Tuesday, 28 July 2009

An Unexpected Meeting

After my visit to Falstone Moss, I travelled home by Sidwood and Black Middens. I had seen a male Emerald Damselfly at Sidwood on an earlier visit and hoped to find it again and take a better picture. There was no sign of the male but a female put in an appearance and made a very fine study on the grass she settled on ...

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes Sponsa)

Black Middens, as you will know if you have been following my recent pieces, is just across the Tarset Burn from Sidwood. I travelled up the valley towards Comb, at the end of the metalled lane where the forestry tracks begin. Someone had told me I might expect to find dragonflies in one of the lane-side fields. As I approached the field, my attention was distracted by animal activity at the side of the lane ahead of me. And then, after a moment and walking down the lane towards me, was a young badger. It was about five in the afternoon.

I stopped, hardly able to believe what I was seeing. Perhaps I should have just taken its picture through the car windscreen and hoped for the best. I reached for my camera, however, and gently opened the car door. By this time the badger was sitting at the side of the lane, its head raised as if sniffing me out. On putting a first foot outside of the car, it disappeared into the undergrowth and down the bank towards the burn.

There were no dragonflies in the field but the sighting of the badger more than made up for their absence. Later, I stopped to photograph a Small Tortoiseshell, basking in the sun ...

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

And this Pied Wagtail, standing on a fence post, finished off a good afternoon.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba)

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Falstone Moss

Falstone Moss is 825 feet above sea level and receives about forty inches of rain annually. The peat in its centre is about twenty feet deep and began to form about 8,000 years ago.

The Moss is rain-fed and sits in a shallow depression surrounded by forest that has been planted on drier ground. It is one of nearly sixty Border Mires in Kielder Forest. Because of their cool, wet climate, the British Isles contain much of the world's blanket bogs and, as a result, the Border Mires are of international importance. The Moss includes plants that can tolerate the combined stresses of a cool climate, a high water table, high acidity and low fertility.

The small lake at the centre of the Moss

The Moss is reached by following a wet and overgrown up-hill moorland path and a lengthy board walk which ends at, and surrounds, the lake shown above. I hoped that my visit would provide views of dragon and damselflies.

There were a number of common blue damselflies about; unfortunately none were near enough to photograph. I had a fleeting glimpse of one unidentified darter dragonfly, a pale brown species, but happily, Common Hawkers were about in good numbers; I counted ten together at one point, flying over the water or the Moss, either individually or paired in tandem mating.

I had not watched dragonflies in this setting or in these numbers before and it was an experience I very much enjoyed. I sat on the board walk for a good hour taking-in all of the views. At one point, a pair of meadow pipits flew in, settling amongst the rushes on the lake-side. Although it seemed unlikely, I wondered if they might regard the dragon or damselflies as a handy food source. However, their interest in the place was only as somewhere to bathe and they each spent a minute or two, splashing about in the shallows at the lake edge before flying off across the Moss.

I was particularly interested in the noise made when the dragonflies flew near to the vegetation on the banks of the lake and surprised they did not seem to damage their wings when doing so; I can only liken it to the annoying sound of someone rustling a crisp packet in a cinema. A pair of Common Hawkers did settle in the undergrowth near to me at one point, mating in a wheel.

Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea)

On my way off the Moss I stopped to photograph some of the flowers including cotton grass, cross-leaved heath and the heather which was starting to flower. I was also interested to see Bilberries in fruit.

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)

I returned home via Sidwood and Black Middens of which more next time.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Tachina grossa

The Tachinidae are parasitic flies, the female laying her eggs on other living insect larva. The fly larvae then develops inside the living host, devouring it and eventually killing it. Its main hosts are the large hairy Lepidopteran caterpillars, particularly the Oak eggar moth (Lasiocampa quercus).

Tachina grossa below, now identified from my previous piece, resembles a bumble bee in flight. At 15 - 19mm it is one of the largest species of fly throughout much of its range and is the largest Tachinid in Europe. It is very distinctive, being hairy and having a black thorax and abdomen and a bright yellow head. It is found in woods and on heathland.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

More of Sidwood

Here are some more of the pictures from my walk at Sidwood. The first is a female of one of the common bumble bees (Bombus lucorum).

Bumble Bee (Bombus lucorum)

Of the following two, one I think is a bee and the other a hover fly. Both are yet to be identified, so if there is a reader able to help I would be pleased to hear from you.

The insects here, and the butterflies pictured in my previous piece, seemed to be making the most of the flowers and the warm, sunny afternoon. The Ragwort was especially popular ...

Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)

But the other plants, amongst them this Common Knapweed, also had many visitors.

Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009


Sidwood is a large area of open-access woodland managed by the Forestry Commission and is part of the larger Kielder Forest. It is on the western side of the Tarset Burn, just over the water from the bastle at Black Middens, and can be reached by a walk through fields and a footbridge crossing the burn. Alternatively, a narrow lane from Redheugh, north of Greenhaugh, leads you directly to a small car park at Sidwood itself from where the whole area can be explored.

One of the attractions at Sidwood is a fine piece of mixed woodland running along-side the Tarset Burn which includes some ancient trees and ornamental species that remain from the old Sidwood estate.

The path through the burn-side woodland at Sidwood

Immediately beside the car park there was grassy a path leading away to what must have once been the ornamental pond on the old Sidwood estate. Here I watched Southern Hawker dragonflies beside a small stream and pictured one of them when it rested on a stinging nettle.

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea)

The woodland walk was delightful, particularly the burn-side stretches, but it was finding large numbers of ringlets and meadow browns amongst the flowers on the verges of the lane leading back to the car park, that really made the day. After all the wet weather during the last week, they were taking full advantage of the bright, warm sunshine.

Ringlet (Aphantopus hypercantus)

Ringlet (Aphantopus hypercantus)

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Curlew

There can be few sounds more evocative of an upland spring than the haunting, falling call of the curlew. For many, it is the first sign of the season's arrival; a hopeful moving-on from winter.

Here in Redesdale, curlews are all around during their breeding season and at all times of day. Often, on a still night, I have the midnight chime at St. John's in the village on one side and a curlew calling from the moors on the other.

The Tynedale poet Wilfrid Wilson Gibson was moved sufficiently by the curlew's call to write:

That note - that note!
Comes there so clear a call from any throat,
So clear a call to me
Back to the hills, the hills of memory?

The curlew's call
Is April sunshine on cold fells, and all
Rapture of youth to me,
Calling me to the hills, the hills of memory.

Curlew (Numenius arquata)

W. W. Gibson's poem Curlew is included in a collection of his work entitled Homecoming, published by the Wagtail Press in 2003 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of his birth in Hexham. It is included here with the publisher's permission.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Garden Butterflies

I have not seen many butterflies in my Redesdale garden this year. Not yet, at least. I expect that when the buddleia bushes flower there will be more. The garden list includes both Large and Small Whites, Orange Tip, Peacock, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral. All of the pictures here were taken in 2008.

Large White (Pieris brassicae)

Comma (Polygonia c-album)

Peacock (Inachis io)

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Orb-web Spiders

I gathered some roses from a bush in my garden yesterday to put in a vase indoors. Afterwards I noticed something creeping about on the roses and went to investigate. It was this tiny spider which must have been transported into the house with the roses. It is an orb-web spider (Araniella cucurbitina). This is one of the smallest orb-web spiders, often spinning its web across a single leaf. It is only ten millimetres in length including its legs and has a bright red spot under the tip its abdomen. It is abundant in a wide range of trees and bushes.

Although the family name Araneidae is now preferred, these spiders are called Argiopidae in much of the older literature. Orb-web spiders spin more or less circular webs. The orb is built in a framework whose shape depends on the available supports. Most of the webs are slung in bushes, but walls and fences are equally acceptable. A description of the web-making process can be found here. Further information in the Araneidae can be found here.

Araniella cucurbitina

Monday, 13 July 2009

Soldier Beetles

So called because of their bright colours, which are reminiscent of military uniforms, soldier beetles are predatory, often hunting on the flowers found in grassland, hedgerows and woodland margins. Their wings are covered by a soft elytra, with a straight join down the middle of their back and they fly well in sunshine. These Rhagonycha fulva were seen at Allen Banks and appear to be mating. They are a very common species and, although they are harmless, are often called the bloodsucker because of their colour. Their bodies are little more than ten millimetres long. I am grateful to Joe Botting of British Bugs for his help with identification (even though they are beetles and not bugs).

Rhagonycha fulva

Friday, 10 July 2009


Golden-rod (Solidago virgaurea) is a perennial herb up to 85cm tall with erect, simple or branched stems. This plant was pictured in open woodland at Allen Banks and I am grateful to both Phil Gates and Roy Norris for their guidance in identifying it.

Historically, the plant has been used in folk medicine; the flowering heads are collected before they are fully developed and dried in shade. The drug contained has been used in numerous brands of proprietary medicine prescribed for kidney and bladder disorders, arthritis and rheumatism. In homoeopathy an essence, based on fresh material, is given for the same ailments. A weak infusion can be taken as a diuretic or used externally as a stronger infusion to bathe slow-healing cuts, burns and eczema. There are no known harmful side effects.

Golden-rod (Solidago virgaurea)

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Allen Banks

The historic woodland at Allen Banks was given to the National Trust in 1942 by the Bowes-Lyon family and has a long and varied history. The 'Wilderness Walks' were created between 1830 and 1860 to provide a wild contrast to the formal parkland and gardens surrounding Ridley Hall; they include bridges across the River Allen, flights of stone stairs from the river bank to the higher parts of the woods, an artificial pond, seats and several scenic viewpoints along the valley. Today, the woodland remains a peaceful place to walk and observe the natural world.

The River Allen near Raven Crag

My interest focused again on some the plant life:

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Enchanter's Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana)

Beech nuts (Fagus sylvatica)

Despite my best endeavours, I am unable to positively identify the following but I think this plant is Common St. John's Wort (Hypercium perforatum) ...

And this is the seed head of a Rough Hawkbit (Leontondon hispidus) ...

Further information about Allen Banks can be found here

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


I am grateful to Phil Gates, who in his own delightful blog entitled Cabinet of Curiosities, cross-references his excellent picture of the seed capsule of a Common Mouse-ear with this picture of the plant in flower from my previous piece. Thanks to Phil also for helping identify the plant.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Cottonshope Burn

The sykes and springs which feed the Cottonshope Burn are on the high ground near to the Roman road known as Dere Street and not far from the Roman fort at Chew Green, itself just on the English side of the border with Scotland and very near to the source of the River Coquet. A narrow road, starting at Cottonshopeburnfoot and climbing steadily, leads the traveller north, through part of the Forestry Commission's Byrness plantation and into a wide-valley wilderness grazed by Cheviot and Black-faced sheep.

I recently bought a revised edition of Francis Rose's The Wild Flower Key, and have been trying to master the mysteries of wild flower identification. I took some pictures in the valley of flowers I've not previously photographed: Self-heal I already knew and I used the keys in the book to identify two others. If I am wrong, please do let me know. All of the flower pictures were taken using my Nikkor 18-55mm lens and a 6 dioptre close-up lens.

Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris)

Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica)

Common Mouse-ear (Cerastium fontanum)

I found a male Ringlet amongst the long grass on the plantation edge ...

Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)

... And this Foxlove.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Addendum, 6 July, 2009: Thanks to Phil Gates, a botanist at Durham University, who redirected my initial identification of a supposed Lesser Stitchwort to that of a Common Mose-ear (see above).

Friday, 3 July 2009

The Chimney Sweeper Moth

In my 1933 edition of Moths of the British Isles, the author Richard South says that the Chimney Sweeper moth is "very constant except that some specimens, after being on the wing for a day or two, become sooty brown. It is the fringe at the tip of the forewings rather than the tip itself that is white, and this sometimes extends for a short distance along the fringe of the outer margin. The moth is also known as The Looping Chimney Sweeper, in reference to its caterpillar, or The Chimney Sweeper's Boy. The caterpillar feeds in spring on flowers of the earth-nut (Conopodium denudatum). The moth is a sun lover and flits about flowers growing among or near its food plant in June and July. The species is widely distributed and frequents moist fields, borders of woods and even waysides".

The picture was taken during a third visit to the hay meadows at Barrowburn, Upper Coquetdale. It was a breezy day again with lots of movement in the grasses and flowers.

Chimney Sweeper Moth (Odezia atrata)