Banded Demoiselle

Last week’s hot spell gave me the gift of quite a few minutes spent watching and photographing these magical banded demoiselle damselflies, by the lake outflow stream in Tatton Park. These are larger than the average damselfly, almost of a size more typical of dragonflies.

Click to see closer.

Their colours are startling blues and greens in bright sunlight. According to the British Dragonfly Society, the two genders are distinguished as follows:

  • Male: metallic blue body with broad dark blue-black spots across outer parts of wings.
  • Female: metallic green body with translucent pale green wings. (Wikipedia suggests there may also be a white patch near the tip of the female’s wings).

Most of these are pobably males, or maybe not?

Blue Green Algae

When we first move to Knutsford in 1986 there was no generally recognised problem of blue green algae or cyanobacteria. There was a small sandy beach by the lake in Tatton Park, where people would go to picnic and bathe in the lakewater. Dogs swam in the lake without problem; even daughter’s Westie put his toes in.

Then, in the early nineties, notices began to appear about blooms of blue green algae in the water; dogs should not go in and people should definitely not bathe. They appeared with increasing frequency, and are now a permanent feature. The sandy beach is long gone.

Almost everywhere you go in Britain these algae seem to have got a hold, with a detrimental effect on other wildlife. Last year we witnessed dead Canada geese being removed from Shakerley Mere because of poisoning, suspected to be the very evident blue green algae.

Close up the resulting scum can appear ugly, but can sometimes give almost beautiful effects, as in the following picture.

Ferry Meadows, Peterborough

So what causes these algal blooms and what changed?

Read More »

Fresh oak

It’s Maytime and everything is bursting into life, notably Tatton Park’s oak trees.

The new oak leaves are a beautiful fresh green
As well as new leaves, the twigs are weighed down with catkins. Pollen levels are high.
You can still see plenty of sky and the major branch structure through the thickening canopy and understory.

Beech tree avenue

Tatton Park’s avenue of majestic venerable beech trees, before the leave come out, as they soon will.

The lower branches grow almost sideways, but not downward as is their wont, as Tatton’s red deer are efficient pruners.

You can still see brown leaves retained throughout the winter, typical of beech (marcescence).

Magpies in the spring

Magpies are common in UK, and can be a bit of a pest, thieving food intended for other birds. But catch them in the right light and they can be rather beautiful, like the above recent shot from Tatton Park.

They are particularly active in spring, with spells of amorous behaviour interspersed with avid feeding from what they can find in the ground.

Melchett Mere

The county of Cheshire contains a number of smallish lakes, or meres. Many date back to the glacial period of the last ice age, ‘occupying hollows in the glacial drift surface of the Cheshire Plain’ (see itemised list). The lake in Tatton Park, known as Tatton Mere, is one of these meres of glacial origin.

Tatton Mere, December 2020

Just north west of the top of Tatton Mere lies a smaller lake, named Melchett Mere, but at a noticeably lower elevation. Is this another glacial lake? It seems not. Cheshire also has a history of salt extraction and mining, notably in the area around nearby Northwich and Wincham from the 17th century. Uncontrolled mining activity led to great subsidences of ground and the formation of lakes, such as the notorious Ashton’s and Neumann’s flashes near Wincham.

Melchett Mere, March 2021

Effects of the salt mining activites, and particularly wild brine pumping, were often felt many miles away. According to the National Trust, Melchett Mere in Tatton Park was formed by a sudden collapse in 1922. The resulting lake was named by Lord Egerton after the then chairman of the extractive company he believed to have been responsible (presumably Henry Mond, 2nd Baron Melchett, who became deputy chairman of ICI in the 1940s).

Subsidence due to brine pumping activities is serious business in Cheshire, as evidence by the existence of the Brine Subsidence Compensation Board. Some of the land in this area is still subsiding. Notably this lies on the proposed route for the HS2 high speed train. I hope those guys know what they’re getting into!

A dead tree

Thank God the days are gone when dead trees were removed from the landscape, part of an obsession with tidiness that took little account of the web of life in which we are embedded. The dead tree is an ecosystem containing countless organisms and fungi, all about the miraculous job of reducing solid wood back to the soil it came from.

Our National Trust now usually leaves trees where they fall in the landscape. This one at Tatton Park was probably once a spectacular oak tree, now gracefully yet vulnerably declining back to its origins.

Thus individual life emerges from the collective, lives and flourishes, and eventually dies and returns home.

Fallow deer at Tatton

Tatton Park is home to two species of free-ranging deer. Most easily seen are the spectacular red deer, which often congregate near to the Knutsford entrance. More numerous are the smaller fallow deer. These are much more timid, so tend to stay away from the areas popular with people.

Recently, this grazing group presented a pretty picture, with one sentinel alert and standing guard – probably checking our dog was on his lead.

There’s a comparison of antlers for male red and fallow deer in this post.

Tatton in the rain

It rained all day today, never stopping as I walked around Tatton Park. It was still worth carrying the little camera in my pocket for this chance picture of pooled water on the grass, with trees, lake and grey sky in the background.

Tatton Park in the rain

The scene was actually a bit duller than the picture looks, due to clever camera and adjustment with Paint Shop Pro.

The prominent trees are mostly oaks.

Egyptian goose

What was this unusual pair of ducks or geese with eye patches, a ring around the neck and attractive variegated wing colouring, an unusual sight on the lake in Tatton Park?

egyptian goose pairIt seems that they are Egyptian geese, related to the more common shelduck. Egyptian geese were originally introduced into the UK as an ornamental species and now established in the wild.

egyptian goose specimen

Striking birds!

Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle

This long (more than an inch) black beetle was all but invisible on the stony path I was walking on in Tatton Park. I had no great hopes for the photograph, but the image comes up reasonably well with a bit of brightening up.

devil's coachhorse

I think this is a Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle. Apparently, this is one of 46000 species of the rove beetle family, a fast and ferocious night time predator. And it has a nasty bite and can emit a foul smelling odour. I had sort of intuited that it was an unsavoury character!

The segmented abdomen allows it to curl the tail up, like a scorpion. Neither the Wildlife Trusts (above link) nor Wikipedia explains why – I’d guess it’s for balance.

Dancing Grebes

Sometimes you get lucky. In the unseasonably warm February afternoon on Tatton Park’s lake, we suddenly spotted two great crested grebes courting. What an amazing dance they performed. The light was still good, so some sort of reasonable pictures were possible with my Panasonic Lumix TZ200 on maximum zoom, although the show only lasted a minute or two. Here’s a selection:

Click on individual images for more detail.

Boxing Day in Tatton

Many people were out to walk off the Christmas food in Cheshire’s Tatton Park. A clear sky, sun going down, still water on the lake, trees, gathering mist over the grass – promising ingredients for photographs, despite the reducing light level. How about these trees?

Deer Antlers

It’s the antler growing season in Tatton Park, Knutsford. The growing antlers have a wonderful soft appearance, compared to the harsher, more angular full grown variety. I was fortunate to capture antler pics of both red deer and fallow deer on recent visits to the park.

The antlers of the two species are completely different, in that fallow deer are the only UK deer with palmate antlers.