Sunday, March 31, 2013

New Growth

I decided to hurry spring along a bit and germinate some of the sunflower seeds from the bird feeders. The greenfinches won't miss a few.

Place a dry seed on some wet kitchen paper and within a couple days it unleashes one of the marvellous events in the new growing season.

For a more detailed look at what goes on inside delicate new roots, click here

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Rarity.........

Not the birds ............. the sky .................  blue

Still adjusting to the novelty of it, after weeks of grey skies  .......

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Britain's Largest Woodlouse and a dozy seal

Today's Guardian Country Diary describes encounters with two very interesting animals during a stroll on Roker Pier at Sunderland. Here's the pier, below, on a calm, sunny day.

This sea slater Ligia oceanica had crawled out of a crack between the stone blocks on the pier. They usually do most of their feeding at dusk, grazing on algae, and you don't often see them in the open in broad daylight. This is Britain's largest woodlouse species and it's confined to areas just above the high water mark on the seashore. The coin is a 10 pence piece, 25mm. in diameter, so you can get an idea of the animal's size - about four times larger than a garden woodlouse.

These little animals are very well camouflaged, especially when they hunker down so that the skirts of their armour plates are pressed close to the ground and they cast no shadow. It matched the stone so well that it was very lucky that I didn't tread on it.

The most remarkable thing about sea slaters is the ease and speed with which they change colour, due to being able to expand and contract pigment spots in their cuticle, so that they match their background. This is the same animal as the one on the grey stone, after it had been kept on a white background in bright sunlight for a few minutes. The pigment spots have contracted and it's almost translucent.

Sea slaters have large eyes for a woodlouse, perhaps because they do most of their feeding at dusk.

The sea slaters that live between the granite blocks here are often pummelled by waves that break over the pier (see picture below) but can maintain a tenacious grip on the stone with those needle-sharp bristles on the tip of their legs. Their flattened shape is perfect for squeezing into the gaps between the stone blocks.

You can see the jaws quite nicely here, and also the pigment spots in the body armour, fully contracted so they are just small brown dots.

We might have missed this character too if it hadn't raised a flipper to have a scratch. It was sunbathing on Roker beach below the pier and its smooth outline and mottled colouring made it surprisingly inconspicuous against the sand and rocks at low tide. I wonder if seals dream when they are asleep? If so, then it's probably having a very satisfying fantasy about pursuing fat, succulent salmon.

I'd guess that this grey seal must have been born on the Farne Islands last autumn. It had been left high up on Roker beach by an extremely high equinoctial spring tide. It didn't seem to be at all concerned and was content to bask in the sun and wait for the tide to return.  

Lovely animal, isn't it?

This is Roker pier a week later. Somewhere between the granite blocks, under the waves, there'll be sea slaters hunkered down. As for the seal, that'll be somewhere out to sea.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Remember days like this....?

Pulled back the curtains to reveal a snow-covered landscape under leaden skies again? Crawled back under the duvet?

Here's an antidote to all the bad weather porn that's dominating blogs at present - Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's Ninety Four in the Shade, showing a sweltering lepidopterist resting in the shade, reading his field guide, too hot to chase any more butterflies.

You've gotta have a dream, haven't you?

Public domain image: Source

Friday, March 22, 2013

Windswept and interesting ....

This sparrowhawk spent the afternoon on our garden fence, just two metres from the bird table, maybe wondering why nothing edible showed up. It can't be the smartest of raptors.

Gale force gusts of wind swept across the the garden, ruffling its feathers and, like the rest of us .....

... it kept looking up at the sky, wondering when this wintery spell is going to end.

Then a really savage gust of wind wrecked its composure completely ......

... which necessitated a lot of stretching and preening ..........

...... until it finally decided that it had had enough, and left to try its luck elsewhere.

Within five minutes the blue tits and greenfinches were back on the bird table.....

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rock doves

It's doubtful whether there are any pure-bred rock doves Columba livia left, except perhaps on remote sea cliffs where there are none of their domesticated pigeon descendants to mate with. Nevertheless, these 'rock doves' on Tynemouth pier are very attractive birds and are a cut above street pigeons, especially when the light strikes those iridescent throat feathers at the right angle. Enough to turn the head of any passing racing pigeon......

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cold Ears

The freezing weather might be holding the spring flowers back but it seems to have little effect on spring-fruiting fungi. These jelly ears Auricularia auricula-judae growing on a dead elder stem were in fine condition today. And I think I've found more fine specimens of scarlet elf cap this year than ever before.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Flying Can-openers

Today's Guardian Country Diary is about Kirkby Stephen's famous macaws, that can often be seen on the rooftops of this Cumbrian market town.

These spectacular birds originally belonged to a local farmer and conservationist called John Strutt, who died a couple of years ago. You can read all about this remarkable man and his amazing free-range parrots by visiting this web site.

There's also more about him here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Muir burning .....

Muir burning in Teesdale yesterday - burning off the old heather stems so that new shoots develop, to feed grouse. A period of dry weather and light winds produced good conditions for these controlled fires.

Click image to enlarge.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ceramic Wild Flower Meadows ...

The millennium spawned all sorts of arts projects, many of them grandiose, but these ceramics entitled Field of Flower are amongst my favourites. They are displayed on a wall just off of the marketplace in Alston in Cumbria and are the results of a community tile workshop run by Alston potters Syl Macro and Sue Sharp.

These delightful interpretations of North Pennine meadows are well worth looking out for if you are passing through Alston.

Incidentally, if you are in the town stop by The Moody Baker and try one of their wolf pies - perfect picnic food. I had one for my lunch today. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013


Yesterday, when we were walking along the river Tyne at Wylam, a cacophony overhead drew our attention to this gang of crows mobbing a buzzard. Birds of prey must get fed up with this constant harassment but this raptor had the situation well under control. It soared higher and higher in tight circles then, when the crows got too close, threw in a wide circle that left them cawing at each other in the centre, wondering where their victim had gone. 

Wonderful to watch - a masterclass.