Flaky bark and even flakier tree recognition: I take a closer look at the tree that I photographed on Friday and, although the bark is flaky, it isn’t as flaky as that of London Plane: it’s Horse Chestnut, which probably explains why the bark is so polished; it’s been climbed by generations of conker collectors.
At this time of year, the swelling buds are almost as distinctive at the autumn conker fruits. The bud scales are red-brown and sticky and beneath them are the shield-shaped scars where last year’s leaves were attached.
The lenticels that dot the twigs are raised pores which allow for gaseous exchange.
There’s often a carrion crow on the old felled sweet chestnut trunk near the Lower Lake bridge, feeding on grain that’s been left there and frequently being photographed. You can see in my photograph that it’s stuffed its crop with grain.
A few rooks feeding alongside jackdaws on the turf in Obelisk Park also have full crops, but they are more likely to be feeding on earthworms and insect larvae, such as leather-jackets: the caterpillar-like larvae of the crane fly.
Under a yew near the Menagerie seven grey squirrels have gathered. They’re turning over the leaf litter and stopping to nibble at frequent intervals. One appears to have found half a nut, probably an acorn that it – or another of the squirrels – had hidden during the autumn.
We disturb the adult grey heron yet again. This time it was hoping to be left in peace at the top end of the lake beneath the Cascade Bridge. It takes off, clearing the clapper stones of the Druid’s Bridge with inches to spare.
The flock of fieldfares are still around. Wigeon have left the now completely ice-covered field pool. There’s a pair on the Middle Lake, along with two pairs of gadwall, tufted, the usual mallards and swans and an increasing number of goosanders, some swimming in pairs.
There are more wigeon on the ice-free Upper Lake, which isn’t accessible from the Park.
As we walk along the edge of Top Park Wood, a kestrel wheels from tree to tree ahead of us.
On the northern half of the trunk of an oak by the Lower Lake a coating of powdery green algae shows up in the morning sunlight. It is absent from the sunny south side of the tree so, if you’re trying to do a bit of natural navigating and you’re lost deep in the forest this could help you to orientate yourself.
This is probably Pleurococcus or a very similar-looking species of green algae. Seen through a microscope, Pleurcoccus is a globular single-celled alga with a thick cell wall to help it resist desiccation. The individual cells are slimy and stick together to form the powdery coating.
Green algae contains two kinds of chlorophyll: Chlorophyll A and Chlorophyll B. The two molecules work together; Chlorophyll A absorbs blue-violet and orange-red light while B extends the spectrum by absorbing blue light. The green that we see is the light that doesn’t get absorbed.
There’s a heavy crop of oyster mushroom(above) on some sweet chestnut logs, the entire trunk of a felled tree, which have been left as a habitat in Thornhill Park. Oyster mushrooms are currently £10.80 per kilogram at Sainsbury’s, so there must be hundreds of pounds’ worth here, although some are a bit past their best.
The logs are also sprouting honey fungus(left), which is said to be edible when young.
On the stump itself, the common bracket fungus of dead wood, Trametes versicolor is growing. The brackets are paler around the edges.
This silver birch, down by the canal near the Figure of Three locks, was catching the sun. I’ve added a watercolour filter in Photoshop to bring out the texture of the diamond-shaped scars of its bark. Hopefully, I’ll be getting down to actually painting some watercolours in the new year!
I feel that I can already tell that the days are getting longer and it’s good to think that, in two months time, dogs mercury and lesser celandine will be springing up on the hedgebanks with coltsfoot appearing on disturbed ground.
For the moment though, the only conspicuous flowers are those of hogweed.
Hazel catkins, as yet unopened, are now prominent in the hedgerows.
There was a soft arc of a rainbow over the valley this morning as we set off across the fields via Smithy Brook to Thornhill.
Boxing Day Walk
I’m pleased that over the Christmas period we’ve managed to get out into our local countryside to walk our regular ten thousand steps because a news item in this month’s Healthy Food Magazine reports that researchers at The University of British Columbia have:
“found a link between getting a nature top-up with an increase in general happiness and health during a two-week study. Participants were split into three groups: a control group, a group noting down human-made objects and those documenting nature finds. It was the last group that experienced the biggest boost in self-perceived wellbeing.”
There was me thinking that catching up with my family and eating lots of Christmas cake and mince pies was what had given me a seasonal glow of wellbeing. I should have realised that it was getting my boots muddy and observing rainbows, fungus-covered logs and birch bark.
As the light faded, I drew one of the ash trees at the edge of the wood using a new version of Clip Studio Paint for iPad. For the next few weeks, there’s an opportunity to give it a six month free trial.
It feels so much more direct than using the iPad with a wifi link to the same program running on my main computer and I appreciate the thought that has gone into redesigning the interface to make it more suitable for a tablet.
I started with a pencil drawing then, on a new layer, added a suggestion of colour, finishing with an ink layer for drawing with the G-pen.
However ingenious it might be, drawing on an iPad doesn’t have the familiar feel of pen and watercolour on paper. On an iPad, I feel that any mistakes I make betray a shortcoming in my technique while in a real-world drawing, such as this autumnal tree I drew yesterday, the ‘mistakes’ – wayward squiggles, ragged lines and minor smudges – are very much part of the medium.
On Friday,at the Thyme cafe, Cannon Hall Garden Centre, as a change from my usual pen and wash sketches, I launched straight into watercolour: the pale featureless sky first, then the lighter background foliage and finally the darker patches as the watercolour dried.
I’m a bit out of my comfort zone in pure watercolour though so, visiting friends yesterday, I drew my mug in pen and resisted the urge to add colour.
The wind has blown a few shoots off the yews in the woods around the lake at Nostell Priory. Yew, Taxus baccata, is dioecious – each tree is either male or female – and these mini-Brussels sprouts clustered on the stem in the axils of the leaves are the buds of the male flowers.
They will open in February to shed yellow pollen.
Female flowers are less conspicuous and are solitary, borne at the end of the stems. They produce berry-like fruits each with a single poisonous seed surrounded by a bright red fleshy cup, the aril.
10.10 a.m., 52°F, 12°C; sun filtered through a high veil of cirrostratus: This bindweed escaped from the hedge and started climbing the golden hornet crab apple. Hopefully in the new year I’ll be more consistent in pulling the strands of bindweed out of the hedge as they appear.
This is hedge bindweed, Calystegia sepium, the species with the large white trumpet-shaped flowers. We’ve fought a successful battle against its smaller relative field bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, in the front garden where it was spreading over the flower bed, the lawn and the pavement, simply by mowing it and cutting it back over the years.
As I draw, a robin and a dunnock hop about in the hedge and a chirruping rabble of sparrows erupts into the branches of the crab apple above me.
The crab apple looks at its worst at this time of the year; all the apples have turned to squishy brown pulp.