Tuesday, 30 July 2019

The Great British Countryside


Much as I adore living here in Crete with its wall-to-wall sunshine there is something to be said for rain; it does make things green. So come with me if you will, down Simonscales Lane, for a walk in the great British countryside. Notice the difference between the hedgerow on the left and the one on the right. There are far more woody species on the left indicating that it is probably the original field boundary with just a footpath this side. You can estimate the age of a hedgerow by counting the number of woody shrubs in a 100ft stretch and multiplying by 100. This makes the original boundary over 600 years old, whereas the footpath was probably upgraded to a track and the second hedgerow planted within the last 200 years. Besides the woody shrubs there are plenty of herbaceous plants such as Common Vetch (Vicia sativa) and Crosswort (Cruciata laevipes). These are providing food for the local insects as we can see from this Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines) sipping nectar from a Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). Highly poisonous to us humans but we're made differently to butterflies.

At the end of the track a stile takes us onto a footpath alongside the river Cocker as it wends its way towards the town. A bit of a botanists dream along this stretch. We have Bistortia (Bistortia officianalis) who's leaves are used to make Dock Pudding over in Yorkshire; Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis) which you should never bring indoors or use in a May Day garland for fear of upsetting the fairies; some knapweed (Centaurea sp.) which clued-up farmers allow to grow wild as they persuade beetles away from their crops; and some Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) which was such a popular plant for making tea (as well as being considered to be good for gout) that it was nearly eradicated from London in the eighteenth century.

We'll leave the river now and indulge in a bit of bug hunting. Every child's favourite, the 7 spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata), is here and so too, the Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius), one of about 19 species in the UK and three hundred around the world; nestling in this buttercup in various attitudes of repose we have some Marsh Marigold Moths (Micropterix calthella) and finally a rather finely marked Snipe Fly (Rhagio scolopaceus) which we'll leave alone as many snipe flies are bloodsuckers and they can inflict a rather painful bite. 


Heading into the woods and pausing to say hello to a rabbit on our way I see we have a much nicer tempered fly on the fence. This is a Noon Fly (they like to sunbathe in the middle of the day) and they are nectar feeders and have no interest in biting us. Just as well really as, when they're not sunbathing they spend most of their time on cow pats where they both mate and lay their eggs. They also make a mockery of the saying 'breed like flies'. The female Noon Fly lays only five eggs in her lifetime, each in a separate cow pat. Thus spake Wikipedia but unfortunately with no citation. I like to check my facts thoroughly before passing them on to you but after half an hour's searching I cannot verify that this fact is true. Can any dipterologist out there confirm or deny?


I love the great diversity of broad leaved trees in England. We have trees in Crete of course but they're mainly olive and pine with the occasional Plane and Oak thrown in. This one for instance, standing there as though posing for a Liz Black Dowding painting, is a Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastrum). Supplier of conkers for playground games, they have medicinal qualities and were also collected in great quantites during the first world war to be used in the production of rifle cartridges. The conkers provided the starch to ferment the Clostridium bacterium to produce the acetone to make the solvent to manufacture the cordite that propelled the bullets from British rifles up until the 1950s. Sounds like an idea for a cumulative song like The Court of King Caractacus, doesn't it?

Anyhow, that about wraps it up for Cumbria. Next week we start on our journey back to Crete by rail and sea. Don't forget your passports.







Crete Nature Catch-up

Steve's Books well, just the one at the moment but I have now completed all of the adult critters for 'The Quick Guide to Creepy-Crawlies' as well as the terrestrial juveniles. Just the aquatic juveniles to go and it will be ready for proofreading.

Not Just For Twisted Women by Steve Daniels 

A light-hearted look at life through the eyes of the fairer sex.
Kindle Edition 1.99 pounds sterling (or equivalent).


Click on the links to the right to buy or preview


Paperback Edition 4.99 pounds sterling (or equivalent)..
Read snippets, samples and stuff at Steve's Books





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Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Grand Tour 2: Cumbrian Lakes and Seashore

Crummock Water, Cumbria, UK


Let me take you back 500 million years. Crummock Water, now one of fourteen beautiful lakes in The Lake District, was on the sea bed, a bed made up of sand and black, glutinous mud. Since then, that sediment has been squeezed, scunched and uplifted (and continues to be so) to form the fells that surround the lake, in this, the oldest part of the National Park. To the south of this are the eroded outcrops of hard lavas and ashes formed as a result of catastrophic volcanic eruptions 450 million years ago. It is here that you will find the highest peaks including Scafell Pike, England's highest at 3,209 feet (978m). To the south of this lies the gentler sedimentary rocks of southern Lakeland. These mudstones, sandstones, siltstones and limestones made up of billions of crushed seashells were formed upon the sea bed around 420 million years ago. The result is an area of truly outstanding natural beauty.

Let us take a walk around the woodland at the edge of the lake. It feels primaeval with its moss covered rocks and trees where red squirrels scamper around in the canopy and warblers and finches sing from unseen branches. Rows of bracket fungi adorn fallen branches and down by the water's edge bilberries are just starting to form. Look at the mosses more closely and you can see that the moss growing on the rocks (Thuidium sp.) and the moss climbing the trees (Hypnum sp.) are entirely different, occupying, as they do, completely separate ecological niches.



We'll track north now to Allonby Sands, a long, sandy beach on the edge of the Solway Firth. It is the middle of May and the Hawthorn bushes up on the dune ridge are just coming into flower. Floating all around them, long legs trailing, are the Hawthorn flies (Bibio marci). These harmless little insects (they don't bite) have a tendency to hatch in large numbers on or about the 25th April – the males sometimes about a week earlier – which is St. Mark's Day. This gives them their alternative name of St. Mark's Fly. Having completed their mating cycle many of them finish up on the surface of lakes, rivers and streams where they provide a seasonal bounty for the fish.

Coming down onto the shoreline and peering into the rock pools (or guddling in the local dialect) we find a treasure trove of shells of edible molluscs; oysters [top], mussels [bottom] and razor shells [right]. Unfortunately the original inhabitants of these shells are no longer present so no 'Allonby Chowder' recipe this week. It's a dish more suited to the depths of winter so, maybe on our next visit. And we must include smoked kippers! Around the turn of the 18th century, the village of Allonby was the centre of the local herring fishing industry, salting and packing the herring in barrels and kippering them in the smoke house.





From the remote geolical past, through more recent history, we come to the present. Out beyond the shoreline, where the oystercatchers, knots and dunlin probe the sands for their lunch, lies the Robin Rigg offshore wind farm. Sixty 260ft (80m) high towers with four 144ft (44m) blades apiece turning at an average 170 miles per hour produce enough electricity to power half the houses in Cumbria. There are concerns of course. You can't plant a forest of turbines in somewhere like the Solway Firth without shaking it up a little and the ecology is being carefully monitored. But, whichever way you look at it, it means a heck of a lot less fossil fuel has to be burnt to keep the lamps lit over half the county.



Crete Nature Catch-up

Steve's Books (well, just the one at the moment but 'The Quick Guide to Creepy-Crawlies' is well under way and should be available later in the year).)

Not Just For Twisted Women by Steve Daniels 
A light-hearted look at life through the eyes of the fairer sex.
Kindle Edition 1.99 pounds sterling (or equivalent).
Paperback Edition 4.99 pounds sterling (or equivalent)..
Read snippets, samples and stuff at Steve's Books





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LINKS:
Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)

Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map




Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The Grand Tour


Those of you who were with me last year will recall my friends, Betty and Bert. They are what is known in the trade as 'a literary device'. They allow me to recall the actions and words of my true friends and family without fear of being ostracised, sued or generally marmalised. I met a number of new friends on my recent sojourn to the UK and back to Crete by train and ferry and would like to keep them (at least until they discover what I am really like). This is the story of that journey; through England, Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy and Greece, as seen through the eyes of a naturalist with Betty and Bert popping in to provide a bit of comic relief.



Cockermouth

Tom Rudd Beck
Nestling up in the north west corner of England, just above the Lake District and trying to pretend that it is part of it, lies the idyllic town of Cockermouth. It is a place where a walk to the health centre involves negotiating a flock of sheep and a trip to the supermarket is accompanied by earthy scents arising from the banks of a stream, and robins, wrens and blackbirds merely hop to one side as you pass. It is a watery place at the confluence of two rivers, the Derwent and the Cocker, which are joined by two streams (or becks in the local dialect). These have a tendency to get a bit above themselves at times, quite literally, which is evinced by the flood level markers of 2009, 2015 and 2017 all of which are unnervingly at eye level or above. There have been fifteen flood events in the town since they started recording such things in 1761. I'll let you draw your own conclusions from the fact that 20% of them have occurred in the past ten years.


Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata
As we walk down towards the town from the new homestead (the family seat just having moved up here from Gloucestershire), by the gurgling Tom Rudd Beck, I noticed the first of many plants that we don't have in Crete growing by the wayside. It is garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, a magnificent little herb combining the subtle flavours of both garlic and mustard in its leaves and flowers.

That,” I say to Betty and Bert, who are trailing along with us this morning, “would be a magnificent addition to a great Cumbrian breakfast.” [See Steve's Wild Kitchen for recipe].


Never mind breakfast,” grumbles Bert, “I had that hours ago. Aren't there any pubs in this town?”

The Cocker at Cockermouth


The beck snakes under the footpath and disappears into dense woodland and we descend to another path along the banks of the Cocker which flows in from the fells and waters of the Lake District National park to the south of the town. There are plenty of stones standing proud providing good hunting grounds for dippers and wagtails and the occasional kingfisher darts from bank to bank in a flash of azure and russet.






The Cocker - Derwent confluence
At the confluence of the Cocker and the Derwent we stop and rest awhile. Bert's nostrils are twitching like an ant's antennae. Just behind us stands the venerable Jennings' brewery. Sitting here, it is hard to imagine that at the height of the floods the tree in front of us was half submerged in a raging torrent of water. Ignoring Bert's cries of protest we cross the Derwent and walk upstream until we are opposite the castle on the edge of town. In the long grass on the far bank and just out of camera range (which, as every wildlife photographer knows, is where all birds live), a pair of pheasants are feeding.


Stonefly (Plecoptera)

Although this is a holiday for me there are a few creepy-crawlies that I want to photograph for a book that I'm writing at the moment. This is one of them; it's a Stonefly. It is not, despite its name, a type of fly any more than a butterfly or a dragonfly is. It is a Plecopteran. The Plecoptera (Stoneflies), like the more familiar Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths) and Coleoptera (Beetles) is one of the fifty or so major groups of tiny creatures which we lump together as creepy-crawlies. Until you know to which group your specimen belongs you haven't got a hope of knowing what you are looking at. Which is why I am writing The Quick Guide To Creepy-Crawlies; you can find out to which of the groups your specimen belongs by making three or four simple observations in the correct order. [Click here to see a sample page].








Bitter Beck
Enough of the advertisements, I'm beginning to get as thirsty as Bert. We'll make our way back along Bitter Beck where the Elderberries, Sambucus nigra, grow in sweet profusion.

Never mind the elderberries, is there a pub anywhere along this beck of yours?” demands Bert.

There is, Bert, a very nice one, at this end so you won't have much further to walk, and it's very appropriately named fot its location.”

Why, what's it called?”

The Bitter End.”

A quick note: as this blog is not specifically about CreteNature I shall not be promoting it on the usual sites. Click on the hamburger (illustrated left) which you will find in the top left corner of this page, fill in your email address and you will be notified each time that a new post is published. (If you don't see the hamburger icon then you may have to click on the white back arrow first) Thanks, Steve.




Crete Nature Catch-up

Steve's Books (well, just the one at the moment but 'The Quick Guide to Creepy-Crawlies' is well under way and should be available later in the year).

Not Just For Twisted Women by Steve Daniels 
A light-hearted look at life through the eyes of the fairer sex.
Kindle Edition 1.99 pounds sterling (or equivalent).
Paperback Edition 4.99 pounds sterling (or equivalent)..
Read snippets, samples and stuff at Steve's Books





*********************************************************************
LINKS:
Share your nature thoughts, photos and comments on Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)

Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map









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