Monday, 25 May 2020

Lockdown Day 63 - cycle ride

Today, being a lovely sunny day and with lighter winds than the past few days, we decided to take a cycle ride out towards Cawood, Wistow and Bishopwood.

Out this way is very much a patchwork of flat agricultural fields with wheat, corn, barley and potatoes. Big skies too. (photo above taken on my old phone so not as good as usual!)

In the churchyard of All Saints Church at Cawood were these beautiful roses growing by the wall in the graveyard. The church of course was closed due to the coronavirus restrictions, I shall have to go back when all this is over and have a look inside. 

After the church, the lane wanders through fields around to Wistow, a former mining village in the Selby coalfield. Another All Saints church here too

After Wistow we cycled through Bishop Wood, a Forestry Commission woodland which we used to take the children to quite often for an explore and then back through Cawood to home. On the way back up to Cawood we had first a Cormorant and then an Oystercatcher fly over the road, which was quite unexpected although the Ouse at Cawood wasn't that far away. The Oystercatcher must have bred nearby though. So, a good long cycle ride this morning!

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Lockdown Day 62 - Remembering the Egyptian Grasshopper

Another in my "Remembering" series today, mainly to escape the awfulness of the news and disgusting behaviour of the Government here in the UK over the past two days.

On our holiday to southern France in April 2016 we took a boat trip from Marseille to the Frioul Islands just off the south coast. Beautiful scenery, picture perfect Mediterranean island. The sea was a bit bouncy though, the wind in that part of the world in Spring can be extremely strong coming in from the sea.

On the islands we walked along the coast a little way, seeing our first Blue Rock Thrush and some Andouin's Gulls. There were also lots of Prickly Pear cactus plants which were quite unexpected, although these seem to be an invasive species.

However, we encountered this lovely creature, an Egyptian Grasshopper (Anacridium aegyptium) the the path we were walking.

These are quite a common species in the Mediterranean and are one of Europe's largest grasshopper species, growing up to between five and seven centimetres long. Later on in the holiday we found a few on the harbour front in Marseille.

This was actually my first visit to the Mediterranean, I don't do hot weather very well and our holidays previously and since have been in northern Europe but in April the weather was fine, the temperature around 20 deg C which is just right for me to be able to enjoy things and for outdoor exploration and nature watching. Obviously, any overseas trip will have to wait until the Covid-19 situation has cleared up, but we have a bucket list of destinations we would like to go to including to find tortoises and chameleons in Spain, the Hamsters in Vienna (featured on David Attenborough's Seven Worlds, One Planet wildlife documentary recently ) and the wildlife of Romanian and Estonia among many other places.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Lockdown Day 61 - allotment update

So, today it is blowing a gale! The original plan was for a cycle ride but looking at the forecast we decided that walking the two hundred yards or so to the allotment was far enough!

The calabrese and the cabbages are doing really well, protected under netting from the sparrows and woodpigeons. The latter are getting bolder and have taken to sitting on the carrot tyre stacks until we arrive and scare them off.

Also in this area, but out of shot are cauliflowers, and purple sprouting broccoli. I'll need to weed this area tomorrow.

Our peas have started flowering and are getting very tall so I have had to take the mesh off and hope the sparrows don't have a pea party! So far we have over 30 pea plants and ideally I would like some more to germinate but maybe it is too late now.

We've grown a small number of broad beans now and they have started to set bean pods. Soon I will need to pinch them out to avoid getting blackfly on them. They are secured to some stakes.

This is spinach (in the background) and some very small beetroot plants in the foreground. The beetroot got nibbled by sparrows and so mesh is over this ares as well although the spinach didn't look as if it had been touched. We have picked a few spinach leaves for use with tea as well as some radishes which are off the bottom of the photo.

These are the mini sweetcorn that have become established pretty well after planting out last week. we grow them in toilet roll tubes filled with compost and put the whole pot into the ground. The pot will decompose over time. Sweetcorn are planted in blocks so that they self pollinate easily. We freeze the mini sweetcorn for use with stir fries.

Here are some of today's pickings including four strawberries already! We planted a mixture of early and main crop strawberry plants about eighteen months ago and this year they have really quite matured and have plenty of fruit growing and ripening on the plants. The radishes are planted every week to give a good continuity of supply and are picked when quite small so as not to go woody. 

We have decided to leave the asparagus to grow into ferns now and regenerate itself after, I think, five pickings. I believe that five or six cuttings is the most you can have each year without weakening the plant. The carrots have germinated inside the tyre stacks and the rest of the strawberries have been protected from the beak of the local blackbird by a mesh net!

Friday, 22 May 2020

Lockdown Day 60 - Yellow Wagtail

When I started this series of blog posts I never imagined that I would be up to day 60 and still in some form of lockdown due to COVID-19. There has been a slight relaxation of the rules, which to be honest, due to people taking undue risks and ignoring the advice, has been to the detriment of infection control and I fear that, far from being over, this crisis could get worse again. I would love to get back to work in the charity shop, but when that will be no one really knows at the moment.

However, after some welcome early morning rain, I decided to set off on my bike into the countryside for some exercise and a break from all the news. The pair of curlew were still around in a field near Catterton and I do wonder whether they are breeding there, I would have expected them to have moved up into the Pennines before now. The bluebells in woodland have nearly all finished now although the smell of wild garlic is still there - both seem to grow in the same woodland and I feel it is a sign of that woodland having being there a long time even if the actual trees are more recent.

Out of curiosity I decided to go up a lane near Healaugh which ultimately turns into a bridleway, although is tarmac for about half a mile. After pausing to admire some Zwartbles sheep, slightly further up I encountered a Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flavissima) pottering on the lane and which was quite happy to let me watch it for a while. The Yellow Wagtail has a number of different sub species within Europe although in general we get the one that I saw, although I have seen a blue-headed one in Denmark and a small number of the other European ones migrate through the UK. Yellow Wagtails come to the UK for summer and winter in West Africa and some more information about their migration can be found here

Over the past three or so weeks, the hawthorn blossom has been out, and it is no wonder that it is also called May blossom. Most of the ones you see out in the countryside have white flowers but occasionally you see pink ones, like the one in our garden which is a cross breed, more ornamental variety.

One of the many things I love about the countryside near where I live is that it doesn't take long to get out into open spaces with few, if any people around. A little bit further on than where I saw the Yellow Wagtail I stopped for a few minutes just enjoying the peace and quiet and the sunshine, with no one around in any direction for at least half a mile or more. As well as the Yellow Wagtail, there were Linnets twittering and flying up from the edge of the path and a Meadow Pipit in characteristic bobbing flight over the field.

The lane turned into a bridleway and went up a small hill. (We don't have big hills around where I live!) The wind by now had got up and it was really difficult to face into the wind and cycle into it. I find the view of wide open spaces with miles of countryside (or better still moorland or true wilderness like in Iceland) incredible relaxing and I have tried in this picture (despite the wind!) to capture this and the "big sky" effect. Despite the overnight rain, the ground is still really dry. We have noticed that our own hawthorn tree in the garden is getting quite short of water and its leaves are turning paler than usual - I have put about forty litres of water down around its roots. I can imagine that the lack of rain will be feeding through into crop growth on farmer's fields too.

I am very glad I don't live in a city and feel very sorry for those who only have concrete and buildings for their view and limited opportunity, particularly at the present time, to get outside into countryside or even a park. I think I would have found this lockdown a lot harder if I didn't have the countryside, and open space on our doorstep.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Lockdown Day 59 - Remembering Puffins

Whilst a lot of visitors go to see Puffins (Fratercula arctica) at RSPB Bempton on the cliffs there, it is often the case that Puffins can be seen at Flamborough on the cliffs if the tide allows you to go along the sides of North Landing. However, I have not seen as many since as I did in 2010 when there was quite a large group of them on a ledge above my head. Puffins are quite curious creatures and will pop their heads on one side and look at you and make that funny croaky noise they have.

After breeding, Puffins will return far out to sea and not many of them are seen until the following Spring when they return to the cliffs. However, in winter they lose the colour on their beaks. Hundreds of these birds were in the water off Grímsey which I mentioned in this post , an island on the Arctic Circle north of the mainland of Iceland which we also visited in 2010, along with thousands of Guillemots and Razorbills and dozens of Eider Ducks. On our previous visit to Iceland in 2009 we took the short plane ride to Vestmannaeyjar off the south coast where, supposedly, there breed about 740000 pairs of puffins, but we went in early April which must have been just before they returned from sea and saw not a single one! (We did though get to fly in an 8-seater plane to the islands over the volcano that dominates Heimaey and I was seated next to the pilot!) 

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Lockdown Day 58 - Mayfly drop in

Yesterday evening, around 8.30pm, there was quite an unexpected visitor into the back yard. After managing to coax it out of a flowerpot, we identified this insect as a Mayfly - a species which ordinarily is found near lakes and ponds and rivers.

Although I now have a Kodak Pixpro bridge camera, it is sometimes quicker and easier to use my old Canon IXUS point and shoot camera which has a decent macro on it, in fact it is often easier to use than the Kodak for insects etc and I used it for this photograph.

Mayflies are known for only living a short time once they transition from larvae, with one sole purpose in mind, to mate and secure the next generation. This one we believe is a Medium Olive (Baetis vernus) although if anyone is expert on these species and is able to provide a definite identification please let me know via the comments below! To our knowledge was quite a long way from the nearest pond, and the river is around half a mile away too. After a few minutes it flew off, and to be honest, being a Mayfly, it hasn't got time to hang around!

This site - although the text for the various Mayflies is focused on angling, has some good information on Enthemeroptera

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Lockdown Day 57 - Edgeland Nature-Part 2

In my first part of my Edgelands blog here I looked at where nature has been given a helping hand in some unlikely places and in this post I offer a few notes and photos where nature is thriving in our human environment.

These are Firebugs (Pyrrocoris apterus) and this photo was taken at a bus stop in a suburb of Berlin, Germany in 2017. There was many dozens of these all pottering around some waste stones from some kind of construction. Bugs, beetles, insects and so on are able to live in so many different environments here on Earth and these bugs were obviously able to find food on what was once construction material. 

This is a picture taken in 2017 looking towards Kellingley Colliery as was, the pit having closed in 2015, with a solar farm in the middle of the shot, but more importantly for this blog an area of wild flowers by the roadside on what would have been, two or three years earlier, a polluted and heavily industrialised landscape. As with the photo of the site of Ledston Luck pit on my previous blog, it doesn't take long for nature to re-colonise our former industrial landscape. 

Finally, this rather cheeky grey squirrel was photographed in Leicester in the park at the rear of De Montfort University. We watched in go in and out of the dustbin and then perching on the edge eating chips! (I once saw a grey squirrel at a former workplace run off with a whole croissant!) 
Grey squirrels are something of a love/hate for me, I love watching them and they can be very tame and it is really good for children to see them in urban parks, but since they were introduced into this country they have not only out-competed the native red squirrels for food but also spread squirrel pox which the red ones are not immune to. If you look at a distribution map for even as recently as 1950 for the red squirrel you will see that they were in most parts of Yorkshire whereas now they are confined to a very small corner of the Yorkshire Dales National Park . There is evidence that pine martens - which are increasing in the UK and Republic of Ireland again, are helpful to Red Squirrels in that as both co-exist natively, red squirrels know to get out of the way quickly whereas grey ones do not recognise the threat as easily.