Bramble flower

Brambles are ubiquitous in Cheshire at this time of year, with those spiky stems riotously spreading forth from every wild patch and hedgerow. When I first saw these attractive hedgerow flowers out in the countryside I thought they might be some sort of wild rose, but no, they are simply quite large bramble flowers. And the spikes are vicious.

bramble flower

Must remember to pass that way again in a couple of months time to pick the blackberries!

Southern screamer

The southern screamer is a large South American wetland bird. What is it doing in the UK? This pair are at the Wildlife and Wetland Trust’s Martin Mere centre, now reopened for a limited number of visitors. The centre contains specimen birds from all over the world, as well as providing the space for thousands of local and migrating birds.

We were lucky to find the birds in photo-posing mode, rather than screaming at all and sundry.

Unlike geese and ducks this bill is not designed to filter water; they mostly feed on vegetation. These birds are thought to be the ‘missing link’ between wildfowl and game birds.Read More »

Black Swan

Black swan theory is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise and has a major effect, based on the observed historical fact in Europe that black swans did not exist.

I guess we could call covid-19 a black swan event, although it was actually predicted that such an event would happen at some time, which was always ‘in the future’, until it wasn’t. Of course, globalised trade made this black swan event a worldwide phenomenon pretty rapidly.

Globalisation also means we can now see black swans in Europe without travelling to Australia. This one was at WWT Martin Mere, caught in the act of biting off chunks of reed.

Crosby murmuration

Just off Crosby beach there comes by a huge flying creature, dwarfing those giant windmills out at sea – a murmuration of starlings, flying as one living being.

murmuration windmills

Each individual bird must be ‘in the flow’, in the moment. The result is awe-inspiring.

The ship channel

Crosby beach is a popular place to view the ships coming into Liverpool down the deep water channel in the Mersey estuary. The windmills provide an ideal backdrop, as the Antony Gormley statues look out.

crosby ship windmills

A good place to rest awhile.

crosby viewers

And as the sun goes down you can watch the ships queuing to come down the deep water channel into Liverpool.

crosby evening ship queue

Marsh Hoverfly

A gang of these came around our pond for a few minutes, buzzed around furiously and noisily, occasionally briefly settling on water lily leaves. Then they disappeared. Nothing like the usual hoverflies that hang around flowers for ages.

marsh hoverfly

This beauty is a marsh hoverfly. Magnificent body markings and lace wings! Judging by the Wikepedia entry this appears to be a female.Read More »

The Dangerous Gnat

We used to call them gnats in Lincoln. The Spanish call them mosquitoes (diminutive for mosca – fly). It was many years before I realised these are the same thing, basically, although there are different sorts.

For us they were just pesky nuisances, but this is mankind’s ‘deadliest predator’. How come? The answer: malaria. In 2018 there were 228,000,000 new cases and 400,000 died, but few in the ‘developed world’.

For millennia people got the ague, got sick and many died. It even decided major events, such as Hannibal’s failed assault on Rome, the limits of Alexander the Great’s conquering. It was thought to be bad air that caused it (mal-aria).

Eventually mankind found the cure – draining swamps and quinine, a refined variant of which, hydroxychloroquine, has been in the news recently. Of course, a lot of the world can’t afford these solutions.

This reminded me of a trip we took a few years ago to the unspoilt Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. We stopped outside the gate of the reserve to take a quick entry photo, and by the time we got back in the car I had a number of mosquito bites on my arm. Of course, the whole of this eastern part of Texas was one big swamp before white men arrived. What a lot of mosquitoes! And what a heroic effort to carve the city of Houston out of such terrain. No wonder they use a lot of pesticide.

To know history and its causes is to understand today!

Thanks to an excellent review by Steven Shapin in the recent London Review of Books, on the book The Mosquito; A Human History of our Deadliest Predator by Timothy Winegard. Sounds like a great book!

No it’s not my arm. Featured image of Tasmanian mosquito by JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons

Alien gorse

There was plenty of yellow common gorse on display at Anderton Country Park recently, but I was puzzled by this rather pretty red-flecked plant – a single specimen. A web search suggests it could be gorse bitter pea, an Australian flowering plant, quite out of place in the English countryside – but very pretty nevertheless. This is in a recently regenerated part of the woodland; maybe someone, or some animal/bird, put it there?

red gorse

Garden flowers

So many flowers appearing in the garden. Here’s a selection.

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One of the joys of spending a lot of time at home is to see them as they develop, day by day.

Featured image is a large-flowered clematis.

Cucumber Spider

I noticed this tiny, colourful spider, around 5 millimeters long, highlighted by the afternoon sun on our bird feeder. It stayed long enough for me to rush indoors, grab the camera and fire a couple of shots.

cucumber spider

I think it’s a cucumber spider, araniella cucurbitina. Anyone know better?

The colours are actually for camouflage, so this was not the right place to be!

What on earth…?

Yesterday morning a patch of spider web appeared on a box plant. Then I suddenly noticed these tiny creatures wriggling about in the web. What on earth could they be? Some new infestation?

baby garden spiders

A web search showed that it has given rise to all sorts of alarmist headlines in the popular press, but is actually quite mundane and harmless. They are new baby garden spiders. Apparently, if disturbed they all jump out on extended pieces of web, later returning back into a clump. I was a bit sorry I hadn’t tried that.

baby garden spiders 2

I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t get them in sharp focus, whether by telephoto or macro zoom on my camera or my phone. But I guess it’s not that surprising, they are tiny, the box leaves are only ½-1cm across. You have to live with the equipment you have.

A few hours later, both spider babies and web had disappeared. No doubt they’re now invisibly creeping all around the neighbourhood, and getting bigger…

Allium coming out

Spring. What a great time to be spending a lot of time at home, when we are lucky enough to have a garden. The daily progression of some of the plants is quite remarkable. Here, individual allium flowers are just starting to come out, 6 petals and 6 stamens each; there was just a single one a couple of days ago. Just look how many individual flowers there are, burgeoning out. Soon it will be a huge ball of flower.

allium coming out

Wild garlic

It’s wild garlic time in the woods, with that strangely garlicy-but-not aroma. With dappled shade, there can be strikingly lit patches amid the gloom.wild garlic

It lifts the heart, makes the spirit sing, to see such patches. I almost get that sense also with the photograph. But actually it doesn’t bear technical scrutiny. The contrast is too much, the light too bright, the shade too dark. So nothing’s very sharp, if you look up close. Never mind, I love it!

This plant is also called ramsons or wood garlic. The latter seems most appropriate.

 

 

Chives

Our best garden flowers at the moment are undoubtedly the chives, which we really grow as herbs for salads and cooking. The individual flowers are so photogenic.

chives 2chives 3

I didn’t know that chives are rated in the top 10 for most nectar production in a UK plants survey (Wikipedia ref above). Bees certainly like them.

 

Wild strawberry flowers

Following success in identifying the cuckoo flower, what were these similar small white flowers seen in a huge mass under trees during our next escape to Anderton Country Park? These had a yellow centre.

wild strawberriesThe obvious answer did not immediately occur to me. Scanning through the wildflower book it became clear from the shape of the leaves that it is a wild strawberry, also appropriately known as the woodland strawberry.

Interestingly, my telephoto close-up attempt did not work well – if you look closely, what is best in focus is the grass stalks rather than the flowers.

wild strawberry grass

 

Jay

English jays are usually careful to stay hidden, unlike their black crow cousins and magpies. This one stayed around on the grass at Anderton Country Park just long enough to take a photograph before he flew off.

jay

These are also known as ‘brown jays’ or ‘old world jays’ to distinguish them from more colourful variants, such as the American blue jay.