Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Tree Shapes

I'm sure I'm not the only person that enjoys tree spotting as I drive along the road. Once you get an eye for basic tree shapes and features, you can name many at a glance. To me, ash trees (left) are a bit snooty! Why? Because their twigs tend to curl upwards. Whereas beech tend to have horizontally spreading branches. Many have distinctive shapes and colours - I'll try photograph more another day.

A crisp tree shape against a cerulean sky - how many beautiful sights we have on winter days.

Since my camera isn't good enough to photograph birds, I've decided to share some tree shapes with you from a weekend walk around Croston. How complex is this willow trunk below?
How useful telegraph poles are in sparing a few extra berries for hungry redwings....At this time of year, I also enjoy the contrast between frozen and non-frozen patches.
And if you get close, have a look at just how brightly coloured lichen can be.

But let's not forget the birds. I really enjoyed watching the yellowhammers, their faces bright like summer suns. There were lots of roaming fieldfare in small parties and one had approaching 100 birds. A snipe was flushed from a ditch and two lapwings had returned to the fields to try their luck where the frost was melting. Amongst the stubble was a flock of about 100 larks, calling as they rose before plunging back into silence and more stubble. There was also a small flock of linnet, tree sparrows at several sites, reed bunting,buzzard, kestrels and lots of garden birds.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Merging of the Seasons

An October baby, I love my birth month: it's gentle-warm sun and the way we value the shortening daylight hours. I also enjoy the gradual changing of colours as autumn seeps in and leaves fanfare farewells.

This Croston Finney morning began with powder blue skies. Summer hovered in full fields of maize, and wild pansies quietly persisted amongst the rustle of barley waiting to be cut. Later, the stubble fields, bales and temporary clouding-over showed autumn's easing in. The trees, too, were straddling the seasons; some green, some yellow, some bearing only keys.Vocal skylarks celebrated the bounty of the fields. They approached two hundred in number and there was plenty for all. Over a hundred goldfinch likewise mustered for chatter and food. Crows, rooks, jackdaws all filled the sky with caws but none so loud as the grey heron's rasping croaks.

Common darters still danced over boggy fields where three wintering snipe were flushed by my presence. How rapid their wing beats; how stodgy my steps! A small white (butterfly) also floated by.
Back on a track. Yellow hammers perched on the telephone wires, their faces bright as summer suns. Corn buntings were harvesting the stubble, their numbers yet to increase. And the hedgerows held out their hips and haws for the redwings who have yet to arrive.
October, my birth month, I love.

OPAL Survey

I've recently been working with a group to complete a clean air survey organised by OPAL (Open Air Laboratories). It involved measuring tree girths, counting fungal spots on sycamore leaves and identifying lichen on oak, ash and sycamore trees. The survey doesn't take long to complete and you could easily complete it in a local park or open area. What's more all the ID charts and materials you need are provided - a great teaching resource.
Why not take part - and let's see how clean the air in all areas of Britain is. There's lots of other surveys to complete too. Go on, try one...

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Charnock Richard Scarecrow Festival

A quick visit to White Coppice this morning was rewarded with the delight of about two hundred house martins, along with a few sand martins and swallows feeding in the shelter of Stronstrey Bank.

This evening I had a look around Charnock Richard's annual Scarecrow Festival. It didn't scare the crows - I saw a flock of about 50 gathering to roost - but it was entertaining for us humans. Below are a just a few of the many fun moments.

This charming horse and fox really made me smile. It's obvious whose side the horse is on.

But it looks like not everyone was enjoying themselves - I wonder what made this guy angry....

Tree surgeon anyone?


Errrrm no - I don't want to trust him to cut my lawn!
Many thanks to the folks of Charnock Richard.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Great Hill and Black Brook

The skies were looking very changeable today as I set off for Great Hill. I'm glad I went because a wonderful spectacle awaited - well over a hundred swallows zooming around at low levels. As I paused to admire them, I wondered if the many short-tailed youngsters amongst them knew about the migratory adventures that lay so soon ahead. Part way towards Great Hill is Sam's Cup, the site of an old well. It remains a popular spot for having a break. A short distance further and I see the kestrel/s which showed little interest in the fast flying swallows as they hovered searching for voles etc.
I decided to return via Black Brook. It is not a public footpath but is a well used path through this area of access land. The path is eroded in places so it's wise to take a friend along (even if I didn't...)

The sun brought out the butterflies: small tortoiseshell, meadow brown, small coppers and gatekeepers. A couple of brown hawkers and a black darter were also seen, and bees were visiting the heather. I enjoy the landscape of this brook, looking at angles of the carved valley and its tributaries.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Dragons and Damsels

I took advantage of yesterday's sunshine to take a walk to a couple of pools in the old quarries near Healey Nab. All the photos below are from the British Dragonfly Society's website and if you click on each photo or the credit beneath, the link will take you to that website - well worth a visit.

Before I reached the pools I saw brown hawkers flying around White Coppice area. They are an unmistakable species hawking over the bracken. However, when I watched them flying over the water, their wings suddenly appeared to be translucent bronze as reflected light shone through them. What a difference the light makes.

Brilliant blue, male damselflies created a magic carpet along the path to the pool. So many of them, hovering there. Their brightness conspicuous above the sand-coloured path. Many were copulating amongst the vegetation until disturbed, when they flew in tandem to another resting place. Below is a photo of a pair in tandem; the female is green.
Talking of green, there were also a few elegant emerald damselflies, flying over nearby vegetation. This species tends to be associated with acid pools so the the peat here must attract them.
A common hawker flew around the pool. It's size and colour announcing its presence.

I was treated to a close-up of a male black darter, angling its abdomen as it rested on a rock. I could clearly see a spot on each wing. Soon after, a female perched on a nearby stone, her yellow abdomen making me think she was a different species at first.
Dragonflies - nice getting to know you.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Stocks Reservoir

We decided to enjoy the sun and showers by taking a walk around Stocks Reservoir. It's a 11km / 7m circular walk which is well signed. Close to our start point is a United Utilities office - don't they just own some beautiful buildings? Soon we pass the Valve Tower (above). The reservoir is low at present due to less than average rainfall but when we notice that even the culverts near the reservoir are not being cleared, it begs the question: is the precious rainfall being captured efficiently in these catchment areas? We see several oystercatchers. One of the joys of this walk in summer is the flowers. Everywhere fields are pitted by the purple heads of black knapweed and self-heal and through the grass vetch stretches. You breath in meadowsweet, turn to admire its creamy heads adorning field and ditch. Amongst my favourite mauve and creams, other colours appear. Below is what might be larch bolete. The sunny spells encourage butterflies to rise and we see mostly green-veined whites and meadow browns. We also disturb a cloud of larks and are greeted by another favourite flower of mine - field scabious and I also spot sneezewort. I might pass on the fungi, but I do pause to pluck some pink-plump raspberries - just a couple. I explode them slowly in my mouth to explore their delicate sweetness. We notice the cormorant are gathering (about 30) at a safe distance and out of sight from the fisheries.

Now we veer from the reservoir through fields and a bridge to cross Hasgill Beck and the River Hodder which feed the reservoir. More lambs and flowers. Much of the return walk follows a dismantled railway line and I wonder what it must have been like to travel such a scenic route.

We look across the valley and absorb how remote this place is and how lucky we are to enjoy it.

Saturday, 7 August 2010


Yesterday I was helping to staff the Chorley NATS stall at the BioBlitz event at Cuerdan Valley Park, Bamber Bridge. These events provide a snapshot of the diversity of wildlife as surveys are undertaken to record the plant, insect and animal life found. As I made my way to the event, I passed a beetle expert busy with the survey.
It was heartening to see how much life had been found in the river and ponds. Species such as stonefly larvae and also dragonfly larvae testify to how well oxygenated and unpolluted the water is. Birdwatchers might be interested to know that crossbills have recently been seen in the park and a hobby put in a brief appearance.
Quite a few organisations had stalls so there were plenty of opportunities for networking and collecting some brilliant teaching resources. I also sold a few copies of my book, from the field book, and although not my main intention for attending, it was pleasing.
Of course we could BioBlitz our gardens and back yards and might be surprised what we find. My garden has been host to at least four blue tit broods and one great tit brood over the past couple of months. I love watching the yellow/green versions of these species as they forage around curious and not yet as wary as they will become. I've also had young coal tits, robins and blackbirds too. I'm not sure what's happened to the song thrush I heard all spring but I haven't seen any young.

You're probably wondering about the photos. Well, I decided to have a go at growing my own herbs and some vegetables this summer. I've enjoyed nipping out to collect fresh rosemary, parsley, coriander, basil and baby lettuce leaves etc. I have managed to find a variety that the slugs don't eat! Above is some sweetcorn - I just have to work out when it's ready for harvest. All advice welcome. And below are my yellow courgettes. I decided to grow them because I don't see the yellow ones in the shops. Bees seem to love their flowers.

The BioBlitz photos are used with the kind permission of Chris Rae

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Two's Company

I did wonder whether I was a little under dressed this morning when I ascended Great Hill in shorts and T-shirt but the wind wasn't cold so limited the chill factor. I had my water bottle with me and reckoned that as long as I remained hydrated then all would be well - it was. I always find the breeze invigorating. It reminded me of the transpiration process in trees - as long as there's sufficient water in the ground to replace what is lost through the leaves all should be well (assuming it's not too cold).

I was pleased to see a young dipper on Black Brook. The bracken seems to have grown amazingly quickly and provides lots of shelter for any birds that are starting to moult. I spotted the usual species including: reed bunting, wrens, larks, pipits, linnets and family of ravens having fun. I don't know what's happened to the stonechat this year - hardly seen at all. I saw a froglet and will hopefully see many more when we eventually get some rain.
Should I be surprised that I've been seeing fungi on my outings recently? Given the dry spell and time of year, I was. Today I saw what probably were wood mushrooms (the identification is courtesy of someone else).
I set out again this afternoon and was pleased to have some company - my eldest. We had a quick scramble up Hordern Stoops to Winter Hill and found this seasonal sign by the TV mast.
Then we moved on towards Rivington Pike. I think this is one of the most attractive views of it (above). Then swinging the camera southwards we see Two Lads (the rocks on the brow of the hill in the background). The sun brought out the butterflies and we saw several small heath, small tortoiseshell and a red admiral.
We returned via George Lane which is actually a rough track; it's great for testing how strong your ankles are...

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Woodland Wonders and Wellbeing

This month, I'm teaching at Yarrow Valley Park, Chorley. The aim is to promote the importance of trees in the environment as well as developing social interaction and communication skills. This week the learners were challenged to create art from natural materials and leave them as gifts for other visitors. One learner made a window of twigs and used it to frame the beautiful shapes of baby oak leaves and the contrasting shape and colours of ivy.

Another learner created a sculpture which doubles up as a home for mini beasts.

Above is another design which we hope will attract centipedes and beetles etc.

Someone else was also intrigued with ivy growing on the trees and framed it. Do you love or loathe ivy? Yes, it is a parasitic and can damage trees. But when I note just how many birds depend on its berries to see them over the lean winter months when very little other food is available, I think it can't be all bad.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Sunshine on the Fells

What an ideal day for a walk - sunshine, breeze and a day off work. As with the route described below, I set off from White Coppice to Great Hill. Left is a photo taken en route. There were plenty larks, pipits and reed bunting around and the sunshine had also brought out little brown and orange butterflies (small heath, I think). From Great Hill you can see Jubilee Tower (aka Darwen Tower). I do go that way sometimes but not today. Below is a photo of it.

Today I crossed Spitlers Edge and and acres of waving cotton grass. If you're lucky you might see a red grouse. A fair distance to the east I could see where the peat had been on fire earlier in the week. The photo below shows Spitlers Edge and, in the distance, Winter Hill - my next stopping point.

All the human communication paraphernalia on Winter Hill is an eye sore I agree. But at least it's confined to one hilltop. The photo below shows Hordern Stoops and the steep scramble to the top. Scramble being the operative word. Not an ascent for a hot, still day but today's breeze made it pleasant. Incidentally the last time I climbed up here it was covered in snow....
Once on top of Winter Hill, I followed the ridge passing two cairns. From there the footpath disappears amidst the rough grassland. So with Riving Pike being easily visible and this being access land, I set off - and my left leg promptly disappeared to the knee into a mini peat bog! A bit disconcerting but, with my other leg on terra firma, I managed to haul myself out of the deep hole and walked the next mile with caution....

Rivington Pike is always popular with walkers and today was no exception. Above is a picture of the view from the top. The first reservoir is Yarrow and distant one is the end of Anglezarke - both of which I would be walking along later after making my way downhill through the terraced gardens and around Rivington Barn where lots of friendly bikers congregate. Notice how low the reservoirs are for this time of year.I deiced to take in Bullough on my return because I love strolling through its wood of ancient beech, oak and other native trees. The nuthatch love it too. The tree pictured above is a beech; on windy days it creaks alarmingly.

Sunday, 6 June 2010


On Thursday evening I was lent a moth trap and was looking forward to viewing a some of our garden's nocturnal visitors. After some help siting it for best results, all I had to do was go to bed and hope no-one would steal it overnight!

In the morning, Moth Man returned. There were over 70 moths in the trap and 30 species. By far the largest was a Poplar Hawk Moth. The most brightly coloured had to be the Green Silver-Lines and the bright Brimstones. The most intriguing were the White and the Buff Ermines which appeared to be dead; it's a trick to confuse predators - well they certainly fooled me! There was also a Bee Moth (and a bumble bee had also found its way into the trap) and the most numerous were the May Highflyer and Small Square Spot.

The records have gone to the area moth recorder and I'm looking forward to mothing again. Our garden is an ideal place for mothing because it is surrounded by a several species of trees and wild flowers. The best nights for mothing tend to be warm, still and overcast.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

My local fells

One of the reasons I love living near the West Pennine Moors is that there are always wonderful walks to enjoy whatever the season. I took my camera to show you but without a view finder and it being such a sunny day I couldn't see what was on the screen, it was a case of point and hope! Nevertheless here is a short extract from Sunday's walk.

Only a few minutes up the hill from White Coppice and this is the view. The moors were full of proclaiming larks, and pipits with beaks full of flies. A little further and the resident kestrels hover over Great Hill and I'm pleased to see the pair of wheatear nesting.

These great millstone grit (?) slabs guide you along Spitler's Edge and reserve the rest of the fells for nesting curlew and lapwing etc.

The ravines and peat pools are teeming with life. Lizards and newts are also to be found.

Today was rare - the path was dry. It was like walking on a springy, sponge in places. And when you get tired.... (not sure I approve but it did amuse).

The landscapes of peat are fascinating and ecologically important. They hold water and capture carbon. There is currently work being done on these moors to preserve it. Small dams are built across rivulets to slow the run-off and maintain the level of the water table.

Peat erodes and creates some interesting features. The sheep know how to take advantage of the shelter it offers. You can see layers of history in it.

The vegetation is in great swathes. Sometimes it's colourful heather and gorse, sometimes it's cotton grass. Each with attending butterflies and insects.

On reaching the road, wild flowers take over the verges - random and colourful. These bluebells and plantain arrange themselves better than any garden designer.

from the field book

from the field book
An inspiring gift for anyone who enjoys watching nature.