Saturday, 31 August 2013


On Thursday, before being taken out for lunch by Malcolm's mum, we went for a walk along the nearby Nottingham Canal.  Surrounded by the farmland which sits between the town of Ilkeston to the West and the area known as Trowell Moor to the East, the canal cuts through the countryside, originally for nearly 15 miles.  Now disused, it has stretches of local nature reserve along it's length.
Crossed by a number of small footbridges and bordered by vast stands of Great Reedmace (Typha latifolia), in parts, the water is almost choked by weed.
Connecting the village of Cossall, to the Larklands area of Ilkeston, Mill Lane crosses both the Nottingham and Erewash Canals and looked like a living tunnel in the warm sunlight.
Enough of that, time for lunch!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013


There are five species of plantain which grow in the UK and of these, two are far more common and widespread than the rest.  The Ribbed (or Ribwort) Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and the Greater Plantain (Plantago major).  at this time of year, it's the Greater Plantain which makes its presence felt more than any other and, growing among the grasses of the meadows in these parts, it makes a far more attractive plant than it's colour would suggest.
The large, spoon-shaped leaves are marked with obvious 'stringy' veins and the whole plant gives the impression of being rather tough.  But it is the tall flower spikes which catch the eye during the late summer.  Sometimes reaching 2ft or more tall, each individual flower is, in itself somewhat inconspicuous, but together they form a stately inflorescence.  Greater Plantain has many medicinal uses, not least of which makes use of its antibiotic properties, so that when a poultice of the leaves is applied to cuts, and open wounds, the risk of infection can be reduced.
Now common all over the world, its spread has been largely to do with its seeds being a common contaminant in cereal crops.
Another plant, native to the UK, but which has spread to many other parts of the world, is the Redshank (Persicaria maculosa).  This has apparently become quite widespread and troublesome in parts of the USA and when you consider that it is a member of the Polygonum or Knotweed family, it's not difficult to see why it takes hold so quickly.
Given that the seeds of Redshank can remain viable for 45 years or more, it becomes even more clear that this is going to be one very tenacious plant.  Still rather attractive though - in the right place!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013


There is a diminutive Gall Wasp active at this time of year, which chooses to lay its eggs in the unopened buds of Dog Roses (Rosa canina) around these parts.  This little wasp has the tongue-tying name of Diplolepis rosae, more commonly known as a Hymenopteran or Bedeguar Gall Wasp.  The females of this insect, lay up to 60 eggs in the rose plant's buds causing the rose to grow a distinctive gall around the developing young, manifesting itself as a 'mossy' growth known as a Robin's Pincushion.
The unfortunate Rose plant begins to form these Pincushions about 18 hours after the wasp has laid its eggs, which affect both the plant's protein synthesis and the RNA in the cells surrounding the eggs.  This has the effect of making the cells enlarge and produce these uncharacteristic growth forms.  It takes between 12 and 36 days for the 'Pincushion' to be obvious with the Gall Wasp larvae developing inside the structure, safe within numerous tiny chambers.
When the gall is mature, it starts to turn red as the larvae continue to grow.  These larvae overwinter, even pupating safe within the gall before emerging in the Spring as fully developed adult Gall Wasps and almost immediately defecates all of the waste or 'meconium' which it has stored as it has been developing inside the gall.
Lots more can be found on this particularly fascinating website, which I thank for this information...

Monday, 26 August 2013


Two plants with bright yellow flowers, catch the eye in these parts at the moment.  One is native to the UK and the other is an invasive species.  First, the native one.  Common Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) is a common sight around these parts at this time of year, but its familiarity does not detract from its beauty.
With flowers which resemble those of the Snapdragon, the two-tone yellow gives rise to the other common name of Butter-and-eggs.  Very popular with bees, they are strong enough to push their way in, past the 'bottom lip' which keeps the inner workings of the flower out of reach of lesser insects.
Nicholas Culpeper, in his 'Herbal' of 1653 has the Toadflax as a useful medicinal plant, used as a diuretic, laxative and aid for the treatment jaundice.  Rather more macabre, it was also mentioned as helping to 'drive forth' a dead baby from the unfortunate mother, as well as clearing the afterbirth.
The second of my yellow flowers is the non-native Canadian Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).  Growing to about 5ft tall and topped with a long inflorescence of frothy, yellow flowers.
This too is very popular with many different pollinating insects, particularly the Hoverflies and Bees.  Not yet a problem in the UK, it has become a serious pest in China and its spread across the country is monitored very closely.  I remember it as a child, growing in our garden and making a beautiful sight, it's still doing so out in the 'wild'.

Sunday, 25 August 2013


While out collecting Blackberries the other day, we stumbled upon a rather handsome caterpillar on one of the bushes.  With its colourful red spots, purple-grey body and hairs in clumps all over the place, it was a spectacular sight and one with which I was not familiar.  a little digging about on the Internet and I soon found it to be the lava of a moth called The Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua).
The adult of this species is, to say the least, a little plain.  Reddish-brown in colour with just a couple of white spots on the wings, the male moth can be seen usually during the day, but the female moth is flightless and stays attached to her cocoon for the whole of her brief life.  Plain, is certainly not a word one could use to describe the lava however.  They like to feed on the leaves of the Blackberry bush among others, so this individual was well at home here.  Another tick for my list!

Friday, 23 August 2013


Right now, the countryside seems to be overflowing with fruits of all sizes, shapes and colours.  Malcolm and I have had great success over the last few days, picking the Blackberries which are so abundant this year, but that's not all there is to see in the hedgerows.  Particularly bright, colourful and heavily laden at the moment are the Rowan Trees (Sorbus aucuparia).  I mentioned their orange fruits a few days ago, but they are so beautiful, it's well worth mentioning them again.
A member of the Rose family, like the Blackberries we have been picking, their clusters of berries are always a wonderful sight.  Those growing close to where we live seem to have berries of orange or red and all shades in between.
The berries, though not dangerous, are not good to eat and may cause gastric upset.  Several European countries have a tradition of turning them into jams and jellies or making teas and syrup out of them, particularly good when making liqueur.  The fruits also go into a compote for serving with various meats, especially game.  For us, they are simply fabulous to look at and excellent food for the birds.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Manor Floods

Close to where we live, there is a body of water known as the Manor Floods.  Famous among anglers for its supply of carp, some of which I read can reach up to 28lb in weight.  This morning however, Malcolm and I were not on the hunt for fish, but Blackberries again.  What a beautiful morning it was too for a stroll around the lake and as it turned out, for the gathering of Blackberries.
The lake was peaceful except for the constant nagging of three juvenile Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus).  All three were begging for fish from their over-worked and rather frantic parents, but thankfully they are being well looked after and are well on the way to becoming fully grown.  But, no time for hanging around, we had foraging of our own to do and after a short time we returned home with two bags of wonderful Blackberries.
Perfect for a healthy breakfast!

Monday, 19 August 2013


As summer goes on and autumn looms on the horizon, the countryside is beginning to show signs of wear-and-tear.  This is most obvious when you look at the sycamore trees (Acer pseudoplatanus), which at this time of year are becoming covered in rather unsightly black spots.  In many cases, these spots almost completely cover the leaves.
The black spots are called Tar Spot and are produced by the Tar Spot Fungus (Rhytisma acerinum).  As the scientific name implies, they do not confine themselves to sycamore trees, but to all the Maple or 'Acer' family.  A closer look shows how the spots got their name, as they really do look like splashes of tar.
Despite the nasty appearance of this fungal infection, the trees are rarely affected to any great extent and seem not bothered at all - sometimes the infected leaves will fall a little prematurely.  The fungus is returned to the soil in autumn and lays in wait for spring to be taken up once more by the growing tree, ready to continue the cycle.
Trees growing in towns and cities are less likely to be infected because their leaves are more likely to be cleared away when they fall in the autumn, thus the life cycle of the fungus is interrupted.

Thursday, 15 August 2013


Growing under the canopy of Willows which grow along the Nutbrook Canal, there are a number of lovely plants which are just coming into flower.  Unrelated to, but sharing a name with the more commonly known Stinging Nettle, these are the less misanthropic Hemp Nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit).  Despite the plant being rather poisonous, it has been used in medicine as an aid for all sorts of ailments including lung problems and 'tissue-wasting' diseases.
Our walk this morning, which took in a number of Blackberry bushes - enabling us to collect a good number of those fruits - gave us some nice views across the ripening grass meadows close to the lake of Manor Floods.
The grasses are turning golden now as the summer tips over the mid-point and we start heading toward autumn.  The views are still good though, despite the threatening cloud cover this morning.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013


Not much of a walk this morning - the eye test was long over due - so a couple of pictures from yesterday's stroll around Straw's Bridge.
Among the many wild flowers which grow in the damp ground around the lakes, there is a hollow-stemmed member of the thistle family which draws the attention.  The Smooth Sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) is a common and well-known part of the British countryside and sometime familiarity can breed contempt, but it shouldn't as this attractive plant proves.
As with most thistles, the leaves are edged with some rather fearsome-looking prickles, but in this case they are relatively soft and don't cause too much distress when touched.  The hollow stems exude a thick, sticky latex if broken but the leaves are edible and supposed to be rather tasty.  They also contain many nutrients and minerals including calcium, phosphorus and vitamins A, B1, B2 and B12, making them a healthy option for the dinner table.
They're certainly popular with the aphids, who obviously know a healthy meal when they see one.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013


Our walk to Straw's Bridge this morning, was dominated by the excitement of discovering a 'new' species.  As we walked home, my attention was drawn to the many Angelica plants and their large inflorescences.  These flower heads attract many insects from wasps to butterflies, bees to hoverflies, but I had never seen a Spotted Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculata) before.
At a little under one inch long, it made an impressive sight as it moved over the flower head, searching for pollen, it's main food source.  There are several forms of this beetle, each with slightly different patterns of yellow and black on the elytra, or wing cases.  They also seem to have many different scientific genus names too including Rutpela, Leptura and Strangalia.  All have the long antennae from which the beetle gets its common name.
Closer to home and another insect caught my eye.  This time, it was a species well known to me, but no less interesting.  a Comma Butterfly (Polygonia c-album).  With its typical, ragged-looking outline, it looks like it has been in a few battles, but the wings are naturally that shape.  On the underside of the wings, a small comma-shaped mark gives the butterfly its name.
Not being a great fan of 'creepy-crawlies', Malcolm was far more impressed by the Comma than he was by the Longhorn Beetle, but the beetle at least was new 'tick' for my life list.

Monday, 12 August 2013


A breezy day today, but still warm and with sunny spells breaking through, we set off around Shipley Lake to see if there were any ripe Blackberries to be picked.  On one of the berries, I found a small insect which needed some careful identification when we got back home.  I'm still not 100% certain, but I am fairly sure this is a nymph of the Birch Shield Bug (Elasmostethus interstinctus).  Shield Bugs have a complicated life cycle with the nymph passing through several stages before becoming full adults.  This is a later stage nymph.
On our way home again, with a small bag of Blackberries, we stopped to admire this large stand of Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion - formerly Epilobium - angustifolium) swaying in the stiff breeze.  The pinkish-purple flower spikes stand out beautifully against the dark green of the summertime hedgerow.
Further along and we were reminded that autumn is on its way.  The Rowan Trees (Sorbus aucuparia) are fruiting now and their clusters of small, orange berries are shining through the green, looking like bowls of tiny oranges.

Sunday, 11 August 2013


At this time of year, the grasslands around our part of the countryside begins to flush with a pinkish, red colour associated with a diminutive flower, belonging to the Red Bartsia (Odontites vernus).
This attractive plant is a member of the Broomrape family which labours under the name of
Orobanchaceae.  Like many other members of this family, the Red Bartsia is a semi-parasitic plant, taking some (but not all) of its nutrient from the roots of the other plants which it grows among.  It is not only the flowers which are red in colour.  The stems and leaves too, are flushed with red or pink, which gives the whole plant a blushing appearance.
The stems are rather square in cross section, the whole plant is covered with small hairs and it can feel 'sticky' to the touch.  Along with the Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor), the Red Bartsia has a profound effect on grasslands, helping to keep the grasses under control and thus allowing many other plants to get a foothold and maintain the diversity which makes meadows so rich.

Saturday, 10 August 2013


A couple of moths have been spotted lately.  One which was familiar to me and the other, a completely new species for my 'tick list'.
The first and familiar species was seen yesterday, fluttering around the Knapweed flowers around Straw's Bridge. Not able to get a good view of it at the time, I simply pushed my camera lens through the undergrowth and snapped a picture to identify later.  It turned out to be a Silver Y (Autographa gamma).  A common species of moth and one which can often be seen flying in daylight, they can produce more than one generation per year, so numbers are always fairly good.  The only downside, is that they are well camouflaged and so rather difficult to spot.
On the way back home a couple of days ago, Malcolm spotted a caterpillar squirming its way across the path.  Small, colourful and vary hairy (the caterpillar, not Malcolm) this little stunner turned out to be a species new to me, The Sycamore (Acronicta aceris).  again, a common species, but the adult moth is very plain and easy to overlook, but the caterpillar is something else.
Getting away from the moths, we have been delighted to see that Bumble Bee numbers seem to be pretty good this year, no doubt taking advantage of the unusually large number of wild flowers.  This one - I think Bombus terrestris - was very busy with the Purple Loosestrife flowers.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Odds and Ends

Just a few 'odds and ends' this morning to clear up a few photos which have not fitted with anything else.
The first of these is a stately plant which is proving very common at the moment.  The Angelica plant (Angelica sylvestris) is a member of the large and diverse carrot family and as such displays large umbelliferous heads of flower on top of hollow, reddish coloured stems.  Most of the plant has been used in the past in a culinary context.  As a child we always moaned about the little, bright green bits of Angelica which, in their candied state, were used as decoration on top of trifles and the like.
Looking towards the garden and the recent spell of wetter weather has brought out the slugs and snails again.  Particularly worthy of note are the Large Red Slugs (Arion ater).  Properly named Large Black Slugs, this species is a strange one as individuals can be anything from completely black, to brown, red and even sometimes, white.
Also crawling around the garden are thousands of Woodlice.  This one is a very common species called Porcellio scaber or the Common Rough Woodlouse and is one of about 45 different woodlouse species in the UK.  Very useful at disposing of all the decaying organic matter in the garden.  All are members of the terrestrial crustacean Subphylum.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Better Day

Following the very sad occasion yesterday, of the funeral of our good friend Winifred, we cheered ourselves up with a walk around Shipley Lake this morning.
The Blackberry crop is just beginning to ripen in the hedgerows so we took a couple of small bags with us to collect a few of these delicious fruits.  On our travels we were delighted to see lots more butterflies than we've become used to seeing of late.  The Peacock Butterflies (Inachis io) are particularly common at the moment, but nothing could have prepared me for the sight of hundreds and hundreds of them, feeding on a bank of Creeping Thistles.  Sadly, photographs couldn't do the scene justice, but the sight was simply breathtaking.
Along the same stretch of pathway, the Great (or Large) Bindweed (Calystegia silvatica) flowers were opening their huge trumpets for bees to enjoy.
Everything seems to be 'Great' in the countryside right now and further along, vast stands of Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) were also in full flower.
Smaller in size and fewer in number, but no lees impressive were the flowers of the Great Burnet (Sangquisorba officinalis).

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


This morning, I was witness to a monumental battle.  This clash of might, tactics and instinct, was rather reminiscent of some prehistoric set-to and was fantastic to watch.  The protagonists in the fracas were a Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) and a Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris).  Fortunately (especially for Malcolm, who has a phobia of wasps), there have been very few wasps about this year, but one had started to buzz around me as I stood on the patio this morning, when suddenly it stopped buzzing and, looking to see where it had landed, I found it struggling in the spider's web.  Now, Garden Spiders will normally leave wasps well alone if they get caught in their webs, mindful of the potential harm from the wasp's sting and wait for the wasp to either extricate itself, or die trying.  But this spider was large enough and bold enough to approach the wasp, all the while keeping it at 'arms -length' and holding itself well away from the wasp's sting.
Quickly, the spider wrapped the struggling wasp in silk, while the wasp tried in vain to attack the spider with it's stinger thrusting out time and time again, but to no avail.  When completely subdued, the wasp stopped struggling and the spider was able to get close enough to deliver the coup de grace.  Sinking it's fangs deep into the unfortunate wasp, it was finally 'game over' for the insect and the victorious arachnid was able get its meal.
Whew!  All that excitement and it was barely 9.30...!

Saturday, 3 August 2013


Two very different flies have caught my attention in the last few days, for different reasons.  The first fly is not actually a fly at all, but a member of the order of 'true bugs'.  Proliferating at a stupendous rate during the current warm weather, Greenfly are the gardeners' nightmare.  The problem is exacerbated by their extraordinary ability to multiply.  Female aphids can give birth asexually, to young aphids which already have their own offspring, growing within them.  So, in effect, a 'mother' aphid gives birth to her daughters and granddaughters at the same time.
This individual female was rather 'fat' and obviously full of yet more young, just waiting to get their voracious, piercing mouth-parts into our garden plants.
The second fly was part of the order Diptera or true flies.  Known as either Dance Flies or, more sinisterly as Assassin Flies, the Empis livida looks rather frightening in close-up.
The adult flies are in possession of some fearsome mouth-parts with which it eats almost anything from nectar to other insects.  In that respect they might prove rather useful at the moment in keeping the population of other insects down.

Friday, 2 August 2013


The Greek Hero Achilles is said to have used a particular herb to treat the wounds of his soldiers. That herb got the common name of Bloodwort or Allheal as a result.  We know it better as Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).
The second part of the scientific name - millefolium - comes from the leaves, which appear to be constructed of thousands of feathery leaflets, giving a soft, hairy look to the plant as a whole.  The flower heads are frequented by many insects and are especially useful to butterflies and bees.  They look good too, although their strong fragrance, especially from the bruised leaves, leaves a lot be desired!