Sunday, December 26, 2010

Icily does it.

Managed to get out a couple of times recently, despite my wussiness about the ice. On Tuesday, I went out to Bradfield on the bus, intending to walk home along Damflask Reservoir and the River Loxley, but the lure of Agden was too great, so I walked around the reservoir and was fulsomely rewarded with some fine landscape views as well as the reliably good wildlife. I managed to flush out what might have been a woodcock (or was it a snipe?), but it was way too fast for me. At the feeders, the usual array of blue tits, coal tits, great tits and eventually some brilliant long-tailed tids (my favourites - sooo cute!), blackbirds, robins, a single nuthatch  and the bank voles were obligingly coming out to feed on the bird seed, and towards the end of the walk, a brown hare was highlighted against the snow as the light began to fade. Getting a blackbird, a bank vole and a coal tit in one shot was a bit of a highlight for me, although I have to say, I'm proudest of the long-tailed tit pictures.
Yesterday, Christmas Day, with fond memories of last year and a dipper that made my day, I set off via an atmospherically frosty Walkley Cemetery, down to Rivelin Valley. With all the ice along the river, it really was most magical. I had not got too far along before I arrived at a spot where there were lots of birds flitting around so I set up base camp, took a few photos and has my hot drink and mince pie. I saw wrens, treecreepers, jays, goldcrests, and - wait for it - long tailed tits. Although I got photos of the jay and goldcrest, they were not brilliant, but the treecreeper and the wren were a bit better. As well as the birds, I also spotted, and had a pleasant chat with the family from across the road, who were also enjoying a Christmas Day stroll. Also, and with a degree of inevitability, I final ran into Roger Butterfield, a fellow Tweep, and Flickrer, and a wonderful photographer, with whom I've had quite a lot of communication, but never met in person, despite the fact he lives only a few hundred yards from me. (see links).
I also took quite a lot of shots of the icy river, and did a bit of experimenting with the guide setting, a new feature on my new camera body. which looks like a good learning tool, as well as a handy shortcut to advanced settings.
When I got home, I realised that I had got 2 key settings wrong, so the fact that I got some reasonable shots was really a bonus. No dippers this year, but I'm sure it won't be long before I see some again. I've booked myself on a couple of day courses to make me try harder to get the best out of my camera, rather than just stick in Auto, so that's all part of the plan for next year.
Happy New Year to everyone! I'm looking forward to even more wildlife watching in 2011.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Splashing and splurging

Since the last lot of snow, pretty much all of my organised activities have been cancelled. I've done a few more local walks - Rivelin and Loxley Valleys in even deeper snow. It was nice to get into Loxley Valley again as it's been a while. As I was walking from home, I didn't get very far, but that didn't matter as there was plenty to see. The first highlight was a flock of long-tailed tits, and a wren by the first dam. I decided to head for an area where on my last visit I had seen kingfishers and grey wagtails. No such luck on these, but possibly even better, as I was entertained for about half an hour by a lovely dipper going about it's daily business.

As I climbed up the steep bank above the river, I got some good views of 3 jays amongst the trees, and a couple of treecreepers.
After a few days at home, the snow began to clear and I ventured out to Manchester for a wander round the Christmas Market, which I think is one of the best. and then along the Sheffield Canal to Blackburn Meadows SWT Reserve. There is always plenty to see along this stretch, and as well as the ubiquitous long-tailed tits, I was rewarded with sightings of kestrel, goosander, song thrush, goldfinch and a squirrel doing a circus act using one of the pipes across the canal as a bridge.
I'd been toying with the idea of getting a new camera body and when I noticed that mine was in need of cleaning, I went up to the camera shop to explore my options. To cut a long story short, it cost me a lot less than I was expecting to upgrade and I now have a higher spec camera which is actually simpler to use. One feature is that it is supposed to perform better in low light, so the following day I paid a long overdue visit to Old Moor to really put it to the test. It was a grim day: one of those where it never seems to get light, but in spite of this I saw a good number of birds, and the camera stood up well to this test. No masterpieces, but some good record shots in very poor light, so I'm looking forward to seeing what it can do in better light. Here's a shot I got of a brambling - a first sighting and a first photo with the new camera.

I had hoped to go waxwing chasing again today. Lots of reports still in the area, but I wussed out as it was icy on the pavements after another snowfall yesterday. At least I can stay in the warm watch birds at the garden feeders and draw them, even if I don't get out to see them. I've added a few more drawings to the drawings page. I'm hoping for more snow - the forecast is for sub-zero temperatures - at least I can do local walks in the snow, whereas the icy pavements make getting out and about no fun at all.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

From Waxcaps to Waxwings to Whiteout!

Wow, November went out with a bang - and December came sweeping in in a big white coat. Edinburgh seems long ago and far away. My outing with the local RSPB group to Frampton Marsh went pretty well. I met an old colleague on the coach, so the journey went quickly. The reserve itself is quite new so it still feels a bit "under development", but there was plenty to see. It was quite busy as they had double booked, so as well as casual visitors there were 2 coach parties. At times, the hides were a bit congested. The real highlight for me was watching a barn owl hunting over the marsh shortly before we left. I got a few hasty shots, which turned out better than I expected - they might be used in the trip report, but it hasn't been posted yet. Weather permitting, I'll be going on the next trip to Tophill Low. I've also been on a couple of waxwing forays. Having the intel from Sheffield Bird Study Group really helped me to track them down, and I managed a number of sightings and quite a lot of photographs of varying quality. I like this one best, as it is against a green background, not the usual backlit sky, and I've managed to get the wing colours showing, which isn't the case on many other photos I've seen.
Since the snow started, I've been on a couple of local walks in Rivelin Valley. I'm glad to have this so close by - it means I can get out and get fresh air and take pictures without having to dig out the car, or even worry about whether the buses are running. On Sunday the light was stunning. I had a couple of unexpected encounters - one with a couple of geo-cachers wanting to look under my sitting rock for their cache - I helped them hunt for a while but by the time I moved on, they still hadn't found it - and a nearly too close encounter with a guy who had taken the steep road that skirts the top of the wood I was walking along, and failed to stop at the bottom in the icy conditions. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt, but he'd made a bit of a mess if the car which had ploughed into the undergrowth before finally coming to a halt. On Tuesday I did the same walk after a little more snow. It was less eventful, and the light was not as good, but I did see a jay, lots of long-tailed tits and a grey wagtail.
Pretty much everything I had in my diary for this week has been cancelled - a visit to a friend, a couple of bird-related events, my art class, my Mac workshop... I'm still not used to the fact that I don't actually have to do anything. I've been feeding the birds in the garden, of course, and spending a lot of time watching for new ones. Nothing new so far unfortunately, but plenty of the usual suspects: magpie, robin, blackbirds, dunnock, chaffinch, coal tit, great tit, blue tit, long tailed tit, wood pigeon, collared dove, feral pigeon, starling - oh and I did see a kestrel overhead yesterday, which is a first from the window.
As there is some sunshine forecast for tomorrow, I might get my boots and my Yaktrax on and get out to another stroll.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No sun, no moon...

Actually, November is no worse that many other months, but it has a bad press and the gloomy old sod Thomas Hood over-egged it a bit in his poem "No" , although I rather like it. Days like today are Mother Nature's way of saying "you stay in with a nice cup of tea, and I'll take care of things out here".
Catching up with records and general fettling and blogging; these are just a few of the things today was designed for.
I devoted the first week of November to getting myself a scope. The taxman kindly returned some of my money, so I thought it was a sign. I went to Old Moor on the Tuesday to have a look at their wares, but finally plumped for some kit from Denby Dale, which involved a pleasant train journey. I can't believe the luck I have when I go to Old Moor - I always seem to get good weather, even though I don't plan with the weather in mind. The highlight of this particular trip was a snipe at Wath Ings, which very obligingly stood quietly in the water remarkably close to the hide, allowing me to get some nice shots. Goosander, shoveller and long-tailed tits were other highlights of this visit.
There were one or two fungi around and one in particular which I resolved to ID turned out to be a Tricholoma cingulatum (Girdled knight), which is little recorded in this area.
Hopefully the scope, and spending more time with experienced birders will help me get better at seeing  ID-ing birds. It seems really hard. I don't remember finding basic fungi identification being such a struggle, but it won't put me off, as a few kind followers on twitter seemed concerned about. It's in the same league as drawing and painting, which I'm determined to persevere with. More of this on my other (non-wildlife) blog - the multifunctional and eclectic Out of Office.
An enjoyable foray, with a select group, was the Saturday was visit with the Sorby Group to Strawberry Lea Pasture. near Fox House. As hoped, this threw up some nice grassland fungi, including Earth Tongues. There were quite a few birders around as well, apparently in search of a great grey shrike which had been sighted nearby. Perhaps I should devote some time to lurking around that area, as there seems to have been a few good bird sightings around there recently.
The following week I realised that the Fungi exhibition at Edinburgh Botanical Gardens only had a short time left to run, so I hastily booked a few days there. Before that was a few hours hunting for waxwings at a couple of the reported sights. I was lucky enough to catch a brief sight of half a dozen or so, but the presence of a sparrowhawk was clearly making them jittery and I was unable to get a photo. It seems there are still quite a few around the area, so perhaps I'll get another chance soon. On Wednesday evening, I went to a Sheffield Bird Study Group talk about Bearded Tits. Last month's talk by Paul Hobson was a hard act to follow, but this one was also interesting, and I learned quite a lot.
So, Edinburgh. Any excuse to visit. Like Sheffield, as well as being hilly, it has some of the best green spaces for a big city and I always take my walking boots. The exhibition itself didn't disappoint, and we also fitted in art (Surrealist exhibition at the Dean Gallery) and shopping. The Botanical Gardens were wonderful, as at any time of year, and no visit would be complete without a walk along the Water of Leith, where we saw a dipper and a fine heron. No time sadly for Arthur's Seat, the Pentland Hills, Musselburgh or the glorious walk along the River Almond, this time, but I'm sure we'll be back before too long.
I took my scope up to Redmires on Monday this week to have a little practice, but drew a blank on birds. I did see, remarkably, a peacock butterfly, despite it being a frosty day, and less remarkably, some blewitts, which someone had picked then discarded, I can only imagine, in a fit of uncertainty about their identity. At least I knew confidently about these.
Yesterday, despite forecasts of thick fog, I took my chances and went to Old Moor again - to have a little practice with my hide clamp. Amazingly, yet again I was lucky enough to get a glorious day. I've taken a few liberties with this shot by iPhoto-ing the telegraph wires out. Yet again, I didn't get many bird sightings. My top one for the day was goldcrests, but they are hard to photograph as they never seem to keep still. No matter. It was another lovely day.
Off to Frampton Marshes with the local RSPB group this Sunday, so fingers crossed for the weather.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Oh dear. November. What happened to my plans for a daily blog .... a weekly blog.... ? It's such a busy life being retired. People always say this, and it's hard to believe till it happens to you. Actually, I think these first few months are more about making the adjustment. I'm going to stick to wildlife and related matters it this blog, as I suspect that's what anyone who can be bothered to read it is interested in.
So October then. Started outdoor activities with a walk around Agden area on a lovely sunny day, Where I saw a few raptors. Some I recognised as buzzards, but still not good enough to be sure what the others were, only that they were something different. Had a pleasant half hour at the feeders being entertained by a nuthatch, and took home a couple of nice orange birch boletes for the pot. The following day, I ventured out to have a look at the new Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust reserve at Centenary Riverside. It has a lot of potential, but still looks a bit raw. It'll be interesting to go back and follow its progress. As it happened, it hit the news a few days later when someone nicked part of the henge art work, presumably for scrap metal. This is why Rotherham gets a bad name. Such a shame. From there, I found a route back through to Blackburn Meadows reserve - which is now well established and shows how successful these sites can become. The highlight of the return walk to Meadowhall along the canal was a pair of kingfisher chasing along the river section.

My next outing was a trip to a part of the Wharncliffe area I had not previously explored. It began in a meadow area near the reservoir where there were lots of waxcaps, especially blackening ones. There were still a few butterflies around - mainly small tortoiseshell, but I suspect we are getting close to the end of their season now. I dropped down through a lovely wooded area, across another meadow after watching more buzzards from a splendid vantage point, then circled back though the woods and along the edge of Wharncliffe Chase. I spent a little while sitting at the top of the Chase, as I thought it might be a good site for birdwatching. I saw nothing, but discovered when I got home from the Sheffield Bird Study Group website that someone else had seen masses of stuff up there. I can only console myself with the fact that they probably didn't see all the cracking fungi I saw. That same evening I went to my first Local RSPB group indoor meeting. The talk was fine, but not about local birds, so less interesting, I thought. Also, I didn't find people particularly friendly, but I've booked on a field trip to RSPB Frampton Marshes, so that might be a better time to see whether it's my scene.

Hygrocybe intermedia

The weekend brought 2 Sorby forays. On Saturday, rather an exclusive event (3 of us) went out to Lathkilldale to look at waxcaps. The weather was not brilliant, but it held sufficiently well was us to manage an excellent tally of species, some quite rare ones amongst them. Sunday was a very different affair: a very well attended foray led by Steve and Ziggy in the General Cemetery. Lots to see, but it's often slow going, and difficult to take good photos with so many people to accommodate. The people at the cemetery (the live ones) were great. Very welcoming and enthusiastic and provided tea and biscuits at the end, and I enjoyed seeing the cemetery itself - can't believe it's the first time I've been in there after all the years I've lived in Sheffield. Obviously a real haven for wildlife, but then Sheffield is astonishingly full of those.
The following week, I had a brief excursion to Rocher Head. I'd been feeling a bit rough, so kept it gentle. Vast numbers of parrot waxcaps in the fields up there. Goldfinches and a hare were the other highlights of this short excursion.
On the following day, I went to Old Moor. The highlights here were a small copper butterfly, a reed bunting, a goosander and a great photo opp with a wren from the reedbed screen. There were still plenty of common darters around.
Wednesday's highlight was the SBSG indoor meeting with a talk by Paul Hobson. Fabulous! I have put in a request for a one-to-one masterclass  with him for my next big birthday. Picked up some useful tips, and what is often nice, some affirmations that in some respects I am on the right lines.
On Thursday, I braved Rotherham again with a friendly native. We followed the "Fuelling a Revolution" flagship trail around Canklow Woods, and very nice it was too, especially for a wide range of trees and fungi types. Well worth a visit.
Jostling for position. High Tide at Iken Fen
The following week, we went down to Suffolk. Unfortunately, I was still feeling under the weather, and not at my best, but it was still a wonderful week, with visits to Westleton Heath for the deer rut, RSPBs Minsmere, North Warren and Snape,  Kenton Hills, Aldeburgh, and Thorpeness. It's just the most wonderful area for wildlife. Can't wait to go back again.
The last week of October was half term, and I mostly lay low, except for Saturday, when I went on a Sheffield Wildlife Trust foray to Wyming Brook. Again, too many people for comfort, but it was a glorious day, and the views from up there with Autumn Tints in full swing made it well worth the visit.
Enjoying life: 8 out of 10 VG. Blogging regularly: 3 out of 10. Must try harder.

Friday, October 01, 2010

One Month On

I've now been retired for one month.
My favourite month next - October. But it's started badly weatherwise, so an indoors day to catch up with blogging etc. is in order. It's been over a week, so I'll work backwards to my last blog. Yesterday, we had a trip out to RSPB Old Moor. The weather was lovely through the morning - clear blue skies. As always, I let myself be distracted by dragonflies, and to my surprise, there were more around than ever - mainly migrant hawkers and common darters, and I managed to get a couple of nice shots See Flickr). There were also quite a few fungi around, but I managed to keep my observations to a passing glance. After the feeders which were busy with greenfinch, chaffinch, great tits, blue tits and a bullfinch, we visited the reed beds. We saw little grebe, great crested grebe, tufted ducks and the arrival and departure of a couple of cormorants. As we went to lunch in the excellent Gannets Cafe, I ran into an old friend and colleague who is also retired, and doing some volunteering at Old Moor, and as we left, we ran into another couple of friends just arriving. The walk through to Wath Ings, punctuated by hide stops was fairly uneventful. We saw herons, BH gulls, more cormorants, teal and plenty of wigeon. At Wath Ings, there were lots of lapwing and golden plover, but fewer waders that when I was last there. We did pick out a couple of godwits, but most of the birds were even further away than usual, so I'm doubly handicapped when it comes to identifying them. I suppose I will have to get myself a scope if I'm going to make any progress. Once the dragonflies have disappeared and the fungi diminished in numbers, the birds will still be there to see me through the winter. Just to cheer me up, as we were about to set off back from Wath Ings, I saw a kingfisher flying along the bank. Bless them for being so spectacular, and as a consequence, so easy to identify.
On Wednesday, I stayed at home. The weather was a bit dull and drizzly, but I was able to take advantage of the renewed interest in my bird feeders. Currently, our most regular visitors are a family of coal tits, and we also have the ever-reliable great tits and blue tits. There was the first appearance for a while by a robin, and we also had a couple of dunnock. It was very reassuring to see them back after a quiet time.
As well as fungi, I've decided to record dragonflies, but it's a laborious process as I have to keep checking, but at least there are far fewer of them than fungi.
On Tuesday, I got round to seeing the Mervyn Peake illustrations for Alice, which were exhibited at the University Library. I'm already pretty familiar with them as a devotee of both Peake and Alice, but to see the originals, and some of the preparatory drawings was a bit special. A quick trip into town and a whizz round Graves gallery was followed up by an unpremeditated walk to Meadowhall via the 5 Weirs Walk along the River Don. I tried to focus on birds, but my only real sightings were a few solitary grey wagtails, and a small group of noisy and colourful goldfinches. Even the photo I attempted of the latter didn't turn out. The walk included a visit to the tiny Sheffield Wildlife Trust Reserve at Salmon Pastures, a "tick" for me as I am intending to visit them all over the coming months. It was full of little birds, but they disappeared into the trees too quickly for me to be able to ID them.  The walk finished at a coffee shop at Meadowhall with a very welcome cup of tea, piece of cake and sit down.
Last weekend was a two-foray weekend. On Sunday, I went out with the Sorby Group to Limb Valley and Rough Standhills. We found a huge variety of stuff, including a few items of real interest, and I enjoyed being the dedicated photographer whilst Steve and Ziggy do all the hard work of IDing stuff. My photos from this are on my photostream, and also in the Sorby Flickr group, were Steve adds his really useful comments.
Saturday was the annual Foray-gossip-and-bacon-butty event out at Hope Cross.  It's a chance to catch up on some serious gossip from (former) M'colleague, collect some yummies (although the sloes were a no-show this year) and indulge in a pint of tea and a bacon buttie at the legendary Grindleford Caff.
So, two more forays lined up this weekend. I think the weather could be mixed, but my boots are freshly dubbined, and the last few weeks of BST need to be grasped.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Parrots in the Peak ;)

First of all, an apology to birders who were drawn in by the title. I'm afraid this edition of my blog contains no birds at all. The parrot waxcap is pictured right.
Had a nice outing to Greno and Wheata Woods at the weekend, taking out an acquaintance who is keen to learn about fungi. Much of the earlier flush had gone over, but it was not bad for showing some of the main groups of fungi, as within the first 5 minutes we saw brackets, amanitas, russulas, lactarius, boletes, and others. We found trumpet chanterelles - what you birders would call a "lifer", and after scrupulous checks, I scoffed the lot. Not bad: a nice earthy taste, but not very substantial. And best of all, I'm still alive.
Just realised that this month marks the 40th anniversary of my arrival in Sheffield. Wow! Like so many, I was captivated my the lure of the Peak District on my doorstep, but over the last few years, I've been discovering the charms of South Yorkshire. However, now is a good time to rediscover the Peak District: now I've retired I can go out during the week, when it's not quite as busy as at the weekend or in high Summer.
So yesterday, the forecast being good, I set off for one of my favourite walks near Bretton (the one between Eyam and Abney, that is). It has everything - conifers, beech, oak, birch, rowan, hazel, and rough pasture, not to mention fantastic views. And most surprising of all for a circular walk, it is almost all downhill. Yes, yes, I know... it just seems like that.
It was a day where Summer collides with Autumn, to make it almost perfect. Sadly the heather had all but gone over, but there were still butterflies searching out the last remaining blooms. As I set off, there was thick cloud over the Derwent Valley, below blue skies. By the time I'd got my boots on, it had burned off, so the only photo I got was with my phone camera.
One of the main reasons for this choice was to hunt for waxcaps - the jewels of the fungus world, and I was not disappointed. Yellow, orange, red, pink, black, white and green... (the parrot waxcap) . I also saw lots of what is now called the Scarlet Catterpillarclub. No, not an exclusive organisation for red wannabe butterflies, but a fungus which infects insects to use as a food source.  The colours in the woodland fungi were pretty spectacular as well - yellow chanterelles, red and maroon russulas, orange lactarius, red and white fly agaric, and verdigris agaric. Don't want to fill my blog with too many photos, so please follow the link on the right to Flickr if you want to see more. There were plenty of brown birch boletes down in the valley, but it was only under pretty much the last tree of the walk that I found a magnificent cep. Patience rewarded.
In addition to fungi,  (I'll list these on the fungi lists page) I saw peacock, small tortoiseshell and small copper butterflies. Sorry, birders, the only other flying things I saw were a light aircraft, a glider and these : the Birdpeople of Great Hucklow

Friday, September 17, 2010

Puttanesca it is, then

Tuesday was another day at Old Moor. With the aid of the Wader ID sheet that was put together by Kate, the assistant warden, I managed to ID a ruff. At least, I think I did. Visit my Flickr pages if you want to check! Lots of teal and golden plover, and otherwise the usual suspects. There was very little in the reed bed area, partly down to very strong winds and partly due to work taking place on a nearby bank.
Wednesday, I did a bit more clearing out - my room is starting to look slightly less cluttered and I even set up my old microscope and looked at some spores of fungi from Monday. No idea what I was looking at, but one step at a time!
On Thursday, yet more bramble jelly was made, this time a "limited edition" (i.e. only 3 small jars) of a spicy version. In the evening I went to the AGM of the Sheffield Wildlife Trust. It's quite exciting times for them, as they are just taking their first steps towards the ownership of a large area of woodland in the North of the city - Greno Wood. There was a very interesting talk about woodland by Mel Jones, a local expert, followed by a very acceptable buffet.
So to today. Friday is pasta day. I went to Little Matlock Wood in the Loxley Valley, in the hope of getting a few choice mushrooms. I've experienced some mixed fortunes here in the past, but felt confident, considering the current profusion, that I'd find some goodies. You can never rely on fungi, so plan b was a nice home-made puttanesca sauce. I could hardly believe how little there was around. If you look at my new lists page, you will see how little. even the one badius was pretty puny .
As if to compensate, I was treated to a viewing of a kingfisher along the river, and a couple of grey wagtails put on a show to allow me to get photos. I also saw a treecreeper, and some very noisy jays, who seemed to be warning off a raptor that I glimpsed only fleetingly. A passing dog walked informed me that it was a "sparrerork", but I have been warned about believing men in hides, and I suspect the same goes for dog walkers.
Finally, I was very excited to find that one of my photos had been chosen to go on a BBC Nature blog.
I'm including it here, but this is the link in case you don't believe me :-)
Click on this post's title

Monday, September 13, 2010

A full-on day

This morning I went out to one of my favourite fungi sites - a small birch woodland above Ladybower. On the way out, my first treat was a kestrel hovering low over the bank of the reservoir. There were a few of the usual suspects in the rough grassland on the way - dung roundheads and liberty caps. The woodland itself didn't disappoint. There were about 15 that I could comfortably record, either immediately or with a small amount of work with my new edition of the trusty Phillips, and there were probably at least as many again that I could narrow down to the family, such as mycena, russula, and lactarius, plus a few more that I was unsure about. As well as the old standby bay bolete, I found a couple of fine ceps and even a few chanterelles.

Among the non-edibles, I found an amanita that was new to me (a. porphyria), several lactarius and a laccaria bicolor.
On the walk back, I had a great close up view of a couple of wrens larking about, a hare loping along the path, and this fine fellow:

This evening I had my first outing with the Sheffield Bird Study Group. Unfortunately it was rather dark and windy, but nevertheless, large numbers of gulls obliged by coming in to roost, and we even saw 4 yellow legged gulls, apparently. Perhaps not the easiest initiation for a crap birder like me. The members made me very welcome, and I can look forward to a meeting soon about photography.
My cocoa tonight will be accompanied by the gulls section in my birds field guide.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Time flies when you're having fun!

Sunday already! Still busy clearing out the clutter, and joining things like there's no tomorrow. Had an excursion round my local patch above Rivelin Valley earlier in the week and bagged a couple of nice bay boletes and an orange birch bolete for the pot - a simple pasta sauce was again the preference. It brought back memories of when I trawled the area very regularly, and even kept records. Bits of it look quite different. Some areas seem to be more managed whilst other areas are getting wilder and more overgrown. No wax caps or field mushrooms in the meadow but maybe it's still early days.

Yesterday, I went out with a group from Sorby Natural History Society. It was a bit of a return to the fold. I'm going to try to get back into recording and reacquainting myself with names (although it appears that some of them have changed and common names are now de rigeur for even the most unlikely candidates). One advantage of going out with a group is that there are more sets of eyes, although this can also be a problem, as with so much around, progress was slow. Barry, one of our leaders, was keen to show us the parasitic bolete he had discovered, but it must have taken us a couple of hours to cover the few hundred yards to the spot. But eventually we found it and here it is:

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Another splendid day at RSPB Old Moor

I was determined to get out and about today despite the grim weather forecast. When I checked my weather app this morning it wouldn't load - obviously, as it transpired, it was embarrassed at being so horribly wrong. Or beautifully wrong. I set off to Old Moor. It was a glorious day with fantastic light and I was delighted to find that there were lots more dragonflies around today than went we went last week. I was pleased with some of the photos I got - plenty of common darters, and also common hawkers, brown hawkers and migrant hawkers. I say all this with confidence, but it is just bluster as I am still a novice. I'm getting a bit better at birds, but I find those waders really tough to ID - they all look pretty much the same to me. People in hides were bandying around names around like curlew sandpiper, spotted redshank, stint... oh dear! I got talking to 2 guys in the bittern hide who suggested I should join a group and go to meetings and on outings to learn from others. Of course they are right, so now I have the time perhaps I'll investigate the local RSPB group in Sheffield.
Birds that I saw and am more confident to ID included little grebe, great crested grebe, grey herons, lapwings, the ubiquitous coots and moorhens, canada geese, teal, marsh harrier and tufted duck.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Walking South Yorkshire: 2nd Sheffield walk

Yesterday I tried out another walk from Rob's book. It started at Glen Howe Park and took me via familiar territory through Brightholmlee and down to More Hall Reservoir. The return leg took me to an area I hadn't walked before, over Spout House Hill. This involved some stiff climbing and way finding, but the views from the top were really spectacular.
It was a little disappointing on the fungi front, after the profusion of Tuesday's outing. There was collybia maculata, boletus chrysenteron, ganoderma applanatum, and my first wax cap of the year - a solitary hygrocybe nigrescens.
Near the highest point, I disturbed a hare, and on the bird front, I saw quite a few swallows near a number of the farmhouses on the route. A kestrel was hunting on the summit, and on the reservoir there was a great crested grebe. I also flushed out a green woodpecker from the scrub on the ascent. The star butterfly was a small copper.

In Praise of Blackberries

Delicious, versatile, easy to identify, plentiful and free. And this year so plentiful that you can pick just those immediately in front of you at arm height. No need to stretch and risk scratching and bites from unseen insects, although it is still wise to keep an eye open for sneaky nettles and rival wasps. When they are so prolific, no special equipment or effort is needed. Just a bucket. The secret is to ignore those large juicy ones just out of reach and select from the space immediately in front of you. This makes the whole process relatively stress-free. Of course there are always those very ripe berries which squish between your fingers, and the stubborn one which refuse to come quietly, but on the whole, this becomes one of those therapeutic, getting in touch with nature-type activities. I can well imagine that in this country you are never more than a few yards away from a blackberry bush.
Then you get them home and the next stage of the ritual begins: wash them, pick over them, weigh them, and decide what you are going to do with them. They are so versatile, it's difficult to decide: pies, crumbles, cobblers; on their own or combined with apples; seedy jams, clear, sparking jellies, sweet and spicy cordials with just a hint of brandy to preserve and enhance their medicinal qualities, vinegars, wines, liqueurs... the possibilities are endless.  

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

First of September 2010

Today is officially my first day of retirement. I'd intended to continue working for a few years more, but the way things have worked out, I think - in fact I know - I'm going to enjoy setting about that "to do" list! For a start, I am resolved to refresh my fungi knowledge, as I have really just kept things ticking over for the last few years. To that end, I'm going to rejoin Sorby Natural History Society and aim to start recording again and meeting up with the fungi community. I'm also going to try harder to learn about birds. I shall spend more time at Old Moor, and worry people in hides. What a perfect time of year to be doing this. The fungi have stared to appear with a vengeance, even if 90% of them are brown roll rims, and the birds are starting to migrate.
Speaking of Old Moor, we went there on Monday - a glorious day. I said hello to Nicola, the official Old Moor Twitterer, took a lot of rubbish photos and was baffled by assorted waders.
Yesterday, I combined one of Rob's walks with a fungus foray. Number 2 in the book, for anyone who has a copy (see earlier post). It was a shortish walk taking in a couple of the woodlets around the Greno Woods area. There was masses of stuff around. This year, grisettes seem to be very profuse. One small but perfectly formed cep, along with a couple of nice bay boletes, was introduced later to some fresh pasta, white wine and various flavourings.

Time to get out the dehydrator, I think.

Friday, August 27, 2010

First Foray

After Saturday and Tuesday's walks it was clear that there are already plenty of fungi around so I set off on Wednesday with fungi at the top of my agenda. Shouldn't complain but at this time of year, it's difficult to focus on just one or two aspects of the countryside. There are birds, butterflies and dragonflies in the air, and fungi, flowers and assorted creatures at ground level. Juggling my walking pole, camera and mushroom basket, I set off up to the old pack horse path which has the Derwent arm of Ladybower reservoir hidden by trees on one side and the Snake Pass visible below on the other side.

On the way up from the Derwent Valley road, there were lots of brown roll rims and false chanterelles with this wonderful orange peel fungus by the path side.

There were also speckled wood butterflies. A single bay bolete ensured I got my basket out. Once at the top, I got a wonderful view of a kestrel patrolling the ridge, but as I was clutching my bay bolete, I was unable to get a photo. Along the ridge there were blushers aplenty. A single saffron milk cap went into the basket. There was a red admiral fluttering around the meadow area here, and dor beetles were also to be seen along the top section. At a further section of mixed woodland, I found what I had been looking for - not in abundance, but enough to add to the basket for a tasty addition to supper: chanterelles and hedgehog fungi, with a bonus of a few charcoal burners and amethyst deceivers. A steady and early start to the foraging season.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Walking South Yorkshire

Yesterday I met up with Rob Haslam, author of this excellent book of local walks, and a couple of fellow walk-checkers, Fran and Fred. We enjoyed a walk led by Rob, around the Beauchief area of Sheffield, taking in some of the local woodlands and parts of the Sheffield Round Walk. Not uncommonly, the weather was four seasons in one day, and we had no sooner got soaked than we dried out again in pleasant sunshine. As a thank you for our checking the walks (as if one were needed; I enjoyed the task very much) we were treated to a pub lunch and presented with a  signed copy of the book.
I can vouch for the excellence of Barnsley walks, and I'm sure the Sheffield and Rotherham ones will be just as enjoyable - I intend to try them all out over the coming weeks and months.
The book is available in all local bookshops - I strongly recommend it!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dragonflies: the next generation

Before finishing my holiday report, I want to keep things current with my walk from today. It was a walk from the Stone to Steel website which I had set off to do before our holiday, but had been distracted by a) missing the turnoff for the start of the walk and b) getting distracted by some fantastic emergent dragonflies and a grass snake. Today went better from the routefinding point of view - although I think I missed one short section of the walk, but still ended up where I was supposed to be. It was a fantastic walk with lots of variation - riverside, woodland, hamlets, wheat fields, disused railway line and probably most spectacular - heathland. What could be more wonderful that the heather coming into bloom.

I was also astonished by the number of fungi. As I had a walk to complete, I didn't have time to root around too much for edibles, but did find a lovely little orange birch bolete and a small but perfectly formed bay bolete for the pot, so I thing a return visit in the near future is in order. At the pond where I photographed the emergent dragonflies, there was still action in the form of egg-laying females,

 and I managed to get a few nice photos. No snakes today, sadly, and I'm afraid birds didn't get a look in!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wye Adventures - Part 3 - A sorry selection of 4 footers.

Although we saw quite a few mammals, I didn't get many photos. There were lots of deer in particular and quite a bit of roadkill, and signs of badgers but apart from Cassie, the very friendly farm dog, the two pictures here were the sorry toll. The stoat was a bit to fast - but at least I got a shot before he disappeared into the hedgerow, and the other little creature ( the one with the look of surprise) sadly wasn't fast enough.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wye adventures - Part 2 - Six legged friends

In our walks book, there was often the promise of butterflies, but sadly they were not as profuse as I had hoped. From time to time, however, we spotted the usual suspects: lots of peacocks and common blues in particular, gatekeepers, which seem to be in abundance this year, commas, red admirals, small coppers, speckled woods, and the occasional fritillary (although these are nigh on impossible to photograph as they refuse to stay still). Dragonflies were also disappointingly few and far between, although the ones I saw were, I think, a couple of new ones for me - the golden ringed dragonfly and the beautiful demoiselle. There were a lot of dung beetles in the woodlands - the ones that are a beautiful iridescent blue, and a hornet joined us for lunch one day at Tintern Old Station Cafe - no doubt after a slice of their legendary bread pudding!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Wye adventures - Part 1 - Birds

Two weeks in the Wye Valley have given me quite a lot to write about, so it's difficult to know where to start. Perhaps with birds. We stayed in a converted barn on a smallholding near Tintern, above the Wye Valley. We kept the bird table well-stocked, and were rewarded with a steady procession of visitors - the most regular being great tits, blue tits, robins and nuthatches, with the occasional greenfinch and even a jay.
Overhead we had regular displays from buzzards, with up to 5 in the skies above at any one time, and at night there was the loud and regular call of owls. 
We spent a day at the Newport Wetlands centre, which is a fantastic reserve, and was well worth a visit. Sadly the weather was a little unkind that day, but we did see an egret, a kestrel, some curlews although the bearded tits and hobbies were not playing out! Another reserve on the English side of the border was Nagshead reserve in the Forest of Dean. We saw redstarts and a pied flycatcher here. A pleasant walk along the Usk at Abergavenny provided good views of sandmartins and kingfishers. Part 2 to follow....

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dragonfly Central

Yesterday I set off with every intention of doing another "Stone to Steel" walk from Deepcar and along Wharncliffe Crags. I missed the starting point of the walk and found myself on the Stocksbridge bypass, whence more by good luck than good management, I found myself at the TPT car park at Finkle Street at the far end of the intended walk. I set off to do the walk, just from a different starting point, but after less than a mile, I found a pond which had a large number of damselflies flitting about, and on closer inspection, I noticed that there were a lot of dragonfly nymphs ready to emerge.

I spent over an hour watching and photographing as they emerged and also saw numbers of newts in the pond. I did manage to get up onto the crags, where I sat and enjoyed the sunshine as the earliest of the heather was starting to bloom and the heath was alive with the sounds of bees and grasshoppers, and I spotted this splendid chap on the path.

Rather than complete the walk, I retraced my steps, as I was keen to see how the dragonflies were getting on. In the woodland, I saw yet another treecreeper. It's a weird fact that once you get your eye in for things, you seem to see them all the time.
The decision return to the pond was inspired because not only did I see yet more dragonflies and newts, but a grass snake - a first for me - swimming across the pond. I had hoped to see lots of butterflies, but there were relatively few considering the warm sunshine, but there were the occasional commas, gatekeepers, ringlets, and speckled woods. Still, mustn't grumble as overall, it was an excellent day's wildlife watching.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Stinky Sunday

I needed a rest yesterday, so got an early start today for a much needed stretch of the legs. As I've spent so much time in South Yorkshire recently, I decided to go towards Derbyshire today and thought it would be nice to have a wander along Burbage Edge. Big mistake. As I drove up their, the mist got thicker and thicker, so I cut back through Hathersage and Bamford and parked up by the viaduct at Ladybower (still plenty of room at 8am). As I set off it was pouring with rain, but eventually it settled into a pattern of showers.

Not a day for stunning photos, but a gentle circuit of the northern arm of the reservoir was very pleasant with the unexpected bonus of a surprising number of fungi - bolbitius vitellinus, blusher, larch boletes and more stinkhorns than I've ever seen along the western shore. Birds seen include lots of house martins and goldfinches, a heron, a pair of grey wagtails and a very noisy wren.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Stone to Steel

Discovered a website based on the Stocksbridge area with some interesting- looking walks. I was going to do one which took in Wharncliffe Woods and Heath, but then changed my mind and set off for one which began in Glen Howe Park at Wharncliffeside and took me through the Wildlife Trust site at Carr House Meadows, in the hope that it was not too late for the best of the show of meadow flowers.

It was an extremely nice walk, and one which I shall no doubt do again, but was a touch disappointing on the wildlife front. Maybe my expectations are too high. Saw one dragonfly in the woodland at Glen Howe, but only fleetingly. Bird highlights included lesser spotted woodpecker (fleetingly) and treecreeper. Butterflies aplenty, including speckled wood, gatekeeper (also seen in my garden), small tortoiseshell, and red admiral

The flower meadow was looking past its best but still had a real magical summer feel about it. I imagine it will be cut soon, so at least I saw it before that happened. Must make myself a note to go earlier next year.