Sunday 11 October 2015

Fun little guys, UK Fungus Day!

Somehow there's something very appealing about delving about in the damp leaves on the forest floor and scrummaging amongst old log piles keeping your eyes peeled for fun little guys emerging from the mulch or peeping from the decaying trunk of a fallen tree.

I love this time of year, for although some fungi can be found in any month of the year, the best time for taking part in a fungal foray is autumn. In the UK that is now, typically August through to October when the leaves are turning beautiful colours, senescing to put a posh word on it! And the colours are not just restricted to leaves as the wide variety of fungi we have in the UK come in all sorts of shades and forms, not just your typical mushroom shape but include mould and yeast forms too. During my childhood I spent many a time curled up with a good Enid Blyton book or fairytale and just the word toadstool conjures up images of a fairyland with talking animals and tiny beasts. There's something mythical and magical about these amazing organisms that play such a vital part in our ecosystem feeding on the decaying matter in our countryside. Then there is the fact we have a large selection we can successfully eat without falling ill...but there is also many more that are highly poisonous so make sure you know your stuff before attempting to find the edible or recreational kind!

The iconic Fly Agaric is so well recognised but I don't seem to find many so always excited to stumble across one, a real live toadstool...

No walk is complete without having spotted a few new specimens, for me anyway! Here's a few I've found over the last few weeks while out and about at work and with the dog...

Ok so the majority of these I've found are various shades of brown and cream but the sheer diversity in shapes and formations is fascinating!

I also found one of these the other day while on a dawn bat survey (a rubbish pic I know)...these stripey critters are often associated with mushrooms...

A foraging brock, just escaping into the hedge!

..and if you look closely you'll spot the association! It was also National Badger Day this week, stunning animals.

So yes, Happy Fungi Foraging, go and see what you can find :)

Tuesday 28 July 2015

One of nature's little miracles!

I had a bit of a shock mid week last week whilst driving home from a bat car was involved in a collision with an owl...but do be warned, this story does have a happy ending!

Sooo having just finished a very pleasant bat transect survey in a very quiet bit of Yorkshire countryside I moseyed on back to my car with the occasional small yawn escaping me. Bat transects involve walking a set route slowly for two hours noting any bat activity as well as identifying the different species by using detectors. Quite tiring but good fun and something a bit different from the many building emergence surveys that seem to outnumber the transects!

Anyway, I digress. My route home after the survey took me mostly along my usual daily commute, roads I know well and roads I've often travelled very late at night on the way home from bat surveys. Heading across a moorland with my full beams on and I pick out the unmistakeable shape of an owl flapping up off the road but at 60mph in the car I couldn't avoid it and there was a sickening thud. First critter I've ever knocked down...well I did once clip a swallow with my shoulder while on the motorbike but it flew off seemingly ok so I don't count that. Anyway! Back to my actual road casualty...

I had no choice but to stop, that little voice on my shoulder shouting at me to turn around just in case, you never know, please don't let it be all smished... I do an about turn and pull up on the road verge. I scrabble around for my torch and head back onto the road. Very late so next to no traffic and a mile long straight so no danger! I find the owl and straight away realised it was a long-eared owl, the first I've seen in the wild up close and the most beautiful little thing. Seen them in falconries but not even in the hand while bird ringing training so I was all the more worried. It was limp but breathing. I picked it up rather gingerly and moved it back to my car and placed in the grass, praying it would come round from the shock. I rang up Chris, my other half, and told him I may be bringing an owl home and that I was going to be home even later than usual. While I was talking, I was watching this owl the whole time and amazingly, as it responding to the sound of my voice on the phone, I could see it was starting to come round. It's head did a bit of a stuttery thing, almost like it was trying to choke up a pellet then it's big lashed eyelids opened and it's head slowly moved round to face me. If you've not heard or seen photos of long-eared owls, you might not know they have the most amazingly bright orange eyes...much like this chap, taken at SMJ Falconry last year...

Managed to capture a mid-blink...

Having given it a bit of an inspection on picking it up initially, there seemed to be no blood, no broken wings...and even half conscious those furry talons were still perfectly able to clench the grass in response to my touch...the owl was just in shock, amazing having taken a bump under my car! It didn't make any attempt to fly anywhere after 10 minutes of just watching me and swiveling it's head right round, like owls do, so I thought I'd best look lively before it got too chilled and find a box in my car. I found a towel too and then spied my camera on the car seat so grabbed that too and made my way back to where the owl lay in the grass....Took a couple of shots without flash, trying my best not to startle it but completely forgetting about the shutter noise DSLRs make...hence the eyes widening even further on taking the pics! Very blurred due to no flash but you can just make out the orange eyes...

So I picked up the towel and made a move to pick it up. That woke it up with a jolt and it flapped once or twice into the long grass. It was a bit of a struggle but I did see those wings outstretch and they looked pretty good...I went to pick it up again and this time the owl clearly thought bugger this, I'm off! And that was it, it flew straight off the grass and across a wall and into the pitch black! Out of my hands now I thought, good luck little fella/felless. I was pretty stunned if I'm honest, certainly hadn't expected it to fly off of its own accord but couldn't have been happier.  I'd no idea why it was flapping in the road in the first place but I was resigned to the fact it must have been injured and that I needed to take it to a sanctuary somewhere...A friend who is knowledgeable about these owly matters suggested it may have been preying on frogs or toads in the road and that was the reason behind it's flapping in the road...I'd prefer that to the thought of its just having been clipped by another car and back for round 2 when I came along...!

One of nature's little miracles though and hopefully a happy ending :)

What was weird was the next night, having needed to come back the same way at the same time I saw an owl flapping at the side of the road, at wall height...having never seen an owl on that road at all then two in two days? Was it the same one? I'd like to think so. One can hope!

Monday 13 July 2015

A break in the Lakes

As a birthday treat for my other half we spent 3 nights away this weekend so we could spend a bit of quality time in the beautiful Lake District. Not exactly the other side of the country for us but we found a little cottage far enough away that it made it more of a worthwhile stay. Not so close that we felt we could just pop home! It was a break of many firsts, a first having to explore the minefield that is dog-friendly accommodation, a first up a mountain with a certain blonde German Shepherd, a first nose touch with a donkey...for the dog, not myself who has been nuzzled by a donkey once or twice a friendly way you understand! Anyway moving on...

So we stayed in a little place not too far from the motorbike honeypot that is Hartside, in the Eden Valley between the Lakes and the North Pennines. Sleepy quaint villages full of red sandstone houses and reddish drystone walls. Now normally we prefer to camp this time of year but as I've mentioned, this was a treat and for a good price I can manage that every now and again! Tip if you do want to stay up in the Lakes during the summer period, look for places a few miles outside of the National Park itself, we were about 20 or so miles out and it was worth travelling that bit further. Plus you escape all the touristy craziness during holiday season...oh and the hiked-up prices!

Gorgeous cottage just about big enough for the two of us and a large hairy dog. Admittedly Toby's shedding of hairs on a par length-wise with my own was always going to be a worry in someone else's house, we contemplated taking our own trusty vacuum cleaner but in fact forgot...fortunately the vac provided at the cottage coped admirably with the accumulation of blonde fur, thank goodness!

Toby teatime yet?
Our main aim of the trip was to conquer Helvellyn, the third highest peak in the Lakes, behind Scafell and Scafell Pike. Now despite living oop north all my life I am ashamed to admit I'd not been up a single peak in the Lakes! I've camped, walked between peaks and looked longingly at many a ridge but not actually got to the top of one. I spent many a weekend up Welsh mountains while studying at Aberystwyth uni a few years back (plug for the cracking Expedition Society!) and a couple in the Yorkshire Dales but the Lakes just hasn't happened for me. Until Friday! Weather looking a bit cloudy but with a very bright forecast ahead we set off in the old Landy to find a hopefully safe place to leave it. We arrived at Thirlmere, the reservoir in the valley below Helvellyn, and found a little car park we'd scouted on the OS map. We were however somewhat taken aback to find out we needed to fork out £ POUND coins!...for all day parking! Now I know we're from Yorkshire where all are renowned for being tight with their dollar but SEVEN POUNDS??? Daylight robbery doesn't even cut it. And who carries that many pound coins with them anyway? After a well deserved rant and shaking of fist we both speedily came to the conclusion that this just would not do. I'd spotted a campsite just down the road that we'd passed a couple of minutes before and suggested we see if the farmer would be happy for us to dump the Landy in a quiet corner for a small fee. Sure enough he was more than obliging and everyone was happy.

Satisfied we embarked on our mountain climbing. Got lost within 10 minutes of starting due to a re-routing of a path we'd picked on the map but it didn't deter us for long and after a friendly point in the right direction we were off on the right track. Straight into a field with a horse and donkey!

Friendly Eeyore
The footpath very quickly gained in elevation, i.e. bloody steep! Bit of a shock to the system this only being our first mountain of the year...and yes we're already halfway through, it's not the best track record! Best mention we hadn't actually got on to Helvellyn by this point...Cue much panting in heat despite it only being half past 10 in the morning and rather a few stops and starts...Toby was more than happy to lie down at every opportunity, despite him having double the leg power he is just a little more hairy than us so we let him off. We had to stop so often to fully enjoy the incredible views behind us you see ;)

As we emerged from the bracken covered hillside we spotted our first hardy Herdwick sheep of the day, delightfully fuzzy creatures, only found on Lake district fells. And their even fuzzier lambs, like reverse with endearing whitened eyepatches and muzzles!

Watching Toby very closely!
After a delayer/relayer/delayer and a sandwich munch we finally reached the top of the saddle between Stybarrow Dodd and Raise where the sun and blue skies joined us, fantastic! The views across to Glenridding were gorgeous and we still had a fair climb ahead. But having gained a lot of height up the steep bracken hillside I was relieved and surprised to hear we were actually more than halfway, woop!

Me in my "natural habitat" behind a camera according to Chris!
Toby at this point was one very happy dog, he'd already found a paw-spa (a.k.a BOG) and was surrounded by sheep...what's not to like in Tobyland?

I call these Toby's foxy gloves!
Once we'd got to the top of Raise (883m above sea level) we were then treated to yes more incredible sunshine and racing fluffy clouds, feeling very lucky indeed. The peak of Helvellyn was naturally obscured by cloud, well you can't have it all, but Striding Edge was coming into view every so often. Still on our to do list but having the dog, who is notably clumsy, we thought it would be a bit much for his first mountain. That and the fact the chap who owned our cottage was enthusiastically telling us how five people had already fallen to their deaths this year alone...including his next door neighbour who was a well experienced hiker. Scary and very sad. We safely looked on from a distance at how tiny the people braving it looked and wished them well. One day hopefully we'll master that challenge too!

Striding Edge
Not far to go now, cloud and wind awaits! It was already blowing hard up there, my eyes were streaming like mad...

Path into the clouds
I might as well mention at this point just how pleasantly surprised we were with the lack of people we met going up and down Helvellyn. Those that know me will probably say I'm quite a sociable person but when we're out walking I love the feeling of having the place to ourselves. Just passing the odd hiker suits me very well indeed, trundling behind crowds of people all trying to reach the top at the same time does not do it for me in the slightest, and I'm sure I'm not alone. Another top tip, climb mountains on weekdays! Probably went without saying really...yes moving on then.

Although we did happen upon one very friendly chap who proceeded to rant about a £4 car parking charge at where he'd left his car...not just us then! He was suitably appalled at our finding an even more expensive place up the road, SEVEN HUNDRED PENCE!

The last view just before the top before becoming fully shrouded in cloud...

So yey, we did it! Helvellyn, 949 metres asl, good stuff. Felt higher, feel the calf burn, feel it! We tucked in behind a shelter, ate the rest of our lunch and started the descent. Out of the cloud and into the sunshine again, I'd got chilled very quickly and had to dig out more layers despite having only stopped for 10 minutes or so. Luckily we were prepared but then I do get cold easily, blessed with female lack of circulation....

Soon warmed up though once moving again after repeatedly being told off by Chris for taking pictures and freezing my hands in the process...owt for a picture...always worth the pain. I have a terrible memory, hence the need for lots of pictures...and a blog for me to fill in the good times!

Looking down onto Thirlmere
 Toby soon got bored of map-reading, kisses clearly more fun!

And more views, good old splash in a waterfall to cool down.

So we had our route all planned, a nice easy permissive path back to where we were parked up, nice and eas....oh, what's that United Utilities? Timber harvesting you say? Closed permissive path to walkers you say? Ah. Now that's not ideal...Options... walk along the advisably dangerous A591 (no pavements and busy) or add another 6km to our walk when we're already ready for bed? Tried the road, got about 10 steps down it and thought better of it...Extra 6km it is then. Oof!

A nice easy path, or so we thought, following the edge of Thirlmere... Nice for a bit...then becoming increasingly more overgrown with very tall bracken and bramble...not so fun when you're tired and hot at the end of what has been a brilliant but loooong day.

After managing to stick with the path for a fair old way we decided to just head onto the quiet road running parallel to save time as it was starting to get a tad late in't day for such shenanigans. We'd got a little tired of this, especially as Toby had found yet another bog and had no choice but to repeatedly run back and forth in front of us on a very narrow path between bracken meaning progress was not as quick as we liked! Not that our legs could really propel us much faster at this stage...

There is a dog in there somewhere...
Pig and muck springs to mind...
Beautiful views of Thirlmere to keep us going
Eventually we made it back, 12 miles walked and a total of 1177 metres climbed...WHAT a day! Very achey and ready for our tea we sank into comfy oblivion and watched the Bourne Legacy, very good film if you're partial to an action movie!

Suffice to say our next day was a lot more laid back, socialising Toby in the dog-friendliest town of Keswick, market stalls and walking shops...and many many dogs! Great fun and a very happy much needed little holiday :)

Speak soon!

Meg x

Saturday 4 July 2015

Windhover, remembering.

A year today we lost a very dear friend too young. A lively, cheeky and generous soul who'd do anything for you. I'm welling up as I write this, I don't often bother with personal stuff on the net but today is different and occasionally a heartpour is necessary.

For the crazy adrenaline-filled stories. For that random pair of slippers you find stashed away in your cupboard that found a new home here for the many spontaneous cups of tea supped. And countless biscuits munched. For your favourite tipple of choice. For that crazily fast car journey all the way back from Wales just to pick me up as a favour. Always think of you when I'm in a passenger seat and don't know whether to sit back or forward! For your addiction to Disney, yes it was an addiction. Sofas through windows, beds through ceilings. For the time you got soaked in hot motorbike engine oil on the motorway. For that pillion ride and those back-breaking gear changes! For that firework display of ALL firework displays. For your fidgeting. For your love of cigars. For your love of gadgets and shiny kit syndrome. For the way you left your bike lid on your head. For your silly, irritating but loveable habits, you are and will always be sorely missed.

We've made beautiful new friends despite losing precious old ones and we will endeavour to keep those friendships burning in your memory. A few to be supped on your behalf tonight.

For your love of kestrels. Both the pics in this post taken with the first DSLR camera I got round to messing about with, yours.

The Windhover
by Gerald Manley Hopkins

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
      dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
      Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
      As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
      Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing. 
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
      Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

      No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
      Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.


Tuesday 30 June 2015

A bit of a summer catchup...

So I got a shock yesterday when I realised a whole two months have passed since I last blogged, shocking behaviour! But then to tell the truth, it really has not felt in the least like two months have passed, the Summer Solstice has been and gone and the newt survey season was over in the blink of an eye . . . However, the time has not been wasted, plenty of sunshine and a few frolics in the sea, spot of camping, a botany course, bird ringing, a wedding (huge congrats to Mr & Mrs Curran!), dog walks, snippets of photography here and there and a even a couple of commissions thrown in the mix. I suppose that might explain where the time went!

Now where to begin. Well being an ecologist has many many pros at this time of year, generally surveying in good weather and stumbling across unexpected wildlife shenanigans, travelling a bit and getting lots of quality time spent in the car racking up those miles - good old Stella! Makes you think, this time last year I was still racking up the miles but all on two wheels with multiple outfit changes a day (think the most was 8 in one day) whilst bringing home far too much of the wrong sort of nature when the weather was good . . .

Many ex-bugs . . . :/
I still have my beloved Thump, she is just about to get re-insured for another year and I have every intention of making the most of her! An inspirational photo to get me back into the saddle asap . . .

My Suzuki SV650 at Bealach na Ba last year
Reptile surveys, breeding bird surveys, newt and bat surveys (bats and reptiles still ongoing), it's been a great couple of months. A couple of lizards kindly hung about long enough for me to get the camera out and ready, look at these beauties, common, or viviparous, lizards.

We also found a whole hoard of tiny toads, never tire of these critters!

And a frog!
Up bright an early for a breeding bird survey last month, I and a colleague came across a pair of young fox cubs playing with a bit of old meat. We saw them from a fair distance and as we were downwind tried to keep out of sight, while recording birds, until we could get closer. Bold as brass they were until a sudden movement sent them scampering into the hedgerow. Such a memorable moment! On that same survey I almost trod on a very large adult grass snake basking in a field margin, it took a few seconds to fully slither off it was so long, and my first proper sighting of a fully grown snake in the UK. Stunning! Obviously I didn't have my camera on me for either of these spots but then I think there's always the danger that you can spend too long taking the time to get the right shot and not drinking in the moment of the subject in question, so I didn't mind on this occasion!

And while we're on the subject of birds, my ringing sessions are not as frequent as to be expected with the workload at this time of year but getting in the odd bit of bling here and there . . .

A juvenile Rook, rugby tackled . . .albeit very gently . . .
A female Goosander found in a barn owl box
And this beautiful lady Tawny owl, my first :)
Whilst walking the dog last week I came across what I thought at first was an orchid, on closer inspection I realised it wasn't an orchid but I still hadn't a clue what it actually was. Turns out, after asking more knowledgeable folk, it was Thistle Broomrape, a parasitic plant on creeping thistles which doesn't photosynthesise and appears to be almost entirely endemic to Yorkshire. These particular specimens were on a reserve designated purely for it's flora, pretty lucky really. And actually rather rare, a nice find indeed.

 In other news, I can show you my latest commission now it has been received by its new owner. A pair of gorgeous dogs, a Border and a Bearded Collie. Owen the Border unfortunately passed over Rainbow Bridge while I was on with this drawing which is so sad but I hope this piece of work is a special momento and brings a few happy memories every time it's looked at. It's not the first time the subject of a portrait has met his/her time whilst I was in the middle of the drawing process and it can be quite upsetting but having them captured in pencil can hopefully give a lot of pleasure and help fill that void every four-legged companion leaves in our hearts. Rest well Owen pup. 

Owen and Ellie
And then there is of course Toby, our lovable liondog. He's had his first full dunk in a river, his first day at the seaside and a night in a tent whilst camping in the gorgeous Yorkshire Dales. All of these experiences are linked with water . . .something Toby enjoys immensely, despite his not knowing how to swim! You, along with many others, may be surprised to hear that but swimming doesn't come naturally to some dogs. Labradors and other retrieving breeds are like fish in the wet stuff but our Toby, with his masses of fluffiness gets a tad bogged down when he's fully wet..much to our amusement when he got his first dunking, after we realised he could get out of the water and we weren't going to have to rescue him! This pic was taken after his first couple of shakes out the water...a shadow of his former self . . .!

He clearly wasn't put off by his shrinkage as he proceeded to bounce around in a mad 15 minutes fetching sticks and careering about like a lunatic, didn't much help our helpless giggling :D

A couple more pics . . .

First taste of salt-water . . .YICK
Black Beauty theme toon anyone?
Sandy grins
 And when he's not getting clean in the water . . .he's just as happy as a pig in . . .

. . .black peaty puddles!
Much laughs with good friends, four legged or otherwise, happy days :)

Until next time, 

M x