Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Beetles

Today's Blog pictures were going to be dominated by the glorious display of fruits and berries to be seen in the hedgerows right now. But as we walked around Shipley Park this morning, my attention was caught by large numbers of beetles on the leaves of various shrubs and the plans were changed.
These highly polished, metallic-looking beetles turned out to be Altica palustris a common leaf beetle.
These particular specimens were on the leaves of Poplars and Alder trees and by the look of the leaves, they have been very busy eating their way through them.
Almost every leaf had its attendant beetle on it, shining like burnished steel in the sunshine.
Close by and on the leaves of a few Alder trees again, large clusters of insects also caught my eye.
These colourful little beasties turned out to be final instar nymphs of the Parent Bug (Elasmucha grisea).
Bugs belong to the order 'Hemiptera' and differ from beetles or 'Coleoptera' in having piercing mouth-parts rather than the biting mandibles of true beetles, but other than that, they can appear to be very similar. Shield Bugs - the family to which Parent Bugs belong - go through several distinct stages of development known as 'instars' in which they moult, becoming more adult-like with each 'change of clothes'. These little beauties had reached their fifth and final stage before becoming full adults with the next moult.
So, that's two new ticks for the life lists!

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Galls and Sunshine

Unusually for a Bank Holiday weekend, the weather has cheered up and this morning was bright, sunny and warm as we set out for our walk expecting to be annoyed by too many cyclists and others. We were very pleasantly surprised to find that the good weather had probably sent most people away for the day, leaving Shipley Park strangely quiet. As we stood at 'Vole Bridge', we looked out across what used to be the Nutbrook Canal, now filled with reeds.
The old canal sweeps around the field and into Mapperley Wood in the distance and is now under the jurisdiction of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, who seem to be doing an excellent job creating habitat for flora and fauna.
Nearby, the herd of White Park Cattle which are normally to be found grazing close to Head House Farm, were enjoying a change of scenery in a different field. This mother and her two calves were certainly happy to 'sunbathe' and have their photo taken.
The various beasts of Shipley Park are not all as large as the Cattle. Some, much smaller ones, have been making their mark on the Oak trees hereabouts in the form of the many different types of Galls to be found at the moment. We started with the well-named Artichoke Gall.
These galls are produced by the Oak in response to an egg, laid in a leaf bud by the gall wasp Andricus fecundator.
A small, asexual wasp will appear from the gall in Spring and lay eggs in the developing Oak catkins, prompting the tree to form another type of gall. This will, in turn, give rise to a sexual generation of wasps which mate and lay eggs in the leaf buds again, so completing the cycle.
Another Gall appearing in great numbers at the moment is the Marble Gall. These are about the size of a cherry, hard and brown and grow on the stems of the oak as a result of another Gall Wasp.
This time, the culprit is called Andricus kollari. This gall wasp needs two different species of Oak to complete its life cycle. The Pedunculate Oak (as in this case) or Sessile Oak which host the marbles containing the asexual generation, and the Turkey Oak which host the developing sexual generation of wasps.
Not all the Galls in our hedgerows are to be found on Oak trees. The Dog Roses too, host some particularly fine galls often called Robin's Pincushions.
Caused by the gall wasp Diplolepis rosae, the name 'Robin' comes from an association with an old English Folkloric character known as 'Robin Goodfellow' - the same character who is referred to as 'Puck' in Shakespear's Midsummer Night's Dream.

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.