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.