malcolm...
Don't look Malcolm!

Thursday, 24 June 2010


Several animal species greeted us as explored the paths around Newquay. I have already mentioned the Stonechat, Ravens and Gulls, so here are a few others.
While strolling around one headland, we looked back along the the cliff edge and saw, by chance, a female Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) sitting on a protruding rock.
Far smaller, but much more numerous, were the butterflies and moths flitting around the Thrift plants on the cliff tops. Here we spotted a Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) and a couple of 6-Spot Burnet Moths (Zygaena filipendulae) enjoying the nectar within.
By far the largest animal we saw, was a Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) which was an almost permanent part of the harbour scene as it waited - and even seemed to 'beg' - for fish thrown from the fishing boats.
The Latin name 'Halichoerus grypus' means 'Hook-nosed Sea Pig, which seems a rather disrespectful name for such a beautiful creature.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


The small fishing town of Padstow lies a few miles along the coast from Newquay and it was on Tuesday last week, that Malcolm and I took the bus there. What a white-knuckle ride that turned out to be! The bus was a double-decker which gave us fantastic views over the tops of the hedges which otherwise block your view. But the tiny, narrow roads which we went along were never designed with buses in mind and as such it was a slow and, at times, alarming journey.
We got there at last and the weather smiled upon us as we wandered around the town. My goodness, it was busy though!
The harbour area, which is always the busiest part of town was thronged with visitors, so we just had to take a moment and have a sit down in one of the harbour-front cafes. And if you sit in a cafe in Cornwall, it is compulsory to have a Cornish Cream-Tea! Absolutely delicious.
We took a walk along the fields out of the town to get a look at the estuary and the vast expanses of beach which line the way into Padstow from the sea. It really is a glorious place to walk and a little quieter than the town itself.
The birds sang and a light breeze took some of the heat out of the sun as we walked along enjoying the views. The hedgerows were filled to overflowing with wild flowers and insects which made the walk even more enjoyable. Even this Pigeon seemed to be enjoying himself - he certainly wanted to get in the picture anyway!
Back to the town and a walk through the less crowded back streets to take in the older, more quaint parts of what has been a fishing village for at least 1500 years, since the Welsh missionary, Saint Petroc, landed there in about 500AD and named the place Petroc-stow.
Back to the bus for our journey back to Newquay. This time we had a smaller, single-decker bus which was more comfortable and infinitely less alarming! A good day all round and I can still taste the Clotted CreamMMMMMMM......

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


As we explored the countryside around Newquay, the blue skies and sunshine only added to the views afforded by the hills and cliff-top walks.
Extensive, white sandy beaches are as iconic of this part of the world as the rocky shorelines and the large hotels overlooking the whole scene.
Nowhere is this more obvious than at the Lewinnick Lodge on the Pentire Headland which started out as a small cottage. It has grown considerably since those early days as you can see. It is said that Ruth Ellis (the last woman to be hanged in Britain), spent a lot of time at the Lodge.
Wide expanses of grass surmount the cliff-tops, criss-crossed by paths and smothered with wild flowers and birds picking insects from among them.
Thrift (Armeria maritima) is in pink and plentiful supply and is a great asset to the insect life, providing nectar to millions. As it's Latin name suggests, it is well suited to it's maritime habitat.

Monday, 21 June 2010


Summer Solstice and a beautiful day, although I couldn't persuade Malcolm to dance naked around the garden with a set of antlers attached to his head at sunrise this morning! Probably just as well, don't want to scare the neighbours!
Back to our holiday and there were many, many birds all around in Newquay. The most obvious and vocal were the Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus). We were treated to the sight of a family of these large gulls on the roof tops opposite our hotel room including two parents and three chicks.
The chicks were forever chasing their parents around the roof as soon as they arrived, in the hope that a regurgitated meal was imminent! A closer look at the Herring Gulls was afforded us at the harbour area as they congregated for a taste of fish discarded by the fishermen. What a gorgeous looking bird it is when looked at closely.  This is a large sized picture, so please click on it and enlarge the picture to get the best image.
The Herring Gulls were joined on the beaches by the largest gull to be found in the British Isles, the Great Black-Backed Gull (Larus marinus). A truly magnificent bird with a wingspan up to nearly 6ft and a formidable reputation for taking and eating other birds, mammals, fish and almost anything else it can get it's beak on. They are large enough to swallow a Puffin or a small duck whole and can even manage to gulp down young rabbits in one. This one was preoccupied with a Spotted Dogfish (Scyliorhinus canicula) on the beach at the harbour.
A much smaller bird was to be found flitting about the scrub by the sea near the Fistral Beach. The Stonechat family (Saxicola rubicola) was making a lot of noise as they searched for insects to feed to their youngsters. This male bird was particularly beautiful.
Lastly and back to the large birds. This time a family of Ravens (Corvus corax) feeding on goodness knows what on the beach as they rummaged through the seaweed. The young were about the same size as the adults and quite capable of feeding themselves, but it didn't stop them begging from their parents.

Sunday, 20 June 2010


It's always a treat to do a little 'rock-pooling' when at the beach. Nowhere is this more productive than around the rocky coasts of the West Country. Along the cliff bottoms at Newquay, we found these small, red, glossy jelly-like blobs just clear of the water.
It isn't until the water level rises and they are once more submerged, that they reveal their true identity...
These are Beadlet Anemones (Actinia equina) and is very well adapted to life in the rock pools, an environment which can be very harsh. The water becomes more and more salty as it evaporates and it gets warmer and warmer in the sunshine, then, suddenly the tide comes back in and a wave inundates the pool which immediately reduces the salinity and the temperature. Not an easy place to live. This Anemone seemed to be busy devouring a small jellyfish..
Among the Mussels clinging to the rocks, were a few Dog Whelks (Nucella lapillus). These molluscs are predatory and feed on the Mussels by boring holes through their shells with a specialised, rasping radula (a tongue-like structure) before eating the soft bits within.
Also looking for a feed, was the largest breeding seabird to be seen around British Isles. The Gannet (Morus bassanus, formerly Sula bassana) is an impressive bird with a wingspan of up to 6ft, a formidable bill and an orange-tinted head. It is even more impressive as it dives for fish from a great height, folding it's wings back as it enters the water at about 60 MPH. This lone bird was circling around looking for fish as we enjoyed the view and the sunshine, sitting on a bench overlooking the Fistral Beach. Nothing better!