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It’s Raining DNA, Hallelujah

Posted on - In Phil Barnett
Common Vetch Rosebay Willow Herb Broad leaved Dock The fact that ‘Wild Flowers’ are so called tells us a lot about the way we view nature.  They are named after the part which appeals to us aesthetically.  I think they should be  renamed  ‘Wild  Seeds.’  I can imagine our early ancestors would have been a lot more  interested in this, possibly edible,  part of the plant. To

Source Phil Barnett

In praise of getting up early

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There are several disadvantages in getting up early – the main one is that you have to get up early. The light is often poor for photography, fewer insects are active, and furthermore you have to listen to Farming Today on the radio – that’s right you have to.

On the other hand, the first light brings some magical  sights - ephemeral things that only you are privy to.

As I walked onto the old golf course, I could see a small  patch of mist suspended over the Ragwort, grass and thistles. Suddenly the sun broke through the sentinel row of fir trees. Rays illuminating the water droplets  gave a fantastic spotlight effect. They were like a natural version of the 'Super Troopers' Abba sang about…that time.

I walked down the bank to get a closer look, like the kind of person who thinks they can get to end of rainbow – or ‘simpleton’ as they’re more commonly known. I walked back and watched as the sun rose, continually  breaking through higher and higher branches – the sun-rayed beams constantly changing.

Soon the show was over and I continued my walk. There were Chiffchaffs seemingly everywhere and as the morning warmed up, more and more broke into song – an autumnal echo of Spring.

Two Teal were at the lake, as were  a party of five grounded Grey Wagtails. A Spotted flycatcher in the garden was a very welcome ‘garden tick’ and a juvenile Blackcap fed on the elderberries.

Spotted Flycatcher in the Garden

Juvenile Blackcap

Common blue butterfly - male

Source Phil Barnett

Rarity Value

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The unprepossessing creature (unkind people might call it 'drab') on the right, is possibly the rarest living organism I’ve ever seen. I caught this tiny moth in the trap and took a couple of photos. However, the ‘micros’ are hard work. Usually the process is as follows: skim quickly through the book and don’t find it look more carefully through the book and don’t find it by the third

Source Phil Barnett

Donald Pleasence and the Roe Deer

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I always look forward to going to The Beacon at  first light. The view is never the same and is quite often wonderful.

If, overnight, a global apocalypse had befallen the world causing a massive rise in sea levels – it might have looked like the  scene that  greeted me.  An ocean of mist  had engulfed  a huge area - all the  way to the horizon.  South Lancashire had been completely flooded.

I watched the developing mistscape, changing minute by minute as the sun rose. The colours were subtly altering – starting off with  rosy hues then becoming sepia.

When the lightshow had played itself out I made my way to the darkly wooded, North West corner of the patch. On my way I passed the flooded former quarry.

This seems to be exactly the kind of  place  Donald Pleasence was  talking  about in The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water,  the famous public information film of the seventies. TV Talking Heads seem to be forever reminiscing about how this film scarred their childhoods (along with the Singing Ringing Tree), making them water-phobic. Well it’s clearly had this effect on me – I find the place borderline terrifying.

As I’d hoped, there was a good show of fungi. Amongst the toadstools I found, was The Deceiver (Laccaria laccata) – so named because  of its variable size, shape and colour -  depending on age, and also on weather.  The widely spaced gills interspersed with smaller gills is a  good identification feature.

As well as the fungi, this dark, damp part of the patch has a good range of mosses and liverworts. These often unregarded plants come in a bewildering variety of similar species, but are nonetheless fascinating.

I was kneeling down, photographing a liverwort, when a loud, nearby sound shot me to my feet. A bark crossed with a shout, with a bit of scream thrown in for good measure.

My brain instantly recognised it a Roe Deer, but even so I couldn't help from reacting with a microsecond of ‘fight or flight’ (I can't see myself fighting a  Roe  Deer in the near to medium term).

It always amazes me  when I see a Roe then compare it to the sound it makes. How can such a cute animal sound like the  Hell Hound from Hades?

Donald Pleasence, The Singing Ringing Tree, Roe Deer, while maybe not a quite Trio of Terror, perhaps an Axis of Anguish.
Rosy Mistscape

Sepia Mistscape

'The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water' - Flooded Quarry

The Deceiver (Laccaria laccata) - 'deceiving' because of its variable appearance

A Moss Miscellany (plus a Liverwort) Top Row: Polytrichum commune, Hypnum cupressiforme. Bottom Row: Marchantia polymorpha, Eurhynchium striatum, Amblystegium serpens (some idenfications tentative)

Source Phil Barnett

Compare and Contrast

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Two members of the polygonacae family. On the left Broad Leaved Dock, its leaves eaten away and reduced to skellingtons (or skeletons if you prefer words written correctly).

On the right Japanese Knotweed, growing in its pristine pomp. It's unmblemished as the Centre Court at Wimbledon before they allow so called ‘tennis players’ to trample all over it.

The difference is, of course, one is a native plant the other is an alien. All native plants have their own ‘pests and diseases’. These are organisms that have evolved alongside the plant, quite often specialising in just the one foodplant. Usually there is a balance, the plants aren’t wiped out but are kept in check by their pests.

Japanese Knotweed has its fair share of diseases in its place of origin. As an alien, on the other hand, it has no such enemies, so it grows rampantly -  an unstoppable army - the Mongol Hordes of the plant world.

This, in turn, gives the incomers a massive advantage over their homegrown rivals. The natives get out-competed.

I was struck by this contrast while on my patch walk. There were stands of the Knotweed, as well Himalayan Balsam, to which the same thing applies. Then there were sorry looking, moth eaten – literally in some cases – leaves of the natives. It’s enough to give Nigel Farage and his ilk palpitations.

These two species were intentionally  introduced in Britain around the middle of 19th century -  because of their "herculean proportions" and "splendid invasiveness". With the benefit of hindsight this is looking like a Big Botanical Blunder.

"I got my pest-and-disease eye in", isn’t a phrase I expect to ever need again. However, on my walk, I got my pest-and-disease eye in. I started to see all manner of leaf-mines, rusts, blights, leaf curls and little green men (just checking you’re stlll reading).
Lavae of the Green Dock Beetle on Broad Leaved Dock
Mines of a fly - The Holly Leaf Miner (Phytomyza ilicis). Some Moth, Beetle and Fly species have lavae which are leaf miners. They  are protected from predators and plant defenses by feeding within the tissues of the leaves themselves.
Coltsfoot Rust Gall (Puccinia poarum) Top side and under side of Coltsfoot. It is  a 'Heteroecious' fungal parasite meaning it has two distinct hosts for different parts of its life cycle - the other host being grasses.

Adult Green Dock Beetle

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Let OsPrey

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Adult Osprey - it's a 'record shot' so it doesn't matter that it's really, really bad...apparently A Bonelli's warbler at nearby Billinge Hill had encouraged me to get out early and look for some migrants. I wasn't dissapointed.  While looking down towards Rough Park Wood, scanning the bushes a huge raptor appeared. An Osprey! I watched it for about an hour - just enjoying the whole

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Schrödinger’s Pipit

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The patch is very colourful at the moment, with swathes
of Rosebay 
Willow Herb and Ragwort....
.... an echo of the springtime
 Yellow and Purple colour-sheme, here, of Creeping 
Buttercups and Northern Marsh Orchids 
A Tree Pipit, flying over this morning, got me musing on quantum physics.

As poor old Schrödinger’s cat found out…quantum mechanics tells us that Measurement determines reality.

Until last year the highest number migrant Tree Pipit, at sites in Lancashire, was in the tens. Peter Alker, who rings birds at the nearby Billing Hill made a special effort to record and ring Tree Pipits – playing back calls to entice birds down. He noted 133 and 'blew the previous record out of the water'  There are far more Tree Pipits flying over than get recorded.

I've, personally, seen the same thing. During my Cheshire Garden days I regularly sat out in the garden to document the overhead  migration of Meadow Pipits. As my 'season' started in mid September I saw very few Tree Pipits.  Then one year I started in August, specifically to see if there were any 'Tripits' - there were...I started to record Tree Pipits.

There is a vast world of nature ‘out there.’  Then there is the relatively limited part of nature that we humans record.  When we look for something we find it, when we don’t it remains hidden.

I saw another example of this yesterday on the patch with the vast number of money spider webs that were revealed by dew. I started looking for them – I found them. I also saw it with the number of breeding Goldcrests – I made a special effort to look for them and found a lot more that I’d expected.

Ok, this is a bit of stretch. There is, in fact, only a fanciful parallel here with the quantum world  – I am verging on a willful misunderstanding of the physics. It's the kind of thing I would decry if a journalist did it to give him 'an angle’.

However, it’s easy to think of examples of act of observing something actually changing the reality of that thing (as opposed to, simply what we know about that thing).

As a  young boy I remember  my excitement at having a Robin nesting in a box my dad had made. I couldn’t resist regular peeks to see the progress of the nest. Unfortunately this made the Robins desert the nest. My observations changed the real world.

‘Mindfulness’ is all the rage at the moment  - and who am I to stay off that bandwagon. I try to adopt mindfulness - to be ‘in the now’ - when on my patch walks..  However these musings keep on coming at me like a shark with knees (apologies to the Mighty Boosh).

Source Phil Barnett

Pearly Dewdrops Drops

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Money spider money shot. 'Money spider' is a generic term for around 250 species in Britain this one  This one is probably made by  Lepthyphantes tenuis.

Since starting this blog, my patchwork perambulations have been even more enjoyable.

Take this morning, for example. The birding was disappointing - with none of the  hoped for passage migrants. However, now because I'm looking at everything on the patch - not just the birds, there's always something wonderful to see. I'm viewing the place more as a whole -  a community of wildlife.

This morning  was about spiders webs. The effect of the morning light on water droplets lined along the strands of silk was stunning. Phew, I managed to avoid the overused 'strands of pearls' cliché.

Equally fascinating is the way that - under certain conditions - things are revealed that would otherwise go unnoticed. The abundance of 'money spider' webs being a case in point. In a patch of the patch, about a meter square, I counted seventy three of these silken hammocks.

Never one to pass up an opportunity to extrapolate* - I calculate that the patch total of such webs is a Big Lot (my workings for this calculation are available on request).
Web of Linyphia triangularis (probably)  The prey are snared by "barrage lines" above the web, and fall onto the horizontal sheet

Photo Showing the amazing abundance of 'Money Spider 'webs

Some more from a few days ago

* 'Appetite for Extrapolation' by Guns and Roses is seldom off my phonogram

**Pearly Dewdrops Drops is a track a The Coctau Twins

Source Phil Barnett

Careful what you wish for

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'Montage of Heck'... a lot of  Large  Yellow Underwings
This is almost  certainly a  case of 'careful what you wish for'. The other  day, on a Lancashire  Moth forum  I was bemoaning my small catches. Although, still on the paltry side compared to those who operate 'weapons grade' traps, 102 moths last night is my largest catch. Inevitably, most (75 in fact) were the dreaded Yellow  Underwings.

'Dreaded' - because there are so many of them and they are what we scientists term 'big and ugly'.  They also have the habit of escaping into the house requiring a SWAT team to bust in and catch them (on the command of "go! go! go!")(obviously). 

Some moths from last night's haul which have the virtue of not being Yellow Underwings - Canary shouldered Thorn, Swallow Prominent, Dingy Footman, Sallow

Not just the bog standard LYU (as they're dismissively referred to) - if you want  a  small one there's the Lesser YU, if you want  a  even smaller one there's the Least YU. If you want  a smaller one with a broad border there's the Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing - which always strikes me as a comically tortuous name. 

How nice of nature to provide a Yellow Underwing to suit all tastes - there's one for everybody.

I've heard of cases of traps with several hundred of these boys. That must be a noctuid-based mothmare. There seems to be a critical mass. Given large enough numbers there will always be individuals that won't settle in the trap thus setting them all off into a swirling, flapping frenzy.

Twenty-plume Moth - an amazing moth - the wings are made up of feather-like structures

Small Pheonix

Source Phil Barnett

Invis Mig

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It seemed like a good morning to kick off the the Autumn vis mig season. Vis migging is the, fairly niche, birding pursuit whereby an observer stands (sitting is also permissible) at a 'migration watch point' and records the number of birds flying over.

So I went to the Beacon and without a fanfare or brief, but rousing, speech, I declared the vig mig season officially open.

My notebook, however, remained unsullied by any records.  My  stubby pencil remained resolutely in my fleece pocket. There was nothing to  trouble the scorers.

Both the numbers and range of  species,  that I didn't  see  were  impressive. Pride of place however goes to the huge numbers of Swallows and Martins that I didn't observe winging their way to southern climes. Such an awe inspiring sight to avoid  seeing.

I did  however  see  one  Lesser  Black Backed Gull flying south as well as a that's it.

As  soon  as  it  became obvious that I had backed the wrong horse viz-a-viz niche birding pursuits I went  for  my usual patch walk. This was also disappointingly  bird-free.

There  is always something interesting going on however. There  has been a recent  emergence of  Grass Veneers. At nearly every step I took through the undergrowth one or two of these small, light coloured moths would take flight.

There are several species of  'Grass Moth', Garden Grass Veneer, Agriphilla straminella and Agriphila tristella being the commonest. By day they camouflage themselves by sitting along grass stems, but can be very readily seen when they take are disturbed and take flight.

Last year on a similarly birdless August day I gave vent to my inner Anal Retentive (would you like to rephrase that - ed). I estimated the total number of Grass moths, on the patch, on that day.

By  extrapolation - given the number I saw in sample meters of grassland - I arrived a figure with order of magnitude -  half a million.

So in football result announcer style -  Birds 2: Moths 500,000 (away win).

Looking East from the Beacon - one of several directions in which a large number of birds weren't seen migrating

Garden Grass Veneer - Chrysoteuchia culmella

As Well as the Grass Moths there's been an emergence of the Common Green Capsid bug (Lygocoris pabulinus), almost every Fleabane flower had at least one.

Six-Spot Burnet Moth - the commonest of Britain's day flying moths