Sunday, 27 December 2015

Happy Christmas

 Had a lovely quiet Christmas and thankfully not flooded out like lots of other poor people in Lancashire. A vegetarian Christmas dinner was a potato and leek bake topped with tomatoes and a smoked cheese sauce along with customary sprouts, roast parsnips and yorkshire puds, followed by christmas pudding which the cat appears to have eaten most of in the photo below.
 Happy Christmas !
Portrait done as present 

A Christmas Pudding

Vegetarian Christmas

Friday, 13 November 2015

Nostoc commune

On paths and lawns you might notice something that looks like a green jelly fungus. It loves warm wet weather, paths and poorly drained compacted lawns. I think my photograph is of Nostoc commune, a type of cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria have been around for 3.5 billion years and helped to create the atmosphere we have today by releasing oxygen into the atmosphere and fixing nitrogen from the air. In medieval times it was called star jelly as it was thought to be the remains of shooting stars fallen to earth. Nostoc species are of interest to food, biofuel and pharmaceutical companies. Traditional medicine has used them as anti inflammatories and today they are of interest for their antibacterial action and possible use against certain cancers. So instead of going urgh, I think a small round of applause is called for.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Fungi foraging

Even though I'm too wussy to ever eat any fungi I find, I still love going out in autumn looking for them. I think it's their weird shapes and strange habits that I like, seeing something growing straight out of a decaying tree or a bright spot amongst the leaf litter or yellowing grass, just makes a drizzly autumn day a bit less dreary. I have no idea what this white one is - puts me in mind of a sea slug though.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Foggy November 1st

Beautiful evening walk and treated to an amazing natural spectacle as the fog rolled in to fill the valley below us creating an almost primeval scene. Felt like we were stood on the edge of a giant sea loch. Unforgettable. Even the sheep were quiet.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Alder Flea Beetle

Walking in Dunsop Valley we noticed quite considerable damage to Alder leaves, caused I think be Alder flea beetles.

Most of the trees still have their leaves though a big gust brings down lots of golden "pennies from heaven". The young cock pheasants are perfectly colour co-ordinated with the season in their rich new plumage and spend their days squaring up to each other or displaying to the drabber females. We still have plenty of bright nasturtiums cascading over the drystone wall and colourful little cyclamens and cheerful winter pansies and violas brighten up the patio now the geraniums have all been tucked up in the greenhouse. The cats refusing to go out unless the suns shining and mice have learnt that we sometimes forget to put the lids back on the big tubs of birdseed we keep in the shed. In the morning we have to put a big stick in for them to climb up and out which they do very sheepishly. In the picture of the cyclamen you can see a pot full of cowslip seedlings. We just put a pot of compost under a tub with cowslips in and let them self seed as they always seem to come up better from fresh seed.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Leighton Moss

We had a lovely day out at Leighton Moss. We haven't been for ages so it was interesting seeing the improvements being made which were highlighted on Countryfile. Its easy when you are surrounded on all sides by the dense reedbeds to not quite be able to picture what the sight looks like for a bird looking for a good place to overwinter. From the skytower you really realise how big and how attractive the site is to birds, with a variety of feeding and roosting opportunites. Its also just really cool.  Areas of reed have also been cleared and drained temporarily to encourage regeneration and a more open habitat for bitterns to fish in.


View from Skytower

Regeneration in reedbed

Pear Rust

I noticed these bright red blotches on a Conference Pear and a William Pear in a friends garden, when I turned over the leaves there were gall like outgrowths on the underside. A quick web search identified it as pear rust caused by the fungus Gymnosporangium sabinae which has spread from the continent in recent years. It lives on pears over summer releasing its spores in autumn and then overwinters on junipers which produce an orange spongy outgrowth from cankers in the bark in spring which reinfect pears. It is most common in humid conditions and seriously affects pear yield on the continent.

Friday, 2 October 2015


While I was sketching some pine cones something scuttled out and went between the leaves of my sketchbook. It was a tiny pseudoscorpion. They live in leaf litter and inject other tiny creatures with paralyzing venom delivered from their tiny pincers and then cover them with a liquid that soupifys them prior to ingestion. When they think they are under attack they pull everything in and look like a tiny speck of leaf litter. They are incredibly beautiful and its just amazing to watch something so tiny.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Slow to grow

Things seem to have been really slow in the garden this year. My leeks are still pencil thin, the runner beans are tiny and the sweetcorn and squashes are only just starting to flower. On the plus side the swallows seem to have done well having at least four broods of 4 or 5 young. Unfortunately the sparrowhawk took to hurtling through the barn to ambush them so we had to shut the middle door to prevent this. The wildflower border is doing well attracting bees, butterflies and hoverflies and yesterday a wood wasp flew into the porch. It looks scary but what looks like a sting is actually its ovipositor for laying eggs under the bark of trees.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Lidl wildflower mix

The border where we sowed a really cheap wildflower seed mix from Lidl is full of colour and life. As usual the ox-eye daisies are taking over the garden but I don't mind as its my favourite flower and the bees and hoverflies love it. I have had a lovely crop of carrots from a tub in the greenhouse.

Lidl wildflower mix

Lidl wildflower mix

Ox-eye daisies and cranesbill

Yummy carrots

Ebb and Flo

Ebb and Flo left us on 27/06. They set off on a walk and refused to be turned back, we followed at a distance and they headed straight for one of the ponds, they even knew where there was a gap under the wire fence. There was already a female duck with 12 ducklings there who all hid in the reeds. we left them to it and for the next couple of days went up with some wheat for them, though they seemed very nervous suddenly. However we had a really bad thunderstorm on the 30th and the next morning they were in the garden along with their mum and the drake and all were  ravenous. Now every morning they turn up, sometimes just Ebb and Flo, sometimes with their parents and sometimes with another female.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Macro moths

Barrie has got some extension tubes for his camera so he can take macro shots of our garden wildlife. We put the moth trap out Friday night and were really pleased to get some Elephant Hawkmoths, among many other moths.

Elephant Hawkmoth

Buff Ermine

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Ebb and Flo

Our guests are soon going to be leaving us. In two weeks the change has been amazing we literally wake up to different ducks every day. They have got very bossy- they ran out of food in the pen (they eat a lot!) and they made sure we heard about it. They love coming on the allotment when we are digging to find worms but go and sit in their carrier when they want to go back to the pond. We can see them watching the other birds flying over, their own flight feathers are just coming through. We think we were very lucky with the names, Ebb has blue showing more on his head than Flo so we think he's male and Flo properly quacks, although I've never really noticed if its true that only females quack - I never thought I'd need to know.

A serene Flo

Bioblittz in the garden

Sort of bio blitzed our garden today ie walked around with a camera and photographed as many insects as I could. Not got round to identifying them all yet but amazed by the variety and how beautiful even the tiniest little fly can be. A patch of nettles was fascinating, spiders, ladybirds and various flies were hunting smaller insects and some tiny little flies were semaphoring with their wings for mates and battling interlopers. On the windowsill of the house there was a large fly seemingly guarding a territory and chasing off (mating ?) with other flies.

Blow fly that was seeing off all comers

Wasp on cotoneaster

Wood boring beetle -Hylecoetus dermestoides

14-spot ladybird - how does it manage crawling over those spines


Jumping spider

Snipe fly

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Growing up

Over the Bank holiday weekend Ebb and Flo's adult plumage has come through, it started just below their wings and then on their shoulders and chests. Then spend ages in the pond ducking underwater - lots of down is floating on the surface. On the bank they spend a lot of time preening and I think they eat the down too. Their undersides seem to have got fully feathered first which makes sense and I think Ebb might be a boy as dark blue feathers are showing through on his head.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015


Discovered how much ducklings like worms, they were fighting over them in the polytunnel. They also had a whale of a time in the pond, they are getting used to being herded into the carrier to be taken out, much harder to get them to go back in though.

Learning to quack

This morning we put the ducklings in the new pen round the pond - they were so happy dabbling in the mud, diving under water and having a general good clean, flicking water over their backs and waggling their stubby little wings and tails. I also put them in the polytunnel for a while where they happily searched for worms and slugs.  They are getting more used to us, they sit quietly on their bit of grass in the bathroom instead of running off - it does make you feel like you are being talked about though as they start contact calling as soon as we are out of sight. They also like to run up and down the long landing and into the office when we are working and come and sit near our feet. Just now one has been trying to quack, it was very subdued and sounded a bit damp and also made the other duckling look confused.

Monday, 18 May 2015


We now have two ducklings living in the bathroom and are busy building a pen for them to go out into. This doesn't seem to surprise anyone. On Wednesday evening I thought the drake seemed to be playing a little rough with the ducklings, when they dived in the pond he dived after and chased them. Then on Thursday evening I realised he was actually attempting to hold them under. He was also mating with their mum.  We were surprised as they had all seemed to be getting on for at least a week. On Friday morning the ducklings turned up on their own and we sat and watched for three hours with no sign of mum and drake, so we rounded them up and brought them in before cats, crows or buzzards noticed them. This sounds a lot easier than it was. They constantly cheep but luckily not overnight and come and sit in the office with us. We put pots of reeds in front of the carrier in an attempt to make them feel more secure as the were hiding in reeds from us when we caught them. The carrier now seems to be their place of safety they run to it if nervous and sleep in it overnight. The grass is there for them to eat along with the grain in the hopper and water in the dish to drink and sit in. We are not handling them unless necessary as hopefully they will be going back into the wild.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Ducks back and Lidl wildflowers

Pleased to say the duck returned with her ducklings the same evening, though sad to say she was down to two by the next day, we do wonder if she had got seperated from them during the bad weather and then buzzards or crows noticed them. Anyway they are visiting twice a day and she now has a drake in tow and all of them are making full use of the pond. The ducklings love to dive and swim under water from one side of the pond to the other, leaving a trail of bubbles on the surface.The Lidl wildflower mix has done really well and we take the fleece off during the day so the seedlings can harden off.