Tuesday, 22 August 2017

50 Already!

Just as I was getting used to being 40, suddenly it's my birthday again and I've hit the big five-O! How the hell did THAT happen?
Waking this morning to find that I'd become 50 years old over night, Malcolm and I nevertheless set out for our usual morning constitutional. Curiously for August, it was foggy and extremely humid as we started out. This turned out to be a good thing, because the murky conditions kept others in, so we had an unusually quiet walk around Shipley Hill.
The views were somewhat obscured by the mist, giving a rather ethereal feeling to things.
From the hill, we descended to Mapperley Reservoir where all was peaceful and still.
The quiet was pierced by the occasional harsh call of a Coot or Grebe but not a breath of air disturbed the water's surface or the many discarded feathers which floated thereon. It was just a pity that it was so dull - too dull for many photos.
Back home for coffee and some lunch and 'nice' bottle of wine to celebrate my half century. I suppose it will only be about five minutes before I'm turning 60...!

Monday, 21 August 2017

Blackberries & Ponies

The Blackberry season is rapidly coming to an end, so with that in mind, we set out this morning, to gather what might turn out to be the last for this year. Still very numerous, many of them are are a little too ripe and 'squashy'. But we still managed to collect a couple of bags full - so that's breakfast sorted out for the next few days!
On the way, we had noticed that the Wildlife Trust have put a mixed flock of sheep and a couple of Konik Ponies in one of the meadows.
The ponies were busy cropping the drying grasses close to the fence as well as the Oak and Willow saplings. But what they really wanted was the lush, green grass on the other side of the fence.
When we'd finished foraging for Blackberries, we walked back along the edge of the Ponies' field and stopped to gather some fresh, juicy stems of Lucerne - also known as Alfalfa for them.
Soon, the ponies were competing to reach over the fence to grab at the Lucerne we'd gathered for them.
They clearly enjoyed this little treat, so we'll definitely be picking some more for them the next time we pass.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Odds and Ends

I noticed this morning, that the page hit counter for this blog, has just topped a quarter of a million. Time for a celebratory something or other I think!
Just a few pictures today, from recent walks around the area, starting with a little bit of exotica which turned up at Straw's Bridge a few days ago. Standing among the more usual Mallards, Canada Geese and Swans, was a pair of Egyptian Geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca).
Not surprisingly, it is a native of North Africa and was brought to the UK in the 18th century as an ornamental addition to many a lake on a grand estate. Eventually, it was added to the official British breeding bird list in 1971 and numbers have reached about 1100 breeding pairs.
With the Summer racing past at a frightening rate, the hedgerows have started to bear fruit in great profusion. Among the most colourful and numerous at the moment are those belonging to the Guelder Rose.
These, growing along Slack Lane have an almost waxy appearance as they shine deliciously red in the sunshine.
Finally for today, a couple of fine views across Mapperley Reservoir. When the weather is calm and the sky is blue, you get some wonderful reflections on the water.
It makes for a perfect spot to stand a while and take in the peace and quiet - until a tractor roars past flicking slurry from it wheels and rather spoiling the effect!

Thursday, 10 August 2017


At last this morning, we managed to get a walk around Shipley Park in the sunshine.
Many of the wildflowers have taken a bit of a bashing with all the recent rains, but the stately Burdock plants are still looking good with their purple flower heads. Looking like a thistle, these members of the daisy family provide lots of nectar for the bees and hoverflies.
The name comes from the sharp, hook-like burs of the flower head which snag almost anything which comes into contact with them. They even latch on to the ridges of your finger prints.
Another 'bur' this morning, came in the guise of a stand of Branched Bur-reeds which have been planted in the old canal near 'Vole Bridge'.
Branched Bur-reed (Sparganium erectum) is a native plant to the British Isles and can be found growing in fens and watercourses almost all over the country. It is quite tolerant of eutrophic habitats where waterways are overly enriched with nutrients from farm run-off - an increasing problem in the UK. For this reason, it is often found along riverbanks which are grazed by cattle.
While we were walking with Jayne a few days ago, we found a large quantity of hairy caterpillars on some young willow and silver birch trees. As they were new to me, I took a photo or two to identify them later.
They turned out to be the larvae of Buff-tip Moths (Phalera bucephala), a common species in the UK.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Fearsome Sight

Yesterday, our good friend Jayne came to join us on our walk. As usual, the weather was a little unpromising, so, with umbrellas as insurance, we set out for the 'farm walk.' The paths are fringed with the statuesque forms of Angelica at the moment, their purplish stems contrasting nicely with heads of frothy, creamy flowers.
A common wildflower, this member of the carrot family was cultivated widely in the past as a vegetable. The stems were eaten raw and the leaves would be boiled into broth or stews.
I'm sure we can all remember those short strands of candied angelica stem, bright green and horrible-tasting, which adorned many a special-occasion-trifle in the 1970's.
Having manged to avoid any rain, we headed home for coffee, before Jayne took us out for lunch as an early celebration of my fiftieth birthday - which is looming ever closer! As we tucked in to our fish and chips and glass of Shiraz (all very delicious), Jayne thought it would be a good idea to snap Malcolm and me at the table, so that I might appear on this blog for possibly the first time. BAD IDEA. I have always hated having my picture taken - and now it's obvious why! Despite appearances, I hadn't already finished off one bottle of wine and was well on the way through a second - sadly, It's just my usual, fearsome countenance!
So, thanks Jayne for the lovely lunch and birthday greetings. But please, don't take any more pictures of me - it scares the horses!

Friday, 4 August 2017

Nature's Bounty

Recent bad weather has rather curtailed our jaunts about the countryside and it continues to be cool, breezy and showery. But, all the rain has meant a bumper harvest of Blackberries, so Malcolm and I have been out this morning for the second time already this season, to gather some of nature's bounty.
I think this is the first time we've been out so early to pick these delicious fruits and the size and sweetness of them this year, has been wonderful. Already we've had four breakfasts, six bags in the freezer and another large bowl-full in the fridge.
Tearing ourselves away from the Blackberries, I've managed to add a couple of new 'ticks' to the life list recently. Both newly-identified species, were plants which could have been dismissed simply as 'Dandelions' but closer inspection revealed them to be quite different. The first was a low-growing plant called Autumn Hawkbit (Leontodon autumnalis). The Latin name Leontodon actually means Lion's tooth - in French, dent-de-lion, gives us the derivation of the word 'Dandelion.'
The second plant is much easier to distinguish from a Dandelion. Standing a good four feet high and covered with tiny, sticky-ended hairs, this is a Perennial Sow-thistle (Sonchus arvensis).
Like the Hawkbit, this is also a member of the Asteraceae or Daisy family and well worth another new 'tick' on the list.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Flowers For Wildlife

Of course, most of the flowers we enjoy looking at are there, only to attract insects in their various forms. Among the best for this purpose, are those belonging to the thistle family - really, the Daisy family. Spear Thistles are both large and colourful and as such, they attract a huge number of insects. They are particularly popular with bees and hoverflies.
Much smaller, but also popular with insects, the Common Centaury - a member of the Gentian family - is delightful to us but provides food to many smaller insects.
The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust have sown  several areas of Shipley Park, with a mixture of wildflowers specifically for producing seeds to feed the birds in winter.
These colourful meadows are full of Corn marigolds, Cornflowers, Chicory, various members of the Pea family and a host of others. The benefits are twofold. They will of course, provide seeds for the birds, but not until the insects have done their bit and pollinated them. What you might call a 'win-win situation.'
Around the lakes of Straw's Bridge, the Ragwort, Purple Loosestrife, Water Mint and Teasels are full of pollinating insects. Most are very common, but the Water Mint plants also play host to the wonderful little Mint Leaf Beetle which is much more scarce and therefore, difficult to find.
One more picture from Straw's Bridge, showing (with a little digital bloom), the colourful summer display which is only there for the insects!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Rained In

In contrast to recent conditions, this morning started out dull and wet. So, as we appear to be rained in for the moment, I thought I would post some more pictures of the flowers from around Shipley Park. Starting with a single patch of Feverfew which was found growing alongside the old car parks of Shipley Woodside.  A member of the daisy family, this plant has been used for many hundreds of years in traditional medicine, to alleviate the symptoms of headache and arthritis.
More colourful and abundant is the Canadian Goldenrod which is just starting to come into full flower.
 This is another plant which is very popular with insects, especially the bees and hoverflies.
A plant which you do not want to get to know too intimately is the very poisonous, Hemlock. Just one specimen of which can be found growing close to Pewit Carr....
... close to the wonderful and fragrant meadow filled with Meadowsweet.
At this time of year, the Rosebay Willowherb is coming into its own.
Know around the world as Fireweed its tall spikes of bright pink flowers are well known to most of us and as such, often ignored or overlooked, but they really do reward closer inspection.
Outnumbering all other plants, the grasses of Shipley Park have been ripening in the recent warm summer sunshine.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Chase Again

We found a suitable site for us to sit for a while and eat our lunch. Malcolm had made cheese and tomato sandwiches (delicious), which we ate in the sunshine, surrounded by trees.
Soon, it was time to start walking back to find where we'd left the car. We took a different return route which wound its way along a wide path with mixed woodland either side of us.
By now, it was getting very hot and the scent of pine resin and sound of Gorse seeds popping, filled the air as we trudged along, hoping we were heading in the right direction.
Here and there, evidence of pine logging lay along the paths, with warning signs telling us not to climb on them.
We soon returned to more familiar sights and more open areas of the heath where Heathers added splashes of bright purple to the sides of the paths.
The little cup-shaped flowers of these Bell Heathers were proving very popular with the bees.
By this point, we were very nearly back to where we started, so with one last look out across the Chase, we returned to the car for a well-earned rest and cup of coffee from the flask.
Despite the frustrations of an incorrect walk guide, it had turned out to be a lovely walk and a great day. We will definitely be back one day.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Cannock Chase

Yesterday, Malcolm and I decided to take a trip somewhere new to me and where Malcolm hasn't visited for many years. So we set out, with picnic and flask, to take our daily walk around Cannock Chase. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty sits in the county of Staffordshire and consists of swathes of natural deciduous forest, conifer plantations and lots of open heath.
We parked at the Glacial Boulder Car Park, named for the large Glacial Erratic used to mark the place.
Onto the walk itself and as we emerged through the trees, the vista opened up before us. Here, looking North, in the direction of Uttoxeter.
Bilberries were fruiting in great profusion around this area and Silver Birch trees provided a little shade on a very hot day.
We set off, turning downhill towards the Sher Brook.
Soon realising that the direction I had printed off, were of no use whatsoever, we carried on regardless and soon crossed the brook at some picturesque stepping stones.
Then, up through some mixed woodland...
with a few very large and impressive specimen Fir trees.
Leaving the woods, and crossing the A513, we took the path over the river Trent.
Reaching the village of Little Haywood, we decided to turn around a retrace our steps to find somewhere to stop for our picnic.  More to come tomorrow...