Monday, 30 September 2013


Just two pictures today which were taken in our garden.  It's always amazing to find out what is living in our own back gardens without our knowledge.  This little creepy-crawly for instance is the larva of a fairly common insect called a Dot Moth (Melanchra persicariae).  A new species for me this and another 'tick' on the life list.  The caterpillar was feeding on our Poppy plant so may have a taste for the opiates found in the poppy's sap!
The adult moth itself is a rather dull affair being almost black with few distinguishing marks but for a spot on each wing, but the caterpillar is quite beautiful (although Malcolm didn't think so..!)

Saturday, 28 September 2013


Thankfully, the weather has been a lot better these last couple of days, so yesterday, we set out for a walk around Shipley Hill and on to Osborne's Pond, before returning via the Woodside Nature reserve.  Down at the pond, the blue skies were reflected in the calm waters and everything was colourful and bright.
Even the slight disturbance of a small group of Mallards fighting over a few crumbs of bread, didn't detract from the scene.  This morning, after doing the week's shopping, we thought it was too nice to stay indoors, so we took a walk along the old mineral railway lines and through Head House Farm before returning through the estate.  Just before we got back to the housing estate, we walked up a green lane which just 70 years ago, was a through route to Parker's Bridge, a crossing over the Nutbrook Canal.  At the spot where the bridge once stood, there is still a footbridge and it was from there, that we stood looking for the Water Voles which have taken up residence there.  In the sunshine, there is surely nothing nicer.

Thursday, 26 September 2013


As I mentioned yesterday, our walk along the Nutbrook Trail towards the lakes of Straw's Bridge, was somewhat tempered by the downpour which had us sheltering under a bridge.  The bridge used to carry rail tracks from the local mineral lines and crossed the Nutbrook Canal, and the towpath alongside it.  The paths, walls and leaves, all had a silvery shine in the wet
Back home and when the rain eventually stopped, the local Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) population was out and about in search of food and keeping up a constant chattering and whistling as they perched on the neighbour's TV aerial.  The iridescent nature of their plumage shone, even in the dull light of a cloudy morning.
 In no time, they had descended on our fat-ball feeder and started to devour the lot!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013


This morning's forecast was for nice weather and warm temperatures, as we had yesterday.  So of course, Malcolm and I found ourselves sheltering from the pouring rain, under one of the old railway bridges.  In contrast, yesterday's walk was completed in sunshine and as our good friend Jayne came to join us for our walk, we decided to make it a long one, taking in Mapperley Village, the Reservoir, Shipley Hill and part of the Woodside Nature Reserve.  Signs of autumn are everywhere, despite the sunny weather.  The Silver Birches (Betula pendula) are yellowing now.
Where fallen trees are decaying, fungi - another unmistakable sign of autumn - are throwing out their parasols.  This Sulphur Tuft fungus was growing on an old, felled Beech tree.
Back home and the garden is also showing signs of autumn.  To one side of the lawn is a patch of Cyclamen flowers.  These always flower long after the leaves have disappeared so the pink flowers are shown to their best advantage.
Almost exactly a year ago, I mentioned an insect which turned up in our garden and one which was new to me  (See Here).  The Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor) is a large grasshopper which until recently, has only been found close to the south coast if Britain.  Over the last few years however, the range of this insect has spread further north and, strangely, at about the same time as last year, one turned up in our garden again yesterday.

Monday, 23 September 2013


With the weather this morning being somewhat less bright and sunny than the forecast promised, we set out for a rather misty and damp wander up Shipley Hill.  The first signs of autumn are beginning to be seen among the trees.  One large Sweet Chestnut tree atop the hill is starting to turn its leaves from the usual bright green, to paler, golden hues.
The Maples are also turning and their autumn colour is perhaps the best known of all.  Here, they are adding a little colour to the hedgerows which skirt the hill.
Closer to them and you get a lovely view through the leaves.
The shortening days and cooler nights at this time of year gives us some nice moonscapes too. This one, as seen from our front window last night.

Saturday, 21 September 2013


The Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is a large member of the rose family and well known to most of us.  At this time of year, these trees are laden with berries or Haws.  This year, the crop seems to be especially good.
The Haws are a particular favourite of Blackbirds and Waxwings and help to sustain them through the worst of the winter weather.  A much smaller creature which feeds on the haws is the Hawthorn Shieldbug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale).  This individual was found in our back garden as it made its way across our patio table.  A 'True' bug, it has piercing mouth parts with which it feeds on the berries as well as sap from the stems.  This individual is a nymph in its last stage before becoming adult.
Lastly, a picture of a native flower with beautiful blue flowers which is to be found around these parts.  The Common Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is sometimes known as Blue Daisy and the leaves can be used as a salad ingredient.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Back to Normal

Following our trip to the Mediterranean, it's all back to normal now and we have been enjoying a few walks around our 'home patch'.  The trees on Shipley Hill are always wonderful and with the sun getting lower in the sky, the light shining through the leaves often makes a lovely spectacle.  With a little digital manipulation, the scene can be made even more beautiful.
No camera trickery is required when looking at the Larch trees (Larix decidua) and their newly mature cones decorating the branches.  A slight sprinkling of dew on the needles makes things a little more interesting.
Many of our trees show signs of attack by insects at this time of year.  The hardest hit of these trees are always the Oaks.  The under-side of the leaves of the Oak trees are coated in small Spangle Galls caused by the Cynipid wasp Neuroterus Quercusbaccarum.  Adult Wasps will emerge from these spangle galls in Spring, having over-wintered among the leaf-litter.  More prominent than the spangles are the Cherry Galls.  These are also to be found on the underside of Oak leaves but are much larger and, as the name implies, look like cherries attached to the leaf.  Here, a Cherry Gall is seen among dozens of Spangles.
Cherry Galls are produced by another Cynipid wasp, this time Cynips quercusfolii, but the life cycle is much the same as before.  the adult wasp will emerge in spring having fallen to the ground in autumn and spent the winter in the leaf litter.  Cherry galls will 'ripen' and turn red as the autumn wears on making the gall even more 'cherry-like'.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Odds and Ends

To finish with our trip to Menorca, I thought I would post a few pictures of some 'odds and ends'. Firstly, a wonderful, if somewhat elusive bird, which was to be seen flitting about the rocks close to our apartment.  It is a Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius).
Very shy and therefore rather tricky to get close enough for a good photo, this is a member of the 'Old World Flycatcher' or 'Chat' family and has a distinct resemblance to a blue-tinged Blackbird.  The blue colour is sometimes difficult to see, unless you are lucky enough to see it in very good light.
Secondly, a smaller creature and another which was photographed around our apartment building.  This time a Bloody-nosed Beetle (Timarcha tenebricosa).
This gorgeous beetle has an almost unbelievably shiny appearance and shines with a metallic lustre as it bumbles about its business.  The name 'Bloody-nosed' comes from its unsettling habit of vomiting a noxious, red liquid from its mouth if molested, which is foul-tasting to predators.
A couple of plants to end with and the first of these is well known to anyone who likes cooking. The Caper plant (Capparis spinosa) is a sprawling shrub with large, rounded, fleshy leaves and a few nasty thorns.  The unopened flower buds of the Caper are picked and pickled in brine or vinegar and used in cooking to add a certain piquancy to a recipe.  The pickled fruit - Caper Berries - are also used in this way.  The flowers, when allowed to open, are rather beautiful.
Finally, a beautiful flower which was growing in the sand at the top of a beach, where the grasses and pine trees were starting to take over.  The Sea Daffodil (Pancratium maritimum) is pollinated by the Convolvulus Hawk Moth (Agrius convolvuli), but only when the wind speed is low enough.  The flower is scented like a lily and appears only after a period of hot, dry weather which makes the leaves wither and die.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Cami de Cavalls

A footpath runs all around the island of Menorca.  Called the Cami de Cavalls (horse track), it was originally used as a means of circumnavigating the island, looking out for invaders and warning the locals.  Now completely re-opened after 400 years of dilapidation, it provides the intrepid walker some fine views of the coast.  We took the path south from where we were staying, along the west coast, down to the view point at the far south-west corner of the island.
Walking along the path was a little tricky as the rocky terrain made things a bit tough on the feet. We passed a few ancient monuments on the way, including some reconstructed Bronze-age buildings.
Our walk took us about five miles to the Cap d'Atrutx, a lighthouse and restaurant with great views.
After a ten minute rest on a bench, looking at the sea, we turned our tired feet back 'home', braving the rocks - not good for Malcolm's dodgy knee!  It was nice to get back for a glass of wine on the balcony to watch the sun set.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013


Situated just inside the portico of the museum I mentioned yesterday, stands an imposing statue of the Archangel Gabriel.  This wooden statue once adorned the main door of the cathedral before the reforms following damage to the building during the Spanish civil war.
By the side of the cathedral, stands a tall, narrow building with a plaque stating its usage. It is an ancient, baker's house and closer inspection revealed the original ovens built into the walls of the interior.
If there is one thing the Spanish do well, it's their public spaces.  Nearly always well looked after and usually with some form of water feature.  Ciutadella was no exception.
Fine municipal buildings flanked the square while the sound of the water splashed above the noise from traffic.
This edifice housed among other things, the offices of the local Police.
By now, it was time to start our long walk back to the apartment - if we could just find our way out of the town...!

Monday, 16 September 2013


Wednesday last week saw us taking the long walk along the coast to the town of Ciutadella, the old capital of the island of Menorca.  The title of capital passed to to MaĆ³ (or Mahon) in the 18th century, during the time when the island was under British rule.  Ciutadella means 'citadel' and the town is a treat of architectural history.  Almost every old building has some sort of decorated facade.
One of the museums close to the oldest part of the town, has a particularly richly decorated portico.
Nearby, stands the edifice of the Cathedral of Menorca.  Originally built in 1287 by King Alfonso III of Aragon, it occupies the site of a former mosque from the days when Moorish occupiers had control of most of Spain and Menorca was annexed to the Caliphate of Cordoba.
The cathedral has seen some action in its time, having been desecrated by Turks in 1558, collapsed in 1626 and rebuilt soon after.  Its current neo-classical style dates from 1813.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

A Few Plants

The rocky cliffs and shore line of the west coast of Menorca, is a great place to spot lots of plant species.  By far the most common of these was the Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum).  This fleshy-leaved member of the carrot family is common in the UK as well as the Mediterranean region and if you crush the leaves betwen your fingers, they smell of furniture polish.
Rock Samphire is said to have a peppery taste and all parts of the plant can be pickled in vinegar or eaten raw as a salad ingredient.
Another common plant in the rocks of these coastal parts, is the Helitrope (Heliotropium europaeum).  The long inflorescences of small, white flowers, start off curled up, but straighten and open out as the flowers open.
Going back to the fleshy-leaved plants, a low-growing, dome-forming plant of the rocks which caught my eye despite having no flowers on it, was a strange member of the Sea-lavender family.  This one is called Limonium minutum and the fleshy leaves are typical of so many plants which make their home among the bone-dry sun-baked rocks.  Their waxy surface layer helps to conserve moisture and in this case, make a colourful picture as much as the flowers themselves.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Home Again

Malcolm and I returned from our brief visit to the Balearic Island of Menorca last night.  we stayed in the small, quiet resort of Cala Blanca and were delighted with the area as a whole.  The view from our balcony was pretty good as we looked across the Mediterranean towards the port of Ciutadella.
The coast along this part of the island was particularly rocky with many long inlets and some rather tricky terrain for walking on.
As we were on the western coast of the island, we were pleased to see some lovely sunsets over the sea - and we were not alone by the look of it.
More to come over the next few days.

Monday, 9 September 2013

An Angle

Looking at the Fuchsia bush in our back garden, revealed several of the leaves have been nibbled by something.  Closer inspection showed the culprit.  Dozens of small, green caterpillars munching their way through the tender new shoots.  Turns out, they are the larvae of the Angle Shades moth (Phlogophora meticulosa).  A common Noctuid moth of Europe, I left them to get on with their fine dining.
Speaking of fine dining, there are a couple of large areas of countryside around Shipley Park which have been turned into fine dining for the birds.  The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust have created some wonderful birdseed meadows to provide our feathered friends with food for the winter.
All sorts of seed-bearing plants have been grown, including sunflowers, quinoa, corn marigold, thistles and many others.  As well as providing the seeds, these delightful meadows will give cover for the birds and plenty of colour for the rest of us.

Sunday, 8 September 2013


My relationship with spiders is, to say the least, one of fearful fascination.  So, to get close enough to any spider to take its photograph is something of an ordeal for me.  But this morning, we came across this rather fat-looking individual in the grasses of our locale.
Identifying it later, it turned out to be a Four-spot Orb Weaver (Araneus quadratus).  Somewhat similar to the more common Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) to which it is closely related, this species differs in the obvious four spots on its abdomen and the rather more swollen nature of that abdomen in the female.
Like the other Orb Web spiders, it spins a delicate but complex web of the 'traditional' spiral type, supported by spokes radiating from the centre and attached to the surrounding foliage.
Enough of this, time for a small brandy after this close encounter!

Saturday, 7 September 2013


Our walk around Shipley Park on Thursday, gave us some fine views of the Hill itself as well as the surrounding countryside.  Part of this landscape is a field which used to be farmland, but which has been taken over by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.  The field is surrounded in part by a small portion of the old Nutbrook Canal, where the Great Reedmace was growing, which I mentioned the other day.
From this field, a short walk along Slack Lane takes us through Mapperley Wood and on to the reservoir.  Shipley Hill is in view along this stretch of our walk and looks good in the sunshine.