Yellow Rattle

yellow rattle69°F, 20°C, 10.25 a.m.: At the lower end of the walled garden at Nostell Priory there are two squares of wild flower meadow. Amongst the grasses, buttercups and dog daisies there are small drifts of yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor, a plant that is semi-parasitic on the roots of grasses.

Despite a superficial resemblance, it isn’t related to yellow archangel, which I photographed in Stoneycliffe Woods at the beginning of the month: yellow archangel is a relative of the dead-nettles, one of the Lamiacea (mint) family, while yellow flyrattle is a member of the Scrophulariaceae (figwort) family, related to louseworts, cow-wheats, speedwells and foxglove.

Male Fern

male fernmale fern stemA tall shuttlecock tuft of fronds of male fern, Dryopteris filix-mas, grows by the woodland path near the Menagerie. It has pale brown scales on its stems, which helps distinguish it from another tufted fern, the broad-buckler, which has a dark stripe running down the centre of each scale. The broad-buckler doesn’t form such a robust looking shuttlecock of fronds.


Curry Plant


curry plantThe curry plant growing in the stone trough in the courtyard of the stable block at Nostell Priory is just about to come into flower. As its name suggests, it gives off a convincing aroma of curry if you brush against it or rub its leaves. If this is designed to deter insects, it isn’t working in the case of these black aphids that are sap-sucking along its stems.

aphidsant and aphidSurplus sap excreted by the aphids is collected by ants, which have been observed to defend and sometimes to move the aphids, like farmers herding cattle. I spotted just one ant in the macro photographs that I took.


Spittle Bug

cuckoo spitAlso sap-sucking, a spittle bug. The nymph of the spittle bug produces a protective covering of ‘cuckoo spit’ by blowing bubbles in the surplus sap that it excretes.

Song Thrush

song thrushsong thrushThe song thrushes are now running a shuttle service feeding their young in the beech hedge behind the wheelie bins in our front garden. While one parent watches warily with a beak-full of food before flying down to the back of hedge the other is foraging for the next feed in the back garden, dealing with a small slug on the patio, leaving a sticky mess on the paving slab.

kestrelThe meadow, no longer grazed by a pony, is now a regular hunting ground for a kestrel, which hovers at forty or fifty feet and occasionally plunges down among the grasses.




Upper lake, Nostell Priory: The seed capsules of bladdernut contain hard seeds that have been used as beads. Bladdernut, Staphylea pinnata, is a deciduous shrub or small tree, native to central and southern Europe and Turkey. It was introduced to Britain in the 16th century.

Bumble bees

Red-tailed bumble bee
Red-tailed bumble bee

bumble beeCatmint and geraniums are attracting bumble bees in the walled garden at Nostell Priory.

Town Hall Pigeons

town pigeonpigeon9.20 a.m., Market Place, Ossett, 52°F, 13°C: A town pigeon perches on the antenna on the town hall roof then flies off in a stiff winged display flight. A stubble of rush-like spikes prevents these feral pigeons, descendants of the rock dove, from using sills, mouldings and cupolas as cliff ledges but the strings of Christmas lights still festooned across the facade provide an alternative perch. One has found a niche on a jutting corner.

elder on town hall roofpigeonIt’s not much more than a year since the building was given a major restoration but already two elders have sprouted and are blossoming in crevices in the stonework.

A black-headed gulls flies over and a swift soars around hawking for insects.

Summer’s Green

meadowThe fresh greens of spring are now over and trees have filled out with lush deep green foliage. Already I have to lean over as I pass the car in the drive because the rowan has put out so many soft ferny sprays of leaf.

Strings of yellow keys – pairs of ‘helicopter’ seeds – are hanging from the sycamores.

A song thrush is taking food to a nest hidden in the beech hedge at the front of the house. A month or so ago, I watched them taking nesting material into the leylandii hedge next door but when the beech came into a leaf a week or two later they started nest-building there instead.

Slithering to Safety

garden snailslugDuring the rain garden snails have climbed onto our front door. I relocate eight of them by tossing them across the garden into the corner by the beech hedge.

One of the favourite hang outs for snails and for large brown slugs is under the wheelie bins. Once a week when we put the bins out, they have to find alternative cover but we usually put out the bins in the evening, giving them the cool of the night to slither for safety.

Perfect for Pollinators

bumblebeeThe RHS recommended ‘good for pollinators’ collection of bulbs is living up to its name; the allium flowers are attracting small bumblebees even in the rain. It helps that the flowers hang downwards.

redtbuzzThe chives in the herb bed are covered in purple pom-poms of flower and these are attracting red-tailed bumble bees.

Sinking like a Stone

antAnts are excavating beneath the paving slabs on the drive and the patio. Charles Darwin made observations to calculate how long it would take earthworms, leaving worm casts on his lawn, to bury a stone that he had left there. The ants are gradually undermining the paving stones and probably some day we’re going to have to relay them.

The Riverside Hide

juvenile siskinwoodpecker sketch12.28 p.m.: The male great spotted woodpecker arrives but he’s out of luck: five crows have just been down to the feeding station and they’ve knocked the fat ball feeder off the post.

A young siskin, so streaky that I wondered if it was a redpoll, joins the adult males on the niger feeder. In their bright, neat plumage the males look as if they’re in uniform and ready to be assertive, in contrast the juvenile fades into the background and appears innocuous and inoffensive. The wing stripes and a hint of green in the tail give a hint of the neater adult plumage to come.

Waterfall in Watercolour

oughtbeck2.20 – 4 p.m.: I finish the pen drawing and start adding watercolour to my drawing of the little waterfall where Oughtershaw Beck crosses and exposure of limestone. I start with the lightest colour which is the pale ochre grey of the limestone then I add the brighter yellow green of the moss before going on to the water, the face of the rock that is in the shade and the darker green patches of moss.

I try to give some impression of the solidity of the rock but realise that if I take things too far I will lose the sparkle of the water so on my third top left to bottom right progress across the drawing with my series of watercolour washes, I decide that is enough and anyway it’s time to go back to Nethergill for a pot of tea and some homemade flapjack. Wish I had more time for this kind of drawing!

The wood avens that I spotted the other day in the turf on the river bank at my feet as I sat in this same spot appears to have been washed away but birdsfoot trefoil is still in flower and there are leaves of lady’s mantle, also plantain and at least one species of sedge.

Walk to Swarthghyll

The late afternoon thunderstorm isn’t as heavy as those we’ve had on previous days so we take a walk across the moor to the next farm up the valley on a calm pearly evening. The buzzard sits calling on the same post that it was on the other day.

reed buntingIt’s impossible to do this walk without seeing several meadow pipits sitting on fence posts or on the power lines but it’s worth checking out every bird on a post. One of them turns out to be a male reed bunting, a new bird for our Nethergill list. I don’t remember seeing it in previous years.

curlewThe curlews are calling over the buttercup meadows by the beck. A pied wagtail perches on the power line at Swarthghyll. Northern marsh orchids are in fresh flower on the tree-lined track to the farm. There’s a reminder of more everyday scenes: wood pigeon and mallard in the field by the bird hide.


mosswallcowWe start our walk around Semerwater at the hamlet of Stalling Busk. The former school is now the village hall and next door a former garage is the tasting room for Raydale Preserves.

Primroses are fading away but hawthorn blossom is still at its most luxuriant. Northern marsh orchids, ragged robin and yellow rattle grow in a wet flush at the lakeside.

hawthornA song thrush includes a whistle in its repertoire that sounds very like the whistles of a farmer to his (or her) sheepdog. A curlew pipes its agitated call.

A large toad trundles across a shady luxuriant path by a gully near the ruined church.

Luckily for us a thunderstorm struggles to get over the hill from the neighbouring dale. Our friend Roger, a mountain leader, points out the change in the direction of the wind as we walk up Raydale. Although the towering clouds are threatening to come towards us, the winds are sweeping in sideways, then turning back towards the storm, pushing it back.semervale

Bilberry Wood

bilberry wood
Rushes and common cotton-grass growing amongst the bilberries at the edge of the wood.
Milkwort, growing by a small tributary stream running into Oughtershaw Beck.
Milkwort, growing by a small tributary stream running into Oughtershaw Beck.

The hummocky ground layer of Bilberry Wood is carpeted, as its name suggests, with bilberry which is dripping with globular pink flowers, a few of which are beginning to set berries. It has flourished in the years since the wood was fenced off to prevent sheep grazing here.

Recently red squirrels have moved into the wood. They have been caught on camera attracted to feeding boxes (see link below).

green-veined whiteBumble bees are busy in the wood but on the strips of acid grassland around it small heath butterflies are the most conspicuous insects, flitting about over damp sedgey ground pockmarked with the hoof-prints of sheep and cattle. Two green-veined whites have paired up and come to rest among the grasses, giving us a chance to take some close-up macro shots.

red damselflies

In a calm section of Oughtershaw beck, large red damselflies, Pyrrhosoma nymphula, are laying their eggs, perching on a leaf of pondweed, Potamogeton.

Link: Red Squirrels in Bilberry Wood

Red squirrels at a nut feeder in Bilberry Wood, Nethergill.


Nethergill Farm, Langstrothdale
Nethergill Farm, Langstrothdale, yesterday morning as the sun failed to clear the low cloud.

Nethergill Farm, 1.10 p.m.: Cumulus clouds are towering over Langstrothdale and the thunderstorms that the forecast suggested were a possibility would now be welcome as even here in the shade of the old barn the temperature is climbing into the high seventies Fahrenheit, 25 C.

A cuckoo is calling on the far side of the valley. Meadow pipits are the birds we see most often on the road across the moor to Hawes, so it will have plenty of nesting pairs in its territory.

The farm’s resident blackbird sings from the ash tree, which is covered in sprays of blossom, which is now going over, and freshly sprouted bright green fronds of leaves.

Goldfinches chatter excitedly in its canopy. A gentle breeze sighs as it passes across the valley ahead of the gathering cloud but does nothing to freshen the atmosphere.

A pheasant explodes in a brief grockle of indignation, flies murmur, a cockerel crows: a strangulated wail. The hens here at Nethergill farm ‘are still learning’ so Fiona added an extra egg to the small but deep yellow yoked half dozen that she gave us in our welcome pack for our self-catering apartment, the Hay Mew. Also included, slices of her homemade flapjack which has been enticing Dales Way walkers to take a break here for the last five years.


buzzard2.45 p.m., Bilberry Wood, Langstrothdale: We could hear a buzzard mewing but couldn’t spot one circling or perching in the pines on the far side of the beck; it was on the moorland edge on the slope beyond, perching on a fence-post. It was still there and still calling when we walked back, half an hour later.

starling3 p.m.: Starlings nest beneath the roof tiles at Swarthghyll Farm, Langstrothdale. House martin and swallow fly in at the barn window below.

green-veined white3.20 p.m.: A green-veined white is sunning itself on a bank by the track across the moor, after a brief chase with a rival. It has fine dark veins on its upper wings but lacks the spots and borders that you see on many white butterflies (including most green-veined whites). A brief glimpse of the veins of its underwing helps confirm that it really is a green-veined.

pied wagtail5 p.m. riverside hide, Nethergill Farm: A pied wagtail feeds amongst the rocks on the beck, which is running low. It flies vertically to snap an insect in mid-air, then switches its attention to the beck-side pasture, darting to pick up insects from the clumps of rushes.