Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The crows gather at sunset in the bare trees behind the house, mainly in pairs. Squabbles break out as a bid is made for someone elses partner, then all fly off at once to the roost for the night. We have been very glad to see the Long tailed tits back in the garden after the dreadful storm last week and only a few old or diseased trees came down or lost large branches.
There are still active insects around, a little bit of late afternoon sunshine brings tiny gnats out to dance in the garden and driving home the headlights often catch pale moths in their beams. We put the moth trap out last night  and caught 5 Mottled Umbers in a variety of forms. The males fly from October through to January looking for the flightless females who crawl onto the trunks of deciduous trees after dark.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

First Snow

Woke up to a light dusting of snow and bright sunshine with the rich colours of the larches and beeches contrasting beautifully against the clear blue skies. Every week there seems to more bad news about  the spread of tree diseases like Phytophthora ramorum and it makes me wonder what the view will be like in a few years time. In the garden we have lots of Coal Tits coming to the feeders and we are a bit worried they have become welfare dependant. We have a Robin that roosts every night in the coal shed and last night we startled a Blue Tit that was roosting in one of the outbuildings. The Robin is really cool he has discovered that if he sings in the barn the acoustics make him sound much louder than he really is and it's very pleasant to listen to as you work.

Thursday, 10 October 2013


Its now dark at six o clock in the morning, flocks of thrushes are back feeding in the fields, the leaves are turnimg  and I'm making Jam, so it must be Autumn. All the pumpkins are drying out in the conservatory, along with a wasps nest that has been in the woodshed all summer. I had to remove it with a bread-knife so its in cross-section. Some of the plums from the garden went into jam, the rest the wasps and pheasants have enjoyed. They also liked the pulp from the Rowan and Apple jellly I made- the lawn will probably sprout lots of Rowan seedlings in the spring. The woods and fields are full of fungi at the minute,I've taken some photos but not identified any , I feel a bit mean picking them for a spore print when they look so spectacular though the ones on the fallen trees behind the house are probably honey fungus. The oak trees are covered in acorns for the first time in a few years and the Jays are noisily flying around gathering them. The Sparrowhawk seems to be visiting most days, flying at and round the holly bush trying to flush out the Coal Tits that sit in there before flying to the birdtable.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Friends of Bowland held a meeting and moth night at our house on the autumn equinox. One of their members brought a fantastic chocolate and beetroot cake which we all devoured. I worried we wouldn't get many moths in the trap as by the time the meeting wound up there were only three moths and a phenomenal number of midges. However even though it was a drizzly night and a misty morning we did get a small but varied number of moths including the stunning Merveille du jour. We also got lots of Caddis flies, Ichneumons, Sexton beetles and Shield bugs. The Sexton beetles were incredibly smelly, rather like the smell of an annoyed ferret.

Sexton Beetle

Copper Underwing

Merveille du jour

Orange Sallow

Forest Bug

Friday, 30 August 2013

Slight drizzle but warm and still last night so put the moth trap we have borrowed out on the lawn under an enormous fishing umbrella. Got lots of moths,crane flies,caddis flies, burrowing beetles and midges. In the morning the trap was surrounded by pheasants so we quickly took it inside.

Antler Moth

Autumnal Rustic

Canary Shouldered Thorn

Centre Barred sallow

Dark Marbled Carpet?

Flame Shoulder

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Whats that plant ?

Had a wonderful though very hot afternoon learning how to identify plants at Dalehead Chapel in the middle of Gisburn Forest. The event  was lead by Geoff  Morries and John Hickling . Their infectious enthusiasm and wealth of knowledge just made you want to know more.

We were first introduced to some of the tricks of the trade used to identify grasses. A group of plants I think most of us find difficult to tell apart but a group of plants well worth getting to know because they play such an important role in the food chain.

After the grasses we moved on to rushes and sedges again plants often not given the attention they deserve. A major theme of the day was to look at how particular groups of plants form communities or associations in response to environmental factors such as ph, moisture levels and nutrient status.

The graveyard around the Chapel is particularly rich in micro habitats with very different associations very close together.

We finished by looking at the flowering plants of which there is great diversity of particular interest were the two parasitic plants Yellow rattle and Louse wort which can survive in this location due to the low nutrient status across much of the area. Other flowering plants we looked at included Knapweed, Birds foot trefoil and two species of buttercup, the meadow found on the nutrient poor areas and the creeping indicative of the nutrient richer areas.

The infectious enthusiasm of the two experts really made learning fun and I don’t think any of us will feel quite so daunted about having a go at identifying grasses and sedges ourselves.

Geoff Morries

Louse Wort


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

We had been looking forward to a garden full of butterflies after finding some yellow eggs on the underside of  the leaves of my Chinese  mustard. They hatched out into caterpillars of the Large White, but we didn't mind as the Chinese Mustard had bolted and we have enjoyed watching them grow and shed their skins. Not many seemed to get eaten by birds who apparently find them bitter and they didn't seem affected by being out in scorching sunlight all day. Numbers dropped as individuals went off to pupate on the walls of the house and in the house! Several stayed motionless on the plant and then we saw one surrounded by little yellow cocoons and another with  little green larvae coming out of its sides. There are now about a dozen parasitised in such a fashion. The caterpillars are not dead yet even after three or four days but are incapable of crawling away from the cocoons which they are on top of. If I touch one the front end rears up very suddenly, which would surprise any predator, so the parasites are benefiting from this and the caterpillars bitter taste. In the picture of the larvae hatching out there is a ruby coloured insect on the head of the caterpillar and I wondered if this was coming to lay its eggs in the larvae!

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Dor Beetles and Sundews

Found a stunned young Siskin lying by the window panting heavily. Put it in one of the wire seed trays on the feeder then sat some distance away looking out for the Sparrowhawk and cat. Looked wobbly and kept shutting its eyes and attracted the attention of a Great Tit and another Siskin who kept hopping around peering at it. Took off after a few minutes. Went for a late afternoon walk on the tops above Slaidburn, watched Stone Chats, Whinchats, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. We found two Dor Beetles climbing around in the grass, dark blue and iridescent especially below. Crawled clumsily over my hand and one had several mites on its underside (a common name is the Lousy Watchman). A pair of Dor Beetles find some dung and the female digs a hole under it with little chambers off. The male clears the excavated soil and brings in more dung to go in the chambers. The female lays a single egg in each chamber and once hatched the larvae feed on the dung before emerging in spring as beetles. Dor beetles and larvae have to eat their own weight in dung every day so they are really important natural recyclers. On the way back we found a large patch of round-leaved Sundews glistening in the sun. Went up to the cafe at Stocks Reservoir and had chips while watching the flocks of Curlews and Oystercatchers. A female Great spotted woodpecker brought two juveniles in to feed, they kept begging and would'nt feed themselves and she looked very exasperated. Redpolls and Long Tailed Tits also turned up.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Natural neighbours

The bullfinches have become regulars in the garden, the male guarding the female while she feeds. I watched two males zooming after one female so he has good cause to worry she might be stolen from him. The wrens in the barn fledged on Saturday, there were at least six flitting around the barn. Mum was outside urgently calling. Watched one sat on the window sill , screwing up all its courage to take off, whirring into the trees and then slowly descending into the undergrowth. Next to the porch is a little hole in the wall and we have seen two little woodmice going in there. Barrie has put a wire cat carrier with sunflower seeds in outside the hole so now we sit watching them in the evening. When it was raining hard saw one come to the entrance look at the sky and visibly droop.

Friday, 28 June 2013


Midsummers here already and it is hard not to be a little gloomy and think oh no the nights are going to start getting shorter again. But for now I'm enjoying the fantastic bird song, flowers and insect life. We have a Song Thrush who seems to sing in the tree tops from dawn to dusk and the woods ring with the songs of Robins, Blackbirds, Willow Warblers and Great Tits. Flocks of juvenile Greenfinches and Goldfinches visit the feeders and in the evening a Tawny Owl lurks in the woodland edge watching the bird table for any brave rodents who venture out for dropped seed. The roadside verges are full of wildflowers, Red Campion, Ragged Robin, Stitchwort, Cow Parsley and in the hedgerows Horse Chestnut, Rowan and Hawthorn are all flowering.
The May flies hatched and a shiny clean and waxed car looks like the surface of a pond and the perfect place to lay  eggs, lettting us get up-close and personal with these delicately beautiful insects though its very sad watching them waste their precious cargo. They have only the briefest existence as flying insects, usually only a day, flying only to mate, lay eggs and then die. While woodcutting Barrie found several Longhorn beetles, they fly heavily, whirring off for a short distance before landing again. The larva live under the bark of fallen trees and the adults feed on flowers. The squirrels in the garden have been enjoying the remains of peanut butter jars we have been putting out though I think the one in the photo could do with laying off for awhile.
Longhorn beetle. Rhagium mordax. (?)

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Bunnies and Bee flies

We've had a lovely spell of weather this last week and its really brought all the plants on. The hawthorn hedges are greening up, the trees leaves are unfurling and woodlands are carpeted with the rich green leaves of the wild garlic whose scent fills the air and makes you really, really, really fancy some garlic bread. The wood anemones and wild sorrel are flowering and their delicate starry flowers nod by roadsides and in woods. I read it takes around 100 years for wood anemones to spread by 7ft so we must have some ancient woodlands in the Forest of Bowland. Out and about we saw a flock of thirty Whimbrel feeding by Bleasdale Cottages and at home we have been delighted by a Bee fly feeding on our Primulas. Every where is full of new life, there are baby rabbits in the fields, ducklings on the ponds and lots of tadpoles wriggling about in the ponds. Marvellous.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Swallows and Buttterflies

On Thursday evening around 8 pm, at least 50 Swallows flew over the house, we  hoped ours were back and would be in the barn by morning, but they all seem to have gone down to the farmyard to feed after their long journey. At least they are back. On Saturday I saw this battered looking Peacock butterfly in the garden, it must have just come out of hibernation, it seems incredible it has survived. In the hedgerows the Hawthorn leaves are starting to show a lovely refreshing green.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The swallows are back in Dunsop, the ponds are full of frogspawn and I saw my first butterfly, a Small Tortoiseshell on 7th April and my first Bumble Bee yesterday and the weather was sunny and warm. We have still got the Reed Bunting in the garden so food must still be scarce. Barrie had a lovely encounter with a Hare it  ran straight up the slope towards him and didn't notice him till it was about four feet away ,stopped and sniffed and then ran off.

Lots of frogspawn in local ponds.

This Robin is always going into the shed where it knows we store seed.We think it even sleeps in here.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The improvement in the weather has not mirrored an improvement in the birds tempers. The cock pheasants are crowing and wing beating in the garden. They comically chase each other around the garden, hiding behind bushes, unwilling to leave the bird food. A white cock pheasant is confusing them all, they don't know whether to display at it or chase it off and it makes the most of things by not really acting like a male, just eating. It doesn't really act like a hen bird either as hens are too nervous to come into the garden  hiding instead in the field edges. The squirrels tempers are fraying too, they're chasing across the lawn and having lightning fast wrestling matches.
In the fields we still have flocks of Redwings, Fieldfares and Starlings. On Sunday all the trees around the house were full of Starlings chattering. The last few days of slightly milder and sunny weather has greened the grass up and the lambs are growing really fast. The buzzards regularly fly over making their mewing calls, I don't know if  buzzards eat squirrels, but I think the squirrels do as they tend to hide if they hear the buzzards. On the upland fields there are plenty of Lapwings and the Curlews are calling and displaying, windsurfing down to the ground. On Sunday I saw my first butterfly, a Small Tortoiseshell and watched a female Pied Wagtail being fed by a male,who was trying to prove what a great Dad he would make.

Reed Bunting that dropped by for some bird seed.

These too like to sleep on the lane.

Primroses by the stream.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Snow and birds

Now that the bitter wind has dropped it's quite pleasant to go for a walk even though the snows still falling. It must be very confusing and stressful for the birds though, who are still visiting the feeders in large numbers but at the same time becoming more territorial and less tolerant. We have about a dozen chaffinches, four robins, eight blackbirds and numerous coal, blue and great tits and the occasional nuthatch visiting. We are also still getting a flock of about a dozen Long Tailed tits. In the fields there are often about twenty to thirty Lapwings feeding alongside pairs of Curlews and hares. Yesterday we were inundated with a flock of about 600-800 starlings who took off and swooped and dived above us as we drove past. The hedgehog that was hibernating has woken up with a cold and is in a pile of straw under the stairs sneezing and eating lots of cat food. It must have heard the old saying starve a fever feed a cold. This weather must really be catching a lot of wildlife out if they come out of hibernation and they can't find any food.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Frosty mornings and tetchy birds

Frosty mornings have led on into sunny days with bright blue skies. It might be cold but at least the hard ground is easier to walk on. Everywhere you look the fields are full of molehills and the farmers are out rolling the fields to flatten them as well as muckspreading. The waders are all back in force with the rich song of curlews floating on the air as they display overhead. Flocks of lapwings feed on the fields along with gulls, oystercatchers and starlings who gather in the trees like Christmas decorations chattering away before all taking off at once to resume feeding. The woods are full of birdsong too as the birds seek to establish their territories and truces that held overwinter are disintergrating. Chaffinches engage in amazing aerial battles rising up in the air wings beating furiously. Male blackbirds drag each other across the lawn and robins vie for the highest position to display from, chest out, beak and tail pointing skywards, and if that doesn't work engaging in really vicious battles. Hares are easier to spot now while the grass is still short and a friend was lucky enough to watch a boxing bout, wish I'd been there. Lambing has started in earnest and hopefully the weather will soon get milder for them.

Couldn't resist drawing these two.