Mini Adventures

Trespass Mini Belt Bag, 1L.
Trespass Mini Belt Bag, 1L.

There’s just enough room in my new one litre bag for an A6 pocket-sized sketchbook, bijou watercolour box, pack of crayons, Safari pen, water-brush, Olympus Muji Tough camera and microfibre buff (‘a bandana with attitude’) plus an attached key fob compass/thermometer. As it says on the label:

‘So pack up . . . and get out there on your next big adventure.’

Or in this case mini adventure as this is the bag that I’ll grab when we’re setting out on our errands and appointments, for instance this morning when we had a few things to do in Ossett and I spotted the brown sporangia of a hartstongue fern growing in a crevice in an old stone wall on New Street.

hartstongue sporangia

Usually those furry caterpillar sporangia would be arranged in a feather pattern on the back of the frond but here the frond has shrivelled and curled inwards along the midrib, exposing the spores to any passing breeze, so no doubt thousands of them will find their way into suitable crevices.

May Sketches


Cuckoo flower growing on my friend Roger's wild flower lawn.
Cuckoo flower growing on my friend Roger’s wild flower lawn.

It’s only a month ago that there was snow on the hills but since then the spring has burst into action. We’ve made efforts to get the garden up to speed and to plant all the veg beds so I haven’t had as much time as I would have liked to draw but here are the few pages of sketches from my A6 pocket book.

Seabird Cities



Quarter of a million seabirds nest at Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve. Each species has a preference for a particular niche on the cliff.

The ledges are bedding planes in the chalk. Vertical joints break the cliff face up into blocky units. In my photograph (above) the block that the herring gull is nesting on looks as if it’s well on its way to becoming detached from the cliff face.

There’s an eye-wateringly stiff breeze this morning so this is a challenging place to try out my new telephoto lens. Although I’ve mounted the camera on a monopod/walking pole it’s still getting buffeted around so I leave the image stabilisation switched on.



puffinsPuffins are  the stars of the show at the reserve but one of the wardens is having difficulty pointing them out as they keep flying off.

I get a distant view of a pair checking out a crevice at the top of the cliff. At Bempton puffins nest in crevices rather than in rabbit burrows.




razorbillsAlso near the top of the cliff, this razorbill’s mate looks as if it too is considering nesting in a crevice but you’re more likely to see them nesting on the smaller upper ledges.

In an adaptation to nesting on cliff ledges, the razorbill’s egg is tapered at one end so that, if knocked, it will roll in a tight circle. The chicks are born with an innate fear of heights, so they don’t stray too near the edge.

razorbill with egg



At Bempton the guillemots tend lower down the cliff, sometimes getting together in nesting colonies on the larger ledges.



Kittiwakes can make use of the smallest ledges, building up a nest with seaweed and grass.


gannetsgannetsI just miss the perfect photo opportunity: six or seven gannets have landed on the cliff top to gather beak-fulls of grass; they’re just  yards away from a group of birdwatchers but by the time I’ve set up my camera they’ve all flown off again.

Link: RSPB Bempton Cliffs reserve.




Olympus OM-D E-10 MarkII

olympus omd em10My new camera, the Olympus OM-D E-10 MarkII, a mirrorless ‘micro four thirds’ which is a sort of lighter, scaled down version of a digital SLR, a middle of the range camera but with almost all the features of its big brothers. It has a smaller sensor but there wouldn’t be any problems printing out a photographs at A4 size. You can film HD video and even 4K on a time lapse setting.

Jessops are currently doing a deal on a kit that includes the camera body plus an everyday kind of zoom lens and another that is more powerful, which I look forward to trying the next time we visit a bird reserve. I’ve also treated myself to a macro lens as at least 50% of my photography involves close-ups of flowers, fungi and fossils.

Welsh Poppy

It’s certainly one up on my previous bridge camera, which has given me a useful way of getting into more serious photography over the last three years.

Germander Speedwell

When it comes to throwing the background out of focus, for instance in this close-up of germander speedwell taken with the new camera on our front lawn, the bridge camera was rather limited as you were given a choice of only two apertures. You need a wide aperture, which lets in more light but gives you correspondingly less depth of field, and a faster shutter speed to isolate a subject in this way.

I was inspired to take the plunge and finally go for the camera by our walk around Askham Bog with members of the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society last weekend. Several of the Nats had flip up viewfinders on their cameras which made photographing a flower at ground level a whole lot easier. I was using my little Olympus Tough, which is the size of a bar of soap, on the day and, with the viewfinder hidden down amongst the grass stems the process involved a lot of guesswork. My bridge camera was also lacking in this respect.


The viewfinder/touchscreen also tilts downwards so that I was able to hold the camera above my head and take this close-up of a clump of moss on the garage roof.

Rowan blossom.
Rowan blossom.
pink flower
Bleeding Heart, Dicentra formosa

The Olympus E-10 also gives you the option of a regular viewfinder. When you put your eye to the viewfinder it switches on and the touchscreen viewfinder on the back switches off. Perhaps holding the camera braced against my eye will help me keep it steady.

I feature that I’ve yet to drill down through the menus to activate is the 5 way image stabilisation, which is reviews suggest works even better than the 3 way image stabilisation in the previous model of the E-10.

Lichens on brick.
Lichens on brick.


Olympus OM-D E-10 MarkII at Jessops.

Askham Bog

Slender tufted sedge, Carex acuta
Slender tufted sedge, Carex acuta

longhorn moth green veined white11 a.m.: Orange tips and green veined white butterflies are attracted to the flowers of jack-by-the-hedge which grows in swathes along the edge of the swampy woodland at Askham Bog Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve, southwest of York.

Its white flowers have also attracted a longhorn moth Adela reaumurella, a metallic green micro moth, less than a centimetre in length. My photograph shows a female; the male’s antennae are twice as long, three times the length of its forewing.


Slender tufted sedge, Carex acuta (above), has sharp corners on its triangular stems. In my photograph, the male flower spikes are the dangling ochre tassels while the female spikes, below them in the flower head, have two styles growing from each ovary, like the forked tongue of a serpent.

Askham Bog has the largest colony of gingerbread sedge, Carex elongata, in England. In autumn the floppy tussocks of this sedge and its spikes of seeds turn reddish brown. Is that how it gets its name? Is it the colour of gingerbread? Or did it once have some use as a food or herbal remedy?

The colony is in Far Wood, east of the reserve’s boardwalk so wellies are recommended if you go in search of the sedge.

Water Plants

amphibious bistort

water violet

The pink flowers of amphibious bistort, Persicaria amphibium (above), are still in bud. It’s floating leaves are pointed at the tip and blunt at the base.

Despite its name water violet, Hottonia palustris, is a relative of the primrose. In my photograph you can see the stigma of the flower in the yellow centre of the foreground flower. In primroses this is what botanists refer to as ‘pin eyed’. Water violet has finely divided fern-like leaves beneath the surface of the water.


Dog violet
Dog violet
Marsh violet
Marsh violet

Dog violets grow alongside the duckboards and a few marsh violets, Viola palustris, which have paler flowers with dark veins. Marsh violet has long creeping rhizomes so when we spotted one, we soon found a few more scattered around nearby amongst the marsh plants.

Royal Fern

royal fernRoyal fern, Osmunda regalis, is just starting to unfurls its fronds. This is one of the tallest of European ferns, growing to several metres.


Askham Bog Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Reserve.

Holly Blue

holly blue11 a.m.: In a sun trap of a back garden in South Ossett this holly blue is so intent on feeding on a flowering shrub that I’m able to get within macro range with my camera. When I see a blue butterfly the size of my little finger nail I’m never sure whether I’m looking at small blue, common blue or holly blue but, once it settles, the holly blue is the only one that that has bluish white underwings with small dark spots.

The small blue has black spots fringed in white on its pale grey underwing; the common blue has black and orange spots, also fringed in white, on a grey-brown background.

After the Floods

Calder valleyAlong most of this stretch of the valley the River Calder is kept within its course by flood embankments except after exceptionally heavy rain, such as in last winter’s Boxing Day floods, but once it has overtopped these manmade levees there’s no direct way for the water to make its way back to the river as the flood subsides.

Increasingly, the canal, the Calder & Hebble Navigation, which runs parallel to the river, acts as an overflow channel but downstream from the Figure of Three locks the canal itself has what effectively acts as an embankment possibly built up in part by the navvies tipping spoil alongside the channel when they excavated this stretch of the navigation in the 1830s.

Following the Boxing Day floods, the farmer’s solution appears to have been to flatten a short stretch of the banking and to cut an overflow notch so that the field can drain across the towpath into the canal.

alluvial depositalluvial depositThe excavations have exposed alluvial deposits which are typical of this stretch of the Calder valley: sandy silt containing pebbles of what appears to be local sandstone.

As I understand it, these deposits were laid down after the last ice age in a valley that had been deepened because the river that occupied it was heading down towards a lower sea level. Sea levels were so much lower during the ice age that most of the North Sea was dry land.

Swollen by meltwater, this precursor of the Calder was more powerful than the river as we see it today, which meanders over its flood plain re-sorting the alluvial deposits by cutting into the riverbank on the outside of a meander and depositing a sandbar elsewhere. I imagine that flash floods were more powerful in the treeless landscape of the ice age.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, stretches of the river were channeled into a straighter course by canal building navvies and much later in the early 1960s the river was diverted during the construction of Healey Mills railway marshalling yards.

Transit of Mercury

transit of mercuryI set up the telescope in the last patch of afternoon sunlight on our back lawn and catch an image of Mercury mid-way through its transit across the Sun. This is the first time that I’ve seen Mercury: as we’re in a valley, we’re never well placed to see its brief appearances at dawn and dusk.

transit telescope

I don’t have a solar filter for the telescope so I project an image onto a sketchbook page, then photographed the image. I feel that it’s safer to project anyway: a friend accidentally burnt out the lens of his smart phone when he moved his telescope into position, having briefly removed his solar filter to make it easier to level up the shadow. That’s £70 for a replacement lens but you can’t replace an eye as easily.


Detail from the projected image of the solar disc. Sunspots appear in pairs, magnetically charged as north and south: imagine a horseshoe magnet connecting them beneath the photosphere.

Squeezing my camera in between telescope and sketchbook to take the photograph resulted in an oblique view of the solar disc so I skewed and stretched the image in Photoshop to fit into a yellow circle (top image).

planetsIf we could see the Earth’s silhouette alongside that of Mercury, it wouldn’t be much bigger than the larger sunspot (left).

Seeing the progress of Mercury across the solar disc gives an impression of the scale of the Solar System; 99.8% of the mass of the Solar System is contained in the Sun.

Motorway Services

buzzardrookA buzzard circles near Woolley Edge Services; by the picnic benches rooks gather crop-fulls of scraps.

Slip road at the services
Slip road at the services

Calling at a motorway services when we live just five miles away, I feel as if we shouldn’t really be here but we’re meeting with an old friend and her husband who are taking a break here on their journey north.

Bullcliffe Woods, Denby Dale Road.
Bullcliffe Woods, Denby Dale Road.

Driving along some roads in the district, I feel as if every last patch of ground is being built on but heading out this way, I’m astonished at how much countryside we’ve managed to hold on to and how beautiful it looks in the late afternoon sun as woods and hedges burst into fresh leaf and blossom.

Oak Apple

oak apple

Greater stitchwort
Greater stitchwort

It’s as if someone’s thrown a switch and we’re suddenly in the peak of springtime. In the last two weeks we’ve had a covering of gravel-sized hailstones and just last weekend the crowds were braving wintery showers to cheer on the Tour de Yorkshire cyclists. This morning as we follow the towpath to the Navigation Inn (which is still struggling to get fully up and running after the December floods) orange tipwe’ve got peacock butterflies and orange tips flying alongside us. Greater stitchwort, dandelion and green alkanet are freshly in flower.

A canal side oak is bursting into leaf and amongst the catkins on its branches we spot a few oak apples, made by the gall wasp Biorhiza pallida. The wingless unisexual generation of this gall wasp has spent the winter developing in galls on the roots of the tree then emerged and climbed the trunk to lay its eggs on the buds. The buds develop into the reddish spongy oak apples and from these the bisexual generation will emerge.


blue butterflyA blue butterfly (holly or small blue?) flies up from the rock face which creates a south-facing sun trap at Addingford Steps. On the River Calder near the old Horbury Bridge woollen mills two male goosanders are diving.

lapwingA lapwing swoops over the Strands where I drew in the aftermath of the winter floods. There’s a warbler in the tall grasses. monocularFrom it’s song Barbara thinks it’s a sedge warbler, from it’s appearance – not streaky – I took it to be a reed warbler. But I’m struggling to get a decent view with my little monocular: I must bring binoculars next time!

Thrush’s Anvil

song thrush8.30 a.m.: Our revamped front garden got a vote of confidence at breakfast-time; five birds of four different species were using the bark chip mulched flower border which slopes down to the lawn from the pavement.

A song thrush was using the upended paving slab that edges the bed as an anvil, expertly bashing a snail against it until it had removed the shell completely. It then ate it, so it probably hasn’t got any young in the nest clamouring for food. A second song thrush looked on from the hedge.

brown lipped snail shellbrown lipped snail shellWhen we cleared this bed a month or two ago, I kept finding stripy brown-lipped snails amongst the ground covering ivy and rather than consign them to the compost bin, I gave them a second chance by tossing them into the bottom of the beech hedge.

At the time I thought that I would probably live to regret this as the snails will probably repay me by nibbling the flowers on the primroses that I was about to plant but I’m glad that they’re proving an attraction for our resident pair of thrushes. A few weeks ago they were taking nesting material into a thick leylandii hedge in next door’s front garden.

blackbirdA male blackbird hopped between the plants, pausing to pull back the bark chippings mulch with a swift backward hop. The bark chipping are steadily rolling down the slope towards the lawn leaving bare patches so I’ll rake them back into place next time I’m in the front garden.

robinThe other two species hopping about on the bark chip mulch were robin and house sparrow. I’m pleased with the way the new bed is shaping up and now that the miniature daffodils are fading away the next step is to add some ‘perfect for pollinators’ flowers to take us through the summer.