Sunday 31 December 2023

End of 2023 blog

Well, another year ticked off the calendar! And, despite many online casting doom around instead of joy, we've had a lot of reasons to enjoy this year!

In January, as well a three Great White Egrets at Lin Dyke at Fairburn Ings one day, we saw another interesting sight on another day a cycle ride to Wetherby. If any reader recalls watching Bagpuss, one will be familiar with the story involving the Old Man's Beard! For the first time, we saw it for real!

Clematis vitalba, like many clematis, is a climbing plant which flowers in August and September but the seed heads then go on to form the beard-like structure that gives rise to the name. 

In February, another trip to Lin Dyke at Fairburn, which is a path overlooking the often flooded grazing meadows and lakes. The whole area used to be coal mining but you wouldn't know nowadays. 
These Highland Cattle are left to roam in the service of the RSPB by an organic farm not very far away from the site. 

Roe Deer are a regular sight around the area where I live, though this has been the biggest group I've seen of late (2 or 3 off camera too). These were in a field next to A64 road and I do wonder how many people travelling along actually saw them!

The old Roman road from York to Tadcaster is a good place to see wildflowers during Spring and Summer. These Lesser Celandines and Bluebells carpeted the ground in large numbers in April. West of Bilbrough Top is a good area to see a number of different, albeit common, butterflies and there's a good selection of bird species, especially the local Red Kites, to see. 

As many people know, Mayflies don't appear for long! So, by the River Wharfe, downstream of Tadcaster, it was lovely to see quite of number of them and these are a family that I've not really seen close up much before, normally they are out over rivers or dykes and not easily observable close up.
This one is the Green Drake mayfly (Ephemera danica)

In June, well, I could fill pages of blogs with our photos from our herpetogy focused tour led by Prof. Stephen Mullin and assisted by Jessica Yates in the rainforests of Panama but for now, I'll show you one of the recently described species that we saw there. This is Sylvia's Tree Frog, described in 2018 by Andrew Gray, Curator of Herpetology at Manchester Museum. This species, that occurs in Panama and nortern Columbia was once thought to be a variant of the Splendid Tree Frog, but was proved to be genetically distinct. To see so many creatures up close was such a privilege!

One of our many wildlife interests is in Dragonflies and Damselflies. YWT Askham Bog in July is a very good time to see several different species including this Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) 

Another place we go sometimes is YWT Hetchell Wood, a large area of woodland, partly an old quarry, near Thorner, east of Leeds. There's plenty of different wildflowers and mosses to see here and some great views from the escarpment. Though a walk is sometime spoilt here by dogs running off lead out of sight of their owners, like at so many nature reserves nowadays. 

In August we took another walk there to see wildflowers and insects. This is a Hornet Mimic Hoverfly (Volucella zonaria) and it is easy to see why from the markings. Again, another insect I've not noticed before but once you see one, they are relatively common in the right habitat. 

The Hazel tree in the allotment has been incredibly productive this year, and the nuts have lasted us until Christmas! In February, it will need coppicing and pruning, it looks worse than it is as hazel is a very fast growing wood and this activity will stimulate growth. I've started putting a large sheet of crop protector down underneath the tree to make it easy to find the nuts, though they do seem to spread over quite an area in the allotment!

Every year we grow some sunflowers in the allotment, though some do self seed. They are a magnet for bees and other insects, like this carder bee. These flowered quite late this year and were at their best in October. 

The very small things in nature fascinate me. Whether that's insects or flowers or in this case, lichen and mosses. Getting close up with lichens and mosses and liverworts is like entering a miniture world with tiny forests and strange formations. Identification though, well that's another matter but the main lichen in this picture I believe to be Xanthoria parietina. This was on a gate near Bolton Percy in November.

Ok, a little bit of cheating! The weather has been very poor in December 2023 for getting out into nature, so here's a photo from December 2022, again at Lin Dyke, Fairburn Ings, of a group of Whooper Swans that migrate to the UK for winter, often from Iceland. The main way to tell them apart from the resident Mute Swans is the beak colour and markings, with the Whooper Swan having a beak much more yellow in colour. 


Monday 8 May 2023

Wildflowers near where I live

For the past couple of years we have been getting more interested in identifying wildflowers when out and about on walks and cycle rides. There's so much to learn and so much that we think we overlooked before!

In order, these picture are of Bugle, Cowslips, Bluebells and Lesser Celandines and Wood Anemone. 

The Lesser Celandines in particular have been all over the place this year, big areas of them, even some by the A64 along with Danish Scurvy Grass and now the first Red and White Campions coming through. 

Allotment Update

It has been some time since the last blog, I really ought to keep up to it! One of the things I have been doing quite a bit of recently is recording sightings of various species on iRecord which is a fantastic resource, like iNaturalist and BirdForum for recording sightings. Another app I have been using is PictureThis which, although not perfect, does get most things right or at least lead one to the right species or family. 

Anyway, on to the allotment. This Spring has been quite cool. This has been good for stored fruit and vegetables from last year such as apples and onions but not good for getting new crops going! 

The blossom on the Conference and Comice pear trees.
The blueberries have had plenty of blossom too!

I do wonder whether the apple trees will produce quite as many apples this year, but they do have plenty of blossom and look really lovely. 
This is a mixture of overwintered onions and garlic and this year's onion sets. Leeks are starting to pop up in the patch at the rear. Also in this area, out of shot, are rows of parsnip seeds and spring onions. 

Although it has been cool, there's has hardly been any late frosts, just a small number of nights where I have had to cover over the potatoes and fruit trees to protect them from damage. 

Sunday 1 January 2023

Winter Protection in the Allotment

 Many of the plants in the allotment are winter hardy - the fruit trees and bushes shut down for winter and vegetables like parsnips and leeks will be fine in cold weather. However, a few of our plants do need a little bit of extra protection at this time of year. 

This is our Mayer Lemon tree. It used to live in our house but was always getting plagued by scale insect but we found that after a few weeks one summer at the allotment it started being healthy and there were no scale insects. There is always something to eat the bugs!

But, it needs to be kept warm over winter, even though it is in the part of the allotment that gets the most sun with a hedge protecting it for the north wind. 

So, it gets well wrapped up in bubble wrap and with a mulch of straw for the winter!

The blueberries have been weeded and given a mulch of straw. They are getting rather too big for the cage so I am going to dig out some more earth in the base and so the pots will sit deeper nto the ground for this coming year. Ultimately we may need a bigger cage! 

These are our carrots. The tyres provide insulation and protection from carrot flies, and a mulch of straw keeps the tops of the carrots away from frost. 

Thursday 10 November 2022

Little Asby Common - Part 2 - insects, birds and frogs

 In Part 1 of this blog series I looked at some of the plant life on Little Asby Common, Cumbria which we saw when we were staying in the village. 

In this blog I share some of the wildlife we saw up there. Like many uplands in the UK, you can hear curlew with their bubbling call, though we were too late in the season to see some of the other waders that nest in the area and too early for the influx of ducks and geese from Iceland and Greenland that pass through the region on migration. 

Quite some distance from other flowers I found this Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans) with what I believe to be a Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola) but I am not 100% sure of the identification! 

It does show how wide ranging bees are in search of food and it certainly found the thistle to its liking, as I was watching it for several minutes. 

This is a Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis), a common bird both in the lowlands and uplands. They are usually quite skittish around humans but this one was perched for a little while on a wall near Sunbiggin Tarn while we watched.

While we were at Sunbiggin Tarn we had to be very careful walking around as there were quite a few tiny frogs making their way towards the lake through the undergrowth!

I only had moments to get a blurry
photo of what I think is a Common Darter dragonfly (Sympetrum striolatum) enjoying the sunshine on a rock on the hillside above the tarn. I wasn't expecting a dragonfly out in the middle of the moorland but looking at the British Dragonfly Society sightings map, some have been seen here before. 

And of course, although they aren't wild, meet one of the sheep living on the moor, in conversation!

Little Asby Common - sheep wrecked?? Part 1

Whilst on holiday in the tiny village of Little Asby, near Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria, we were able to take several walks up onto Little Asby Common which is a limestone pavement moorland and common land. This extends over towards Sunbiggin Tarn, which is a small lake a few miles away, of which more later. There is a lot of archaeology up there, going back thousands of years and beyond Sunbiggin Tarn there is a stone circle at Gamelands near Orton.

But having been gifted books on lichens, mosses and ferns for my birthday, and with an increasing interest in wildflowers, I wanted to see what species there were on a moorland habitat some deride as sheep-wrecked. 

This is an Autumn Hawkbit (Scorzoneroides autumnalis), looks a bit like a dandelion. Common in rocky places and is perennial. 
This is a Harebell or Scottish Bluebell (Campanula rotundifolia) more common in the north of England into Scotland than further south. Very delicate flowers, of which there were quite a few on the moor. 

Dreaming about harebells is said to symbolise true love! 

This is a Maidenhair Spleenwort, (Asplenium trichomanes) bit of a mouthful to say but I wouldn't try eating it!

This is a fern that grow out of rocky crevices and is easily recognisable by the shape of the leaves. 

This is Tormenil, a kind of Cinquefoil (Potentilla erecta) found on acid grassland and moorland. 

Many of the flowers I found whilst on the moorland were quite small and delicate but obviously able to survive the presence of sheep on the fell. In fact, the grazing of animals is a integral part of the survival of smaller wildflowers as well managed grazing stops these being outcompeted by larger species as Plantlife explain in this article

In the next blog, more wildflowers and some of the creatures I saw during my time on the common. 

Sunday 6 November 2022

Autumn in the Allotment

Gosh, it has been a while since I have posted on the blog! Have been pretty active on Twitter and been spending a lot of time sorting through photographs taken whilst on holiday in Cumbria, near Kirkby Stephen, of which more another time. 

I also have been doing some website and social media volunteering for , a non-profit foundation helping indigenous people in northern Brazil restore and protect rainforest. 

We've also made several bags up of mini sweetcorn, the variety is called Minipop and it does seem to do very well in our allotment. We start them off in sterilised compost in toilet roll tubes and then plant it in a block as it is wind pollinated. 

One thing that did benefit from the absurdly high temperatures this summer was the grape vine. Although the grapes aren't massive, it is outdoors, the quantity was significantly higher than usual and there's a huge bag in the freezer waiting for me to have chance to start off some wine. 

This Autumn we have had a lot of apples and pears, and I mean.... a lot! We have three minarette apple trees, a Gala, a Chiver's Delight and a Falstaff. There's also two minarette pear trees, a Conference and a Comice, the latter of which does ripen very quickly in storage and so I have had to preserve a lot of them in sugar solution, great in porridge!

We've had some lovely Cosmos in the allotment, and indeed sunflowers, nasturtiums and marigolds. We also leave some weeds to grow into flowers, mainly to see what they are, but also as you never know what wildlife will turn up on them and indeed depend on them for nectar etc. 

Earlier in the year, whilst it was so dry, we were really worried about the size of the potatoes. However, the dry and hot weather have meant no blight this year so we have been able to leave the potatoes in the ground for much longer which has meant they are now a decent size. They make great chips though some of them do fragment easily when boiled. The nasturtiums are taking over where the potatoes were!