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.

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

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!

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.

 

 

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.

Cuckoo flower

The other day we heard our first cuckoo of spring, in fact the first for several years, in Anderton Country Park. Cuckoos were ubiquitous in my youth, but alas no longer.

We then saw these small white flowers by the canal, which I had seen other years and been meaning to look up. What a surprise, when they turned out to be cuckoo flowers – so named because their appearance tended to coincide with the hearing of the first cuckoos!

cuckoo flower

Buttercup clump

A clump of coarse grass in a grassy field studded with buttercups.

buttercup clump

This was a large field, lots of clumps and lots of buttercups. This was the only framing that seemed to work. What do you think?

The genus ranunculus is poisonous, even to cows in significant quantities. But it’s OK when dried, as in hay.

Hawthorn blossom

Anderton Country Park is now resplendent with one of the later spring delights, hawthorn blossom. While growing up I remember its being called ‘May blossom’ – this is also known as the May tree. Its appearance is the herald of the coming summer.

Some of the trees or bushes are almost overloaded with glorious white blossom.

white hawthorn

An unfortunate accompaniment is the really heavy pungent scent, which is not good for the hay fever.

According to Wikipedia, “the young leaves and flower buds, which are also edible, are known as “bread and cheese” in rural England” – indeed I recall that this is precisely what my father called it.

Read More »

Mint Moth 2

It’s nearly three years since I last saw a mint moth in the garden. It doesn’t mean they’ve not been around, they’re just so small (under 2 cm) and fleeting. This one was in a similar place, on a forget-me-not flower by a patch of oregano, which they’re said to like as well as mint.

mint moth 2

These moths fly by day, as well as by night. Seen close up they have an amazingly furry body. This is probably the first of two breeds within the year in England.

This was a telephoto shot, whereas my previous post used the camera’s macro facility and is slightly sharper.

Quick… heron overhead

You know that moment when you suddenly see a large bird flying towards you, grab the camera, switch on, point and shoot as it passes quickly overhead? Usually the result is a blurry picture of empty sky. I got lucky with this grey heron at Anderton Country Park.

grey heron overhead

Of course, the lighting is pretty impossible, and it’s nothing like the great shots done by the pros with their expensive equipment and oodles of stalking time (this was during a walk with my Panasonic TZ200 pocket-size superzoom). Just try this great blue by Ted Jennings or this one. Follow him!