Tuesday, 28 June 2016


We think of carrots as being good for us, as indeed they are. But there are a few members of the carrot family which are very definitely to be avoided if you wish to maintain your good health. Among the worst offenders in this respect is to be found growing wild around the lakes of Straw's Bridge. I refer of course, to the Hemlock (Conium maculatum).
The wild members of the British carrot family can often look pretty similar to one another. Most have feathery leaves and flat-topped heads of small, white flowers. But the Hemlock is easily distinguished from it's close cousins, by the markings on its stems. Hollow and tall, the stems are usually spotted and blotched with reddish, purple markings.
The name 'Conium' comes from the Greek word 'konas', meaning 'whirl' and relates to the dizziness and vertigo-like symptoms which come from ingesting the plant. The plant is so poisonous, that even a small amount can result in respiratory failure, paralysis and death. How much is a 'small amount'? Well, as few as six fresh leaves or an even smaller amount of seeds or crushed root, may be fatal.
Such a beautiful plant to look at and a welcome sight in the countryside around here. But beware!!!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Bee Orchids

Thankfully, we have avoided the terrible storms which have battered the south east over night, but it remains humid, sticky and unpleasant (for me anyway). So to make things feel a bit better I thought we'd have a couple of pictures of the wonderful little Bee Orchids which are flowering bravely at the moment.
It's usually tricky to spot them growing among the grasses, vetches and clovers, but this year, all of the Bee Orchids' neighbours seem to be much taller than normal, making spotting them even more difficult. But once you get your eye in, the rewards are well worth it.
Walking around Shipley Hill and the surrounding countryside yesterday, we were delighted to come across a large number of Meadow Cranesbill plants struggling to be seen among the grasses.
Such a vivid blue colour is not common in the British countryside, making them all the more special when you do find them. All these flowers at least seem to be enjoying the humid weather - more than me anyway!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Bugs and Beasts

The sun was shining this morning. Well, it makes a change! So, with the warmth and humidity building, we set out for a walk around Shipley Park to Osborne's Pond and round Shipley Lake. As always when the sun shines at this time of year, we were pestered by the unwelcome attentions of numerous Cleg Flies (Haematopota pluvialis). Kept busy swatting them before they could take a bite out of us, I was as always, impressed by the iridescence of their eyes and I managed to bring one of the little blighters home to take a close-up picture.
I set this stunned fly on the door handle and pointed my camera at it - much to Malcolm's amazement and disgust. But with eyes like these, why wouldn't you find them interesting?
Here is a much closer view of the picture above in which, it is possible to see the 'business end' of the fly, namely the stabbing mouth parts which cause so much pain when they bite.
As I was taking the pictures of the Cleg-fly, my attention was caught by another mini-beast on the patio. Not recognising it, I rushed out and picked it up to try to take it's picture and identify it. Like the Cleg-fly above, this insect had piercing mouth-parts too. This time, there was no danger of it biting me as the bug turned out to be Capsus ater a common capsid bug which feeds on sap from plant stems rather than blood from my hand. Another new 'tick' for the life list!

Monday, 20 June 2016

All White

The weather remains wet and miserable. We certainly seem to have had more than our fair share of rain over the last week or so and Malcolm and I are once again 'grounded' this morning. So I thought we'd have a look at a couple of pictures from our walks on drier days.
As usual in early summer, the highways and byways are decorated with white flowers of all kinds. Among the more common are those belonging to the Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris).
Clouds of frothy, white umbels were swaying in the breeze on the side of Shipley Hill a few days ago - before the rain set in. These common wild flowers have become very popular as garden plants over recent years and it's not difficult to see why. They are extremely popular with the insects too.
Another common summer flower is the Guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus).
This shrub grows to about 12 feet high if given the chance, the flowers are produced not in umbels like the Cow Parsley, but in Corymbs, which is a fancy name for a flat-topped panicle. So that's clear! Whatever they are called, the flower heads are quite beautiful.
Lastly for today, some pictures of the white flowers of the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna).
A member of the rose family, the strong scent of thousands of Hawthorn flowers fills the air when the sun shines on them.
As the flowers age, they can turn from milky-white to pale pink before the petals fall. At every stage, they look spectacular.
That's it. Now we just need this rain to stop so we can get out again and see what's left of the flowers of early summer.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

On The Edge

Yesterday, despite the weather, Malcolm and I had a trip out with his mother and her friend June who is staying with her for a few days. The forecast wasn't good, but we took the bull by the horns and went for a stroll on Froggatt Edge. On the way, we optimistically looked at the horizon and convinced ourselves that it was brightening up. But once on the edge, the mist and drizzle took away the usually dramatic views.
Looking along the gritstone escarpment, at least it wasn't pouring down, but it was rather wet under foot.
Down there somewhere is the village of Curbar and the river Derwent, but it was difficult to see either through the murk.
Soon, we headed back to the car and headed for the Peak Village shopping centre at Rowsley before ending up at Belper to have lunch. Not a bad day all things considered.

Monday, 13 June 2016


At this time of year, it's always good to find fledgling birds around the countryside. In the past few years, the Mute Swans around these parts seem t have had little or no success in raising their young. Even if they have managed to get them to hatching, the young all seem to have been wiped out within a few days through a combination of natural predation and the effects of scum-bags and their bull terriers. So it was wonderful to see these four little cygnets being looked after by their mother on the lake at Straw's Bridge the other day.
There was also a very bad-tempered male swan swimming about clearing the area of other birds which go too close. We assumed he was the cygnets' father. Either way, these little sweethearts were getting some close protection.
 Hauling out of the water, both the adult and the youngsters had a 'tide line' of algae around them.
Soon, they were back in the water and investigating the reeds growing nearby in the constant search for food.
Near the swans, a family of Mallard ducks was seen dabbling about in the flooded area under the bridge.
As with the swan, the mother was being very vigilant in looking after her brood and in this case she had a more difficult job as she had no fewer than eight youngsters to care for.
Judging by their size, she has been a brilliant parent in getting them almost to adulthood. Great to see and long may they last.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Colour on a Grey Day

Today dawned dull, misty, very muggy and raining and although things have cheered up a bit since then, it's still not conducive to a good walk in the countryside. So with that in mind, I thought I would brighten things up with some recent pictures of the colour to be found on Shipley Hill at the moment. First off are the Rhododendrons. This one is the archetypal Rhododendron ponticum.
These variously purple Rhododendrons grow to be large shrubs and in a few places they make a great 'mound' of colour.
Close by, there are some fantastically vibrant Azaleas, flowering in the shrubbery borders.
The mixture of bright yellow and orange blooms together, make a startling combination when the sun shines on them.
And the scent which reaches the nostrils while taking pictures, is sweet and heady.
Looking back again at the purple Rhododendrons, what a fantastic splash of colour!
There! That's brightened the day up a bit!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Orchid Time

We set out this morning, for a walk to Osborne's Pond and to check on the progress of the Bee Orchids and we were delighted to see that they are beginning to flower in the recent warm weather.
Still rather sparsely spread, they are nevertheless, quite exquisite in their form and colour.
And they are not the only orchids to be found in flower right now. The Common Spotted Orchids are also beginning to open their flowers. This one was blooming in Pewit Carr a few days ago, but they are also blooming in the wild flower meadows of Shipley Park, although their shape varies considerably.
Shorter and more 'squat', those we found this morning, were less patterned than the Pewit Carr orchids.
Walking towards Shipley Hill, we were just thinking we had seen the best of the orchids for today, when we were confronted by a patch of several dozen tall, purple and extremely beautiful  Southern Marsh Orchids.
Southern Marsh Orchids hybridise readily with their Common Spotted cousins, so it can be difficult to separate the two species and the hundreds of intermediate varieties.
As always, it's worth getting down to ground level to get a closer view.
No doubt there will be many more pictures of orchids to come this summer.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Fields of Gold

Back home, the countryside around these parts, is in full flower. Without a doubt, the best display of colourful flowers comes from the fields of golden Buttercups.
Walking through this particular field of gold, you can't help wondering how many individual Buttercup flowers goes to make such a spectacle.
Getting a broad view is quite breathtaking, but it's always good to get a lower, closer insect's-eye view.
Continuing the golden theme, there is a Broom bush growing nearby. The bright yellow flowers are spotted and marked with red making a great display.
Lastly for today's golden theme, the Yellow Flag Iris are looking good now too.
Flowering all along the edges of the reservoirs and canals, these beautiful flowers are made up of three large and spreading pendent or 'fall' petals and three smaller, erect 'standard' petals.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

An End To It

Like last year's trip to Luzern, our short break in the beautiful town of Spiez was memorable to say the least. We managed to pack so much in to our four-day stay, that it seems we had spent much longer there. One of the many highlights has to be the view from our hotel balcony.
We didn't have far to go to get some lovely views of the old castle either. It was right behind the hotel, beyond a small vineyard.
The castle grounds were stunning too....
As were the views from practically everywhere.
Nowhere were the views to be bettered than from the summit of Niesen, with a clear vista straight across to the iconic peaks of the Alps, including of course, The Eiger.
How could you ever tire of views like this?
Or this?
All too soon however, it was time to return home and on the Saturday morning, following a pretty horrendous storm during the night, we woke to find Niesen shrouded in cloud and looking rather ominous.
The weather had turned from sunny and hot, to cool and wet over night, highlighting how lucky we had been with the weather we'd had.
That's all for Switzerland. Now it's back to more 'homespun' subjects.