Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Wych Elm

For some time, I've been interested to learn more about our native trees and I've set myself a little challenge to find individual examples and photograph them at different times of the year.

At the beginning of May I observed this tree in the wooded land just over my garden fence. It was still in bud then but has developed nicely during the month (readers should keep in mind that Spring comes later and nature makes a slower start in upland Redesdale). Using Collins Complete Guide to British Trees and Roger Phillips' Trees in Britain as my reference sources, it is clear that this is an Elm tree, I think a Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra).

The tree coming to life in early May

The leaves have a rough upper surface, a smoother under surface and a long tapering point at the tip

The fruits are papery and presently enclose a small green seed about 2mm in diameter

The bark of one of the main branches

If my identification is incorrect, please do let me know.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Green Hairstreaks at Sidwood

I had a wonderful walk at Sidwood today, looking for wild flowers and hoping to photograph an Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines), one of my target butterfly species this spring. I'm increasingly perplexed as to how I am going to achieve this aim because they never seem to settle long enough to have their picture taken and I'm certainly not athletic enough to keep up with them as they flit about one way and another.

The woodland was certainly at its best as here, amongst the beech trees ...

And here, walking back along the road to the car park ...

Just beyond this stand of trees, the verges on either side of the road open up into wide stretches of rough grass dotted with young birch trees. It was here that I first noticed a number of tiny, dark-coloured butterflies and I stopped to take a closer look. They were flying and settling on the birch leaves, making them almost invisible. With a wingspan of only 25-30mm, I felt privileged to observe them let alone take this picture.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi)

If I had gone out intending to look for Green Hairstreaks, and they were a delightful if unexpected surprise today, I might have had better luck with the Orange Tips.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Wall at Rushend (2)

Here are some more of the lichens observed growing on the wall at Rushend in North Tynedale. Identification of some has proven very difficult, not least from photographs which is probably the least reliable method. I have referred to my recently acquired Lichens: An illustrated guide to British and Irish species by Frank Dobson and have also found Alan Silverdale's website very useful.

I begin with my favourite in this batch, Orthioparma subfestiva, looking rather ordinary in this general view of a young example, 7cm in diameter ...

The guide says: "There is only one British species of Orthioparma which means snake-like shield from the serpentine undulations of the margins of the apothecia, which have blood-red to dried blood coloured discs up to 4mm wide. There are two forms, ventosa (yellow-grey thallus containing usnic acid) and subfestiva (grey thallus without usnic acid). It is common in upland areas where both chemical forms may occur together." Here it is in close-up, looking anything but ordinary ...

Others whose identification I am confident about are ...

Rhizocarpan geographicum - a general view

Rhizocarpan geographicum - a close-up view

Rhizocarpon oederi

Ochrolechia parella
And finally ...

Xanthoria parietina with an unidentified Lecanorine-type above right

As ever, if anyone out there has a better idea of their identification, please do let me know.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Wall at Rushend (1)

Many is the time I have driven along the gated lane from Falstone to Lanehead, following the line of the long-since redundant Border Counties Railway. The lane follows a contour along the valley side; the River North Tyne is below you to your right, the overgrown old trackbed alternately to one or the other side as bridges are crossed. In places the lane is separated from the occasional field, but more often from rough upland grassland, by post and wire fences. In other places, old field walls remain, some holding on, the majority decaying, tumbling and in places breached. At Thorneyburn, the level crossing gates are always open now but if your imagination ran away with you, you might still hear a distant train, whistling for them to be closed against you, or see a whiff of smoke rising from the brick chimney of the still-surviving plate-layer's hut.

Between Thorneyburn and Rushend the field wall is home to numerous species of lichen, and it was seeing Cladonias growing there on the moss which caused me to stop and take a closer look.

Looking westwards along the wall towards Thorneyburn station, beside the greening trees

The gaps between the coping stones were like miniature canyons, in places filled with forests of tiny Cladonia (and moss as in this first picture) ...

Using a penny to give scale to the Cladonia

All of them I think are Cladonia diversa

Looking down on a large group of Cladonia

A closer view of a smaller group

Here, the red apothecia have become confluent, covering the whole of the top of the cup

In following parts I will describe other lichens found living on the wall at Rushend.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Ben Lawers NNR

My journey home from my recent Scottish trip took me through Glen Coe and to the Ben Lawers NNR for a lunch break. Some years ago, I read about the alpine flora at Ben Lawers and I was interested to familiarise myself with the area with a view to possibly having a break there in the future.

The visitor centre was closed, which was disappointing, and I travelled on, up the mountain road beyond the centre to a damn where, to avoid the horizontal rain, I had my picnic lunch in the car. Near to where I was parked was this small clump of Purple Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolio) ...

Later I parked near the visitor centre and had a short walk into part of the Reserve where I observed the following two species of lichen on a sapling. The first two pictures are of Physcia aipolia, the first 20mm in diameter, the second 20mm x 40mm. Both are young examples but have typical apothecia with their dark brown to black discs developing.

On the same tree, the following and again young, Toad lichen (Melanohalea exasperata), 20mm in diameter, well named in one sense, because I have been totally exasperated in trying to identify it and in another, because mature examples look like the skin of a toad. After posting my photographs to a Scottish Lichen group, experts have given me advice and positive identifications.

I have read recently that a tree might host as many as twenty different lichens. The picture confirms this to some extent, including the tiny crustose lichen Rinodina sophodes (top, and bottom left immediately under the M. exasperata), Xanthoria polycarpa (centre bottom under the M. exasperata), as well as a few immature lobes of a Physcia species, possibly the Physcia aipolia, as presented above.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Glenelg Lichens

When I visited Glenelg last November I was interested to observe the large number of lichens growing on the stones and amongst the mosses which cover the boundary walls surrounding the ancient brochs. I decided that when I returned, I would like to study these in greater detail.

I have to say that learning even a little about lichens has been an interesting experience. There was such an assortment at Glenelg that I probably missed many more than I photographed. I don't believe that any I've included are particularly rare and my attempts to indentify them were neither sophisticated nor very scientific; I tried my best to navigate a way through a key and compared my photographs with those in books or on the websites of experienced lichenologists. As ever, I am happy to hear from anyone who might identify them differently.

Throughout the region, trees were found covered in these Unsea filipendula, often hanging in lengths of up to five feet as in the right-hand picture:

The following is Peltigera membranacea, olive green above (top) with cream undersides (below) ...

These are two more of the Cladonia family, both no more than 20mm tall, the first Cladonia coniocraea, the second Cladonia squamosa ...

... while the following are two Ochrolechias, the first Ochrolechia parella, the second Ochrolechia tartarea ...

This last lichen has been the hardest to identify. The Scottish Lichen Group have told me that it is Lecidea lapicida ...

Finally, this fern. I should probably have been more rigorous, conducting an intimate examination, and I'm sorry I didn't. From my limited reference sources describing ferns I would say that it looks like a spleenwort, but I can't be sure so hopefully someone will tell me ...

... My thanks to Phil Gates, who has kindly suggested Polypodium, which is common throughout Britain on wall tops, as in this case, trees and rocks. The fronds are 10-40cm long, flat and oblong, with lobes more or less equal in size. Because of the location, this example would, I think, be Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare)

Saturday, 1 May 2010


The native pinewood at Invergarry is part of the larger Glengarry Forest and has been officially designated for protection and restoration. During my recent stay in the village, I enjoyed a short, late-afternoon walk which followed the riverside path through pleasant mixed woodland.

The River Garry, unseen to the right through the trees, is your constant companion when walking this woodland path

The walk begins at the Ciste dubh car park, situated on a narrow shelf of land just above the River Garry at a spot where it tumbles through a gorge en route to its meeting with nearby Loch Oich.

There was little bird life to be seen and I satisfied myself with looking for lichens on the path-side rocks and fallen trees. They included this tiny Cladonia floerkeana, 10-20mm tall ...

... this Cup Lichen (Cladonia chlorophaea)

... and this coral-like Sphaerophorus globosus

I also found this faded Turkey Tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) ...

Finally, I thought these lingering autumn-coloured beech leaves (Fagus sylvatica) deserved a mention ...

I await a new fifth edition of Lichens: An Illustrated Guide to the British and Irish Species by Frank Dobson. In the meantime I used Roger Phillips' Grasses, Ferns, Mosses and Lichens of Great Britain and Ireland for my lichen identifications. If any reader wishes to make a correction, please do so.