gatepostgatepostCoxley Valley, 5.30 p.m., 45ºF, 8ºC: At the entrance to the woods this rough hewn stone gatepost stands by the beck next to an ivy-covered alder. Fresh leaves of wild garlic grow behind it, escaping being trampled on a wide and muddy stretch of the path.

There’s a bit of an evening chorus amongst the birds – the wistful robin, the monotonous wood pigeon and the powerful projection of the wren – but when the blackbird starts singing we’re in a different league: melodious, mellow and relaxed.

Spring Planting

trees at the garden centreAt Cannon Hall country park the newly arrived chiff-chaffs are singing.

cherry, Sainsbury's car parkWe’re visiting the garden centre in search of plants for the bed in the front garden. Some of the plants that we’re after, such as salvias, can be tender, so those aren’t yet available. We decide to limit our colour scheme to blue/purple and yellow. We go for a variegated sedge, hebe, pale yellow primulas, miniature pansies and tête-à-tête daffodils. We’ll get the bed prepared, mulch it with chipped bark and plant those and keep adding more plants as they become available.  


dipperdipper10.30 a.m., sunny, cool breeze, 50% small cumulus: Two grey wagtails perch on the rocks above the weir on the River Porter or Little Don at the top end of Langsett Reservoir. A dipper flies downstream and perches on the top edge of the weir, holding a butterfly in its beak – it looks like a meadow brown, orangey brown with a small dot in the centre of the underwing.

dipperA second dipper appears, this one with a wiry stem, probably heather, in its beak. One of them flies to the river bank, where I guess that they’re nesting.

warblersBy the rocky path leading up to the moor, two warblers are flitting about. On stops to sing: a willow warbler? The song doesn’t tail off in the way that I expect it to.

Old gate way at the ruined farm North America.
Old gate way at the ruined farm North America.

Up on the moor there’s a lot of activity amongst the red grouse. A meadow pipit climbs then performs it gently parachuting display flight.

A grey heron flies up from a quiet stretch of the shore of the reservoir. As far as I remember, this is the first time we’ve spotted a heron at Langsett.


First Chiff-chaff

Coxley Beck2.40 p.m.: I keep hearing a chiff-chaff in the background but always slightly drowned out by the sound of other birds or the sound of the beck, which is rushing along today brownish with sediment after yesterday’s rain. It’s only when a warbler hops along the branches of a willow that has fallen across the stream that I really believe that I’ve heard it. I get a better chance to hear the song when a chiff-chaff starts singing from the top of the willow at the other side of the stream.

chiff-chaffchiff-chaffBritish Summertime started at the weekend so it’s appropriate that warblers are now touching down after their return from Africa.

41ºF, 5ºc, pressure 998 mb, 29.4 in, sunshine and fairly heavy showers

Thornhill Hall Moat

thornhill lake2 p.m., cloudy with spots of rain: Two kestrels are perching in the treetops, including in a tall lime, in Thornhill Park on the slope above the moat of the old hall, destroyed during a Civil War seige One of the kestrels sees off a wood pigeon but going down onto the ground it’s the kestrel that gets pestered, by a pair of magpies.

kestrel soarsIn the hedgerows ground-ivy, red dead-nettle, chickweed, dandelion, dogs mercury and lesser celandine are in flower, magpiealthough on this cool afternoon the celandine flowers are closed.

Crusty Lichen

crustose lichensporangia10.30 a.m.: At first sight this crustose lichen looks like nothing more than a pale stain on the sandstone block at the edge of the raised bed behind the pond. I’m using crayons this morning and the nearest match that I can get is mineral green, applied very lightly with a dash of other colours added. Using watercolours I would have got nearer to the grey in my photograph.

The black oval sporangia* are about a millimetre across.

crustose lichenA neighbouring colony of the same lichen is more densely peppered with sporangia and they appear to me to have a slight brownish cast, like coffee grounds.

I find the details easier to take in on my macro photographs than in real life but peering closely I notice a springtail wandering by. The springtail is a hexapod and it is no longer classified as an insect. Continue reading “Crusty Lichen”

Hemlock Water Dropwort

hemlock water dropwort10.45 a.m., 48ºF, 9ºc, overcast, cool; Hemlock water dropwort grows on a silty, gravelly inside bend of the stream by the sawn-off bough of a crack willow. Its luxuriant, fresh-looking rosettes spring up along the banks and even in a few places from the stream bed itself. It’s not surprising that none of the leaves has been nibbled because every part of this plant is extremely toxic.

squirrel poleThe harsh chatter of magpies contrasts with the restful rhythmic babbling of the brook. That’s a cliche but babbling is the only way to describe it this morning.

wagtailA smart looking grey wagtail, a male, performs a mid-air pirouette when I disturb it and its mate flitting about over a gravelly section of the stream at the entrance to the wood.

A grey squirrel has been leaning over to reach our solid-looking ‘squirrel proof’ sunflower heart feeder. As it hangs upside down from the pole, it rotates the feeder with its front legs, always in a clockwise direction. Eventually this unscrews the feeder from its hook and the lid comes off as it crashes to the ground. I pick pigeonup what seed I can and replace the feeder. Blackbird, robin, goldfinch and pheasant appreciate the bonus of spilt seed but it’s the wood pigeon that steadily gets through it.

Bladder Wrack

 bladder wrackWhen I picked up this piece of bladder wrack at Sandsend it looked fresh but it has dried out so much that I doubt it would plump up if I soaked it in water.

As I mention in the note, it has pairs of gas-filled bladders on either side of the midrib of the frond.

It is found in the middle of the intertidal zone on rocky shores.

Blast Furnace Slag

blast furnace slagblast furnace slagI picked up what I think is a piece of blast furnace slag from the beach at Sandsend last week. It looks a bit like a motorway chipping with the contrast of limestone fragments and black coating but the top surface is hard and pockmarked with bubbly holes, so this fragment has been subjected to intense heat.

There were ironstone workings at Sandsend.

Frog Fest

frogfrogs1.40 p.m., sunny, 51ºF, 12ºC; I counted twenty-seven clumps of frogspawn yesterday and assumed that was it, the party was over, but today the frogs are back in action.

I sneak up on them with an iPad and attempt to record the sound of them croaking and to film them. I find that the iPad is a bit cumbersome to hold steadily so, without making any sudden movements, I retrace my steps to collect camera, tripod and sketchbook.

Hope to upload the movie later.

A pair of siskins feed on the sunflower hearts, just a few yards from me as I sit sketching the frogs.