Thursday, 30 August 2012

What a Bind

In the hedgerows at this time of year, there is one flower above all, which catches the eye.  Not just for its bright, white flowers and heart-shaped leaves, but mostly for the size of its trumpet-like flowers.  Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium), if it were not a native 'weed', would almost certainly be planted as a large flowered 'exotic' in our gardens.  With its wonderful, large flowers and rambling habit, it would grace any garden pergola.
A closer look down the trumpet reveals the yellowish centre of the flower as well as many fine lines which act as 'runways' for pollinating insects.
The nectaries are located at the bottom of the 'trumpet' and are irresistible to Hoverflies.  This one was so busy, it didn't seem to notice the camera pointing at it.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012


On the site once occupied by Shipley Hall, there are several large planters, tended by the Derbyshire Council and filled with various flowering shrubs.  among those in flower right now, a couple caught our eye the other day.  Firstly was one of the Carrot family and a great favourite with the insects.  Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a useful plant in the kitchen and no less useful in the herbaceous border.
The flower heads are typical of the Carrot family with large, flat-topped umbels of tiny flowers.  what sets the Fennel apart from the majority of it's cousins is the yellow colour - most of the family have white ones.
The fragrant Fennel plants were only surpassed by the fragrance emanating from a white Honeysuckle plant growing nearby.  The heady scent was also being enjoyed by Hoverflies and Bees.
A large-flowered Geranium was showing it's colour close by.  The pale blue-purple colour of this cutivated form of Meadow Cranesbill (Geranium pratense) made a nice splash of colour in the planters.  But the bees weren't interested.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


It would seem that Autumn is fast approaching.  Our walks around Shipley Park over the past few days have revealed several indicators of this.  Firstly, on Shipley Hill the other day an old, fallen Beech Tree trunk has been colonised by some rather impressive fungi.
 This particular fungus is known as Artist's Bracket Fungus (Ganoderma applanatum).  The fruiting bodies which are protruding from the rotting wood are rather woody themselves and the undersides are almost pure, milky white and very attractive.  Some are huge and one, sprouting from the under-side of the trunk was at least 2ft across.
The name 'Artist's Fungus' comes from the fact that the flat, white surface can be used to draw upon.  Quite intricate patterns can be made and they remain intact for some time before the fungus begins to disintegrate.
This morning's walk around the lakes of Straw's Bridge, revealed lots of shrubs and trees, laden with ripening fruits.  The Guelder-Rose (Viburnum opulus) are always among the best and brightest.
When, as is the case today, there has been some rain, the red fruits are decorated with drops of water which catch the sunlight and sparkle among the foliage.  Rather 'artsy'!

Saturday, 25 August 2012


There are many different species of slug in the British countryside.  Among the most noticeable are those large Black or Red ones which seem to be slithering about in vast numbers right now.  On our walk yesterday, this one caught Malcolm's eye.  Considering its size, it would have been difficult to miss it.
Now, there is some debate as to whether this is simply a red form of the Large Black Slug (Arion ater), or a species all of its own, namely Arion rufus.  This specimen was a good 5" long and made an impressive sight.  The orange-striped edges of the foot were particularly eye-catching.
The two sets of tentacles on the head provide the animal with its senses.  The two, larger, optical tentacles on top are sensitive to light and allow the slug to 'see' where it's going.  The lower pair are smaller and provide the slug with a sense of smell.
As Malcolm recoiled with a look of disgust, I reminded him how much we need these slimy creatures to provide food for birds, hedgehogs, badgers, mice, moles, frogs and toads and a host of other predators.  They also help to rid the countryside of rotting vegetation and various other types of detritus.  Slugs like these were once used as a type of 'grease', their squashed bodies provided lubrication for wooden wheels - particularly in 18th century Sweden apparently!

Friday, 24 August 2012


With one eye on the sky and the dark clouds gathering, we set out this morning for a walk up and round Shipley Hill.  It was unusually quiet on the hill and rather warm despite the overcast weather.  The views were still pretty good as Malcolm found out.
We could just about see the Power Station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar on the horizon, some 9 miles away and everything was looking green and pleasant looking out from under the trees.
Time to head home before the weather changed.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Butter and Eggs

The title of today's post, refers not to my breakfast, but to a common and rather beautiful flower which can be found in bloom around Shipley Park at the moment.  Correctly known as Common Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), this is a close relative of the well-known Snapdragons which are to be found in many of our gardens.
Pollination of these plants, like those of the Snapdragon, can only be undertaken by strong insects as the flower is closed under normal circumstances by it's lower 'lip' and only fairly large insects such as Bumblebees, have the ability to open them up and crawl inside.
The plant as a whole has been used medicinally as a treatment for jaundice and dropsy and a 'tea' or tincture made from the leaves is very effective when used as a diuretic and laxative.
It's quite clear, when looking at the flowers, where the name Butter and Eggs comes from, but it is also known by a number of other common names including brideweed, bridewort, butter haycocks, bread and butter, bunny haycocks, bunny mouths, calf's snout, continental weed, dead men's bones, devil's flax, devil's flower, doggies, dragon bushes, eggs and bacon and many, many more. Whatever you like to call it, it is undeniably beautiful to see flowering in the path-sides.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012


It's funny what turns up on your patio.  Last week I was to be seen scuttling about taking pictures of the marks left behind by slugs and snails, today it was the turn of a rather attractive Grasshopper.
This little insect is a Common Green Grasshopper (Omocestus viridulus).  One of Britain's most common Grasshoppers (as the name suggests), it is rather variable in colour and can be anything from a vivid green, to a dull brown.  It's 'song' is usually the giveaway.  When heard among the tall grasses of the countryside, this grasshopper is the one which sounds like the loud and long ticking of a freewheeling bicycle.  Both males and females 'sing' by rubbing their hind legs against their wing-cases.  The males try to time their song so as not to 'overlap' with that of a female because he might not be heard if the two songs coincide.
Oh, The trials of life!  Who would have thought that a Grasshopper's life would be so fraught with difficulty?

Saturday, 18 August 2012


As anyone who has ever had a dog can tell you, it's best to stay clear when they get wet.  It's a strange thing, but you always seem to get wetter as they get dryer.
Here's why...

Thursday, 16 August 2012


Malcolm and I took ourselves off for a stroll around Shipley Lake this morning, not for the pleasure of the walk - although that is always part of it - but in order to forage for Blackberries.  We picked a good bag full on Monday and have been enjoying them for breakfast, so more were needed.  Along the path where the Blackberries can be found in great abundance, there is also a substantial stand of Common Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum).
This is a notorious fern in Britain, where it provokes much ire in some people.  Tall and extremely robust, it is often highly invasive.  It also contains many poisonous chemicals, not least of which is the carcinogenic ptaquiloside.  The spores are also thought to be carcinogenic, so, not a nice plant have around.  The scientific name 'aquilinum' is derived from the Latin 'aquila' meaning eagle and is commonly thought to refer to either the eagles wing-shape of the leaf fronds, or the pattern of fibres in it's stem, which when viewed in cross section, is said to resemble a double headed eagle..

On another note, it's my mother's birthday today.
Not changed a bit...!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


Strange marks have been appearing all over our patio.  These lines of symmetrical shapes, making up seemingly random patterns over the surface of the slabs have been appearing over-night all Summer.  Closer inspection reveals that they are made up of tiny, triangular shapes scraped into the dirt and algae.
They have been made by snails and slugs as they slime their way across the patio in search of food.  Molluscs such as these have strange mouth-parts known as Radulae.  Each Radula is used rather like a tongue (although it is not a tongue) and is equipped with hundreds of minute 'teeth' or Denticles with which it scrapes away at it's food.  This scraping leaves behind a typically triangular mark where the food has been removed.
This is an incredibly effective way of feeding, as anyone who has had the plants in their garden devastated by slugs and snails will testify.  It probably also indicates that our patio needs a good clean!

Monday, 13 August 2012

New Fly

Yesterday's walk around Pewit Carr revealed a pair of flies caught 'in flagrante'.  I managed to get a couple of pictures of this courting couple as they were of a species new to me.  After much searching the Internet when we got home, it turns out that they were a species known as Coremacera marginata.
The intricate, black-and-white, checker-board markings on the wings of this fly, along with the black outline and red eyes, made them rather eye-catching.  Coremacera marginata is quite a mouthful, so it's nice to know they have a less challenging common name,  they are known as Snail-killing Flies.  This is a little misleading as the adult fly does not in fact eat snails.  The adults feed on nectar, while the larvae prey on various types of snail.  Very useful - especially this year with so many snails about.
Another flying insect to catch our eye was a White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) feeding on the nectar of one of the few remaining Dandelion flowers.
Attracting many insect species, the flat-topped inflorescences of the Yarrow plants (Achillea millefolium) were  in full bloom.  The soft, feathery leaves of these plants are often to be found lining the nests of Starlings.  This also has the benefit of keeping parasites down.  The plant contains an oil which kills some species of mosquito larvae.

Saturday, 11 August 2012


A walk across the wonderful meadow of Pewit Carr this morning revealed a typical, late-summer scene.  Grasshoppers were scratching their legs together and making a sound like a thousand Atco Lawnmowers.  On the light breeze, clouds of Thistle down scudded across the sky and a look into the hedges soon showed where this soft, white down was coming from.  Creeping Thistle plants discharged their seeds onto the wind.
Having left their host plant the down soon caught in the surrounding undergrowth.
The more formidably spiky Spear Thistles are also in the process of ridding themselves of their fluffy seed heads, adding more down to the breeze.

Friday, 10 August 2012


Another beautiful morning today, so we set out for a walk around Shipley Lake, along towards Osbourne's Pond before returning across the grassy meadows, up Shipley Hill and back round the lake.  Where the main lake overflows into a smaller and far more secluded lake, one stands on what was once a bridge, looking down at the water.   A few weeks ago this was the scene of gushing torrents filling the smaller lake.  Today, it was back to a small trickle and the water level had dropped appreciably.  Seen here from the 'bridge', water weeds are beginning to take over.
The good thing about the drop in water level, is that you can now, once again get down to the water's edge in the trees at the far end of the lake.  From here, closer to the water and in the cool shadows of the trees and in calm tranquillity, it was truly beautiful.  Reflections of the surrounding trees were as bright as the trees themselves.  No time to tarry, as coffee was beckoning.

Thursday, 9 August 2012


Our walk to Straw's Bridge the other day, revealed a good many insects on the wing and on the thorn.  One of the nicest was a Green-veined White (Pieris napi), intent on sipping nectar from the pale, mauve flowers of the Teasels.
A common species in Britain and one which is usually lumped together with all the other white butterflies and called 'Cabbage Whites'.  As well as visiting various flowers for sustenance, they can also often be seen seemingly sipping at wet mud - a practice known as 'mud-puddling' - from where they get nutrients otherwise lacking in their diet.  But here, this particular individual was happy with the nectar from the Teasels.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is in flower all over the place right now.  This tall and impressive perennial grows in damp ground and can be found in abundance around the lakes of Straw's Bridge.
Purple Loosestrife belongs to a family which now includes the Pomegranate as well as the popular 1970's house-plant known as a Cigar Plant.  It has been used in medicine for many years as a treatment for diarrhoea.  It is also well-liked by bee keepers as the flowers contain large quantities of nectar - and, of course, it makes a wonderful show.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Mini Beasts

Several 'mini beasts' caught our eye as we walked around the Lakes of Straw's Bridge this morning.  Among the most beautiful was one of the hundreds of Common Blue Damselflies (Enallagma cyathigerum).
Seen here resting on a grass stalk with the pinkish flowers of a Red Bartsia plant in the background.  It seems that wherever you go at the moment, you are accompanied by dozens of Damselflies flitting about ahead of you.
A little further on and the Ragwort plants were providing a meal for several Cinnabar Moth Larvae (Tyria jacobaeae).
The black and yellow stripes reveal a rather unpalatable secret.  As it eats the Ragwort, it ingests and stores the plant's poisonous alkaloids in it's own body.  Most birds therefore, think twice about eating the fat caterpillars.  The exception to this rule are Cuckoos who seem immune to the poisons and eat these grubs with relish.
Lastly a small, red and black beetle seen scurrying about on another grass stalk.  This is a Soldier Beetle (Rhagonycha fulva). 
These handsome little beetles live a double life.  As larvae, they live in the soil and eat other small insects as well as snails.  When mature, the adults leave the soil and climb up to feed on insects among the flowers and foliage of especially those plants belonging to the carrot family and thistles.

Monday, 6 August 2012


Just a couple of pictures from a previous walk this morning.  Last Friday, Malcolm had to go into town, so I walked alone along Slack Lane towards Mapperley, then turned down towards the Reservoir.
Large numbers of Canada Geese were to be found swimming about in the shadow of the overhanging trees and picking around the Yellow Water Lilies which grow there.  Further out on the water was a family of Great Crested Grebes.  The single youngster was making his presence felt by keeping up a constant 'squeeking', begging for food.  The parents must have been starting to get a bit fed up with the demands he was making on them, but they were being dutiful and diligent.  Pity one can't say the same about some of the human parents to be seen mindlessly obeying every demand of their horrendous children in Tesco this morning!  But, it's best if I don't start 'down that road'.

Thursday, 2 August 2012


Just one plant to mention from today's walk.  As we walked along, heading for Shipley Hill, my attention was drawn to a large Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare).  I have mentioned these prickly plants before and I am constantly impressed by their formidably spiny stems and leaves as well as their beautiful, purple flower heads.  But this one was different.
Still unmistakably a Spear Thistle, the flowers of this plant were almost pure white - something I hadn't come across before, but well worth a picture or two.