Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Pasque Flower - rarest of Easter treats

Therfield Heath seemed like the ideal location for a walk on Easter Monday afternoon. It lies looking northwards across the flatlands of Cambridgeshire, the ancient market town of Royston sitting to its north-east and is a good birdwatching spot, hosting a large numbers of grassland birds and accompanying raptors . However it is the chalk geology and steep sided grassland escarpments that provide a rather special treat around Easter time.
Tucked away, where the Hertfordshire Way touches the golf course on Church Hill, delicate Pasque Flowers bloom from the short cropped grass in their hundreds and in some years thousands, interspersed with yolk yellow cowslips. That they grow in such numbers here points to the rarity and complexity of the habitat, making it one of less than twenty known locations for the plant in the whole of the UK, as Fred Rumsey, Botanist at the Natural History Museum explains in this short film.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Blue moment

Bluebells in Kitchencroft Wood, south-west of Standon, Hertfordshire, catching their moment in the sun before the canopy of leaves above closes off the sunlight until the autumn.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Bombylius major - The Large Bee Fly

Bombylius major
When warm days come in  the first weeks of April the bumble-bees are joined in the bright spring air by a ginger and brown ball of fuzz called the Large Bee-fly, a bee mimic that performs erratic dances through garden flower-beds with its characteristic long proboscis extending out before it.
Amongst the dozen of them in the garden today was a mating couplet, joined at the rear with wings opposed yet still able to fly and manoeuvre to alight on these aquilegia leaves.
Once fertilised, the female will lay her eggs, often by the unusual method of flicking them mid-air into the nests of ground bees and wasps, for the larvae of Bombylius major is a parasite of wasp and bee broods as well as beetle larvae.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

April Morning

Fields lit 
through curtains of gossamer mist
hold a secret at each turn.
Glowing air, moist 
yet sharpened still by the cool of night,
passes through bare branches
inter-weaved shadows in a duo-tone of gold and brown. 
The Skylark's are up 
sending their rolling ribble
out across the valley.
Chiff-chaff, Great tit,
Blackbird and Thrush 
and myriads more
joining the enticing symphony of spring.

Instead of getting in the car
I want to turn and walk
out into the enveloping fog
cold on my cheeks
dew soaking into turned up trouser bottoms
and melt into the morning
of another timeless world.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Bursting Butterbur

Butterbur Petasites hybridus
Emerging from banks that a few short weeks ago were submerged by water, the upright flower stalks and parasol leaves of the Butterbur are bursting forth down by the ford.

A long-time staple of herbalists through the ages, Butterbur was used to treat plague and fevers in the middle ages and asthma and coughs in the 17th Century. It's use now can be controversial; chemical analysis reveals potentially harmful alkaloids within, though commercial, 'safe' Butterbur products are available for the relief of migraine. Medicine or not it's appearance is another signal that warmer, longer days are approaching and that vibrancy of spring is upon us.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Catch up 2 - might it be a belemnite?

A fortnight ago, during a walk through the wood to the north of our little hamlet I cam across animal earth workings between the fallen trunks of some scott's pine that sit on a steep escarpment above the river. Pausing for a few minutes I picked at the gravel spoil that spread in an orange fan away from one of the burrows.
A smooth shaped dark pebble caught my eye and I lifted it from the gritty sand and gravel. A wipe with a moist finger revealed a line down one side, enough for me to pop the stone in my pocket and take it home for further investigation.
A new bellows attachment to the camera facilitated close up images that revealed either striations or perhaps more optimistically layers revealing an organic origin and therefore potentially a fossil. More research suggested the possibility that this might be a Belemnite.
Belemnites are long extinct cephalopods similar in appearance to today's cuttlefish or squid. Their main internal organs are encased in a calcite 'guard' which readily fossilises over time, causing their name in folk-lore to be thunderstones, derived from the thought that stones were changed to this shape when struck by lightning.
Source: Wikipedia
If my discovery is indeed a fossilised Belemnite guard then it has sat in that gravel for some 150 million years, forming as a fossil in some ancient sea. Erosion and the movement of the earth's crust through the millennia brought it finally to the surface before it was washed by the receding glaciers of the last ice age and then excavated by animal digging to sit and wait for me to find it.
Expert positive identification remains outstanding but I hope I'm proven right and can claim the albeit insignificant discovery, except to me, of a 150 million year old sea creature that swam the seas when dinosaurs were walking the earth. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Catching up 1 - half an hour with a barn owl

An absence of blog posts for the last few weeks has been remiss of me, so a couple of catch up posts are warranted.
Back in February on one of the first days of the year that yielded any promise of spring to come, I set off on a walk in the low angled sunshine of a Sunday afternoon. My route took me close to the known winter quarters of a local barn owl and from a distance through binoculars I could see it was in residence, peering out from the shadows of its derelict roost site onto the long dry grass of the set aside field before it.
Some twenty minutes later I had circumnavigated the roost and carefully settled behind a fallen log in the shadows of the woodland scrub that bordered the field, hopeful of a prime position to watch the bird as it emerged to hunt. A few moments waiting and out it came, perching on a post for a minute before setting off across the meadow.

Round and round it quartered the field, silently passing above the grass at a height rarely more than 3 or 4 metres, head surveying with eyes and ears for signs of rodent life below. It struck occasionally, pausing in the air then diving down into the grass, though with no obvious success. After a thorough exploration of the field, it passed over my position and left to reconnoitre hunting grounds to the north.

 I too moved on and explored paths and fields still puddled from the winter rain, the orb of the sun now descending behind bare winter branches, filtered through bubbling cloud that drifted across its face.

Back into the woods and I came upon a Muntjac. She saw me but didn't seem threatened and continued to feed as I crept closer. Our shared moment of existence finally ended when I passed through an invisible boundary of tolerability. She sprang away, then barked a call as I strode on into the approaching twilight.


Monday, 17 February 2014

First sign

Snowdrops on the lane to Barwick Ford