In close-up, this paved area at the end of Barbara’s brother’s South Ossett garden is a miniature landscape; a sun-baked plateau dissected by a network of canyons. Brown ants patrol the edges of a dense forest of mosses.
Moss is still green in the crevices but on the surface of the concrete paving slabs, it’s dried up. White whiskers give the clump a little protection from the direct glare of the sun.
Spore capsules of the mosses are like pepper-pots on wiry stalks. One (left) has split open, leaving the teeth around the rim splayed out, like the petals of a miniature daisy.
Spots, Stains and Splatters: Crustose Lichens
There are a few spots of a dirty yellow crustose lichen on the concrete. It’s dotted with orange sporangia, each with a narrow yellow rim.
This black crustose lichen looks like little more than a tar stain on the concrete but my macro photograph reveals a surface cracked like dried mud.
A white lichen looks like splatters of paint. In close-up almost every individual scale in the colony is dotted with a small depression, perhaps the lichen’s spore-producing body.
I’m guessing that the single orange sporangium is a different species of lichen – probably the yellowish species – that has become engulfed by the white one.
Bluebottles and Bumblebees
When I drew these a month ago on 11 June the temperature was climbing to 34°C, 92°F, in this sunny corner, so insects were active. A half-size version of a bluebottle touched down while a small marmalade-coloured bumblebee visited the white clover at the edge of the lawn.
I was soon adopted as an extension of the habitat by a small brown spider which climbed over me.
Two species of lichens are thriving on the trunks of trees in the Asda supermarket car park in Dewsbury but nationally, as sulphur dioxide levels decrease, one of them appears to be gaining ground while the other is becoming rarer.
The yellow lichen with the pale-rimmed orange apothecia (the fruiting bodies of the lichen) is Xanthoriapolycarpa, which has spread as levels of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere decrease.
It’s common on the coast but in urban settings you’ll often find it on twigs, fences and even on painted signs. It can tolerate high levels of nutrients and nitrogen, so it’s common around farms.
What is the source of nutrients or nitrogen here? Do these trees serve as starling roosts or, here in the middle of a car park, does the nitrogen come from vehicle exhausts?
The majority of lichens don’t have common names but the Latin name often includes a succinct description of the species. The genus name Xanthoria means ‘golden yellow’ while the species name polycarpa refers to its many fruiting bodies.
Between the splodges of yellow, a grey-green lichen, Hypogymnia physodes, covers most of the bark. It grows in similar situations to the Xanthoria and tolerates acidic conditions but, nationally, this lichen has declined as air quality has improved. The introduction of smokeless zones and the phasing out of coal-fired power stations has resulted in less sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere and less acid rain.
It’s only in unpolluted sites that this lichen will produce fruiting bodies; there are three or four of them in my photograph above: red-brown discs on short stalks.
This lichen might be thriving here because it’s growing on the bark of a flowering cherry: cherry bark is highly acidic and in a dried, powdered form, has been used for medicinal purposes. The horizontal linear scar, visible amongst the lichens on my photograph, is characteristic of cherry.
The ‘Naked-below Bellows-like’ Lichen
The genus name of this lichen, Hypogymnia, means ‘naked below’ and refers to this lichen having no rootlike growths – rhizinae – on its undersurface.
The species name, physodes, means ‘bellows-like’ and I guess this refers to the lobes along the fringes of the lichen which are shaped like a pair of bellows.
In places the fan-like margins appear to be sprinkled with flour. These are described as farinose soredia. Farinose means ‘flour-like’. The soredia produce powdery granules which contain the fungal and algal cells of the lichen; these become detached and can grow into new lichens.
Both these lichens are foliose, which means they can easily be detached from the surface they are growing on. Other lichens can be crustose and can’t easily be detached or fruticose: bushy.
Lichens, an Illustrated Guide
Coming across these in the Asda car park in Dewsbury gives me a chance to test out my new lichen field guides.
The first one that I reach for is the Field Studies Council’s Guide to common urban lichens 1 (on trees and wood). There aren’t many yellow lichens to choose from, so I soon narrow it down to Xanthoria polycarpa, then, taking a good look at my macro photographs of the grey-green lichen, I immediately pick out Hypogymnia physodes from the chart. I need illustrations; I’m not methodical enough to work my way through a key to identify a species.
There’s a brief summary of key features and habitat in the symbols and the tables included in the FSC guide, but it’s useful, now that I’ve got a name to look it up in an index and to go for the more detailed description and notes on distribution in Lichens, An Illustrated Guide to the British and Irish Species, by Frank S. Dobson, which has just been republished in a revised and updated edition.
There are six FSC guides to lichens in particular habitats – such as churchyards, rocky shores and moorland – so if you’re in one of those habitats it’s easier to have the few dozen of the species you’re most likely to come across to choose from, rather than trying to find it amongst the one thousand plus lichens in Frank Dobson’s book. The two publications work well together.
I already had five field guides on my bookshelves which include a selection of lichens but only one of them, The Observer’s Book of Lichens, briefly mentions the particular Xanthoria that I’ve photographed, but it isn’t illustrated and there isn’t enough of a description to enable me to identify it.
If you’re interested in lichens, I’d say it’s worth investing in these two publications (below). I went for the hardback and I’m pleased to say that it’s been given a binding that stays open when you put it down on the desk, which is so useful when you’re looking something up!
With our peonies, I much prefer drawing the seedpods to the frilly magenta pink flowers. Peonies are related to buttercups and the other place where I’ve seen pods shaped like a court jester’s cockscomb hat is on the kingcups by the pond.
Unlike the kingcups, the pods on the peony have a furry covering. As they ripen they turn from light green to a light ginger brown. They’ve yet to open but some of the pods on the kingcups have already split to disperse the seeds.
It’s hard to believe that the top end of Newmillerdam Country Park was ever as open as this. Richard Brook photographed the upper end of the lake from the end of the Causeway on Sunday, 9 September, 1973. He describes this as the ‘fish hatchery and cleared area’. I remember the slope on the right being birch woodland before it was clear-felled and, like Richard, I took photographs here, in my case before the felling started, so I must set about archiving those too.
But for the time being, I’m taking a break as I’ve now finished the first two boxes of Richard’s slides; there are three still to go. I’m looking forward to more glimpses of familiar habitats as they once were.
As with the Stanley Ferry Flash photograph, Richard returned to the scene, in this case seven years later, on Monday, 26 May, 1980, but this time he’s looking down the lake across what he calls the willow swamp with the Causeway in the background (to me it looks like the lake-shore path in the distance, rather than the Causeway).
Again there’s a bare slope which I believe was as a result of felling conifers which had been planted in the 1960s after the original deciduous woodland had been felled.
The same view of Stanley Ferry Flash, near Wakefield, taken by Richard Brook on Sunday, 9 September, 1973 (above), and on Friday, 24 January, 1986 (below). The colliery spoil heap in the background, from one of the Stanley Collieries, perhaps Stanley Deep Drop, has grown, or at least been reshaped in the intervening years.
Part of the spoil heap area became Stanley Marsh Nature Reserve.
Common Reed, Phragmites, has colonised the area, although some reedmace remains. The rough grasses, greater willowherb and water plantain seem to have been drowned out, so I wonder if the whole site subsided, or whether water levels stayed about the same but the reed out-competed the other plants.
One of the pleasures of archiving Richard Brook’s slides of West Yorkshire wildlife habitats of half a century ago is being reminded of familiar places from my earliest birdwatching expeditions. Already in 1966, Fairburn Ings was establishing a reputation for itself as a nature reserve. At that time, if I remember rightly, it was managed by the West Riding County Council.
As he was trekking around the wilder fringes of the area, there are rarely figures in Richard’s slides, but he wasn’t quite able to crop this little boy feeding the swans out of the frame.
Richard took the photograph on Tuesday, 2 August 1966.
Ferrybridge Cooling Towers
I can make out just three cooling towers at Ferrybridge Power Station. There had been eight but there had been a catastrophic collapse of three of them on 1 November in the previous year, due to vibration caused by a westerly gale with winds of 85 mph.
I’ve been making a start on archiving a collection of colour slides taken by Richard Brook(1943-2017), for many years the Conservation Officer of the Wakefield Naturalists’ Society. He photographed the East Ash Lagoon at Leventhorpe from the lagoon’s northwest corner on Sunday, 2 September, 1973. Pulverised fly ash was pumped from power stations into lagoons and left to settle out.
Richard could see the potential of these lagoons as nature reserves and he documented every one of them – along with subsidence flashes and sand quarries -within five or six miles radius of Wakefield, so his collection of slides form a unique record of post-industrial West Yorkshire.
Dust & Scratch Removal
I’m gradually learning my way around the slide scanning option of my SilverFast scanning program and also learning easier ways to remove specks of dust and other blemishes from the slides.
In Photoshop CS5, I’ve just discovered the Dust & Scratches filter, which is hidden away in the Photoshop Filter Menu under the heading Noise.
It’s a lot quicker than using the Spot Healing Brush to individually remove blemishes, although that has it’s part to play too: Dust & Scratch Filter for the whole sky, Spot Healing Brush for getting into more detailed parts of the image.
I’ve decided to feature woodland flowers in my Dalesman magazine nature diary for May, but it’s still early in the season so I’ve dug out a copy of a drawing I made over forty years ago, in the 1970s.
Unfortunately I no longer have the original artwork: they were pen and ink drawings which I cut out of my sketchbooks – something I hate doing! – and pasted onto large sheets of card in same-size page layouts for my first book, A Sketchbook of the Natural History of the Country Round Wakefield. A few years after the book was published, I made the difficult decision to throw out the paste-ups. I really regret that now!
Each page was A5 landscape, so the individual drawings, made on location in Coxley Woods, were each only inches across. My original drawing of the ransoms or wild garlic was just 6 cm across, less than 2½ inches; my new version (above)is 8cm, 3 inches, across.
I scanned the page from the book and blew it up to A4 size, then put it on a light-box to trace the outlines onto cartridge paper before re-drawing the whole thing as near as I can line for line. It’s fascinating to follow so closely the marks that I made all that time ago, a way of getting back into the thought process I used at the time. I can see that I was at pains to follow as closely I was able the curves of stem, leaf and vein, so pretty much what I’d attempt to do today.
The original was dip pen and India ink, the new enlarged version is Lamy Safari, filled with Noodler’s waterproof ink. I’m pleased when, despite my shaky hands, I can follow a line more smoothly today than I could when in my mid-twenties. But then I would have been crouching uncomfortably on the woodland floor, not sitting at my desk in the comfort of my studio, overlooking those same woods. The Indian ink that I used then didn’t flow as smoothly as the Noodler’s I use now.
Even with a white flower like the wood anemone (above), adding a watercolour wash adds information and clarifies what is going on the drawing.
The yellow of the lesser celandine adds a little brighter colour and I’ve still got to add watercolour to the yellow archangel in the top right-hand corner of the page. It should make an suitably spring-green nature diary spread for the May issue of the Dalesman.