Crow with Sweet Chestnut

crow with sweet chestnut

fungi on stump
Fungi on stump.

Perching on the iron fence by the Lower Lake at Nostell, a carrion crow is struggling to extract the sweet chestnut nuts from their spiky green casings. Two of the spiny husks have become firmly Velcroed together.


Fungus by woodland path.

The experts at nut gathering are the grey squirrels. They are so intent on burying their cache that you can walk past within a few feet of them and they won’t even bother to look up.

They’ll poke their heads down amongst the leaf litter in several spots in succession. One suggestion is that they’ll dig several ‘fake’ holes which they’ll leave nothing in, to confuse any rival squirrel that might be watching them.

The Pleasure Grounds by the Lower Lake are the most popular with squirrels, not just because of the sweet chestnuts but also because no dogs are allowed. Up by the Obelisk Lodge we’d seen a dog walker we know chasing her dog along the cycles-only path.

“She’d seen a squirrel,” she explained, “They’ll stand there, deliberately teasing the dog!”

We think that we saw the squirrel that the dog had chased. It dashed at a frantic pace across the driveway beyond the Obelisk Lodge and shot into the bushes, which resulted in a startled cock pheasant bursting out, grockling in alarm.

Some squirrels do seem to egg on the dogs. In the park, one spaniel was barking in frustration and straining on its lead but the squirrel it had spotted was on the other side of the electric fence (and probably knew that it could scamper about with impunity).

Cirrus and con trails

There’s a windy swirl of low pressure, the remnants of ex-Hurricane Oscar, approaching across the Atlantic. Over to the west we can see a distant bank of cloud but here it’s sunny and still with wisps of cirrus and streaks of con trails against the blue sky.

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That Old Chestnut

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.

The rainbow didn’t show up in my photograph as much as it did in real life, so I’ve boosted it a little in Photoshop.

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.

Who wouldn’t be happy doing that?


The University of British Columbia Noticing Nature study

Healthy Food Guide

Sweet Chestnut

WHEN I collected this Sweet Chestnut at Newmillerdam a few weeks ago, the spiky case was still green and the nuts, barely ripe, were just starting to peep out as the fruit started to split.

The little necks sticking up from each nut are the remains of the stigma and style – the female parts of the Sweet Chestnut flower. The male part of the flower, a small bobbly ‘catkin’ usually gests detached from the ripening fruit.

End of the Week

IT’S BEEN a bit of a disjointed week with some work I took on and appointments taking up more days than I’d bargained for.

So what happened to my time management? Well, I did have a perfectly uninterrupted day on Monday when no-one needed me and I logged my 6 hours of 10, 20 and 30 minutes sessions and – the bonus for all this dedication – I took my lunchtime sandwich into the wood.

But, yes, that was a dull, wet day but I was warm and dry, sitting on a mat on a log in the wood as I was wearing my new waterproof (but breathable) trousers – Craghoppers Steall Waterproof Stretch Trousers. They’d be a bit warm for the summer but for a mid-autumn picnic in the woods they’re perfect. As you can see in my photograph the raindrops beaded on them.

The woods should probably be a hard hat area this month. At Newmillerdam the spiky fruits of Sweet Chestnut are falling. Despite the sometimes poor summer the chestnuts are a reasonable size, not as large as the Spanish chestnuts that you’d see at the greengrocers or on the hot chestnut stall that you sometimes see on the precinct in town, but they’d be worth collecting.

A Touch of Colour

Here’s a detail, here about 25% larger than the size I’m working at, from an illustration for the book that I’m working on. I haven’t totally decided whether it will be in colour or black and white so I’m scanning the pen and ink drawings before I add watercolour.

However, for me, adding the colour brings the drawing to life, so for now, that’s my aim for the book. If it proves to be uneconomical I can go back to the black and white scans.

When I compare final layouts, I might then decide that the stripped down black and white version is more appropriate for the mood of the book anyway but I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to add colour. It’s good practice for me.